There's Just Two Kinds of People: Those Who Draw Simplistic Dichotomies, and Those Who Don't


Over in the L.A. Times, Jonah Goldberg gets around to conceding that the Iraq war was a mistake, and goes on to make a sound point, with an illustration that underscores his point nicely—but not in the way he intended:

In the dumbed-down debate we're having, there are only two sides: Pro-war and antiwar. This is silly. First, very few folks who favored the Iraq invasion are abstractly pro-war. Second, the antiwar types aren't really pacifists. They favor military intervention when it comes to stopping genocide in Darfur or starvation in Somalia or doing whatever that was President Clinton did in Haiti. In other words, their objection isn't to war per se. It's to wars that advance U.S. interests (or, allegedly, President Bush's or Israel's or ExxonMobil's interests). I must confess that one of the things that made me reluctant to conclude that the Iraq war was a mistake was my general distaste for the shabbiness of the arguments on the antiwar side.

He is, of course, right that it's silly to speak of "pro-war" and "antiwar" folks as undifferentiated blobs. Which makes it curious that he's so eager to generalize in sweeping ways about what sorts of interventions "antiwar types" support, and what kinds of arguments they make.

Of course, this is in large part a function of an unfortunate institutional fact about opposition to war: It's groups like the execrable ANSWER who have the infrastructure in place to take the lead organizing protests and rallies. So the antiwar position gets associated with—and for once I can use the word without hyperbole—Stalinist positions that I suspect are not shared by the large chunk of the American public that opposed the war even back in 2003. This is part of the reason that, as I argued two years ago, protests are so often counterproductive, pushing the few people they do influence away from the position of the protesters. I've no doubt that at least a few folks who were "liberal hawks" in the run-up to the war were more eager to dissociate themselves from the "all-a-Halliburton-conspiracy" wing of war opposition than they were actually enthusiastic about the prospects for creating a happy little liberal democracy in Mesopotamia.

Still, it's a while since the giant papier-mâché puppets were put away, and there's little enough excuse at this point for pretending to believe—let alone actually believing—that this contingent is representative of the majority of Americans who could now be described as "antiwar." There were plenty of war critics who were making perfectly reasonable arguments back in 2003 and have now been proved largely correct—and I say "largely" only because it now seems that even some of the critics were too sanguine about the war. Making fun of the craziest possible subset of people on the other side of a binary divide is fun—I do it all the time. But Goldberg seems to have offered an inadvertent case study in the dangers of confusing your own entertainment with serious thinking about an issue. [Cross-posted @ NftL]