In the Arena

Angels on Pinhead

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My friend Andrew Sullivan makes an interesting case on the “serious” front. But I think Andrew’s being a bit too hard on himself for being as dismissive of the anti-war arguments and arguers as he was. For the record, I wasn’t dismissive, not even of Janeane Garofolo–and you can look it up. But I’d quibble with Andrew on two points:

1. There were plenty of Beltway establishment sorts–like, say, the entire Bush 41 foreign policy team–who thought the war was a particularly bad idea. Brent Scowcroft, for example, spent much of the winter of 2002-2003 reading about the British in Mesopotamia, and he encouraged me to do the same.

2. While almost the entire Democratic Party–even traditional, reflexive antiwar sorts–had supported the invasion of Afghanistan, there was still a tradition of assuming that any sort of American military action was imperialistic and wrong. So I was, yes, reflexively wary of the anti-war argument. (An important counter-indicator for me was Al Gore, who–unlike most Senate Democrats–supported the first Gulf War, the placement of Pershing Missiles in Europe etc etc…Gore opposed the war in Iraq in a major speech in September 2002, which led me to write this Slate article.)

Taken together, those two points led me to write this rather, uh, serious and temperate–but clearly skeptical–column in January 2003, just after I joined Time Magazine. The Churchill quote at the end came from Martin Gilbert’s one-volume biography, which Scowcroft also was reading at the time.

(In retrospect, I probably was thinking about Ken Pollack’s “It’s too late to turn back now” argument–which i’m sure Ken would love to turn back from now–when I had my moment of stupidity on Meet the Press a few weeks later.)

As for Mr. Greenwald,, let me suggest the following sequence of events:

1. I had seen the sarcastic use of “serious” in his and other blogs over the past six or so months.

2. I noticed how it was beginning to creep like kudzu–that is, in a choking unhelpful fashion–into the Swampland comments section.

3. I wrote my post without reading Greenwald’s attack du jour on me.

As Andrew says, Greenwald’s larger criticism of the arrogance of the mainstream media, especially those who opine without reporting, has value…but too often he finds great significance in the insignificant, mistaking a twig for a forest.

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