Home | Away

Now, where would he have gotten that idea?

Atrios has a fine, angry post on Richard Cohen’s mea culpa in yesterday’s Washington Post.  Curiously, his very next post is on how the film Shattered Glass turns out to be “a complete apologia for TNR.”

OK, so let’s connect these seemingly unrelated points.  How could a nice, sensible Washington liberal like Cohen get the idea that we had to take out Saddam because of the anthrax attacks?

Cohen says:

Anthrax played a role in my decision to support the Bush administration’s desire to take out Saddam Hussein. I linked him to anthrax, which I linked to Sept. 11. I was not going to stand by and simply wait for another attack—more attacks. I was going to go to the source, Hussein, and get him before he could get us. As time went on, I became more and more questioning, but I had a hard time backing down from my initial whoop and holler for war.

Who might have frightened him so badly that he was willing to support a war-- not on the grounds that its brutal, fascist dictator should be removed for horrific violations of human rights, but on the grounds that its brutal, fascist dictator had hit us with anthrax, or maybe had the capacity to, or maybe just had the desire to?

Why, The New Republic, that’s who. 

Now, let’s give Atrios credit (not that he needs it from this humble blog!) for noting that Richard Cohen was editorializing for war in Iraq as early as November 30, 2001.  But let’s also remember that the doughty editors of TNR had led the charge to Baghdad a month earlier, in their ludicrous October 29 editorial calling us to “weaponize our courage” and take out that anthrax-producing Saddam.  (Weaponize!  get it?  like anthrax!  Saddam has weaponized his anthrax, and so shall we weaponize our courage!)

This isn’t hindsight on my part, folks-- I thought that editorial was ludicrous the day I read it, and I said so in this essay, which I wrote in January 2002.  (Here’s the relevant clip from that essay if you don’t want to read the whole 4000-word thing:  “In his bunker in Baghdad, a shaken Saddam Hussein looks up from his copy of TNR: ‘Nothing would please me more than to fight American armed forces in the daughter of the mother of all battles-- but I cannot face the fearsome senior editors of this weekly magazine.’")

So if there’s any apologizing to be done on the part of people who ginned up that there anthrax hysteria, I’d start with Stephen Glass’s former employers, myself.

Kudos to Cohen for making exactly half this point in his column:

My point is that we were panicked. Yet that panic never gets mentioned. Last month the New Republic published a “special issue” in which a bevy of very good writers wondered whether they had been wrong to support the war in Iraq. Most of them admitted to having erred about this or that detail or in failing to appreciate how badly George Bush would administer the war and the occupation. But none confessed to being seized by the zeitgeist. I read the magazine cover to cover and unless I somehow missed it, the word anthrax never appeared. Imagine! Not once! Not a single one of these writers admitted to panicking over anthrax.

To finish the point Cohen didn’t quite make, go back and look for the word “anthrax” in TNR from, say, September to December 2001.  Don’t worry-- you’ll find it!  But you can’t look online-- for some reason, the magazine’s archives don’t go back that far.  Ask a friendly public librarian for help.

Posted by on 07/24 at 04:12 AM
  1. But really, who’s create and “benefit” from the anthrax!?! It will be very interesting know that…

    Posted by Clandestina  on  07/25  at  12:12 AM
  2. It will indeed, but we have to wait until Ashcroft concludes that urgent, top-secret investigation of his. . . .

    Posted by  on  07/25  at  07:02 AM
  3. So, let’s wait…

    Posted by Clandestina  on  07/25  at  08:39 AM
  4. Reading that old Context essay I found myself wondering if you’d reassessed your opinion of the “Chomskian left” and the chasm between them and you (well, to be honest, us and you) given subsequent events. Yes? No? Mebbe?

    Posted by RobW  on  07/25  at  07:57 PM
  5. Great question, RobW.  The short answer is yes and no.  Yes, Bush and company have behaved almost precisely as the Chomsky left believed they would, and the fifth argument I attributed to them ("there would be no ‘nation-building’ after the ouster of the Taliban-- just more bombing, this time in some other impoverished nation") has been looking pretty damn good.  On the other hand, I still think their initial arguments against military force in Afghanistan-- and their bizarre insistence that the bombing was a crime worse than 9-11, let alone Chomsky’s knee-jerk claim (within hours of the towers’ collapse) that 9-11 paled in comparison to Clinton’s cruise missile strike against the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum-- were obtuse on the merits and did great harm to the credibility of the American left.

