Bleating nonsense

by Henry on November 21, 2003

I was going to blog on James Lilek’s “disgusting response”: to Salam Pax. But Dan Drezner has “beaten me to it”:



Matt Weiner 11.21.03 at 8:12 pm

And Drezner’s commenters seem to be on Lileks’ side, for the most part. On the other hand, the comments on Chris’s post below were defending the Guardian, so I am unable to draw the anti-right conclusions I might like to.


David Sucher 11.21.03 at 8:26 pm

I have always been puzzled that anyone reads Lileks more than once.


Sam 11.21.03 at 8:36 pm

I always liked this parody:

James Lileks:

Gnat was adorable today. I know that’s a standard dad thing to say (average in the way that a gray tabby cat is average – familiar, but still aggressively likable. “Like me! Purr! Hiss!”), but it’s true.

“Why can leprechauns get to end of the rainbow but we can’t?” she asked with an impertinent grin.

The sheer cuteness of it floored me.

And you know what? I couldn’t help but be reminded – by this precocious little girl who still doesn’t know what wonders and complexities await her in this world – of why the Democrats are traitors and the Left seeks to destroy all that is beautiful.

I don’t know, Gnat, I don’t know. Let’s find out together.


Esq 11.21.03 at 8:36 pm

Lileks was right, Pax was out of line. When someone bleeds and dies for your freedom, treating them as your servant that must hurry up and clean up the mess your country was made into after 30 years of tyranny is so over the line that Pax needs to either stuff it or head back to Iraq and help out.

Drezner is also out of line, if Bush was wrong to liberate Iraq in 2003, what would have made it right in 1991? Just a little inconsistency that topples his entire point.

After a little thought you too will come to the same conclusion that most of the left, right and middle of the bloggosphere has, Pax stepped in it.


judson 11.21.03 at 8:52 pm

Lileks is ‘The Irma Bombeck of guns and ammo”


Kevin Brennan 11.21.03 at 8:54 pm


1. Pax IS in Iraq. He was critisizing Saddam on his blog from Baghdad while Saddam was still in power, which means that he has taken far more risk in opposing Saddam than Lileks ever did. Aside from which his complaint is not that Saddam is gone but rather that the U.S. seems to be managing the occupation poorly, which is at the very least a defensible viewpoint.

2. Drezner supported the invasion of Iraq and shows no signs of being inconsistent. His point was clearly that the U.S. burned Iraqis by encouraging them to revolt in 1991 and then failing to support them, thus there is no reason for them to be particularly grateful that the U.S. finally did something about it.

3. I have yet to come across anybody other than Instapundit supporting Lileks. As far as I can tell the vast majority of the “blogosphere” has concluded that Lileks is the one most out of line.


John 11.21.03 at 8:57 pm

When someone bleeds and dies for your freedom

Oh, come on. Whatever we’re doing in Iraq, our professed reason for being there had little to do with securing Salam Pax’s freedom. Any Iraqi has evrey right to bitch as much as they want to about the occupation. Surely snarky obnoxiousness is preferable to, say, killing American soldiers, no?


ArchPundit 11.21.03 at 9:03 pm

Did I just read Lileks and Reynolds get upset because an Iraqi was snarky? And did Lileks just ridicule him for a clever cafe pose?

I mean, Reynolds and Lileks do have mirrors do they not? A guy who grew up under Saddam’s oppression that both of them pontificated about ad nauseum is now a giggly blogger?


Matt Weiner 11.21.03 at 9:08 pm

esq, I think that if a doctor were removing say, a tumor from my insides, I would be justified in wishing that he would not walk away before he had sewed me back up. I’d even want them to focus on the job. The U.S. has incurred obligations to Iraq, and we have no right to demand Iraqis’ gratitude until we fulfill them.


taak 11.21.03 at 9:16 pm

I think this can be settled with a food fight.

See you guys in the cafeteria later.

NOTE: in order to understand the relevant moral context of the fight, everyone try to remember who throws first.


