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DAVID McCullough loves good stories. And you can see one coming by the look on his face. When he is about to unload a particularly juicy yarn on you, America's most popular historian puckers his lips, squints his eyes and sometimes even gives a grunt of appreciation. It's as if he has popped a sweet into his mouth and has begun sucking on it. Sitting at a large oak table in a library at the Yale Club in midtown Manhattan, the avuncular 71-year-old author has been savouring some favourite anecdotes from his new book, 1776, for about 30 minutes now, and he's just beginning.
"Think about that little fifer boy," he says, referring to a 15-year-old who makes a brief appearance in the book. "He's going down to the battlefield and then a soldier walks by with a wound on his neck. In his diary, the boy tells how he asks the man if it hurts. To which the soldier replies, 'No, it doesn't hurt; matter offact, soon as I get it tied up I'm going back to fighting.' And the boy says, 'I was never afraidthereafter."'
Courage, intimacy and a certain cinematic flair: here are the elements that have made McCullough a phenomenon in American bookselling. In a nation of so-called historical illiterates, he nearly outsells Harry Potter. His 1993 biography of president Harry Truman spent 43 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and sold well over one million copies. His most recent book, a biography of John Adams who, until McCullough got to him, was probably the most obscure founding father, sold more than two million copies and is being turned into an 11-hour miniseries by Tom Hanks. Both books won Pulitzer prizes.
McCullough also likes overlooked figures, almost-forgotten historical events and underappreciated public structures, such as the Brooklyn Bridge. As with Simon Schama in Britain, through a combination of television, radio and print work, he has coaxed Americans into learning about historical events they had long since put away in the mothballs of their childhood educations.
The year 1776, however, is not something many people are fuzzy about. You'd have to think that the biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington cranked out in the past few years of founding father fever have travelled every road of that year at least twice, if not three times. Not so, if you ask McCullough. "Americans go out every Fourth of July and celebrate July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence," he says in a rich, booming baritone, recognisable from the voiceovers he did for the film Seabiscuit. "Well, that's only part of what happened. It's all what happens to these people that I want to give credit to."
By these people, he's referring to the soldiers and generals who fought alongside the 42-year-old Virginian and future president George Washington when he was pulled reluctantly out of a gentleman's retirement to lead an army that didn't even have a name. They were also dangerously short of gunpowder, rifles and sobriety. Some soldiers didn't even have shoes.
You wouldn't have known this judging by the news arriving in London after the battle of Bunker Hill. In homage to this fact, 1776 opens in the autumn of 1775, with King George III's famous appearance at parliament, where he proclaimed the colonies in revolt and iterated the need to put a "speedy end" to the disorder.
The book then cycles back to tell the story of three notable sequences: the siege and recapture of Boston by the Americans, Washington's defeat in New York and his miraculous comeback in Trenton, when he crossed the Delaware in a hailstorm and outfoxed the formidable Hessian guard to earn a victory against the British Empire when it was, as one historian put it, "the most powerful and efficient machine for waging war in the world".
Much of this military history has been told elsewhere, but never has it been brought so vividly to life. Culling generously from first-hand accounts, diaries and logbooks, McCullough crafts an intensely visual chronicle of the battles that began the American Revolution. And he brings home just how many chances there were it could have gone another way....
[Mr. Kramer, author of Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle East Studies in America, is editor of the Middle East Quarterly.]
These last few weeks, Professor Juan Cole, blogger extraordinaire, has been even more over-the-top than usual, and I've been busy calling him on errors and elisions. The other day, he responded at his weblog with this appeal to his admirers at a left-of-center online forum called Daily Kos:
Please do up an oppo research diary on Martin Kramer. Who is he? Where did he come from? When he was head of the Dayan Center in Tel Aviv, to whom did he report in the Israeli intelligence community? Who funded his work on Hizbullah? Was he fired from heading the Dayan Center? How does he suddenly show back up in the US after a 20-year absence with a book that blames unpreparedness for 9/11 on US professors of Middle East Studies instead of on the Israeli Mossad and the US CIA/FBI? What was his role in getting up the Iraq War and in advising the US on the wrong-headed policies that have gotten so many Americans killed? Who pays his salary, now, exactly? What are his links with AIPAC, and with the shadowy world of far-right Zionist think tanks and dummy organizations?
I've restricted my critique of Cole to his on-the-record writings and statements, where there's ample grist. I've never puttered around his personal background, his job, his salary, his travels, or his grants. From what I hear, there's ample grist for that too, and some of it is relevant, but I haven't gone there. Since he's decided to insinuate that I'm some sort of Mossad operative, I'm assuming he has no substantive arguments to make in his defense. And he has the temerity to callhis critics "sleazeballs" and accuse them of McCarthyism.
Cole's would-be sleuths didn't turn up much information, and some actually refused the assignment. But I've secured the following Cole-ordered oppo research about me (I can't reveal my methods), and it appears to be very well-informed. In fact, the author almost seems to have a direct line into my mind...
Oppo Research for Professor Juan Cole
Question: "Who is he? Where did he come from?" Answer: Kramer was born in Washington, D.C. (ah-ha!), in 1954, and grew up in Maryland. He began his Middle Eastern studies under Itamar Rabinovich at Tel Aviv University, and continued under Fouad Ajami, L. Carl Brown, the late Charles Issawi, and Bernard Lewis, all at Princeton. (Lewis directed his doctoral thesis.) He also did a year at Columbia with J.C. Hurewitz. These "scholars" have all been exposed, by a previous oppo researcher, either as orientalists or native informants; they apparently recruited the young and impressionable Kramer to their service. As Kramer's doctorate neared completion, Rabinovich persuaded him to join the faculty of Tel Aviv University, and he has been there ever since. He has a fair number of scholarly publications, which have propelled him through the ranks. All this academic labor just to build his cover...
Question: "When he was head of the Dayan Center in Tel Aviv, to whom did he report in the Israeli intelligence community?" Answer: The Dayan Center, we have discovered, is part of Tel Aviv University, and it seems to house a well-known group of scholars. Its director reports to a board of governors, which includes prominent public figures and academics (ex officio: the university president, the provost, and the dean of the faculty of humanities). We cannot substantiate the suggestion that its director reports to "Israeli intelligence," although we know that all academics in Israel are agents unless proven otherwise. Still, Kramer seems particularly chagrined by what he regards as a disgraceful smear of his institution and his colleagues.
Question: "Was he fired from heading the Dayan Center?" Answer: No, he served two consecutive three-year terms, the term limit according to university regulations. (We are not sure why Professor Cole has tasked us with this question, and perhaps we should not raise it, given his own rather attenuated stint as director of Michigan's Middle East center...)
Question: "Who funded his work on Hizbullah?" Answer: Kramer had a two-year grant from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and a one-year fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. The Wilson Center is part of the Smithsonian Institution, so Kramer's work was funded, at least in part, by the U.S. government! (Inadvertently, however, we discovered that Professor Cole's own work on Shiism was funded by... federal tax dollars. We will keep this information confidential.)
Question: "Who pays his salary, now, exactly?" Answer: Kramer is a full-time tenured academic at Tel Aviv University. They have paid him a monthly salary for twenty-four years. We have secured one of his pay slips, and they seem to figure it out pretty exactly. Especially the deductions...
Question: "How does he suddenly show back up in the US after a 20-year absence with a book that blames unpreparedness for 9/11 on US professors of Middle East Studies instead of on the Israeli Mossad and the US CIA/FBI?" Answer: According to our evidence, Kramer wasn't absent for twenty years. In the 1980s and 1990s, he came back half a dozen times on visiting professorships and fellowships. Counter-intelligence even spotted him lurking in the corridors at conferences of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). That apparently kept him current with the goings-on in Middle Eastern studies, and seems to have provided inspiration and fodder for his book. We have checked, and were surprised to find that Professor Cole isn't mentioned in that book. This omission can be used against Kramer: he failed to predict the rise of Juan Cole! In his defense, Kramer will probably say: it was so implausible.
