December 07, 2004
WAR: Depends How You Define “Facts”
Earlier today, I made the mistake of reading Eric Alterman’s column on MSNBC.com. After discussing how French anti-Semitism during World War II was basically a myth, which seems to conflict with a number of events I remember reading about in history class, Alterman launches into a critique of a registration-only article discussing bias at The New York Times. Needless to say, Alterman disagrees with its author, basically asserting that the Times is, in fact, a right-wing mouthpiece for the Bush Administration. Fine.
Anyway, Alterman goes on about how Saddam Hussein had no connection whatsoever with al Qaeda and about how this is a skull-thumpingly obvious fact that everyone knows. I don’t want to rehash the whole debate over Iraq’s al Qaeda connections, which are contentiously debated (see here, here and here for counter-arguments, as well as here for my take). But having just recently been reading the 9/11 Commission report, which Alterman apparently never has, I was struck by his certainty.
One tiny example, from p. 134 of the paperback version of the report:
“In February 1999, [CIA Assistant Director Charles] Allen proposed flying a U-2 mission over Afghanistan to build a baseline of intelligence outside the areas where the tribals had coverage. [Richard] Clarke was nervous about such a mission because he continued to fear that Bin Ladin might leave for someplace less accessible. He wrote Deputy National Security Advisor Donald Kerrick that one reliable source reported Bin Ladin’s having met with Iraqi officials, who ‘may have offered him asylum.’ Other intelligence sources said that some Taliban leaders, though not Mullah Omar, had urged Bin Ladin to go to Iraq. If Bin Ladin actually moved to Iraq, wrote Clarke, his network would be at Saddam Hussein’s service, and it would be 'virtually impossible' to find him. Better to get Bin Ladin in Afghanistan, Clarke declared. [Sandy] Berger suggested sending one U-2 flight, but Clarke opposed even this. It would require Pakistani approval, he wrote; and ‘Pak[istan’s] intel[ligence service] is in bed with’ Bin Ladin and would warn him that the United States was getting ready for a bombing campaign: ‘Armed with that knowledge, old wily Usama will likely boogie to Baghdad.’ Though told also by Bruce Riedel of the NSC staff that Saddam Hussein wanted Bin Ladin in Baghdad, Berger conditionally authorized a single U-2 flight. Allen meanwhile had found other ways of getting the information he wanted. So the U-2 flight never occurred.”
I know others have sifted through all of this and come to differing rational conclusions - the Commission ultimately dodged the issue - but I doubt that Alterman is one of them. Instead, he simply makes conclusory statements unsupported by evidence. It might not all be so bad if he wasn’t criticizing others for doing exactly what he is doing.
Outside of the overts attempts to exterminate Jews (the NAZI's in 30's & 40's and most Middle East leadership since 1948) I think the most obvious anti-semitism is seen from those who argue it doesn't exist in places like France. The most ironic element of this is this same leftist goof would claim racism in the United States with much less evidence just because he "knows" it's out there. The last irony is he would claim Harry Reid wasn't influenced by race in his moronic attempt to slam Justice Thomas.
One of the more interesting stories I'd like to see more on is the charge in Stephen Hayes' book that Iraqi embassy personnel in the Philippines were implicated in an al Qaeda-linked bombing there in 2002 that killed an American soldier.
1) How was Hayes’ book? I’d like to read it, since he is a good writer and it is an important topic, but I kind of agree with the Amazon.com review which said that it is unforgivable for a book like that not to have source notes.
2) Looking back with a cooler head, I don’t want to give the impression that I disagree with Alterman’s point that there is some anti-Semitism in the U.S. (and certainly was in FDR’s time, although it is offensively ignorant to say it was simply a “red state” phenomenon). Or the point that France has elected some Jewish leaders in the past, thus large numbers of that country’s populace probably were not, and are not, anti-Semitic. But I think most historians would agree that France’s record during the Holocaust was far worse than that of the U.S.
Mainly, it’s just the way Alterman sneers rather than argues that always gets me.
I enjoy Alterman at times, and usually agree with him (certainly more than I agree with you guys) but mainly read his column to get a dose of Charlie Pierce.
Anytime Alterman starts talking about Jews, Israel, WWII, France or anti-semitism, (and Springsteen too) the scroll goes into overdrive...