My God! It’s Full of Arse!

by Henry on December 19, 2014

I think that anyone who sits down to read the Wieseltier decades of critical reviews in The New Republic will notice that at some mysterious philosophical level a great many of those hundreds of essays seem to cohere. It is not because they display a particular ideological bent or follow a political line. Something deeper is at work, which I do not know how to describe. (It is a task for a philosopher-historian.) I note a nearly uniform predisposition against the doctrines of determinism, whether they be scientific or economic or identity-political. There has always been, in any case, an intellectual ardor, as if the entire “back of the book” were asmolder with passion—a passion for the creative labors of certain species of writers and artists and thinkers. For the uncorruptible ones, for the ones-of-a-kind, for the people who are allergic to fads and factions and the stratagems of self-advancement. Perhaps the entire section has been animated by the belief, keen and insistent and unstated, that humanity’s fate lies in the hands of those people. This is not the sort of belief that researchers will declare one day to be scientifically confirmed. But it has the advantage of generating a hot-blooded criticism—occasionally cruel or trigger-happy, but always intense, which means thrilling.

I can’t help wondering if Berman is making some class of a highly elliptical bid to be nominated for the Bad Sex Award (subsection on intellectual affairs). Discuss, if you really have to.

{ 71 comments }

1

christian_h 12.19.14 at 12:49 am

Internet, won.

2

Chris Mealy 12.19.14 at 1:11 am

I think I read TNR for as long as I did because I quickly figured out that Wieseltier and Peretz were just bad writers, and so I never picked up on awful their politics were. Neither of them ever got to the point (I guess if your point is “Arabs are icky,” you gotta beat around the bush).

3

js. 12.19.14 at 1:26 am

Oh, wow! Halfway through I was fully expecting the coup de grace of withering critique—not, um, adulation.

4

LFC 12.19.14 at 1:47 am

At least Berman’s using this somewhat over-the-top stuff to describe ‘the back of the book,’ which there seems to be more-or-less consensus was considerably better in recent decades than ‘the front of the book’. If Paul Berman wants to get all sentimental or whatever in The Tablet about TNR’s arts-and-books section, so what? I really don’t give a flying fu*k. I’m certain Berman has written worse things than this passage over the course of his career.

5

LFC 12.19.14 at 1:49 am

P.s. to Henry: Why in God’s name are you even reading Tablet, or The Tablet, or whatever it’s called?

6

LFC 12.19.14 at 1:50 am

I guess it’s Tablet (no definite article).

7

rea 12.19.14 at 2:06 am

Has this Berman guy ever heard of the concept of “sentence,” with a subject, verb and maybe object?

8

Donald A. Coffin 12.19.14 at 2:39 am

Berman must have been reading a different back-of-the-book section of The New Republic than I was (before I gave up in the mid-1990s). Looking back from 20 years’ distance, what I remember is a stultifying uniformity of attitude (if not of judgment), rather than a section filling with contrasting voices. This was a startling contrast to the liveliness of the section under Doris Grumbach, who preceded Wieseltier, and whose editorial hand I, for one, missed.

9

JW Mason 12.19.14 at 3:05 am

I’m certain Berman has written worse things than this passage over the course of his career.

Given that his great claim to fame is making the liberal case for support for the contras, I’d say this is correct.

10

Corey Robin 12.19.14 at 4:13 am

Berman’s writing on Nicaragua was an assault on common sense; this little patch of purple is an assault on life itself.

11

JW Mason 12.19.14 at 4:22 am

Fair enough. And common sense takes some hits from this one too.

12

The Temporary Name 12.19.14 at 4:53 am

Arsemolder with passion.

13

Seth Gordon 12.19.14 at 4:54 am

Remember when TNR published the deep—mythic, even—cultural insights of Lee “sprezzatura” Siegel?

14

Ben 12.19.14 at 10:11 am

More from the “with hagiographers like these . . .” dept:

A reminiscence by one of Wieseltier’s former assistants in the LRB blog

Ostensibly it’s praise, and he seems an ok boss, but Wieseltier comes off an absolute prat.