James Hamilton 11.21.03 at 10:04 pm

Kevin Brennan: I support Lileks. But I feel sympathy for Salam Pax too – don’t forget how the Guardian began publishing his blog by editing out the parts of it that were critical of them. I have been rather sceptical of their transmission of his output since then.
David Sucher: if you only read Lileks once, you are missing out on someone who is rather more than a merely political blogger, and you should reconsider. And if you do disagree with his politics, why stop reading him then anyway? I find most of the Timberite politics dissimilar to my own, but when a regular contributor gets started on his own specialised subject, it can be worth reading. The left are meant to be curious and informed about different opinions, after all…


Harry 11.21.03 at 10:12 pm

Oh how Salam Pax was their darling when he proved the ‘power’ of their medium in Baghdad and was (critically) supportive of the war.

Then he commits two sins in the eyes of the “Uh-huh” crowd of right-wing bloggers:

1. He writes for the Guardian.
2. He is critical of the state of his country under American occupation.

So he gets “fuck you” and a dose of colonial lecturing from people who never gave a hoot about Iraq during 12 years of sanctions that followed the betrayal of 1991.

I think we have seen the limits of the conservative bloggers ‘internationalism’.


fdl 11.21.03 at 10:55 pm

my personal problem w/ lileks is that he’s a raving coward who seems stuck on sept. 12, 01. any challenge to america’s response seems to trigger another eruption. really, before he has any moral authority to tell any iraqi to commit biologically impossible activities, he needs to acquire a little of his own. & no, blogging does not create moral authority, despite lilek’s and reynold’s fervent belief to the contrary.


David Sucher 11.22.03 at 12:33 am

Thank you, James Hamilton.
I did reconsider and just spend 10 or so minutes at Lileks.
Yes he has a very nice collection of old photos of Fargo, and I do appreciate that, and might even blog about it. But what he says on a daily basis leaves me cold in both style and substance, though not necessarily in political conclusion.


Omri 11.22.03 at 2:04 am

Lileks, Salam, chill the fuck out. Both of you.
And instead of demanding that citizens of the other nation set out to clean up Iraq, come up with suggestions on what you can do to clean it up.
You do want it cleaned up, no? Also sprach Omri.


neil 11.22.03 at 2:39 am

Of course Salam was being more courageous in keeping his blog than Lileks is in keeping his. His life was probably more at risk this spring than any Minnesotan soldier’s is in Iraq today.

That was the part of Lileks’ post that really turned my stomch. He doesn’t give any indication that he cares about his fellow countryman. He doesn’t mention his name, how he died, his grieving family; instead, he uses him as a faceless, nameless cudgel to attack his political opponent. Way to show you care, James.


Dave 11.22.03 at 3:39 am

Esq: “When someone bleeds and dies for your freedom”
Salam “I hate to wake you up from that dream you are having”
This is treating like a servant? When did Bush bleed and die? Did I miss it?


Wry Sin 11.22.03 at 6:15 am

I like Matt’s surgery analogy; it reminds me of a personal experience.

I had oral surgery, and the surgeon let the anesthetic wear off before he was done.

Was I better off afterward? Yes.

Was I grateful?

Now, imagine having surgery, and despite having good advice from knowledgeable experts, the wound becomes infected because of the surgeon’s incompetence and arrogant bravado.

Shorter Lileks: Fucking ingrateful wogs.


Little Papaya 11.22.03 at 7:51 am


Let’s get down to brass tacks. When I occasionally someone a good turn, I never expect gratitude. I do it because it is the right thing to do. Gratitude is sweet – but I’d rather settle for appreciation, or even acknowledgement. And undying gratitude… as some of Drezner’s posters seem to desire – that’s just downright immature.

To see where I am coming from: I’m an Australian. You may remember how my nation sent in peacekeepers into East Timor when the Indonesian militias were going around killing people. Yes, we helped liberate that benighted nation! And when a little bit later the new East Timor government started grumbling about the inflated salaries of NGO workers and problems with the East Timor/Australian pipeline treaty… were there any whines about the “ungrateful East Timorese”? Not that I noticed.

