Comments: Jeffrey Goldberg Still America's Preeminent Propagandist (Part IV)

I hate to say this, since the last thing I want to do is defend this putz, but: I think you're misinterpreting Goldberg. I think what he meant by "halting—forever, as it turned out—Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions" is that Saddam Hussein did not ever attain nuclear weapons. The "forever, as it turned out" strongly supports that interpretation. The word that's causing the confusion is "ambitions"; you're taking it to mean "desire", but he's using it to mean "goal" (more or less). He's not saying that Hussein didn't still want to have nuclear weapons, but just that he never managed to achieve that goal. And that's why he's nonplussed now that anyone thinks he denied the continuance of "Saddam Hussein's desire".

I'd agree that his version of events is mendacious or (at best) ignorant on many other grounds, like his implicit claim that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program in 1981. But I don't see that he's been lying in the way you're saying, and I don't see any contradiction at all between the two statements you cite in this posting.

By the way, your "Part II" link is incorrect (it points to Part I, not Part II) in this posting and the last one.

Posted by John Caruso at August 20, 2010 03:48 PM

Perhaps so, but can we really afford to take the risk that Goldberg is telling the truth here? Better to just launch a preemptory strike on him to be sure. I'm sure he, of all people, would appreciate that logic.

Posted by . at August 20, 2010 03:56 PM

I understand what you mean, and appreciate your allegiance to honesty over tribalism. God damn it. But you have to read it in the larger context:

I AM NOT ENGAGING in a thought exercise, or a one-man war game, when I discuss the plausibility and potential consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran. Israel has twice before successfully attacked and destroyed an enemy’s nuclear program. In 1981, Israeli warplanes bombed the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, halting—forever, as it turned out—Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions; and in 2007, Israeli planes destroyed a North Korean–built reactor in Syria. An attack on Iran, then, would be unprecedented only in scope and complexity.

In context, your interpretation of what he meant doesn't make any sense. His point was: well, you might think that Israel would be crazy to do this, but in fact it worked in 1981!

In your interpretation, the meaning would be: you might think that Israel would be crazy to do this, but in fact in 1981 they did it and Saddam still wanted and tried to get nuclear weapons, and as I wrote 2002, "After the Osirak attack, he rebuilt, redoubled his efforts, and dispersed his facilities." So you can see why Israeli would think it makes sense now!

I'm not saying he's not capable of incredibly sloppy and unclear writing. But I don't there's any way that's the case here.

Also, check the Greenwald link. Goldberg is quite willing to just make things up out of whole cloth...which, I'm sorry to say, might actually cause his ranking as a propagandist to fall.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at August 20, 2010 04:01 PM

Perhaps so, but can we really afford to take the risk that Goldberg is telling the truth here? Better to just launch a preemptory strike on him to be sure. I'm sure he, of all people, would appreciate that logic.

Win.

Posted by Cloud at August 20, 2010 04:05 PM

Caruso makes a good point, but it just goes to show what a terrible writer Goldberg is. He seems to come from the same school as Bill Watterson's Calvin: "[T]he purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!"

Posted by LT at August 20, 2010 04:10 PM

Jon: If he was saying it as you interpret it, the meaning would be: you might think that Israel would be crazy to do this, but in fact in 1981 they did it and Saddam still wanted and tried to get nuclear weapons, and as I wrote 2002, "After the Osirak attack, he rebuilt, redoubled his efforts, and dispersed his facilities." So you can see what they'd think it makes sense now!

Nope, I think you're just misunderstanding Goldberg's version of history. Just as he states as fact the claim that Iran has a nuclear weapons program now, he takes it as a given that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program in 1981. So his point is that Israel's attack on Osirak set that program back, resulting in it never coming to fruition; Saddam Hussein may have "redoubled his efforts" afterward, but he was "forever, as it turned out" unable to attain nuclear weapons. I'd guess that Goldberg would argue that the damage done and delay caused by the Israeli strike were instrumental in denying Saddam Hussein ultimate success—a necessary but not sufficient condition for preventing Iraq from building nuclear weapons. Just as a strike on Iran now might be considered necessary (by planners who operate from this same version of history), even if it only delays Iran's imputed pursuit of nuclear weapons rather than ending it permanently.

