jimsleeper.com » Here They Go Again

Here They Go Again

By Jim Sleeper 

October 30, 2009, 3:53PM

Last year here I criticized enlightened denizens of the Chattering Classes Zoo for trying to rehabilitate David Brooks, an ingratiating neo-con who’s as doomed as a charming, brilliant vampire to suck the blood of the American republic while thinking he’s in love. (It’s Halloween, okay? But this is dead serious, too.)

In his Times columm today Brooks gives us yet another sinuous warm-up for the strength-sapping passion that drives all his comic lines and phone calls to experts. Linking Afghanistan’s dark prospects to his doubts about Obama’s “tenacity” against real evils, Brooks tries to seduce us into a real war. As with Iraq, he’s sublimating primal fears and resentments that fuel his and other neo-cons’ grand causes.

But mightn’t they be right this time? Afghanistan isn’t Iraq, and Obama isn’t Bush. The problem with writers like Brooks is that, in their bones, they’re jingoists: Their patriotism requires enemies, and they fight wars with other people’s blood while currying Established Power’s favor with all the determination of heat missiles seeking heat. The world is hard, dark, and cruel, as they tell us – and some people do need to be told. But Brooks & Co. have faith in only one way to save it. Watch David run:

In the first year of the Iraq war, Brooks swooned over Bush’s and Rumsfeld’s characterologically ignorant tenacity against insuperable complexities. He denigrated the war’s critics, but as it went bad, he rehabilitated those critics who’d argued that only more troops would prevail.

Then, as the Surge failed to secure very much that could outlast American occupation, Brooks began praising the “deliberative” Obama as Obama moved toward Power. But now Brooks frets over Obama’s characterologically intelligent respect for the insuperable complexities Bush ignored. And Brooks flirts with General (and Possible Presidential Candidate) Stanley McChrystal.

The point I wish his admirers would take from all this is that, characterologically (by which I mean something worse than neurotically), Brooks has to do this. The common thread in all his re-positionings is a supposedly knowing, conservative apprehension of the need to use force against force. We have no choice.

Sometimes, that’s true. But Iraq was a neo-con-abetted war of choice, and a disastrously wrong one for fighting terrorists. It’s one big reason we’ve “lost” Afghanistan, even assuming we could have outdone the British or the Russians in “winning” it. (The Russian defeat has been reprised chillingly, from Soviet archives, in the Times by Victor Sebestyen. The analogies are daunting.)

Brooks tells us he’s spent the last few days calling around to experts who wonder portentously, as he does, whether Obama has the tenacity to sally forth into the doom Brooks unknowingly craves.

He was, craving it in 2004, a year into the Iraq war:

“Come on people, let’s get a grip. This week, Chicken Littles like Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd were ranting that Iraq is another Vietnam….. I’ve spent the last few days talking with people who’ve spent much of their careers studying and working in this region. … As Charles Hill, the legendary foreign service officer who now teaches at Yale, observed, ‘I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the boldness and resolve.'” Brooks touted the Rumsfeld “dead-enders” line and assured us tenacity would bring victory.

By 2006, as I’ve noted, Brooks had stopped denigrating critics who’d warned two years earlier of the quagmire he’d assured us wasn’t there. Now,he told us,

“Everybody denigrates pundits and armchair generals, but… the smartest of them recognized that something unexpected was happening: The US was not in the midst of a conventional war but was in the first days of a guerrilla war [and] that it was time to shelve the rosy scenarios…. In TV studios and on op-ed pages,… retired officers and columnists called for more troops and officers on the front lines saw the same thing the smart pundits saw. Donald Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks saw nothing wrong.”

Neither did Brooks, of course, but by 2006 he was with those who’d called from the beginning for more troops, not less. He and all the neo-cons would support the Surge that has given us the Iraq we see now.

David the vampire had a domestic appetite, too. He’d made his name, in fact, by sidling up to confused, upscale liberals and purring, “C’mon, you know that you really love your real estate and your unearned income, and that you like circulating commodities more than ideas. And… [wink, tickle] it’s okay!

I’d never before seen a political columnist work himself into deliriums watching other people shop. Brooks seemed almost to have forgotten, except in rhetorical gestures at the end of his Bobos in Paradise, that we must be fellow-citizens as well as consumers, or else we are lost. But to be serious about citizenship is to spend a lot of time and energy nourishing a disposition to rise above narrow self-interest, especially in peacetime, not just in wars that twist and drain the very public strengths the war-makers claim to be mobilizing.

On Brooks’ watch at the Times, his lusts for consumerism, for comic sociology, for war-making, and for baiting liberals who try to cultivate the softer arts of citizenship were ill-timed. His tweaking of do-gooders was accompanied by Katrina, with Blackwater patrolling the streets of New Orleans; by predatory finance capital ‘s transformation of real estate into un-real estate; by a pestilence of executive and Wall Street welfare queens; and — from Enron to Cardinal Law, or from Bernie Madoff to the media’s necrophilia over Michael Jackson — by a riot from the top by America’s multi-problem overclass, whose tangle of pathologies the indulgent Brooks had been too busy deriding liberals to notice.

Abroad, we sowed and reaped a whirlwind borne of displacing our anxieties about these ills into a confrontation with the unquestionably evil Saddam — namely, a battered Iraq that the Surge hasn’t saved and that we have now made ourselves too weak fiscally and morally to expand or reform.

Brooks isn’t quite as far gone as William Kristol, his former mentor at the flagship neo-con Weekly Standard, who has given us such great American leaders as Alan Keyes, Dan Quayle, and Sarah Palin (whom Kristol “discovered” on a Weekly Standard cruise in Alaska and commended to John McCain). I don’t really imagine Brooks bursting into applause and cheers, as Kristol’s staff did, when Obama failed to win America’s bid to host the Olympics in Chicago.

Facing the real disasters I’ve mentioned above, Brooks knew enough to start pirouetting furiously, with prophylactic applications of Malcolm Gladwell in his columns and with cuddly feelers to people who can help him buff up his image among liberals. Yet too many of his columns, especially a breathtakingly sophistical account of the mortgage meltdown, showed him still plying his intellectual usury.

Now he informs us that “Afghan villagers,” unsure of “the state of Obama’s resolve,” are “hedging their bets, refusing to inform on Taliban force movements because they are aware that these Taliban fighters would be their masters if the U.S. withdraws.”

The options are indeed grisly. But does Brooks really believe that if Obama’s tenacity became as obdurate Bush’s, Afghan villagers would trust thousands more white and black American guys with boots and buzz cuts? Or is he just sucking more American blood and calling it love?