Peachies and Dannies

December 11, 2006

From the very start, mainstream political commentary on the Iraq war has been a parade of false choices and rigged word games. Churchill vs. Chamberlain. Tough-minded realists vs. pro-Saddam appeasers. Support the troops vs. cut and run. They told us nothing about the real situation, but spoke volumes about the mind-set of the playground warriors strutting around the halls of government and the columns of op-ed pages.

Now, Matthew Yglesias brings us news of the latest delusional dichotomy, Truman Democrats vs. the Isolationist Left, and folks — I’ve had enough. It’s time to make my own contribution to this game, so here it is. In mass market punditry, it all boils down to whether you are a Peachy Carnehan or a Daniel Dravot.

You’ll remember that Peachy and Danny are the main characters of The Man Who Would Be King, the 1975 film based on Rudyard Kipling’s novella, and the only movie that can challenge The Treasure of the Sierra Madre for the status of John Huston’s masterpiece. Briefly put, it’s the story of two adventurers who head into the mountains of Kafiristan in search of riches and end up running the kingdom, aided by British military expertise and some chicanery that has the locals convinced that Danny is actually a god come to earth to rule them. Danny becomes convinced that he is a deity whose purpose is to lift the Kafiris up to his ideal of Western civilization. Peachy wants to take what they can and clear out, but in the end he decides to stay on a little while longer as Danny pursues his vision of godhood.

Of course, the story ends badly for both of them. Once his illusion of godhood is dispelled, Danny cannot control anything anymore. We get a last look at him falling into a bottomless chasm, his hands flailing and clutching at a golden crown that always floats just beyond his reach. Peachy is tortured into near-madness and left to grope his way back home, where he relates his story to Kipling.

It’s not a perfect one-to-one matchup. The junior league Daniel Dravot in the White House doesn’t think he’s a god, just an instrument of God. But when I watch the Sunday morning rabble, with the Joe Bidens and the Fox Newsies talking about staying just a little longer and Giving It One Last Shot in Iraq, and the William Kristols who want to stay put and teach the dirty natives a thing or two about American might, the landscape of fantasy and delusion corresponds so closely to Kafiristan that it’s almost frightening. The Dannies want to stay and play God. The Peachies want to leave somewhere down the line, but they’re going to stay on a little while longer, for the sake of appearances. But either way, they only have the illusion of control, and the outcome for each is disastrous.

There is one huge difference, though. Danny and Peachy were genuinely tough customers who did their own fighting and, when all was lost, went out with their heads high in true brassy style. Our little hammock hawks wouldn’t last five minutes in a parking lot, let alone a battlefield, and they’re happy to outsource the fighting and dying to other, braver people. And don’t expect them to go out with style, or even dignity. Their mewling and puking about the Iraq debacle has already begun, and it will continue through the new few decades, until the last neocon keels over on the wingnut rubber-chicken circuit.

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