I'm all for slamming propaganda-proffering poltroons like Goldberg (and as I said there's still plenty to criticize in his article), but I really do think this is what he meant. "Halting...Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions" was ambiguous and (therefore) poorly-chosen, but it wasn't a lie.

.: Perhaps so, but can we really afford to take the risk that Goldberg is telling the truth here? Better to just launch a preemptory strike on him to be sure.

Beautiful.

Posted by John Caruso at August 20, 2010 04:48 PM

Nope, I think you're just misunderstanding Goldberg's version of history.

I can understand that that's his version of history, but that's a version that only exists in you explaining it here. It doesn't exist in his Atlantic article or his blog posts. At the very least he was lying by omission – leaving out what happened after Iraq was bombed. And he did that because otherwise it makes the Israeli politicians he was talking to look like psychos.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at August 20, 2010 05:10 PM

It doesn't exist in his Atlantic article or his blog posts.

Actually it does; the key phrase is "forever, as it turned out." That means that it was (and could have remained) only a temporary success, but "as it turned out" it was "forever". And why did it turn out to be forever? Thanks to the plucky United States standing up in 1990 and then again in 2002 to the Iraqi superpower, which had redoubled its efforts to get nukes after valiant Israel balked it in 1981.

You're right that he leaves out what happened after Iraq was bombed, but that's because he (like others of his ilk) takes it as a given that it was just more of the same thing Iraq was doing before it was bombed. And for the purposes of his article here, the important thing was that Israel has a reason to believe that bombing another country's nuclear facilities can lead to ultimate success in preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons. That's the sense in which you (and Glenn Greenwald) have it exactly right: like all first-rate propagandists, Goldberg knows what to emphasize at any given point to produce the desired result, which in this case is an attack on Iran.

Let me make it crystal clear that I'm not remotely endorsing any aspect of his fantasies—but I do think this is not only his world view, but the world view of most elites here and in Israel. Yes, they deal in lies, but in general they've actually convinced themselves that those lies are true (and so-called "facts" that contradict them are ignored or explained away, in just the way human beings have done throughout history when faced with cognitive dissonance).

Posted by John Caruso at August 20, 2010 06:48 PM

@Caruso:

I'm with you on the potential ambiguity of the word "ambitions" (although only because of that weird phrase "forever as it turned out"--under any logical definition of "nuclear ambitions" it would mean the same thing as "desire for nuclear weapons" - but let's leave that aside).

But if Israel's success was only temporary (in Goldberg's mind), and the permanence of that success only guaranteed by US intervention, what kind of sense does it make for him to support bombing Iran now? So that Israel can again temporarily delay Iran's nuclear "ambitions" but later require that the US invade Iran to permanently halt the program.

I'm not saying that that isn't what Goldberg wants (it may well be, for all I know), but it certainly seems like a pretty strange, and strangely elliptical argument to make.

So if he isn't flatly contradicting himself (as you claim he isn't), then he is certainly making an enormous lie by omission - claiming that Israel knows that bombing a nuclear-wannabe can permanently derail that country's "ambitions" without ever mentioning that it wasn't Israel's bombing at all, but US intervention, which led to the ending of the nuclear program.

I hope that made some sense. I, like you, am trying to make as many allowances as possible for the craziness of Goldberg and his ilk (and clearly have twisted my brain into knots), but I keep coming up short.

Posted by Mark F at August 20, 2010 07:34 PM

I think what he meant by "halting—forever, as it turned out—Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions" is that Saddam Hussein did not ever attain nuclear weapons.

