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January 14, 2007

The Progressive Memory Hole

I don't really see any need to keep these things in history, do you?

1. This is from BBC reporter John Simpson's book about the 1991 Gulf War, called From the House of War. Joseph Wilson, then U.S. chargé d'affaires, was leading the effort to get U.S. journalists to leave Baghdad before the war began:

[Wilson] went round the al-Rasheed the day before [leaving], trying out an electronic gadget that insulted people in a squeaky voice: "Fuck you! You're an asshole!"...He also told those who planned to stay on in Baghdad that they were going to die.

2. Here's Noam Chomsky writing in his 1992 book Deterring Democracy:

Despite its victory, Washington did not quite achieve "the best of all worlds," because no suitable clone of the Beast of Baghdad had yet been found. Needless to say, not everyone shared the Washington-media conception of "the best of all worlds." Well after hostilities ended, the Wall Street Journal broke ranks and offered space to an authentic representative of the Iraqi democratic opposition, Ahmad Chalabi. He described the outcome as "the worst of all possible worlds" for the Iraqi people, whose tragedy is "awesome."

And again in his book Year 501:

The war policy was also strongly opposed by the population in the region. The Iraqi democratic opposition, always rebuffed by Washington (hence the press), opposed US policy throughout: the pre-August 1990 support for the Iraqi dictator, the refusal to explore peaceful means, and finally the tacit support for Saddam Hussein as he crushed the Shi'ite and Kurdish rebellions. One leading spokesman, banker Ahmad Chalabi, who described the outcome of the war as "the worst of all possible worlds" for the Iraqi people, attributed the US stand to its traditional policy of "supporting dictatorships to maintain stability."

We'll just, ah, air-brush this right out of there.

Posted at January 14, 2007 06:12 PM | TrackBack

We-ell... there wasn't that much to go on that Chalabi was a scumbag in 1992 (DD) or 1993 (Y501). His in absentia conviction for bank fraud in Jordan was in 1992 (I can't find the month) but Chompers could easily have missed that (not that it necessarily negates Chalabi being descrined in the latter quote as "a banker").

To continue to regard Chalabi as a legitimate figure after all the facts are well known - well, that might require airbrushing. Or being struck sharply in the forehead with a croquet mallet.

Posted by: RobW at January 14, 2007 08:48 PM


Or "described".

Posted by: RobW at January 14, 2007 08:49 PM

I know this will get me ridiculed, but I gotta ask--Is #1 real?
If so what is it supposed to mean in the context of "Saddam was a bastard and yet (maybe because of this) the US supported him" and "Chalabi is a con artist and yet (maybe because of this) the US supported him"?
I really don't get this post, and I really would like to.

Posted by: rubberband at January 14, 2007 10:33 PM

I know this will get me ridiculed

No, no. This site is anti-ridicule, with one sole exception: people who start wars. If you haven't started any wars, you have nothing to fear.

Anyway: yes, #1 is real. The U.S. government wanted to get all American reporters out of Baghdad, so they wouldn't be transmitting inconvenient information back to our innocent nation. Wilson was, I think, the highest U.S. official in Baghdad at the time, and so he was trying to make that happen.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at January 14, 2007 10:40 PM

Well, thanks for that (and I'll be careful about the wars. . .)
So, the point of the post is that Joe Wilson hasn't consistently been a paragon of honesty (I'm not surprised, but I did think him more honest than this fact illustrates), and Noam Chomsky obscured the mendacity of Chalabi?
Or more importantly: "liberals" should remember (or in my case learn about and then remember)the errors of their current "heros"?
I think I get it now.

But c'mon, as Gavin over at Sadly No puts it:
"Dipping into a bag of Cheetos now and then is called ’snacking.’ Snorkeling in a lagoon of Cheetos on Cheeto Island, whose mysterious stone Chester the Cheetah heads, built by a long-vanished race of… Ah, whatever: erupting Cheetotaua Volcano; Cheeto palms waving in the breeze; hula girls with Cheeto skirts; spelling out ‘H-E-L-P’ in giant Cheetos on the orange, pebbly beach to signal a passing Cheeto plane, et cetera"
I mean, there's lying and then there's impeachable offenses.

Posted by: rubberband at January 15, 2007 12:22 AM

So, the point of the post is that Joe Wilson hasn't consistently been a paragon of honesty

Well, I was mentioning it not so much to impugn his honestly (though I have some doubts about it generally) but rather to point out that in this particular instance he was a dick.

