Sunday, September 27

Toujours l'Audace!

David Brooks, "The Afghan Imperative". September 24

SO the first thing that happens while I'm reading Brooks' latest expert appraisal of the military situation in Afghanistan is I get this creeping sensation that it's the fourth or fifth time I've gotten this advice from him in the previous fortnight. I did sorta remember that recent columns had kissed Irving Kristol goodbye, resolved that little question about racism Jimmy Carter (erroneously) raised, and rewrote the rest of US history from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of Korea while he was at it, though I was pretty sure he hadn't yet commented on Michael Moore's girth in light of Capitalism. That seemed like a lot of additional material to've squeezed out in 800-word splorts, so I looked at his columnist page, and found that Friday was the only recent column where he'd urged the President to stay the course in Afghanistan by engaging in a massive escalation which Brooks himself would remain too cagey to suggest outright, the better to use its failure as ammunition later on. The last one was at the end of last March, when Brooks returned from his VIP tour of Afghanistan a freshly-minted Honorary Lt. Colonel.

I had no idea why I felt he'd been running on about this; I don't think I've watched one of his Newshour Vaudeville routines in months. Maybe somebody else has blogged some. Maybe he debated Meganjane McArdle on Bloggingheads. I determined I wasn't going to lift a finger to find out.

What I was certain about was that it wasn't David Brooks' unshakable consistency on Afghanistan that had me confused. I was pretty sure that Brooks hadn't spent the first five years of his Times tenure, years which coincide with the increasing pace of Total Up-Fucking by a President whose clear-eyed, he's-smarter-than-he-looks-or-we-have-any-evidence-to-remotely-suggest opposition to Conventional Wisdom Brooks had lauded repeatedly, urging George W. Bush to quintuple troop levels in The Other War. Or, in fact, mentioning it much at all.

And so began a large-scale Brooks hunt. Now, his regular spot on the Op-Ed pages didn't open until September, 2003, when the perfumed previous Spring, with its heady notes of Permanent Republican Majority, $1 Million Victory Parades kicking off the official This Time Bush Might Actually Win Campaign, and succeeding invasions of Syria, Iran, and Social Security, began to not quite cover the earthier tones of Dead Rat In The Wall Somewhere, that rather unwelcome melange of looting, insurrection, the UN hotel bombing, the still-yet-unfound WMDs, the unravelling Jessica Lynch story, the very fact that we were still there, and still seemingly rudderless. Nothing your right-wing insider pundit couldn't finesse away with assurances that Bush, the Man with the Golden Touch, after all, was making the necessary minor alterations in military policy which would have the thing wrapped up shortly. Just don't expect anyone in the administration to admit things weren't going absolutely according to plan.
Some close advisers suspect the violence may not abate in Iraq until early next year, and it will be interesting to see whether Americans can sustain their morale over that time.

Really, that was Brooks' first column as a permanent place setting at the Times' tea party, and its remarkable prescience about the events of the following Spring (assuming that by "remarkable prescience" you mean "whatever th' fuck is the fundamental phonetic building block which means the precise opposite of remarkable prescience") is really only topped by the question of how long the current version of David Brooks will be able to go without ever once revisiting it or the notion that twelve months of almost cosmic incompetence and negative results ought to seriously test the patience of the people who're paying for it.

But this is, of course, Iraq, and god knows it's fun and instructive to see what sort of hubris goeth before pitching yourself on your nose and then getting up and pretending nothing happened, and there it is. But what about Afghanistan? When did Brooks become a proponent of "protracted anti-insurgency" as opposed to "an inexorable march to remake the Islamic world"? Good question.

First thing I checked on was his glorious homecoming from that recent tour:
I came to Afghanistan skeptical of American efforts to transform this country. Afghanistan is one of the poorest, least-educated and most-corrupt nations on earth. It is an infinitely complex and fractured society. It has powerful enemies in Pakistan, Iran and the drug networks working hard to foment chaos. The ground is littered with the ruins of great powers that tried to change this place.

Did you spot the item that's not like the others? Okay, there's that bit about drug networks being the enemy of people who grow drugs for a living. But chalk that up to interpretation for a moment: what in that litany is true of Afghanistan, 2009, that wasn't true of Afghanistan 2001? Y'know, back when David Brooks was treating his My Weekly Standard audience to a mock discussion of whether he should just go ahead and gloat over the "instant gratification" of the defeat of the Taliban, or admit that he, like many others, had originally thought it might take a couple weeks longer? Can you see it now? It's David Brooks' skepticism! Wow. And it was right there in front of you.

Meanwhile at the Newshour, where they seemed only vaguely aware in late 2001 that the war was still going on, the better to focus on Sadam Hussein, Brooks did take a moment, in November, to jump into the internecine psuedo-squabble between his employer, one William "Hawkeye" Kristol, and Dick "Dick" Cheney, Bush administration spokesmaniac, over whether there had been an actual change in strategy--from Colin Powell Taliban Appeasement to Cheney/Rumsfeld Just Bomb The Shit Out of Everything--at the heart of our lightning victory. (Brooks, by the way, regarded the change in strategy as "well-documented" and the source of our stunning success. No one realized at the time--okay, maybe Darth Cheney did--the attendant value to the Right of making the Taliban the Enemy, instead of a gang of small-town thugs standing in our way, paving the way for Osama Who? and use of "Taliban" to designate, eight years after its defeat, an insurgency engendered by our continuing Mission to prevent the Bush administration from looking like total incompetents. Continuity in naming one's enemy being so vital to modern warfare merchandising.)

