Jul 24, 2007

Jonah Goldberg redux in the Los Angeles Times

Jonah Goldberg, one of the trio of second-rate conservative voices that the Los Angeles Times management foisted upon us last year, has again done one of his attacks on “liberal hypocrisy,” by cherry picking a line from a Democratic personage–in this case Barack Obama’s remarks reported by the Associated Press the other day.

Goldberg Starts off his column with the assertion that “Barack Obama says preventing genocide isn't a good enough reason to stay in Iraq.” Then he quotes the July 20th AP story by Philip Elliot, which was headlined “Obama: Don't Stay in Iraq Over Genocide.”

Here’s the AP quote Goldberg uses:
"By that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now -- where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife -- which we haven't done," he told the Associated Press. "We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven't done. Those of us who care about Darfur don't think it would be a good idea."
Goldberg tries to make a connection between the Darfur situation and “the potential genocide” to come in Iraq in order to show how Obama has done a typical hypocritical move, and by asserting that “ Liberals used to be the ones who argued that sending U.S. troops abroad was a small price to pay to stop genocide; now they argue that genocide is a small price to pay to bring U.S. troops home.”

Forget the rhetorical balance of that sentence. Creating a catchy phrase is one sure way of making the distortion memorable. Unfortunately that’s not what Obama said or meant, and by writing this Goldberg only shows how much he wants to distort Obama's views. It is clear that Obama was making a very logical point that appears to elude Goldberg: that staying in Iraq merely to prevent genocide is not
sufficient reason for staying at all. The “300,000" figure was obviously meant to underscore the absurdity of the thinking. And it did.

Further, Obama is quite conscious of the fact that withdrawing precipitously from Iraq may increase the violence, and indeed even the AP article makes that clear: “Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, said it's likely there would be increased bloodshed if U.S. forces left Iraq.” It seems to me that all of the Democratic and Republican candidates are saying the same thing, not to mention the vast majority of the rest of Congress, the punditocracy, and all of the administration.

Of course, it might be too much of an intellectual challenge for Goldberg to establish a context of Obama's remarks, or to point out that he called for diplomacy along with the withdrawal. But of course, Goldberg actually might have to
think about what Obama is saying if he paid attention to what Obama said. Let’s look at the AP story a bit further to show how Goldberg is twisting context to fit his argument.

First, he refers to Bill Clinton’s misleading statements on his–Clinton’s-- administration not being aware of the genocide in Rwanda, when clearly the phrase had been used in administration discussions, based on 2004 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents. This is a red herring. Goldberg is trying to smear Obama with Clinton’s misleading statements, merely because they are of the same political party. The Clinton false statement has nothing to do with Obama’s.

Second, Goldberg further mentions that Obama called for military intervention in Darfur two years ago and refers to another
Times columnist, Niall Ferguson, to back him up, picking up on the charge made by Republicans that Obama is “flip-flopping.” But in the AP piece, Obama clearly indicates he is against unsanctioned US deployment of troops in Darfur, which does not necessarily mean that African Union, UN, or NATO troops (perhaps including US troops under NATO or UN command), shouldn’t assist in Darfur: "We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven't done,” said Obama. “Those of us who care about Darfur don't think it would be a good idea," he said. Obama were contradicting his position.

Yet, Goldberg fails to mention Obama’s comment. Of course: he doesn’t have much of a point if he shows that he understands what Obama said. Or perhaps--and it wouldn't surprise me, since Goldberg has done it before and will continue to do so--he just decided to ignore the rest of the information and run with the AP headline and a selected quote, then extrapolate to the point of misrepresentation.

Last, and here is where Goldberg reveals his partisan intentions, who has established that increased violence in Iraq after an American retreat would in fact result in “genocide”? Who’s creating this idea to start with?

Certainly the current level of internecine violence, whether arising from insurgents versus collaborators, family or tribal feuds, sectarian, intra-sectarian, jihadist impulses, or, as much as I do not want to say it, but must, gratuitous American violence against civilians or–that ugly euphemism–collateral damage, has been fierce and violent. What accounts for the sudden eruption into worse violence if deaths cause by Americans are taken out of the equation? You know, most of the American press and the administration have never given credence to the two surveys conducted under the Johns-Hopkins School of Public Health auspices and published in The Lancet, though both studies had been shown to be based on solid statistical research methods. In fact, they are the same survey methods employed by the United Nations in making estimates of deaths in Rwanda and Darfur for the conditions we have called “genocide.”

Why should the American withdrawal be the magic ingredient that turns the internal violence of occupation, insurgency, guerrilla tactics and what is essentially a civil war into “genocide?” If anywhere from 100,000 to 1,000,000 (maybe more) Iraqis (including women, children, infants, non-combatants) have already been killed in the Iraq War, over and above normal death rates, why is it that the term “genocide” is being used now to refer to the violence that may or may not occur after the US withdraws?

Goldberg quotes a new study from the Brookings Institution predicting a “humanitarian nightmare" in which we should expect "hundreds of thousands (conceivably even millions) of people to die." (As if we don’t already have an humanitarian nightmare as the result of our illegal invasion.) He quotes reporter Johns Burns of the New York Times in an interview on Charlie Rose: "It seems to me incontrovertible that the most likely outcome of an American withdrawal any time soon would be cataclysmic violence, and I find that to be widely agreed among Iraqis, including Iraqis who widely opposed the invasion."

What he doesn't write, however, is that for over two years now, a vast majority of the Iraqi people have wanted the US out of the country and continue to regard our presence as the major cause of the violence.

Neither of Goldberg’s expert opinions uses the word “genocide.” (And one would assume that, had he
found the word "genocide" used by either the Brookings Institute or John Burns, Goldberg would have leaped on the quote and used it.)

Who's coming up with the word "genocide"? Well, it is the AP headline writer and editor trying to be critical of Obama, and then Jonah Goldberg taking the headline as his convenient springboard into distortion; they are the ones who use the word “genocide” in order to get some emotional play, in order to score the cheap point that Obama is apparently "soft" on genocide, making a "liberal flip."

Now, I am not a big fan of Obama or any of the leading Democratic contenders. But after studying this matter, I can see, even despite the critical slanted presentation of the AP article and the critical opinion piece of Goldberg, that Obama has a practicality and consistency that one can appreciate.

Los Angeles Times does not do well by its readers to continue to publish Goldberg. His opinions are slyly distorted and too selective to have credibility. It’s about time the LAT gave him his pink slip and recruited one of their better and more reliable writers for the opinion page. How about Tim Rutten? Or, heaven forfend, as someone used to say, bring back Robert Scheer.

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