Commentary Magazine


Topic: James Fallows

A Disingenuous Defense of Hate Speech

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the disturbing decision of the influential New America Foundation to host and promote Max Blumenthal’s new book calling for Israel’s destruction. As I wrote then, and in a previous post noting the civil war that has broken out on the left about it, any discussion of this piece of trash need not detain us long. It is an ignorant piece of agitprop the purpose of which is to depict the State of Israel as comparable to Nazi Germany. His goal is not to add to the debate about West Bank settlements or the critique of liberal foes of the Netanyahu government but also, as leftist writer Eric Alterman noted, to question the legitimacy of Zionism and the whole idea of Jewish sovereignty over a single inch of territory on either side of the 1967 lines. This is a theme Blumenthal has addressed with refreshing candor during some of his book tour appearances when he has pondered the question of whether Jews should be allowed to live in the territory of what is now Israel after his wishes are fulfilled. It is as devoid of any intellectual integrity as any screed produced by those who support Hamas and its vision of a new Middle East without Israel. However, the issue isn’t a book that engages in hate speech but what a respectable and well-connected think tank like the NAF was doing promoting it.

That issue has now been addressed by the group’s founding director James Fallows, who not only defended the book and its author but seemed to think my piece and another that inspired it by historian Ron Radosh was a campaign aimed at suppressing free speech. This is nonsense. As Radosh has noted in a response, no one is stopping Blumenthal from writing a book and speaking about it. But we do have a right to ask why the New America Foundation thinks it is worthy of being given their imprimatur. The problem with engaging Fallows’s argument is that he is being completely disingenuous. In order to defend Blumenthal and his book he has to completely misrepresent it and the discussion that he says is worth having about it.

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the disturbing decision of the influential New America Foundation to host and promote Max Blumenthal’s new book calling for Israel’s destruction. As I wrote then, and in a previous post noting the civil war that has broken out on the left about it, any discussion of this piece of trash need not detain us long. It is an ignorant piece of agitprop the purpose of which is to depict the State of Israel as comparable to Nazi Germany. His goal is not to add to the debate about West Bank settlements or the critique of liberal foes of the Netanyahu government but also, as leftist writer Eric Alterman noted, to question the legitimacy of Zionism and the whole idea of Jewish sovereignty over a single inch of territory on either side of the 1967 lines. This is a theme Blumenthal has addressed with refreshing candor during some of his book tour appearances when he has pondered the question of whether Jews should be allowed to live in the territory of what is now Israel after his wishes are fulfilled. It is as devoid of any intellectual integrity as any screed produced by those who support Hamas and its vision of a new Middle East without Israel. However, the issue isn’t a book that engages in hate speech but what a respectable and well-connected think tank like the NAF was doing promoting it.

That issue has now been addressed by the group’s founding director James Fallows, who not only defended the book and its author but seemed to think my piece and another that inspired it by historian Ron Radosh was a campaign aimed at suppressing free speech. This is nonsense. As Radosh has noted in a response, no one is stopping Blumenthal from writing a book and speaking about it. But we do have a right to ask why the New America Foundation thinks it is worthy of being given their imprimatur. The problem with engaging Fallows’s argument is that he is being completely disingenuous. In order to defend Blumenthal and his book he has to completely misrepresent it and the discussion that he says is worth having about it.

Fallows claims Blumenthal belongs to the tradition of muckraking advocacy and “is a particular kind of exposé-minded, documentary-broadside journalism whose place we generally recognize and respect.” He compares it The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath and claims it is no more anti-Israel than The Wire was anti-American. But in order to make this claim Fallows has to ignore not only the content of much of the book but Blumenthal’s open advocacy of the cause of dismantling Israel. The comparisons are ludicrous since neither Upton Sinclair nor John Steinbeck wrote books aimed at convincing people that the United States ought not to exist as an independent country. Criticisms of the book are not based on the notion that the isolated interviews he conducts with Israeli extremists are fabricated, but that Blumenthal thinks even Israeli liberals and bitter critics of Netanyahu like author David Grossman are just as illegitimate as the wingnuts of Israeli society. Grossman rejected Blumenthal because his purpose wasn’t to reform Israel but to end its existence as a Jewish state.

Fallows concludes by saying he isn’t sure whether Blumenthal is right or wrong, but, “he is documenting things that need attention … If he is wrong, his case should be addressed in specific rather than ruled out of respectable consideration. If he’s right, we should absorb the implications.”

That is a position that makes sense when you are talking about those who critique Israel’s settlement movement or the wisdom of its positions on the peace talks. I may disagree with some of those who take that position, but these are debatable points. But when Fallows claims the same is true of Blumenthal’s screed, he is saying something very different. By claiming that this book requires our attention, he is asserting that Israel’s existence and the right of its six million Jews to self-determination and self-defense is debatable. The answer to Fallows from those of us who were offended by NAF’s decision to embrace Blumenthal is to say that these notions are no more debatable than the positions of the Klan, apartheid advocates, or those of al-Qaeda. Blumenthal’s book belongs in the category of those things that are offensive, not because he is critical of an imperfect democracy but because his purpose is to advance the cause of its dissolution.

