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Debating Iraq with Rich Lowry
September 14, 2005
Debating Iraq with Rich Lowry
Would over a thousand people in your community turn out to see David Corn and Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, debate the war in Iraq? That's what happened in Willimantic, a town in northeastern Connecticut and home to Eastern Connecticut State University. And I wonder if this is a sign of growing popular unease with the war.
As part of a three-day series of events on Iraq, the school hosted this face-off in a sweltering gymnasium, and more than a 1000 concerned citizens from the campus and the surrounding communities turned out. That was more than the 600 who attended a recent speech by David McCullough, the bestselling biographer of John Adams. At the start of the debate, Lowry asked the crowd for a show of hands: how many people were opposed to the war? Most of the attendees raised an arm, perhaps 70 percent or more. Well, Lowry said, I know where I stand. Yes, he did. But, as I noted, these days, Lowry--or any other defender of George W. Bush's misadventure in Iraq--would be in hostile territory, for polls show a majority of Americans now believe the war is a mistake.
Lowry and I recycled many of the lines we have used in past encounters. I noted that Bush had misled the nation into a mess that offers no easy way out. He repeatedly quoted Hillary Clinton (yes, Hillary Clinton!) claiming, before the war, that Saddam Hussein was a threat, as if this justified Bush's decision to invade and occupy Iraq. But two exchanges were particularly pointed. Lowry maintained that those of us who oppose the war dishonor the troops who sacrifice their lives for this county and that critics of the war are enemies of "democracy and freedom" and favor only one option in Iraq and the Middle East: "tyranny, tyranny, and tyranny." As part of this argument, he blasted the media for not reporting on the heroic actions of US military personnel in Iraq.
I replied that I would like to see the death of each American soldier reported on the front page of American newspapers. (Lowry did not second this suggestion.) And I countered that dissent was part of democracy. I cited leading US military officials who have opposed the war including former General John Hoar and former General Anthony Zinni. (Zinni even called the war in Iraq a "brain fart," as longtime readers of this blog will know.) Was Lowry suggesting these patriots were undermining the troops? And I engaged in a low-blow. I read a quote from a prominent critic of the war: "Senator Kerry said, on Sept. 20 , that knowing what we know now, we'd have done better not to have invaded [Iraq]. I think he's right." I then evealed who had said this: William F. Buckley, the founder and editor-at-large of National Review. Was Lowry saying that the fellow who hired him detests democracy and freedom and fancies tyranny?
During the Q&A, an audience member noted that the US military was aiming its recruiting efforts at low-income young Americans and noted this was not fair. (One faculty member later told me that the Connecticut National Guard was engaged in a very active recruiting effort at this state school but had not done so at more pricey schools in the area, such as Wesleyan and Brown, my alma mater. I wonder why.) Lowry dismissed the idea--popularized in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11--that the war in Iraq is mostly being fought by low-income Americans who have been driven into the military by a lack of other opportunities. Instead, Lowry said, a surge of "patriotism" had swept through young American adults after 9/11, compelling them to sign up to fight for their country and the noble cause of promoting freedom and democracy overseas. I asked him whether this surge of "patriotism" had flowed through the offices of National Review? Had it depopulated his staff? How many interns had it claimed? Lowry did not answer this question.
Lowry is a good sport at events like this one. But these days he is swimming uphill, so to speak. Prior to the invasion, Bush did not characterize the war to come as a crusade for democracy that would take many years, cost thousands of US lives, and require the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars. He said it was about WMDs, and his aides did all they could, before the war, to downplay the likely costs and challenges. Because Bush cannot 'fess up and admit he has engaged in a geostrategic bait-and-switch, the public is right to be skeptical of the war and his leadership--and of all the cheerleaders for this dishonest war.
OH, THOSE YANKEES. On my way out of town, I drove across the bridge between Willimantic and Windham and noticed there were four large frog statues adorning the structure, two on each side. Why the "frog bridge?" I asked. My driver explained that the frogs were references to a local legend. It seems that at one point during the Revolutionary War, the residents of Willimantic and Windham were worried about British Redcoats coming to their towns. Then one night they heard loud noises nearby. Convinced that the Brits had finally descended upon them, the good people of Willimantic and Windham rushed to their homes and hunkered down, hoping King George's men would pass by and leave them be. Well, there were no Redcoats. The awful and ominous vibrations that had driven the townspeople into hiding were the sounds of mating bullfrogs. For some reason, the modern-day leaders of Willimantic and Windham embraced this tale several years ago and have frogged out their towns. What a tale of redemption. Some might consider the frog story as less-than-flattering for the towns' long-ago residents. Yet today it is a marketing device.
OH, THAT WARNING. Remember after 9/11 when George Bush and Condi Rice said no one had ever imagined that terrorists could hijack airliners and crash them into targets in the United States? As I and others have written, this was complete bunk. In fact, there was more solid intelligence suggesting this particular horrific possibility than there was indicating Iraq possessed WMDs. Now--as The New York Times reports on the front-page--we learn that in 1998, the FAA was warned that al Qaeda could "seek to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark," according to a portion of a report produced last year by the 9/11 commission which the Bush administration insisted be kept classified. Yesterday, thanks to the efforts of the 9/11 commissioners, a new version of this report was released, with previously redacted portions revealed. Once again we are reminded that the president of the United States and his national security adviser did not know what they were talking about when they tossed out CYA spin after that tragedy.