That's like saying that White Supremacists don't have racial ambitions because they have never attained a racially pure society.

Furthermore, if you're pinning this defense on a semantic confusion, or ambiguity, on the part of Goldberg, then I think you're clearly wrong. No one well versed in the English language confuses ambition with attainment. If so, I'd be writing this on a yacht in the Caribbean.

It seems to me that you're trying to crawl in Goldberg's head and figure out how his statements square up, from his point of view. About that all I can say is mining is dangerous work. Better to stay on the surface where the contradictions are apparent and inexcusable.

Posted by scudbucket at August 20, 2010 07:37 PM

look at it another way. israeli planes bombed one iraqi facility. iran and the 'international community' blew the hell out of everywhere in the country. is it likely that 'israel' thinks their single action, in literally decades of aerial bombardment and other deprivation, was the instrument of saddam's containment?

from israel's perspective, provoking war is what works. it's almost racist to say they see it otherwise. "jews are proud righteous people w/o subtlety."

Posted by hapa at August 20, 2010 08:05 PM

I'm not sure if it makes a difference if Goldberg and elites in general are lying, or if they believe their own BS. When you argue with people like this you notice that facts that don't fit their views simply bounce off them--I don't know if it's conscious or not. But then it's probably the way we tend to be in private life--if caught doing something stupid or wrong, we don't always admit it even to ourselves. Goldberg and his fellow pundits have just found a way to make a career out of this common human failing.

Looking at Goldberg's blog, he's not completely rotten. He's written some decent stuff in favor of Iman Rauf. But otherwise he seems like a jerk. He replied to Robert Wright's criticism by calling him a "genocide denier". I clicked on the links--this is the offending post where Wright denied Saddam committed genocide against the Kurds. It turns out Wright thinks the word "genocide" means the complete extermination (or the attempt at it) of a given ethnic group. Wright is incorrect--the definition is less stringent than that. But Wright agrees that Saddam was guilty of mass murder against the Kurds, so the difference here is over a definition of a word. But Goldberg wants to portray Wright as evil, so he deliberately conveys the worst possible interpretation of what Wright said. He knows he's being deceptive here.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 20, 2010 08:46 PM

Better to stay on the surface where the contradictions are apparent and inexcusable.

The contradictions only arise if you first assume Goldberg was lying with the "nuclear ambitions" statement—and if you go that route you now have to assume not only that he was lying then, but that he turned around a week later and claimed never to have written that statement at all, even though anyone can see it right there at the front of his widely-discussed showpiece article. Does that really seem likely to anybody here? So by "staying on the surface" you're not only creating contradictions that don't otherwise need to exist, you're transforming Goldberg from a clever propagandist into a moronic, bald-faced liar.

There's no "on the surface" here—there's a statement that's ambiguous. And given that there's a mundane and pretty obvious way of reading that statement that fits perfectly with everything Goldberg's said before and since (and parrots the mainstream catechism on Iraq, which is Goldberg's specialty), I think that's clearly the more likely interpretation.

Posted by John Caruso at August 20, 2010 09:27 PM

...he is certainly making an enormous lie by omission - claiming that Israel knows that bombing a nuclear-wannabe can permanently derail that country's "ambitions" without ever mentioning that it wasn't Israel's bombing at all, but US intervention, which led to the ending of the nuclear program.

No, that's too absolute. Israel temporarily halted Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions by bombing Osirak, dealing a serious setback, and the US ended them permanently ("forever, as it turned out") by attacking Iraq, imposing draconian sanctions and invasive inspections, and finally invading and occupying the country. So Israel's bombing was an important factor in the containment (and, as it turns out, the ultimate derailing) of Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions. It's not all or nothing.

