February 05, 2005

Mattis And Rhetoric

Ah, conservatives are puzzled as to why the major media is giving major coverage to a Marine general's remarks that "It's fun to shoot some people." Maybe it's because the media hates the military! Or… America. Who knows? Speaking for myself, though, the problem here seems to be much greater than the fact that General Mattis said something offensive and distasteful and politically incorrect. I don't care about that. But over the past six months or so, I've heard from a few military personnel either in or returned from Iraq (I don't believe I'm allowed to name any of them, and this is hardly an exhaustive sample, so if you want to call bullshit go for it) that the military has long had a "let's crack some heads!" approach to peacekeeping in Iraq. Perhaps overly so.

So it really matters what tone is set. The president, for instance, linked Iraq to 9/11, which gives the whole enterprise a "revenge!" rather than a "patient nation-building" flavor. The point is you really want to err on the side of restraint, and when it's clear or highly likely that military leaders aren't steering their troops that way, there's a potential problem, and it leads not just to a bad image, but horrible policy. In the early days of the war we got a little too zealous with killing Sunnis, didn't think it was worth our time to make the right connections and apologize profusely, and now we've made a lot of enemies and a lot of people have died.

If you don't think that's a big deal (and perhaps there's a valid argument on this front), then maybe you can excuse those remarks as a case of rhetorical indiscipline. Otherwise, this stuff is important. Gen. Mattis sounds like an effective leader, and obviously generals can't and shouldn't be meek and afraid of breaking china, but perhaps the scales need a bit of recalibrating. Media-types like me might not be the best people to weigh in authoritatively on the matter, but can we honestly say there's no issue whatsoever here? I have yet to hear that case.

By contrast, I don't see why Eason Jordan's remarks are nearly as important, or how they're indicative of a larger problem that may be getting people killed. If someone could explain it to me, I'd be happy to ask the New York Times to please criticize that moron some more. Otherwise, file this in the Ward Churchill dustbin.

Self-correcting mechanism! Oopsie, had the wrong Jordan.
-- Brad Plumer 6:46 PM || ||