Woolsey’s Folly

"There’s a word for people who say that democracy can’t work in Arab countries, and that word is racist."

– former CIA director James Woolsey

Yes, James Woolsey actually said that. It happened during last Tuesday’s Nightline "Town Meeting" on Iraq. Six big shots, three for war and three against, fielded questions from an audience at St. John’s Episcopal Church in D.C. Although the audience was cool to war, their comments piled lead on the eyelids:

"Shouldn’t we wait until we’ve convinced our allies to go with us?"

"Why don’t we concentrate on North Korea now and deal with Iraq later?"

Yawn. The antiwar side of the panel was nothing to brag about, either. It consisted of Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), onetime diplomat to Iraq Joseph Wilson, and progressive theologian Susan Thistlethwaite. Their basic line: we mustn’t bomb a country back to the Paleolithic without Kofi Annan’s blessing. Bad form, you know. Anyway, about 84 minutes into the 90-minute program, an attractive young woman in the crowd finally raised an interesting point. (By the way, if she was not Arab-American, she could have passed for it.) Why, she asked, do you think that democracy is a panacea for the Middle East? Since the U.S. insists on policies that galvanize Islamic fundamentalism, who do you think will be elected in a democratic Iraq, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia?

Woolsey pounced. Even his allies jumped a bit. To his right sat Senator John McCain, who has gone from brash young firebrand to senile pity magnet without ever being a statesman in between. To Woolsey’s left sat Richard Land, a pompous Baptist minister who managed to squeak his Princeton degree into his opening sentence. The latter worthy pulled an admirable race play himself, channeling Martin Luther King, Jr., at one point to support war on Iraq, but Woolsey outdid him. He called his detractor a racist. Touché. Morris Dees must have been proud.

To be sure, the young woman never implied that Arabs are genetically incapable of representative government. She did not even hint that cultural factors might hinder the transition. What she said, ever so slyly, was that if you want to keep bullying the Arab masses, you had better not unleash them. Saddam, King Abdullah, the House of Saud – you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

Morris Dees and his ilk prey on such nuanced arguments the way Freudians prey on dreams. A cigar is always more than a cigar in their eyes. States’ rights? Racism. Tax protest? Racism. Strict construction of the 2nd Amendment? Racism. A skeptical view of government? Racism. Criticism of Israel? Racism. There must be some sinister code lurking behind any complex idea. Oh! I know! It’s racism! And when the hate police get lazy, they simply chuck their nemeses in with some neo-Nazis and call it a day. Just take a gander at the entry for "paleo-conservative" in this hate glossary published by the state of Indiana.

To his intellectual credit, Dees doesn’t believe a word he says. He knows he is nothing more than a televangelist for the economically and geographically upper bourgeoisie, a slick Jim Bakker laying hands on the affluenza of Martha’s Vineyard. But do self-styled pragmatists like James Woolsey honestly think that the antiwar camp is racist? Or, as leftists might ask, does the War Party mask its own bigotry by pointing fingers?

I’ll leave the hermeneutics to others. If you’re looking for another essay on the racist motives behind this war, you’ll have to go to the A.N.S.W.E.R. website. Some pro-war racism is hard to miss, but the mania for exposing racism can be just as blinding as prejudice itself. It limits the spectrum of one’s critical palette. For example, Harry Truman bubbled over with anti-Asian bias, but is that all we need to know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? After all, Harry and St. Franklin did nothing to spare equally innocent civilians in Hamburg and Dresden. Today, it’s tempting to cry "racism" at National Review‘s casual patter about nuking Mecca, until you realize that the neoconservatives would gladly do the same to France if they could. Their bluster reveals a general disregard for human life, an equal opportunity sadism that sees no color. That’s why National Review and The Weekly Standard have played Anti-Semitism’s Greatest Hits so often that the needle skips the groove. The centerfold in our national demonology is the racist. Murderers look good by comparison.

Accordingly, Woolsey has offered a superb new twist on the race game. Its dinner bell leaves doctrinaire leftists slobbering in their tracks. Racism? Where? Us? Huh? It also obscures an ugly truth about warfare. Though racism alone has never caused any war, it is one of combat’s most frequent byproducts. Where do you think John McCain developed his affinity for gook jokes? At Ku Klux Klan summer day camp? Doing violence to anonymous foes requires a firm sense of the enemy’s otherness. Killing an acquaintance is easy enough, in a sense, because one can catalogue specific grievances against him or her. Killing an unknown schmuck in the same position as oneself is another matter. Animosities based on collective guilt must be cultivated, a task made easier when the enemy looks different. E.B. Sledge, no peacenik, describes a typical scene from the Good War, Pacific Theater:

While I was removing a bayonet and scabbard from a dead Japanese, I noticed a Marine near me. He wasn’t in our mortar section but had happened by and wanted to get in on the spoils. He came up to me dragging what I assumed to be a corpse. But the Japanese wasn’t dead. He had been wounded severely in the back and couldn’t move his arms; otherwise he would have resisted to his last breath.

The Japanese’s mouth glowed with huge gold-crowned teeth, and his captor wanted them. He put the point of his kabar on the base of a tooth and hit the handle with the palm of his hand. Because the Japanese was kicking his feet and thrashing about, the knife point glanced off the tooth and sank deeply into the victim’s mouth. The Marine cursed him and with a slash cut his cheeks open to each ear. He put his foot on the sufferer’s lower jaw and tried again. Blood poured out of the soldier’s mouth. He made a gurgling noise and thrashed wildly. I shouted, "Put the man out of his misery." All I got for an answer was a cussing out. Another Marine ran up, put a bullet in the enemy soldier’s brain, and ended his agony. The scavenger grumbled and continued extracting his prizes undisturbed.

Perhaps the young Marine was born vicious. More likely, however, the propaganda he absorbed about "Nips" combined with the constant stress of battle to make him so. A long guerrilla conflict between Americans and Arabs is sure to ignite similar passions on both sides.

Don’t expect the War Party to surrender the race truncheon, though. It’s too good a weapon. They should show Mr. Dees their gratitude by naming him first ambassador to postwar Iraq.

~ Matt Barganier