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June 11, 2007

Baerly There

Democracy may be a "journal of ideas," but I wouldn't trust their quotes. In his attempts to make me a straw man on the subject of Iran, for instance, Ken Baer lops off the first half of my sentence, leaving me saying that that "attempt to make the country look like some sort of tyrannical, dictatorial regime is just another element of the war propaganda." The first half of that sentence, in a post whose evidence and argument Baer entirely ignores, is "[t]hat's not to say Iran doesn't have all sorts of human rights violations of its own." Sadly, Baer doesn't respond to my evidence of dissent in Iran, and doesn't provide any evidence of his own suggesting the country's dictatorial nature. This is how I become evidence that "[s]ome even go so far as to excuse the Iranian regime."

Forget the quote, though: Where are "the ideas?" Baer's fear is that I -- and the unnamed others I represent -- "excuse the Iranian regime" -- Excuse them from what? Baer doesn't say -- in order "to deny the very existence of a threat."

Problem is, it's hard to figure out just what Baer thinks the threat is. Almost the entire column is given to a recap of the Six Day War -- a war fought and won by Israel, but which Baer seems to wish America had entered. And when he does turn his attention to the present-day, the focus remains the same. "In Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran," he writes, "Israel is again staring down a possible existential threat, and the United States is once more facing a serious challenge to its interests in the region." So the actual threat appears to be not to America, but to Israel. This, assumedly, is what Baer believes I deny. But I don't. I just happened to be talking about America. I wasn't aware Israel had been annexed.

Indeed, the whole column follows the Ken Baer method of Iran demagoguery. A lot of assertions and insinuations that progressives are criminally incompetent on the issue, but not much in the way of facts, evidence, or argumentation backing him up. You can see the results of our last go-around on the issue here. It should be sufficient. Baer could have tried making a case to the contrary and explaining precisely what the dangers were and what needs to be done, but the piece offers neither argument nor prescription. It's straight assertion.

One more thing: I assumed this riposte would appear in the next issue of Democracy, as they have a section entirely devoted to responses, and I'm attacked by name in the article with an out-of-context, edited quote. Baer refused.

Clarification: Baer called to explain that we'd misunderstood each other. He didn't want a response focused on whether I was misquoted, but would be interested in one based on "deeper, more theoretical" disagreements. I, for my part, hadn't realized he thought my response would be mainly about the quotation, given that his reference to me is based on our broad disagreement about Iran's threat level.

June 11, 2007 in Iran | Permalink


Clearly there must be a threat. Baer used the word "existential", see! That means the threat exists!

Whoo - sorry, I tried to channel W logic for a moment there. It's painful.

Posted by: Whispers | Jun 11, 2007 2:26:45 PM

Well, you know what they say, I think it was on the Colbert Report about Baers: "Spineless lying machines" or something of the sort.

Like Klein, this sort of dodging of accountability, when accountability is one of the greatest selling points in the crucible that is modern online discourse, just comes across so petty.

There should be a constant urge among "opinion makers" to keep the facts straight. You misquote, fix it. If your point is strong, it shouldn't matter. If it undermines your point. Correct it or clarify it or take it down ... whatever. The whole thing you sell if you are a pundit or a blogger or anyone who publically opines... is your credibility.

These folks are just so keen on giving theirs up, it simply boggles the mind.

Posted by: Lettuce | Jun 11, 2007 2:33:44 PM

Is he related to Robert Baer, by any chance? Because Robert Baer's book about his experience as CIA's man in the Middle East was also heavy on accusations of Iranian involvement in all sorts of shenanigans, but very short of actual evidence. Which was odd because no other area his book delved into suffered similarly.

Posted by: Brautigan | Jun 11, 2007 2:42:02 PM

I've been sort of fascinated with the retrospective examination of the Six Day War's 40th anniversary - it strikes me there's a lot of revisionist (and unsurprisingly, anti-Israel) history writing going on. I have my issues with Israel's defense policies, but I'm not under a lot of illusions about why the Six Day war happened or why Israel felt it needed to do what it did. But I've just noticed a spate of especially sour articles, and I think a lot of continual critics of Israel are using the 40th anniversary to make a long term, "they've always been wrong" storyline owrk. I don't know that it does. And I think one of the wrinkles to consider in 2008 is that Israel, and how American Jews feel about Israel vs. how others feel, is a tension within the Democratic party that can't be ignored much longer, or it will do some serious damage. I know that's not about Iran, but your description of Baer's Israel comments seems to fit a larger pattern.

Posted by: weboy | Jun 11, 2007 2:42:32 PM

Lettuce, that's because they want money. Try getting rich in this country by being a vocal opponent of Israel, and they try getting rick by being a vocal proponent of Israel..

Gee, I wonder why so many dishonest hacks go into the business of pro-Israel lobbying. Sure, some are just anti-Arab racists, just as some who oppose Israeli policy are anti-Semites. But the balance of the Pro-Israeli are just looking to make money by exploiting the fear of others.

Posted by: soullite | Jun 11, 2007 2:44:42 PM

Wait a minute. Why in god's name would Democracy ask Baer's permission to publish your response? Is this normal? Does the Atlantic (whose letters section is often accompanied by author responses to criticism) only publish letters vetted by its authors? I thought the whole point of this particular journal was to hash out these sorts of intra-party disputes in a fair-minded and intellectual fashion. And what kind of child is Baer? He brought Ezra into this, and then wants to close the door when it suits hims. It's hardly being a participant in the marketplace of ideas to explicitly refuse any competing ideas to be published with your own. It's being a big ol' douchebage in fact.

Posted by: justin | Jun 11, 2007 2:54:51 PM

The insistence of conflating Israeli interests with American ones is fast becoming counterproductive. After decades of qualified support for the Jewish state, I find myself becoming not simply disillusioned, but actively oppositional. They are a soverign nation. They are our ally. There is a longtime and deep connection between the two states. But they are mutually exclusive entities and it is at both nations' peril that we pretend otherwise.

Worse, I fear through these kind of repellent arguments and transparently wrongheaded motives, people like Baer and Lieberman will drive Americans from the Israeli cause in a way that will be devestating to Israel.

In so many respects, they don't need our military assistance -- something that millions of Israelis know -- that to put them as nothing more than a client state hurts everyone's interests. They couldn't be doing more harm.

Posted by: Jay B. | Jun 11, 2007 2:56:45 PM

Justin, I guess that 'Democracy' is that sort of magazine. Or rather, propaganda rag.

Posted by: Barry | Jun 11, 2007 2:58:21 PM

It seems to me that the lets go to war with Iran faction, which has its important fans - the wapo opinion page, nyt reporters like Michael "aluminum tubes" Gordon and the like - are really not gaining on this issue. The desperation of claiming that Iran is arming the Taliban - a story that is just comic - is coordinate with the craziness of Lieberman's suggestion that the U.S. bomb Iran. I suppose that it gets hard to boom another war when they last one you sold turned sour so fast.

Posted by: roger | Jun 11, 2007 3:00:56 PM

Atrios calls Baer a wanker (but JokeLine gets wanker of the day), and wonders about Baer's stalker crush on Ezra.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 11, 2007 3:03:42 PM

It might be worthwhile to note that the Bush Administration, while touting its alignment with Israel (meaning the craziest right-wingers associated with Israel), the Bush Administration is also quite brazenly, but quietly, carrying water for Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is financing the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, while Iran's most active support is for the same Shiite government we, supposedly, support and for the major parties, which compose that Iraqi government.

Every time Bush's minions attack Iran for support to the Iraqi insurgency, and remain silent about Saudi support to the Sunni insurgents, it speaks volumes about the Bush agenda in Iraq, but they are volumes going unread in our discourse.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Jun 11, 2007 3:05:55 PM

Why in god's name would Democracy ask Baer's permission to publish your response?

Baer's one of the senior editors.

Posted by: Clave | Jun 11, 2007 3:11:24 PM

Seems to me that Iran is a dictaorial, tyrannical regime. The Presidency, free elections, and all of that is just kabuki theater.

The propaganda effort is the attempt to show that Iran is a uniquely dangerous tyranny when compared to the one's we live with (like North Korea, Syria or China) and the one's we directly or indirectly support (like Saudi Arabia, Egypt or some of the former Soviet republics).

Posted by: Patrick | Jun 11, 2007 3:24:04 PM

Oh, and Baer's a dick. Forgot to add that.

Posted by: Patrick | Jun 11, 2007 3:24:48 PM

Wait, are you claiming that Iran isn't a threat to our legitimate interests in the M.E.?

Posted by: rilkefan | Jun 11, 2007 3:26:26 PM

Baer's the co-founder of the magazine.

Posted by: Ezra | Jun 11, 2007 3:27:09 PM

'Clearly there must be a threat. Baer used the word "existential", see! That means the threat exists!'

Yes, and this is part of the game. It's the implication that a.) Iran poses an "existential" threat to Israel, and b.) therefore those who think bombing Iran is profoundly dumb acknowledge point a but don't care. At the moment, no single Middle East state poses any sort of "existential" threat to Israel. None is powerful enough to do so, and none in or out of their right mind would attempt threatening Israel's existence through direct military action. It's similar to the argument that, if we don't fight terrorists over "there" then they'll attack us over "here" and somehow win. This sort of argument completely fails to acknowledge very real logistical, political, and military realities that render such things _completely impossible_. It's an insult to the intelligence of thinking people everywhere to assert otherwise. Even with nuclear weapons, Iran can do very little to threaten Israel's actual existence. Those sorts of trends are slow-moving and much easier to stifle through deft diplomacy since the historical "trends" towards a more-powerful Iran are in an embryonic state, to say the least. I don't want a nuclear Iran (and by that I mean specifically nuclear-armed). This issue can be resolved diplomatically, but duds and hammerheads such as the Bush Administration can't do it. No matter, we have plenty of time to wait for a Democratic administration who will be much better equipped to deal with the Iranian threat in the appropriate manner.

Posted by: pp | Jun 11, 2007 3:36:33 PM

READ THE FOLLOWING PASSAGES FROM THE BIBLE AS IT HAS IMPLICATIONS ON THE WAR AGAINST TERROR/ISLAM and the claim of Israel that god gave them the land. If the child is an infant than the Judeo-Christian version becomes null and void and we are wasting our time and resources i.e. we could save trillions of dollars and create a more peaceful world rather than fighting against Islam the religion of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).


Please note this is not a competition between faiths but an attempt to decipher fact from fiction.

Genesis 21:14 Contemporary English version se below link


Early the next morning Abraham gave Hagar an animal skin full of water and some bread. Then he put the boy on her shoulder and sent them away.

And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ish’mael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ish’mael to Abram.

Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

At Genesis 22 Abraham had only 2 sons others came later. The Quran mentions that it was Ishmael that was sacrificed hence the reference in genesis 22:2 your only son can only mean someone has substituted Ishmael names for Isaac!!

NOT ROMAN NUMERALS (I, II, III,IV,V,VI,VII,VIII,IX,X) NB no concept of zero in roman numerals.

100 years old – 86 years old = 14 ADD 3 YEARS FOR ISSAC’S WEANING


Carefully read several times the above passage and then tell me the mental picture you get between the mother child interactions what is the age of the child. If the mental picture is that of a 17 year old child being carried on the shoulder of his mother, being physically placed in the bush, crying like a baby, mother having to give him water to drink, than the Islamic viewpoint is null and void. Why is there no verbal communications between mother and (17 YEAR OLD) child?

GENESIS: 21:14 - 21
So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the (17 YEAR OLD) child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the (17 YEAR OLD) child under one of the bushes. Then she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Let me not look upon the death of the (17 YEAR OLD) child.” And as she sat over against him, the (17 YEAR OLD) child lifted up his voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the (17 YEAR OLD) lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the (17 YEAR OLD) lad where he is. Arise, lift up the (17 YEAR OLD) lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the (17 YEAR OLD) lad a drink. And God was with the (17 YEAR OLD) lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

The age of Ishmael at this stage is crucial to the Abrahamic faiths. If he is 17 than the JUDEO/CHRISTIAN point of view about the Abrahamic covenant is correct. This has devastating theological consequences of unimaginable proportions.

This makes the conflict between Ishmael and Isaac and there descendants a work of fiction. I would strongly suggest it is clear cut case of racial discrimination and nothing to do with god almighty. The scribes have deliberately tried to make Isaac the only son and legitimate heir to the throne of Abraham??

Please can you rationally explain this anomaly?

I have asked many persons including my nephews and nieces - unbiased minds with no religious backgrounds but with reasonable command of the English language about this passage and they all agree that the child in the passage is an infant.

For background info on the future religion of mankind see the following websites:















HOLY QURAN CHAPTER 37 verses 101 - 122

101. So We gave him the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear.

102. Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: "O my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!" (The son) said: "O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills one practising Patience and Constancy!"

103. So when they had both submitted their wills (to Allah., and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice),

104. We called out to him "O Abraham!

105. "Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!" - thus indeed do We reward those who do right.

106. For this was obviously a trial-

107. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice:

108. And We left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times:

109. "Peace and salutation to Abraham!"

110. Thus indeed do We reward those who do right.

111. For he was one of our believing Servants.

112. And We gave him the good news of Isaac - a prophet,- one of the Righteous.

113. We blessed him and Isaac: but of their progeny are (some) that do right, and (some) that obviously do wrong, to their own souls.

114. Again (of old) We bestowed Our favour on Moses and Aaron,

115. And We delivered them and their people from (their) Great Calamity;

116. And We helped them, so they overcame (their troubles);

117. And We gave them the Book which helps to make things clear;

118. And We guided them to the Straight Way.

119. And We left (this blessing) for them among generations (to come) in later times:

120. "Peace and salutation to Moses and Aaron!"

121. Thus indeed do We reward those who do right.

122. For they were two of our believing Servants.

Therefore the claim that god gave the land to Israel is destroyed without the need of any WMD’s.

Volume 4, Book 55, Number 583:

Narrated Ibn Abbas:

The first lady to use a girdle was the mother of Ishmael. She used a girdle so that she might hide her tracks from Sarah. Abraham brought her and her son Ishmael while she was suckling him, to a place near the Ka'ba under a tree on the spot of Zam-zam, at the highest place in the mosque. During those days there was nobody in Mecca, nor was there any water So he made them sit over there and placed near them a leather bag containing some dates, and a small water-skin containing some water, and set out homeward. Ishmael's mother followed him saying, "O Abraham! Where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is no person whose company we may enjoy, nor is there anything (to enjoy)?" She repeated that to him many times, but he did not look back at her Then she asked him, "Has Allah ordered you to do so?" He said, "Yes." She said, "Then He will not neglect us," and returned while Abraham proceeded onwards, and on reaching the Thaniya where they could not see him, he faced the Ka'ba, and raising both hands, invoked Allah saying the following prayers:
'O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Your Sacred House (Kaba at Mecca) in order, O our Lord, that they may offer prayer perfectly. So fill some hearts among men with love towards them, and (O Allah) provide them with fruits, so that they may give thanks.' (14.37) Ishmael's mother went on suckling Ishmael and drinking from the water (she had).
When the water in the water-skin had all been used up, she became thirsty and her child also became thirsty. She started looking at him (i.e. Ishmael) tossing in agony; She left him, for she could not endure looking at him, and found that the mountain of Safa was the nearest mountain to her on that land. She stood on it and started looking at the valley keenly so that she might see somebody, but she could not see anybody. Then she descended from Safa and when she reached the valley, she tucked up her robe and ran in the valley like a person in distress and trouble, till she crossed the valley and reached the Marwa mountain where she stood and started looking, expecting to see somebody, but she could not see anybody. She repeated that (running between Safa and Marwa) seven times."
The Prophet said, "This is the source of the tradition of the walking of people between them (i.e. Safa and Marwa). When she reached the Marwa (for the last time) she heard a voice and she asked herself to be quiet and listened attentively. She heard the voice again and said, 'O, (whoever you may be)! You have made me hear your voice; have you got something to help me?" And behold! She saw an angel at the place of Zam-zam, digging the earth with his heel (or his wing), till water flowed from that place. She started to make something like a basin around it, using her hand in this way, and started filling her water-skin with water with her hands, and the water was flowing out after she had scooped some of it."
The Prophet added, "May Allah bestow Mercy on Ishmael's mother! Had she let the Zam-zam (flow without trying to control it) (or had she not scooped from that water) (to fill her water-skin), Zam-zam would have been a stream flowing on the surface of the earth." The Prophet further added, "Then she drank (water) and suckled her child. The angel said to her, 'Don't be afraid of being neglected, for this is the House of Allah which will be built by this boy and his father, and Allah never neglects His people.' The House (i.e. Kaba) at that time was on a high place resembling a hillock, and when torrents came, they flowed to its right and left. She lived in that way till some people from the tribe of Jurhum or a family from Jurhum passed by her and her child, as they (i.e. the Jurhum people) were coming through the way of Kada'. They landed in the lower part of Mecca where they saw a bird that had the habit of flying around water and not leaving it. They said, 'This bird must be flying around water, though we know that there is no water in this valley.' They sent one or two messengers who discovered the source of water, and returned to inform them of the water. So, they all came (towards the water)." The Prophet added, "Ishmael's mother was sitting near the water. They asked her, 'Do you allow us to stay with you?" She replied, 'Yes, but you will have no right to possess the water.' They agreed to that." The Prophet further said, "Ishmael's mother was pleased with the whole situation as she used to love to enjoy the company of the people. So, they settled there, and later on they sent for their families who came and settled with them so that some families became permanent residents there. The child (i.e. Ishmael) grew up and learnt Arabic from them and (his virtues) caused them to love and admire him as he grew up, and when he reached the age of puberty they made him marry a woman from amongst them.

Posted by: ahmedinajad | Jun 11, 2007 3:39:39 PM

ken baer is a fucking idiot. he has no idea what he's talking about, his honkey-ass "understanding" of history is entirely from the colonialist point of view, his "knowledge" of the political situations in the greater middle east today is dwarfed by my cat's, his guest blogging stint at talkingpointsmemo was the worst in the site's history, and he is just plain stupid to boot. what a useless sack of crap this clown is. and of course all of that means he's one of the mindless drones trying to whip up war frenzy against iran, a country which is, realistically, not an actual threat beyond being a bunch of big talkers. threat in the sense of being able to go around destabilizing governments, seizing land, etc. i know they are involved with hamas and hizbullah etc, but get real dude. if that makes iran a threat, then why haven't the saudis been blown straight off the face of the planet?

Posted by: itsbenj | Jun 11, 2007 3:43:35 PM

Logic, reason and good spelling are ANTI SEMITIC !!!!!

Posted by: Ken Baerback | Jun 11, 2007 3:49:43 PM

Israel doesn't have to be annexed. Israeli interests and U.S. interest are already one and the same and anyone who suggests otherwise just because Israel happens to be a different country is obviously anti-semitic.

Furthermore, Israel is not only an ally, but our most important ally in the whole wide world. It's incredible how much Israel has done year after year to enhance our security. In fact, the alliance is so one-sided that I'm surprised Israel has been willing to carry us all these years.

And anyone who even questions that is worse than Hitler.

Posted by: expatjourno | Jun 11, 2007 4:12:28 PM

And anyone who even questions that is worse than Hitler.

Hey, Godwin's Law.

Posted by: sangfroid826 | Jun 11, 2007 4:16:58 PM

baer: "to deny the very existence of a threat."

Seems the the neo-con right (and many in Israel) has a fixation on the word 'existence' and variants, as is existential threat. I don't get it in regards to the US in any manner (see this story in the current The Atlantic by Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press on the US's exponential increase in nuclear weaponry in recent years [may be subscriber-only]), and for a threat for Israel maybe only 5-10 years down the road.

Iran has no missiles capable of delivering a nuke, nor any long range aircraft suitable for the job. So how could Iran bring the existence of Israel to an end?

And why does this threat appear now to be so urgent that it must be taken care of before Bush is out of office? Further, why is the US being urged by many supporters of Israel to launch a preventative attack on Iran, instead of Israel doing what it feels must be done? Why the US proxy for Israel?

Or, is it the other way around: a potential threat to Israel is being used to justify an urgent preventative attack on Iran that is really a cover-story for neo-con ambitions to destroy Iran (and any other non-client state of the US in the mideast or south asia)?

This whole Iran threat story seems more like the changing story of why we had to attack Saddam before the event: mushroom clouds, genocide against their people, WMDs, terrorism, promote democracy, etc (with maybe some oil thrown in as whipped cream and cherry).

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 11, 2007 4:30:14 PM

Okay. I didn't know that he was a founding editor of Democracy, which is my bad. And that actually makes a lot of sense, given the content of the magazine. But I would also think that (1) it's just good editorial prectice to take oneself out of publication decisions when they touch on one's own work, perhaps let the rest of the editorial board make the judgement ona rebuttal piece, but it's not a huge deal itself; and (2) I understand Baer's concernes as related in the update, but I think that his actions were still rather petty. He just figured the rebuttal wouldn't be substantive rahter than, I don't know, taking a look at a draft piece. Again, though, I just don't know how these things are done. Also, I think he'll have the mroal high ground to demand "deeper, more theoretical" dialogue on Iran when he demonstrates any of that on his part. His writing is consistently disappointing in the same way the local tv news is disappointing.

Posted by: justin | Jun 11, 2007 4:53:59 PM

Argh...sorry, I count three typos. See if you can find any more kids!

Posted by: justin | Jun 11, 2007 4:58:54 PM

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