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April 2, 2003

The Onion scores again—
Posted by Teresa at 10:36 PM *

—with I Should Not Be Allowed to Say the Following Things about America.

If you’re a person from the future, reading this perhaps-historically-interesting old weblog post, please understand that we are in equal measure delighted and terrified by the frequency with which the most accurate news reporting in the United States is done by The Onion.

Comments on The Onion scores again--:
#1 ::: catie murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 01:18 PM:

You know, I really don't like The Onion. For whatever reason, its humor is not my humor.

Except man, they sure do nail it in (I'm sorry, I can't help myself) Times of Crisis. The snide, tongue-in-cheek reporting that they did after 9/11 and what they've been doing during Operation Piss Off the Planet is just perfect.

Hn. Maybe The Onion is like Doonesbury. All it really needs is a good war.

#2 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 02:11 PM:

It's a corollary of "life imitates art": Politics imitates satire.

#3 ::: Linda Blanchard ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 03:38 PM:

Speaking from the vast banks of those who are "confused in the middle" I have to wonder why it's assumed that if we supported an evil dictator for 15 years decades ago, it's wrong for us to turn on him now. What, having realized we made a mistake we're supposed to stick with him because we helped put him there?

And, sure, liberating the people of Iraq is undoubtedly not the government's primary reason for this war, but is it not a worthwhile endeavor anyway? (Alright, alright, the fact that we're inept at diplomacy isn't a good reason for having a war; but something has to be done about the rotten lives led by Iraqi citizens.)

And let's not get too excited about the fact that Iraq is the only place we've gone in to make a regime change. Reading in Time and listening to NPR about "neo conservative" goals, it sounds to me like this is only the beginning of a plan to go in and make over the world in our image. Maybe Ellen Dunst will be happy when we start going out and doing this in country after country? Then it will be okay? Hey, you've got to start somewhere -- and we're starting in Iraq! (No, I don't agree with what I understand to be neo conservative goals.)

It's not that I think this war is a Good Thing, it's that I believe we shouldn't waste time on specious arguments -- energy needs to be concentrated on making sure we don't get into this situation again. An amendment insisting that when we go to war it has to be a declared war would be a good starting place.

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 07:10 PM:

Linda, it goes like this: If we've known he's an evil dictator for fifteen years, and have supported his regime during part of that time and countenanced it during the rest, people are bound to wonder why it's suddenly urgent that we go to war against him RIGHT NOW, without even waiting for the UN inspectors to finish their work. It would be a more credible excuse if we'd only just now found out about it, or he'd only just now started being evil; but we didn't, and he hasn't.

Another problem is that there are plenty of other evil dictators out there who've done the very same things Saddam has done (or has been accused of doing, though I don't doubt he's guilty on most counts), and we're not only not going to war against them, but in some cases are positively chummy with them. This, too, tends to undermine our credibility.

It likewise doesn't help that the administration has repeatedly been caught lying and fabricating evidence on this issue. Between that and the Bush administration's arrogant unilateralism and ham-handed diplomacy, we've managed to look as bad as possible. Some of the people who are most bitterly outraged and frustrated about this are the sensible moderates who started out thinking we really need to do something to liberate the people of Iraq, because we've made a complete mess of it, and a happy outcome may not even be possible now. We'll see.

These are not specious arguments. War isn't something that just happens. Its context matters as much as its conduct.

I've saved the most important point for last. Neither by law nor by custom has it ever been the agreed-upon practice of the American people to refrain from discussing, judging, and commenting upon the conduct of our wars, including while they're happening. The attempt by the current administration to label such behavior as unpatriotic or even treasonous is a cynical attempt to stifle criticism and dissent. They act like stifling dissent has always been proper during wartime. They lie.

#5 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 07:43 PM:

Linda Blanchard asks,

"I have to wonder why it's assumed that if we supported an evil dictator for 15 years decades ago, it's wrong for us to turn on him now. What, having realized we made a mistake we're supposed to stick with him because we helped put him there?"

It's a good question, and it doesn't get addressed much, perhaps because those of us on the other side think the answer is too obvious to need addressing.