That Fallows won’t admit this forces us to ask whether his powers of reasoning and reading comprehension skills (assuming that he has actually read Blumenthal’s book) are really this feeble or whether he is just not telling the truth about it for some reason, such as solidarity with Blumenthal’s influential parents who are his friends or dislike of the pro-Israel critics of the book on both the right and the left. But either way, the issue here is not free speech but the disturbing willingness of supposedly respectable figures to be agnostic about Israel’s existence. Max Blumenthal is no more worthy of being given important soapboxes like the NAF than David Duke is. If Fallows disagrees, his judgment and integrity have been called into question, not those whom he wrongly smears as opponents of free speech.

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Who Is Responsible for the “Loose Talk of War” with Iran?

You can say this about President Obama’s fans in the media: They can be a humorless bunch, but that doesn’t stop them from providing moments of unintentional comedy. A very enjoyable example today comes from the Atlantic’s James Fallows. Fallows heard something he liked in Obama’s speech yesterday to the annual AIPAC conference: “There is too much loose talk of war,” the president said about the Iranian threat.

“Good for President Obama for saying this,” Fallows writes today in a post titled–I kid you not–“Iran Drumbeat Watch: AIPAC Edition.” Yes, there does seem to be a lot of loose talk about war with Iran, much of it, it turns out, coming from publications like the one James Fallows writes for. Heading into the weekend, he filed a post chock-full of links to other stories about war with Iran. His fellow Atlantic blogger Robert Wright has filed four posts on the subject in the last week. But the two, it must be said, are not the pioneers of this mania. They were probably set off by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Haaretz, and other such newspapers that bloggers for the Atlantic might read carefully. And here’s what they likely found.

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You can say this about President Obama’s fans in the media: They can be a humorless bunch, but that doesn’t stop them from providing moments of unintentional comedy. A very enjoyable example today comes from the Atlantic’s James Fallows. Fallows heard something he liked in Obama’s speech yesterday to the annual AIPAC conference: “There is too much loose talk of war,” the president said about the Iranian threat.

“Good for President Obama for saying this,” Fallows writes today in a post titled–I kid you not–“Iran Drumbeat Watch: AIPAC Edition.” Yes, there does seem to be a lot of loose talk about war with Iran, much of it, it turns out, coming from publications like the one James Fallows writes for. Heading into the weekend, he filed a post chock-full of links to other stories about war with Iran. His fellow Atlantic blogger Robert Wright has filed four posts on the subject in the last week. But the two, it must be said, are not the pioneers of this mania. They were probably set off by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Haaretz, and other such newspapers that bloggers for the Atlantic might read carefully. And here’s what they likely found.

In the last week, a brief glance at the New York Times website shows an average of at least one story a day on the subject. The Washington Post has perhaps even more material as many of its Iran dispatches are Associated Press briefs and the paper has a much more active and varied blog and opinion section than does the New York Times.

A visit to Haaretz’s website shows the liberal Israeli daily has helpfully set up a section called “Israel’s Eye on Iran”–a one-stop shop for all your Iran news. The first eight headlines we see are:

  • “Israel would be wise to listen to Obama’s advice on Iran”
  • “Obama and Netanyahu’s White House masquerade ball”
  • “Would God want Israel to attack Iran?”
  • “Tangled web of policy, politics and personality mark Obama-Netanyahu summit”
  • “The hallucinations of the Israeli government”
  • “Jerusalem, Washington, and the Iranian bomb”
  • “The American public’s support for an attack on Iran will be widespread but short-lived”
  • “Barak will have to pass an attack on Iran through a reluctant U.S.”

If you feel overwhelmed by this, head on back to Haaretz’s home page. There you’ll find a link to an opinion piece from Saturday’s paper titled “Netanyahu’s conspiracy to drag the U.S. to war.”

So the president is right. So is James Fallows. There is too much loose talk of war. And Fallows and co. would be delighted to know there is something they can do. Physician, heal thyself.

There is one more interesting nugget in Fallows’s post today. He was struck by the part of the president’s speech “in which Obama explained that he was really, truly Israel’s friend.” Fallows says he “can’t think of another situation where an American president, speaking to an American audience on American soil, would find it necessary or dignified to plead his bona fides in a similar way.”

Nor I. I am young, perhaps, but I too cannot think of another situation in which the American president acted with such visible disdain toward an ostensible ally that he felt he must lecture those concerned about his behavior that they were merely being brainwashed by the president’s unnamed enemies. I also cannot recall a time when a president–let alone a president who received close to 80 percent of the Jewish vote–felt compelled to tell a room of Jewish donors that he was the best they were going to get so they should just quit complaining and write him a check. Who are these Jewish voters going to believe, the president would like to know–Obama or their lying eyes?

