Jonathan Chait writes about politics like nobody’s business, but when it comes to the Iraq war, which he originally supported but now says was wrong, he can’t quite think straight.
Last week, Chait complained about liberals who want the Iraq war hawks and hucksters to “just shut the hell up.” Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, Paul Bremer, Douglas Feith, John McCain et al. have been all over TV and op-ed pages lately, insisting that Obama left Iraq too early and that we must now salvage the country with our military might, even (especially?) if it means spending sixty more years in Iraq (per Wolfie) and sending in thousands of more “boots on the ground” (Bremer).
Chait disagrees with their arguments, but he says liberals should stop whining about the neo-cons’ neo-access to the media:
What do liberals believe about the current disaster in Iraq? One thing most of us believe is that the United States should stay the hell out. But another thing liberals believe with even greater conviction is that advocates of the last Iraq war should not participate in the current debate. [My italics.]
The Atlantic’s James Fallows argues that Iraq war hawks “might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while.” Slate’s Jamelle Bouie, writing in the second person, instructs Iraq hawks, “Given your role in building this catastrophe, you should be barred from public comment, since anything you could say is outweighed by the damage you’ve done.”
Chait also throws Rachel Maddow and The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel into the mix, and says, “This meta belief about who should be allowed to argue about Iraq, more than any actual argument about Iraq itself, has become the left’s main way of thinking about the issue.”
But if you read the essays Chait cites, you’ll see how ridiculous it is to charge that the authors’ objections to the neocons’ media appearances “has become the left’s main way of thinking about the issue.”
That is, intentionally or not, Chait is reducing the left to a bunch of knee-jerkers who can’t rise above making unfair and illogical ad hominem attacks:
Nor is it easy to see what purpose is served by insisting certain people ought to be ignored. The way arguments are supposed to work is that the argument itself, not the identity of the arguer, makes the case. We shouldn’t disregard Dick Cheney’s arguments about Iraq because he’s Dick Cheney.
[T]he fact is ad hominem arguments are very often the best and most logical responses to another person’s claims. This is true because most arguers place their own character, expertise, or credibility at issue when they make a claim.
[Chait] falls into a logical trap that I call the Ad Hominem Fallacy. This happens when somebody overcorrects for the ad hominem bias by labeling a legitimate challenge to authority as an ad hominem attack.
Cheney, Austin writes, “relies almost entirely on his claims of experience, expertise and moral character. And it is precisely because he is making these claims that his experience, expertise and moral character must be part of the debate.”
What Chait also seems to miss is how the media worked to promote the invasion of Iraq in the first place. It wasn’t about the niceties of arguments or the accuracy of facts. It was, and is, about emotion.
Mainstream media outlets may or may not favor the United States’ returning to Iraq, but they lean toward teasing us with that prospect because it’s good copy. It’s exciting. That’s why they eagerly book the has-been hawks. Well, that and the MSM’s corporate-friendly habit of creating “balance” by handing large chunks of news real estate to war-happy Republicans. Giving Kristol, McCain, Cheney et al. national face time is like giving it to climate deniers in order to create “balance” to the vast scientific consensus that global warming is indeed real, man-made, and here.
Whatever happens in Iraq, it won’t be an exact repeat of the past. Disgust over the war and the prospect of stepping in again is enormous among the public and is even peeping through in the right-wing media. Fox News’s Megyn Kelly confronted Cheney; Glenn Beck declared, “Liberals, you were right—we shouldn’t have” invaded Iraq. (Still, he shouldn’t get “a cookie,” says Daily Kos.)
But don’t think that the honking of the hawks is harmless. As Daniel Larison writes in The American Conservative, “Unfortunately, the danger as always is that these people will define the terms of the debate and drive it in their direction simply being the loudest and most shameless participants.”
Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on the folly of helping Iraq’s shattered army