July 31, 2002

Sullivan Demonizes Skeptics...

UPDATE: Sullivan smacks back about my "flight of high-mindedness":

Well, a Newsweek poll last October found the following:
Nine out of 10 Americans say they support the current military action in Afghanistan. Seventy-nine percent support the use of military force against suspected terrorist targets in other Middle Eastern countries, with 81 percent approving the use of direct military action against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Seventy-one percent support the use of military force to combat terrorism outside of the Middle East, in countries like Sudan and the Philippines.
I'd say 81 percent is pretty decisive.
Nice! There's more; scroll down to "Support for the war against Iraq." There are also some interesting comments just below.

Posted by at July 31, 2002 12:19 AM
Comments

It must be nice to be able to rule out an argument by the mere presence of the phrase "the opposition is determined and organized." Never mind the obvious fact that politics consists of power struggles between opposing groups and that these groups are often both organized and determined. And never mind that in this case the description is true.

Posted by: Lupinek at July 31, 2002 02:18 AM

That's funny, I read *three* points that Matt used to criticise Sullivan: the lack of evidence for the assertion that "the majority of Americans" once supported the war; the "passionate opposition" of Iraq war skeptics to waging war against terrorism; and the "organized and determined" element that caught your attention.

The assertion that your opponents are D & O may be literally true, but combine that incomplete assertion with the other rhetorical slipperiness and you have a dishonest, handwaving argument that plays upon people's fears and subtly demonizes those who dare disagree with you.

Posted by: Mary at July 31, 2002 03:27 AM

Matt: You're a great labor-saving device. Thanks!

Posted by: Jim Henley at July 31, 2002 05:15 AM

Matt, thanks for pointing this out. I'd given up on reading Sullivan, mainly because of entries like the one you've linked to, but I actually wrote a lengthy response to this one.

I'd post it here for all to read but it is fairly long.

Posted by: micah holmquist at July 31, 2002 01:11 PM

Sullivan is an idiot, he's itching for a war against anyone even from the same neighborhood as the Sept. 11th perpetrators. He hasn't written a decent word in 10 years.

Posted by: Jacknose at July 31, 2002 02:28 PM

Well, there's suble demonization and there's not so subtle demonization. And then there's this: "Sullivan is an idiot, he's itching for a war against anyone even from the same neighborhood as the Sept. 11th perpetrators. He hasn't written a decent word in 10 years."

I agree with you, Matt, that Sullivan's worst traits are dogmatism and the unargued belittling of his opponents (with those bogus awards, for instance). But did you read the article by Sir Rose he links to just below, in Stopping the War II? The phrase you mention --

"The opposition is determined and organized, and they are passionately opposed to using American power to defeat the forces of state terror. "

...certainly seems to apply there. How about the NY Times, the more proximate object of Sullivan's ire? Well, except for the Friedman editorial today, which Sullivan notes, they sure have been running a lot of dire (and vague) stories about the prospects of war with Iraq recently. He quotes some characteristic boilerplate:

"A growing number of lawmakers from both parties are voicing concern that the administration is heading precipitously toward war."

Is *that* true? A growing number? Well, not John Kerry. Anyone willing to go on record, because now's the time? The NYT reports that unnamed military brass are pessimistic, and then there's the State Department...but my hackles get raised by unfalsifiable claims like these, especially when they seem part of, well, a passionate but unannounced campaign (on behalf of the Times).

I certainly remember seeing polls showing a majority in favor of war on Iraq last fall; I'm not sure how much that's changed, but if it's still true then your objection is mostly to the word "decided." Fair enough. What if he'd claimed that most Americans *believe* that war with Iraq is essential to our present and future security? I believe that, at any rate, and doubters might want to look at the WaPo article Sullivan links to before arguing to the contrary.

I guess what I'm saying is, I don't see the slur. As for the evidence that a majority of Americans support a war, Sullivan doesn't link to it -- another one of his weaknesses as a blogger, shared by some other big name bloggers (Alterman) -- but I wouldn't bet against it.

As for me, frankly I'm less than impressed by the opposition. As with Afghanistan, I haven't heard a credible alternative. Open debate? By all means. What *should* we do about an openly hostile and brutally dictatorial regime proven to have stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, which has booted UN inspectors, is currently attempting to develop nuclear weapons, and has already gassed thousands of Kurds? (See Seymour Hersh's article in the New Yorker from a few months back, which I'm too lazy to hunt down and link.)

Sanctions? Inspections? Haven't we tried that already? Sullivan's last word seems dead on: "It seems to me that a critical element in this debate has to be September 11. We're not discussing hypotheticals any more."

Posted by: Daniel Jacobson at July 31, 2002 04:47 PM

Daniel, whether or not the majority of Americans support or supported a war on Iraq, that doesn't mean that the issue was in some manner already decided in September, as Sullivan suggests. That's simply ridiculous. Plus, there's the whole "opponents of making war on state purveyors of terror" or whatever, thing, which is surely inaccurate. One can be in favor of such things in general, and oppose them in Iraq (and the many other countries whose leaders have done horrible things).

Posted by: John at July 31, 2002 09:53 PM

Why single out this one instance of Sullivan's partisanship?

This is the same man who raves about homocidal Palestinians, while assiduously avoiding any mention of the fact that they have been under armed occupation for over fifty years now, or that their casualty rate is manifold higher.

This is the same man who mentions Clinton's request for reimbursement of legal fees, without mentioning that Reagan and Bush made successful requests for the reimbursal of their legal fees.

And so on... and so on... and so on...

Posted by: Halcyon at July 31, 2002 11:03 PM

Jacknose -- If you're going to call anyone an "idiot" or other names on this web-log, I'd prefer it mightily if you backed it with your name.