You also have got to love Fallows’s choice of words for that complaint: “an American president, speaking to an American audience on American soil….” It’s almost as if he thinks the behavior of that crowd is un- oh, never mind. I’m sure it’s just a poor choice of words. He’s upset–those aggressive Israelis are about to pull us into a war with Iran. He read all about it in the Atlantic.

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Liberals’ Civility Test

A week after President Obama’s stirring remarks at the Tucson memorial service comes an important Civility Test for liberals.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that Democratic Representative Steve Cohen went to the well of the House and compared what Republicans are saying on health care to the work of the infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels,” Cohen said. “You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like ‘blood libel.’ That’s the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again. We heard on this floor, government takeover of health care.”

In our post-Tucson world, I’m eager to see people like E.J. Dionne Jr., Dana Milbank, and Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post; George Packer of the New Yorker; James Fallows of the Atlantic; Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and the editorial page of the New York Times; Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and Ed Schultz of MSNBC, and scores of other commentators and reporters all across America both publicize and condemn Representative Cohen’s slander.

Each of them will have plenty of opportunities to do so. I hope they take advantage of it. I hope, too, that reporters ask White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs what his reaction is. And I trust President Obama, who spoke so eloquently last week about the importance of civility in our national life, has something to say about this ugly episode as well. If the president were to repudiate Mr. Cohen quickly and publicly, it would be good for him, good for politics, and good for the nation.

But if the president and his liberal allies remain silent or criticize Cohen in the gentlest way possible, it’s only reasonable to conclude that their expressions of concern about incivility in public discourse are partisan rather than genuine, that what they care about isn’t public discourse but gamesmanship, not restoring civility but gaining power.

I’m sure conservatives will face similar tests in the months ahead — and they should be held to the same standard.

For now, though — in light of the libel by Representative Cohen — it is liberals who have the opportunity to take a stand on the matter of civility in public discourse, and in the process, to clarify their intentions and demonstrate the seriousness of their commitments.

A week after President Obama’s stirring remarks at the Tucson memorial service comes an important Civility Test for liberals.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that Democratic Representative Steve Cohen went to the well of the House and compared what Republicans are saying on health care to the work of the infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels,” Cohen said. “You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like ‘blood libel.’ That’s the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again. We heard on this floor, government takeover of health care.”

In our post-Tucson world, I’m eager to see people like E.J. Dionne Jr., Dana Milbank, and Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post; George Packer of the New Yorker; James Fallows of the Atlantic; Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and the editorial page of the New York Times; Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and Ed Schultz of MSNBC, and scores of other commentators and reporters all across America both publicize and condemn Representative Cohen’s slander.

Each of them will have plenty of opportunities to do so. I hope they take advantage of it. I hope, too, that reporters ask White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs what his reaction is. And I trust President Obama, who spoke so eloquently last week about the importance of civility in our national life, has something to say about this ugly episode as well. If the president were to repudiate Mr. Cohen quickly and publicly, it would be good for him, good for politics, and good for the nation.

But if the president and his liberal allies remain silent or criticize Cohen in the gentlest way possible, it’s only reasonable to conclude that their expressions of concern about incivility in public discourse are partisan rather than genuine, that what they care about isn’t public discourse but gamesmanship, not restoring civility but gaining power.

I’m sure conservatives will face similar tests in the months ahead — and they should be held to the same standard.

For now, though — in light of the libel by Representative Cohen — it is liberals who have the opportunity to take a stand on the matter of civility in public discourse, and in the process, to clarify their intentions and demonstrate the seriousness of their commitments.

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Morning Commentary

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has hit the ground running as the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. First items on the agenda: cutting the State Department budget, forcing significant changes at the UN, and increasing pressure on “rogue states.”

Ron Paul is the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution honoring Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Paul has been an outspoken critic of the National Endowment of Democracy, which he claims helps stir up international conflict with taxpayer money. Much of Xiaobo’s fine work has been funded through grants from the NED.

George H.W. Bush has thrown his support behind New START, becoming the most prominent Republican figure yet to publicly back the controversial legislation.

James Fallows cautions not to put too much stock into those exceptional Shanghai test scores, noting that the students tested may not have been representative of the average Chinese student. “No doubt these results reflect something real,” wrote Fallows. “But as with just about everything concerning modern China, the results should also be viewed with some distance and possible skepticism.”

Former Army analyst Bradley Manning is facing half a century in prison for leaking secret military documents to WikiLeaks, but it seems he’s become something of a folk hero among left-wingers. The city council of Berkeley is considering a resolution honoring his “patriotism.” The Washington Examiner’s Mark Hemingway suggests: “Once they take care of this vital matter, perhaps they can get around to finally doing something about all the deranged panhandlers on Telegraph Avenue.”