Goldberg isn't predicating this around "permanently" at all, by the way, nor does a strike have to permanently halt a country's nuclear program to be considered worthwhile. Consider: did Israel's strike on the Syrian nuclear reactor permanently halt Syria's nuclear ambitions? No, since the Syrians can just start over. But it did halt them for now, and presumably set them back for many years. Whether or not the Syrians have to be dealt with again in the future (either by another air strike or some other means) is another question, but it doesn't change the fact that an attack that causes short-term damage and delay may be not just worthwhile but perfectly rational from a strategic viewpoint.

Again, none of this idiocy is what I think, nor is it something I'd endorse—but it is what people like Goldberg (and in particular the people Goldberg's writing for) think.

Posted by John Caruso at August 20, 2010 09:33 PM

The contradictions only arise if you first assume Goldberg was lying with the "nuclear ambitions" statement

I do.

and if you go that route you now have to assume not only that he was lying then, but that he turned around a week later and claimed never to have written that statement at all, even though anyone can see it right there at the front of his widely-discussed showpiece article.

I do.

you're transforming Goldberg from a clever propagandist into a moronic, bald-faced liar.

I do again.

He lied. He got caught. He's squirming for wiggle room, and you're helping him.

Posted by scudbucket at August 20, 2010 09:47 PM

John:

Does that really seem likely to anybody here? So by "staying on the surface" you're not only creating contradictions that don't otherwise need to exist, you're transforming Goldberg from a clever propagandist into a moronic, bald-faced liar.

To be honest, it seems very likely to me, because Goldberg is demonstrating himself to be pretty clumsy when challenged—he loses all of his normal propagandist elegance. Remember, in this very same post Goldberg is straight up lying in two other ways: (1) about what Greenwald wrote (he never said that Goldberg believed that, the whole point was that Goldberg clearly knew the facts because he'd been correct about them in 2002) and (2) that when he (Goldberg) claimed on NPR that Greenwald had retracted what he'd written—which he subsequently acknowledges didn't happen—he (Goldberg) "was confusing him with someone else." Someone else whom he doesn't name, because this mystery person doesn't exist.

Hopefully that's comprehensible. I know not everyone wastes their lives parsing Jeffrey Goldberg's effluvia like me.

(Also, this claim by Goldberg actually isn't right at the front of the article. What's right at the front is his statement that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. The stuff about Osirak is buried in the middle, and Goldberg does not quote himself here so people not following this closely won't know what he's talking about.)

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at August 20, 2010 10:10 PM

I'm not a Goldbergologist, but my first impression of the JS's "nuclear ambitions" series was basically what I think JC is saying, that JG made some questionable claims about cause and effect, but didn't necessarily contradict himself. I'm now an agnostic on the subject. But with JG's new "Greenwald retracted his mistake," nonsense at least we can all agree that he is in fact a bald-faced liar. Or maybe not, there's always the "he's so stupid he was confused" defense. What I can't figure out is who the fuck is Jeffrey Goldberg?

Posted by marcus at August 20, 2010 11:07 PM

Remember, in this very same post Goldberg is straight up lying in two other ways:

Disagreed on both counts--I think you're overparsing "believe" based on your overall reading, and I accept that the "retraction" bit might have been genuine confusion on his part (especially since he copped to it so thoroughly, and even apologized for it).

To be honest, it seems very likely to me, because Goldberg is demonstrating himself to be pretty clumsy when challenged—he loses all of his normal propagandist elegance.

That's another conclusion that follows only from the initial assumption, and another reason to believe that that assumption was just mistaken to begin with. You're suggesting that he wrote something one week and then claimed he never wrote it the next week (and in the same meda outlet, no less). Do you really think he's so badly rattled that he's spinning off such ridiculously transparent and instantly falsifiable lies? Isn't the more likely explanation that the first sentence just didn't mean what you thought it meant? Seriously, the guy's not a moron; you had it exactly right when you said he's a practiced technical propagandist who understands that the best propaganda doesn't use lies (as in his bland assertion as fact of Iran's "pursuit of nuclear weapons").

And have you seen Goldberg's first response to Greenwald?

