Sunday, June 24, 2007

"It's the thought that counts, folks"

Michael Ledeen at NRO takes a shot at the chattering classes by rehashing a witticism delivered by Gen. Robert E. Lee and wonders if this can be considered the quote of the century (and one can only assume he's talking abut the 19th century):

It appears we have appointed our worst generals to command forces, and our most gifted and brilliant to edit newspapers! In fact, I discovered by reading newspapers that these editor/geniuses plainly saw all my strategic defects from the start, yet failed to inform me until it was too late. Accordingly, I'm readily willing to yield my command to these obviously superior intellects, and I'll, in turn, do my best for the cause by writing editorials - after the fact.

It's fairly obvious what the intent behind bringing this line up - it's a way of rephrasing Bush's "we should listen to the Generals" argument - but using someone with such a debated history as Lee as an authority is a rhetorical strategy that is fraught with hazards. Apparently a few readers (or "
several folks with time on their hands," as Ledeen so condescendingly puts it) chimed in to point this out to him while alerting him to the fact that, despite Lee's tactical genius on the battlefield, his side ultimately lost -- wherein Ledeen buttresses his argument by shrugging off the criticism and literally saying "It's he thought that counts, folks."

Nothing could be further from truth when it comes to war, where life and death -- often times the lives and deaths of thousands of human beings -- hinge on the operational minutia that occupy the minds of the commanders in the field.

The thing that I find absolutely astonishing about these two posts is that it's emblematic of the kind of thinking that is dictating the current administration's foreign policy decisions and has led to such catastrophes as the mess in Iraq. And what's perhaps even more amazing is that the few people left who actually support the war still believe that America has the Midas Touch of Democracy.

Folks like the neocons have honorable ends for the most part, and these are fairly similar to the goals of their ideological antagonists: both sides want to see classically liberal democracies flourish in the world. But the disagreement, as always, is over how to achieve that goal (and over why that end is a good thing, but that's a whole other can of worms). If the someone, like Ledeen is going to advocate for an aggressive policy of interventionism he can not simply suggest that its "the thought that counts" because, as we've all come to see so starkly, the thought -- no matter how good it may be -- doesn't rebuild a society by itself, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that, once you get there, the devil is in the details.

No comments: