Glenn Reynolds, the Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at my old alma mater, the by-god, orange-bleeding University of Tennessee, has responded to the “lefty lies” in a recent post here, taking me to task for mischaracterizing one of the tropes he trotted out during his incessant cheerleading for the military aggression in Iraq back in the day. I quoted his 2006 remark about “more rubble, less trouble” as a handy tag to encapsulate the neocons’ notion of “creative destruction” — using violence and war to re-shape the Middle East to their ideological tastes. I thought Reynolds would have been tickled to be the poster boy for his fellow propagandists, but I guess I was wrong. Anyway, here’s what I said:
The aim of this deeply evil program, one supposes, was to achieve the “creative destruction” so beloved of the neocon savants who provided the “intellectual” framework for the Hitlerian act of aggression. True to their Trotskyist roots, they longed for the cleansing fire of war and ruin to clear the ground for their fanatical, world-shaping dreams. (Unlike Trotsky, of course, they never led troops in the field or put their own lives on the line.) Or as that deep thinker Glenn Reynolds once put it, gleefully: “More rubble, less trouble.”
Now Glenn says this was a terrible twisting of his far more nuanced and sophisticated analysis of the war crime he cheered for. As he puts it:
“…what I was actually saying in the quoted but not linked post was that if we failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, we might wind up pursuing a “more rubble, less trouble” policy at the expense of democratization. There was no glee.”
So let’s go to the quoted — but now linked! — post. His original 2006 piece was sparked by a tide of criticism aimed at Donald Rumsfeld’s handling of the war, which was then in its third year, and beginning its slide into the horrific, American-abetted hellstorm of sectarian strife that was the subject of my post last week. Glenn then quotes a number of people who rebut the criticism of poor, heroic Rumsfeld, including this anonymous commenter, who declared:
“The ball is in the Iraqis’ court. We took away the obstacle to their freedom. If they choose to embrace death, corruption, incompetence, lethal religious mania, and stone-age tribalism, then at least we’ll finally know the limitations of the people in that part of the world. The experiment had to be made.”
Glenn likes that idea, but expresses his frustration about the “three-year rule” which is “well-known to U.S. planners — U.S. voters will support a war for three years, but then get antsy for a conclusion. This attitude may be bad, especially as applied to ‘messy small wars,’ but it’s a reality.” (Yeah, ain’t it a bitch that people can’t send their sons and daughters off to die in endless, pointless exercises in war profiteering without getting all antsy about it after a few years? I mean, come on: if a he-man cheerleader is willing to waggle his pom-poms for decades without moaning about it, why can’t these stupid widows and widowers and orphans and parents give up their loved ones more cheerfully? Really; it’s almost as if the pathetic American people aren’t even worthy of the deep thinkers and cheerleaders who provide these wars for them.)
Glenn goes on:
“On the other hand, it’s also true that if democracy can’t work in Iraq, then we should probably adopt a “more rubble, less trouble” approach to other countries in the region that threaten us. If a comparatively wealthy and secular Arab country can’t make it as a democratic republic, then what hope is there for places that are less wealthy, or less secular?”
We should probably adopt a ‘more rubble, less trouble’ approach to other countries in the region that threaten us. (“Should probably”: weasel-wording worthy of a guardhouse lawyer — or even a tenured professor. Never have the courage of your convictions; always leave yourself an out. “I didn’t say we should kill the homeless guy and take his money, your honor; I said we should probably kill the homeless guy and take his money. So it’s not my fault!”) In 2013, he dials this back a bit, now writing that we “might wind up” pursuing the more rubble, less trouble approach if countries don’t accept the “democratization’ we impose on them at gunpoint. I suppose “might wind up” is a little less prescriptive, more nuanced than “should probably” — but let’s leave the weasel-wording to the lawyers.
Later, as clarification, Glenn added this to the 2006 post:
The “more rubble, less trouble” phrase refers to what Victor Davis Hanson calls a kind of “punitive isolationism” that I think we’ll see if we give up in Iraq — and that was presaged by the Clinton Administration’s cruise-missile-based antiterror policy. It’s what I hope to prevent, not what I hope to see, and it’s the likely consequence of doing what the lefties want in foreign policy.
