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Useful Idiots | The Nation

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Useful Idiots

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The most important magazine article of 2006 never appeared in an American publication. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's "The Israel Lobby" first saw the light of day in The London Review of Books. Thanks to the Internet hundreds of thousands of Americans have been able to read this piece, which, for one unflattering reason or another, nobody in America would publish.

About the Author

Nicholas von Hoffman
Nicholas von Hoffman, a veteran newspaper, radio and TV reporter and columnist, is the author, most recently, of...

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Now comes another piece in The London Review of Books that would have served the world better had it appeared in an American publication. It is ""Bush's Useful Idiots," Tony Judt's essay on "The Strange Death of Liberal America."

Judt is a corking good historian currently running New York University's Remarque Institute. In this piece he directs his anger toward the corps of men and women who, though presenting themselves as liberals, supported the Iraq disaster from the git-go. Of them he writes, "Indeed, intellectual camp followers of this kind were first identified by Lenin himself, who coined the term that still describes them best. Today, America's liberal armchair warriors are the 'useful idiots' of the War on Terror."

Who are the useful idiots who served Bush so well in bringing defeat and disgrace down on our country? He names some of them--Michael Ignatieff, Leon Wieseltier, David Remnick, Thomas Friedman, Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago Divinity School, Paul Berman, Peter Beinart--but without too much head-scratching, others could be added to Judt's list.

It was publications as well as individuals who in Judt's estimation did the liberal Judas goat act: "Magazines and newspapers of the traditional liberal centre--the New Yorker, the New Republic, the Washington Post and the New York Times itself--fell over themselves in the hurry to align their editorial stance with that of a Republican president bent on exemplary war. A fearful conformism gripped the mainstream media." He might have added that only the prospect of what is beginning to look like defeat may loosen that grip.

These people should be called out for what they did because, as Judt writes, "those centrist voices that bayed most insistently for blood in the prelude to the Iraq War--the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman demanded that France be voted 'Off the Island' (i.e. out of the Security Council) for its presumption in opposing America's drive to war--are today the most confident when asserting their monopoly of insight into world affairs."

My God! People still not only take Friedman seriously, they kiss the man's fanny wherever he goes. Just the other day he likened the failure of the military's drive to pacify Baghdad to the Viet Cong's Tet offensive in Vietnam, and the next thing you know somebody's asking George Bush about Friedman's latest assessment--and the President seems to be agreeing. It's all nonsense, of course, because however terrible the Iraqi misadventure may be, it bears little similarity to the Vietnam misadventure other than the stink of defeat and deceit. Well, if you give a screeching baboon a column in the New York Times, he will be showered with awards and lucrative speaking engagements.

So how can we explain to ourselves the route that brings these big liberal names to become apologists for pre-emptive war, kidnapping, abolition of habeas corpus, wiretapping, torture, for the destruction of one-third of Lebanon and the deprivation of the means of livelihood, food, medicine and education of the several million Palestinians? How could these liberals become advocates for the squashing of the two fragile democratic or quasi-democratic Arab political entities in the Middle East: Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority? "Why," Judt asks, "has the liberal intelligentsia of the United States in recent years kept its head safely below the parapet?"

He is kind enough not to say that their stance has anything to do with good pay and cushy jobs. If you're an American citizen, conformity is enforced by the giving and taking away of jobs, fellowships, travel, prize money and so forth. If you're not an American citizen, the midnight arrest and vanishment is a darn sight worse than banishment, although Condoleezza Rice insists we make sure not to send the vanished to places where they torture or conduct "harsh interrogation."

Nor does one have to be a liberal to know the pressure to toe the line. Corey Robin, also writing in the London Review, says, "Journalists afraid for their careers aren't likely to question their government in time of war. And they haven't. ABC's Ted Koppel, reputed to be one of the most aggressive interviewers in the business, admits that 'we were too timid before the war' in Iraq. The PBS anchor Jim Lehrer says: 'It would have been difficult to have had debates [about occupying Iraq]...you'd have had to have gone against the grain.' The few journalists who bucked the trend were swiftly punished. After criticising the media for its coverage of the war, Ashleigh Banfield was 'taken to the woodshed' by her bosses, according to a Newsday report, and her career at NBC was finished. A Wall Street Journal reporter sent a personal e-mail describing the terrible situation in Iraq: her editors pulled her out of the country and off the story."

Judt's explanation for liberals' enlisting in the cause of the iron fist and the fat head is "Long nostalgic for the comforting verities of a simpler time, today's liberal intellectuals have at last discovered a sense of purpose: they are at war with 'Islamo-fascism.'" If ever a term was cooked up in the propagandist's retort, it is "Islamo-fascism." How well it rolls off the tongue!

Whatever the reasoning or the motives, we have been betrayed. The trahison des clercs yet again.

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