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg may protest allegations that he’s running for president, but his speech yesterday sure sounded like it. And as NBC’s Mark Murray noted, the words also sounded vaguely familiar.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has hit the ground running as the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. First items on the agenda: cutting the State Department budget, forcing significant changes at the UN, and increasing pressure on “rogue states.”

Ron Paul is the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution honoring Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Paul has been an outspoken critic of the National Endowment of Democracy, which he claims helps stir up international conflict with taxpayer money. Much of Xiaobo’s fine work has been funded through grants from the NED.

George H.W. Bush has thrown his support behind New START, becoming the most prominent Republican figure yet to publicly back the controversial legislation.

James Fallows cautions not to put too much stock into those exceptional Shanghai test scores, noting that the students tested may not have been representative of the average Chinese student. “No doubt these results reflect something real,” wrote Fallows. “But as with just about everything concerning modern China, the results should also be viewed with some distance and possible skepticism.”

Former Army analyst Bradley Manning is facing half a century in prison for leaking secret military documents to WikiLeaks, but it seems he’s become something of a folk hero among left-wingers. The city council of Berkeley is considering a resolution honoring his “patriotism.” The Washington Examiner’s Mark Hemingway suggests: “Once they take care of this vital matter, perhaps they can get around to finally doing something about all the deranged panhandlers on Telegraph Avenue.”

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg may protest allegations that he’s running for president, but his speech yesterday sure sounded like it. And as NBC’s Mark Murray noted, the words also sounded vaguely familiar.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t you expect Eric Holder will want to “spend more time with his family” before Republicans get a majority — and subpoena power — in the House and/or Senate? “Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is a man with blood on his hands.A year before 9/11, the Saudi al Qaeda operative masterminded the bombing of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 sailors as the vessel refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden.A Guantanamo tribunal was ready to arraign him last year, but since the Obama administration took office, it’s been a case of trial and error. No trial — plenty of error. … Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that because the Cole bombing was an attack on the military, Nashiri’s trial should proceed in a military tribunal. Did it really take nine months to figure that out?”

Don’t faint: “BBC Exonerates Israel.” When will J Street?

Don’t underestimate the cluelessness of liberal politicians: “The Muslim center planned near the site of the World Trade Center attack could qualify for tax-free financing, a spokesman for City Comptroller John Liu said on Friday, and Liu is willing to consider approving the public subsidy.The Democratic comptroller’s spokesman, Scott Sieber, said Liu supported the project. The center has sparked an intense debate over U.S. religious freedoms and the sanctity of the Trade Center site, where nearly 3,000 perished in the September 11, 2001 attack.”

Don’t think Florida Democrats should be celebrating Rick Scott’s win: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary survey of the Florida governor’s race finds Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink in a close contest.Scott, the winner of Tuesday’s bruising GOP Primary, earns the support of 41% of Likely Voters in the state, while Sink picks up 36% of the vote.”

Don’t be surprised if Charlie Crist comes in third in the Senate race. A distant third.

Don’t you wonder what compelled James Fallows, after his magazine invited one of the most effective neocon pundits to join in a week-long symposium, to go out of his way to “disassociate” himself not once but twice from his guest’s views? Could be that the left-leaning readership threw a hissy fit (how dare Atlantic allow a conservative to make mincemeat of their arguments!), or maybe it’s just a dirth of graciousness. These are not mutually exclusive explanations. (To his credit, Jeffrey Goldberg — “kudos to the assorted luminaries” — did not follow his colleague’s lead.)

Don’t miss Peter Berkowitz’s latest column. A sample: “In late 2008 and early 2009, in the wake of Mr. Obama’s meteoric ascent, the idea that conservatism would enjoy any sort of revival in the summer of 2009 would have seemed to demoralized conservatives too much to hope for. To leading lights on the left, it would have appeared absolutely outlandish. … Messrs. [George] Packer, [E.J.] Dionne and [Sam] Tanenhaus underestimated what the conservative tradition rightly emphasizes, which is the high degree of unpredictability in human affairs. They also conflated the flagging fortunes of George W. Bush’s Republican Party with conservatism’s popular appeal.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Obama to say “victory” or “democracy” in connection with Iraq. It’s all about keeping his campaign promise. And more money spent on the VA. I had hoped he would grow into the role of commander in chief. Hasn’t happened yet.

Don’t you expect Eric Holder will want to “spend more time with his family” before Republicans get a majority — and subpoena power — in the House and/or Senate? “Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is a man with blood on his hands.A year before 9/11, the Saudi al Qaeda operative masterminded the bombing of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 sailors as the vessel refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden.A Guantanamo tribunal was ready to arraign him last year, but since the Obama administration took office, it’s been a case of trial and error. No trial — plenty of error. … Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that because the Cole bombing was an attack on the military, Nashiri’s trial should proceed in a military tribunal. Did it really take nine months to figure that out?”