In other words, it is far better to invade a country in an act of unprovoked military aggression and murder thousands upon thousands of innocent people in massive doses than it is to murder innocent people piecemeal with missile strikes. (Or in our super-modern techno-utopia, drone strikes.) Now, some people might say there is something slightly wrong with both of these approaches. Some people might find the idea of murdering innocent people in any fashion as part of a militarist agenda of “power projection,” domination and war profiteering that sows hatred and retribution around the world while bankrupting one’s own people and stripping them of their liberties to be, well, not OK. But for Reynolds and his ilk, there is no alternative, no other way for the United States to conduct its affairs, no other goal for our national life: there is only the way of war and dominance. Anything else is not even imaginable. So the only choices available are wholesale murder or a more boutique approach. I admit there is a fine strategic distinction at work here — at least for those who embrace the principle of murdering innocent people to maintain a “unipolar world” of American dominance — and I did not fully appreciate Reynolds’ devotion to murder en masse. He likes people to die and rubble to bounce only in a certain way; if I left the inadvertent impression that he liked to see people die and rubble bounce in any old way, I apologize.
What is most remarkable about all this, of course, is Reynolds’ unspoken, unquestioned — and perhaps unconscious — assumption: that the United States must go on invading countries that ‘threaten us’ (in completely unspecified ways — or, as with Iraq, in completely falsified ways). This is simply a given: we should attack countries to bend them to our will. The only question in the mind of well-wadded cheerleaders like Reynolds is whether we give these backward countries three years to get with our program, or — if they are less wealthy and secular than Iraq was before we got there — we should just go ahead and reduce them to utter ruin.
I don’t really think my “lefty lies” mischaracterized the cheerleader’s basic position, either then or now. To put it in plain terms like we use back in Tennessee: Reynolds does not give a shit how many dirty foreigners we kill in our “messy small wars.” If they give up early after we invade them and don’t make “trouble,” fine; if they make trouble, then we “should probably” reduce them to rubble. In the former case, we’ll kill lots of people on the front end; in the latter case, we’ll kill lots of people all the way through. I’m sure that Professor Reynolds, as an enlightened and educated guardian of the values of Western civilization, would far prefer the somewhat lower body count of the first instance; but if we “wind up” having to take the second approach — so what? Who cares? The important thing is that our right to invade other countries and impose our will on them — to the immense profit of a small elite (and the giddy goosebumps of our war cheerleaders) — must not be questioned or thwarted in any way.
That said, with hand on heart, I apologize (or rather, I “should probably” apologize) for characterizing Reynolds’ evocation of the “more rubble, less trouble” doctrine as “gleeful.” In truth, I have no idea what emotion he was feeling when he wrote that phrase. In fact, I now believe there were probably tears of sorrow dropping on his keyboard as he contemplated the tragic necessity that makes good, decent, democratizing Americans kill thousands upon thousands of innocent people in pointless wars fought on falsified premises. It’s so sad that the dark, backward races and recalcitrant tribes of this wicked world force the noble denizens of the shining city on the hill to take on the terrible duty of waging aggressive war. So I hope Professor Reynolds will forgive me for my unwarranted editorial interpolation in this regard. I know now that war cheerleading is a grim and weighty task, not a gleeful thing at all, and I am sorry indeed if I have added to his great burden and made his poms-poms even heavier.
P.S. Of course, one might say that Reynolds has actually produced his own mischaracterization (dare one call it a “righty lie”?) of another writer’s position. Having read my post — with its criticism of the Iraq War and its cheerleaders — Reynolds automatically assumes that I am some sort of Obama apologist. (The binary worldview of our deep thinkers evidently can’t handle the idea that some people can oppose senseless murder and plunder no matter which political party directs it.) Glenn writes:
But then, more rubble, less trouble is now the Obama Administration’s approach … so maybe I should take that as praise, not criticism. After all lots of things that were once decried are now okay since it’s Obama doing them.
And that’s exactly right: Obama has indeed taken the course Reynolds said America “should probably” adopt if the “experiments” in Iraq and Afghanistan fail — as they have done, in the most gruesome fashion. Obama has adopted, deepened, entrenched and expanded almost every evil policy, foreign and domestic, that he inherited from his predecessor — a fact I have “decried” here for years. In terms of Terror Warring, corporate coddling, liberty quashing, entitlement slashing, recalcitrant tribe-killing and such, Obama is very much the same as Bush, often more so. And of course, Reynolds is also right to point out that many if not most “lefties’ are indeed praising policies they once decried.
But then again, these policies are ones that Glenn himself has cheerleaded for all these years. So why doesn’t he get his pom-poms out for the Big O? It seems that Reynolds, for all his professorial distinguishmentation, is himself a captive of the same dull-witted dynamic, the same binary tribalism, that he rightly “decries” in these “lefties”: if the “other side’s” guy is doing it, it’s wrong; if “our guy” is doing it, it’s OK. Of course, one hates see the distinguished name of Beauchamp Brogan — or indeed, of Glenn’s own father, Charles Reynolds, an anti-war dissident of some note (and a former teacher of mine in days of yore) — associated with such fear-ridden, closed-off, third-rate thinking. But in this “low, dishonest decade” (or rather, this low, dishonest century), what else can you expect?