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Bad Guys | The Nation

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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Bad Guys

I hesitate to get into an inter-magazine pissing match, but I just couldn't let this post by The New Republic's James Kirchick go unanswered. Kirchick takes aim at the Nation's latest issue, which contains a symposium on Cuba, its future and the problems with US policy towards it. Kirchick's critique is two-fold. First, he finds the entire choice of topic and presentation musty, boring and predictable. "Leave it to the Nation," he writes, "that stalwart fount of 'unconventional wisdom since 1865,' to offer a platform to a dictatorship's toady." Well, let's remember that this comes on the website of a magazine that did everything in its power to push the US into a war that its own former editor now describes as a "disaster" and "tragic," and which has resulted in the deaths of tens, most likely hundreds, of thousands of innocent civilians. So Mr. Kirchick may want to check himself before calling out The Nation, a magazine that got the single most pressing foreign policy question of our times right. (And, it should be noted, has published numerous articles critical of the Castro regime in the fast few years alone, including in the very issue that Kirchick criticizes.)

As for his substantive critique, it is this: Because Cuba is ruled by a dictator, any representative of the government is by definition a "toady," spouting "disreputable opinions." His complaints, therefore, cannot have merit, and must be necessarily ignored by anyone who shares Mr. Kirchick's impeccable moral judgement. If this kind of logic seems familiar, it's because it is. It's the same logic that led the New Republic and the establishment to support a sanctions regime against Iraq that almost certainly killed more than a hundred thousand Iraqi children. You see, because Saddam was evil, his government's contention that the the sanctions were killing its civilians had to be wrong. And because Saddam was evil, his government's claim that it had, in fact, been disarmed, could not have been true, even after the UN weapons inspectors confirmed it.

F Scott Fitzgerald famously observed that the "the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time." The Nation published an issue that contained both the voice of the Castro regime and those critical of it. It can be the case that the Cuban regime is a bad regime, and that it has entirely legitimate complaints to offer towards the US. But this is precisely what Kirchick finds so odious. His moral cosmology is that of the Bush administration which says that there are good guys and bad guys in this world, and we just don't talk with or listen to the bad guys until they stop being bad.

Or, to put it more bluntly, it is the moral cosmology of a child.

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