Question: "What was his role in getting up the Iraq War and in advising the US on the wrong-headed policies that have gotten so many Americans killed?" Answer: Kramer hasn't had any advisory role beyond his website, nor has he repackaged himself as an instant Iraq expert. None of Kramer's statements uncovered so far competes with our own Professor Cole's characterization of the war as a "noble enterprise." (We still await further clarification from Professor Cole, as to whether we were for the war and are now against it, or were against the war and are now for it.)
Question: "What are his links with AIPAC, and with the shadowy world of far-right Zionist think tanks and dummy organizations?" Answer: Kramer once addressed a panel at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington. Last year he spoke at AIPAC's annual "summit" at the new Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Kramer does not seem to have been followed by the FBI, although some agents may have been operating undercover.
As for his links with the "shadowy world of far-right Zionist think tanks," Kramer is quite secretive. We have ascertained that he spends three months each year at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, as the Wexler-Fromer Fellow. (The Wexlers and Fromers are two couples out of New York who have admired Kramer's work.) He is a senior editor at the Middle East Quarterly, which he edited for three years. (We all know whose journal that is.) And he has a connection to the (Haim!) Saban Center (Brookings Institution), which brings him each year to the U.S.-Islamic forum in Qatar. It has not been difficult to retrieve this information from the "shadowy world," since the relevant think tanks busily compete to get into the limelight.
Urgent query for Professor Cole! We prepared this report for you in response to your weblog entry of July 11. But when we checked back the next day to see whether we had answered all questions, we saw that the paragraph tasking us with oppo research on Kramer had disappeared! We are perplexed. Did the Likudniks and Neocons penetrate your system and remove your instructions? A distinct possibility. Did you have one of your late-night "slips of the keyboard," and inadvertently delete them? That happens often. Or perhaps you deliberately programmed your instructions to self-destruct? We don't pretend to fathom the depth of your reasoning (no one can), so we would appreciate some guidance from on high. Do you desire this report, or should we destroy it? It would be most embarrassing were it to fall into the hands of Kramer himself...
For a trained historian, even in Middle Eastern studies, Juan Cole is scandalously incompetent when it comes to cause and effect. Here's his latest gaffe, made in the context of the London bombings:
According to the September 11 Commission report, al-Qaeda conceived 9/11 in some large part as a punishment on the US for supporting Ariel Sharon's iron fist policies toward the Palestinians. Bin Laden had wanted to move the operation up in response to Sharon's threatening visit to the Temple Mount, and again in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad argued in each case that the operation just was not ready.Did Cole read the same 9/11 report as the rest of us? There's not a single passage in the 9/11 report mentioning Sharon's (or Israel's) policies, and I challenge him to produce one. Cole just made it up. And in point of fact, the report's narrative definitively contradicts him.
The report makes it clear that 9/11 was conceived well before Sharon became prime minister of Israel in March 2001. Chapter 5, section 2 (p. 153) says the following, based on the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Muhammad (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind:
According to KSM, he started to think about attacking the United States after [Ramzi] Yousef returned to Pakistan following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.... He maintains that he and Yousef...speculated about striking the World Trade Center and CIA headquarters as early as 1995.The idea was fully hatched by early 1999 (p. 154):
KSM acknowledges formally joining al Qaeda in late 1998 or 1999, and states that soon afterward Bin Ladin also made the decision to support his proposal to attack the United States using commercial airplanes as weapons.... Bin Ladin summoned KSM to Kandahar in March or April 1999 to tell him that al Qaeda would support his proposal. The plot was now referred to within al Qaeda as the "planes operation."
The election of Ehud Barak as Israeli prime minister in May 1999 didn't put a crimp in the planning. To the contrary: preparations proceeded apace, and Bin Laden pushed even harder for the operation, which wasn't quite ready. Bin Laden did so again after Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. But that visit took place on September 28, 2000, when Sharon was leader of the opposition. He only became prime minister five months later.
