Sunday, February 25, 2007

Poor Captain Needa

Kos' response to the recent buy-out of TNR is very troublesome to me, in that it shows that--regardless of what the magazine does, what it says, or where it goes--Kos is hell-bent on turning them into a scalp on his wall.

In attacking TNR, Kos refers back to their support for the Iraq war (in from 2002 to 2003), and their ill-advised endorsement of Joe Lieberman in the Democratic Primary (in early 2004). In other words, nothing that's happened in the past three years. But yet, TNR has backtracked on all of these positions--something Kos has refused to acknowledge. TNR has harshly critiqued Bush administration policy on all number of issues, including foreign policy--something Kos has refused to acknowledge. TNR has engaged in repeated introspection and self-critique on the Iraq war--something Kos has refused to acknowledge. And under its new leadership, TNR has persistently moved in a more liberal direction, such that there is surprisingly little gap between the positions held by TNR writers and Kos front-pagers on the vast majority of political issues. Kos, of course, does not acknowledge this either.

With regard to Iraq, we can thus critique TNR's horrible misjudgment (which is perfectly fair); but 81 House Democrats and 29 Democratic Senators made the exact same mistake. Like some other liberals (e.g., John Edwards) who voted in favor of this ill-advised war, TNR has since apologized and recanted for its stance--as Editor Franklin Foer stated, "the question mark is gone," as to whether the magazine was wrong on the war in Iraq. So the question is whether or not Kos is willing to readmit liberals who have strayed (but have now seen the light) on an issue that a) he was right on and b) is very important to him. If the answer is no, so be it--but that means putting targets on every one of those 110 Democrats still serving in elected office and trying to run them from the party. That's not just Joe Lieberman, that's John Edwards, that's Harry Reid, that's Jack Murtha, that's Chris Dodd, and ultimately, that's fratricide. Of course, Kos hasn't called for the scalps of these Democrats--but that's because the vendetta against TNR has gotten personal for him--it is not an expression of any privilege, it is merely white hot fury that is ultimately irrational and self-destructive. If TNR proves anything, it isn't that Democrats who support President Bush will be punished, it's that apologies are useless.

This is personal to me, because I am one of the heretics--not just because I read TNR, but because I supported the Iraq war. If my repentance is futile and falls on deaf ears to the left, then where can I go? Ultimately, Kos does not want to see me converted back into the fold of liberal politics. He wants my head put on stake on the front lawn as a warning to others.


Anonymous said...

"This is personal to me, because I am one of the heretics--not just because I read TNR, but because I supported the Iraq war."

Face it, David: Supporting the Iraq adventure was such a horrible mistake, it won't simply go away by apologizing.
Besides, as long as that absolute moron Marty Peretz is allowed to write in TNR, Kos is totally right in attacking them.

Gray said...

Oh, and would you pls show the evidence you surely have to support this statement of yours:

"Of course, Kos hasn't called for the scalps of these Democrats--but that's because the vendetta against TNR has gotten personal for him--it is not an expression of any privilege, it is merely white hot fury that is ultimately irrational and self-destructive."

David Schraub said...

Gray: I don't pretend that my mea culpa will make "Iraq" go away; I'm asking whether a (major) policy mistake on my end dooms me to permanent exile from liberal politics, and if so, what do we do with the other 110 elected Democrats who made the same mistake. This party will be a lot smaller if everyone who supported the Iraq war has to go away (to where? to do what?).

As for Marty, I think Kos has every right to attack him--but why Peretz's articles justify collateral attacks on Chait, Cottle, Zimmerman, Crowley, etc. is a mystery. Basic observation shows that he's a marginal figure in his own magazine--its like attacking Dems on the basis of Cynthia McKinney.

CS: Here we have Kos demanding from Hillary Clinton an acknowledgment she made a mistake in supporting the Iraq war, something "Just about every other Democrat who idiotically trusted this president and supported the war has done...." TNR has definitely met that burden, so under Kos' own standard it should have gained some measure of absolution. Show me the post where Kos advocates running Jack Murtha out of the Party and I'll concede there is no double-standard operating here.

Anonymous said...

