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Stop Making Sense

With boy pundit Matthew Yglesias, it's difficult to discern where the attempt at serious political analysis ends and sheer buffoonery begins. Or, perhaps I mean where the sheer buffoonery ends and the attempt at serious political analysis begins. The dilemma … Read More

By / November 19, 2007

With boy pundit Matthew Yglesias, it's difficult to discern where the attempt at serious political analysis ends and sheer buffoonery begins. Or, perhaps I mean where the sheer buffoonery ends and the attempt at serious political analysis begins. The dilemma is on full display in this post from yesterday.

First read the post, which is thankfully brief. Yglesias's premise is that the Clinton administration was doing a fine job tackling international terrorism until the Bush administration came into power. This contention — while debatable — is significant only insofar as Yglesias wishes to cast doubts on his own sanguine assumptions about the competency of the Clinton administration (perhaps this will this merit him an "Yglesias Award" nomination, inexplicably doled out by Andrew Sullivan for those writers daring to express views at odds with their own political constituencies). Yglesias links to a 6-year-old news story about Clinton's then-outgoing United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who, in final statements to the world body before the inauguration of George W. Bush stated that containment of Hussein, "while it is far from satisfactory," was nonetheless necessary, expressed frustration with Hussein's refusal to allow weapons inspectors into the country, and promised that the administration of George W. Bush, like that of his father, would also have to deal with the lingering problem of the Ba'athist regime in Baghdad. There's really nothing here that's in the least controversial or was ever disputed by knowledgeable observers, except, perhaps, by the likes of Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Ron Paul, and, it now seems, Matthew Yglesias.

To Yglesias, Holbrooke — now a senior foreign policy advisor to Senator Hillary Clinton and a sure bet for Secretary of State should she become president — is damaged goods because, like nearly everyone else at the time (including, one should note, Yglesias himself), he believed that Saddam's "willingness to be cruel internally is not unique in the world, but the combination of that and his willingness to export his problems makes him a clear and present danger at all times." This statement does not at all indicate support for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent occupation of Iraq (again, which Yglesias supported). It's merely a boilerplate expression of the policy of the Clinton administration (under whose watch the Iraq Liberation Act, making "regime change" United States policy, passed overwhelmingly in the House, unanimously in the Senate, and was enacted into law).

Though he doesn't come out and say it, this is a not-so-subtle attempt on Yglesias's part to retroactively group Holbrooke in with the evil-doers, the neo-cons, admission into whose fold today requires little more than "frequently call[ing] attention to the unprovoked aggression of despotic regimes (e.g. Iran and Syria), the violation of human rights in other countries, and advocates the moral superiority of democratic countries in international affairs." (Holbrooke, at least in the excerpts cited by Yglesias, is only guilty of the first two offenses). The word "neo-con" is now used by the net-left to describe anyone to their immediate right who doesn't agree with them. Yglesias's entire schtick is that the entire Beltway "foreign policy community" is a corrupt lot whose supposedly consensus opinions have proven a disaster for the country; his simplistic, uninformed, and self-aggrandizing view of how American foreign policy is formed groups people like Richard Holbrooke and Frank Gaffney into the same boat and assumes that nothing less than a Jacobin, intellectual purge and the subsequent elevation of Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein, LaRouchite Robert Dreyfuss and their ilk to prominent positions in the liberal punditocracy and the return of Zbigniew Brzezniski into the State Department will cure Washington's poisoned think-tank and diplomatic cultures and bring American foreign policy back on track.

For too long, journalists (myself included) have taken Yglesias seriously; we've treated him as someone whose writings actually merit measured and contemplative responses. Perhaps this due consideration is given to the fact that Yglesias has a perch at The Atlantic. But even bloggers (as opposed to actual journalists, who, you know, actually do things like travel abroad or pick up the phone before opining about international affairs) ought to have an elementary understanding of history and logic. The proper way to treat Yglesias is demonstrated by the indefatigable New York Sun national security reporter Eli Lake, who does not suffer fools lightly, in a comment to said post:

Matt,

How can this be? Everyone knows the neocons pressured the CIA and lied to the American public to start a needless war for Israel. Everyone knows that the State Department and the CIA knew, just knew, that Iraq was no threat whatsoever. I mean the only explanation is that Holbrooke must have been a neocon. But if he's a neocon, well what was he doing in the Clinton administration that was paying so much attention to the real threats to America? Maybe you and Matthew Duss could explain all this to[o].

Eli

By Yglesias's reasoning, anyone who expressed views similar to those of Richard Holbrooke in 2001 (meaning almost the entire Democratic Party foreign policy establishment and many liberal journalists, including Yglesias), is not "prescient" and their views on foreign policy ought be discounted. This is obvious nonsense, and I'm not sure if Yglesias is even aware that he's writing himself out of the bounds of respectable debate with such ruthlessly unforgiving historical revisionism. But this is what the vaunted "Reality Based Community" has become; a band of useful idiots better known as what Lake calls "The Credulosphere," whose collected writings, if they were a film, would be anthologized as "Say Anything."

Whatever his intent, Yglesias's logic demands that we stop listening to him. Maybe he'll just follow his own advice, make our lives easier, and stop pontificating.

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