« But Fight For The Principles | Main | Edwards, Marcotte, and McEwan »

February 06, 2007

Klein on Klein

I don't want to wade too deep into the latest Other Klein controversy. What seems fairly clear is that Klein opposed the war in 2002, and maybe in early 2003, and then got largely swept up in the mania that swept through elite Washington (and, to be fair, much of the country). Arianna (and I, for that matter) is right, though: Joe should stop claiming the anti-war mantle. In 2003, being anti-war was something like being pregnant. You either were, or you weren't. The stakes were high, and those who took the anti-war view paid for it. If you waffled, particularly in public, particularly from a position of influence, you were part of the march, even if you waffled with thoughtful and cautious caveats.

That said, I think the larger point here is one of trends: It's now an advantage to have been anti-war. Even in elite Washington, the right answer is to have seen this invasion for the catastrophic crock of lies and poor-planning that it was. I'm glad Joe wants to associate himself with the skeptics. And I think it's honorable that he's hearing the criticisms and trying to address them. It's a bit undernoticed, but he's actually engaging with the blogosphere's criticisms on a more serious and substantive level than anyone could have expected -- and they will, on some level or another, echo through his head every time he sits down to write.

But I'm sort of tired of wondering why and whether folks were wrong in 2003. Joe, like others, largely admits that he made a mistake. What I haven't seen, not from anywhere, is a serious attempt to make sure that mistake doesn't happen twice. To populate Sunday roundtables and newsweekly opinion pages with actual liberals, or realists, of just about anyone outside of the mainstream spectrum of manifest destiny that ranges from Beinart to Kristol. I'm done with apologies. They're useless. Amends would be different, though. I want someone to give Anatol Lieven, or Daniel Levy, or Juan Cole, or John Judis, or some other expert voices a chance. And folks like Joe, who see what occurred, remember being the closest thing to a skeptic on Meet the Press, and know clearly that they couldn't say all they wanted to say, are actually in a position to make that happen. Or at least say, with some impact and effect, that it should happen.

February 6, 2007 | Permalink


BTJNP*, Ezra.

(*But That's Just Nit-Picking.)

Posted by: jimmmm | Feb 6, 2007 9:14:29 PM

As I mentioned in the comments of Joe's post at Swampland, Joe has a 'do-over' chance right now. He can pull his courage out of its blind trust and make a clear, unambigious declaration on whether war with Iran is in the country's best interest. To crib Arianna's point: He still has the platform and, now, a new test of his spine.

Posted by: Steve in Sacto | Feb 6, 2007 9:22:53 PM

i had noticed that too -- i.e., that klein really is engaging the blogosphere. in fact, i think he's got the bug and is competitive and proud enough that he's trying to fight back. but the inevitable result is, as you say, that the blogosphere's critiques are going to stick with him.

klein is pretty sharp, despite dangerous wankerous tendencies. and i think if engaging with blogs makes him abandon the whole "the middle of any two points is accurate," then swampland has been a success.

Posted by: publius | Feb 6, 2007 10:07:10 PM

"being anti-war was something like being pregnant. You either were, or you weren't."

IMHO, this is incredibly loopy.

Josh Marshall and Bill Kristol didn't have the same position on the war, even though they were both "pro-war".

Tom Daschle and John McCain didn't have the same position on the war, even though they were both "pro-war".

Posted by: Petey | Feb 6, 2007 10:57:10 PM

But as you say, they were both pro-war. They weren't anti-war. You can be pro-war with gusto, pro-war with concerns, pro-war with hesitations, pro-war with whatever. But you're either pro-war or anti-war.

Posted by: Ezra | Feb 6, 2007 11:40:48 PM

"But you're either pro-war or anti-war."

Y'see, I don't think so.

Take Tom Daschle. He must be pro-war because he voted for the 2002 resolution. He must be anti-war because he delivered a bristling anti-war speech on the eve of the invasion, (which played no small part in his eventual electoral loss).

Everyone wants to reduce this stuff to black and white, but I see a whole lotta shades of grey.

Posted by: Petey | Feb 6, 2007 11:48:02 PM

There are plenty of shades of gray...within the pro-war camp. But Tom Daschle simply was not a force keeping the country from war. He night have wished to moderate it, or otherwise change the course, but he wasn't anti-war. I'm not, to be clear, saying many of these folks weren't judicious and thoughtful and even humane -- just that they weren't anti-war.

Posted by: Ezra | Feb 7, 2007 12:04:33 AM

It seems that the shades of gray that Petey speaks of were only apparent to the pro-war crowd after the war turned into a mess.

Meanwhile, those of us who were anti-war saw the gray before deciding to sign on to kill people, spend millions, and do so for no apparent reason.

I thought Saddam had WMD. I didn't think that justified the war. Not an all-to-uncommon sentiment amongst those of us who recognize stupidity, groupthink, and a pathetic collective (and often individual) desire to seem more important and grand than is the case.

The idea that supporting the war or failing to raise any strong opposition was somehow a difficult position to take is asinine. Indeed, it is those like Klein who should of known better (and now claim they did) who deserve a special level of scorn. Half-wits like Kristol and the like are beyond redemption due to their stupidity. J. Klein and his ilk are beyond redemption due to their self-perceived cleverness and inability to truly learn from their mistakes (a la Marshall, Drum, Yglesias, etc.).

If you were for the war, that is too bad. But please don't spend time explaining your silence and trying to clear your name or pretending that you weren't an enabler. You were. And things are really screwed up and we need people like you to focus on what to do now instead of engaging in bullshit defenses of your supposed prior position. Do some work, make a difference, and recognize that it is what you do now that matters, as what you did then is done and gone (and no one gives a rat's ass whether you have managed to self-justify your prior mistakes or not). Your self-esteem is not important.

Posted by: abjectfunk | Feb 7, 2007 1:16:48 AM

To be clear, Marshall, Drum, and Yglesias have all taken stock of their mistake in initially supporting the war. They are examples of intellectually honest individuals who do not think that owning up to a lapse of judgment is the most awful thing imagninable.

Indeed, those gentlemen do what they can to make sure that they clear their eyes and minds of inaccurate impressions and do their best to add insight in order to help this nation arrive a better decisions.

Exactly the reverse is true of J. Klein.

Posted by: abjectfunk | Feb 7, 2007 1:20:09 AM

Tom Daschle, Josh Marshall, etc. were pro-war. As new information came out, they changed their minds. They became anti-war.

This isn't about the butterflies in anyone's tummy when they wrote columns or cast votes. It's about whether they publicly said, "Ok, let's do this" and/or voted for it.

And there are people, too few in my opinion, who have admitted that they supported this war but have now changed their minds about it. Klein's problem is that he wants it both ways. He got the benefits of being an Iraq War supporter back when those benefits were around, and now he wants the benefits of being one of the first to oppose the Iraq War now that things have changed.

Posted by: Stephen | Feb 7, 2007 1:21:35 AM

Well put, Stephen. It's all about him, whereas for others who have recognized their mistake, it is about the truth.

Posted by: abjectfunk | Feb 7, 2007 1:32:42 AM

Exactly the reverse is true of J. Klein.

How? I don't follow your line of thought that makes those who were less wrong the most wrong.

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 7, 2007 1:53:02 AM

I think Ezra hits the nail on the head when he asks "What are we going to do about it, how can we change things?"

This is the critical act. The defence by those in place is quite simple, they seek to muddy the waters, suggest that everyone supported their point of view, that "no-one could have known."

The fact is, commentators across the world, knew. None of them had perfect knowledge and they all raised different objections. Some (e.g. Blix and Ritter) did not believe that a substantive WMD program existed.

Cheney et al. couldn't prove it, so they produced false intelligence to address those claims.

Some (e.g. Chirac, Hastings, little commenters like me) felt that the intelligence Cheney produced looked a bit shaky. RWNM response? "It's not shaky, but we can't tell you why because it's super-secret classified."

So, I guess we get to Froomkin point: Scepticism required.

Others (e.g. Hastings, little commenters like me) looked at the Rumsfeld plans and said. "You may well be in Baghdad in double quick time, but you have no idea what to do next." RWNM response: "Dirty hippies who oppose the war know nothing about military tactics, so shut up."

Note particularly the elision between tactics of war and tactics of occupation.

The question, for Joe Klein is the same as for John Edwards is the same as for everybody: What have you learned from the Iraq situation that you can apply to Iran? How has Iraq changed your assessment of 'intelligence reports' from the Office of the Vice President?

The worst of it is that someone like Juan Cole who is painfully more moderate (and a lot more knowledgeable about this region) than I doesn't get at least some airtime. Sure I'd love to see Atrios and Ezra on Meet the Press, but I'm not campaigning for that, just a little bit of improvement.

Posted by: Meh | Feb 7, 2007 8:25:16 AM

I don't like the "little bit pregnant" comment because pregnancy is, at that stage, a passive event (and I've been pregnant). Being pro or anti war was an *active* stance, all the more so for pundits who had to generate copy on the most important matter of the day. To have been anti war in any meaningful sense was a different act for me, marching, protesting, and arguing than it was for a pundit like Klein. I had two choices: to protest or to acquiesce through cowardice. Klein had two choices: to publish his doubts and his criticisms when they would be seen and do some good, or to hide them. To the extent that he hid them he is guilty of cowardice, to the extent he didn't have them he is guilty of stupidity. Either of those two stances shoudl disqualify him from punditing or punditing without people getting "all up in his grill" on this. I'm not waiting for a mea culpa from Klein but I hope he's not waiting for absolution because its *never* coming.


