Runcible Blog

Why I loathe pundits and liberal hawks

Slate is running a series of letters this week from "liberal hawks", asking them if hindsight has changed their view of the war. Predictably, no one comes out and says, "I made a big mistake supporting this war.", though the pundits seem to feel uneasy about some things. Overall, I get the impression that the liberal hawks in this discussion haven't changed their minds. Of course they wouldn't! They're pundits! They're never wrong. about anything.

My distaste for pundits in general (with few exceptions) and so-called liberal hawks in particular stems from their cold, calculated view of the world. Reading Thomas Friedman's columns in the New York Times leaves me thinking that he lives in his own bubble of reality, whether it comes to globalization or the Iraq war, Israel, anything. I also get the impression that pundits treat the world like some giant game of Risk (conservatives treat it like Monopoly). To them, waging war comes as easily as rearranging pieces on a game board, even though they claim to be concerned about the human cost. At least conservative pundits don't hesitate to speak, in the most testosterone-filled manner, of destroying countries and looting natural resources; liberal columnists write with a tone that suggests a repugnant flippancy toward the costs of war.

For instance, Ken "The Threatening Storm" Pollack has this to say about the war, in hindsight:

"my guess is that many readers would still have come to the conclusion that war was the least-bad choice among a menu of imperfect options."

Wow, that's very convincing. The pundits are now trying to rationalize their support for an illegal war in ways that leave them looking correct, while criticizing everything the administration has done wrong. Well I'm sorry, guys; you can't have it both ways. You knew the administration was lying and that there was no plan for an occupation, yet you remained gung-ho all along. You've made your bed. Now we all have to sleep in it.

Of course, people like Tom Friedman are unfazed by any of the wrong turns in Iraq thus far because they live in their own fantasy world. He writes such illuminating things as:

"The right reason for this war was to partner with Arab moderates in a long-term strategy of dehumiliation and redignification."
And such enlightening observations as:
"Why Iraq, not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Because we could—period."

I think someone called that possessive pronoun use "the Imperial 'we'". In truth, the pundits who think of war as an item on a menu are never, never in any danger of fighting in said war, nor do they seem aware of their privileged positions. They talk about the war "we" are fighting against radical Islam as if they themselves were marching on the front lines. Unfortunately, inflated egos and self importance come with the territory of punditry (with the exception of, perhaps, Bob Herbert). Even my favorite columnist, Paul Krugman, bugs me by his refusal at times to admit that he was wrong.

Another sense I get from reading liberal hawks' columns is that the ends justify the means. Even though they knew the WMD issue was exaggerated and that links to Al Qaeda were tenuous at best and nonexistent at worst, they still felt that regime change in Iraq would be a grand idea at this opportunity, when American's were most impressionable. I can't describe in words how disgusting I think that philosophy is. Dean took a lot of flack for saying, "In general I think the ends don't justify the means." To me it sounded like common sense but cold-hearted rational columnists must've taken it as a personal insult. Those pundits were complicit in Bush's deception and deserve a fair helping of scorn. (I feel similarly about certain presidential candidates who try to give the "we were hoodwinked into signing that bill authorizing force! " excuse at this point. either they were very naive at the time or they're lying now.)

And for people who claim to be concerned about liberation and human rights for Iraqi's, why don't these columnists, and for that matter, anyone in the media ever talk about the Iraqi casualty count? They mention the enormous number of dead under Saddam's watch, but the only tally I read from either liberal or conservative columnists is the U.S. soldier body count. I'm sure these cold rationalists will say that the human toll was worth the chance for a free Arab nation. And I'm sure they are quick to call up the Iraqi children's families to tell them that their kids' deaths are for a good cause. Any reasonable Iraqi would understand that, right?

I think this letter writer, George Packer, sums up the liberal hawk mindset very well here:

I think we should stop talking about vast change in the Arab world and focus on doing what we can—even as our influence wanes by the day—to get Iraq right. Sept. 11 made us think about big ideas, global conflicts—inevitably, and rightly. But Iraq should make us think about practical knowledge and nuanced judgment. One problem with liberal hawks is that great moral dramas are always more attractive to us than difficult long-term tasks.

And the problem, although it's a cliché, is that liberal hawks (or really, most "elites" -- conservative or liberal thinkers) look down on the world's problems from their high vantage point. For them, rearranging pieces on a board looks simple; war looks "tidy" from afar and social problems are reduced to moral failure rather than systematic decay.

Do you know what happens to those kids in school who always have an answer for everything (even the rhetorical and trick questions) when they grow up? They become columnists and media whores. It's as if something in their brains is broken. I know that people often say that people my age think we know everything ('specially them college folk), but media personalities seem never to "grow out" of that stage. (in fairness, I'm not sure if I have yet)

When I think of it, kids are constantly taught to create arguments for issues for which they have no opinion. Most of the time the result is BS. Effective BS is rewarded.
Pundits simply are bullshit experts who have been buried in their own fecal matter for so long that they don't notice the stench anymore!

Yes, I think I have it figured out... not that anyone asked or cared.