This conservative writer actually used the history of American genocide to argue for endless war in Syria

Washington Post columnist Max Boot is trying to save face Thursday after an op-ed he wrote on Wednesday advocating for an indefinite military occupation of Syria and Afghanistan sparked a passionate backlash. While his conclusion was, in fact, the establishment's conventional view of the American presence in the Middle East, he invoked a disturbing analogy as he argued we should get used to the endless conflict: the Indian Wars.

"These kinds of deployments are invariably lengthy and frustrating," he wrote. "Think of our Indian Wars, which lasted roughly 300 years (circa 1600-1890), or the British deployment on the North West Frontier (today’s Pakistan-Afghanistan border), which lasted 100 years (1840s-1940s)."

The American Indian Wars were the ongoing battles between the European colonists of the area this is now the United States. They were a part of the genocidal assault of the indigenous people in the Americas that sought to destroy their cultures and steal their land.

Boot added, referring to the present-day Middle East operations: "U.S. troops are not undertaking a conventional combat assignment. They are policing the frontiers of the Pax Americana. Just as the police aren’t trying to eliminate crime, so troops are not trying to eliminate terrorism but, instead, to keep it below a critical threshold that threatens the United States and our allies."

When portions of Boot's op-ed were shared on Twitter, there was an immediate backlash. Some, overzealously, accused Boot of advocating genocide — although their indignation can be forgiven in light of the extremity of Boot's analogy.

Boot has backpedaled, deleting a tweet that used the analogy. In a new piece Thursday, he describes the backlash as the day "the Twitter mob came for me."

There's something a bit self-pitying about the title, but finally, he admits some fault:

But I can’t pretend that this brouhaha was all the fault of my attackers. I’m ultimately to blame, because I deployed an incendiary analogy in a clumsy fashion that left lots of room for misunderstanding. My chief lesson is to be more careful in what I write. Analogies, in particular, can illuminate, but they can also obscure and confuse. They need to be handled carefully, like rhetorical high explosives.

Unfortunately, he missed the point. He sees his mistake as superficial — a poorly chosen analogy that distracts from his underlying, still defensible, point.

In fact, his analogy is more like a Freudian slip — a revealing misstep that exposes deeper issues beneath the surface.

Boot has acknowledged that he was wrong to support the Iraq War. But this new op-ed and the backlash it inspired reveals that he hasn't grappled with the fundamental failings that led to the devastating mistake in the first place.

Consider first how amazing it was that Boot didn't expect a backlash from his analogy to the Indian Wars. He thought it clarified the case he was making — and he even tweeted out the analogy, thinking it served the point of the piece well without the surrounding context. That he would so carelessly refer to the Indian Wars, without any caveats explaining how vicious, destructive, racist, and morally repugnant their fundamental justification was, suggests that the United States' core ethical failures and sins are not particularly salient to him. Someone who has not incorporated these central facts of American history into the forefront of their analysis is not someone who should readily give advice about military strategy, I contend.

And aside from showing a lack of appreciation of this history, Boot's argument belied the fact that he doesn't take seriously the critique of exactly the endless military adventures he's advocating. He argued, for example, that the United States' military should stay in Syria and Iraq, even though there's no end or victory in sight because it's in the country's interest to avoid "choosing to lose."

The critique of this view is that it leads to mission creep and justifies American imperialism. It inevitably entails a pernicious cycle of reasoning: We have to stay there to protect our interests there — and we have interests there because we stay there. It also serves to inspire much of the dangers it supposedly seeks to avoid. Is there any doubt, for instance, that much of the anger in groups like ISIS toward the United States comes from the fact that the American military is hegemonic? That's not the entire story, of course, but when people argue that we must occupy foreign lands to fight foreign terrorism, they need to explain why these occupations aren't likely to motivate at least as many attempts at terrorism as they prevent.

In discussions about the imperialist motivations behind American foreign policy, it's common to draw the connection back to the original American sin of fighting indigenous people for control over their land. The fact that Boot would make this connection himself but as a positive argument in favor of indefinite military occupation shows both a thin appreciation of alternative viewpoints and, one fears, latent imperialist attitudes.

And the fact that he would openly express such an argument actually increases the danger. Suppose there were a good, humanitarian case for keeping American troops in Syria. The fact that prominent defenders of this case would draw an analogy to the Indian Wars undermines the humanitarian case for leaving the troops in place. If even the beneficiaries of a humanitarian military operation come to believe it is inspired by imperialist motives, they could lose confidence in the effort, and it could become futile.

So, unfortunately for Boot, who is at times been a powerful critic of the Trump administration, his argument for endless war in Syria was not a mere superficial error. It was a decisive signal that the blunders and tragedies of neo-conservatism are not far behind us — they're just waiting in the wings.


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