Goldberg v. Cole Redux
Goldberg seems to like embarrassing himself, so he won’t let go.
Let us see what has been established. First, I alleged that Goldberg has never read a book about Iraq, about which he keeps fulminating. I expected him at least to lie in response, the way W. did when similarly challenged on his book-reading. I expected Goldberg to say, “That is not true! I have read Phebe Marr’s book on modern Iraq from cover to cover and know all about the 1963 failed Baathist coup!” But Goldberg did not respond in this way. I conclude that I was correct, and he has never read a book on this subject.
I am saying I do not understand why CNN or NPR would hire someone to talk about Iraq policy who has not read a book on the subject under discussion. Actually, of course, it would be desirable that he had read more than one book. Books are nice. They are rectangular and soft and have information in them. They can even be consumed on airplanes. Goldberg should try one.
Goldberg is now saying that he did not challenge my knowledge of the Middle East, but my judgment. I take it he is saying that his judgment is superior to mine. But how would you tell whose judgment is superior? Of course, all this talk of “judgement” is code for “political agreement.” Progressives think that other progressives have good judgment, conservatives think that other conservatives have good judgment. This is a tautology in reality. Goldberg believes that I am wrong because I disagree with him about X, and anyone who disagrees with him is wrong, and ipso facto lacks good judgment.
An argument that judgment matters but knowledge does not is profoundly anti-intellectual. It implies that we do not need ever to learn anything in order make mature decisions. We can just proceed off some simple ideological template and apply it to everything. This sort of thinking is part of what is wrong with this country. We wouldn’t call a man in to fix our plumbing who knew nothing about plumbing, but we call pundits to address millions of people on subjects about which they know nothing of substance.
But I did not say that Goldberg’s judgment is always faulty. I said he doesn’t at the moment know what he is talking about when it comes to Iraq and the Middle East, and there is no reason anyone should pay attention to what he thinks about those subjects, as a result. If judgment means anything, it has to be grounded in at least a minimum amount of knowledge. Part of the implication of my assertion is that Goldberg could actually improve his knowledge of the Middle East and consequently could improve his judgment about it (although increased knowledge would only help judgment if it were used honestly and analytically). I don’t think he is intrinsically ignorant, I think he is being wilfully ignorant. He’d be welcome to get a sabbatical and come study with me for a year some time.
Poor Jonah can’t get anything right when it comes to me. He tries to imply that I don’t speak Arabic, citing a comment by As’ad Abukhalil on my recent al-Jazeerah appearance. As`ad praises me for apologizing to al-Jazeerah readers for not speaking Arabic in the bulk of the interview. What he didn’t say was that I began by speaking in Arabic and I apologized in Arabic. I said I preferred to speak English because the subject required exactitude. I have given more than one interview in Arabic, including on Radio Sawa Iraq. In this instance I felt it was important to have absolute control of nuance, which can only be had in one’s mother tongue. When we were bantering before the show in Arabic, and I explained how I felt to Fuad Ajami and the others, Fuad quipped that my Arabic was better than some (highly westernized) Arab rulers. I know three kinds of Arabic– Modern Standard, Lebanese dialect and Egyptian dialect. My Arabic is not free of solecisms because I didn’t start it until I was an adult, and sometimes something from one of the three slips into the other. But I did live in the Arab world nearly 6 years altogether, and do speak the language. Sorry, Jonah, the problem with not knowing what you are talking about is that you get things wrong.
Jonah notes that I found it difficult to oppose the 2003 war against Iraq because I also did not want to help keep Saddam in power, to continue to oppress the Iraqi population. But that is different from saying that I advocated the war. In fact, I said more than once that I thought it was a very bad idea, that it was not justified by any threat to the US from Iraq, that there was no Iraq-al-Qaeda link, and that no war would be legitimate without the full support of the international community (as suggested in the Genocide Convention). I also said that I felt that the US military lives lost in the March-April 2003 war were not for naught, because they did overthrow a genocidal dictator. It would be horrible to think that those lives were wasted. They weren’t. But lives lost after about May of 2003 were often lost unnecessarily and as the result of bad Bush administration policy. Goldberg is hoping to Kerryize me because my position on the war can’t be reduced to a sound bite. I don’t really care. I’m not running for office and I’m not making any money to speak of from this punditry gig. If people can’t imagine that you can hate Saddam and also think a unilateral war and long-term occupation of an Arab country are bad ideas, that is their problem.