I did not mean to suggest in the Iran article that Saddam's desire for nuclear weapons was stopped by the Osirak attack. I meant to suggest only that the Osirak attack was more effective than the Israelis thought it would be, because Saddam never achieved his ambition of nuclearization. Of course, the Osirak attack wasn't the only reason Saddam never reached the goal of gaining a nuclear capability (the 1991 Gulf War, and subsequent U.N. sanctions, had a lot to do with this as well, of course) but I've always believed that Saddam sought nuclear weapons, right up to the bitter end.

That's exactly what I've been suggesting here (and I'm only quoting an excerpt, but the whole thing matches what I've been saying right down to the last detail). And I hadn't read this until just a few minutes ago. If what seemed clear to me also turns out to be exactly what he wrote himself, doesn't that pretty strongly imply that it's the right interpretation? And if you still won't buy that, I don't see how you can square what you're saying with the fact that Goldberg didn't lose all of his normal propagandist elegance in this instance, but was instead able to gin up a whopper so detailed and plausible that it matches verbatim the explanation I independently arrived at.

Posted by John Caruso at August 21, 2010 12:04 AM

John, I give you credit for being fair minded enough to try to defend the consistency of Jeff Goldberg's writing. But walking back an inflammatory strong claim by suggesting you only meant something much weaker isn't a new trick. And the fact that you can provide an interpretation (just as he has) which squares his intentions, but not his actual words, may mitigate against the offense for some (not for me), but certainly doesn't prove innocence. For one thing, the walk back is a stroll into reality, where facts and causes unmentioned in his article are pretty clearly understood by him and everyone else, and is therefore safe place to wait for the storm to pass. This is part of the con: to assert a strong claim which you know isn't true, but which permits a less contentious interpretation consistent with the actual wording.

And he in fact is doing precisely this. If he really meant for the sentence to suggest that Israel was surprised by contributing to the demise of Saddam's nuclear ambitions where the lions share of that eventuality derived from the Gulf War I and lots of UN sanctions and inspections, then why didn't he just write that? (That's only slightly rhetorical - answer it how you like.) The content of the wording of the sentence he chose to write suggests nothing which he now claims he intended that sentence to mean. In fact, the meaning he now says he intended undermines a substantial portion of his thesis.

He tried to ram the strong claim through, got caught, and is now backtracking into reality. It's the art of the con, baby.

Posted by scudbucket at August 21, 2010 04:37 AM

scudbucket

Speaking of the art of the con---which certainly can involve plenty of truth--I'll have Taking the Risk out of Democracy within a few days and will let you know what I learn. That book did look good.

As for Goldberg, it's possible to use a selection of entirely accurate facts (the truth?) to deceive, so I just can't get too caught up right now in what he may have meant in one sentence. I think I see his role well enough. Frankly, I doubt even he knows or cares what he meant all that much. Sincerity and intellectual integrity aren't a big part of manipulating the public.

On an unrelated note, I don't seem to have time and energy to do Nagel justice. I never seem to manage to find it in me to be smart enough for philosophy, even the stuff written for non philosophers like me.

Posted by N E at August 21, 2010 10:14 AM

"Frankly, I doubt even he knows or cares what he meant all that much. Sincerity and intellectual integrity aren't a big part of manipulating the public."

100 percent agreement here. I think that's what the philosopher (forgot his name) meant a few years ago when he wrote a book on bullshit and distinguished bullshitting from simple lying. With these people they just don't care about logic or truth or consistency unless they're faced with a challenge like that from Jon or Greenwald. They're happy to write things that give the innocent reader false impression A and if called on it and they can say "I really meant B", so much the better.