As for Lileks: I don’t think he should shut up, so much as grow up. Telling Salam Pax to fuck off: well, that’s not setting a good parental example to his daughter, y’know.


bryan 11.22.03 at 9:41 am

I never liked Salaam’s writing, and i was unsure in the months leading up to the war if indeed he was what he seemed to be; so I didn’t read him that much, but I do seem to remember from the parts I read a certain ambivalence before the war about the idea of having one.

The parts I read he never seemed to be exactly begging to be liberated, actually he seemed more worried that he and a lot of the people he saw in the streets every day would be liberated to death.

And now he’s not grateful after practically not begging for any help all these years. coward, bitch, non-american.


JoJo 11.22.03 at 10:49 am

As I’ve said elsewhere, Lilkeks assumes that Salam Pax could have deposed Saddam but failed to do so, presumably out of mere indolence. Dresner doesn’t deny this, but says we owe him. Crap.


Karpal 11.22.03 at 2:31 pm

Salam Pax should go fuck himself. Nobody expects gratitude — but “you missed a spot” begs for ridicule.


DD 11.22.03 at 3:07 pm

For me, what matters is content over presentation.

Salam made some very good points in his content.

Personally, I prefer to think we didn’t “spill tomato juice on the carpet” last spring, but instead emptied a can of spot removal on a completely soiled carpet, but I appreciate the analogy anyways.

It’s Salam’s delivery that I just can’t stomach. The “Georgie”s and “habibi”s, coupled with the over tone DOES make him sound ungrateful for anything we’ve done. Even when he directly states his appreciation for our actions that removed Saddam, it gets lost in the transmission due to his tone.

Likewise Lileks.

The content of his direct and personal message to Salam is tough to argue against. I read it to say to Salam to be more patient, to be more civil, but most of all… be more contructive with your words.

Unfortunately, the tone of Lileks reply – starting with the first four words… words that no content could ever overcome – results in sounding more like a pot calling the kettle black.


Paul 11.22.03 at 11:31 pm

Shorter Warbloggers (Autumn, 2003 edition): “… and you can take that bitch Jessica Lynch with you, too!”

The gay-bashing in Drezner’s commments was especially silly. But push those macho-types far enough and you can count on them to start shouting “faggot!”


epist 11.23.03 at 7:53 am

It occurs to me that the case for Pax’s being ungrateful rests on the assumption that the US will install and maintain a government that will be better than Saddam’s was, and better by enough to offset the loss of life and property accompanying the invasion and occupation.

As such, criticizing the handling of the occupation at this juncture seems perfectly legitimate to me, as no-one is arguing that the current situation is such that, were it to continue as it is, it would be better than Saddam’s regime. In other words, Lileks’ claims are based on future events.

Now, if the US does set up a much freer government, and maintains it against the inevitable assaults it will face from the violent factions in Iraq, then Lileks has a right to complain that Pax jumped the gun. But until then, Lileks’ hate-filled screed is premised solely on the promise that the US will, in fact, set up a better government.

Never mind that this hasn’t yet happened, what are the odds that it will, in fact, happen?

Nothing in US history argues for America looking out for the best interests of the people whose countries they invade (or otherwise change the government of) by installing working democracies (cf. Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Iran, the Philippines, Cuba, etc.). The only instance I can think of where America brought democracy to a conquered land (that hadn’t had a tradiion of it before) is Japan. And in that case, Japan’s allies had all surrendered, and the the American Allies were triumphant throughout the world. Also, Japan was a very well established homogenous nation with a thousand years of collective history.

In contrast, Iraq’s factions have many viable allies, and the country is a recent colonial invention spanning at least three very distinct socio-ethnic groups, held togethr since its inception by tyrannical force.

So it seems to me that not only has Lileks’ jumped the gun by cussing Pax out for being ungrateful, there isn’t even a good reason to believe that Lileks’ point will be vindicated in the future.

