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The Chaffetz and Coulter Distraction

Earlier this month, Rep. Chaffetz voted against Afghanistan war funding. While expressing appropriate skepticism, Dan McCarthy wrote last week:

With Chaffetz voting against the Afghan War and Ann Coulter breaking with Bill Kristol, the Right’s foreign policy for the next decade is far from settled.

I have made my view of Chaffetz’s “antiwar” position pretty clear already, so I won’t rehearse that again, but I do find it a little odd that Dan gives Coulter any credit for her column bashing Kristol. Consider one of the main points Coulter makes in her column:

Then Bush declared success and turned his attention to Iraq, leaving minimal troops behind in Afghanistan to prevent Osama bin Laden from regrouping, swat down al-Qaida fighters and gather intelligence.

Coulter cites the main foreign policy blunder of Bush’s Presidency as if it were the appropriate, correct course of action. Afghanistan was the one place where those of us with “some vague concept of America’s national interest” could at least see some justification for military action, and Coulter approves of the diversion away from that for the sake of an entirely unnecessary war against a government that posed no threat to the United States. One of the main reasons why there is still a U.S. presence in Afghanistan is that the “minimal troops” available after Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq were insufficient to prevent the regrouping of Taliban militias that threatened the “American-friendly government” established in Kabul.

Those “minimal troops” were also so spread out in the countryside that they had to rely heavily on air power to protect themselves against attack, which resulted in many civilian deaths, and that in turn created waves of “accidential” insurgents. All of this significantly compounded the security problems in the country, which the previous administration was mostly content to neglect. It is this same policy of neglect that created the poor security conditions in recent years that Coulter praises and wants the current administration to emulate. For his part, Chaffetz objects to the war in Afghanistan largely because U.S. forces have their “hands tied,” which means that he dislikes stricter rules of engagement that are designed to prevent civilian casualties.

It is hard to get around the reality that Coulter’s column is full of pro-Iraq war lies. For example, she writes:

Iraq had a young, educated, pro-Western populace that was ideal for regime change.

Surely if there was one thing that everyone could agree on by now, it is that most of the population was not particularly “pro-Western” as Coulter means it, and most of the educated professionals who could get away from the chaos created by the invasion fled the country en masse. The war for regime change that Coulter cannot stop defending gutted the Iraqi professional classes and robbed the country of many of its best-educated people, which is one of the reasons why Iraq is and will remain an economic basketcase. For that matter, decades of war and sanctions had significantly changed Iraqi society for the worse. So when Coulter says these things about Iraq, she is simply repeating standard pro-war propaganda c. 2002-03. Coulter calls for Bill Kristol’s resignation, but she is still reliably spouting the nonsense that he and so many other advocates of invasion were using to sell the war in Iraq. It’s as if she has put up a giant, blinking sign saying, “You cannot trust a word I say,” and everyone seems to have missed it.

I’m not trying to overlook opportunities for the antiwar right, and I don’t like being the constant naysayer who has to keep pointing out that Chaffetz, Coulter et al. cannot be taken seriously, but just judging by their own arguments they cannot be taken seriously. The “to hell with them” hawks may be up for grabs, but they are unlikely to be won over by people who don’t harbor irrational fears about Iran and who believe that the Iraq war was a strategic disaster for the United States, because these people remain very aggressive hawks who perceive threats where none exists.

When you have a House member who votes against funding for the war in Afghanistan, but would never dream of voting against Iraq war funding and wants the President to “take out” Iran’s nuclear facilities, you do not have someone coming to these conclusions based on anything resembling a sober understanding of the limits of American power or the national interest. At the very least, there has to be some honest accounting that overwhelming Republican and mainstream conservative support for the Iraq war was one of the worst mistakes they have made in decades, and there has to be some willingness to face up to the obvious lies that they embraced or happily repeated and recognize them as untrue. Simply turning Democratic rhetoric around and dubbing Iraq the “good war,” as Coulter has effectively done, merits contempt rather than sympathy.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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