Posted by Brad @ 8:49 pm on March 4th 2013

In Defense of Radicalism

In more 10 year Iraq anniversary navel gazing, Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on his own stance circa 2003. Namely, that all the respectable folks thought war was a good idea, so who were these idiots and cranks protesting against it? He was a liberal hawk who bought into the idea – as many of us did at the time – that people that against the grain of conventional wisdom must be by definition unserious.

I say all this to say that if I regret anything it is my pose of powerlessness — my lack of faith in American democracy, my belief that the war didn’t deserve my hard thinking or hard acting, my cynicism. I am not a radical. But more than anything the Iraq War taught me the folly of mocking radicalism. It seemed, back then, that every “sensible” and “serious” person you knew — left or right — was for the war. And they were all wrong. Never forget that they were all wrong. And never forget that the radicals with their drum circles and their wild hair were right.

Rojas and I did a lot of arguing (against other people) at that time, and I think that impulse bubbled up in both of us as well. And, of course, a lot of those radicals were NOT right – a lot really deserved they scorn they got. As did elements of, say, the Ron Paul movement.

But, I think the lesson I learned, that Coates alludes to, isn’t so much the value of radicals – many of whom are almost by definition wrong more than they’re right (although, when real change comes, it’s usually through them, but that’s another post). Really, it’s the tendency to defer to the “sensible” and the “serious” people, and to let the boundaries of the debate be defined for you.


  1. Not sure what you’re referring to in our argumentation. I was against the war, but narrowly; I gave the arguments in favor of it more credence than they perhaps deserved, because I operated on the assumption that they were being made in good faith and on accurate information.

    A lot of the “radicals” to which Coates refers were arguing against US hegemony as an evil in itself, or on the grounds that all resource wars must be opposed, or operating on the assertion that the entire thing was a front for either Haliburton or the MIC. Those were bad arguments then and still are today.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/4/2013 @ 10:16 pm

  2. I was a couple of miles from shore at the discharge of the Shatt al Arab still in the belief that chemical weaponized artillery might hit us, mines were everywhere and that suicide zodiacs were on the way any day now. And also thinking that if we didn’t find WMD we were really really really gonna look stupid. Man, the propaganda racing around the internal email of that ship! Jingoistic, triumphalist, ignorant nonsense. Like the worst shit your crazy right wing uncle sends to his entire email address book. I wan;t really in a position to debate the rightness or wrongness of the war, but I had serious doubts, and swear to god if felt like I was an endangered species in that regard.

    Comment by Jack — 3/4/2013 @ 11:34 pm

  3. Coates was soporific. Anyone who read Buchanan’s “Whose War?” or heard he or Scott Ritter or Ray McGovern well before the war..or was actually following things and knew Powell and Rice had all through 2002 told everyone that Saddam had no WMDS and was contained in a box-then had changed their story on cue, knew who the cue ultimately came from….

    People like Feith, Wolfowitz, Perle, iow
    Israeli loyalists. The same kind of folks calling for war against Iran right now.

    Comment by truthteller — 3/5/2013 @ 5:26 pm

  4. When you say “Israeli loyalists” do you mean “having greater loyalty to their state of Israel than the U.S.” or merely “gives excessive deference to the preferred policy positions of Likudnick Israel than to other allies” or what? I tend to see the 2002-2003 neocon positions as driven less by treasonous disloyalty and than by confirmation bias and an overabundance of confidence in military solutions and American exceptionalism.

    And as for Powell, I honestly think he got duped, both by the BS evidence and his trust in the untrustworthy.

    Comment by Jack — 3/5/2013 @ 7:35 pm

  5. Powell’s cheif aide Greg Thielmann resigned the day before the speech and said Powell was aware he was going to lie. Ray McGovern has also established guilt if you research his columns on Powell.
    As for your analysis of the motives of dual loyalists, you might have a job in the mainstream you wish to keep. As Larison pointed out a few days ago,in TAC, until very recently you couldn’t be honest about the subject publically if you wanted to keep one.

    Comment by truthteller — 3/6/2013 @ 8:38 pm

  6. I think you are distorting the evidence and statements. Theilmann wasn’t Powell’s “chief aide” he was an acting bureau chief, and he has indicated that he was not the one interacting with Powell. In his after the fact interviews he is essentially giving second or third hand accounts of what Carl Ford or Armitage were briefing to Powell, and only that they relayed doubt about the accuracy of the Iraqi WMD program evidence. Again, this looks a lot like a lot of people wearing blinders, falling prey to excessive group think, and extending personal trust to those whoe probably didnt deserve it, rather than a cabal of sinister liars.

    The nature of your accusation is a bit odd, in that the Bush administration was stuffed with neocons, but you only name the Jewish ones and use pretty aggressive language about their loyalty, but won’t answer the question about what you mean by that.

    daveg lives.

