I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A cult of wrongness

Mark Steyn -- the deeply brilliant foreign policy guru and most highly revered neoconservative, Muslim-hating prophet (and favorite of New Republic editor Marty Peretz) -- participated in a National Review "symposium" last December concerning what we should expect in 2006 in the Middle East. Among other things, here is what he wrote:

* Iraq will recede deeper and deeper into the newspaper due to an ongoing lack of bad news.

* Baby Assad will not last the year as Syria's President.

* Osama bin Laden will continue to be dead, and will be confirmed as such.

And, for good measure: "Despite the many obvious defects of congressional Republicans, Democrats will fail to make any gains in November's elections."

In mid-2005, Steyn made virtually the same claims about Iraq:

I think Iraq is on the wane as a domestic policy issue in the US. American troops will be there for some time, but increasingly in a supporting role to the new Iraqi forces.

My bet is that enough of the American people are made of sterner stuff, and that Democrats who continue to argue for retreat – and thus defeat - will find the anti-Iraq drum has less and less resonance. . .

There’ll be other changes with the Iraqis in the driving seat, rather than a Bush Administration that has to keep one eye out on whether Dick Durbin’s going to blubber all over the Senate floor again. . . .I'm also thinking of the Syrian border, where Iraqi troops are much more likely to exercise their right of hot pursuit than the Americans are. This time next year, it could be Iraq destabilizing Syria rather than the other way around.

I'm well aware of this lamentable though blossoming "tradition" where all the pundits playfully issue their little quirky year-end predictions about what is to come -- Person X will lose his job and Person Y will be appointed to that position and so-and-so will win an Academy Award -- and it's really cute and funny when they review their predictions the following year and oh-so-humbly laugh at all their errors, at their "defective crystal ball." A good time is had by all. But that's not what this is.

Steyn is one of those endlessly deceitful propagandists who have been lying for three straight years about what is happening in Iraq -- doing everything he can to assure Americans that the war is going well, that the media is exaggerating the violence, that we are on the precipice of victory, that American cities are more unsafe than Baghdad, that concerns over sectarian violence are nothing more than disguised Bush-hating desires that America lose, etc. etc.

In a rational, fact-based, truth-concerned country, wouldn't someone who said this:

Iraq will recede deeper and deeper into the newspaper due to an ongoing lack of bad news. . . .

. . . and who has been saying essentially the same thing for three years now, publicly present themselves and simply admit: "I am forced by my record of continuous abject wrongness to acknowledge that I actually have no idea what I am talking about and the tiniest amount of shame that I possess therefore precludes me henceforth from ever opining on this topic again, and if I am incapable of adhering to this commitment, I urge you in the strongest terms not to rely upon anything that I say, because my pronouncements have been so blatantly misleading for years"?

And if, as is true in Steyn's case, the person is devoid of even the minimal shame which would compel a public accounting of that sort, wouldn't statements like this lead virtually everyone to agree that the person is a delusional quack, without a shred of reliability or credibility, and cease listening to anything he has to say? And yet . . .

As bizarre as it is, it is simply beyond doubt that when it comes to foreign policy credibility, advocating an extremely stupid and destructive war with false and ill-informed claims is valued more highly than opposing an extremely stupid and destructive war with correct, prescient, and highly informed claims. Advocating a war -- any war -- is always worth more credibility and seriousness than opposing a war. That twisted formula explains a great deal about many things.

The point here is not that the opinions which Steyn expresses are unpersuasive or amoral or extremist (though they are all of that). It's that his statements -- his factual claims -- are repeatedly demonstrated to be pure nonsense, completely false, purely wrong, demonstrably erroneous. And Steyn is by no means alone.

Most of our respected foreign policy analysts and general political pundits -- not to mention our wonderful national "journalists" -- have a rich history of statements over the last four years on Iraq filled with claims just as misleading, inane, and wrong as Steyn's are. And among the crowd who caught the terrorism "fever" (to use Colin Powell and Gerald Ford's accurate term to try to account for what happened to Dick Cheney), the more wrong Steyn is, the more wise and prophet-like he becomes.

That is how our foreign policy debates function. After all, one of the wrongest people on the planet -- Fred Kagan -- is the one whose grand "plan," the Glorious Kagan-Keene Surge, is, according to the most loyal Bush followers, what the President is turning to in order to save us now in Iraq. We've somehow become a country run by a political movement for which Error, Deceit and Wrongness are the highest virtues (and their opposites the greatest vice).

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