Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Never Fire Your Best Polemicist If Your Dork Quotient Is More than 30%

"Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line." "Never call your own website 'poor and stupid'." "Never play poker with a man called 'Doc'." "Never eat at a place called 'Mom's'." "Never use vodka to try to remove bloodstains from white linen." "Never get involved in a land war in Asia."

And now we have another one: If the dork quotient of your magazine is more than 30%, never, ever, ever, fire your best polemicist:

Anderson watches the unleashed Spencer Ackerman in action. It is a thing of beauty, in its own way:

Thus Blogged Anderson.: Beware of firing your polemicist: The New Republic's decision to fire Spencer Ackerman cannot possibly have done anything positive for their subscription numbers. Besides which, if you thought Paul O'Neill talked bad about his former boss, you ain't seen nothin' yet:

Among the most annoying of TNR tropes is the flight to meta-analysis as soon as the recognition dawns that the magazine can't win an argument. And here, it pains and saddens me to say, TNR embraces it like a security blanket. First, TNR concedes that nothing it can possibly desire is likely to occur: "The U.S. presence in Iraq will not last long. Perhaps this new political reality will serve as shock therapy, scaring Iraq's warring factions into negotiations that can prevent the worst sectarian warfare. But perhaps not." The "perhaps not" is an intellectual prophylactic: it changes the subject before one can ask what in the world the U.S. could tell the Sunnis and the Shiites that could make them believe that that their interests are better served by peace than by war. If TNR has any idea what it means by this, it has an obligation to say so. But -- and, my friends, I can tell you, because I went to those Thursday editorial meetings for years -- these people have no idea what they mean....

Then, finally, comes the coup de grace. Now that TNR has dispensed with its empty attempt to discuss what ought to be done about Iraq, it comes to the real question:

[A]s we pore over the lessons of this misadventure, we do not conclude that our past misjudgments warrant a rush into the cold arms of "realism." Realism, yes; but not "realism." American power may not be capable of transforming ancient cultures or deep hatreds, but that fact does not absolve us of the duty to conduct a foreign policy that takes its moral obligations seriously. As we attempt to undo the damage from a war that we never should have started, our moral obligations will not vanish, and neither will our strategic needs.

Please believe me when I say that this makes me want to cry.... This is the emptiest of evasions -- a fetishization of "seriousness" without ever actually being serious. In one of my last pieces for them, I wrote that "Faced with a disastrous war, the most important consideration is not 'Were we wrong?' but 'Why were we wrong?' and 'How can we avoid being so wrong in the future?'" I begged TNR during my time there to address these last questions. But now it's dawned on me that my former friends never will.

Ouch.

Anderson does not see Spencer Ackerman's reaction to Frank Foer's turning TNR into a clipping service for the Weekly Standard

toohotfortnr: Hey, Frank, great editing, buddy. You really are a credit to the magazine, and I'm a total dick. Here's what you let Bob Kagan write for you this week:

Some claim that we don't have 50,000 troops to send to Iraq. In fact, the troops are available. Sending additional forces to Iraq means lengthening troop rotations, as the United States has done in previous major conflicts. Sustaining such an increased deployment, however, will require a substantial increase in the overall size of the Army and Marines. This increase, which does not require a draft but does require money, is necessary regardless of what we do in Iraq. It is stunning that this administration has attempted to fight two wars and has envisioned other possible interventions with a force clearly inadequate for these global commitments.

And here's what he wrote with Bill Kristol this very week:

Those who claim that it is impossible to send 50,000 more troops to Iraq, because the troops don't exist, are wrong. The troops do exist. But it is also true that the Army and Marines are stretched, and that this new deployment needs to be accompanied by rapid steps to increase the overall size of American ground forces. For six years, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to acknowledge that his vision of the American military of the future did not match the present reality of American military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world. We trust the new secretary of defense will understand the necessity of dealing urgently with the manpower crisis in our military.

Hey, I didn't know you wanted to turn TNR into a Weekly Standard clip service. You're totally up there with Kinsley and Hertzberg!

Ouch.

Anderson does not see Spencer Ackerman's reaction to Marty Peretz:

toohotfortnr: civilized man, you were keeper to me -- now your animal is free, and you're free to die: Marty [Peretz] writes:

Even the bare rudiments of civilization will not soon come back to the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates.

That's exactly right. The Iraqi civil war will be fought with rocks and sticks. Imagine the danger if they realized how to harness fire! Lucky for us that the savages have not learned how to use the wheel...

Ouch.

Or to Leon Wieseltier:

toohotfortnr: bow down, bow down -- God will infest you with maggots, my son: Oh, Leon! Why? You studied under Sir Isaiah! How could you ever, ever, write this line:

For three-and-a-half years, the Iraqis have been a free people.

You knew him and I didn't. But I daresay Isaiah Berlin would have upbraided you for saying this. No, my friend, chaos is not freedom, the Iraqis were never free, and as Becker and Fagan put it, only a fool would say that.

Ouch.

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