Monday, February 13, 2006


William Kristol, idiot or charlatan? (January 12, 2006)

You decide! In a recent editorial against wire-tapping critics, Kristol writes,
No reasonable American, no decent human being, wants to send up a white flag in the war on terror. But leading spokesmen for American liberalism – hostile beyond reason to the Bush administration, and ready to believe the worst about American public servants – seem to have concluded that the terror threat is mostly imaginary. It is the threat to civil liberties from George W. Bush that is the real danger.
Yikes! Kristol implies that concern for civil liberties must imply a disregard for terrorism. Um...can’t we both protect our civil liberties and fight terror? Kristol:
These liberals recoil unthinkingly from the obvious fact that our national security requires policies that are a step (but only a careful step) removed from ACLU dogma.
Of course, this fact is so obvious, it doesn't need explaining. (And you won’t find an explanation for it in this editorial.) Still, if you strip away the rhetoric and false reasoning, Kristol's point is that it's necessary to suspend some civil rights to catch terrorists. An interesting (if not overused) argument that naturally begs some proof. Don't hold your breath. The closest Kristol gets to provide proof is this quote from General Hayden, deputy director of national intelligence:
"This program has been successful in detecting and preventing attacks inside the United States."
How obtaining warrants from FISA, which only requires that an application occur within 72 hours after the wiretap has started, and which generally rubberstamps all requests, would impede the program is not explained. That the details of the program are top secret does, unfortunately, prevent an average citizen (i.e., you or me) from corroborating the facts, but Hayden’s rank should cow us into submission. He is, after all, a general, and you’re not. This should be enough evidence for any reasonable person, implies Kristol, but still – and reluctantly stooping to address liberal arguments – he plows right into the issue that the FISA court provided all the necessary structures to obtain warrants for the wiretaps conducted by the NSA.
Was the president to ignore the evident fact that FISA's procedures and strictures were simply incompatible with dealing with the al Qaeda threat in an expeditious manner? Was the president to ignore the obvious incapacity of any court, operating under any intelligible legal standard, to judge surveillance decisions involving the sweeping of massive numbers of cell phones and emails by high--speed computers in order even to know where to focus resources? Was the president, in the wake of 9/11, and with the threat of imminent new attacks, really supposed to sit on his hands and gamble that Congress might figure out a way to fix FISA, if it could even be fixed? The questions answer themselves.
First, Kristol offers not a single piece of evidence to back his claims, but obliquely refers to another article instead. He then goes on to further his argument with a set of rhetorical questions whose very premises are corrupt. If you’re not retching over your keyboard, you, like me, may be wondering how this crap reaches national prominence. Written with less expository skill than found in your typical college composition essay – using rhetorical questions to make points, offering no evidence to back up his assertions, relying on bias and prejudice in his readership, using slander instead of argument to discredit opposing ideas – this is pure garbage. But remember, this guy has his own magazine! He appears regularly on national news programs! He’s considered an architect of conservative thought! But wait! It gets better.
Back in the 1980s, when I was living in Johannesburg and reporting on apartheid South Africa, a white neighbor proffered a tasteless confession. She was "quite relieved," she told me, that new media restrictions prohibited our reporting on government repression. No matter that Pretoria was detaining tens of thousands of people without real evidence of wrongdoing. No matter that many of them, including children, were being tortured-sometimes to death. No matter that government hit squads were killing political opponents. No matter that police were shooting into crowds of black civilians protesting against their disenfranchisement. "It's so nice," confided my neighbor, "not to open the papers and read all that bad news."
What th – ?? In an attempt to mock liberal "hysteria," which forces us to compare the Bush administration to repressive regimes like South Africa, he seems to argue for the leftists. Why...yes! Now that you mention it, there are remarkable similarities between apartheid South Africa and the Bush administration! Let's see..."detaining tens of thousands of people"...the legal and immigrant aliens of Middle East descent here in the US, and an untold number of Iraqis in Iraq...check. "...Without real evidence of wrongdoing...": double check. "No matter that many of them, including children, were being tortured – sometimes to death": check (detainees under 18 exist at Guantamano). "No matter that government hit squads were killing political opponents...": contractors are notorious in Iraq for this stuff, check. "No matter that police were shooting into crowds of...civilians protesting against their disenfranchisement...": how many did US troops kill firing into protests during the early part of the occupation? Check. And Kristol's neighbor, the white woman who was glad new media restrictions were placed on newspapers so that no bad news would appear, who is she supposed to be? The liberals? Or the right-wing Bush supporters who organize fabricated question-and-answer sessions with the Great Leader? So, is Kristol an idiot, "A foolish or stupid person," or a charlatan, "A person who makes elaborate, fraudulent, and often voluble claims to skill or knowledge; a quack or fraud"? I wish we could have honest, open debate about these issues. A fella can dream, can't he?
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