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I Am Conventional Wisdom: An Unstoppable Zombie Wreaks Havoc On America

Posted December 31, 2007 | 03:45 PM (EST)



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It's the most frightening zombie tale of the year, but it's not I Am Legend, and it doesn't star Will Smith. Instead, this one features George Bush, Dick Cheney, and a supporting cast made up of Beltway "experts" like David Brooks and Tim Russert. The script is written by a small number of Washington media types. It's called Conventional Wisdom and, sadly, it's always playing at a venue near you.

The latest version of this many-sequeled franchise premiered less than 48 hours after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. In this real-life horror, the conventional wisdom about the war in Iraq came back from the dead, reasserting the absurd notion that the more wrong you were about Iraq, the more credibility your opinion has about anything having to do with terrorism, the Middle East, Islam, or national security.

Accordingly, conventional wisdom has it that the main "beneficiaries" of the turmoil in Pakistan are Rudy Giuliani, who has yet to utter a critical word about the Bush strategy in the Middle East, and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate who took the longest to separate herself from that strategy.

You might think that the one positive thing to come out of this tragedy would be the opportunity it gives us to reassess not only our strategy in the Middle East, but the conventional wisdom that gave rise to this strategy and continues to sustain it.

But, sadly, you would be wrong. Because the conventional wisdom is composed largely of what Atrios calls "zombie lies." They cannot be stopped. For a moment or two, it may seem like you've killed them, but back they come over the horizon. Again and again and again.

One of the biggest zombie lies about our national security is that our disastrous invasion of Iraq exists in a bubble and has nothing to do with events in other countries in the region -- like Pakistan. Another zombie lie is that the people who supported this catastrophic diversion are the ones best qualified to decide how to clean up the mess they helped create. Hey, no one ever said zombies are logical.

But to even raise this point is an invitation to be attacked by the Conventional Wisdom zombies.

Just ask Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod. In response to being asked if the Bhutto assassination would benefit Hillary, he told reporters:

"She was a strong supporter of the war in Iraq which, we would submit, was one of the reasons why we were diverted from Afghanistan, Pakistan and al-Qaeda, who may have been players in this event today, so that's a judgment she'll have to defend."

Who could possibly consider this a controversial statement?

The Clinton campaign, for starters. Its spokesman Jay Carson shot back with:

"This is a time to be focused on the tragedy of the situation, its implications for the U.S. and the world, and to be concerned for the people of Pakistan and the country's stability. No one should be politicizing this situation with baseless allegations."

Hazarding the opinion that the Iraq war had diverted us from Pakistan and Afghanistan and suggesting that Hillary Clinton should have to defend her judgment to support that war is "politicizing" the situation? She's running for president, isn't she? Of course questions about what happened in Pakistan, what factors contributed to it, and what should we do about it are politicized -- as they should be.

It's no secret why the writers of conventional wisdom get so defensive when these kinds of questions are raised: their opinions helped lead to the war in Iraq, so any time the conventional wisdom is threatened, they rise up in its defense.

Exhibit A came during Obama's appearance yesterday on Meet the Press. Tim Russert, one of the temple guards of Conventional Wisdom, used one of the classic weapons in its defense: the straw man. So in asking Obama about Axelrod's comments, Russert plays the dumb-dumb and twists the argument:


RUSSERT: The Washington Post has said in an editorial that Mr. Obama committed a foul in some of your comments and some of your staff comments to the situation in Pakistan, specifically -- let me ask you a question -- do you believe that Senator Clinton's vote for, for the war in Iraq in any way, shape or form led to the events that transpired in Pakistan on Thursday?

Obama knocks the straw man down:

OBAMA: Of course not, and that's never what any of my aides said...my staff said that I think candidates will be judged based on the judgments they have made, and they made then an indisputable, I believe, comment, although The Washington Post, I think, may disagree with this. And that is that, by going into Iraq, we got distracted from Afghanistan, we got distracted from hunting down bin Laden, we got distracted from dealing with the al-Qaeda havens that have been created in northwestern Pakistan...

Russert, the Conventional Wisdom Zombie, is having none of it:

RUSSERT: But a vote for the war in Iraq, in your mind, distracted us from Pakistan and that could have led to the situation?

Obama takes another stab:

OBAMA: I am not drawing a causal relationship between any single vote in the tragedy there. The, the tragedy resulted from a suicide bomber. But what I do believe is that, if we are going to take seriously the problem of Islamic terrorism and the stability of Pakistan, then we have to look at it in a wider context. What we do in Iraq matters, what we do with respect to Iran matters, what we do with respect to Musharraf matters and not giving him a blank check and conditioning military aid that's not related to terrorism on him opening up the election so that there's greater legitimacy and less anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. Those are all parts of a broader foreign policy, and I believe that I'm best equipped to chart that new direction in foreign policy that will ultimately make American safer.

Will Smith couldn't have blown away that zombie any more effectively. But, make no mistake, it will be back.

In fact, I was going back over some of my old columns and I was struck by one I wrote during the 2004 campaign. It was about how even though the evidence overwhelmingly showed that Bush's policies at home and abroad had made us less safe, the American people believed he was the candidate best able to keep us safe. By a wide margin.

Why would the public think that? Because the Conventional Wisdom zombies kept hammering home the lie, however ludicrous it was -- and is. No matter how many times we've seen this movie, it's still shocking to see how the conventional wisdom is able to repair itself event after event after event that should have by now mortally wounded it.

But, apparently, nothing can kill the idea that those who were the most wrong about Iraq should be listened to most fervently about how to go forward.

I mean, what's next, the New York Times hiring Bill Kristol as a columnist?

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