That's why I pointed out Goldberg's attack on Robert Wright in my previous comment. Goldberg was calling Wright a denier of genocide, which we all understand to be a very serious charge when made against someone denying the current villain of the day. Now all you had to do was do about three clickbacks to find the Slate article where Wright had denied Saddam's genocide and a fairminded person immediately sees what is going on--in Wright's mind "genocide" means an attempt at total extermination and since Saddam didn't do that, he wasn't guilty of genocide by Wright's definition. But Wright agrees he committed mass murder and he even says Saddam might have had genocide (by Wright's own definition) on his mind, though he thinks is more likely that Saddam was willing to slaughter wholesale any group he perceived as a threat without regard to ethnicity. Not exactly a rousing endorsement of the man.

Goldberg knows that's what Wright did and he knows a few clicks would show any curious person what the argument was about, but Goldberg is a bullshitter. If Goldberg were called on what he did he would say "But Wright did deny genocide" and that's absolutely correct, but what Goldberg would not do is admit that he took a semantic dispute and made it seem like a moral one.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 21, 2010 01:18 PM

Donald Johnson

That's a smart observation. Philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt of Princeton wrote the book "On Bullshit" and then went on the Daily Show to talk about it. That's where I saw him. That may be philosophy I could handle, so I should read it, but I haven't. I do admire the magnificent deadpan skill of anyone who can write seriously about the philosophy of bullshit.

Posted by N E at August 21, 2010 01:41 PM

I've never read the book either. I make occasional stabs at reading philosophy, with varying degrees of failure.

I have to admit I was initially skeptical of Frankfurt's distinction between bullshitting and lying--I said it was all just lying. But I've changed my mind. There is some usefulness in having bullshit as a separate category and Goldberg's work is a good illustration of BS. In general I think you often read things in the MSM or hear things from politicians and pundits that aren't strictly speaking outright falsehoods, but truths and half-truths and sometimes falsehoods all mixed together in ways meant to mislead and in ways which are hard to refute without going into details that most people are too impatient to mess around with. Bullshitters don't care whether points A, B, and C logically leads to conclusion D or whether A, B, and C are all true. They just string it all together in ways that superficially seem to suggest D, but explaining why they are wrong would take time. And if you call them liars they can argue that they really believe A, B, and C and that they believe that D follows from that and then you have to spend time arguing about whether they could believe such things. Most people, including me, just get worn out trying to follow that kind of argument. Which is why our society is drowning in bullshit.

The Wright thing I keep harping on is a perfect illustration. If Wright were a famous person (Jeremiah, for instance), Goldberg's slander would be completely successful, because it would take time (about three minutes) to explain why it was unfair, bullshit in fact even though as a literal statement it was true. And forever afterward Wright would be branded in the public mind as a genocide denying Saddam apologist.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 21, 2010 02:07 PM

I have not given up! However, it may be a little while before I have a second to return to this.

In the meantime, I think the real question is why John Caruso loves Jeffrey Goldberg (and Saddam) so much.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at August 21, 2010 02:32 PM

Because HANGING IS FOREVER.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 21, 2010 04:09 PM

IF Stone had a pretty concise definition of this theme. He was talking about Government Bullshit in particular, but I think it works generally (the line is pretty much obliterated anyway).

...they don't like to lie literally, because a literal, flat, obvious lie tends to be caught.

So what they do is, they become masters of the disingenuous statement, of phrasing something in such a way that the honest, normal, unwary reader gets one impression, what he's supposed to get.

Then three months later he discovers it's not true and goes back to complain. And they say, well, that's not what we said -- look at it carefully. And you look at it carefully and sure enough, it was really doubletalk and didn't say exactly what they said.

'strategically disingenuous' may be kind to JG's likes but it's a rather big ballpark.

Posted by BenP at August 21, 2010 06:34 PM

John, I give you credit for being fair minded enough to try to defend the consistency of Jeff Goldberg's writing.

