The New Republic's advertising copy promises "vital intelligence in the war against terrorism." Inside the magazine, its editors publish an "Idiocy Watch" devoted to allegedly dumb things that have been said and written about same. I fear someone has been mixing up the two.
TNR's editors have not merely been spectacularly wrong about the war but frequently nonsensical. In the magazine's November 19 editorial, for instance, it complained that we were losing the war because, like President Clinton, who had "stupidly" "ruled out the use of ground forces" in Kosovo, George Bush was now sending "the same lulling message: the United States will not put large numbers of troops on the ground." Oddly, the very same editorial noted that ethnic cleansing in Kosovo ended only when "Slobodan Milosevic was confronted with the threat of an imminent deployment of American ground forces." Since Clinton had supposedly ruled that out, one can only imagine who it was that threatened their "imminent deployment." President Gore?
In that same remarkable editorial, the editors grumbled that US military efforts had "gotten us exactly nowhere." The clear result: "The Taliban will rule Afghanistan through the winter, thereby handing the United States a humiliating and gratuitous defeat."
Note that these examples of TNR's deeply misguided defeatism come only from those articles written under the magazine's editorial voice. When editor Peter Beinart wrote a TRB column intending to smear The Nation as "anti-American," he deployed as evidence a single article written by someone whose name appears nowhere on the masthead and who enjoys no institutional affiliation with the magazine. (This was not only sleazy, it was also quite lazy, as some genuine Nation writers would have provided pretty inviting targets if Beinart had bothered.) As any editor knows, a vibrant political magazine must publish articles with which its editors do not necessarily agree. During TNR's most recent golden age–under Michael Kinsley and Hendrik Hertzberg–opinion was so diverse, its advertising campaigns embraced "schizophrenia" as a virtue.
While TNR's editors may have destroyed their credibility as critics of the war, the damage to the public discourse the magazine has wrought does not end there. Over the years, it has helped launch the careers of a bevy of hawkish writers who have carried the talent for malevolent invective with them like a communicable disease. (Involuntary) ex-editors Andrew Sullivan and Michael Kelly are doing their best to revive the tactics of Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn during this war by whipping up hysteria about "Fifth Columns," in Sullivan's words, and those who are, as Kelly put it, "objectively pro-terrorist" when characterizing those deemed to lack sufficient enthusiasm for the current war effort. Ex-senior editor Jacob Heilbrunn also sounded very much like the armchair warriors in his former office. Writing in the Los Angeles Times on November 4, Heilbrunn prematurely credited the Taliban with victory. "His administration has bungled the challenge," he complained. "The war effort is in deep trouble. The United States is not headed into a quagmire; it's already in one. The U.S. is not losing the first round against the Taliban; it has already lost it." This analysis echoed that of former TNR senior editor Charles Krauthammer, who complained on October 30: "The war is not going well. The Taliban have not yielded ground. Not a single important Taliban leader has been killed or captured or has defected." In virtually every one of these cases, the pundits' prescription was the same: Bring in the ground troops and expand the fighting or risk humiliation and defeat.