Thursday, October 4, 2007

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For every op-ed action, there is an out-of-proportion blogosphere reaction

Intentionally or not, Roger Cohen has some fun with the netroots in his New York Times column today:

A few years back, at the height of the jingoistic post-9/11 wave, the dirtiest word in the American political lexicon was “liberal.” Everyone from President Bush to Ann Coulter was using it to denote wimplike, Volvo-driving softies too spineless for dangerous times and too given to speaking French....

[A]s America bumped down to earth, “liberal” lost the mantle of political insult most foul. Its place was taken by the pervasive, glib “neocon.”....

What’s a neocon? A liberal “mugged by reality,” Irving Kristol said. The reality in question, back then, was communism-as-evil, the centrality of military force, the indispensability of the American idea and much else. But that’s ancient history. The neocons are the guys who gave us the Iraq war.

They’re the guys who, in the words of leftist commentator and blogger Matthew Yglesias, “believe that America should coercively dominate the world through military force” and “believe in a dogmatic form of American exceptionalism” and “favor the creation of a U.S.-dominated ‘universal empire.’ ”

But the term, in these Walt-Mearsheimered days, often denotes more than that. Neocon, for many, has become shorthand for neocon-Zionist conspiracy, whatever that may be, although probably involving some combination of plans to exploit Iraqi oil, bomb Iran and apply U.S. power to Israel’s benefit.

Beyond that, neocon has morphed into an all-purpose insult for anyone who still believes that American power is inextricable from global stability and still thinks the muscular anti-totalitarian U.S. interventionism that brought down Slobodan Milosevic has a place, and still argues, like Christopher Hitchens, that ousting Saddam Hussein put the United States “on the right side of history.”

In short, neoconitis, a condition as rampant as liberal-lampooning a few years back, has left scant room for liberal hawks....

Democrats have learned from their nuance-free bludgeoning by Republicans in the 2004 election, and they’re reciprocating. I’ll see your “liberal” with a “neocon” — and truth be damned.

This has prompted some acerbic replies. Here's one example:
I assure you, we liberals are smart enough to know that [Paul] Berman is not Wolfowitz. No one, except for you, Berman, and other liberal hawks is confused about this (and Feith, but he's confused about everything). Certainly your critics aren't, because if they were, you'd give an example, and you don't....

No, Roger, I honestly don't think you're a neocon. I just think you're a goddammed fool.

And you're a fool who still doesn't understand that only incompetents who rose to unimaginable power, like Bush and Rumsfeld, would ever have thought the invasion of Iraq was a good idea in the first place.

Meanwhile, Yglesias doesn't seem thrilled with being quoted in the New York Times:
I'm not sure if I'm meant to be included within the scope of those nameless Jew-haters who appear to be criticizing an ideological movement of the American right while actually criticizing a shadowy Zionist conspiracy, but if you're interested in the post from which Cohen drew those quotations, it's here and you'll see that neither Israel nor Zionism actually comes up.

Um... OK, a few things:
1) Seriously, how do netroots types attain this level of cognitive dissonance? Perhaps Digby Tristero has not conflated liberal hawks with neoconservatives, but is he seriously suggesting that no one else hasperformed this rhetorical trick?

2) In his response, Yglesias seems to be purposefully misreading Cohen's essay to infer that he's being lumped together with "Jew-haters." It seems pretty clear to me that Cohen is transitioning from Yglesias to others in the paragraph break.

3) Why should the netroots be upset about Cohen's argument? Everything from Crashing The Gate onwards has been about how the left should appropriate the tactics of the right, because it was politically effective. Isn't this tactic exactly what Cohen is describing?

posted by Dan on 10.04.07 at 10:43 AM


I find it generally difficult to pin the new breed of progressives down on foreign policy specifics. So we don't want surgical strikes on Iran, but we also don't want house-to-house guerilla fighting as we're seeing in Iraq. Is isolation the way to go?

What moment in history makes them think that Liberalism is inherently non-violent, or even anti-militaristic? The 20th Century is a 100 year tale of Liberals entering wars and building global institutions. "Liberal Hawk" is an oxymoron, but it's a language game that true Liberals have already ceded to the extreme Left.

What would progressive diplomacy look like?

posted by: Kevin Sullivan on 10.04.07 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Just as aside, it was Tristero, not Digby who wrote that post. Don't know if you noticed, but he's been posting there for quite a while. Each post has a byline at the very beginning so you know who's post it is.

Now, for at least my perspective:

1) obviously not. But are you actually saying that there aren't liberal hawks who actually are neoconservatives? What about that famed radical lefty Christopher Hitchens. Is he a neoconservative or just something else who happens to be so closely aligned with them that it's quite hard to tease out the differences other than, perhaps, querying them about their feelings regarding Henry K. or Mother Theresa.

Seriously, this a rather silly misreading of Tristero's post - one might postulate it was actually a purposeful misreading so that you could make a point.

2) Why no link to Matt's response? Weird. In any event, it seems pretty clear Cohen is making the quite common attack which is to imply that the word "neocon" is a slur on jews. Matt's just using what you term as a bridge as the opportunity to comment on this quite common attack.

Again, I'm curious as to why this isn't obvious, but I guess it makes good blog fodder.

3) It seems pretty clear that, as Tristero points out, that it isn't Cohen's mindless babble that is upsetting. Annoying? Sure.

But in any event, this point of yours is quite clever as a debate tactic and I'm sure - as the first comment points out - quite effective for your right of center audience.

posted by: Hal on 10.04.07 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Ah, see you fixed the post with a link to Matt's response. Still, went clicking through the links you have as "examples" of this conflation, and hit the link to Atrios first. Quite odd that there isn't anything in the post you link to that even begins to support your assertion that Atrios has conflated Neocons and Liberal hawks. Seriously, Dan, WTF? I thought academics were far more careful with their support material.

Clicking through to the Greenwald link provides another classic Drezner WTF experience. Glenn clearly is saying things like "which is why the "liberal" Brookings Institutional "scholars" are so pro-war and work so cooperatively with the neoconservative AEI", but it's pretty darn clear he hasn't committed the cardinal sin of conflating the two groups. Seriously sloppy.

The second Greenwald link has him saying things like "Much of this effort to enforce imperialistic notions as a bi-partisan consensus comes from neoconservatives, who are highly respected in the Foreign Policy Community." but it's pretty darn clear he isn't - again - conflating neoconservatives with anyone. In fact, he quite clearly treats them as a group that is quite distinct from the groups you claim he's conflating them with.

Sloppy doesn't seem to be operative. It's almost like you have an agenda here.

The Tom Barry link is equally weird. It's pretty clear that Barry distinguishes between the two groups and simply says that "In addition to joining the neocons in support of the war and the post-war restructuring, the liberal hawks have also published their own statements in favor of what is now widely regarded as a morally bankrupt policy agenda."

Again, Dan, where's the conflation?

Yi. You seem to be getting as bad as Glenn Reynolds with the quality of your links that you use to support your positions.

posted by: Hal on 10.04.07 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

Hal is spot on. Drezner's post is misleading, either through obtuseness or willful misrepresentation. As for Cohen, fundamentally he is whining that he is being criticized for having been wrong. His defense? His critics are anti-semites. Yes, that's a strong argument.

posted by: Gene on 10.04.07 at 10:43 AM [permalink]

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