What are the anti-bombing pundits saying now?

Jonah Goldberg

11/16/2001 12:00:00 AM - Jonah Goldberg
Who said violence never solved anything? That'd sure be news to the thousands of Afghans who swarmed into the streets of Kabul after the Taliban ran away like my dog escaping a Saturday night bath. The limited and targeted violence of the United States has alleviated the suffering of millions of Afghans from the sustained and systemic violence imposed by the Taliban. Of course, the war isn't over (Indeed, I think this should be considered a dry run for Iraq). But even if -- when? -- things get ugly again in Afghanistan, it's hard to deny the stunning change of events. While it might be reasonable to assume that the Taliban surrendered some 60 percent (and rising) of Afghan territory because they only just heard that Geraldo Rivera had signed on as a war correspondent for Fox News and they didn't want to deal with him, the more likely explanation is that the U.S.-led bombing campaign worked. Let's not forget that there was a time not too long ago -- just a week ago -- when reporters, pundits, etc. were fairly certain that the United States didn't know what it was doing. It was suggested, even in some news accounts, that the bombing was in fact making the Taliban stronger. We were supposed to believe that the drumbeat of 5,000-pound "daisy cutter" and bunker-busting bombs inspired the Taliban to ever greater heights of bravery and intestinal fortitude. Andrew Sullivan (of the coincidentally named andrewsullivan.com) has inaugurated a "Nicholas Von Hoffman Award" for the journalist who has written the "most prophetically challenged pieces of media war-wisdom" to date. Hoffman is the award's namesake because in The New York Observer he wrote: "The war in Afghanistan, the one (Bush) should never have declared, has run into trouble. Just a few weeks into it and it's obvious that the United States is fighting blind. The enemy is unknown, and the enemy's country is terra incognita. We have virtually no one we can trust who can speak the languages of the people involved. With all our firepower and our technical assets and our spy satellites, it looks like we don't know if we're coming or going. ... "We are mapless, we are lost, and we are distracted by gusts of wishful thinking. That our high command could believe the Afghani peasantry or even the Taliban would change sides after a few weeks of bombing! This is fantasizing in high places. ... "Moreover, as hellish as the Taliban are, it appears that the ordinary people of Afghanistan prefer them to the brigands and bandits with whom we've been trying to make common cause ... ." This assessment appeared in the Nov. 14 edition of The New York Observer, days after the Taliban were in full retreat. If Hoffman were an executive in a Japanese corporation, he would be required to issue a public tearful apology while wearing his sandwich board of shame for such a gross professional failure. Fortunately for him, he's not alone. The New York Times' increasingly irrelevant snark-mistress, Maureen Dowd, wrote on Nov. 7, "But the stories about the lame rebel force (she means the now victorious Northern Alliance) with its wooden saddles and line of old Russian tanks get sillier and sillier, like scenes out of the Marx Brothers or Woody Allen's 'Bananas.'" On Oct. 31, her colleague R.W. Apple wrote one of his famous newsitorials, in which he "reported": "Like an unwelcome specter from an unhappy past, the ominous word 'quagmire' has begun to haunt conversations among government officials and students of foreign policy, both here and abroad." "Having found refuge in places that America cannot or will not bomb," editorialized the Nov. 19 New Republic, "it appears the Taliban will rule Afghanistan through the winter, thereby handing the United States a humiliating and gratuitous defeat. ... Of all the proxies the United States has enlisted over the past half-century, the Northern Alliance may be the least prepared to attain America's battlefield objectives." George Orwell once observed that throughout World War II, intellectuals and journalists in Britain kept changing their minds about how the war would end. Worse, whenever they changed their minds, they were convinced of their positions. The WWII intelligentsia believed, according to Orwell, "Whoever is winning at the moment will seem to be invincible." The tendency to always predict a continuation of what is currently happening is, according to Orwell, "not simply a bad habit, like inaccuracy or exaggeration, which one can correct by taking thought. It is a major mental disease, and its roots lie partly in cowardice and partly in the worship of power, which is not fully separable from cowardice." The British, public, Orwell noted, did not suffer from this mental defect and for the most part remained steadfastly optimistic throughout the war. I think it's worth pointing out that our own elite suffers from a similar problem, not least because it makes me feel good. I'm not sure "power-worship" is the best term for the media's affliction, but many certainly seem to suffer from an equally unthinking tendency -- to assume America is wrong and our leaders inept or corrupt whenever they're given the slightest opportunity. It's a good thing the American public doesn't share it.