Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Open Letter to David Frum

After listening to the BloggingHeads.tv diavlog between Robert Wright and David Frum, I was moved to put a little effort into responding, in the form of an open letter to Mr. Frum. I got some compliments from the tough crowd that makes up the BH.tv commenting regulars, an occasion so exceedingly rare that I thought I'd celebrate with a little shameless self-promotion. So, if you'd like to read my screed, here it is. (Update: or just scroll down -- I added a copy of it to the end of this post.)

With the exception of the first paragraph -- an inside joke -- I don't think you'll need to have watched the diavlog to get the context of my remarks. But of course, the video is available. Click here and it'll start playing automatically, a few seconds after the page loads. An audio-only link is also available, on the same page. Just stop the video and scroll down a little -- it's in the right-hand column.

You can comment on my comment on the BH.tv site if you're willing to register (painless and free) or you can come back here. (But see Update, below.)

Piscivorous: if you're reading this, I really am sorry.


2008-08-01 00:55

Fixed link to forum posting. BH.tv changed over their forum software in the time since I posted the open letter, which means it appears in an archive section of the site. You can still read the letter, but if you want to comment on it, it might be a little tricky to leave it over there, under the old thread. And even if you manage to do so, the odds are no one else will ever see your comment. So, probably best to comment on it here, as of today. Thanks.


2008-11-19 08:19

Decided to copy and paste the contents of the original forum post, since this is the second time I've referred to it from elsewhere on my blog.

Here's your test data, Bob: Asparagus. I'll ask you to forward this to Mr. Frum. Maybe *he'd* like to fork over the fifty bucks, in the spirit of sharing the benefits of the tax cuts his president pushed through.

I see by some of the comments already posted that not everyone made it through to the end. I'm not sure why I did. But I did, and here are my reactions, expressed as an open letter to David Frum.


Dear Mr. Frum:

One of the reasons that I listened to the entire diavlog, and have done so the other times you've appeared on BH.tv, is that I do respect your intellect. I try very hard not to reject out of hand political viewpoints so at odds with my own, especially if those viewpoints sound original to the speaker.

Having listened to the whole thing, then, I feel confident in stating that your supposed "rethinking" about the Iraq invasion is very hard to distinguish from anything I've heard you say in the past. How, exactly, has anything changed with you? As far as I can tell, you aren't doing anything other than looking for a new way to rephrase the "bad planning/bad execution/bad selling job" meme. Maybe you think you said more than that, but that's not what I heard, and believe me, I listened -- I was hoping that you would apologize as handsomely as Andrew Sullivan did, and I was looking for any evidence to support that hope. By the way, I'll point out you've had considerably more time to see the light; Sullivan's mea culpa came more than eighteen months ago, when it was less obvious that Iraq was lost.

You don't get to keep blaming it all on Bush, Mr. Frum. You own a lot of the divisiveness and ad hominem style of selling the Iraq invasion, and you own a lot of the responsibility for making a really bad policy call. Time for you to stop protesting that you were a bit player, and to own up more completely.

But all of that is quibbling around the edges. Here's 99% of my problem with you: You still seem to insist that the basic idea to invade Iraq when we did was the right thing to do. You don't even seem to express any uncertainty about that, despite four-plus years' worth of evidence to the contrary. You still seem unwilling to admit that Saddam was not an immediate threat, even in retrospect, and that, looking back, we could have at least postponed the invasion without any risk to U.S. national security. I am therefore led to believe that you either are personally paranoid about Arab boogeymen or professionally obsessed with not being seen as "going soft." Whatever your motivations, I must say that your continued rigidity on this issue makes me question your ability to be realistic about any future issues.

I'm glad Bob called you on much of this. I'm reiterating it because I had the same reaction as he did, and I think it's a point important enough to bear repeating.

Here are a few specific things that you said during the diavlog that also bothered me.

You claimed, at about 23:00, that the Arab world was "overwhelmingly hostile" to the U.S. "almost immediately after 9/11" and said that you had polling data to back this up. I don't have sources immediately at hand, but I do want to register that this struck me as an outright misstatement of fact, or, at best, a cherry-picking of polling data. This is certainly not my memory. In any case, I don't think you would wish to dispute that, apart from the Arab world, there is no doubt that every other country has shown significantly increased negative feelings about the U.S. since the invasion. We had most of the world, including Iran, ready and willing to support the U.S. after 9/11. Your side's policies and postures blew more good will than has ever been blown before.

Shortly afterward, you asserted (I paraphrase here): "No matter what, Arab hatred of the U.S. will never go away, no matter what we do, so we might as well forcibly change their governments." How is this any different from Ann Coulter's mantra of "invade their countries, kill their men, and convert the rest to Christianity?"

At around 40:45, you said you wished that people wouldn't say "the neocons" and instead, cite individuals. This did not ring very credibly, since earlier in the diavlog, you seemed all too willing to sum up the majority opinion in this country as "the MoveOn crowd."

Near the end of the discussion about Iraq, you said three things which struck me as admirably realistic, and I want to list them here, as a way of tipping my hat. You said some smart things about not over-selling the supposed success in Anbar, that we should be leery of handing out arms willy-nilly, and that we should abandon the false hope that we're going to be able to establish a working central government in Iraq. All good points. And now back to the criticism.

You and Bob finished the diavlog by revisiting the disagreement that you and Mark Schmitt had about reverence for 9/11. You are certainly entitled to feel more sorrow about the anniversary of that day than others do, but the fact that you can't see that Schmitt's perspective is also reasonable appalls me. I agree with Schmitt, and might even go farther than him. I feel nothing but irritability in early September, and have felt this way for at least the past four years. Here's why.

The Bush Administration and its cronies showed no hesitation to exploit 9/11 at every turn to advance their political agenda on all fronts. Your side threw around accusations of "treason" at the drop of a hat, you smeared opposition politicians, including genuine war heroes, as being on the side of the terrorists, and you accused half the country of being "unpatriotic" whenever we asked you not to trample too heavily on our Constitutional rights. In short, the right used, and continues to use, 9/11 as an ideological club. Your side also never stops playing 9/11 as a get-out-of-jail free card every time the Bush Administration screws something up, or gets caught outright breaking the law.

As I said, your belief that one should continue to mourn 9/11 is reasonable, and I don't deny your right to feel this way. Please extend to others the same consideration.

Finally, right at the very end, you made a little summing-up speech about liking to live in Washington, because you liked listening to "well-informed people" whose views differ from yours, and you liked "having a debate," and "that's how the government is supposed to work." I can't decide whether this was nauseating or a howler. Probably, it was some of both. Where were these noble pronouncements and olive branches when the Republicans controlled all three branches of government? It's nice to call for respect and bipartisanship, but it lacks all credibility that you only start doing so when your side is on the skids.

If there's any justice in this world, and any intelligence in the American electorate, the Democrats will run the table in 2008. When and if they do, I hope they'll be a little less dictatorial than you all were through late 2006. But you know what? If your tone during this diavlog is representative of your side's continued attitude, then I won't blame the Democrats if they shut you out completely. Unless you back off from your obstinate insistence that there's no choice but to use military force to crush the Arab world, and until you start acknowledging that other people's opinions are as valid as yours, my side has no choice but to be as rigid as you.


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