Don’t faint: “BBC Exonerates Israel.” When will J Street?

Don’t underestimate the cluelessness of liberal politicians: “The Muslim center planned near the site of the World Trade Center attack could qualify for tax-free financing, a spokesman for City Comptroller John Liu said on Friday, and Liu is willing to consider approving the public subsidy.The Democratic comptroller’s spokesman, Scott Sieber, said Liu supported the project. The center has sparked an intense debate over U.S. religious freedoms and the sanctity of the Trade Center site, where nearly 3,000 perished in the September 11, 2001 attack.”

Don’t think Florida Democrats should be celebrating Rick Scott’s win: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary survey of the Florida governor’s race finds Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink in a close contest.Scott, the winner of Tuesday’s bruising GOP Primary, earns the support of 41% of Likely Voters in the state, while Sink picks up 36% of the vote.”

Don’t be surprised if Charlie Crist comes in third in the Senate race. A distant third.

Don’t you wonder what compelled James Fallows, after his magazine invited one of the most effective neocon pundits to join in a week-long symposium, to go out of his way to “disassociate” himself not once but twice from his guest’s views? Could be that the left-leaning readership threw a hissy fit (how dare Atlantic allow a conservative to make mincemeat of their arguments!), or maybe it’s just a dirth of graciousness. These are not mutually exclusive explanations. (To his credit, Jeffrey Goldberg — “kudos to the assorted luminaries” — did not follow his colleague’s lead.)

Don’t miss Peter Berkowitz’s latest column. A sample: “In late 2008 and early 2009, in the wake of Mr. Obama’s meteoric ascent, the idea that conservatism would enjoy any sort of revival in the summer of 2009 would have seemed to demoralized conservatives too much to hope for. To leading lights on the left, it would have appeared absolutely outlandish. … Messrs. [George] Packer, [E.J.] Dionne and [Sam] Tanenhaus underestimated what the conservative tradition rightly emphasizes, which is the high degree of unpredictability in human affairs. They also conflated the flagging fortunes of George W. Bush’s Republican Party with conservatism’s popular appeal.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Obama to say “victory” or “democracy” in connection with Iraq. It’s all about keeping his campaign promise. And more money spent on the VA. I had hoped he would grow into the role of commander in chief. Hasn’t happened yet.

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Wikileaks and the Final Defeat of Tet

I agree with Max that the content of the leaked Afghan war documents is underwhelming. The thousands of pedestrian, narrow-scope field reports tell us nothing we didn’t already know about the overall conduct of the war or our coalition partners’ roles in it. The real story here is how accurate our view of the war in Afghanistan has been: even the failures and missteps have been chronicled with thematic, if not always specific, fidelity.

A swelling chorus of voices is pondering the roles of New and Old Media in the Wikileaks disclosure, with its effect being compared to that of Tet and the Pentagon Papers (see here, here, here, and here, for example). These analogies are overblown — wildly so, in my view — but there is nevertheless an important New/Old Media dynamic to watch in this case. The question in the coming days will be whether the Old Media — of which Time, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, et al. are members — can establish a counterfactual narrative and make it politically decisive. Will Congress, for example, consider itself bound to accept the narrative that this massive leak amounts to a set of game-changing revelations?

I predict not. Although John Kerry has stated already that the leaked documents “raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan,” my sense is that there is simply too much knowledge of that reality, both in Congress and among the public, for the political gambit to go anywhere. Much credit for that knowledge must go to New Media — independent online reporters like Michael Totten, Michael Yon, and COMMENTARY’s Max Boot, websites like Long War Journal and Small Wars Journal — which has labored to bring the war to the average reader in a level of detail unimaginable even two decades ago.

Credit is also due to both the Bush and Obama administrations and the military that has served them. In terms of “secrets” about the war, political or operational, there’s just no story in the leaked documents. We already know about all the categories of information revealed in them. They are, moreover, tactical-level reports from the field; they are not a source of “smoking-gun” policy documents like the Pentagon Papers’ infamous McNaughton Memo, which demonstrated that Johnson’s actual policy in Vietnam differed from the justification he presented to the public. (James Fallows raises this topic by referring to the McNaughton Memo in his Atlantic post, linked above.)

The severity of the leaks is related primarily to the damage they may do to our forces’ operational security in Afghanistan, and much of what is reflected about their activities is outdated now. Meanwhile, the eager hope of left-wing pundits that this leak will turn American sentiment to widespread anger and unrest is unfounded. From 1968 to 1971, Americans had few alternatives to Walter Cronkite and the New York Times. Today they have thousands. I believe the New Media will succeed in the signal task of burying Old Media’s “Tet-effect” talisman, once and for all.

