Now Sullivan vs Chait, ughh

The Dish has a new reply to Jonathan Chait that ignores most of Chait’s criticisms, and the responsibility to make an important factual correction. Instead, Andrew tries to keep the focus on Wieseltier’s original piece, and cavils and misdirects. The Dish:

My fundamental point was that he [Chait] had an intellectual responsibility to account for the many factual untruths and wildly unsupported accusations in a rant [by Wieseltier] he called “persuasive.” He baldly refuses to do so.

I’ll have a go. Here is the line of questioning from The Dish’s original post, “On Chait”:

Is Chait persuaded that my response to Krauthammer in TNR, The Abolition of Torture, was merely, as Wieseltier claimed, “feelings” presented as “ideas”? Does he think that my examination of the roots of “enhanced interrogation” has not been backed up by facts and legal precedents? Does he believe that my essay last summer was mere feeling? Does he think that my work over the last decade on this subject has not constantly been backed up by fact, argument, text, and historical precedent?

Wieseltier believes that Sullivan often presents feelings as ideas and that Krauthammer often presents ideas with feeling. Andrew is simply wrong, if he believes that one calmly reasoned article ( — which I thought was pretty good, though with an airy patch that wasn’t as intellectual as Sullivan wanted it to seem — ) disproves Wieseltier’s general claim about how Andrew conducts the torture debate.

Similarly, an isolated paragraph in a post — let’s assume it doesn’t directly contradict another post — would not be sufficient evidence of a sturdy, structured argument either, although it might show you some of an argument’s edges. Otherwise, Sullivan could just write one post to have some overlap with each major perspective on an issue, and when necessary, choose one post to defend himself against accusations of having any particular bias or narrow point of view about an issue … Come to think of it, that does fit with his MO, and Wieseltier may have pointed out as much in his formidable rejoinder (largely side-stepped by The Dish) about how Andrew, for all his apologies, avoids deeper responsibility for most things he writes.

If Sullivan wants to cut a paragraph from 100 posts related to torture, deduct his incessant begging-the-questions, choose the versions of reiterated main points that contradict the least with other points, and assemble the remaining text in the form of a comprehensive, structured ur-argument, then … then that would be an FAQ — but it might also be a service to the anti-torture cause. (For my part, and for my belief in the anti-torture cause, I’ll have more to say about the flaws in Sullivan’s use of “fact, argument, text, and historical precedent” regarding torture. )

Was Wieseltier’s piece really a “persuasive dissection” of these issues?

Of the moral question of “enhanced interrogation”? No. But Wieseltier was only attempting to portray, persuasively, Sullivan’s manner of argument about torture.

Does Chait think it was a “trenchant” argument by Wieseltier that my exploration of the question of just war in the context of Gaza was “calculatedly indifferent to the wrenching moral and strategic perplexities that are contained in the awful reality of asymmetrical warfare” when the Dish’s extensive and careful and thoughtful discussion of the subject can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here? Is this what Chait believes is “calculated indifference” to the complexities involved?

This is either wishful thinking or a strawman. Wieseltier did not refer to an “exploration of the question of just war in the context of Gaza.” Wieseltier referred to the “calculated indifference” to just war issues in The Dish’s consistent rhetoric about Israel and Gaza — he cited one phrase as an example. Wieseltier meant that post after post by Sullivan features language chosen with “calculated indifference” to these questions, in order to push such complexities out of the peripheral vision of the readers’ concerns.

If I may offer a related example of such “calculated indifference” … Not long ago, Sullivan used an Alan Dershowitz quote as the body of a post. However you feel about Dershowitz, his words on this occasion could have mirrored the words of any number of center or left-wing Israeli politicians and those of just war theorists. Here’s the body of Sullivan’s post:

“Hamas deliberately conducted its terrorist activities against Israel in a manner calculated by Hamas to produce Palestinian civilian deaths from Israeli weapons,” – Alan Dershowitz

The title was not “Quote for the Day”; rather, it was “Stop hitting yourself.” This was a fairly pure example of “calculated indifference […] to the wrenching moral and strategic perplexities.” Sullivan’s title purposefully discards whether or not the facts underneath have any relevance in traditional just war theory — and undeniably, they do. One seems to have an incredible amount of ego bias, if he believes that his claim to be “pro-Israel” cannot be questioned in good faith, no matter what or how he writes.