I challenged Goldberg to a public debate on the Middle East, since that was the subject on which he attacked me. His response was not, quite frankly, the response of a man to a challenge. He wanted to put on all kinds of pissant conditions on the subject of the debate. It is sort of as though Wyatt Earp challenged a bad guy to a shootout after the outlaw burped rotgut whiskey in his face and called him a wimp. And when Earp challenges the black hat, the guy turns to jelly and says, “O.K., but you can’t use that Colt, it has to be little bitty derringers like the one I use to shoot people in the back at night.”
Let’s see, Goldberg’s remarks were about the relative virtues of the elections in Iran and Iraq. He declined my challenge, saying he would only debate me on US politics or US foreign policy. In other words, he thinks it is all right to sit up on a perch and snipe at me through his privileged access to the media (given to him why?) on Middle East issues. But he is afraid to debate me publicly on those same issues. I don’t understand. If he thinks he knows what he is talking about in print, why wouldn’t he risk talking about the same things verbally and in person? I’ll tell you why. It is because when writing an op-ed, he can get away with only seeming to grasp the facts, whereas in person he can be busted and shown to be only a poseur. I’m not interested in a debate on why Steve Hadley overruled George Tenet to authorize the passage in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address falsely alleging that Iraq had attempted to buy Niger uranium.
I should be clear that I am not interested in wasting any more time on Goldberg’s illogicality in print. If he will not agree to a debate this spring without any conditions or restrictions on subject matter, then I wash my hands of him.
Then I alleged that Goldberg didn’t know what he was talking about when he disparaged my comparison of the Iraqi elections (anonymous candidates, 53 withdrawals by lists on the ballot, poor security, etc.) to Iranian ones. He actually admitted his ignorance when challenged, saying he would have to check up on it. His current response is that once Khatami was elected, he was unable to make substantial changes in Iran. But that was not the issue at debate. The issue was a narrow one. It had to do with the democratic character of the elections themselves, not with the aftermath. We can’t compare the aftermath of the two elections because we don’t know how the situation will evolve in Iraq.
Goldberg also makes an elementary error in arguing that the fact that people in Iran are disillusioned with Khatami now, in 2005, has any bearing on their attitudes in 1997 when they first elected him. As a historian, Jonah, let me explain to you about this mistake. It is called “anachronism.” It occurs when people argue that present conditions explain past ones. It doesn’t work that way. Mostly because time’s arrow goes forward, not backwards. I should explain that one too. It is called “the second law of thermodynamics.” Apparently this law does not exist in Punditland, where the grand pooh-bahs are all permitted 3 anachronisms before breakfast.
Goldberg also cites Michael Ledeen saying that the Jan. 30 elections were, too, a model for other Middle Eastern countries, because so many lists were allowed to participate. But there were limiting factors in Iraq, too. One US embassy official said that it wouldn’t be possible for Iraq to have a prime minister of whom the US disapproved. Judith Miller just last week on Hardball let slip that the US is offering people cabinet posts in the new Iraqi government. And where exactly did all that money come from for Iyad Allawi’s (an old-time Baathist and then CIA asset) campaign? Goldberg waxes indignant that I associated him with the sabre rattling toward Iran, but then cites Ledeen, the 21st century’s most strident warmonger! Goldberg may as well have just cut out the middleman and cited Italian military intelligence on Iran. Ledeen has been involved in defending the terrorist organization, the Mojahedin-e Khalq, from being so branded by the State Department, and is deeply involved with Larry Franklin, now under investigation by the FBI for alleged espionage.
Goldberg alleges that I said the Iraqi elections would be a disaster. What he doesn’t say is that I gave a reason for my position. It was that this sort of election on January 30 would produce a parliament in which Sunni Arabs were grossly under-represented and the Shiite religious parties would be over-represented. My prediction was exactly on target.
In the end, I am saying that Goldberg’s punditry is empty. All he has to offer us is a party line and a strongly held opinion. Not all pundits are in this category. Goldberg is particularly unsubstantive.
Then one of my readers suggested that if he was so in favor of killing people abroad, he might want to make the sacrifice to go do it himself instead of sending others. He replied that his family needs the money he gets from his work and that he has a daughter! This response made me embarrassed for him.