15

Phil Koop 12.19.14 at 12:58 pm

“intellectual ardor”, “asmolder with passion”?!

Ce que vous allumez, m’eteins.

16

TM 12.19.14 at 2:02 pm

The Trouble With TNR
Eric Alterman on December 15, 2014 – 3:47 PM ET

Anyway, I’ve taken the opportunity of today’s blog post to collect a bunch of articles, columns and sections of books I’ve written that are available on the web and provide links to them. I hope those interested in the topic find them to be useful and/or interesting:

http://www.thenation.com/blog/192953/trouble-new-republic-hughes-peretz

17

William Timberman 12.19.14 at 2:10 pm

Wieseltier’s voodoo guidance. Stop already. And no, I don’t need to know what his boss’s guidance was like.

18

the other DSCH 12.19.14 at 6:19 pm

vee-ZEL-tee-AY

19

Suzanne 12.19.14 at 8:37 pm

“I’m certain Berman has written worse things than this passage over the course of his career.”

@4: I’ll say. But he may have hit a new high, or low, in this instance (stylistically, not morally – that train left the station some time ago).

“But today, amid Iraq’s dreadful death throes, where are the parlor warriors? Have those Iraqi exiles reconsidered their illusions, that all it would take was a brisk invasion and a new constitution, to put Iraq to rights? Have any of them, from Makiya through Hitchens to Berman and Berube had dark nights, asking themselves just how much responsibility they have for the heaps of dead in Iraq, for a plundered nation, for the American soldiers who died or were crippled in Iraq at their urging ? Sometimes I dream of them, — Friedman, Hitchens, Berman — like characters in a Beckett play, buried up to their necks in a rubbish dump on the edge of Baghdad, reciting their columns to each other as the local women turn over the corpses to see if one of them is her husband or her son.” — Alexander Cockburn

20

LFC 12.20.14 at 2:13 am

Suzanne @19
Cockburn, though he could sometimes (not in this instance) be infuriating, had few peers as a polemicist. The Beckett image is great.

21

Meredith 12.20.14 at 6:23 am

In the prism of my small world, I blame TNR for Netanyahu. I could but won’t chronicle my arguments with friends since the early 1980’s about much, since these are still friends, and they long since began to see the errors of their ways. (Though much has been gained by their pursuits meanwhile. Life if complicated.)

22

js. 12.20.14 at 7:43 am

@19/20: Cockburn wrote a lot of nonsense about climate change late in his (sadly short) life, but when he was on, which was more often than not, he was fucking on! On a somewhat related note, it actually genuinely saddens me that a few of our esteemed hosts/ex-hosts supported the disaster of 2003. Luckily, I wasn’t reading this blog then, or else I probably wouldn’t have continued.

23

chris y 12.20.14 at 12:21 pm

All sorts of unlikely people supported the disaster of 2003 at its inception. Most of them changed their minds PDQ; many of them apologised fulsomely. At this point, I’m really only concerned about those who didn’t.

24

LFC 12.20.14 at 8:47 pm

js. @22
I pretty much stopped reading Cockburn quite a while back, so I missed his climate change stuff. (To paraphrase the nursery rhyme, when he was good, he was very good and when he was bad, he was … etc.)

25

J. Parnell Thomas 12.20.14 at 8:53 pm

I came about Proyect because he was about the only person taking the time to respond (mainly at marxmail) to Cockburn’s climate change stuff. And I got hooked…

26

J. Parnell Thomas 12.20.14 at 8:54 pm

I don’t know that nursery rhyme, although I know the Mae West line.

27

Tony Lynch 12.20.14 at 10:46 pm

chris y: an apology isn’t enough. It is enough only if it involves remorse. Simple regret – “I wish things hadn’t turned out the way they did” – isn’t.

28

js. 12.21.14 at 12:51 am

@23: I’m not really concerned about apologies, if anyone’s owed one, it’s the Iraqi people, and certainly not me. (That said, an acknowledgment of misjudgment is important.) It’s more just that support for the war indicates to me (perhaps wrongly) a certain sort of unself-conscious American liberalism that I’m inclined to distrust, and espousal of which makes me trust the espouser less (there are exceptions, which is I suppose why I still hang out here).