In short, the 9/11 operation could hardly have been "conceived" as a response to U.S. support for Sharon's "iron fist policies." It was conceived, its operatives were selected, and it was put in motion, long before Sharon took the helm.
And what of Cole's claim that Bin Laden wanted to launch the attacks "in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless"? The Jenin operation took place in April 2002, seven months after 9/11. Apparently, in the bizarre universe of the Colesque, Sharon's horrid deeds are always at fault for 9/11, even if he committed them after the event. (Hat tip to the vigilant readers of Tony Badran's latest Cole-smashing post.)
Cole has been summoned by certain media to pronounce on the motives of Al-Qaeda in striking London. He hasn't got a clue. He can't keep the basic chronology of the 9/11 plot straight, and he doesn't have any notion of overall Middle Eastern chronology, which means he regularly mangles cause and effect. Reason? Bias trumps facts. If historians could be disbarred, Cole would have lost his license long ago. Instead, the Middle East Studies Association has elected him its president. So much for scholarly standards.
Addendum: Experienced Cole-watchers know that when he makes a mistake, he just goes back and tidies up his postings. So he's purged the Jenin reference. Instead, he writes that Bin Laden wanted to move up the operation "in response to Sharon's crackdown in spring of 2001." That's not what the 9/11 report says. It says Bin Laden may have considered speeding up the operation to coincide with a planned Sharon visit to the White House (p. 250).
Knowing Cole's habits, I saved the original posting. It's here. (And at the time of this posting, Google's cache still records the original version.) The doctored version is here. Blogger etiquette demands that substantive errors be fixed by adding or posting an explicit correction. Cole exempts himself, as he must, given the gross inaccuracies that plague his weblog. So you quote him at your peril: his words might change under your feet. Here, for example, is a poor Cole admirer from Pakistan who quoted Cole Sahib's Jenin revelation. I don't have the heart to notify him that his hero got it wrong. (See Jenin update below.)
Further reading: See my Cole archive, where I revisit some of Cole's wackier interpretations of Al-Qaeda. See especially the entry entitled "Dial 911-COLE," which unearths his comparison of the 9/11 perpetrators to the Applegate people--UFO nuts. A year after 9/11, he dismissed Al-Qaeda as "an odd assortment of crackpots, petty thieves, obsessed graduate students, would-be mercenaries, and eccentric millionnaires." No wonder Cole has had so much trouble digesting the 9/11 report.
Update: An intermediary wrote to Cole to bring his attention to his flawed representation of the 9/11 report. Cole's response: "T.P. points out by email that I should have said that the 9/11 Commission concluded that the timing of 9/11 was attributable to Sharon, not that the operation was largely conceived in response to him. This is correct; one writes blogs in haste and my phrasing was insufficiently careful." Actually, this isn't correct either: the 9/11 commission found that operational readiness determined the timing of 9/11. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad rebuffed Bin Laden's attempts to move it up.
Cole goes on to say that it is still "my conviction based on intensive study of Bin Laden, Zawahiri and Khalid Shaikh Muhammad" that they saw 9/11 as "punishment for the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem." I think it's much deeper than that, based on my own "intensive study," but that's neither here nor there. The fact is that the 9/11 report doesn't make or endorse Cole's argument. And now that we know Cole works in haste, thus misreading a plain English text, what should we think of his hasty translations (renditions?) of Arabic? Take them with a grain of salt, or just bring along the entire salt shaker.
Jenin? No word on that one. (See Jenin update below.)
Update: "Another American," a diarist at Daily Kos, is working to persuade readers that this critique deserves serious consideration. He's running into some stiff opposition from militant (and occasionally obscene) Cole addicts. Have a peek.
Jenin Update: The "Pakistani admirer" who quoted Cole's Jenin claim has cropped up in Tony Badran's comments, with this: "I contacted Cole regarding his slip-up, and he said simply that it was a slip of the keyboard, which was, I must add, an odd defense." Oh, it's not odd. Maybe it's one of those wireless keyboards, and a transmission from a UFO (you know, flown by the Qaeda-Applegate people) interfered with his computer, and just slipped that Jenin reference in. I think that's a better explanation than the time warp thesis--i.e., that in a parallel universe, Jenin did happen before 9/11. After all, we have entered the Cole-mine, where the usual laws of physics are suspended, and magical things become commonplace.
Another update: Cole now announces his editorial "policy," which will be news to readers of his weblog (who still haven't been told about the Jenin fix). "I post late at night and sometimes am sleepy and make mistakes. My readers are my editors and correct me. If the corrections come the same morning, I make them directly to the text, as a 'second edition.' If the posting has been up a few days, I put a footnote when making a correction. That is, I consider the text correctable for the first day or so. That is my editorial policy. Like it or lump it." Got it? For the "first day or so," an entry is just a draft! But wait a minute... don't most people read the entry on the "first day or so"? Isn't that when it's most likely to get quoted? And what if a reader doesn't want to be Cole's editor? (I've got my own stuff to edit, thank you.) So here's my policy and it's simple: you broke it, it's yours; you post it, it's yours. Like it or lump it.
Updated again! Believe it or not, Cole has repeated the offense: the "sleepy" explanation has been purged from his site! Here is the original entry (which I saved, of course), and here is the purged version. (He also cut a nasty personal attack on me, which I'll treat separately.) Well, he can keep deleting. I'll keep storing.
Alister McMillan in the South China Morning Post (7-1-05):
Mobutu Sese Seko became part of the controversial new biography of Mao Zedong during a manicure in Hong Kong. Wild Swans author Jung Chang and her husband, historian Jon Halliday, were reading this newspaper in 1994 when they discovered that the former leader of Zaire - now the Democratic Republic of Congo - was staying in the same hotel, The Regent.
Halliday was keen to interview Mobutu about his struggle against Maoist rebels funded by Beijing. Chang, exhausted by the first year of research for Mao: The Unknown Story," couldn't be bothered". She went to the hotel's hair salon. There she found Mobutu having his nails polished.
"I asked him, 'How was the manicure?'" says Chang."He showed me his hands and said, 'Not too bad'. I was looking at those hands which had apparently strangled his rivals.
"I asked him for the interview. He was completely trapped and said yes."
Chang, 53, and Halliday, 66, went on to interview the Dalai Lama, George Bush senior, Henry Kissinger, Edward Heath and the actor Michael Caine, among others. The 12 years of research caused health problems and delayed the biography they had expected to release in 1995."Every day we lived in excitement at our discoveries," says Chang at The Peninsula hotel.
They decline to name most of the more than 100 members of Mao's inner circle who talked to them for the book, which claims the Great Helmsman was responsible for the deaths of more than 70 million Chinese in peacetime.
While she admits to interviewing people as vicious as Mobutu, Chang says"they were all charming".
"Imelda Marcos batted her eyelids at us and said, 'I can see that this is a perfect combination: the eastern heart and the western intellect. Perhaps you would like to write a book about another third world leader'."
The two authors refuse to reveal how they were given access to official mainland archives, saying only that they had no close shaves with the central government. An official warning to cadres against speaking to Chang and Halliday helped the book, according to the authors. Ageing senior officials were willing to tell the truth about Mao. They recognised that only an important book would encourage an official warning.
Halliday says it helped that his wife's memoir about growing up during the Cultural Revolution and the lives of her mother and grandmother had become the biggest selling paperback ever, with more than 10 million copies printed."People wanted to talk to Jung. They knew from Wild Swans that she was the right person," he says.
Most of the interviews were recorded, says Chang. When the interviewees have passed away and their families are out of danger, Chang and Halliday say transcripts will be made public.
"The warning actually helped open doors," says Chang."When we started in 1993, a lot of Mao's contemporaries were still alive. That was a great help. Also, China has changed sufficiently for people to open up.
"They knew the biography would not be the party line and they knew it would be honest. Older people wanted to talk. They were soon going to die. They had information and they wanted it to be told."
Chang and Halliday are at the start of an Asia-Pacific tour to promote Mao, which has yet to be released in the US but is already the top-selling non -fiction title in Hong Kong, Britain and Australia.
Released in most countries in the week of the anniversary of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square crackdown, the couple officially launched the book in Hong Kong days ahead of another significant date, July 1, handover day....
I first met Jimmy Weinstein, who died last week at age 78, in the spring of 1969, when my little world--and that of the New Left--were both coming apart. I had just learned that I would not be welcome back at graduate school. I dreamed of becoming a full-time activist, but Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), to which I belonged, had become infatuated with insurrectionary violence and disdainful of books and ideas. Jimmy was just the person I was looking for.
He was then in his forties, a former communist and a noted historian. He was tall, thin, and balding, with a goatee, owlish glasses, a wry smile, and a penchant for puns and quips. (He would title his critique of SDS's Weatherman group "A Short Reign and No Thunder.") His father's real-estate investments in Manhattan had made him wealthy, but, unlike other leftists, he was unapologetic about his class background. He lived modestly, but he loved good cars and, at the time, drove a white Mercedes.
Jimmy was trying to promote a new socialist theoretical journal based on the idea that the New Left, out of ignorance, was replicating the errors of the old. While the old left had looked to the Soviet Union as its model of a better society, the new was looking to Cuba and China. By contrast, Jimmy wanted to return to what he saw as the authentically American socialism of Eugene Debs's pre-World War I party. He wanted a socialism that would eliminate the inequalities of wealth and power created by the market, but would do so by strengthening, rather than abolishing, U.S. democratic institutions--an idea that set him apart from many New Left radicals.
Jimmy envisioned socialism as public ownership and control of the countries' industries through some combination of national planning and workplace self-management. No one would own stocks and bonds in big companies. The oil industry, for instance, would be a branch of government like the post office once was; the unemployed would be put to work fixing up the country's infrastructure; and government-paid health care would be available for all. Beyond that, details were fuzzy.
Jimmy hired me to help run the business and to copyedit manuscripts on the new journal, but I also got to participate in the "collective" that chose which articles we'd run. We decided to call it Socialist Revolution--"socialist" as opposed to communist, but "revolution" because we didn't want the SDS hard-liners to dismiss us as wimps. We published a number of essays that were turned into influential books, but, as the New Left disintegrated, the title of our journal became an embarrassment. Jimmy and I each went our own way after five years, but, in December 1976, I rejoined him in Chicago, where he had started a socialist weekly called In These Times.
Most of Jimmy's seminal political experiences had occurred before I met him. He joined the Communist Party in 1948 after getting out of the Navy and enrolling in Cornell, where, among other things, he chauffeured a taciturn Julius Rosenberg between Ithaca and New York. He didn't know what Rosenberg was up to, but he had his suspicions. (He would later inspire Ron Radosh to write about the Rosenbergs and would defend his conclusion that Julius was a spy.) After graduating, Jimmy worked for years as an organizer in an electronics factory. He finally quit the party in 1956 after Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's revelation about Josef Stalin's crimes. He didn't become a neoconservative, but much of his writing was devoted to explaining how the American Communist Party had undermined the American left.
Jimmy's most lasting contributions were two books he wrote in the early '60s, after leaving the party. Most historians at the time believed that Debs's Socialist Party had been fatally co-opted in 1912 by the rise of progressivism. But, in The Decline of Socialism in America, Jimmy showed that the party had actually grown steadily afterward--only being undone by the rise of the American Communist Party. His second book, The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, was one of the first to advance the idea that many progressive reforms of the early twentieth century were the products of upper-class reformers attempting to dampen working-class militancy. ...
