Friday, May 22, 2009

Is the Right Rooting for a Terrorist Attack?

There's been some chatter to the effect that conservatives (or perhaps more accurately: Republicans) may be rooting for another terrorist attack.

My guess is that the right is "rooting" for an attack in the way that liberals were rooting for failure in Iraq.

And that way is: sorta but not really.

Rather, liberals were convinced (rightly) that the Iraq war was idiotic and a disaster. They were also convinced that it was unlikely to succeed. And that if it did succeed in some ostentatious way, history and the public would--irrationally--view it as having been a good idea. Bush did something terrible by getting us into the war, but he was likely to be remembered as a hero if it was an ostentatious success.

Now, speaking for myself, if I could have pushed a button and made the Iraq war into an ostentatious success, I would have done so.

But there was a part of me that was kind of rooting against it.

Partially it was because I think that truth is important, and it would have been a tragedy for the disastrous George W. Bush to have gone down in history as some kind of hero. Partially it was because I knew that the kinds of thinking and kinds of policies that got us into Iraq were disastrous. Had we lucked out in Iraq, it would have reinforced executive authoritarianism and outright manipulation of public opinion through lies, fear-mongering and selective use of evidence.

So, yeah, a part of me was relieved that the war limped vaguely in the direction of a barely-averted disaster. I'm not necessarily proud of that, but the reasons behind my attitude were not purely political.

My guess is that conservatives are in a similar position today: they think that the liberal attitude toward the "war on terror" is naive and dangerous, they think that Obama is a bad president, and they think he's abandoning good policies. But if they could push a button and avert another terrorist attack, they would do so. (Well, maybe not the Ann Coulter wing of the party...but, ya' know, the sane ones...)

But if one occurs during Obama's term of office, they'll blame him, and take a certain I-told-you-so-ish satisfaction from it.

(Oh, who am I kidding? If it happens any time during the presidency of any Democrat, or during the presidency of a Republican who succeeds a Democrat, that will be the attitude of many of the hard-core rightosphere types, anyway...)

Now, there is a relevant difference here:

We were right about Bush and the Iraq war, and they are wrong about Obama and Bush's anti-terrorism policies. That matters, of course. We gave Bush more chances than he deserved, and he failed ostentatiously, largely due to dogmatism. Iraq was, objectively, irrational. Bush richly deserved to fail, and it's hard to ignore such facts even when the consequences would be disastrous.Obama, however, is reasonable...but the opposition has given him no chance at all.

One final important point:
One thing complicating everyone's attitudes is the political implications of failure or success. Democrats stood to gain a little politically--though not much, since they all freakin' went along with it--from failure in Iraq; and they stood to lose a lot by ostentatious success in Iraq. Republicans stand to lose a little politically if we have no attacks during Obama's tenure; but they stand to gain tremendously if we do have one. Democrats rallied around a Republican president on 9/11; I expect there will be no such rallying around a Democratic president after another attack. One factor is that presidents now know what they're up against (perhaps Bush should have, but that's a different discussion...). But one factor is just the character of the parties and their supporters. Democrats who failed to rally around Bush would have been called unpatriotic or treasonous. Republicans who fail to rally around a Democrat will be seen as fervently pro-defense or extra-super pro-American or some such thing. And, of course, since Obama is taking a less-aggressive (or: less psychopathic) stance on things like interrogations, he is making himself more vulnerable to criticism if there is an attack. Bush and Cheney went radically overboard in their anti-terrorist policies...but will only pay any kind of price if their crimes were so egregious that they cannot be ignored. But if there is another attack, and any sign that Obama did less that 110% of what was reasonable to do, he will pay a heavy price.

So, are Republicans rooting for another terrorist attack? Well, they have strong incentives to do so...and, if there is one, they'll take a certain rather abstract satisfation at being (in their minds) right... Though I'm honestly unsure whether that should count as "rooting" for it. All things considered, I think I'd say "no."


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