Wieseltier’s “Just War” problem with Andrew is not that Andrew has never examined the question of just war in Gaza. Wieseltier’s criticisms are that (1) Andrew is wrong that it was unjust, and that (2) Andrew decides again and again to rhetorically underscore the idea that Cast Lead was unequivocally an unjust war, in cause and practice.

The Dish posts Andrew links to above are mostly lackluster Dissents of the Day, or their equivalent, by other authors, not “extensive and careful and thoughtful discussion of the subject” by Sullivan. The real discussion of the subject on The Dish was pretty one-sided. Sullivan didn’t show much intellectual curiosity when he asked whether Just War theory has dealt with modern terrorism. It has; Sullivan could have done scant research and brought those sources forward.

For example, Michael Waltzer wrote about terrorism in Just and Unjust Wars, and he wrote about Operation Cast Lead here (first printed in the New Republic), where he discussed Hamas’s new use of long-range rockets. However, Sullivan did not bring this reasonably high-profile piece to bear on the discussion. Instead, he chose as his main interlocutor, Noah Pollack on the Commentary blog, which allowed him to align neocon optimism about Iraq with optimism about Gaza.

Is Chait persuaded by Wieseltier that my record on this blog and elsewhere has involved no “notion of the magnitude and the virulence of Muslim contempt for the Jewish world”, or that I have refused over the years to “give the whole picture”?

This I agree with Andrew on, although lately he tends to relativize Muslim antisemitism and anti-Israelism, by making it equivalent to Jewish hatred toward Muslims.

These are not rhetorical questions. They are real questions of a fellow blogger and former colleague who has endorsed as “persuasive and trenchant” the substance of an argument that is riddled with easily demonstrated untruths. If Chait is intellectually honest, as I believe he is, he will address these points, and refute Wieseltier on them one by one by one.

I hope I’ve accommodated Andrew’s non-rhetorical inquiry to his satisfaction, although unfortunately neither Chait nor myself felt the need to refute those points one by one.

Now I’ll briefly address some more caviling and misdirecting in Andrew’s reply. Andrew makes an interesting declaration:

[Chait] also reiterates something untrue. He says that I favored “an American invasion of Israel followed by a NATO occupation of the border.” No I didn’t.

The thing is, Andrew never contradicted anyone, including Wieseltier, who said that The Dish was advocating a NATO invasion. You’d think that might be important thing to set straight, if he didn’t believe something so extreme, particularly in his reply to Wieseltier, who alleged this directly. But now Andrew has decided its convenient to tell us:

I am saying that at some point, if the two parties cannot and will not come to terms, and if the conflict keeps imperiling the rest of us by inflaming a global religious war, then NATO could be involved in enforcing a two-state solution, guaranteeing security for the two states, and policing the border.

And also temporarily expropriating a special area of land from Israel and Palestine, if Sullivan doesn’t imagine policing long slivers of two countries as “policing the border.”

Like a marriage counselor, we could act as enforcers of a restraining order.

Heh. Sure …

Andrew said nothing about using NATO as part of a mutually-agreed upon peace treaty between a State of Israel and a State of Palestine. He said “a direct American military imposition with NATO troops on the borders of the new states of Palestine and Israel” (which would also be there to “end these settlements for good and for all”).

This means that NATO troops will enter some amount of territory that is either Israeli (according to the Green Line), or a city of Israelis (just across the Green Line) with no Palestinian community and policed by Israeli defense forces. This means putting foreign troops sometimes beside and sometimes inside Israel, and demanding to Israeli soldiers that they stand down or face army fire. Since NATO won’t be invited in — that’s what the word “imposed” means, Andrew — this is an invasion.

Perhaps, Andrew can argue that he should not have chosen the word “imposed” and is really leaning toward the threat of an air war on Israeli positions past the Green Line … and a no-fly zone over the West Bank … so, not an invasion. Or perhaps he can take responsibility for what he has written, instead of assuming the fault is always with people who can’t misunderstand it correctly. Anyway …

Because our security is increasingly threatened by this conflict, and the last decade has reinforced that view. […] I’m not the first one to propose this. It would be an attempt to protect US security.