Posted by: aimai | Feb 7, 2007 8:50:27 AM


I can't imagine being pro-'people getting killed.' Shouldn't pro-war be, like, an oxymoron or something?

Posted by: Adrock | Feb 7, 2007 9:17:41 AM

"In 2003, being anti-war was something like being pregnant. You either were, or you weren't."

True, well almost true. It's more confusing that than, because of the infamous Iraq War Resolution. How, for example, do we classify, Wes Clark? He didn't have a vote on the IWR, and said afterward that he likely would have voted for it, but he was opposed to the war once he saw the shape it took. (though not so opposed that he didn't praise Bush's "resolve" once the invasion has begun.) In other words, his position was a lot like a lot of Congresspeople, who, because they'd voted for the IWR, are rightly seen as having supported the war.

Posted by: david mizner | Feb 7, 2007 9:34:45 AM

Shouldn't pro-war be, like, an oxymoron or something?

Perhaps, but that unfortunately won't change the fact that so many people are, in fact, "pro-war," with exactly the definition you gave it. The end justifies the means.

Posted by: Stephen | Feb 7, 2007 9:37:27 AM

I understand petey's point, but it's wrong. BY early 2003 you weren't "pro-Tom Friedman's war" or "pro-Josh Marshall's war" you were either pro-Bush's war or not. You could write a 6000 word piece about what kind of war, and why, you wanted, but the only thing that would succeed in doing is getting us George Bush's war.

A similar dynamic is going on now, where everybody is writing their fantasy pony plan for the current occupation, and dismissing calls for withdrawal as irresponsible. Of course, you can't really be "pro- peter beinart's occupation" or "pro-max boot's occupation. All you can really be is "pro george bush's occupation." he's the decider.

Posted by: Atrios | Feb 7, 2007 10:14:52 AM

Atrios is basically correct; yet still there's the problem of the IWR resolution, on which only Congresspeople voted. It's not enough for pundits to have opposed the war by early 2003; to be considered an opponent of the war, pundits, bloggers, and other non-Congresspeople need to have gone on record opposing the 2002 IWR--that's the standard by which pols are rightly judged.

Speaking of which, Ezra, do you have links to the stuff you wrote about the IWR, or is it lost in Pandagon's lost files?

Posted by: david mizner | Feb 7, 2007 10:33:05 AM

Pandagon's lost files. Let's just say it wasn't, in any way, prescient.

Posted by: Ezra | Feb 7, 2007 10:36:52 AM

Ezra, dude, you have so much to learn.

Let's just say it wasn't, in any way, prescient.

Now why would you say that? You keep letting personal integrity get in the way of naked ambition and blatant self-promotion. Those posts are lost man! You can claim whatever you want!

There is the nagging question of what that does to your soul, but you're in DC, there's lots of people who seem to function quite well without one.

Posted by: Stephen | Feb 7, 2007 10:48:23 AM

"But I'm sort of tired of wondering why and whether folks were wrong in 2003. Joe, like others, largely admits that he made a mistake. What I haven't seen, not from anywhere, is a serious attempt to make sure that mistake doesn't happen twice."

The problem is that the honest answer would be 'being pro-war was politically correct, it was supporting the powers-that-be, and making sure that I'd keep my media propagandist job'.

Posted by: Barry | Feb 7, 2007 12:05:03 PM

All you can really be is "pro george bush's occupation." he's the decider.

No, as in 2003, you can try to influence Bush and his advisors, through direct and indirect means (such as public opinion), to do what you think is best, as pundits normally do. The idea that there were only two positions that mattered in 2003 must be driven by an urge to purity or something.

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 7, 2007 12:53:38 PM

"The idea that there were only two positions that mattered in 2003 must be driven by an urge to purity or something."

i'd argue that the idea that there were only two positions was driven by a serious assessment of the Bush presidency.

the idea that they were malleable *at all* through rational argument is driven by an urge to see the world as as a place where pure reason always matters. sometimes it doesn't.

josh bivens

Posted by: josh bivens | Feb 7, 2007 1:22:42 PM

Josh, of course if Bush and his advisors are just impermeable to rational thought then it's pointless. But that view is plainly false, and is itself (since we're in this groove now) driven by some irrational urge. If they were completely irrational they would have done far more than invade Iraq. We'd have mushroom clouds over Caracas.

Again, there seems to be some black-and-white thinking here that just fails to describe the salient points of reality, now or in 2003.

Posted by: Sanpete | Feb 7, 2007 1:36:05 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.