David, I think your posts on Iraq actually sum up a lot of why I find myself constantly underwhelmed (possibly disgusted) by TNR's apologies. Here's about as plain as I can say it: you supported a war effort that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and utterly ruined a nation. And yet you still have time for hand-wringing over whether or not your future as a talking head has been permanently jeopardized. Likewise, the wistful posts coming from your pals Ackerman and Beinart strike me as utterly self-absorbed, too concerned with their own absolution, and uninterested in the suffering their war was wrought. Do well-off moderate liberals who never had to worry about the ramifications of the policies they got out there and hack-jobbed for toss and turn at night? I couldn't give a shit. One thing is for sure, the posts you're framing as beautiful and revelatory only display an appaling ignorance to me. So now the hot-shot "liberal hawks" have come to realize that America cannot wield the power of death whenever it chooses, that the machinery of modern militarism inveitably devastates more lives than it can ever hope to save, and that so long as our military and political technologies outstrip our moral technologies we will continue to visit ruin on the world we act in? Is this not the exact lesson that over a million eviscerated corpses in Veitnam should have spelled out? But of course, the hawks in their arrogance had no patience for the "softness" of their dovish ancestors on the Left. Such a position is politically inexpedient, technologically flaccid. People who schilled for the Bush adminsitration's thuggery deserve all of the guilt they feel right now, but the fact that TNR is willing to spill ink over it just shows me that they are more interested in assuaging the conscious of their base than genuinely coming to understand the depth of their ignorance. Apology or no, I have no desire to read along as a bunch of hacks congraluate themselves on their powers of grief and introspection.

David Schraub said...

Matt, your disgust over my "hand-wringing" merely demonstrates my point about how I and everyone who makes similar mistakes to me apparently must permanently be tarred and shunned for our sins, regardless of what we do. You still haven't articulated the "next step" for I or those like me. Become a hermit? Commit suicide to save face? You can sit from your moral tower and enjoy our presence in the ash heap for as long as you want, but don't pretend to elevate smug self-righteousness to a moral principle.

It's also worth noting that there are plenty of sins for all foreign policy/ideological schools, and to pretend like yours would have kept you morally clean across history is facile. The isolationist instincts and non-militarism you espouse and led you right in Vietnam and Iraq are the same ones that would have caused the deaths of countless thousands had they been adopted for Bosnia and Kosovo. There but for the grace of your philosophical rationalization strategies go you--to the Holocaust-collaborators in Vichy France, to the failure to save the victims in Darfur.

The probligo said...

David, you and I both know that there is a considerable gulf between us in some of the politics we discuss.

I have always held (just to pick on one example) Colin Powell in the highest of regard. I was most pleased when he was selected as Secretary of State in the early days of the Bush administration. He went down in my esteem somewhat after (and as a direct result of) his presentation to the UNSC of the "evidence" against Saddam. That he subsequently withdrew from the role in circumstances that clearly spelled out "irreconcilable differences", and his silence since, has restored quite some of my regard for the man.

Personally, between you and I, I admire any man who can turn from a decision or statement and say "I was wrong".

The worst are those who in the face of all evidence (who remembers Baghdad Bob?) continues to deny the reality of a situation, continues to use the same tired and disproven arguments to support past indiscretions.

I can even feel sorry for Bush himself; at least in the past few months he has had the guts to come out and say that Iraq has not turned out the way he and his team had hoped. He negates that considerably in the next sentence by blaming all of the problem ion Iran.

So here from the ol' probligo is a doff of the hat to acknowledge that David Schraub is gentleman enough to acknowledge a past mistake and that I - the ol' probligo - will not hold that against him.

Anonymous said...

I'm not inadvertenly conceding your point, David, I'm openly admitting it. I will never endorse the idea that collabotors in imperial atrocity can wipe their hands clean with nothing more than an apology. And I don't see why it's any of my concern whether there's a next step or not. Memory is far more powerful than any human capacity to rationalize our own evils, and sometimes the scope of our follies shatters the frame by which we can respond to them, as when we find ourselves complicit in a scheme of devastation that far excedes our personal powers. In such isntances, there is no ten step program to absolution. You go one living, but in a sense, yes, you will always be a marked man. Like those who once supported the flattening of Veitnam or the segregation of American communities, you can return to pulic life but always with guilt, always with imperfection. This is not a moral principle, it is a fact. No one escapes their past.

Yet it is precisely that urge that you want to indulge, to be redeemed and born again, and it is precisely that urge that led a generation of self-professed hawks too enamored with their own mechanical muscle to forget the lessons of Veitnam not half a decade later. And what permitted Veitnam, if not a willful disavowal of Puerto Rico, of Mexico, of the Trail of Tears? Gravestones fade from sight, and we commit crimes that should by now be obvious.

Your sneering at the prospects of an anti-imperialist, anti-militarist orientation only convinces me that you haven't really learned anything, for all of your condolences. Only a willful distortion could ally my position with a categorical non-interventionism. You know that I have dedicated a great deal of my time and energy lobbying for an intervention in Darfur as well as raising funds for humanitarian work in the region, certainly more than you have. Reality refutes charicature. But more to the point I am not critiquing all use of violence, all participation in the dirty business of policy. I'm critiquing a particularly American kind of hubris that believes we can, if we posses proper strength of vision and virtue, reshape the world. That we have the technology to level tyrants and erect republics, so why not use it? Is this not precisely the folly Beinart is admitting to?

"We lack the wisdom and the virtue to remake the world through preventive war. That's why a liberal international order, like a liberal domestic one, restrains the use of force--because it assumes that no nation is governed by angels, including our own. And it's why liberals must be anti-utopian, because the United States cannot be a benign power and a messianic one at the same time. That's not to say the United States can never intervene to stop aggression or genocide. It's not even to say that we can't, in favorable circumstances and with enormous effort, help build democracy once we're there. But it does mean that, when our fellow democracies largely oppose a war--as they did in Vietnam and Iraq--because they think we're deluding ourselves about either our capacities or our motives, they're probably right."

But now you want to say that the apology has been made, so can't we lay down this albatross? Never. Amensia led us to this end, and amnesia will return us to it. As Freud reminds us, the repressed always finds a way of returning.

And yet even all of this fails to convey the sheer indulgence of liberals broadcasting their introspection and rationalization and games of guilt and pride. For the exact failure of the United States in all its expansionist zeal is not merely the repression of memory, but also the moral selfishness that locates ourselves at the agent. The history of US military action is, to you, to all who think "Liberal Wrings Hands, Seeks Forgiveness" is a fitting headline even as bombs and bullets ruin more lives, a history about OUR morals and OUR technology and OUR desire to act in the name of utopia. There is a fundamental refusal to hear the story narrated from the perspective of the Other, and that is part and parcel to our hubris. If we have a special destiny as the bringer of global justice, what in the story of the destitute in Iraq and Veitnam could possibly convince us that we are wrong? By putting ink to your own moral crisis, your own hunger to be patted on the head and told you're still a good boy, you indulge the desire to narrate a story about the road to moral perfection and the pristine moderate liberal imperialists who have tried so hard to walk it. That story has been told enough times, and it isn't getting any better, but to TNR, this is still, somehow, a story about themselves. And those of us who have lost interest in that story are somehow at fault here?

David Schraub said...

A brief aside before we go on--Vietnam was not supported by TNR (and I would hope not be me) for good reason; invading countries to suppress democracy and prop up a dictatorship is not "liberal" under any stretch of the imagination.

Back to the main.

Let's start with this whole thing about hearing the voice of the Other. The problem isn't that folks like me were sufficiently attuned to the Others story. Recall from Beinart's column: Why did he support the Iraq war? Because Kanan Makiya did. The exiles and refugees and suppressed and imprisoned were indeed calling for liberation--that is no lie (we saw the same dynamic in Burma a few years ago--the Economist reported that the only question they heard from Burmese civilians after Iraq was hope that the US would invade them too). Our mistake was not in not hearing their voice, it was in convincing ourselves that we could be the type of country they pled for us to be--that we could be the sword of justice that would rid the land of their oppressors. The disjuncture wasn't between dominant/other voice (at the start, anyway), it was between hope and reality. You're retelling this story to suppress the original voice of the Other so it fits your political agenda. But it misstates the issue at hand--the goal for us was not suppression but liberation, and our sin was an excess of hope turned to hubris. To try and group that with segregation does narrative violence to Mr. Makiya and everyone like him.

If ever you wish to truly change society for the better, to do something big, you have to account for the possibility of big failure as well. Which is what happened here. And having established the precedent of what happens to those who wanted the change in the aftermath, I suspect that you will continue to approach these issues with a nice safe cautious moderation--moderately reducing extreme poverty, moderately impacting vicious prison systems, moderately protesting brutal genocides. Congratulations, you've written a letter! Nothing can go wrong out of that--but little will go right.

As to whether my story has any relevance in the broader scheme and whether I should permanently tarred--your statement here is an expression of Western privilege that is so secure in its democratic system that it thinks it can exclude without consequence. This is a lie. Even in the aftermath of the most brutal atrocities, only the slice of leaders at the top is tried--non-judicial reconciliation procedures that seek to reintegrate offenders into the community. Societies collapse if the majority of their populace is permanently tarred. And here we're talking about the people who actually wielded the machete--the pundits we're talking about here were misguided in the proper way to liberate the oppressed.

But societal healing isn't your goal here, because I think you relish the idea of a massive set of people (the more the better!) who will be a permanent political underclass to you and let you and your peers control the reins of power without protest. If everyone who supported the Iraq war is buried, who is left but the left? Appealing prospect? Maybe--but wholly anti-democratic and wholly unstable.

All stories have worth and all have the right to be told. I reject that empathy is zero-sum, and I reject that the process of telling stories (much less those of regret!) in any way conflicts with the telling of other stories by other voices. Hide behind self-righteousness, but don't be deceived: You love this exclusion. You love this banishment.

This nightmare let your dreams come true.