Thanks for that, but I'm not defending anyone—I'm just explaining my interpretation of this passage, which I've thought was the most obvious one right from the start. And this discussion has only reinforced that, because I never fully grokked that y'all were taking "nuclear ambitions" to mean something like "hopes and dreams". That's just wacked—nobody in their right mind would suggest that Saddam Hussein lost the desire for nuclear weapons at any point, right up to the moment when the noose started tightening around his neck. And that's no doubt why Goldberg is so nonplussed at the accusation that that's what he was saying. I'm trying to imagine a crestfallen Saddam moping around his palaces all day thinking "Waah! Now that the Israelis blew up my reactor I don't even want nuclear weapons any more!"...or Goldberg (or anyone else who didn't want to be laughed out of their cushy establishment job) trying to suggest it.

In my experience "nuclear ambitions" is an idiom that refers to concrete efforts toward nuclear power or nuclear weapons, not just hazy hopes and aspirations, and I read it that way here not only because I thought it was clear from context but because that's how I've seen it consistently used.

Jon, if you do return to this I'd like you to address "forever, as it turned out"; I see no other reasonable reading of that except that the "halt" was temporary, and only became permanent due to later events. Setting aside the other problems, that alone renders your interpretation incorrect, since Saddam Hussein revving up Iraq's nuclear program afterward wouldn't be inconsistent at all with a temporary, externally-imposed halt. If Goldberg was so intent on lying, why would he include a phrase that undermined his lie? And do you see no way in which the statement that "Israel's attack put a temporary halt to Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions" would make sense within the worldview of Goldberg and those for whom he writes?

Look, there's plenty of crap in Goldberg's article ("eliminationist anti-Semitism"? classic!), some of which you've hit on in your postings. It's just on this one point that you've gone off the rails. My reading of this sentence is straightforward, it fits the facts (and matches Goldberg's own explanation to the last detail), it isn't shot through with contradictions, and it makes William of Ockham happy—all of which means it's much more likely to be the right one.

Posted by John Caruso at August 21, 2010 11:50 PM

John:

1. You've convinced me that it's plausible Goldberg was not being consciously disingenuous re the Osirak statement (though I still think it's more likely he was). However, this just puts him in the "stupid" category in the eternal "liar or stupid" debate.

I think we may have been talking past each other because you believe we have different understandings of the phrase "nuclear ambitions." That's my fault (see #2, below) but in fact we don't. I agree with your interpretation. Nonetheless, as written, that Osirak paragraph is indefensible, whatever Goldberg's intention, because the Osirak bombing obviously didn't stop Saddam's "concrete efforts toward nuclear power or nuclear weapons." They existed again literally the day afterward. And if you gave Goldberg's paragraph to 100 people with a reasonable education but no background in the ins and outs of this, and asked them what it meant, all of them would say: "It means the 1981 bombing stopped Iraq's concrete efforts to get nuclear weapons, and we found that out (and made sure that stoppage was permanent) by invading in 2003." That's how they would interpret "forever, as it turns out."

Meanwhile, none of them would come up with your interpretation, because it doesn't exist in the actual words. The only reason you had that interpretation is that you knew something about the subject and Goldberg.

I don't find it significant that you have the same interpretation as Goldberg provides. That's standard with this kind of writing. Take this, from Bush's 2003 State of the Union:

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb.

Goldberg's statement is actually more egregious than this. But someone who knew something about the subject would interpret Bush to mean: the IAEA confirmed by 1995 that that had been true BEFORE THE GULF WAR, and also confirmed the program had been terminated in 1991. Those with no background (the great majority of the audience) would interpret it to mean that it had been confirmed long after 1991, and was continuing even under sanctions and inspections—probably right this second! Bush's speechwriters were aiming at exactly that outcome with both audiences.

2. You've convinced me that there's no contradiction between the two Goldberg statements I cited in the post here. However, the initial post of mine is accurate—there's definitely a contradiction between Goldberg's current article and Goldberg in 2002.

3. You have not convinced me at all that Goldberg was not consciously lying when he wrote this:

My dear friend Glenn Greenwald continues to allege, despite all evidence and logic to the contrary, that I believe that Israel's Osirak attack ended Saddam's desire for nuclear weapons in 1981. I can't seem to convince him otherwise...