Actually, he may have the distinction of being the first major voice to call for imposing NATO troops on the border of Israel and Palestine … and I would like to see Andrew convince Islamists, moderate or otherwise, that they should not be inflamed by NATO troops enforcing anti-terrorist measures in a new state of Palestine.

One more thing:

One more thing: what universe is Chait living in when he claims that what chunks of Israel have endured lately is anything like the London Blitz?

43,000 Londoners alone were killed in that event in a few months –

Correction: 43,000 in the whole Blitz. Half of them from London, according to Wikipedia.

let alone the carnage in Coventry and the rest of the country. My own family lived in houses that were assailed from the skies – and a million homes were demolished. In one day, in the last assault, 1,364 people were killed and 1,616 were seriously injured.

Hmm. He’s obviously looked at Wikipedia for these stats, since the last sentence above has … similarities to one in the entry on The Blitz. I know it’s not university anymore, Andrew, but don’t forget: attribution.

My own mother as a child was knocked unconscious; my great aunt was blinded; my grandfather was permanently disabled. Is Chait seriously suggesting that unaimed, largely useless Qassam rockets from Gaza that killed around a score of Israelis, however indefensible, are anything like the terror that Londoners faced in 1940? Or the human toll?

You begin to realize that the sense of deranged beleaguerment many Israelis and some supporters of Israel feel when you read a usually sober and sharp writer like Chait make such absurd comparisons.

Well, I guess it could be a glass-half-full view, that Jon Chait and his Israeli-supporter kinsmen don’t know real air-fire suffering like the kind Sullivan’s elders experienced during the London Blitz. Those ordinary men and women of valor went about their daily business, with a stiff upperlip, proud of their stoicism and apparently — in Sullivan’s mind — reconciled to the possibility of becoming another statistic and without ever being gleeful about having to support a war crime, like the carpet bombing of Germany.

But Chait’s ambitions for this point of comparison look much smaller than Sullivan’s. Chait wrote:

As for the rest of these events – yes, Israel’s polity has taken a disturbing rightward tilt over the last several years, which I attribute mostly to large chunks of its population living in London Blitz-like conditions for extended stretches.

Chait maybe should have closed the tiny gap between his words “living” and “conditions,” but he still seemed to mean the fearful uncertainty of rockets, mortars and missiles (not just Qassam rockets, Andrew), the regular fight-or-flight reaction to the siren system and the wearying time spent in bomb shelters.

Chait’s comparison, I think, referred to the perceptions of people living under intermittent bombs, not the human and material cost of the war. I doubt Londoners hiding in a basement would be calling to make sure the statistical reports from the other side of the city were high enough for the day, so that it was officially not gauche for their family to feel despair in their own basement (or to moan about it without feeling humbled by what the Armenians endured at the hands of the Turks). Being in the basement and waiting until a bombing raid was (hopefully) over, seems to be miserable in itself.

… Isn’t the corollary to Sullivan’s argument that to be an Israeli in Sderot was not to live in a constant war zone, since only “unaimed, largely useless Qassam rockets” were falling about? Unlike the Londoners in the year of the Blitz, you can just take your chances and go about your ordinary life, trying to enjoy it … Quasams without bomb shelters are probably no more dangerous than unprotected sex.

Again, the reason why people didn’t die in Sderot is because when you make it under concrete, you don’t likely get maimed or killed. On your way there, your body is very vulnerable to shrapnel from the rocket and whatever it hits. Qassam rockets are neither “unaimed” nor “largely useless.”

And BTW, for all the Londoners experienced, England did not call Germans and tell them to leave their houses in 15 minutes for the counter-attack. And for that matter, Israelis did not support a retaliatory carpet bombing of Gaza — despite what Mr. Goldstone and Mr. Sullivan might want to think.

So I think this is a sad, desperate mischaracterization of Chait’s words, to identify within him a “deranged beleaguerment many Israelis and some supporters of Israel feel.” Such a diagnosis seems to involve a fair amount of chutzpah, when one asks whether Sullivan’s writing lately makes a good case that he’s never suffered from the sense of deranged beleaguerment many detractors and some enemies of Israel feel. Among other things, Andrew has sent his own posts back in time to serve in his self-defense, and thinks the Gaza operation was actually an attempt to “pre-emptively tr[y] to kill Obama’s attempt to reach out to the Muslim world.”

Andrew, stop hitting yourself.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: