Al Franken, Chickenhawk
I used to love Franken on Saturday Night Live. Although his Stuart Smally character got old very quickly, he did a wonderful Paul Tsongas impression. I’d link to an example on YouTube, but NBC takes its intellectual property very seriously and therefore hundreds of the most humorous bits ever to air on late night television have been tragically withheld from us.
I enjoyed his 2003 book Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them): A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Well, I enjoyed the first half, much of which was a trenchant critique of modern, Fox-style conservatism. Some of the worst distortions of the Bush-era right were properly put in their place. The second half was just left-liberal boilerplate.
But this is what has always stuck in my mind about Franken’s book. It includes an illustrated chapter called “Operation Chickenhawk: Episode One” in which he characterizes many modern war advocates as hypocrites for their effortless success in dodging “service” in Vietnam. The chapter discusses such prominent hawks as George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Bill O’Reilly, and Bill Bennett. But one big problem with this humorous chapter is it includes Pat Buchanan, who, although we might all agree holds many bad positions, including on the Cold War, did not support the Iraq War. But do you know who did? Al Franken.
In chapter 41 of Liars, Franken discusses how he was among the many deceived about the war, convinced by Bush of its necessity because, after all, “the world changed” on 9/11, and the U.S. government needed to deal with Saddam’s infamous Weapons of Mass Destruction. Franken cites the uranium-from-Niger lie as the piece of evidence that clinched it for him. When it became politically correct to point out that Bush had lied the country into war, Franken felt so betrayed.
But actually, that uranium lie was discredited before the war even began. Given that he had so many researchers helping him with his book, he should have known that.
Besides, even if he did believe every single piece of propaganda about Saddam’s non-existent weapons program—and here, by the way, is my Independent Institute article from before the war, explaining why we could not trust the propaganda and why the case for war was so transparently without credibility—he should have still opposed the war. There was never any justifiable reason to support Bush’s plan to wage aggressive war on the people of Iraq, to murder many thousands of them, even if you believed Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction. It is an act of aggression to start a war, even if the enemy has scary weapons. The U.S. has a weapons stockpile that makes all the Middle East countries combined—even including Israel—seem minor in comparison. But that sure didn’t justify 9/11, did it?
Al Franken is a warmonger who turned against Bush only after it became politically correct to do so, and only turned against the war to score partisan points. He is, in principle, no less committed to U.S. imperialism and mass killing than are the neocons, even if his rhetoric isn’t nearly as offensively bloodthirsty as theirs is. In fact, his book also reveres Lincoln, one of the greatest warmongers in U.S. history.
This is all you need to know about the Franken left: They aren’t quite as crazy as the neocon right when they discuss foreign policy, but they are every bit as devoted to U.S. empire and aggressive war. And Iraq, even given Bush’s propaganda, was still, by any measure, an aggressive war, and it still is an aggressive occupation.
Am I being too harsh? I’d be happy to see Franken prove me wrong. Next chance he gets, he can refuse to finance Obama’s bloody exploits in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He can stand by principle and resist the urge to vote with the hordes to continue to appropriate our tax dollars to slaughter abroad. If he turns out to be a consistent critic of the Obama administration on questions of war and peace, I will apologize and praise his principle to the skies. But if he does vote to continue sending Americans to die and kill, he is no better than the lying liars he has made a fortune criticizing. He is no better than the chickenhawks he lambastes, and certainly not nearly as good an opponent of jingoism and aggressive war as the much more thoughtful, if sometimes inconsistent, Pat Buchanan.