I don't usually bother to reply at any length to my Neocon critics. Mostly this is because they are simply insincere, and say what they say maliciously and in knowledge of its falsehood. In some instances they have quite unethically subjected their opponents to harassment of a sort that is illegal in some states. They are purely political beasts, for whom all statements are instrumental, and therefore they can never engage in useful dialogue.
What Neocon has come out and said,"Ooops, we were wrong. The road to peace in Israel/ Palestine did not lie through Baghdad, as we kept telling everyone in 2002. Iraq did not pose a dire threat to Israel with its WMD in 2002. Iraq was not 2-5 years from having a nuclear weapon. The Iraqis didn't welcome us with garlands. Baghdad isn't going to recognize Israel and there isn't going to be an oil pipeline from Iraq to Haifa. We did not realize that most Iraqi Shiites had turned to religious Muslim parties, several of them little different from Lebanon's Hizbullah. We did not realize that the Iraqi Sunni Arabs would and could wage a years-long guerrilla war that had the potential for destabilizing the entire Middle East." Virtually everything these people said was wrong, but none of them has owned up to it. They believe that the best defense is a good offense, so their response to their miserable failure as policy wonks is to systematically harass and hound historians at Columbia University, for all the world like offended Scientologists.
These people should read less Jabotinsky and Strauss and more Isaiah Berlin. Berlin made the key point that most ethical and social philosophers had assumed that a person could simultaneously pursue two virtues. That is, let us say that both beauty and truth are goods and we want them both. Berlin is saying that in the real world, there are situations in which you can only have the one or the other. The truth is ugly, and the prettied up beautiful story is false. So then you have to decide, do you want the truth? Or do you want beauty?
In the run-up to the Iraq War, I had two values. One was justice I believed that the Saddam regime was genocidal and that the international community had a responsibility for doing something about it. That is why I said that removing Saddam would be a noble enterprise. In and of itself, it was, and I stand by that.
But the other value is the rule of law. The United States is signatory to the UN charter, and can't just get up in the morning and decide to go about invading other countries. I all along maintained that an Iraq war would be legitimate only if there were a UN Security Council resolution authorizing it.
Up until early March of 2003, I was not forced to choose between Justice and the Rule of Law because it appeared entirely plausible that the UNSC would pass a resolution authorizing the war, or that a majority, at least, would vote for it. It was during that period that I said I could not bring myself to protest the building war. It was because I knew Saddam's mass murders, and thought there was still a chance that he could be removed within the framework of international law.
When the UNSC declined to do either, very late in the game, it became apparent that I could have either justice or the rule of law. At that point I chose the rule of law. I did not see the invasion, the war, or the subsequent occupation as legitimate.
Just because I chose the rule of law over justice, however, does not mean that justice as a consideration had evaporated. The US troops who gave their lives to depose Saddam and free Iraqis from his yoke were helping achieve justice, which any Kurd or Shiite in Iraq will tell you. I stand by that, and I assure every grieving parent who has lost a child in the Iraq war that it was a meaningful sacrifice, because the Baath system was monstrous. But this achievement was deeply flawed (and may yet be undone) because it was done illegally.
Bush's turn to illegal aggression contained the seeds of the failure of his Iraq policy. If he had remained within international law, he would have either had to give up the invasion or he would have gone in with the full support the international community, which would have given him the kind of troop strength and administrative expertise that might have made a success of it all.
The Neocons cannot for the most part imagine such a thing as a fraught internal debate over ethics on the part of the individual. This because they are mostly, quite frankly, sleazeballs.
Isaiah Berlin knew that we often cannot have it all. We have to choose among virtues. We have to decide which one trumps the other. These can be fraught decisions. And that is why I do not fault those who chose justice over the rule of law among the liberal hawks like Ignatieff and Friedman.
The response to this posting on the part of my critics will just be more propaganda, more carping, more cheap shots, more obfuscation.
But for some perspective, check out this future timeline. Look especially at what happens 2 to 6 billion years out. Most problems won't seem so big in that light.