Walter Jon Williams's Implied Spaces
Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Him Now

Paul Berman Is a Deeply Broken Person

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Duncan Black writes:

Eschaton: Stars Of Their Own Heroic Epic: Years later, it's hard to comprehend the depths of the narcissism of people like [Paul] Berman who obviously see events in the world as nothing more than referendums on their own awesomeness. He and his fellow travelers spent years berating dirty fucking hippies like me for daring to suggest that maybe war in Iraq was not some awesome idea, but instead, you know, bad. And now he wants to claim he opposed it?

This a deeply broken person.

He is reacting to Spencer Ackerman, who drops his jaw in amazement:

From <>:

toohotfortnr: public witness ain't seeing too much: Paul Berman did a BloggingHeads with Heather Hulburt in which the arch liberal-Iraq-hawk strongly suggests that he didn't support the war. You be the judge. Relevant section is about 2:30 in.

On the Iraq war, I myself wrote a piece in The New Republic on March -- which came out in the March 3, 2003 issue saying George Bush was leading us over a cliff. And that his notion of how to deploy power was lacking in liberal principle and that his use of power was going to turn out to be no power at all. In short it was going to be a disaster. I published this before the war. I made that prediction before the war. It's true that afterward I haven't made a career of running around saying I told you so, but if you look it up, the major article ... yeah, I was in favor of getting rid of Saddam but Bush's way of going about it was quite bad, and I pronounced myself, I used the word 'terrified,' of what would come of it.

TNR's messed-up web archives have erased Paul's article.... But it doesn't say what Paul says it says.... Leave aside his odious arrogance. (He told me so?) Paul says his piece recognized Bush's strategic foolishness and illiberalism. He's right. The trouble is he recognized it as a caveat to his enthusiasm to the war, not as an impediment. In other words, Berman wanted a war for liberalism, recognized that it wouldn't be one, and backed it anyway. That -- to say the least -- implicates his judgment.

In order to whitewash this, he pretends his caveat was his argument. He did this before, in the New York Review of Books, where he quoted his caveat and said it rose "rising to what I like to picture as a crescendo." Well, it wasn't a crescendo. It would only have been a crescendo if it stopped him from backing the war. Instead he took the opposite approach. Fine. But own up to it, don't pretend that wasn't your judgment.

Update: Oh God. Toward the end of the clip, Paul says:

Then there's the intellectual debate. The intellectual debate should always tell the truth. It should never be modest. It should always be grandiose.

Please, please, please, step back from the cliff...

And to Matthew Yglesias:

Matthew Yglesias (November 12, 2007) - Did Paul Berman Tell Us So? (Foreign Policy): In the midst of an argument with Ian Buruma, liberal hawk extraordinaire Paul Berman tries to convince us that he actually called Iraq correctly, and has merely been magnanimous in not pointing that out:

I approved on principle the overthrow of Saddam. I never did approve of Bush's way of going about it. In the run-up to the war, I became, on practical grounds, ever more fearful that, in his blindness to liberal principles, Bush was leading us over a cliff. [...] It is true and it is a matter of satisfaction to me that, in the years since then, I have not made a career of saying "I told you so."

Here's what Berman was actually writing in February 2003:

In my own judgment, Fischer and his fellow thinkers in Europe and even in the United States are making a mistake in failing to press for a harder line against Iraq--a harder line that might bring about Saddam's collapse more or less peacefully or, if need be, not peacefully. It should be obvious that, in the Arab world, fascist and Nazi-like movements--political tendencies that call for random mass murder in the name of paranoid and apocalyptic ideas--have gotten completely out of hand. In the last 20 years, Baathist and Islamist movements--the two branches of what ought to be regarded as Muslim fascism--have killed millions of people and might well kill many more, and not just in the Muslim countries, as we have reason to know. A war against Muslim fascism ought to be seen as a continuation of the long struggle against Nazism and fascism in Europe--a continuation of the same decent and necessary cause that people like Fischer have always wanted to support, even if they have not always known how to do so in a sensible way.

He was worried about Bush's failure to embrace liberalism, but it wasn't a worry that this meant the war would go badly, it was a worry that Bush wasn't being as rhetorically persuasive as he should have been:

Maybe Fischer is not convinced because the Bush administration has presented a series of side arguments about weapons, U.N. resolutions, and dark terrorist conspiracies and has failed to present the main argument, which is the single huge argument that has always sustained the Western alliance. This argument is the one about totalitarianism. It is the argument that says: The totalitarians are dangerous to themselves and to us, and we had better fight them. Fight wisely, of course, which the New Left notoriously managed not to do long ago, but fight. Why can't Bush make that argument? I won't speculate. But he could change. He gave up drinking long ago. Let him give up his arrogance, small-mindedness, and aversion to large and idealistic ideas today. It might help.

And here he was in January 2004 when many people still thought the war was going well:

What was the reason for the war in Iraq? Sept. 11 was the reason. At least to my mind it was. Sept. 11 showed that totalitarianism in its modern Muslim version was not going to stop at slaughtering millions of Muslims, and hundreds of Israelis, and attacking the Indian government, and blowing up American embassies. The totalitarian manias were rising, and the United States itself was now in danger. A lot of people wanted to respond, as any mayor would do, by rounding up a single Bad Guy, Osama.

But Sept. 11 did not come from a single Bad Guy--it was a product of the larger totalitarian wave, and the only proper response was to comprehend the size and depth of that larger wave, and find ways to begin rolling it back, militarily and otherwise%u2014mostly otherwise. To roll it back for our own sake, and everyone else's sake, Muslims' especially. Iraq, with its somewhat antique variation of the Muslim totalitarian idea, was merely a place to begin, after Afghanistan, with its more modern variation.

In short, Berman was wrong. The reason he hasn't made a career of telling us "I told you so" is that, in this instance at least, he didn't tell us so. But now he's trying to tell us that he did tell us so. But all he told us was that had Bush employed more Berman-style rhetoric then maybe more of Berman's friends would, like Berman, have wrongly deciding that an invasion of Iraq was a good idea.

Paul Berman may or may not be the stupidest man aliveTM. But he surely is the most mendacious man alive.

For the record, I was in favor of the war on Iraq in the winter of 2003. I reasoned:

  • Condi Rice is not-stupid and not-malevolent, and is for the war.
  • Colin Powell is not-stupd and not-malevolent, and is for the war.
  • This means that even though the public intelligence is bs, that there must be solid evidence of an advanced nuclear program in Iraq and of a willingness to give serious weapons to terrorist groups--otherwise attacking Iraq while we have real enemies like Osama bin Laden running loose would be really stupid.
  • And although Bush is really stupid, not everyone in the administration is.

Wrong on all counts. I am very sorry.

I may be the stupidest man alive.