Using Character Smears To Prevent Foreign Policy Discussions

Many Bush followers are enraged over a provocative new report by two of America's leading academicians -- University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer and Harvard Professor (and academic dean) Stephen Walt. According to this UPI article, the report contains “a searing attack on the role and power of Washington's pro-Israel lobby . . . , warning that its 'decisive' role in fomenting the Iraq war is now being repeated with the threat of action against Iran.” The report also argues:

Saying that Israel and the U.S. are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around. Support for Israel is not the only source of anti-American terrorism, but it is an important one, and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. There is no question that many al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are motivated by Israel's presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians. Unconditional support for Israel makes it easier for extremists to rally popular support and to attract recruits.

The greatest crime in the neoconservative universe is to criticize Israeli policy or, worse, discuss and express concern about the influence on American foreign policy of neoconservatives and/or its principal American lobbying group, AIPAC. Since Mearsheimer and Walt have committed this grave sin, it is time for the punishment, which begins -- as it always does for this crime -- with a nice, oozing dose of character smear, courtesy of the likes of Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds, Powerline, and The New York Sun (The Weekly Standard can't be far behind).

Using character smears to prevent foreign policy discussions

Many Bush followers are enraged over a provocative new report by two of America's leading academicians -- University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer and Harvard Professor (and academic dean) Stephen Walt. According to this UPI article, the report contains “a searing attack on the role and power of Washington's pro-Israel lobby . . . , warning that its 'decisive' role in fomenting the Iraq war is now being repeated with the threat of action against Iran.” The report also argues:


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Saying that Israel and the U.S. are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around. Support for Israel is not the only source of anti-American terrorism, but it is an important one, and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. There is no question that many al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are motivated by Israel's presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians. Unconditional support for Israel makes it easier for extremists to rally popular support and to attract recruits.

The greatest crime in the neoconservative universe is to criticize Israeli policy or, worse, discuss and express concern about the influence on American foreign policy of neoconservatives and/or its principal American lobbying group, AIPAC. Since Mearsheimer and Walt have committed this grave sin, it is time for the punishment, which begins -- as it always does for this crime -- with a nice, oozing dose of character smear, courtesy of the likes of Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds, Powerline, and The New York Sun (The Weekly Standard can't be far behind).

The New York Sun kicked off the smearing yesterday with a very lengthy, breathless article entitled “David Duke Claims to be Vindicated by a Harvard Dean.” Apparently, the fact that the utterly inconsequential David Duke expressed support for some of Mearsheimer and Walt's conclusions is highly newsworthy -- meriting an endless article in The New York Sun -- because, well . . . isn't obvious why? Because Professors Mearsheimer and Walt, by virtue of the report they issued, are now evil racists who are the equivalent of David Duke. No need to listen to or think about any of the arguments they advance. After all, they're just a couple of thinly disguised KKK members who are motivated by racial hatred, so we should vent some hatred towards them and then ignore everything they say.

Following along with the character smearing script is, first, Alan Dershowitz, who, in the Sun article, calls the report “trash,” says that it could have been written by “some of the less intelligent members of Hamas,” and obligatorily insists that the report “sounds very similar” to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the anti-Semitic tract from the early 20th Century. To make sure there is no confusion about what he means, Dershowitz calls Mearsheimer and Walt “two bigots.” Following along, as always, Instapundit links to The New York Sun article and adds his own character smear:

YALE HAS ITS TALIBAN, HARVARD HAS DAVID DUKE:

By this “reasoning,” if a racist like David Duke supports one of your views or says anything complimentary about your argument, it means that you, too, are a racist, and are the equivalent of David Duke. Let's take that "reasoning" and apply it to some other examples.

Many Republicans and conservatives share all kinds of views with overt white supremacists, including their shared vigorous opposition to immigration, affirmative action and gay rights. If Mearsheimer and Walt are now to be branded as racists and anti-Semites simply by virtue of David Duke's agreement with some of their arguments, wouldn't that same rationale compel the conclusion that anyone espousing anti-immigration, anti-gay equality, or anti-affirmative action views ought to be labelled the equivalent of the Aryan Brotherhood by virtue of the latter's embrace of those same positions?

And then there is this Village Voice article -- entitled “Conservatives, White Supremacists Take to the Florida Streets” -- which details the support given to the Bush campaign during the recount fight by the Florida White Supremacist group Stormfront. Its leader, former KKK Grand Wizard Donald Black, said that "he is counseling fellow 'pro-white' extremists to show up to support Bush."