In any case, this is horribly off-topic, so I won’t say more about it.

29

J. Parnell Thomas 12.21.14 at 1:04 am

zap

30

LFC 12.21.14 at 1:37 am

@J Parnell Thomas
I don’t know that nursery rhyme

Apparently the actual source is a poem by Longfellow. First stanza:

There was a little girl, who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead,
And when she was good, she was very, very good,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

http://www.destinyland.org/when_she_was_good.htm

Not sure what Mae West line you had in mind.

31

J Thomas 12.21.14 at 1:39 am

#23 chris y

All sorts of unlikely people supported the disaster of 2003 at its inception. Most of them changed their minds PDQ; many of them apologised fulsomely. At this point, I’m really only concerned about those who didn’t.

Many millions of Americans went insane on 9/11 and a lot of them hadn’t recovered by 2003. Some of them haven’t recovered to this day.

Whoever did 9/11 has a lot to answer for. Plus whoever decided on the inciteful TV coverage. It was the worst of disaster porn. For the run-up to Iraq, not much more than a year later, a lot of people still weren’t thinking clearly. They hadn’t gotten enough bloody TV coverage from Afghanistan. They wanted more blood.

32

J Thomas 12.21.14 at 1:41 am

#30 LFC

Not sure what Mae West line you had in mind.

‘When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better. ‘

Probably adapted from the poem.

33

LFC 12.21.14 at 1:47 am

JT@32
thanks

34

Michael Bérubé 12.21.14 at 4:56 pm

Ah, yes, Alex Cockburn, too stupid and/or dishonest to admit that I never supported the war in Iraq. But a golf-clap for the Beckett reference anyway.

35

bob mcmanus 12.21.14 at 5:31 pm

34: Maybe, or just spent your energy attacking the dirty effing hippies for being against the war for the wrong reasons. Which side that effectively helped at that moment is unclear?

I forget if you came out against giant puppets.

36

bob mcmanus 12.21.14 at 5:40 pm

Here we Go Berube, Boston Globe, 9/15/2002

“They did not cheer the collapse of the World Trade Center; that is simple slander. But they did argue, to their shame, that the US military response was even more morally odious than the hijackers’ deliberate slaughter of civilians.” …Berube

13 years on, that’s pretty damn wrong. I prefer Coxkburn and Chomsky.

37

LFC 12.21.14 at 8:36 pm

@34/35/36
Not sure there’s much point debating a column from Sept. 2002, but Bérubé’s basic point re the reaction of parts of the Left to the Afghanistan intervention (which had then been ongoing for roughly a year — a bit less) seems reasonable. I.e., if you denounce any and every use of force, regardless of the circumstances, as unjustified and imperialist, you lose credibility with everyone except the small group already convinced of your view.

The invasion of Iraq was wrong mainly for reasons specific to the particular circumstances surrounding it and it was also fairly clearly illegal (though intl lawyers can debate virtually anything). It seems clear to me at any rate that, judged not by their outcomes but by whether they were justified in the first place, the (mainly) air campaign in Afghanistan of Oct. 2001 and the invasion of Iraq of March 2003 stand on different footing. The course Afghanistan took afterward is another matter, but recall that this piece was written in Sept. 2002. (And note btw Bérubé’s criticism of Hitchens.)

I don’t intend to get into a long back-and-forth on this but since mcmanus linked it, it seemed some reaction was not out of place.

38

Tony Lynch 12.21.14 at 9:43 pm

chris y: where would you place Michael Berube? Apology or not?

39

bob mcmanus 12.21.14 at 10:25 pm

judged not by their outcomes but by whether they were justified in the first place

Hoocoodenode? Afghanistan been easy pickings for armies for millenia! How could we know that BushCheneyRumsfeld would find themselfs quagmired?

