Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Joe Klein is peeved with Arianna Huffington for challenging his claim that he opposed the war from 2003. In support of his attack, Klein links to these three columns. These columns are in fact critical of Bush and the neocons - although generally more critical of progressives. But not one of them actually criticizes the plan to go to war.

The first isn't really about Iraq at all, but about Israel. In it, Klein does note the more grandiose theories of the neocons that invading Iraq would lead to a democratic, pro-Israel revolution throughout the Arab world. Klein properly describes this, more than once, as a "fantasy". But while dismissive of this particular rationale, the column nowhere discusses the broader case for war.

'Two Cheers for the Peacekeepers' is primarily about the UN. It does contain the closest thing to an actual criticism of the war in these columns, "In foreign policy, there is a wildly idealistic pro-democracy jihad. (Iraq will be the first of many dominoes to fall, it is said.)" But again, this really isn't a criticism of the plan to invade Iraq, but a criticism of the most grandiose theories of justification.

'A Screech of Hawks' is the only column of the three that's primarily about Iraq. It criticizes the "intemperate" Bush diplomacy and the administration's "righteous arrogance and dim-witted machismo". But it is the style, and not really the substance, of Bush's policies that Klein dislikes. Klein quotes 3 people in this column, all of them pro-war: Kenneth Pollack, an anonymous administration source, and Leslie Gelb, who says "[Business leaders] want a smoking gun. It doesn't make a difference when I point out that we have a smoking forest, that it's clear Saddam has these weapons and doesn't want to disarm."

Of course, this is Joe Klein, so he is harsher on Democrats than on Bush, and, in keeping with the style of the time, goes out of his way to blast France.

Let's begin with a provocation: ever since Vietnam, the hawks have almost always been right on major questions of national security....George H.W. Bush was right to liberate Kuwait (and wrong not to push on to Baghdad when he had the world on his side)....Bush seems to have been blindsided by the institutional entropy of the U.N.--and the chronic grandstanding of the French and Germans. ('A Screech of Hawks')

What on earth has happened to American conservatism? It used to be a reliably dour movement, a sober restraint upon the wishful thinking of mushy-minded liberals....The paralysis of the Soviet era [at the UN] has been succeeded by a tyranny of the irrelevant — with France, and its anachronistic veto, as Exhibit A. There is, of course, a fair amount of truth to this: the U.N.'s performance in Bosnia and nonperformance in Rwanda were disgraceful (although the U.S. had a hand in the latter). The French were never serious about enforcing any of the 17 Iraq-related resolutions, including 1441. (Two Cheers for the Peacekeepers)

In fairness, there is one paragraph in the 'Screech' column which points out the danger of the post-war occupation: "[Bush] will have to be honest about what comes next, after the inevitable military victory: the likelihood that large numbers of American troops will have to remain in Iraq for years to come. There should be no illusions about the difficulty of Mesopotamian nation building. It has been attempted on this same ground many times before, by many other superpowers, and none — none — has ever succeeded."

Remember, these aren't columns I've picked to undermine Klein's claim. These are the columns Klein himself chose to document it. And they don't. He wasn't a pure down the line Bush man. He expressed some concerns before the war, and was quite negative about the most extreme flourishes of neocon dogma. But the only time he addressed the question directly before the war, he plainly said that he supported invasion.

Klein ends today's post by saying, "These are the last words I'll have to say about this matter." He doesn't want to debate the matter with Huffington or with "the take-no-prisoners left". When you can't support your claim, best to just state it and move on to other topics.

Note: Huffington responds here.