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CATHY YOUNG

Obscene gloating over US failures in Iraq

ARE SOME Americans, including journalists, rooting for the enemy while their country is at war? This question is coming up with increasing frequency as the troubles in Iraq continue.

The May 15 issue of the British magazine The Spectator published an article by Daily Telegraph correspondent Tony Hamden, recounting a conversation he had with an unnamed "American magazine journalist of serious accomplishment and impeccable liberal credentials."

According to Hamden, "Not only had she `known' the Iraq war would fail, but she considered it essential that it did so because this would ensure that the `evil' George W. Bush would no longer be running her country. Her editors back on the East Coast were giggling, she said, over what a disaster Iraq had turned out to be. `Lots of us talk about how awful it would be if this worked out.' " Hamden goes on to say that when he asked the woman if "thousands more dead Iraqis would be a good thing," her answer was, essentially, yes.

If this story -- tailor-made to confirm every conservative's worst suspicions about the media establishment -- is true, it illustrates a repugnant mentality. But some of those criticizing such attitudes reveal a mindset that, in some ways, is equally misguided. On the widely read

Instapundit.com weblog, University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds writes, "To explain things in words of few syllables: It's wrong to root for your country's defeat." Reynolds adds that it's especially wrong "when that defeat would mean the death of innocents" and "when it's merely for domestic political advantage." It's hard to disagree with the last two statements. But what about the sweeping assertion that rooting for your country's defeat is wrong?

This view is hardly limited to Reynolds alone. The other day on the Fox News Channel news show "From the Heartland," while interviewing left-wing cartoonist Ted Rall, host and former congressman John Kasich expressed dismay and shock that anyone could root against their own country in a war.

Yet what if your country, or your government, is engaged in a war that is unjust and immoral? What if it's your country that is wantonly killing innocents, as well as sacrificing the lives of its own soldiers for no good reason?

I should point out that none of this, in my view, is true of the war in Iraq. History's final verdict on this war is still a long way from being in. Yet, it is an indisputable fact that, for good or bad reasons, we went to war against a brutal, sadistic regime in Iraq -- a regime that was the worst enemy of its own people. It is also a fact that, for the most part, the United States has gone to great lengths to avoid injury and death to civilians. Indeed, despite all the troubles, polls have shown that a majority of Iraqis still believe that the US-led war was right and that it has made their lives better.

I should also note that in this case, the gloating over our failures in Iraq can be downright obscene. Rall, who debated Kasich on war and patriotism on Fox News, has mocked former football player Pat Tillman, killed in action in Afghanistan, as a "sap" who joined the army after the Sept. 11 attacks because he wanted to "kill Arabs."

Michael Moore, the so-called documentary filmmaker, compares the Iraqi insurgents -- who indiscriminately kill their own compatriots -- to the fighters of the American revolution. He also states that US forces should stay in Iraq because we must pay with our blood for this war. None of these folks show much concern for the Iraqis victimized by Saddam Hussein and his minions, or by the terrorists today.

But "my country, right or wrong" is not an answer to these ideologues. Such an attitude is worthy of the Soviet Union (where, surely, it wasn't wrong for dissidents to root against their government during the war in Czechoslovakia in 1968 or in Afghanistan in the 1980s), not of a free country.

Ironically, the same conservatives who believe that no decent American can sympathize with the other side during a war also generally believe that our troops in Iraq deserve the support of the Iraqis because we liberated them from an evil regime. Yet, following their logic, patriotic Iraqis would have had to support a homegrown tyrant over foreign occupation.

The difference, of course, is that we're not a dictatorship. So let's not demand mindless, knee-jerk patriotism as if we were. I want to support my country because it's right, not just because it's mine.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine. Her column appears regularly in the Globe. 

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