Noam Chomsky obscured the mendacity of Chalabi

No, I don't think Chomsky did that. I'm sure he believed what he was saying at the time. The point, at least to me (and I'm a huge Chomsky admirer), is that he writes so much about so many subjects that sometimes he isn't able to do as much checking as one might wish.

Beyond that, I just thought it was funny.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at January 15, 2007 01:31 AM

Wasn't Wilson sort of Republican-ish most of his adult life? Can't progressives just have him for the heroic stand-against-the-man latter years and let whoever else wants to claim him take the prankster, bad-boy, noose-wearing, Saddam-taunting period?

Posted by: darrelplant at January 15, 2007 01:51 AM

Mr. Wilson has always been a bit of an urban cowboy and a dedicated careerist.

Posted by: Aunt Deb at January 15, 2007 07:32 AM

I'd noticed that Chomsky had said these nice things about Chalabi. I don't know if he should have known better then.

There are other goofs in Noam's long career--I'm a fan myself, but he's not perfect and in defending him from fanatical Chomsky-haters, it's good to keep that in mind.

On the point where Chomsky has been most harshly criticized, there's a way to tell that Chomsky probably did think (until 1980, when he changed his mind) that Pol Pot's killing had been exaggerated, though he's careful to say in PEHR II that he doesn't know the truth and anything could be possible given what was known in 1979. Anyway, Chomsky was initially a critic of the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979 and later retracted his criticism in "Manufacturing Consent", not coincidentally when he also acknowledges that Pol Pot was definitely guilty of genocidal killing on a larger scale than Kissinger's bombing campaign. Chomsky haters, to my knowledge, have never pointed this out, because it shows that though Chomsky was wrong, he was also principled. The retraction is on page 387 in my edition in an endnote, where he and Herman write--

"Our own expressed view at the time was that "the Vietnamese invasion can be explained, but it cannot be justified". With the information that has since appeared about Pol Pot terror in 1977-78 and the border attacks on Vietnam, that judgment might have to be qualified, even in terms of a rather restrictive interpretation of the right of self-defense under international law."

Of course, by putting this in an endnote Noam isn't exactly trumpeting his mistake.

As for Wilson, very often these mainstream figures who say the right thing in one circumstance aren't or weren't so admirable in other circumstances. Richard Holbrooke, for instance, was apparently a critic of the Vietnam War, or so I read somewhere, but he was also one of the architects of our East Timor policy.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at January 15, 2007 09:20 AM

In a footnote in passive voice.

We revere Noam Chomsky for his courage in speaking out so consistently for peace and justice. However, all discourse requires rigorous dialectical challenge for it to attain legitimacy.

Are we not liberals? Do we not OWN the insight that truth is never closer than approximation? That the relentless search for truth is always process, never final conclusion?

Posted by: Ignatius Gerumpany at January 15, 2007 11:04 AM

Actually, later Chompers goes further, citing the Vietnamese invasion of one of only two historical examples for which the description "humanitarian intervention" might be justified. (The other is the Indian intervention on the side of what is now Bangladesh in the Pakistan civil war.)

Posted by: RobW at January 15, 2007 06:03 PM

To me, the distressing part of this post is how Chomsky lauds the WSJ (gag) as some beacon of journalistic bravery by breaking ranks with other msm.

Gee, I can't imagine why the WSJ would favor Chalabi, can you?

Posted by: farang at January 17, 2007 09:10 AM

My two cents on Wilson: Appointed by Bush1 to Iraq, yes?

Gave contributions to W's campaign, yes?

Bush1 was CIA director, and LONG TIME Operative, yes?

Wilson's wife, CIA, yes?

I don't know why, but I feel a burr in my saddle, and it feels like it is telling me that Wilson is/was also CIA.

But something also tells me the rumors his wife lead an interception of WMD's to be planted in Iraq sounds *plausible*.

Posted by: farang at January 17, 2007 09:30 AM

I kinda feel like Chomsky's position on the Iraq war deserves a little thrashing these days. He didn't think it'd be difficult, he just thought it'd be for all the wrong reasons. Subsequently he's held to a sort of Kerry-esque line about bad strategery, and how it's been a near-miraculous disaster in the face of a golden imperialist opportunity. I got his drift, but never sat well with it.

Posted by: buermann at January 18, 2007 01:58 AM