The Fragile "Worldview" Of A Liberal Hawk

Okay, I’m just getting started on reading George Packer’s book The Assassin’s Gate (I admit I’m about 3 months behind all the cool kids on this one).

Packer, as most surely remember, was one of the “Liberal Hawks” who supported the invaision of Iraq (Packer’s definition of a Liberal Hawk and distinguishing that creature from other liberals is a jumble — but that’s for another post).

What strikes me as odd in the early part of the book is this statement explaining how he shifted from being “dovish” after the Gulf War in 1991.

Still the footage of grateful Kuwaitis waving at columns of American troops streaming through the liberated capital knocked something ajar in my worldview. American soldiers were the heroes.

I immediately recalled the first-hand description of the same event given by Anthony Swofford in Jarhead.

One morning we receive a call over the radio that our battalion is in queue for the victory lap through Kuwait City ….

Our convoy rambles through the outskirts of the city, through the poor neighborhoods, where olive-skinned and overweight mothers clutch babies to their large breasts and with one hand wave Kuwaiti and American flags. Their homes are made of stone and held together, it seems through the creative manipulation of plywood and nails. The only Kuwaitis we see are these women and young children. they chant, “USA, USA,” and we wave, occasionally a jarhead jumps from his truck and hugs a woman or child while one of his buddies snaps a picture. These must also have been the neighborhoods of the expatriate workers, the workers from the PI and Malaysia and India and Egypt working for cheap with limited human rights, the people whose population, before the invaision, had nearly matched that of the nationals. These Kuwaiti women with their children aren’t the ones we fought for: we fought for the oil-landed families living in the palaces deep with gold, shaded by tall and courtly palm trees. These flag waving women are just like us, these women are our mothers, and those children dirty at the mouth with skinned and bloody knees, they are us and our sisters and our neighborhood friends.

Our convoy is not allowed to drive farther than this ghetto. We’re turned around by MPs, stationed at checkpoints preventing us from entering the actual city, from driving through the neighborhoods where in the homes, the palaces, I imagine women and men are busy making lists of the assets and property stolen or vandalized during the Iraqi occupation, while they lived in five-star hotels in Cairo and London and Riyadh.

We turn around and pass the same women and children from earlier, and I assume they’ve been placed there by the Kuwaiti and U.S. governments, handed the flags, and told to stand in their gravel yards at certain hours while the U.S. troops pass, and smile and wave your flags and act happy for your freedom. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe during the occupation they stowed the U.S. flags in their kitchen cupboards, waiting for this glorious day.

In the run up to the latest Iraq war, the Liberal Hawks left a bad taste in my mouth. They chided other liberals and not on the substance of our arguments. Instead, they helped portray us as naive or simply consumed by irrational Bush hatred. Now I don’t specifically recall if Packer engaged in such antics. Still it strikes me as strange that this man who is supposed to be this great and serious thinker could have his “worldview” set “ajar” by an event that may have been more theater than reality.

And it isn’t like serious people don’t know that the U.S. gamed other stories to support that war, e.g. the throwing-babies-from-incubators story.

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