I agree with Max that the content of the leaked Afghan war documents is underwhelming. The thousands of pedestrian, narrow-scope field reports tell us nothing we didn’t already know about the overall conduct of the war or our coalition partners’ roles in it. The real story here is how accurate our view of the war in Afghanistan has been: even the failures and missteps have been chronicled with thematic, if not always specific, fidelity.

A swelling chorus of voices is pondering the roles of New and Old Media in the Wikileaks disclosure, with its effect being compared to that of Tet and the Pentagon Papers (see here, here, here, and here, for example). These analogies are overblown — wildly so, in my view — but there is nevertheless an important New/Old Media dynamic to watch in this case. The question in the coming days will be whether the Old Media — of which Time, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, et al. are members — can establish a counterfactual narrative and make it politically decisive. Will Congress, for example, consider itself bound to accept the narrative that this massive leak amounts to a set of game-changing revelations?

I predict not. Although John Kerry has stated already that the leaked documents “raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan,” my sense is that there is simply too much knowledge of that reality, both in Congress and among the public, for the political gambit to go anywhere. Much credit for that knowledge must go to New Media — independent online reporters like Michael Totten, Michael Yon, and COMMENTARY’s Max Boot, websites like Long War Journal and Small Wars Journal — which has labored to bring the war to the average reader in a level of detail unimaginable even two decades ago.

Credit is also due to both the Bush and Obama administrations and the military that has served them. In terms of “secrets” about the war, political or operational, there’s just no story in the leaked documents. We already know about all the categories of information revealed in them. They are, moreover, tactical-level reports from the field; they are not a source of “smoking-gun” policy documents like the Pentagon Papers’ infamous McNaughton Memo, which demonstrated that Johnson’s actual policy in Vietnam differed from the justification he presented to the public. (James Fallows raises this topic by referring to the McNaughton Memo in his Atlantic post, linked above.)

The severity of the leaks is related primarily to the damage they may do to our forces’ operational security in Afghanistan, and much of what is reflected about their activities is outdated now. Meanwhile, the eager hope of left-wing pundits that this leak will turn American sentiment to widespread anger and unrest is unfounded. From 1968 to 1971, Americans had few alternatives to Walter Cronkite and the New York Times. Today they have thousands. I believe the New Media will succeed in the signal task of burying Old Media’s “Tet-effect” talisman, once and for all.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Worst press secretary in recent memory? Chris Cillizza says he is at least the winner of the “worst week” designation: “It took only 17 words ['there is no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control' of the House] for White House press secretary Robert Gibbs to set off the circular firing squad. … Republicans, meanwhile, could barely contain their glee at seeing their message — ‘We can take the House back, really, we can’ — seconded by the official White House mouthpiece.”

Worst Middle East diplomacy rebuke to date? “Fatah spokesperson Muhammad Dahlan announced that Fatah had rejected the U.S.’s offer Saturday to broker direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Worst political advice to Obama? Mark Penn suggests: “Between now and the midterms, the administration has to focus on what it can do to provide a sense of economic recovery. Perhaps the best arena for that is in an energy bill that creates a wide array of incentives to produce new forms of energy.” You understand how Hillary lost the nomination.

Worst column ever from James Fallows? He hopes Dick Cheney recovers so he can change his mind and undermine all his prior views.

Worst political problem for Obama? Howard Fineman says it’s the loss of independent voters: “The Democrats’ support among this group has fallen to as low as 35 percent in some polls. The reasons are clear. They do not believe that Obama’s actions have produced results — and for these practical voters, nothing else matters. The $787 billion stimulus bill is widely regarded as an expensive, unfocused dud, even when measured against the cautious claims the Obama camp originally made for it. Health-care reform remains, for most voters, a 2,000-page, impenetrable, and largely irrelevant mystery. The BP oil spill has hurt Obama’s ability to fend off GOP charges that he’s ineffective as a leader.”

Worst thing Israel could do regarding Iran? In a definitive analysis of Israel’s options, Reuel Marc Gerecht argues it would be to do nothing: “Without a raid, if the Iranians get the bomb, Europe’s appeasement reflex will kick in and the EU sanctions regime will collapse, leaving the Americans alone to contain the Islamic Republic. Most of the Gulf Arabs will probably kowtow to Persia, having more fear of Iran than confidence in the defensive assurances of the United States. And Sunni Arabs who don’t view an Iranian bomb as a plus for the Muslim world will, at daunting speed, become much more interested in ‘nuclear energy’; the Saudis, who likely helped Islamabad go nuclear, will just call in their chits with the Pakistani military.” The best option, of course, would be for the U.S. to act, but that seems unlikely.

Worst time to have an electoral wipe-out? In a Census year: “Big Republican gains in November [in state legislative races] could have lasting consequences. Legislators elected in the fall will redraw congressional boundaries next year. Control over the redistricting process could sway outcomes in dozens of districts over the next decade. ‘If you’re going to have a good year, have it in a year that ends in zero,’ says Ed Gillespie, a former Republican Party chairman who is heading up the GOP’s state-level efforts this year.”