Invasion and a violent interregnum followed by another tyrant with a different agenda (by far the most likely scenario for Iraqis) is hardly ‘freedom’, now is it? Nor is it better than Saddam. It’s certainly nothing to be grateful for, or to excuse mishandling of the period of direct colonial rule.


Dave 11.23.03 at 4:13 pm

For what it’s worth, Arthur Silber has a very long, very complex, very historical, and very angry reply to Lileks.


Clive 11.23.03 at 7:26 pm

Am I the only person who thinks this ‘giggly’ thing, and the ‘habibi’ whatnot, is also pretty homophobic (more of which if you read the comments at Healing Iraq)?

The idea that unless you are prepared to be killed in a shootout with a dictatorship you have no right to say anything at all, even about the running of your own country, is alarming at best; coming from people who claim to be fighting for all our freedoms, and those of the Iraqis, it is astonishing. So ‘we’ fought for Salam Pax’s freedom, but he has forfeit the right even to be sarcastic to the US president because he is, uh, still alive, having failed to launch guerrilla struggle….. Sorry, this is desperate stuff.


Jonathan Wilde 11.24.03 at 2:52 am

Am I the only person who thinks this ‘giggly’ thing, and the ‘habibi’ whatnot, is also pretty homophobic?

You think Salam is homophobic?


Dennis Slater 11.24.03 at 3:21 am

Salam had to depend on the US to take out Saddam for him and now he has to depend on other bloggers to take out Lileks for him.

Salam should go back to his country and help rebuild it and pick up a weapon to protect his people from the thugs ruthlessly killing many of his countrymen instead of wasting his time stirring up the anti-war bloggers.

Biting the hand that feeds, protects and is trying to help you appears to me to make him seem to be less than appreciative of the sacrifices that our country has made. We haven’t asked one of them to love us as far as I know, but it is pretty evident from recent polls there people aren’t that unhappy with our presence there and certainly do not want Saddam back.


John Hackworth 11.24.03 at 5:59 am

Lileks, I decided long ago based on his design criticism, is a cowardly intellectual bully. He has a good eye, but he’s sure willing to take cheap shots for applause at poorly-defended targets, regardless of how deserving they are. In his design criticism he takes bad photographs of the extremes of just-out-of-style design–which always looks the most dated–and invites people to laugh at them.

Do design himself? Let it be subject to criticism? Nah–Lileks is a writer.

With Salaam Pax, he’s slamming a very brave man, a designer (this is may be significant–I suspect Lileks is jealous of designers) who is on the side of englightenment values, and whose country has been turned into a hell largely because of US intervention. Lileks conveniently ignores the US work that helped put Saddam into power and helped him stay there for many years. Given that history, Lileks has no argument. But Lileks apparently is ignorant of that history (or, worse, chooses to ignore his knowlege) and he takes his cheap shot.


Nabakov 11.24.03 at 6:02 am

Hmm, sounds like Salam’s got a bit too much freedom now. Better take some back.


Clive 11.24.03 at 11:13 am

No, Jonathon, I think the attacks on him are.


Grand Moff Texan 11.24.03 at 2:46 pm

What Lileks and his defenders don’t seem to know is that Iraqis know what most Americans don’t know:

we propped Saddam up, we paid for his regime
we provided cover for the gassing at Hallabja, blaming it on the Iranians
we abandoned our allies and left them to die, then used their corpses to justify the next invasion after its flimsy pretext became a worldwide joke

and now we expect them to be GRATEFUL? Even on this thread we’ve got one of the mallpeople regurgitating the “spilled our blood for them” line.

You could only pull this off in the US, where all the things Iraqis won’t forget are also the things Americans don’t know or won’t talk about.

It’s a continuation of the same, ignorant line Americans pull on Europeans about the two world wars. Europeans will tell you that we got there late, came for our own reasons, botched the rebuilding to a substantial degree, and then expect them to kiss our ass for the rest of time, so why should they?

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