To gauge by the president’s speech to the United Nations Thursday, the administration actually has a serious case to make against Saddam Hussein’s violations of UN resolutions …Berube

Some of us knew that bastard Bush was poison since the 1980s, and every word from his and his minions mouths lies. Some ignorant folk were gullible, but I don’t believe that of Berube.

(And note btw Bérubé’s criticism of Hitchens.)

I should paste the sentences in full. Not exactly a Seymour level evisceration.

I just suggest new people read the linked piece more carefully than Berube’s liberal allies. It is a very calculate piece of hedging fence-sitting and hippie-punching.

40

bob mcmanus 12.21.14 at 10:37 pm

according to Brent Scowcroft, General Anthony Zinni, Lawrence Eagleburger, and James Baker III, nothing would damage our credibility so much as a unilateral, preemptive war on Iraq. …Berube

At one point I went thru it counting Republicans and Democrats. Berube sure likes his goopers.

And the way it works:

“unilateral, preemptive war on Iraq”

Bush:”I got Britain, Poland, and Togo on board!”
“Well then, the war isn’t unilateral anymore. Bombs away!”

Maybe Berube wouldn’t say it, but he sure provided the assist and setup for those who did.

41

LFC 12.21.14 at 11:30 pm

Hoocoodenode? Afghanistan been easy pickings for armies for millenia! How could we know that BushCheneyRumsfeld would find themselfs quagmired?

not exactly what I meant.

Obvs if you think there’s no difference whatsoever betw Afghanistan, Oct. ’01, and Iraq, March ’03, you’re not going to like the piece. I wdn’t sign on to every sentence by any means, but by all means people shd read it — and yes, pls. read it more carefully than “Berube’s liberal allies.” Since (1) I don’t consider myself a ‘liberal’ as the word is used in contemporary US political discourse, and (2) I’m not one of Berube’s “allies,” whatever that means, this phrase can’t apply to me.

mcmanus apparently thinks everyone who doesn’t share his views on everything and also is not a conservative or libertarian must be a “liberal.” I’ll leave it to others whether this makes sense.

42

LFC 12.21.14 at 11:32 pm

according to Brent Scowcroft, General Anthony Zinni, Lawrence Eagleburger, and James Baker III, nothing would damage our credibility so much as a unilateral, preemptive war on Iraq

Having read the Berube column linked by mcmanus above, I’m pretty sure this sentence is not in it.

43

bob mcmanus 12.21.14 at 11:49 pm

42:Lying liberal, it is the first paragraph. Now you have angered me.

My own position? I will get to it. First, why Chomsky and Cockburn were right and Berube wrong on Kosovo.

Kosovo set up two precedents: one really bad, and one horrible.

1)The bad one: We don’t need no stinking UNSC Resolution to bomb Kosovo. This obviously came back to bite Democrats in 2002, people really opposed to the Iraq War demanded a Security Council Resolution. People who supported Kosovo had big problems avoiding hypocrisy.

2) The Kosovo Precedent of Endless Horror. Death From the Air, LFC’s favored bombing campaigns. The Laws of War explicitly say “You break it, you own it.”

If you disrupt a nation’s internal peace-keeping structures, you need to put as many boots on the ground as it takes to protect civilians from militias and reprisals. You are legally bound to make and keep the peace once you bomb a country into chaos. How many troops did we have in Germany and Japan for how long? War should be very very hard and costly, not simply sending drones guided from Kansas. That is evil.

All, I mean all, the internecine killing in Iraq (and Libya) are our responsibility and our fault.

My own position in 2002-2003? “50 million soldiers for five years, 5 millionfor fifty years…or nothing. Don’t go.”

Ridiculous? I was serious (maybe a little high)

Because I knew the American way of war, established by Clinton in Kosovo, and I knew if Death from the Air started, we would be bombing and droning a chaotic Middle east…forever.

44

Happy Jack 12.22.14 at 1:12 am

Huh. Until that link, I’ve never seen the claim that Afghanistan was controlled by Al Qaeda. That’s a novel theory. I’ve always questioned how much the Taliban controlled the country, considering the unruly in-laws staying in that spare bedroom in the Panjshir Valley.