I'd put it somewhat differently than Teresa does: realizing, on 9/11 or shortly thereafter, that "omigod, Saddam is an evil dictator!" is kind of like the old cartoon showing a middle-aged woman slapping her forehead and saying, "omigod, I forgot to have children!" Saddam's villanies are not the kind of thing one could overlook, particularly not after Gulf War I, and not even back in the 1980s, when Saddam was most actively involved in the villanies we're now charging him with, and Donald Rumself himself, in person was supplying Saddam with materiel.

To say - as many politicians do - that "9/11 changed everything," either in terms of understanding that dictators really can be bad guys, or in revealing that the US is vulnerable (any number of thriller novels could have revealed that, as could Gary Hart if anybody had been listening to him), is to acknowledge political incompetency so vast that one is simply not a credible agent to fix the problems one let develop.

Pardon me for invoking you-know-what, but nobody doubts that the scales fell from the eyes of Neville Chamberlain - someone who really had been fooled - after the takeover of Prague. Still, his previous errors meant that he just didn't carry much credibility as a war leader, and at the first major set-back was replaced by someone who'd seen the matter in its true light all along, and had been ignored by Chamberlain for having done so.

Linda also says,

"Maybe Ellen Dunst will be happy when we start going out and doing this in country after country? Then it will be okay?"

Uh, that was sarcasm. Dunst isn't advocating that: she's saying that it's an unspoken part and parcel of what the people she's criticizing are advocating.

#6 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 07:46 PM:

"Rumself"? I meant Rumsfeld, of course.

#7 ::: Linda Blanchard ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 09:34 PM:

Teresa said:

"I've saved the most important point for last. Neither by law nor by custom has it ever been the agreed-upon practice of the American people to refrain from discussing, judging, and commenting upon the conduct of our wars..."

You'll note I hadn't argued against that point (being the main point of the Onion article). I think it's critical that dissent and conflicting opinions be heard. The recent tarring of peace protestors as being UnAmerican reminds me of the same during Viet Nam war protests. As if during times of war we should suspend freedom of speech; when actually sensible freedom of speech (not giving away state secrets) is more important during wars.

Regarding your first point (-"we didn't just find out he's evil"-) I think a lot of the problem is our political system. Dubya has something he wants to accomplish, and he only has four years to do it in. Clearly Clinton did not have the will to go in there and really push. I don't agree with what Bush did, but I can see why he's in a hurry (and it's not just that he wants to get the war started, but he wants it finished and a Happily Ever After before election time comes around so he can keep on kicking and taking names).

Your second point (-"but we're so chummy with other evil-doers"-) is also true but it seems to me again a facet of our political system. You say it makes "us" look bad but that makes the U.S. sound like a neat coherent whole that has a well-informed opinion and a consensus on how we should handle things, when in fact we're a churning mass of conflicting opinions that changes directions every 4 or 8 years. Plus, we can't take on everyone at once. It does seem logical to challenge one country at a time (so I think we should perhaps have spent a few more years and several billion more dollars on Afghanistan before taking on Iraq) and taking on the countries you *can* challenge seems a lot more sensible than going after big guys who're going to be more of a challenge.

And you said, "Some of the people who are most bitterly outraged and frustrated about this are the sensible moderates who started out thinking we really need to do something to liberate the people of Iraq..."

Well, count me among those. Bush's tendency to try to scrape together every excuse he can lay hands on to try to convince people to his side is pitiful and disturbing and causes lots of trouble. Oh for an honest politician. Heck, I'd settle for half-way honest.

#8 ::: Linda Blanchard ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 09:41 PM:

Simon said: "Dunst isn't advocating that: she's saying that it's an unspoken part and parcel of what the people she's criticizing are advocating."

I'm sorry, Simon, I'm not sure I understand what you said there. I was going to argue with what I *thought* you said but I figure it's wiser to ask you to clarify.

#9 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 12:30 AM:

The US has a long history of 'regieme change', in Central and South America.

None of those have resulted in better conditions for the people of the countries involved; not ever, not once, not one single time.

Why is Iraq going to be any different?

There's a question that the current administration should have had to answer in considerable detail.

#10 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 12:34 AM:

Oh, and 'Clinton not pushing' -- Clinton, or his foreign policy team, presumably had the smarts to recognize that there wasn't very much they *could* do.

There was no way a Republican Congress would have supported an offensive war; there is no way that Congress would have supported any decisive action on Clinton's part.

Dropping the sanctions converts Saddam into the great hero who fought the US and won; can't do that.

The slow relative prosperity ratchet might well have worked, given another couple decades; the PR problems associated with it would have needed to be directly addressed, of course, and the US is absolutely horrible at noticing that sort of problem or doing anything credible about. (Number one legacy of the Viet Nam War; the United States Government is presumed to be lying with malice aforethought, no matter what it says. Guess what the related legacy of this war is going to be?)

#11 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 02:10 PM:

There's a whole other aspect to the free speech issue related to the Onion piece: the perpetration of the idea that free speech in inappropriate , unpatriotic, if not downright treasonous, in war time implies that there's something that should be done about it. (Although one frequently encounters the "once war has started line," this meme was replicating a while before war broke out.) I do wonder if it is one of those messages that right-wing think tanks push on journalists, or whether it happend spontaneously.)

I go everywhere with at least one small child in tow, ( most recently on a long car trip through the South) and so although I would very much like to make myself a button that says something like "Disarm Bush / Someone else in 2004," or a bumper sticker, or a yard sign, or go to demonstrations, now is not the time: I have the very strong sense that if I expressed my opinions in a publicly I would be putting my children at risk -- if I had a peace-oriented bumper sticker, some whacko might rear-end me out of pure nationalistic rage.

So I have limited myself to expressing my opinions directly to elected officials, which may be in the long run more effective.

#12 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 07:58 AM:

Folks might be amused at Spiegel's description:
"The Onion": Politisch brisante Satire, mal subtil, mal kalauernd, mal chaotisch
There is a nice German language roundup of English poking fun at Bush at:
http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/netzkultur/0,1518,druck-243310,00.html (link is to the formatted for print version) Worth a look just for the English language graphics if you missed any.

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 08:39 AM:

Linda, a politician who's 100% honest all the time is no use to anyone. I'll settle for one who plays by the rules, and only shades the truth in the interest of the larger good.

Saddam is an evil bastard, no doubt about it. I'd love to see him go down. I just don't think we're handling this at all well.

You know and I know that the US is a mass of energetically conflicting opinions, but elsewhere in the world we're seen (to greater and lesser extents) as operating as a single entity. I've heard reports -- not sure yet whether they've been confirmed -- of American kids attending public schools in Australia getting bullied and blamed on the playground on account of the Iraq war. It's definitely the case that Macdonald's outlets all over the planet are catching flak for it. And poor old Sam Lundwall felt obliged to resign from SFWA, and his position as SFWA's European Director, because SFWA wouldn't come out against the war.

Did you catch the news story about Afghan leaders calling for a general uprising now that spring is here? It's come to their attention that in spite of all our pieties preached while interceding in their country, there's not a penny in the Bush budget for the promised reconstructions there; and in the meantime, we've invaded Iraq in an unseemly fashion. They've concluded that we're not the good guys after all, so it's time to give us major headaches in that time-honored fashion of theirs.

You want vexing? Try living in a city where (1.) sentiments are running strongly against Bush's war, and (2.) retaliation for it is likely to fall. I'm reduced to hoping that Brooklyn will be spared because every fractional ethnic group in the world has relatives living in the borough.

#14 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 05:04 PM:

Linda Blanchard: Your long post to Teresa is an argument for a slow, judicious turn towards a conclusion that, nothing else having worked with Iraq, military force might have to be resorted to.

And that would be fine, except that it has only the words "military force" in common with the Bush administration's position, which is determined to push this through immediately, and at the cost of every bit of moral and political influence the US possesses, and the destruction of the entire system of international law.

I am at a loss as to what you find confusing about what I wrote.

#15 ::: Kip ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2003, 07:55 AM:

A small point: Cathy and I were just in China for two weeks, and nobody there showed any tendency to scorn us for the actions of G.W. Bush. We were seen and noticed; when we had problems with something, a person who knew a few words of English would materialize and help us. After we had picked up our baby, the clothing police would make sure she was adequately covered (which she hates).

Near the end of our time in Guangzhou, the proprietor of the Indian restaurant we were in wanted to ask us questions about how things were in the US, and we tried to tell him. That amicable exchange was about as much as we ever got into it while we were abroad. Everyone was more interested in Sarah than in politics.

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