Giuliani's Unhinged Adviser

Ian Buruma
Rudy Giuliani, in his campaign for the US presidency, has taken [Norman Podhoretz] on as a foreign policy adviser. Those who think the Iraqi disaster has killed the influence of neoconservativism should follow Giuliani's campaign with interest.
And here are some of the notions NoPod, from his recent book, "World War IV" is feeding Mr. Giuliani:
He describes the dispute between opponents of Bush's war and its defenders as "no less bloody than the one being fought by our troops in the Middle East," indeed as "nothing less than a kind of civil war." I myself was opposed to the war, and do not always hold tender feelings for my intellectual opponents, but I hardly think of our differences as comparable to the burning of Atlanta or the battle of Fallujah....

Podhoretz still argues that the Bush administration's claims [that Saddam was in league with al Qaeda] were at least partly true. As evidence, he quotes the Senate Intelligence Committee's assessment that, in Podhoretz's words, "Al Qaeda had in fact had a cooperative, if informal, relationship with Iraqi agents working under Saddam." This is flimsy. Cultivating such informal relationships is what agents do. In any case, a declassified report from the Senate Intelligence Committee in September 2006 showed, according to The Washington Post, that "intelligence analysts were strongly disputing the alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda while senior Bush administration officials were publicly asserting those links to justify invading Iraq."

Was there even chance that [Saddam would use chemo weapons] , if the US didn't go to war against him first? Podhoretz still believes that there was. [emphasis added]. British intelligence, he says, had assured the CIA that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy enriched uranium from the African country of Niger." In fact, there was no evidence that any transaction ever took place. Suggestions to the contrary were based on forged documents. And the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded: "The language in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that 'Iraq also began vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake' overstated what the Intelligence Community knew about Iraq's possible procurement attempts..."

The problem is not Bush, the "great president," or Rumsfeld, Cheney, or anyone in the US government. On the contrary, Podhoretz is convinced that the savage murders and daily atrocities in Iraq are actually "a tribute to the enormous strides that had been made in democratizing and unifying the countr under a workable federal system." He wonders why men in the "so-called 'insurgency'" would be shedding so much blood if they didn't think the US mission in Iraq was working...

If anyone is to blame, in Podhoretz's view, for setbacks in our war against Islamofascism, it isn't Bush, but Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, Norman Mailer, and those campus guerrillas of the "hard Left..." But even if Podhoretz were correct about the leftist distrust of US benevolence and the rightist distrust of everything foreign, these opinions didn't cut much ice when President Bush decided to go to war. They were marginal voices at best, reduced to the odd shouting match on television, and barely heard in the mainstream press.

This is not how Podhoretz sees it, however. Spooked by his obsession with elitist and anti-Israel traitors undermining American power, he seriously proposes that US television was "drowning us with material presenting Islam in glowing terms. Worse, "the media," including such august organs as The New York Times, had cloaked themselves in a dangerous "stance of neutrality" between "America and its Islamofascist enemies," which "logically implied that the two were morally equivalent." The only exception, Podhoretz concedes, was the Fox network. I remember watching a great deal of American television in 2003, as well as reading the papers. My impression was not that the media produced "an antiwar and in many cases anti-American stance as an alternative to the pro-American Fox." In fact, such an impression strikes me as unhinged [Emphasis added].

Exactly. The views NoPod holds are screaming yellow bonkers. They are out there with Lyndon LaRouche, Rushdoony, the Heaven's Gate cult, and the Flat Earth Society. And Giuliani, a leading Republican presidential candidate, depends on this purveyor of unhinged, crackpot, reality-lacking notions for advice on foreign policy. Even assuming he has other other foreign policy advisers, which he surely does, it is an indication of how unhinged Giuliani is himself that he respects NoPod's opinion enough to pay him to repeat them.

Folks, Buruma's evisceration of Podheretz's book is the way to talk about really bad ideas and really bad proposals. You don't dignify sheer nonsense - as Dr. Biddle did in outlining his presumptively "non-polemical" case for the surge - you dismiss it as unworthy of serious consideration.

Any other approach enhances the status of those bad ideas. This country does not have the luxury to entertain idiocy as if it is reasonable. And it requires both politicians and intellectuals with the courage and strength of character to label a bad idea as unhinged even if it is being vigorously pursued by the president of the United States.

One more observation, not about NoPod, but Richard Perle, whom Buruma quotes which illustrates the genuine danger of permitting crackpots to influence a president and his administration:
I think if I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, "Should we go into Iraq?," I think now I probably would have said, "No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists."
Most folks, including Buruma focus on the "Delphic," where Perle assures everyone he's not an hallucinating young girl. But instead, note the last sentence. It can be read two ways. Firstly, as a colloquial way of expressing alarm that Saddam might be supplying wmd to terrorists. Or it can be read literally as an assertion of fact, namely that Saddam is supplying weapons to terrorists.

You think most folks who hear Perle say things like that will pick up the first reading? You think someone like Perle will hasten to clarify exactly what he meant? Hell, you think Perle is even clear-headed enough to tell the difference between a fear and fact?

That's why you don't propagate sheer garbage like "the chance of success is a long shot but greater than zero" and deem such arguments "defensible" when they clearly aren't. Because people start to take sheer nonsense seriously. And that's why truly first-rate minds don't mince words when they encounter truly bad ideas and reasoning that are embraced by the powerful.