Juan Cole, Thoughtcrime, And Morality

I still read Juan Cole, although it’s hard for me to be moved to write about anything he says – I glean interesting nuggets of information for future research or thought, but it’s long been clear to me what and how he thinks – and, sadly, he’s one of those people who are busy making reality conform to their theories, rather than trying to improve their theories against reality.

But I caught this this morning – a response to Professor Cole from Yaacov Lozowick, the Director of Archives at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and it had two points – one brutally negative one about Prof. Cole and one so right on point in terms of the moral center of balance required of actors in the world that I thought I’d link and cite.First – Prof. Cole. He claimed that someone named Tzipi Livni – I’ll look her up – had no standing to denounce terrorism, because her father was an Irgun terrorist.

First of all, Livni is not responsible for her father’s crimes except if she is proud of them and declines to denounce them. If she won’t denounce them, she has no standing to argue to the UN that it should prevent holding office.

There’s something immensely creepy about ‘declining to denounce’ as a moral failing. Somehow Arthur Koestler comes to mind. Personally, I don’t care whether the Palestinians – or anyone else – denounces terrorism. I just want them to stop supporting and doing it. If Livini is proposing sensible things (and I can’t speak on whether she is or not) who cares about her views of history – and more particularly, her father?

While I believe in the shaping power of discourse, I don’t believe in thoughtcrime. I gather that professor Cole does.

Finally, here’s a comment on morality and action that is worthy of Hoderer. Lozowick:

Finally, since you keep returning to the subject, even though historians tend to stay away from it, a comment about morality. Like you, I also feel it to be so important that historians need to confront it. More important, however, my position is of a citizen, before a historian. Because you see, the decisions we make are usually morally fraught no matter what we do, because human lives are involved. When we make wrong decisions, people die. On both sides of the conflict. Believe it or not (I expect you won’t), we do not wish anyone dead, on either side – though of course, we rightfully have no compunctions about killing those of our enemies who are striving to kill us. That caveat, translated into real-life decisions, made in real-life conditions, almost always with no connections to academic constructs of the sort you seem to prefer – that caveat is what makes morality so very very complicated.

Contrary to your parting shot (The Livnis know only one way etc), Tzipi Livni clearly is far more aware of the ambivalences of reality at war than you seem to be.

I’d love to see some ambivalence like this from Professor Cole, if he were capable of it.

49 thoughts on “Juan Cole, Thoughtcrime, And Morality”

  1. bq. “There’s something immensely creepy about ‘declining to denounce’ as a moral failing.”*

    Another argument built on the flimsiest of threads.

    bq. “He claimed that someone named Tzipi Livni – I’ll look her up – had no standing to denounce terrorism, because her father was an Irgun terrorist.”

    Why don’t you “look her up” before sitting down to type, so you might be able to understand the context of the issue and the comments by both parties. This basic form of analysis would seem to be a pre-requisite before jumping to conclusions…unless your aim is to be ironic:

    bq. “…sadly, he’s one of those people who are busy making reality conform to their theories, rather than trying to improve their theories against reality.”

    Because in approaching the issue in the order you have (pull out quote, react, draw a conclusion…

    bq. “While I believe in the shaping power of discourse, I don’t believe in thoughtcrime. I gather that professor Cole does.”

    …and then at some later time maybe do a little digging to find out if there’s enough information in the short excerpt to understand the issue, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

    In fact, Cole’s response in his comments, which you left out, give a different view of the issue:

    bq. As Yaacov knows very well, Livni was a Likudnik all her life and only recently joined Kadima, which is Likud Lite. The question is whether she responded to British protests about the commemoration of the bombing of the King David Hotel by agreeing that it was a horrible act of terrorism, or whether she defends the bombing. Any evidence that she has *ever* denounced terrorism committed by Zionists would be welcome. I haven’t seen any.

    She sounds potentially unrepentant and in support of confrontation (perhaps violent), two traits that do more harm then help to Arab-Israeli relations.

    —–
    *Yet time and time again, the Right wing and media make a running game of forcing Democrats to publicly denounce one or the other petty distraction, the latest being the General Betrayus/MoveOn/NYT flim flam.

  2. Tzipi Livni is Israel’s foreign minister. And according to Wikipedia, possibly “the second most powerful politician in Israel”.

    There’s something immensely creepy about ‘declining to denounce’ as a moral failing.

