Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Things I'm having trouble getting worked up about

There are a number of things buzzing around in the current-affairs blogosphere these days, but I'm having trouble getting excited about any of them.

First, there's the Eason Jordan story. In case you are blind, deaf and illiterate (or are reading nothing but the mainstream press, which in this case amounts to the same thing), Jordan is the CNN nabob who made some very peculiar remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Apparently, he said or implied that the American forces in Iraq are killing reporters on purpose, or some such nonsense. Some of those in the room were happy that a prince of the American journalistic establishment was courageously telling the truth about the satanic Americans. Others, notably Congressman Barney Frank, challenged Jordan and essentially asked him whether he was out of his mind. Jordan walked himself back a couple of steps and has generally been doing his best to defuse this particular public-relations bomb. (Hard to defuse a bomb when it has already exploded, though.)

Jordan has evidently said similar things before, and of course you'll recall that he was the same guy who censored CNN's coverage of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, in order to maintain CNN's access to Baghdad. Lovely.

Hugh Hewitt thinks this is worse than Dan Rather and the forged TANG memos. I don't quite see that, and I just can't muster the recommended level of indignation. OK, Eason Jordan is a weasel and an idiot, who is apparently willing to trade in unsupported slander of American soldiers just to impress anti-American audiences. Granted. So why am I not moved to righteous outrage? Perhaps the situation simply lacks the necessary elements of shock and surprise.

Also on the radar screen is a weird speech by Bill Moyers, who claimed that fundamentalist Christians want to destroy the environment because Jesus is coming soon. Or something like that. This just leaves me at a loss for words. I used to think that Bill Moyers was a serious guy, who really cared about serious ideas. I did not always agree with him but I once had the impression that it would be cool to talk things over with him. But now he has evidently signed on with the tinfoil-hat brigade. Jeez. A slow shake of the head on this one.

Jonah Goldberg at NRO is having a squabble with Juan Cole, the eminent scholar and academic who is the president-elect of the Middle East Studies Association. Here is how I read the situation. Goldberg says that Cole is wrong and silly in some things he has said about the Iraqi elections. Cole says Goldberg is an evil ignoramus who doesn't even speak Arabic. Goldberg confirms that he does not speak Arabic, but maintains that he is right anyway, and that Cole isn't helping his own case by resorting to ad hominem attacks. Cole says Goldberg is a despicable evil ignoramus who is being paid by wicked rich men to degrade the poor and villify honest progressive thinkers like, well, Cole. Goldberg . . . well, you get the idea.

Let me say it plainly: Juan Cole has conducted his part of the exchange with an arrogance and dishonesty that stinks to high heaven, and that brings shame on the academic calling that he and I share. Goldberg, on the other hand, has been his usual interesting self, though a little put out by Cole's venom. But I am not really upset by any of this. Cole's rhetoric is transparently vicious, and Goldberg can obviously take care of himself in a scrap.

What seems to be going on here is that one side of the political debate is collectively taking leave of their senses. Jordan, Moyers, Cole -- these are not marginal figures, but pillars of the media and academic establishment. Yet they are the ones who are insisting that American soldiers, Christian fundamentalists, and conservative commentators are moral monsters. It is hard to avoid the idea that the successes of their opponents -- in the American electorate, and most recently in the hopeful developments in Iraq and elsewhere -- are driving them crazy. They are, not to put too fine a point on it, wandering over toward Ward Churchill territory. No wonder Howard Dean will be the next DNC chair. We are in ugly times, my friends.

To be fair, I should add one more storm from a different quarter, one that also fails to rattle my windows very much. Marine Lt. General James Mattis recently made some remarks about fighting in Afghanistan:
You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil . . . it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.
This was rather brutally put, I admit. My wife was quite incensed with what she took to be Mattis's cavalier attitude about taking human life. But I think that we are hearing the voice of an authentic warrior, telling a truth about what war is like -- not what we think it should be, but what it really is. Those of us who depend on the prowess of those soldiers and marines should be slow to condemn, eager to understand, and grateful that we have fighting men like Mattis whose satisfaction comes from the rightness of the cause. And we should not insist that the twenty-year-olds who are sent into harm's way must do their hard and bloody duty with long faces and heavy hearts.

Go get 'em, fellas. Just be damn sure you are shooting at the bad guys.


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