Worst Justice Department in history? No contest. The latest: “One of the nation’s leading producers of X-rated videos, John Stagliano, was acquitted on federal obscenity charges Friday afternoon after a series of stumbles by the prosecution. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ordered the acquittal of Stagliano and two companies related to his Evil Angel studio on a defense motion before the defense presented any rebuttal to several days of evidence from the Justice Department. Leon called the government’s case ‘woefully lacking’ or ‘woefully inadequate,’ depending on whose account you follow.”

Worst press secretary in recent memory? Chris Cillizza says he is at least the winner of the “worst week” designation: “It took only 17 words ['there is no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control' of the House] for White House press secretary Robert Gibbs to set off the circular firing squad. … Republicans, meanwhile, could barely contain their glee at seeing their message — ‘We can take the House back, really, we can’ — seconded by the official White House mouthpiece.”

Worst Middle East diplomacy rebuke to date? “Fatah spokesperson Muhammad Dahlan announced that Fatah had rejected the U.S.’s offer Saturday to broker direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Worst political advice to Obama? Mark Penn suggests: “Between now and the midterms, the administration has to focus on what it can do to provide a sense of economic recovery. Perhaps the best arena for that is in an energy bill that creates a wide array of incentives to produce new forms of energy.” You understand how Hillary lost the nomination.

Worst column ever from James Fallows? He hopes Dick Cheney recovers so he can change his mind and undermine all his prior views.

Worst political problem for Obama? Howard Fineman says it’s the loss of independent voters: “The Democrats’ support among this group has fallen to as low as 35 percent in some polls. The reasons are clear. They do not believe that Obama’s actions have produced results — and for these practical voters, nothing else matters. The $787 billion stimulus bill is widely regarded as an expensive, unfocused dud, even when measured against the cautious claims the Obama camp originally made for it. Health-care reform remains, for most voters, a 2,000-page, impenetrable, and largely irrelevant mystery. The BP oil spill has hurt Obama’s ability to fend off GOP charges that he’s ineffective as a leader.”

Worst thing Israel could do regarding Iran? In a definitive analysis of Israel’s options, Reuel Marc Gerecht argues it would be to do nothing: “Without a raid, if the Iranians get the bomb, Europe’s appeasement reflex will kick in and the EU sanctions regime will collapse, leaving the Americans alone to contain the Islamic Republic. Most of the Gulf Arabs will probably kowtow to Persia, having more fear of Iran than confidence in the defensive assurances of the United States. And Sunni Arabs who don’t view an Iranian bomb as a plus for the Muslim world will, at daunting speed, become much more interested in ‘nuclear energy’; the Saudis, who likely helped Islamabad go nuclear, will just call in their chits with the Pakistani military.” The best option, of course, would be for the U.S. to act, but that seems unlikely.

Worst time to have an electoral wipe-out? In a Census year: “Big Republican gains in November [in state legislative races] could have lasting consequences. Legislators elected in the fall will redraw congressional boundaries next year. Control over the redistricting process could sway outcomes in dozens of districts over the next decade. ‘If you’re going to have a good year, have it in a year that ends in zero,’ says Ed Gillespie, a former Republican Party chairman who is heading up the GOP’s state-level efforts this year.”

Worst Justice Department in history? No contest. The latest: “One of the nation’s leading producers of X-rated videos, John Stagliano, was acquitted on federal obscenity charges Friday afternoon after a series of stumbles by the prosecution. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ordered the acquittal of Stagliano and two companies related to his Evil Angel studio on a defense motion before the defense presented any rebuttal to several days of evidence from the Justice Department. Leon called the government’s case ‘woefully lacking’ or ‘woefully inadequate,’ depending on whose account you follow.”

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Reid’s Bad History

Poor Harry Reid. With his health-care plan deeply unpopular and with him trailing Republican opponents in Nevada, he is beginning to show signs of cracking under the pressure. On the Senate floor, for example, he compared Republicans who oppose ObamaCare to those who opposed the abolition of slavery. In Reid’s words:

Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans can come up with is this: “Slow down, stop everything, let’s start over.” If you think you’ve heard these same excuses before, you’re right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, “Slow down, it’s too early, let’s wait, things aren’t bad enough.”

For one thing, the Senate majority leader’s retelling of history is a wee bit off. It was the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves. According to Stephen B. Oates’s With Malice Toward None, in the South, Democrats called Lincoln the greatest “ass” in the United States, a “sooty” and “scoundrelly” abolitionist. Lincoln and his “Black Republican, free love, free N—–” party were the object of fierce hatred by Democrats. And the only person serving in the Senate today who was an “Exalted Cyclops” — that is, the top officer in a local Ku Klux Klan unit — is former Democratic majority leader Robert Byrd.

For another thing, Harry Reid’s incivility has burst forth in the past. To take just one example: he called President George W. Bush a “liar” and a “loser.” Yet no words of condemnation by Democrats were heard.

Recently, I have taken both James Fallows here and here and E.J. Dionne Jr. to task for their glaring double standard on the issue of incivility in public discourse. Their outrage is expressed only when Republicans cross certain lines; they remain silent when Democrats do. A Dionne colleague wrote me to say I was being unfair to him. Well, then, here’s a fine opportunity for Dionne and Fallows — and for many other commentators — to condemn the kind of hateful rhetoric they say they find so distasteful. It’ll be instructive to see how many actually do.

Poor Harry Reid. With his health-care plan deeply unpopular and with him trailing Republican opponents in Nevada, he is beginning to show signs of cracking under the pressure. On the Senate floor, for example, he compared Republicans who oppose ObamaCare to those who opposed the abolition of slavery. In Reid’s words:

Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all Republicans can come up with is this: “Slow down, stop everything, let’s start over.” If you think you’ve heard these same excuses before, you’re right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said, “Slow down, it’s too early, let’s wait, things aren’t bad enough.”

For one thing, the Senate majority leader’s retelling of history is a wee bit off. It was the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves. According to Stephen B. Oates’s With Malice Toward None, in the South, Democrats called Lincoln the greatest “ass” in the United States, a “sooty” and “scoundrelly” abolitionist. Lincoln and his “Black Republican, free love, free N—–” party were the object of fierce hatred by Democrats. And the only person serving in the Senate today who was an “Exalted Cyclops” — that is, the top officer in a local Ku Klux Klan unit — is former Democratic majority leader Robert Byrd.

For another thing, Harry Reid’s incivility has burst forth in the past. To take just one example: he called President George W. Bush a “liar” and a “loser.” Yet no words of condemnation by Democrats were heard.

Recently, I have taken both James Fallows here and here and E.J. Dionne Jr. to task for their glaring double standard on the issue of incivility in public discourse. Their outrage is expressed only when Republicans cross certain lines; they remain silent when Democrats do. A Dionne colleague wrote me to say I was being unfair to him. Well, then, here’s a fine opportunity for Dionne and Fallows — and for many other commentators — to condemn the kind of hateful rhetoric they say they find so distasteful. It’ll be instructive to see how many actually do.

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The Disloyalty of James Fallows Revisited

James Fallows is “amazed” by my post of yesterday, in which I pointed out that he himself is a member of a faction even as he attempts to delegitimize the workings of another faction, composed “mainly of one religion (Jewish).”

Fallows now charges me, along with a number of vociferous critics, with neglecting to note that, in addition to writing about the lobbying efforts of Jews, he referred to the lobbying efforts of two other ethnic groups, Armenian-Americans and Cuban-Americans. My sin of omission, he says, makes him “nostalgic for the comparative ‘honesty’ of the
Chinese state media I’ve been dealing with recently.”

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James Fallows is “amazed” by my post of yesterday, in which I pointed out that he himself is a member of a faction even as he attempts to delegitimize the workings of another faction, composed “mainly of one religion (Jewish).”

Fallows now charges me, along with a number of vociferous critics, with neglecting to note that, in addition to writing about the lobbying efforts of Jews, he referred to the lobbying efforts of two other ethnic groups, Armenian-Americans and Cuban-Americans. My sin of omission, he says, makes him “nostalgic for the comparative ‘honesty’ of the
Chinese state media I’ve been dealing with recently.”

Fallows’s original post began with the words: “A way to think about the Walt-Mearsheimer book and related controversies.” This led me to conclude that the lobbying efforts of American Jews were its “primary target.” In the interests of honesty in media, I will cheerfully acknowledge that my conclusion was hasty and that American Jews were not the primary target, just the one that happened to interest me the most and also the group that, thanks to Mearsheimer and Walt, is most in the crosshairs these days. In any case, I did give a link to Fallows’s original piece for all to read, so my omission was not exactly a Nixonian or Clintonian or Chinese Communist cover-up.

I will also cheerfully accept Fallows’s partially gracious conclusion about my post:

Obviously there is a point in here, about the inevitability that a big, plural democracy will–and should–involve a contest among many partial, “factional” views. But it’s not a point I care to address when set up this way!

But I am still wondering: why does he arrogate to himself and to his faction the right to determine what American interests are? And why does he cast aspersions of disloyalty on those with whom he disagrees about what constitutes those interests, saying of an American Jewish organization, for instance, that in pressing for a “military showdown” with Iran, “it is advancing its own causes at the expense of larger American interests”?

Such words make me nostalgic for a famous speech by Charles Lindbergh in Des Moines, Iowa, on September 11, 1941 in which he said that the “the three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish, and the Roosevelt administration.”

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