By the reasoning of Instapundit and The New York Sun, I think it would have been fair to blast headlines all around the country proclaiming “White Supremacists say that Bush supports their agenda” And even now, don't we need to ask why Glenn Reynolds belongs to a political movement so vigorously supported by former KKK members and current heads of racist hate groups? Doesn't this line of thinking lead inexorably to this blog post:

Yale Has its Taliban; University of Tennessee Law School has its Stormfront Member

That sort of guilt-by-agreement reasoning is inane and bankrupt, but there are never any limits when it comes to destroying the reputation of anyone who even dares to address the pernicious and disastrous influence of neoconservatives over U.S. foreign policy. It is a discussion strictly off-limits and the minimum punishment is to be quickly and widely branded as an anti-Semitic bigot, in this case, the moral equivalent of David Duke and Hamas.

This tactic is all the more reprehensible coming, as it does, from a corner of the political universe filled with supporters who enthusiastically wield the very anti-Semitic imagery they claim to decry. One of the favorite tactics of Bush followers is to darkly suggest that lurking behind every anti-Bush or liberal project is the menacing power of George Soros, the Jewish, currency-trading financier who has funded numerous political organizations and campaigns. Bill O'Reilly barely completes a show without hysterically warning of Soros's invisible but omnipotent evil. O'Reilly specifically warned the country that Soros is the “moneyman” who is “insulting Christian America” with his War on Christmas.

In a post from December, 2005, Hunter over at Daily Kos collected a series of quotes from a whole slew of Bush allies, such as O'Reilly, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, The Liberty Counsel, and The Catholic League's William Donahue, declaring that there is a secret movement in America to wage war on Christmas, with O'Reilly, Donahue, and the Liberty Counsel -- joined by David Duke -- expressly blaming that war on Jews. And, of course, O'Reilly infamously told a Jewish caller last December who said that he found O'Reilly' views on Christmas objectionable to "move to Israel."

Why does the Bush Administration attract so many supporters who traffic in such blatant anti-Semitism? What does it say about Powerline that they defend Bill O'Reilly even as he spews this sort of bigotry? And what can we conclude about Glenn Reyonlds and the Powerline buddies that they are part of the same political movement, and support the same President, as those who claim to the country that Jews are waging war on Christianity and Christmas and that lurking behind every political danger is a slippery, Christ-hating, money trading, international financier Jew who wants to feed America drugs and kill off Christianity?

These are the lowly smear tactics which neoconservatives have long used to prevent any discussion of their influence, the wisdom of our current policy towards Israel, or the fact that war neoconservatives have wanted to use military force to re-shape the Middle East long before the 9/11 attacks which they now use as a pretext to justify those policies. Given that many of them still occupy very influential positions in the Bush Administration -- influence which they are attempting to exert over, among other things, America's approach to Iran and to the always critical Israel-Palestinian conflict -- it is unconscionable, and quite dangerous, to allow them to intimidate everyone away from discussing these matters through the cheap, malicious and intellectually lazy use of character smears of bigotry and anti-Semitism.

Michael Kinsley long ago pointed out that the large white elephant in the room when it came to the war in Iraq -- which caused people to tread very lightly, when they were brave enough to raise it at all -- was Israel and the role which that country and its most fervent American supporters played in selling the war to American citizens. There are, to be sure, some anti-Semitic impulses among some people who exploit that connection, just as there are racist impulses among some people who, say, exploit the issue of affirmative action or immigration. But just as someone can oppose affirmative action or immigration without being a racist, so, too, can someone discuss and even oppose the role of Israel and its lobbying efforts in U.S. foreign policy without being a “bigot” or an anti-Semite.

With our little adventure in Iraq become more disastrous and costly by the day, and with the all-too-familiar election year militarism heating up over Iran, this country has some very serious and consequential choices to make about our foreign policy. A substantive and frank discussion is exactly what we did not have leading up to the Iraq War, where war opponents were mocked and smeared and their arguments scorned but not answered. We should not allow the Instapundits and The New York Sun's of the world to drive our country -- again -- into foreign policy debacles through the use of character smear and cheap sloganeering in lieu of adult, meaningful and serious discussions about our foreign policy and the people who are seeking to shape it.

There is much in the conclusions of Mearsheimer and Waltwith which one can reasonably, even vehemently, disagree. But one need not agree with them to recognize the importance of the issues they raise and of the equally important need to be able to discuss them without the smear tactics and personal attacks which, increasingly, have become the only tactic left to Bush followers.

---Glenn Greenwald

----posted by Glenn Greenwald

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