    I wouldn’t say “immensely creepy”; a bit creepy perhaps. And whren talking about a politician, not creepy at all. Politicians can be judged not

    If Livni is proposing sensible things (and I can’t speak on whether she is or not) who cares about her views of history – and more particularly, her father?

    Well, if she is saying that activity X is basd, except when members of her immediate family do it (and I don’t know that she is saying that), then I’d call her a hypocrite.

  3. Frankly, expecting anything short of a greenwaldian response from Mr. Cole is an exercise in futility. I rank him up there with Chomsky in his willful ignorance, self created importance, and powers of self delusion.

  4. further to #2:

    Oops, I missed a bit. I intended to say:

    Politicians can be judged not just by what they say, but by what they choose not to talk about. If a politician is seen to be studiously avoiding talking about topic X, where X is a matter of current political controversy, it’s reasonable for people to draw inferences from that.

  5. Why on earth would you read Cole in the first place? Long a second-rate academic, he has acted as a virtual online press-secretary for Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria in recent years. His tireless anti-Semitism, excuse me, anti-Zionism, and pro-CAIR, pro-Hamas statements aren’t worthy of quotation or deconstruction in any serious debate, since he merely recycles propaganda directly from Al-Jazeera, the BBC, or Shiite press releases. His most recent ‘discovery’ of ‘impeachable offenses’ in the Spanish transcript of Bush and Aznar’s private meeting relies, comically, on incorrect translation of the Spanish original.

    If this nation is ever, through some awful series of domestic attacks, forced to get serious about fighting any sort of ‘war on terror’, Cole will be one of the first to flee overseas.

  6. As an experiment, let’s apply Prof. Cole’s logic to Prof. Cole himself and see what happens:

    Cole’s refusal to denounce the Iranian regime – and his denunciation of anyone who does denounce it – implicates him in the murder of Iranians who have been executed for their Baha’i faith. The fact that Cole claims to embrace the Baha’i faith makes him a hypocrite and a traitor as well as a lying fascist murderer.

    At this point in the experiment Prof. Cole dematerialized, apparently having managed to crawl down his own throat.

  7. How can anyone who embraces Bahai possibly side with the Mullahs as often as Cole does. I work with 2 bahais, both fled Iran with their families due to persecution based solely on their faith.

  8. Morality and the Middle East is a contradiction in terms. Situational Ethics is more to the point. There is no right or wrong or winner or loser in this little spat. There is only the immoral War Without End that the area has been engaged in since the before the Dawn of Civilization.

    “Denounce Terrorism”. The very idea that anyone would even bring the subject up in the context of the Middle East seems to me to indicate that they are not paying attention.

    This only seems to illustrate that everyone is culpable there. There are no good guys, including now us. The WWE drones on. Why would anyone denounce their father. You may as well denounce Adam for his original sin for all the good that it would do.

  9. Morality to America’s right is very important, TOC.

    We’re supposed to fighting “absolute evil” in the Middle East, not some guys following the same game plan that got the Israel’s their counry.

  10. Kierkagard, “Cole…Long a second-rate academic…”

    Says who? A third rate psuedo-academic like MIchael Ledeen or a first rate child doofus like Dan Darling (MIchael Ledeen’s love child)?

    Who? And what are your qualifications to judge the opinion? In what area did you earn your PhD? And how does that area of expertise relate to Cole’s?

    Otherwise, opinions are like certain body parts…..everyone has one and the same stuff comes out of them all.

    At least A.L. admits that he hasn’t bothered to look into the material aspects of the topic.

    Maybe you could take a break from your existential angst to engage in some down to earth academic discussing of the points on which Cole’s scholarship falls short.

    Otherwise,…..yawn….. slow news day…Cole posts some disturbing transcripts showing a thugish Bush’s determination to go to war in Iraq regardless…….and the right wing lashes out in counter attack to discredit Cole’s character and distract the cognitive dissonance.

  11. avedis, a few things…

    1) stop with the namecalling – now, please.
    2) I hadn’t seen Cole’s piece on Bush (or rather had skipped it when he launched into his impeachement handwaving) when I wrote this.
    3) Cole’s transcripts appear to have – wait for it – been “mistranslated”:http://barcepundit-english.blogspot.com/2007/09/much-is-being-made-of-scoop-by-pro.html . Not the “first time”:http://www.windsofchange.net/archives/008563.php we’ve dealt with this from Prof. Cole, though, no?

    A.L.

  12. ” Livni, 47, first came to political notice as a teenager, taking part in violent demonstrations by right-wing Greater Israel nationalists against US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger when he tried to arrange territorial deals between Israel and Arab states with his shuttle diplomacy.

    “My family is part of the founding history of Israel,” she has boasted. Her father’s gravestone bears the inscription, “Here lies the head of operations of the Irgun Z’vai Leumi” . The stone also bears a carved map of ‘Greater Israel’ extended to take in the opposite side of the Jordan river. in keeping with the old right-wing Zionist ditty that went “The River Jordan has two sides, and both of them are ours!” ‘

    Interesting that A.L’s rightwing propaganda smear of Cole did not include this very relevant piece of the Cole post.

    Clearly, Livni, is proud of her family’s participation in terrorism and, just as clearly, Livni should, from a moral standpoint, denounce such a past.

    Her fellow rightwing Jews, Jackoff Lozowiczk (or whatever the name is that A.L bothered to mention in his post), are equally racist Arab hating hard asses that attack Cole as a smoke screen for their genocidal tendencies.

    The history of this Zipi Livni is the Jewish equivalent of someone who grew up as a night riding, robe wearing, KKK member.

  13. “1) stop with the namecalling – now, please.”

    Why is it not name calling to refer to a prof at the U of M as third rate, etc?

  14. There’s a bit of a difference between “second rate” and “child doofus like Dan Darling (MIchael Ledeen’s love child)”. If you can’t see it, step away from the screen for a while until you do.

    A.L.

  15. avedis: Her fellow rightwing Jews, Jackoff Lozowiczk (or whatever the name is that A.L bothered to mention in his post), are equally racist Arab hating hard asses that attack Cole as a smoke screen for their genocidal tendencies.

    Can we ban Avedis now, please?

    Yaacov Lozowick is a friend of mine. He is not remotely racist, or even right-wing for that matter. He is not genocidal — he is the archivist at one of the best museums in the world that documents genocide.

    I interviewed him during last year’s war between Israel and Hezbollah, a war he opposed and said was stupid and indefensible.

    Avedis’s comments are likewise stupid and indefensible, and viciously libelous, and I vote to evict him/her/it now.

  16. Myself, I’m tired as hell with all this verbal gotcha crap, that seems to be everywhere nowadays. All this faux outrage, and this basic, originally leftist, “thought policing” that seems to have taken over everyone’s brain. Why the hell any conservative goes along with this, I don’t know, but, they’ve enthusiastically adopted thought policing, and are in it to win it, as well.

    A couple of things here A.L.

    One – you should have a link to Cole’s initial post, and comments. Pulling out selected quotes, that may be out of context, isn’t kosher. What are you afraid of? That your argument will be exposed as weak?

    Two – You are avoiding a big elephant in the room. The recent Republican faux outrage, that culminated in a bill “denouncing” MoveOn for the NY Times Petraeus ad. Talk about “There’s something immensely creepy about ‘declining to denounce’ as a moral failing”, which of course, all Republicans are doing in this case. While of course ignoring that Limbaugh called serving soldiers against the Iraq Occupation “phony soldiers”, or called Hagel “Senator Betrayus”. That’s all fine and good, I suppose.

    To paraphrase one of your last statements:

    “While I believe in the shaping power of discourse, I don’t believe in thoughtcrime. I gather that [the Republican party] does.”

    Truth is though, anyone who remembers college campuses of the early to mid 90’s, man, the level of immature, asinine college leftists who “denounced” each and any statement, was such a friggin’ pain. The speech police indeed. And a lot of the left, my side, still does this. (Though boy, are we surpassed by the Republican outrage machine.)

    It’s a shame our political process, which includes the blogs, have gotten into this “gotcha” game.

    It’s stupid, distracting, not pertinent to what people are actually DOING, what policies are actually being ENACTED, and more of a vacant, insubstantial smokescreen, more in line with shallow celebrity news, than something that advances the good and health of this nation.

  17. Interesting that Prof. Cole–who is incredibly anti-Zionist–seems to not appreciate that he could freely practice his Baha’i faith among the community of B’hai who live freely in Haifa (the Baha’i Temple and gardens are stunning, on the slope of Mount Carmel overlooking the port) but not in most Islamic countries where the Baha’i are persecuted…or worse.

    Needless to say, Prof. Cole also clearly fails to appreciate Israel’s tenuous state in her particular neighborhood. Perhaps he should spend a couple of weeks, of months, there to better understand the nature of her fight for survival and the moral wrestling of her citizenry. Doing what is necessary to survive often contradicts what one should do to be moral and ethical in a Biblical sense. The observant and the secular wrestle with these problems daily.

  18. Lastly,

    Clearly, this is something that is going on here as well, with the banning of Avedis.

    As Avedis points out, Kierkegaard above, did say “second rate scholar”, as well as call him a press secretary for some pretty bad groups. None of that is accurate.

    I also remember when – I think it was Tim Oren? – one of your subsidiary guys (if not Tim, my apologies) basically called Conyers a piece of s**t. I pointed it out, and soon afterwards, the comment was removed. But there wasn’t this public chastizing.

    Now, I happen to agree that Avedis indulges in false negative smears and stereotypes. I called him out on grouping all Kurds and Armenians – to the 3rd generation! – as killers and opportunists (something like that, I forget the specifics). I also thought that was a pathetic, unwarranted smear.

    But clearly, all of this is set by the standards of the community. In this particular community, it’s more okay to allow right wing name-calling than leftwing name-calling. Let’s be straight-up about that.

    As long as that’s understood to be the case. No one is posting from an innocence here, and we are all big boys. Avedis knows this as well, at some point, he’ll get kicked off this conservative leaning (or at least neoconish) site, if behavior isn’t modified.

    I know nothing about Livni or Yaacov Lozowick. But I’m sure they both have history and – more importantly – ideological views, which may or may not be right.

    As far as Totten goes, I love to read his reporting – it’s good stuff – but I also recognize just how ONE-SIDED his stuff is. He chooses what to report out on, very, very carefully. And it’s funny, nearly ALL of his reporting, over the time I’ve read, has reported out as favorable to a neocon reading. It’s a fact that his reporting aligns with his pre-existing views as a blogger, before he started reporting.

    It would be more trustworthy, if – AT LEAST OCCASIONALLY! – his reporting would go against some of those early, pre-established views that are visible on his blog.

    But that doesn’t happen, of course.

  19. hypo – no, it’s a simple boundary; you can call me or anyone else a ‘fool’ or call someone ‘uneducated’ or ‘ridiculous’ – that’s rhetoric.

    But when you call someone ‘Jackoff Lozowiczk’, I don;t care if it’s right or left – it’s invective and I don’t want it here.

    Does that make you feel better?

    A.L.

  20. hypo – hang on – did I miss a post I did on the Betrayus ad?? … no I didn’t. It was stupid politics by MoveOn (but hey, it raised a bunch o’money for them!!), and the NYT thing was amusing for a day. But I don’t demand denunciations.

    I don’t require Palestinians to apologize for Munich or for Lt. Stratham – I do comment that they’d have a county now if they acted like the Myanmar monks, and that Juan Cole is foolish for suggesting otherwise. I would like them to say “we won;t do this any more” and to have an Altalena event.

    hypo, I don’t talk about a lot of things. Hell, I don’t blog about a lot of things I’d like to blog about. So please don’t bust me for not blogging about things. I’d like to blog about what a tool Rush Limbaugh is – his latest is just insulting – but I get so much time a day, and I use it the best I can.

    Better?

    A.L.

  21. hypo-

    You are wrong about Totten. Totally. But you can have your ‘opinion’.

    As far as avedis is concerned, I tend to fire from the hip with a blunderbuss at times but not nearly as much as he. I disagree with a lot of the commentators on the site but I keep coming back because I keep learning things. Some of those things make me shake my head, but….

    BTW, have you ever spent time in Israel? Lovely place as long as you do not get too close to the borders where Hamas or Hizbollah are lobbing rockets DAILY at the CIVILIAN populace. And the terrorists are the targets in folks like J Cole’s strange world.

    bq. it’s more okay to allow right wing name-calling than leftwing name-calling

    Really? I thought this particular corner bar tended to learn more left than right. Or perhaps I am that far right? Maybe.

  22. A.L.,

    “But when you call someone ‘Jackoff Lozowiczk’, I don;t care if it’s right or left – it’s invective and I don’t want it here.”

    Sounds like a good rule. The point is though, when Tim Oren says something just as bad about Conyers, or someone says “Hitlery”, it’s not any better, right? And yet, those are greeted with less outrage.

    Again, I get it, that’s my point, actually. I’m not bitching about the fact that this site is “unfair” in the posting of smear department. Every site has a character, and this site’s commenters are more in tune with rightwing smearing (democrats are betrayers of the U.S., (but not traitors) as Joe Katzman once said.)

    At any rate, no need to get in the weeds about this – keep doing what you do. My own opinion remains, it is a bit strange for you to point out Cole’s small example of “thought-policing”, right around the same time that there is this SAME ISSUE is happening on the national stage.

    If it matters, on this issue, my state of mind is pretty neutral. I’m not personally exercised, outraged, myself. As my first post said, I’m in total agreement with your initial point. Thought-policing, righteous group-think sucks balls, y’all!

    I don’t smoke, but one of the funniest stories I read, was at some “don’t smoke” conference, one of the main contributors, got so sick of the preening righteousness of all the anti-smokers, he got up on stage and lit one up! Just to piss off the entire room!

    So, to paraphrase the NWA, “F**k, THA thoughtpolice, f&&k, f&&k, f&&k THA thought police!”

    :)

  23. “In a just world, his visit would never have been authorized and Iran would not be a member of the United Nations,” said Livni.

    Cole’s comment makes more sense when taken in the correct context.

  24. Alphie #9,

    We’re not fighting “absolute evil” in the Middle East or anywhere else. We’re fighting a lot of vicious savages who want us all dead. We’re fighting people who are not rational by any Western standard of rationality. They can be niether deterred nor reasoned with. And relative to them, I’d say we are the good guys even if it does sometimes become necessary to do terrible things. If my grandparents’ generation had had your attitude, we’d all be goosestepping except for those of us in the ovens. People who are not willing to kill those who want to kill them won’t last very long.

  25. bp. There’s something immensely creepy about ‘declining to denounce’ as a moral failing.

    That’s one of the biggest objections I have to the “Muslims are violent because I don’t see them on CNN denouncing Bin Laden” argument that’s heard so frequently. In all seriousness, though, isn’t this principle exactly how America works today, on both the right and the left? Someone says something controversial, and the scramble to extract denunciations from one’s opponents consumes the next several days of the news cycle?

    A similar discussion was actually the subject of my first comment here on WoC; Cole’s comments are just the bizarro world version of “You didn’t condemn Al Qaeda while I was watching, you must like them,” eh?

    How do we draw the line between someone condoning something reprehensible, and ‘refusing to condemn it as loudly as I do?’

  26. Jeff, there’s a big difference between denouncing a historic event or event in the past and taking a stance pro or con something happening right now.

    As noted, it would be nice if the Palestinian leadership denounced Munich; but that’s a laignappe – what I care about is their stance on the violence happening now.

    That’s a clarification I should have made in my writing, and I think it’s material because one speaks to how you think about the world, and one speaks to who you support and what you intend to do.

    A.L.

  27. #30

    I think you’re trying to hard, as seems typical, to salvage a shallow view by drawing arbitrary lines of distinction that you cannot or won’t justify by actual analysis or research. It strikes me that reading your work is hardly more enlightening or informative, or informed, than overhearing the proclamations of a tipsy opinionated person at a party.

    So then you’ll agree with Cole if Livni hasn’t “taken a stance pro or con something happening right now”, like any of Israel’s recent military acts against Lebanon?

    Because if you read into her recent history, I don’t see any regret or denunciation of contemporaneous events either, do you?

    Here’s something:

    bq. http://italy.usembassy.gov/pdf/other/RL33566.pdf

    bq. Ihttp://italy.usembassy.gov/pdf/other/RL33566.pdf

    bq. Israel’s Use of Cluster Weapons. Observers have decried Israel’s use of cluster weapons to counter Hezbollah’s rockets attacks. Since the United States is a major provider of military aid to Israel, the cluster weapons issue received media attention during and since the war and has reportedly become the subject of an Administration investigation. Field and press reports suggest that large numbers of cluster weapon submunitions (commonly referred to as “cluster bombs”) remain scattered across areas of southern Lebanon in the aftermath of fighting between Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The sub-munitions in southern Lebanon are the unexploded remnants of a range of Israeli ground- and air-launched cluster weapons, including bombs, artillery shells, and rockets. The United States apparently supplied some of the cluster weapons that Israel used in the conflict. 41 Officials from the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and foreign governments have criticized Israel for its use of cluster weapons in populated areas because of the known high rate of failure for the cluster weapons’ sub-munitions and the potential for these socalled “bomblets” to kill and injure civilians. Israel reportedly fired many of the cluster weapons in question during the final days of the conflict.42 As of September 7, the United Nations had catalogued 12 deaths and 61 reported injuries from UXO in Lebanon, all but five of which were linked to cluster sub-munitions. Up to 448 cluster weapon strike sites from the recent conflict have been identified, and U.N. experts estimated that 12 to 15 months will be needed to clear the sites of cluster submunitions. According to Human Rights Watch, 57 countries maintain stockpiles of cluster weapons, and nine countries have used them in combat, including the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    How would you feel if the Lebanese dropped cluster bombs in your neighborhood and your child’s leg got blown off? And you pretend to know what induces people to hate the US and Israel enough to want to do us harm. Violence begets violence…is that so hard for you Neocons to get into your heads?

    Has Livni condemned this?

  28. I always thought it was kind of creepy how Cole declined to go into much detail about Baha’i persecutions in Iran for the stated reason that he fears that the information would be used to support military action against Iran. Its almost as if he is supporting a biplar choice of doing nothing versus military action.

  29. Alan, there’s a lot to unpack in that comment, so let me hit in the top issue before I unplug the computer.

    If Cole had busted Livini for her stance on current Israeli policies – busted her in the strongest terms – I might disagree (or not, as noted I don’t usually take stands on the day-to-day of Israel-Palestine), but his busting her would be 100% legitimate and unchallengable as legitimate.

    But to say that she can’t have a legitimate position on today’s issues because she hasn’t taken the ‘right’ stance on past issues is just bullshit.

    It’s interesting how the meme of “you’d be enraged too” keeps coming up. I drive a Japanese car, and somehow the Japanese seems to have gotten over having half their country firebombed and two cities nuked.

    But that’s an issue worthy of longer discussion and one I’ll come back to.

    A.L.

  30. I’ve agreed with perhaps one in twenty of Avedis’ comments, and dismissed many of the remaining 19 with eye-rolls (rather than contesting them via a leap to the keyboard).

    But.

    Others of those 19 have been thought-provoking, the kind of across-the-chasm commentary that the site strives for.

    And.

    Avedis shared some remarkable insights on the role of insurance companies in health care financing a week or so ago.

    So, my two cents, contra M. Totten #15, would have been to warn (#10, #14) for the insults in #10 and #12. Or, failing that, to suspend for only a very short while.

  31. Two weeks isn’t that long. And to lay a larger insult into the post responding to my request not to be insulting doesn’t bode well for playing by house rules.

    I agree; I’d like avedis to be around and express his/her views…but I won’t put up with shit-talking like that here – from anyone, right or left.

    A.L.

  32. hypocrisyrules #18 wrote —

    bq. you should have a link to Cole’s initial post, and comments. Pulling out selected quotes, that may be out of context, isn’t kosher. What are you afraid of? That your argument will be exposed as weak?

    Oh, c’mon. Click on the “first link”:http://docs.google.com/View?docid=dgxshts6_12g93krh in A.L.’s post, and Cole’s original post is “one obvious click”:http://www.juancole.com/2007/09/tzipi-livni-aboutface-now-against.html#comments away.

  33. Hypocrisyrules: It would be more trustworthy, if – AT LEAST OCCASIONALLY! – his reporting would go against some of those early, pre-established views that are visible on his blog.

    I’m glad you like my reporting, but you’re wrong about this.

    See here and here for some recent examples.

  34. Also, Hypocrisyrules, my interview with Yaacov mentioned above is also an example.

    Some of the “neocons” were pissed at me for what I was writing, and who I was interviewing, during last year’s war. I favorably interviewed Peace Now, for God’s sake.

  35. Jeff, there’s a big difference between denouncing a historic event or event in the past and taking a stance pro or con something happening right now.

    Conceptually, there’s a difference. I’m not sure that this is a useful distinction, though. If my father was a terrorist, and I claim his legacy, and have never condemned his acts of terrorism, yet I condemn another nation for acts of terrorism, isn’t there a fundamental disconnect? All other issues aside, that’s Cole’s premise. Whether one disagrees with the idea that the Irgun was a terrorist group, or whether a father’s legacy should taint a son or daughter’s career, it seems like it’s no less valid than “Bob didn’t publically condemn last week’s atrocity-of-the-week, so he’s pro-atrocity.”

    That’s a clarification I should have made in my writing, and I think it’s material because one speaks to how you think about the world, and one speaks to who you support and what you intend to do.

    I think both flavors are silly to the extent that they are deployed in modern political rhetoric. Like Nazi comparisons, calling double-standard is a rhetorical tool that’s gotten dull with use. Unless articulated VERY carefully, and with very clear and precise meaning, it’s no more or less meaningful than shouting ‘Racist!’ in a debate about immigration.

    [Blockquotes fixed – David Blue.]

  36. Totten,

    “The Mahdi Army is Iran’s major proxy in Iraq. It is, in effect, the Iraqi branch of Hezbollah.”

    Is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Iraqi branch of Hezbollah?? What the eff?

    That is the belligernet neo-conish way. Very similar to “Hussein is working with Al-Queda”.

    The connections are laughably weak, and that comparison is meant to paint Iran as (now) the instigator of all evil acts in the Middle East.

    Does Mahdi army and Iran have connections? Of course.
    Does Iran have connections – stronger actually – with other Shiite groups in Iraq? Unquestionably. I would doubt that Mahdi is “Iran’s major proxy”, because of those other groups, in fact closely connected with the actual government of Iraq.

    Does Iran have connections with Hamas? Seems like it, given the level of weapons that have used against Israel.

    So then, like neo-cons, you resort to this hyperbole – “Iraqi branch of Hezbollah”. Like “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” or “Hussein is in cahoots with Al-Queda”, or “iraqis will greet us with flowers”, these are intentional distortions, exaggerations, for a particular effect. Not a detailed rigorous, analysis of all the actors in Iraq.

    So, yeah, it’s obvious, your irresponsible bias that you inject into, what is otherwise, good reporting. Good presentations of people in Iraq, simple and clear presentations of situations, not resorting to flighty language, but “keeping it real”, sort of lesser Hemingway’esque.

    But the bias is obvious and clear, in hyperbolic sentences like the above, and in the “things are always improving” reportage, while the numbers don’t really seem to be changing. If someone read you exclusively for “on the ground” reporting, it would read like peace in just around the corner in Iraq. Which buys into a pro-occupation position.

  37. hypocrisyrules: If someone read you exclusively for “on the ground” reporting, it would read like peace in just around the corner in Iraq.

    If you only read my work selectively, and blindly, I guess that might be true.

    Many in Hugh Hewitt’s audience accused me of having an anti-war and anti-surge agenda after they read the exact same article you just quoted.

    They are wrong, as are you.

    that comparison is meant to paint Iran as (now) the instigator of all evil acts in the Middle East.

    What on earth makes you think that’s what I meant or intended? I have never thought any such thing, have never said any such thing, and have certainly never written any such thing.

    If you want to argue with me about the Mahdi Army, fine. We can do that without you blowing one sentence all out of proportion the way you just did, and re-writing what I actually wrote so you can argue with your own private alternate-universe version of me.

    Is the Mahdi Army closer to Iran than any other militia in Iraq? No. But it is the largest and most powerful of those with connections in Iran, and the one most likely to emerge as a parallel government with a state-within-a-state if anyone does.

    By the way, I do not think the U.S. should go to war with Iran (at least not at this time), so feel free to kindly refrain from projecting that “neocon” trait on me, as well.

    I would appreciate it if you would argue with what I actually write, not with some bizarre personal interpretation of what you think I “mean,” as if I am writing in code.

    If you’re not sure what I mean by something, ask. I’ll be more than happy to clarify.

    Thanks.

  38. Totten,

    To my perception, it’s really clear.

    “”The Mahdi Army is Iran’s major proxy in Iraq. It is, in effect, the Iraqi branch of Hezbollah.”, is a warped, untrue statement. It ignores the complexity of the situation, it wrongly weds three separate organizations, each with their own goals, into one, undifferentiated enemy.

    And there is clearly an agenda involved, and editorializing.

    I don’t care about what “some people say”, (Hugh Hewitt commentors) as a proof of the fact that you are balanced. “some people say” that the Earth was created 7000 years ago. Doesn’t mean that the guy who claims the earth was created 15,000 years ago, can point to the fact that the people who think the earth was created 7000 years ago are criticizing him, as are the people who think the earth is millions of years old, are criticizing him, so he MUST be right! But of course, he still is crazy as a loon.

    It’s a variant of the Inductive Generalization fallacy, and you using this to support your point, doesn’t say much for your logic skills.

    The real question is, why would you make such a tortured “composition fallacy”:http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/composition.html

    regarding Mahdi, Iran, and Hezbollah?. What’s your real reason, for your casual simplification of Mahdi, given the complicated realities in Iraq?

    But, hey, it is what is. I trust my perception over your assertion that I am wrong, re: your fallacy of composition, regarding Mahdi, Iran, Hezbollah.
    Certainly, it would take a hell of a lot of counter-evidence to convince my perception otherwise. This fallacy is so obvious, it’s of the “do I believe you or do I believe my lying eyes”, and in this case, I’ll believe my eyes.

    The one time where you definitely did good in avoiding your “reductio enemy move”, is in your reporting about Lebanon. You recognized the good and bad parts of lebanon, rightly criticizing the evil Hezbollah, while acknowledging that some of what Israel was doing was going over the line. For THAT, yeah, you did receive criticism from the normal neocon group.

    And it was a tragedy in Lebanon, and your writing reflected this. Lebanon should be, is some ways is, a cosmopolitan port, the Venice of the Middle East. Instead, torn apart by civil war, and the incursions of it’s neighbors.

  39. hypocrisyrules: And there is clearly an agenda involved

    What’s my “agenda?” Honestly, I don’t know where you’re going with this.

    I have opinions, and I don’t try to hide them, so I’m not trying to say I’m neutral or that I don’t editorialize. I’m not neutral, and I do editorialize.

    But I’m not trying to build up support for a war against Iran (or whatever it is you’re accusing me of) by comparing Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army.

    If you think the comparison is off, fine. Make a case. We might not disagree about much here and only appear to disagree because neither of us has said much about it. But we can’t have an honest conversation if you think that sentence is evidence of some sinister agenda.

    My real agenda with my Iraq reporting is to describe what I see, hear, and experience as accurately as possible. Because I write from a first-person perspective, my personal view can’t be kept out of it 100 percent. I don’t try to keep my personal view out of it 100 percent because I don’t think it’s necessary or even possible. Of course I make mistakes, but I try my best to keep them to a minimum.

    My Mahdi/Hezbollah comparison might be a mistake, but you’re not going to convince me of that the way you’re going with this. You’re criticizing my motive, and you’re wrong about my motive. I know you’re wrong about that — even if you’re right about my comparison, and maybe you are — because I know better than you do what’s in my own head.

    There are many reporters in Iraq whom I read and respect tremendously even though I don’t agree with all their opinions. One reason is because they don’t let their opinions overwhelm their work — even though their opinions are made clear in their writing — and also because they don’t impose a political agenda on their narrative. I admire them and strive to be like them.

    I don’t know you, so if you choose not to believe me, that’s fine. I won’t be able to convince you, and I do not need to.

  40. I will add, though, that if my writing were agenda-driven (I am in favor of the surge for instance) I wouldn’t include evidence that runs counter to that. But I do include evidence that runs counter to that when I come across it. Because my real “agenda” is not to cheerlead the surge but to describe what I see and hear as best I can whether it neatly lines up behind that argument or not.

    That’s why some people at Hewitt’s place thought I had an anti-war and anti-surge agenda. They saw the counter-evidence and made more of it than they should have.

    I would not have even gone to Mushadah if I wanted to avoid counter-evidence. But I did, and I wrote a gloomy report because what I saw was gloomy. I didn’t try to spin it into a happy story. I wrote it straight.

    I have mixed opinions anyway about the whole thing. There are no easy answers in Iraq, and I am very glad I am not in charge. I expect a bad ending, but am hoping against long odds that the surge might avert a catastrophe or at least limit the damage.

    I give it a one in four chance.

  41. hypo – I’d be darn interested in an explanation of the fracture points between Iran, Hezbollah, and the Mahdi Army; you’re making a strong stand on this so I presume you’ve got some stuff you can point to, and the relationship between the various actors, their state sponsors, and their peers in other geographic areas is something I’d love to understand better because it’s vitally important.

    A.L.

  42. And again–why bother even engaging with commenters like ‘hypocrisyrules’. Mr Totten? He is simply regurgitating leftist talking points, as do so many bloggers online. Speaking as someone who’s read nearly every article you’ve ever written, I can assure you of two things–his meandering criticisms of you are inaccurate, and your time is merely being wasted in replying to them. Time, I might add, far better spent in writing the articles that are deservedly earning you a lasting reputation.

    When I called Juan Cole a ‘second-rate academic’, I knew exactly what I was saying. I’ve suffered through the reading of several of his publications and ‘professional articles’. His early academic work is merely mediocre and undistinguished; in recent years it has devolved into agit-prop sensationalism. It’s unlikely he could have retained tenure in any other state, at least until times changed enough forhis pro-Islamic notoriety to bring him to the attention of Yale, an institution already extending scholarships to at least one member of the Taliban, if memory serves.

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