Friday, November 01, 2002


A Rittenhouse Review reader has passed along a letter sent recently to the editor of The Stranger in response to that paper’s publication of “Say ‘Yes’ to War on Iraq,” by Dan Savage, a piece discussed at the Review on October 20 (“Savage Joins the Gay Men’s War Chorus”).

To the Editor:

And now Dan Savage, self-styled independent thinker, gets on the wagon. Of what wagon am I speaking? His is one of a rash of recent op-eds in which mature thinkers (sort of leftist, but more reasoning than those knee-jerk, puppet-making, Mumia-lovin’, anti-war protesters) scold the children of the anti-war left for their simplistic sloganeering, their failure to understand history, their blindness to all evils but America’s, even their Communist leanings. (Mr. Savage’s column does not go as far as to identify the entirety of the anti-war movement as tainted by Communism; others have.)

“Say No to War, Say No to Oppression” -- that’s not well thought out! I must have more moral direction than all the people who oppose war in Iraq. I must be smarter and more courageous than all of them! Do I misrepresent Mr. Savage’s assertions? No. He provides one eight-word poster to represent “the left” and then goes on to ask, “When did the left [not “the people who posted that sign,” but “the left”] lose its moral compass?” He goes so far as to address an imaginary anti-war interlocutor, one whom he presents as representative of the entire anti-war left, as “stupid.”

Why can’t Mr. Savage, independent thinker, understand that the anti-war left is not monolithic? Why does he choose the most poorly reasoned arguments to address when there is an abundance of better ones, and present these arguments as representative of the whole? He must be unable to take on more complicated arguments. The man who cannot conceive of intelligent, principled opposition, who in a debate reduces his opponent to an inaccurate caricature, only reveals his own intellectual poverty.

Just to demonstrate exactly how shallow is Mr. Savage’s treatment of some of the issues in the debate, I’d like to address some individual points in his column:

1) Mr. Savage imagines that we lefties have been too busy making puppets to read and rejoice over the sentence in the New York Times that announces the Bush administration’s plans to install an American-led military government in Iraq. It makes me wonder if Mr. Savage has been too busy fantasizing about Ashton Kutcher to read the sentences in the Times (and plenty of other sources, if you’re listening, Mickey Kaus) that inform us Hamid Karzai’s government has little control outside of Kabul and that tribal warlords are fighting over most of the country. It’s not as if Al-Qaeda members were migrating back into Afghanistan over the Pakistani border. Oh, wait . . . But we lefties, as we flip through the pages of the Times with globs of papier-mâché on our hands, are supposed to take heart that President Bush has embraced WWII-style nation building in Iraq, even though he campaigned against it. It’s gone so well so far in Afghanistan. I’m sure the Bushies will be more motivated in Iraq; a stable puppet government there means reconstructed oil fields means diminished OPEC influence means good things for Americans (and probably the world). Whether creating that stable, puppet government will be easy, and whether we puppet-making lefties should sound a huzzah because the Bush administration has plans, is another question. One thing is certain: a key difference between nation building after WWII and after a prospective war in Iraq is that after WWII we had clear international support, which makes nation building a hell of a lot easier.

2) There is a gap between lefties’ arguments that it’s immoral to support friendly dictators and the conclusion that we should preemptively invade countries. President Reagan hardly supported the Soviet Union. Reagan also did not preemptively invade the Soviet Union. We do not currently support Iraq. Reagan did; Bush doesn’t. A doctrine of containment and tough arms inspections, which many of the anti-war left advocate when they’re not busy making puppets, does not constitute support, nor does it constitute “appeasement” as Andrew Sullivan and his ilk are wont to argue. Are misgivings about this new doctrine of preemptive strike in the absence of imminent threat, a violation of international law, stupid according to Mr. Savage? Is imagining that this new doctrine could allow, say, India to use U.S. actions as a precedent to attack Pakistan stupid? Are worries about war between two nuclear powers, as opposed to a war between a nuclear power (us) and a wannabe (Iraq), stupid? Granted, the threat of a new “preemptive strike” doctrine will be diminished if the Bushies decide to take a different route to war, one that uses Iraq’s violations of U.N. weapons prohibitions as pretext, as they seem to be doing by returning inspectors and appealing to the U.N. Security Council for a resolution. They did this only under pressure, however, from, among other sources, the left. (The left must have taken a break from its puppet making.) However, there is no reason to believe that the Bushies are abandoning preemption or unilateralism; they’re embraced in the national security strategy released Sept. 20. Never mind that the Bush administration’s bullheaded pursuit of unilateralism--even if sustained, committed efforts at multilateralism could work--would only invite freeloading European countries to let us do all the housekeeping for them, resulting in higher taxes, more dead soldiers, and more international resentment for us. But worrying about the dangerous new doctrine of preemptive strike, about the Bush administration’s essential desire to abandon the principle of international law, and about the coming establishment of a new American world police force is stupid and cowardly according to independent thinker Dan Savage. After all, it’s the kind of thing the anti-war left thinks about, and the left has lost its moral compass.

(3) Mr. Savage says that the American left refuses to back any war. At this point I just have to ask what planet he’s on. I don’t have poll numbers on the percentage of Americans who supported the war in Afghanistan, but I seem to remember it was up in the eighties or even the nineties. Were all of those people raging conservatives? The resolution in support of military action in Afghanistan passed by overwhelming margins in the House and Senate (were there any votes against it?). Apparently the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) are indistinguishable to Mr. Savage. The left won’t support any war; Wellstone must be a rabid right-winger. For that matter, plenty of Democratic senators voted to support Bush’s use of force in Iraq. Some of that support was political calculation, to be sure, but still, last I checked, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was widely considered part of the left, and she supported a war.

