Peter Beinart, still shameless after all these years

Since a new sexy war on Iraq is now being discussed, with “liberal interventionists” like Anne-Marie Slaughter and Samantha Power finally going ahead and collapsing any distinction between themselves and neoconservatism, the old war on Iraq has come up again. There have been, of course, several half-hearted spasms of apologetics from those liberal supporters of the war who, finally shamed by the rivers of blood, had no choice but to admit they were wrong. With some notable exceptions, those apologies were half-apologies, or non-apologies, or exercises in self-aggrandizement, or ways to continue to grind the axe against us left-wing critics of the war who were “right for the wrong reasons,” or similar. But these conversations, at least, were opportunities to talk about American destruction, and the limits of our good intentions, and our habitual collective punishment of the poor and the brown.

Much less discussed is the rhetorical environment in which the last Iraq debate happened, or failed to happen. And that, I can tell you from personal experience, was poisonous, and not just because of conservatives. Liberal hawks worked tirelessly to slander and degrade those of us on the socialist left who were against the war and who were absolutely, unquestionably, unambiguously correct to be. We were worse than wrong, we were naive, objectively pro-Saddam, anti-democracy, complicit in the oppression of the Iraqi people, indifferent before torture and executions, thoroughly anti-American, a fifth column. And the general attitude, from these liberal hawks, was that we were better written out of the conversation altogether than rebutted.

Nobody better exemplified the liberal purge mentality than Peter Beinart, who symbolically cast us out into the wilderness, invoking the Democratic party of 1948– that is, the proto-McCarthyites who redbaited socialists and their sympathizers out of the Democratic party, similar to the way Woodrow Wilson’s Democrats attacked the Socialist Party of America for opposing our entrance into World War I. In a 2006 dialogue with Beinart, Michael Tomasky demonstrated handily that a purge was just what Beinart had been advocating, and what everyone who read him understood him to be asking for, against Beinart’s limp objections. I read Beinart’s piece at the time — “A Fighting Faith,” he called it, which of course meant that he had faith that other people should be doing the fighting — as I read every liberal hawk in Slate and The New Republic and The New York Times and The New Yorker going to war against a left wing that knew America, and the world, far better than they did. And none of us on the anti-war left were under any illusions about what he or they meant.

Today, I read Peter Beinart arguing that we must be open and accommodating  to those Iraq War II hawks, when we talk about Iraq War III. You know. In the spirit of openness and fairness. Because that’s the right thing to do, to engage. To keep the dialogue open to a number of diverse viewpoints. To speak across ideological boundaries as friends. To listen.

Whenever I think it is no longer possible for the shamelessness, self-assurance, and moral cowardice of our national newsmedia to shock me, I am proven wrong.

The headline of that section of the Tomasky-Beinart dialogue is “Punditry Has Consequences.” Which of course is wrong, totally wrong, laughably wrong. We’re seeing how wrong it is today. If you are in favor of war, you will dine in the halls of power forever. If you grease the wheels for warmongers who have been wrong again and again and again, the Atlantic will let you set the table and cook the meal. If you are Peter Beinart, who tried his hardest to exile the people who were most right from the ranks of the respectable, who thought we should all be pushed out of the national conversation, to be purged from his sophisticated debate about who should die and when and why, and who watched as everything we said came true, you can turn around and ask for equanimity for those who were wrong again and again and again, without self-knowledge, without guilt, and without shame. That kind of clueless certitude is more powerful than a cluster bomb.

Hey. Peter. Maybe after you told everybody we shouldn’t get to talk last time, you don’t get to fucking say who gets to talk this time.


  1. If anyone doubts that Beinart was explicitly and unambiguously calling for a purge, please, just read his essay. Again and again, he endorses anticommunism as a road map, and directly endorses the expulsion that was an inherent aspect of that anticommunist effort.

  2. If anything, this may not go far enough, since they weren’t just wrong about something in general, but about recklessly killing thousands of people and displacing millions for literally no good reason. They should be ashamed and shunned not just because they were wrong but because their wrongness was about that. In real life, if someone just decides on a given day to kill or maim someone because of some half-assed idea in his head, we may think he was wrong about the idea, yeah, but we also think he’s a monster who doesn’t care about other people and plays with their lives. And we’re shocked, repelled, and disgusted by him, wanting nothing to do with him. So these guys are wrong but they’re wrong in a particular way, a way which finds it easy to make millions dead, wounded, or miserable because the millions don’t really matter or count. Anybody can be wrong, but it takes a particular kind of sociopath or sick intellectual dilettante to be that wrong.

    1. Very true. What leaps out at me about the “liberal internationalist” set is how much they think they know about Islam, Islamic societies, and Iraq (and Syria). Try to imagine how the people of Northern Ireland would react if, say, the Thai government declared they had been studying sectarian tension in their region assiduously and were sending 50,000 soldiers to stabilize the situation, with the approval of the Queen.

  3. As someone who can be a concern troll on such fights, I just wanted to say that you’d have him dead to rights here. To make the argument he’s making today, he needs not only recant his prior support of the war, but the methods he used to limit the debate. That second recanting has broader implications of course.

  4. Jesus Christ. I just read both of those articles and I’m amazed at the sheer balls on that guy. How about a purge of the goddamned centrists, Big Business shoe-shiners, and warmongers?

  5. “If accurately forecasting the last war were a reliable guide to accurately forecasting the next one, foreign policy would be a lot simpler.”

    So let’s just err on the side of safety and start a war, I guess?

  6. I take your point, but if you’re gonna drum someone out of the conversation because they advocated bloodshed in Iraq, it’s a little weird to also be mad about Communists being drummed out of the Democratic party, seeing as how the Popular Front crowd was pretty thoroughly blood-soaked too.

    1. It’s not weird to point out that a guy who is bow making the case that everyone should be in the conversation is the same guy who was advocating purges.

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