    Having said that, and then having followed up in September 2002 with an even nastier essay in which I’d claimed that their obtuseness with regard to the Taliban and al-Qaeda cost the rest of the left all kinds of credibility in our opposition to war in Iraq, I would now follow up with a really angry essay in which I say that however much credibility the left lost because of Chomsky’s claims that we’d engaged in “silent genocide” in Afghanistan, we lost far, far more because of the liberal hawks’ march to Baghdad-- oops, I mean the liberal hawks’ enthusiasm for having other people march to Baghdad.  Not only did the hawks hitch (hmm, why that verb?) their wagon to Bush in a way that can’t be undone now; they were and are far more numerous and influential than anyone writing for Z.  The damage done by knee-jerk Chomskians in 2001, then, seems to me now to be a mere preface to the utter debacle wrought by Hitchens, Ignatieff, Berman et al., who (imho) not only signed on for a one-way ride to PNAC fantasyland (still under construction as we speak!) but left the liberal-internationalist idea of antigenocidal “humanitarian intervention” hanging by a thread.

    OK, that’s the short answer. 

    Posted by  on  07/26  at  03:27 AM
  6. "PNAC fantasyland, here we come! Is the rollercoaster like the one the Tubes tried to do—it runs all over a woman’s (preferably Ann Coulter’s!) body?!?”

    I’m waiting for the non-specific terror alert warning this week. Anytime today, I expect.

    Posted by  on  07/26  at  05:49 AM
  7. On those hazy crazy days of anthrax, reader T. C. Brown writes in to say:

    “I am a social worker, counseling genre. . . .  That whole environment made the timing of the anthrax scare highly suspicious to me, particularly when it became clear that the targets were, I think, 100% Democrats, with perhaps one exception.

    “My suspicions of a ‘put up job’ have only been further heightened by the fact that the anthrax investigation has pretty much withered on the vine.  The Justice Department’s highly vocalized determination to get those evil terrorists raises only more serious questions about their seemingily waning interest in solving these crimes.”

    Posted by  on  07/26  at  09:19 AM
  8. That whole environment made the timing of the anthrax scare highly suspicious to me, particularly when it became clear that the targets were, I think, 100% Democrats, with perhaps one exception.

    Yeah, I have to say that I never before made the connection that the two groups targeted by anthrax were Democrats and the media, or that residual fear from that experience might have influenced the desperate way that both the media and the Dems got on the no-questions-asked, Back Bush train for so long afterward.

    To quote the illustrious Teresa Nielsen Hayden, “I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist.”

    Posted by  on  07/26  at  11:42 AM
  9. I was mostly reading the BBC then and they were fairly certain it was an inside job; I also remember at least one mention in the US press that there was no way to be sure if it was our anthrax or their anthrax, since we’d given it to them in the first place - drowned amid all the hyping of the danger and the few articles on how relatively speaking it wasn’t *that* dangerous, not like the Black Death or the Andromeda strain.

    And then, yes, suspiciously, the investigations dried up - exactly the way you’d expect they would if the threads through the labyrinth led to the door of someone important.

    Posted by bellatrys  on  07/26  at  02:38 PM
  10. Thanks for the answer.

    Posted by RobW  on  07/26  at  04:01 PM
  11. And thanks again for asking.  But the rest of you-- be discreet!  Remember, we’re not even supposed to be talking about anthrax.  You don’t want the Department of Justice or TNR’s Lawrence F. Kaplan to get into this blog and start deleting your comments, now.

    Posted by  on  07/26  at  04:16 PM
  12. Hi guys,
    This is Jason - black (behind the scene)blogger and writer.
    No reason to be afraid of disclosure ‘cause all these questions and issues are already dispersed throughout the Internet and far more public than you may think.
    But anyway your posts really analytical and appear to be of great thought value.

    Posted by Plagiarism  on  11/28  at  12:44 PM





Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Submit the word you see below:

Next entry: The longer answer

Previous entry: Obligatory followup

<< Back to main