Dunno how Brooks decided the Gloat/Don't Quite Gloat question, since, in public, anyway, he seems to have already decided on the What? Is That Old War Still Going On? routine. He spent a December column--I am not making this up--praising the Internets-based war "coverage" of Andrew Sullivan, James Taranto--whom he calls "Admiral", sans quotes, apparently in some bit of wingnut humor I'm not privy to--and promising newcomer Glenn Reynolds, that is, three virtual Ernie Pyles reporting from the uncontested redoubts of their own imaginations. In February he seconds Norman Podhoretz on the necessity of adding The Old New Left to our list of future targets, somewhere in between the Philippines and Russia, presumably. And halfway down the first page came an aside which made me rue (marginally) the fact that my attitude towards My Weekly Spectator has always been the same as Brooks' towards Susan Sontag and Norman Mailer: too inane to bother with. Although, in fairness, I believe one of us is actually justified in using "inane".
(Imagine, by the way, how the sixties would have looked if the war in Vietnam had been prosecuted successfully. No anti-war movement. No mass New Left. No politicized rock culture. No Woodstock. No Abbie Hoffman. No Black Panthers. And on and on. Military events have profound political and cultural implications.)

No teenage years spent unlaid and unfashionable, and frequently stuffed in my locker. And on and on. And on and on and onandonandonandonand don't you people ever fucking plan on getting over puberty? Susan Sontag equals the author of Borrow This Book And Forget To Return It! equals the Democratic party since Brooks was six, which I wouldn't personally object to if the precise opposite hadn't been the case since Brooks turned ten. Y'know, honestly, everything else ever said by or about David Brooks is rendered superfluous by those nine sentences. And they're parenthetical.

This, by the way, was something I was only vaguely aware of before: that Brooks' passive-aggressive, slip-in-some-wingnut-talking-points-and-nobody'll-notice-'cause-I'm-so-reasonable act, on display in the Times and those sennightly PBS comedy shorts, was a helluva lot less cryptic when Bill Kristol's late daddy was footing the bill. Either Brooks is a canny careerist with a congenitally malleable belief system, or he's a coward who throws bigger rocks when he's in the middle of a mob. Maybe we should take a poll.

And then, as is frequently the case with the punditocracy, something happens! and November of 2002 finds Brooks repudiating The Media's total fixation on Bad News in Afghanistan (and isn't that Just Like The Media?). No intervening mention of the place. (Astute readers may well know that something would happen! again in Iraq while Brooks dozed, but that he would wake just in time to trumpet The Surge. This is akin to the Bosox fan behaving as if the World Series was cancelled between 1919 and 2003.) Brooks would spend a sizable chunk of his first half-year at the Times fixated on Howard Dean, and spend an entire column on the campaign of Dick Gephardt (!), as Iraq moved from Six Months Tops to Total Fuck-Up; as the Afghanistan mission floundered and bin-Laden expanded into the viral video market, Brooks wrote a column bemoaning the fact that the tabloids pay more attention to guttersnipes like J-Lo and Britney than they do to our domestic aristocracy.

Submitted, not just for your amusement, but as a prime example of the level of commentary which earned David Brooks 1600 words-worth of prime Op-Ed real estate per week, not counting those Conversations with Gail Collins:
[Pamela] Constable quotes one Syed Hashimi, who moved back from California and now owns a construction firm. "Kabul is so exciting now," he says, "I'd love to be a Home Depot, a supermarket downtown, but it's hard to get government cooperation." Welcome to normal life.

Take that, Susan Sontag.

Okay, so that was a lot of work just to point out something already too well known: that these bozos are never forced to eat their own words, that they are free to be wrong at the top of their lungs, and their abiding principles don't come from Edmund Burke or Russell Kirk, unless it was one of them who first noted the resilient buoyancy of turds. It's not that Brooks is a lying careerist simp who doesn't belong on the Times Op-Ed pages, or wouldn't have back when that meant something. It's a question of how you go from Afghanistan: Now On To Damascus!, to being thoroughly disabused of that notion without bothering to mention it, to insisting we need to fight a neverending counterinsurgency long after the supposed reason for one blew up in your face. It's a question of why so much of our national discourse is conducted by guys you'd figure would take the opportunity of one morning's grooming session to run the razor from one ear to the other.


R. Porrofatto said...

I've been having these recurring acid flashbacks lately, in which some general is saying we need hundreds of thousands more troops to "do the job," and now, as during the original bad trip, I haven't a clue what "the job" is. Luckily, we have on hand brilliant experts like Brooks to explain everything from military strategy to suburban taste in chain restaurants. I wouldn't be surprised if he has a sketchbook filled with ideas for helicopters and other marvels. Always enlightening to read your admiring exposition of the great man's pronouncements.

I don't know if you've seen this, or if you are in a properly reverent mood to do his "highness" justice, but in case you haven't you might enjoy this little My name is Ozymandias, blah blah blah and despair! routine.

guitarist manqué said...

I think the cause of my acid flashbacks is the eulogizing of Safire, one of the 'wrong about everything all his life' pundits that somehow magically acquires stature by having continued to be wrong about everything right to the very end. It gives hacks like Bobo Brooks hope that if they continue to be wrong in the socially approved way they too will be eulogized in turn.

heydave said...

I hear the ghost of Edmund Burke has anointed Brooksie the new water boy of the English language now that Sapphire frowns from the clouds.

Steve said...

My memory is getting worse and worse with age, but that prediction about how the violence in Iraq wasn't going to get better until early 2004 was so obviously stupid that it has stayed with me. I had barely heard of Brooks before his Times column, so that bit of idiocy formed my initial opinion of him. And this is a case of a first impression being a bullseye. What a colossal dipshit.