Daniel -- I saw an L.A. Times report today that essentially said there has been "majority" support in the polls for an Iraq invasion for several months, so I might have been wrong about that ... though I still think "decided" was too strong. And I also think the NYT has indeed been guilty of pretty blatant editorializing in its news pages.

But his description of the "opposition" to an Iraq-invasion is still a "smear," in my book. Personally, I'm a *skeptic*, not an opponent (I have not yet made up mind and/or been convinced, and I please urge all of you not to argue with me about this right now, because I am busy). There are several strong reasons why an invasion of Iraq is a far different animal to consider than the campaign in Afghanistan, and it does the debate (and the cause of decency) no damn good, in my opinion, to paint conscientious objectors to the Iraq program as a bunch of soft-on-Islamo-fascism ninnies.

That is not a referendum on Sullivan, nor of even the Iraq invasion itself (which, again, I won't be debating here any time soon). I do understand how one could come to the conclusion that those of us who have not bought into the invade-Iraq scenario yet are making a grave mistake by our opposition/waffling/inattention, but I believe the pro-war crowd needs to work a bit for our assent, beyond cheap insults.

Posted by: Matt Welch at August 1, 2002 12:07 AM

Sullivan is presenting an incomplete poll from right after Sept. 11. Here's a more recent poll:

http://www.pollingreport.com/iraq.htm

CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll...

"Turning to Iraq, would you favor or oppose the U.S. taking the following steps against Iraq? How about . . . ?"
Favor/Oppose
- Arming and training Iraqi opposition forces but not using U.S. forces directly
53/42

- Using military air strikes but no U.S. ground tro the Hussein argument has been made successfully by the Bush administration.

Posted by: Ben at August 1, 2002 02:12 PM

The question is: does what we gain by invading Iraq outweigh the costs of invading? That's what I suppose Bush ought to be selling. Just what are we gaining by doing this?

Posted by: Eric M at August 1, 2002 08:53 PM

The question is: does what we gain by invading Iraq outweigh the costs of invading? That's what I suppose Bush ought to be selling. Just what are we gaining by doing this?

Posted by: Eric M at August 1, 2002 08:53 PM

echo

Posted by: Eric M at August 2, 2002 01:22 PM

Ben: They may have also noticed that pretty much everybody outside the White House (and the vast majority of democratic first world governments outside the United States and Israel) look upon the enterprise skeptically, if not with outright fury and amazement.

As for Sully, well... there's a reason Atrios and several other members of the left Blogosphere declared "no Sully week"- at some point, trying to stand against the tide of frothing horseshit becomes tiring as hell. Let's face it: he's jumped the shark, and several school buses besides.

Posted by: Demosthenes at August 3, 2002 08:10 AM

I have nothing substantive to add. Only this: a commentator has taken issue with your usage of "reticence" as a synonym for "reluctance." http://www.nationalreview.com/impromptus/impromptus080502.asp (penultimate item)

Posted by: Greg at August 5, 2002 01:45 PM

(first) see my URL!
(2nd) What I love about being American is that now we can vote whether or not to go to war and if the vote seems to close we can have the Supreme Court decide.
Did we poll the folks before going to war after 7 December, 1941? or did some president and his minions in congress take this upon themselves?

Posted by: freddie at August 5, 2002 01:54 PM

'They may have also noticed that pretty much everybody outside the White House (and the vast majority of democratic first world governments outside the United States and Israel) look upon the enterprise skeptically, if not with outright fury and amazement. '

BFD. It would be a lot different if they were the ones getting attacked. Since the EU countries lack both the will and capability to defend themselves and have complicitly supported terrorism for the last 30 years thru both the EU and the UN would you expect them to back defensive measures against terrorist states?

Posted by: Jack Tanner at August 6, 2002 05:49 AM

Good point, Jack. I'm puzzled as to why we're supposed to care if Europe thinks invading Iraq is a good idea. We're not asking them to help, and they couldn't help us even if we did. What are they going to do -- impose sanctions on us for invading Iraq? Not bloody likely.

I do think the White House needs to do a better job laying out the justifications for a war, though. So far they've mainly just been relying on the post-9/11 mandate to crush terrorism.

Posted by: Dan at August 6, 2002 01:37 PM
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t">Posted by: Demosthenes at August 3, 2002 08:10 AM

I have nothing substantive to add. Only this: a commentator has taken issue with your usage of "reticence" as a synonym for "reluctance." http://www.nationalreview.com/impromptus/impromptus080502.asp (penultimate item)

Posted by: Greg at August 5, 2002 01:45 PM

(first) see my URL!
(2nd) What I love about being American is that now we can vote whether or not to go to war and if the vote seems to close we can have the Supreme Court decide.
Did we poll the folks before going to war after 7 December, 1941? or did some president and his minions in congress take this upon themselves?

Posted by: freddie at August 5, 2002 01:54 PM

'They may have also noticed that pretty much everybody outside the White House (and the vast majority of democratic first world governments outside the United States and Israel) look upon the enterprise skeptically, if not with outright fury and amazement. '

BFD. It would be a lot different if they were the ones getting attacked. Since the EU countries lack both the will and capability to defend themselves and have complicitly supported terrorism for the last 30 years thru both the EU and the UN would you expect them to back defensive measures against terrorist states?

Posted by: Jack Tanner at August 6, 2002 05:49 AM

Good point, Jack. I'm puzzled as to why we're supposed to care if Europe thinks invading Iraq is a good idea. We're not asking them to help, and they couldn't help us even if we did. What are they going to do -- impose sanctions on us for invading Iraq? Not bloody likely.

I do think the White House needs to do a better job laying out the justifications for a war, though. So far they've mainly just been relying on the post-9/11 mandate to crush terrorism.

Posted by: Dan at August 6, 2002 01:37 PM
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