I’m watching MSNBC’s election coverage and Chris Matthews just went on a little rant, accusing the Democrats of not knowing what to do about the war. “I can’t figure out where these people stand,” he said. (Quoting from memory here. I didn’t write it down.) “Take Hillary Clinton. What is her position on Iraq? She never says the same thing twice. You’d have to give her sodium pentothal to ever get her sincere opinion on this.”

I wonder whether Matthews is aware that in saying this he is repeating a sleazy meme crafted by Republican strategists. It is misleading, to say the least, to insist that in general Democrats have a poorer understanding or cruder plans about Iraq than Republicans do.

First, that some Democrats want the war to end some day is already a hell of a lot more sensible that any Republican’s position. Second, what kind of real plan do the Republicans have? I have not seen one. I don’t think the Republicans have the slightest fucking idea what to do next in Iraq.

So what do they do? They accuse the Democrats of not having any ideas!

Second, anyone who, unlike the Republicans, is actually thinking about what we should do in Iraq, is in a very difficult position. Of course they’re not sure how to handle it. Bush and company have dug us into a hideous fucking hole. We’re going to have a hard time climbing out of it, not because we don’t have the will, not because we don’t have the brains, but because the destruction has been so extreme.

Whatever the Democrats work out, if they are allowed to work anything out, it’s going to be an uphill battle — first, because the Republicans don’t want them to succeed, and second, because the problem is just so very, very tough.

On the other hand it has to be mentioned that the only really sensible solution to the war is to end it immediately. And I do not mean “some day.” I mean that our soldiers should lay down their weapons right now, this very minute, and leave Iraq as soon as the planes can take off.

Sure, this idea can’t be pursued politically. No one will vote for it. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Sometimes the only good idea is the one that everyone is avoiding, because to acknowledge that one good idea would be to reveal the absurdity of the whole complex of other ideas that have been discussed as if anyone ever thought they made any sense.

If you still think we should be in Iraq for any length of time I have to ask you whether you’re really OK with with murder and torture — if you’re OK with being, if only by proxy, a murderer and a torturer. Think it over. Think about telling your children that you’ve decided what should happen, for example, to children in Iraq. Are you in favor of the maiming and death and amputation and watching your parents die in flames that’s been happening to hundreds of thousands of children over there? Are you ready to explain to your children why that’s OK with you? Are you ready to explain why you figure that things like that will keep happening in Iraq but they won’t start happening where your family lives?

We were living in Oakland in 1991 when the firestorm happened. I walked to the the end of the block the top of the hill, with Noah, who was about 3. I could not believe what I was seeing. There were sheets of fire climbing the hill on the other side of the hollow, perhaps a quarter-mile away. We could see it plowing through the woods toward a cluster of houses. I thought, If the wind turns, will it come this way? After a moment Noah turned to me and asked softly, “Is the fire going to burn our house?”

We should not be burning anyone’s house. We should not be waging war. I’m sorry, it’s just that simple. But getting out, now that we’re in there, is not so simple (unless you’re an absolutist like me). So Chris Matthews should not be criticizing anyone for not having a detailed plan for getting out. He should be criticizing the people who are not planning to get out at all. They started this nightmare, and now they accuse everyone else of not knowing how to end it. Mr. Matthews should be explaining that, rather than parroting Republican talking points as if they were news.

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