As far as being a ” beacon of freedom and democracy”*, I’m not sure if that was accomplished, but extracting a pound of flesh for the death of 3000 Americans has been paid. With interest. The US is well ahead on the civilian death ledger. The Afghanis will think twice about supporting the Taliban again.

* Is this beacon mounted above a shining city on a hill?

45

Theophylact 12.22.14 at 1:30 am

bob mcmanus: As I read Bérubé’s piece, it’s pretty clear that his condemnation of Chomsky et al. was for their opposition to the US invasion of Afghanistan. That had pretty good justification, as the Taliban were protecting the author of the 9/11 atrocity. But you’re conflating that with support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which then and now seems clearly indefensible. I give Bérubé full marks.

46

LFC 12.22.14 at 2:28 am

mcmanus 43
it is the first paragraph

you’re right, it is. didn’t sound familiar for some reason but i shd have rechecked. But you have an odd notion of what “lie” means.

LFC’s favored bombing campaigns

The Berube column mentioned Kosovo, but I said nothing about it. So this is unwarranted. Actually there are serious criticisms to be made of that campaign, and I don’t see why you leap to assume I supported it or (a separate question) the way it was conducted. I’ll leave it at that.

47

LFC 12.22.14 at 2:56 am

mcmanus 43
The Laws of War explicitly say “You break it, you own it.”

I cd well be wrong, but I can’t recall mcmanus ever explicitly mentioning “the laws of war” before in a comment. There is prob. a reasonably good case that some kind of mil. action vs Afghanistan in Oct ’01 was justified by ‘the laws of war’ or at any rate by the UN Charter. (That doesn’t necessarily say that the specific *means* chosen, initially or later, were justified.)

48

js. 12.22.14 at 6:53 am

Bérubé’s basic point re the reaction of parts of the Left to the Afghanistan intervention (which had then been ongoing for roughly a year — a bit less) seems reasonable.

It doesn’t though, actually. Honestly, I never did understand what the Left case for Afghanistan war was supposed to be. But whatever, I love Berube (sorry, on phone, so can’t do accents), so I don’t want to push any more on this.

But… maybe worth mentioning that on some thread where the question of the left vs. liberalism in the US came up, I noted that support vs. not for the war in Afghanistan was a good, rule-of-thumb-ish marker.

49

J. Parnell Thomas 12.22.14 at 7:23 am

I heard he just did a Christmas show with Ariana Grande.

50

SC 12.22.14 at 7:40 am

Just an aside to this thread but . . . if you’ve got a jones for Cockburn, it’s worth tracking down a copy of Washington Babylon, his Devil’s Dictionary of the DC Village, co-authored with Ken Silverstein. Copies have always been available but the book was pulped about the time Verso released the PB due to a successful Larry Pressler libel suit. It’s one of Cockburn’s least known books but it’s a wild amusing ride, filled with paragraphs like the Friedman/Hitchens/Berman Beckett play quote above.

51

J Thomas 12.22.14 at 11:49 am

#47 LFC

There is prob. a reasonably good case that some kind of mil. action vs Afghanistan in Oct ’01 was justified by ‘the laws of war’ or at any rate by the UN Charter.

Maybe. Try a similar case in a different context.

Imagine that Rupert Murdoch is visiting the USA (for the story let’s pretend he’s Australian), and the Russians announce that he is responsible for a terrible crime that happened in Russia and we have to hand him to them. Also they want us to shut down every US Murdoch business including the Wall Street Journal and 20th Century Fox. We ask what evidence they have, and they say it’s secret and they won’t tell us. We suggest that possibly they might present their evidence in a US court and they say no, we have to hand him over right now. What if we send him to Australia and let the Russians present their case in an Australian court? No, their evidence is secret, we have to give them Murdoch right now. Congress starts debating what to allow the president to do. Seventeen days after their first communication about Murdoch, Russia declares war.

Of course the Russians would never declare war on the USA. But would they be justified to do it given that history?