Although I do not believe that everyone who advocates a war must go and fight it, I do believe that young men who advocate a war must go and fight it. Goldberg was in his early 30s in 2002, and the army would have taken him. An older colleague who was at Harvard in 1941 told me about how the freshman class rushed to enlist. That was the characteristic of the Greatest Generation– they put their money where their mouths were. Goldberg’s response was insulting to all the soldiers fighting in Iraq who have suffered economically and who are remote from their families.
I don’t think there is anything at all unpatriotic about a young man opposing a war and declining to enlist. But a young man (and this applies to W. and Cheney too) who mouths off strongly about the desirability of a war is a coward and a hypocrite if he does not go to fight it.
But Goldberg is just a dime a dozen pundit. Cranky rich people hire sharp-tongued and relatively uninformed young people all the time and put them on the mass media to badmouth the poor, spread bigotry, exalt mindless militarism, promote anti-intellectualism, and ensure generally that rightwing views come to predominate even among people who are harmed by such policies. One of their jobs is to marginalize progressives by smearing them as unreliable.
The thing that really annoyed me about Goldberg’s sniping was it reminded me of how our country got into this mess in Iraq. It was because a lot of ignorant but very powerful and visible people told the American people things that were not true. In some instances I believe that they lied. In other instances, they were simply too ignorant of the facts to know when an argument put forward about, say, Iraq, was ridiculous. For instance, it was constantly said that Iraqis were “secular.” This allegation ignored four decades of radical Shiite organizing and revolutionary activity by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the al-Dawa Party, and others, as well as the influence on Iraqis of the Khomeini revolution and of the 1991 Saddam crackdown on Shiites. They were never contradicted when they said this on television, though.
And, of course, there was all that hype about Iraq being 2-4 years from having a nuclear weapon, which was either a Big Lie or a Dr. Strangelove fantasy. Khidir Hamza appears to have been paid by someone (and got big royalties from the American Enterprise Institute) to spin a web of complete lies about the Iraqi (non-existent by then) nuclear program. Goldberg in particular pushed that line, with his North Korea comparison, on a number of occasions. His current excuse is that other people were wrong, too. D’oh.
Contrary to Goldberg’s assertion, the UN weapons inspectors did not substantiate the Bush administration’s rationale for war. By early March of 2003, the weapons inspectors had visited 100 of the 600 sites specified by the CIA and found bupkes. Bush pulled them out and went to war anyway, over their objections. Goldberg ridiculed the Europeans for asking for the inspectors (who had just gone in) to have more time to complete their task. But if they had been allowed to do so, as the French suggested, we might have avoided this war. Even before they went back in, Scott Ritter was saying the vast majority of the stuff had been destroyed. And Imad Khadduri, who is, like, a real Iraqi nuclear scientist, was saying there was nothing there, which I cited in February 2003 before the war. Where was Jonah’s judgment then?
Goldberg says his judgment is superior to mine. But I said Iraq was not a danger to the US. I ridiculed Colin Powell’s UN performance. Goldberg said Iraq was near to having nukes. Whose judgment was superior?
The corporate media failed the United States in 2002-2003. The US government failed the American people in 2002-2003. That empty, and often empty-headed punditry, which Jon Stewart destroyed so skilfully, played a big role in dragooning the American people into a wasteful and destructive elective war that threatens to warp American society and very possibly to end the free Republic we have managed to maintain for over 200 years. Already severe challenges to our sacred Constitution have been launched by the Right. Goldberg is a big proponent of “profiling,” which is to say, spying on people because of their ethnicity rather than because of anything they as individuals have done wrong. That is only the beginning, if such persons maintain their influence on public discourse.
I am reprinting the message below by permission:
Subject: asses and killing zones
Date: Sun, 06 Feb 2005 02:15:03 -0500
From: James Finkelstein
Dear Mr. Goldberg,
Here’s a compromise to your dilemma as to whether to get your ass into the killing zone (more accurately, the be killed, be shot, or be blown up zone). Go to the nearest Veterans Hospital you can find, go up to some soldier or Marine who lost a limb in Iraq because his reserve or National Guard unit wasn’t equipped with body armor or armored vehicles, and explain to him why we had to go to war in Iraq on March 20, 2003, and why we couldn’t (a) wait to see if actual evidence of WMD’s ever surfaced, and (b) wait until our military was properly equipped for the war.
By the way, I’m one of those parents who had to go shopping at home to send essential items to my son’s Marine Corps Reserve Unit. And I, like most intelligent people with more than an ounce of common sense, knew without a shadow of a doubt that there was no military threat to the U.S. from Iraq, imminent or otherwise, when this war was launched.