    Comment by Jack — 3/7/2013 @ 10:18 am

  7. “to this day he has resisted providing any comprehensive explanation of his deceptive speech or admitting that the invasion of Iraq was wrong.

    Powell has limited himself to some handwringing about how the speech was a “blot” on his record, not that it contributed to the unnecessary deaths of nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. He still insists that the war was justified.”

    I don’t give a man like this the benefit of the doubt. Neither does McGovern, though he is more charitable in maintaining formal neutrailty while citing many reasons not to remain so.

    Your potential weasel-wording about dual loyalty is too awkward even to sort out your motives
    in using the semantics you do. However i do reccomend consulting the debate between James Petras and Norman Finklestein on that very subject. I of course take Petras’ side, while still having a certain admiration for Finklestein.

    Comment by truthteller — 3/7/2013 @ 4:57 pm

  8. Right, I’m being weasel working but you, the bold truthteller, bravely refuse to answer the question. Well done Sir Robin. Your quote adds nothing, it merely expresses the opinion of McGovern, it does not in anyway contradict the information and evidence I provided. So far:
    1. You have mis-classified Theilmann’s job.
    2. You have glosssed over Thielmann’s actual lack of contact with and first hand knowledge of Powell’s motives and awareness of the intel weakness.
    3. You have refused to explain why you only listed the Jewish neocons in the Bush administration.
    4. You have refused to clarify you accusation of disloyalty.
    5. You have implied some sort of “motive” for my word choice.
    You are not even trying to debate in good faith.

    Comment by Jack — 3/7/2013 @ 7:30 pm

  9. Also, linking to a 911 truther site the seeks the complete elimination of the nation of Israel (“a malignant tumor”) while hyping the heroism of Che Guevera, Karl Marx, and Abdul Nasser is just showing your true colors. A whole lot of crazy in there.

    Comment by Jack — 3/7/2013 @ 7:48 pm

  10. Uh uh….you seem to be willing to settle for Bandustans-the Palestinians aren’t. Thus the tumor will eventually require surgery.
    McGovern doesn’t “contradict?” No, he offers better evidence to the contrary.
    Thielmann didn’t have “first hand knowledge of Powell’s awareness?”
    Wow, that was quite a career move,resigning just before the speech in such a manner as to cast direct suspicion about Powell’s integrity-which of course it would have, ala Robin Cook’s resignation, had the United States anything like a civic-oriented populace, contrasted also by the UK’s overt disdain of Blair and the (at least) mock trials showing his criminality. Petras did the clarification of disloyalty, so if you didn’t read it.

    James Petras: Let me finish my last comment. I think when the Pentagon offices are flooded, like a crowded bordello on Saturday night, with Israeli intelligence officers, crowding out even members of their own Pentagon staff – full of Mossad, full of Israeli generals, in the making of Iraq policy, I don’t think you can say that they are ‘just any old Pentagon officials’. I think you can’t dismiss the fact that Feith, Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams have a lifetime commitment to putting Israel’s interests as their prime consideration in the Middle East. I think it is absurd to think that somehow they just happen to be right-wing policy makers that happen to support a militarist policy. Wolfowitz designed the program. Feith put together the Office of Special Plans, the policy board that fabricated the information for the Iraq war. They were constantly consulting on a day-day, hour-to-hour basis with the Israeli government. This has absolutely been documented a hundred times and I think it is impossible to deny this and say ‘Well, you can’t deduce policy from ethnic affiliations.” Yes, you can! When that ethnic group puts forward a position that puts the primacy of a foreign government at the center of their foreign policy and prejudices the lives of thousands of Americans…its economic interests in the area…then it’s absurd to say, ‘These are a bunch of irrational policy-makers.”

    Comment by truthteller — 3/8/2013 @ 6:17 pm

  11. Look, some of your views are pretty clear (the anti Jewish Illuminati-type conspiracy nonsense) but the rest I have to just sort of infer from your preferred sources, but I feel on pretty safe ground guessing your antisemtic 911 truther socialist. About cover it? Get bent.

    Comment by Jack — 3/8/2013 @ 6:32 pm

  12. Buchanan also nails dual loyalty.

    It doesn’t matter whether Bush or the dual loyalists convinced themselves they were doing God’s work. They lied to the populace about Saddam’s WMDs, Bush by cherrypicking, knowingly the intelligence as he presented it to the populace, the dual loyalists by playing key roles in formulating it.

    Nope, not MIHOP. Agree with Ron Paul…”the worst of a bad” array of lobbyists were key in causing the policy which caused the blowback.

    But Raimondo’s LIHOP “9-11 Terror Enigma” is fairly persuasive also. That would be hard-core libertarian Raimondo who says the Zionists were aware and following the Arabs closely.

    Comment by truthteller — 3/9/2013 @ 4:07 pm

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