Given that things tend to move at a faster pace in the USA, would the Russians be justified to declare war six days after the first ultimatum?

52

Theophylact 12.22.14 at 3:42 pm

J Thomas, your version has its problems. Bin Laden was hardly “visiting” Afghanistan, and seekrit evidence or not he was taking credit for the 9/11 attacks.

As for our subsequent conduct of the war, yeah, there’s a good case to be made against our systemic failures and crimes. Indeed, those partly explain why we turned to Iraq as a distraction.

53

LFC 12.22.14 at 5:13 pm

js. @48
As with many controversial decisions involving the use of mil. force, there were, I’m sure, a range of positions on the initial decision in Oct. ’01 to remove the Afghan Taliban government by force. (I don’t recall the debates that well, actually, partly b.c I was preoccupied with working on something far removed from them.)

The spectrum probably went from “this is a crime against humanity on a massive scale” (paraphrase of Cynthia Peters [as she is quoted in the B&ecaute;rubé column]) to the right-wing talk-radio line, with various positions in between. If you reduce it to a basic binary choice as of Fall 2001 — do something militarily vs. the Afghan Taliban government or don’t — would this be a good rule-of-thumb divide between ‘liberalism’ and ‘the left’? I’m somewhat skeptical of that, but would want to look at the debates at the time more closely (beyond this one column).

54

LFC 12.22.14 at 5:17 pm

p.s. Obviously there were the divides betw. the ‘law-enforcement’ model of response to terrorism and the view that saw 9/11 as, in effect, an act of war poss. justifying a military response of some kind, but again, I think one wd need to look at the debates in more detail.

55

LFC 12.22.14 at 5:23 pm

p.p.s. And even if one sided with the latter view, that didn’t dictate everything about the particular kind of response. E.g., G.W. Bush ‘declared war’ not only on al-Qaeda but on all terrorist groups “of global reach” — and that set the stage for a string of bad decisions subsequently.

56

Roger Gathmann 12.22.14 at 6:15 pm

45. The idea that the Taliban was protecting al qaeda was the common, indeed, the only idea post 9/11. I believed it. Which is why I was shocked, reading the recent book about afghanistan, No Good Men among the Living, to see that this was not true. The Taliban offered to turn Osama bin Laden over to a third, islamic power for trial. Bush unilaterally rejected this offer. This was not covered up – it was just lost:
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/oct/14/afghanistan.terrorism5

Now, in retrospect, we can compare cases, one of which entails Osama bin Laden escaping and successfully hiding from a United States that was exploiting his image as the master terrorist to go into another war, and killing him 8 years after 9.11, and one in which the Taliban turned him over to a third power – say the Saudis, who definitely owed Bush big time for the blind eye turned to the Saudi intelligence post 9.11.

I would have to say the supporters of the invasion of Afghanistan (I’d include my own self here) were wrong about the whole thing. And they were especially wrong in allowing Bush to turn the entire situation into one in which the choice was to support the war or not, instead of one asking about the evident failure, the criminal neglect, and the gross stupidity of the Bush administration which had bypassed every chance to stop the hijacikers before they ever got going. It was an administration foisted upon us by judicial coup, and composed of the most incompetent crew of clowns we have seen in DC since Warren Harding.

Chomsky and Cockburn were not the enemy.

57

MPAVictoria 12.22.14 at 6:36 pm

“It was an administration foisted upon us by judicial coup, and composed of the most incompetent crew of clowns we have seen in DC since Warren Harding.”

If I were god this would be the new US motto. It would be engraved on every public monument, bill and coin in the land.

58

Ze Kraggash 12.22.14 at 8:19 pm

“The Taliban offered to turn Osama bin Laden over to a third, islamic power for trial. Bush unilaterally rejected this offer. ”

As I remember the story (indeed, it was in the news), Bush declared that he happens to have an undeniable proof of bin Laden’s guilt in his possession, but the evidence is so secret that it can’t be shown to anybody in the world. After a while they seemed to realize that it sounds just a bit too ludicrous, and so they did something even more absurd: Bush showed his super-secret evidence to Blair, and Blair publicly confirmed that yes, he’d seen the the proof and he’s completely satisfied with it. Then the war started, and it was all forgotten. Tragedy and farce, as usual.

59

J Thomas 12.22.14 at 9:02 pm

#52 Theophylact

J Thomas, your version has its problems. Bin Laden was hardly “visiting” Afghanistan, and seekrit evidence or not he was taking credit for the 9/11 attacks.

Bin Ladin denied the attacks in 2001. There was a confession which was attributed to him, in 2004.

And Rupert Murdoch is hardly “visiting” the USA. There’s a US law that only US citizens can own US TV stations so he became a US citizen and lost his Australian citizenship. So in reality it doesn’t fit the Bin Ladin case, if Bin Ladin had been a citizen of Afghanistan then it would have been more clear-cut that the Taliban had the right to give him to the USA, just like the USA could easily give any US citizen to Russia that the Russians wanted.

60

LFC 12.23.14 at 2:14 am

For the record:
I decided not to get into an insult match with mcmanus upthread. However, I view the opening of his comment @43 and in particular his designation of me as a liar as beyond the bounds. I had made a factual mistake about what was in the column, which he could have corrected without accusing me of deliberately lying. He also incorrectly and unfairly charged me with favoring ‘Death from the Air’ (his phrase). However, in the interests of minimal civility (a quality that I see another commenter is currently pooh-poohing on a more recent thread), I decided to refrain from upping the insult ante. I’m not patting myself on the back here, as I’m sure my behavior on comment threads has certainly not always been exactly what it should be. But as I said, just for the record, and also because on most or many threads, as has been the case here, no one will make that record or object to something objectionable if one doesn’t do it oneself. (Btw interacting with mcmanus here is something I should try to do less of, I think.)

61

LFC 12.23.14 at 2:18 am

Clarification: what I meant in second-to-last line is simply that unless a commenter responds to insults directed at him or her, they often go unremarked or unresponded to. Which is both sort of understandable and, given the character of comment threads, probably inevitable.

62

js. 12.23.14 at 5:27 am

LFC @53/54:

I was making a rather limited point, one I had originally made (I think) in the context of JQ asking about the left/liberalism divide in the US. That point being that you could use support vs. not for the military response in Afghanistan (among left of center people) as a rough proxy for self-described liberals vs. self-described lefties. But I admit it’s a tentative and somewhat speculative point even so.

(By the way, I never got around to responding, but your response to me on CB’s ‘Detention’ thread quoting Walzer was quite helpful, insofar as I realized (once again!) that I really can’t settle on a coherent, satisfactory view on the legitimacy question. So, thanks. I think.)

63

LFC 12.23.14 at 2:19 pm

js.:
…I realized (once again!) that I really can’t settle on a coherent, satisfactory view on the legitimacy question

You’re not alone — I’m not sure I can either.

64

Michael Bérubé 12.23.14 at 2:21 pm

Never mind me. The issue is Cockburn. When, in 2002, I mistakenly identified Michael Walzer as a supporter of the war-in-Iraq position, I simply apologized. When Cockburn mistakenly identified me as a supporter of the war, he doubled down– for roughly the reasons good ol’ bob macmanus rehearses here: I thought, among other things, that it was wrong to accuse the US of “silent genocide” in Afghanistan. And so, for the “if you’re not with us you’re against us” wing of the left, that was that.

But among Cockburn’s many lapses of judgment, that one is small beer. The climate change denialism is an outright embarrassment, but before that, there was his fondness for far-right militias in the US, his enthusiasm for jury nullification, and his willingness to peddle the fringe-far-right tin-foil-hat theory that Bill Clinton was running cocaine through the Mena airport in Arkansas. And let’s not forget the immortal “if ever a country deserved rape, it’s Afghanistan.” The sad fact is that Cockburn was a dimmer bulb than most people were willing to admit, and yes, sometimes he could even be the enemy. But credit where credit is due, he was right on Iraq, as was I, and Berman was not.

65

bob mcmanus 12.23.14 at 8:59 pm

60: Foooor the record, you didn’t make a “factual mistake,” you accused me in 42 of making a false claim about what was in the article, in other words, you effectively called me a liar first.

How was I to fairly interpret “I read the article, and that wasn’t there” in connection with my comment? If it was a neutral article, I might be more generous and say you can’t read (or whatever), but since your “misreading” was combined with an attempt at discrediting me, I think it fair to attribute a malicious motive.

64: I should really fisk the whole article to show how it is done by a professional. But just two examples, already mentioned:

They did not cheer the collapse of the World Trade Center; that is simple slander. …Berube

I think this rises above LBJ’s “make him deny it” tactic. Exactly why are you repeating slanderous material and ensuring it is out there? Who is the “they” you are so valiantly protecting from calumny by publicizing an defamatory accusation? This one is funny.

Hitchens:

like The Nation columnist Christopher Hitchens, have tentatively suggested that the United States might do well to consider that “you can’t subject the Iraqi people to the cruelty of sanctions for so long while leaving the despot in place.” (Hitchens notes that since the United States has intervened on Saddam Hussein’s behalf in the past, “there is at least a potential argument that an intervention to cancel such debts would be justifiable.” Who could have imagined that Hitchens and his lifelong nemesis Henry Kissinger would wind up sitting on the same fence, each refusing to look at the other?) …Berube

What I noticed was that you managed in that portion to quote two of Hitchen’s pro-war arguments into the piece without refuting or agreeing or disagreeing with them. (Perhaps three pro Iraq War arguments, if you count Hitchens and Kissinger newly finding common ground). There is a lot more like that.

In sum, I think the article, written and published in close proximity to the AUMF vote in Congress, does in effect support the War in Iraq, while carefully maintaining a plausible deniability.

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bob mcmanus 12.23.14 at 9:44 pm

60, more:

37, LFC: It seems clear to me at any rate that, judged not by their outcomes but by whether they were justified in the first place, the (mainly) air campaign in Afghanistan of Oct. 2001 and the invasion of Iraq of March 2003 stand on different footing.

Is where the “Death from the Air” comes from, your claim that an air campaign in Afghanistan stands on a different (moral?) footing from a ground invasion.

If the difference were purely a matter of legal justifications, the tactics involved (air vs ground) need not have been mentioned.

I may not be able to write my way out of a paper bag, and I certainly have no allies, but I hope that I have learned to read.

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MPAVictoria 12.23.14 at 9:46 pm

“I certainly have no allies”

Well okay but that is mainly your own doing.

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LFC 12.24.14 at 3:11 pm

b. mcmanus
Is where the “Death from the Air” comes from, your claim that an air campaign in Afghanistan stands on a different (moral?) footing from a ground invasion.

No, you misunderstood this, albeit for somewhat understandable reasons b/c of the way I phrased it. The Afghanistan action stood on a different footing because it was (arguably) justified as an act of self-defense under the UN Charter (emphasis on ‘arguably’), whereas the invasion of Iraq, by contrast, had no such even arguable justification and was clearly illegal. My point had nothing to do, was intended to have nothing to do, with ground vs. air. I see that I did write “(mainly air) campaign” as an adjectival phrase, a description in passing, and that’s where the misunderstanding arose; but that was not my point so I shouldn’t have included that phrase.

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LFC 12.24.14 at 3:19 pm

p.s. So your charge that I favored ‘Death from the Air’ I now view as leaping to put an uncharitable/unwarranted construction on what I wrote, though, given my phrasing, I see how you could have arrived at that interpretation.

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LFC 12.24.14 at 3:34 pm

p.p.s. The phrase ‘Death from the Air’ is, of course, highly tendentious, implying as it does that one takes some kind of pleasure in violence and killing; so really I don’t retract my objection to this.

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LFC 12.24.14 at 3:41 pm

And given what I’ve written on other threads here (for example, the recent long thread on the bombing of cities in WW2), I think I’ve made my views on this question pretty clear.

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