(4) Mr. Savage argues that those on the left who suggest the possibility that an attack on Iraq could encourage terrorism are “squish-brains.” He refutes this with his “reading of history” that plenty of countries we’ve dropped bombs on have not produced terrorists. There is a very simple counter-argument to his point, which he would address if he were at all interested in intelligent discussion. Evidently, dropping bombs on someone is not a sufficient condition for creating terrorism. This does not mean that populations that have a propensity to terrorism for other reasons (Islamic fundamentalism, a perception that the West is a force against Islamic self-determination) will not be incited to further terrorism by a war with Iraq, or that terrorists will not find it easier to find recruits with Al-Jazeera broadcasting fiery images of the destruction of Iraqi homes on television. I don’t know whether it’s true that a war with Iraq would incite rather than prevent terrorism, but Mr. Savage does nothing to argue the latter with his meaningless list of countries we’ve bombed. Who is the squish-brain?

(5) His imaginary friend points out to Mr. Savage that Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein are not allies and asks why we should go to war with Saddam Hussein to combat terrorism. He calls his poor abused imaginary friend “stupid” and tells him that we’re at war with an Islamo-fascist movement. I might remind Mr. Savage, in defense of his imaginary friend, that Saddam Hussein is not an Islamo-fascist. He’s just a fascist. A secular one. Not part of the movement. Yes, Iraq is one of several state sponsors of terrorism, but Mr. Savage’s sneering condescension towards anyone who seeks to draw a distinction between bin Laden and Saddam is utterly unjustified. George Tenet just announced that we are at as great a risk from Al-Qaeda as we were on September 10, 2001. It’s at the very least questionable whether Iraq is our greatest current threat or whether a war with Iraq (and a subsequent massive-scale occupation) is the logical next step in the war on terrorism. Is anyone who suggests as much stupid in Mr. Savage’s eyes? That says as much about his clouded vision as it does about the intellectually deficient anti-war left.

Perhaps, as the editor of an alternative newsweekly, Mr. Savage has a skewed view of what constitutes the left, i.e., his paper’s readership. Let me inform him: I’m a left-winger who lives in New York. When I pick up the Village Voice, I read his column and then recycle it. I’ve never made a puppet for political purposes and I feel uncomfortable at mass demonstrations. I don’t walk around raising my fist and shouting, “Viva el Sendero luminoso!” Post-9/11, post-Bali, what choice do we have? There are choices. One is to press for forcefully worded inspections resolutions at the U.N. at the very least in an attempt to see if he can be disarmed without invasion. If he absolutely cannot, I would agree that war with Saddam is necessary, for several reasons, one of which is that the U.N. will never be an effective governing body if its most important dictates are not backed by any credible threat of force. In the meantime, we can choose to use our resources to pursue the Al-Qaeda threat, which is in all probability the gravest and the most immediate before us, and to become more serious about stabilizing Afghanistan.

Perhaps I am lucky enough to escape Dan Savage’s wrath because there is a scenario in which I might support war in Iraq. But doesn’t that prove that the left isn’t monolithic? Some might be against Bush’s seemingly preferred method of waging war (unilaterally, preemptively), some against it in the face of graver threat from Al-Qaeda, some opposed because without an international consensus, building a strong post-war Iraq will be dicey at best (in fact, I could go on and on here). Maybe Dan Savage is right about when and why we should invade Iraq, but he doesn’t make his case by failing to confront his opposition. And even if I can’t fit myself snugly into the pigeonhole of anti-war left, I trembled with anger as I read this column (and not just because he owes me a Hitachi Magic Wand): anger on behalf of the thoughtful, principled opposition to Bush which I am a part of, which Dan Savage would deny even exists. His snide, smug condescension is so utterly unearned if I am to take this column as indicative of his skills at political analysis. I sound smart when I talk to my imaginary friends too.

Perhaps Dan Savage could give me some good sex tips, but he is no one to tell me I’m stupid if I dare to take a different political stance than he does. Moreover, he exhibits one of the worst characteristics of our contemporary political discourse: an inability to counter one’s opponent honestly and discuss policy issues on their merits, without misrepresenting the opposing position or oversimplifying it to the point of absurdity. Unless he learns to debate honestly and intelligently, I’m going to stick to his writings on the subject of cross-dressing coprophiliacs.

Yours truly,
Katie Surrence
New York, N.Y.

Monday, October 28, 2002


To: The Rittenhouse Review
From: Brian Ish [ mailto: ]
Date: October 29, 2002 1:54 a.m.

Thanks for the insight that it’s okay for gay men to call each other fags and black men to call each other house slaves when they disagree with with one another’s opinion. (Update: Another political theorist, [Rep.] Charles Rangel-[(]D[-N.Y.)], echoed Mr. [Harry] Belafonte’s ridiculous remarks yesterday, but not to worry, he’s black too).

And though it’s obvious that this type of attack has no effect whatsoever on the level of discourse that one would expect from adults who actually want people to listen to and respect their opinions, it does beg an obvious question: What do idiot lefty apologists like yourself call each other when you get together ([O]r am I not alllowed [sic] to call you that?)?

P[.]S[.] [sic]: Slamming Drudge is pretty funny considering he pioneered the weblog format that apparently any knucklehead can operate these days.

Brian Ish
New York, N[.]Y[.]

Jim Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review responds:

Drudge runs a weblog? I thought his site was just a haphazard collection of links.

It’s funny, I think, given your ire, that Andrew Sullivan’s anti-Belafonte rant was not the subject of my post, even in passing. Perhaps you meant to send this to someone else?

Regardless, thanks for writing.