I'm going by what Goldberg actually wrote, while (as above) you're relying on something that exists outside his words. Why does Goldberg never (here or elsewhere) directly quote Greenwald? Why is his paraphrase the exact opposite of what Greenwald said? Because Goldberg is lying.

4. You have convinced me that it's plausible that Goldberg was thinking of a real "someone else" who retracted something. Of course, the only reason we have to sift through tea leaves is because Goldberg (as always when he's criticized) didn't follow normal internet protocol. Just as he didn't quote what Greenwald said about him, he also didn't provide any evidence this person exists. That's why I continue to believe that it's more likely than not that this person does not.

I'll be happy to admit that my suspicion is wrong if he does provide evidence. If so, I will then quote the CIA's Iraq WMD report: “You overlook many truths from a liar.”

5. I admit I may have been hoist on my own petard by claiming Goldberg is a particularly talented propagandist. I do think this, but even the people at the top of the propaganda field do flatly lie, particularly under pressure. Look at Hillary Clinton—she's an excellent propagandist, yet she flatly lied about landing under sniper fire in Bosnia.

It seems unbelievably stupid from the outside, but they do it anyway. With both Clinton and Goldberg I think it's partly generational. They're just not used to people being able to access what they said in the past, particularly on radio or TV. So I find it completely plausible that Goldberg may have been flatly lying when he talked about Greenwald retracting what he'd written. In the past that would have gotten him out of a tight spot and then vanished into the ether. He's used to that world.

And indeed, you can find various straightforward fabrications scattered throughout Goldberg's writing, although there's less of it than with, say, William Kristol. For instance, just after a quick look, there's this:

Saddam sought, with varying degrees of success, various types of WMD programs until he was overthrown.

And:

In June, 1967, Israel launched successful preemptive strikes against Egypt and Syria, which had been jointly planning an invasion.

The end!

At this point, I think we should both apologize to ourselves and the universe for spending this much of our finite life spans on this.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at August 22, 2010 12:35 AM

Donald Johnson:

It's a beautiful thing that Goldberg quotes that UN definition of genocide that others have used to argue that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians. WHY WON'T THAT MORAL MONSTER ROBERT WRIGHT ADMIT THAT ISRAEL IS COMMITTING GENOCIDE!?!?!

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at August 22, 2010 01:17 AM

...because the Osirak bombing obviously didn't stop Saddam's "concrete efforts toward nuclear power or nuclear weapons." They existed again literally the day afterward.

That doesn't contradict the point at all, which is (quoting Goldberg, verifying exactly what I'd speculated he meant):

I did not mean to suggest in the Iran article that Saddam's desire for nuclear weapons was stopped by the Osirak attack. I meant to suggest only that the Osirak attack was more effective than the Israelis thought it would be, because Saddam never achieved his ambition of nuclearization. [...] I should have added another sentence to explain exactly what I meant by "ambitions." I do believe that had the attack on Osirak not been launched, Saddam might have achieved his ambition by the time he invaded Kuwait...

And so on. Look, if a reactor is bombed that's obviously a major setback to a country's incipient nuclear program, whether Iraq's in 1981, Syria's in 2007, or Iran's in 2010 (taking the existence of all of those as actual solely for the sake of argument): facilities need to be rebuilt, materiel that was destroyed needs to be replaced, critical personnel may have been killed, etc. That setback may be temporary, but it is nonetheless a very real setback. Which again is just what I'd speculated he meant, and later learned was spot on:

The larger point here is that the Israelis claim that Menachem Begin, then the prime minister, launched the Osirak attack in 1981 thinking that it might only set back the Iraqi nuclear program by one year. Some Israelis in leadership positions today tell me that they think an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would be similarly worthwhile if it only delayed the Iranians by a year.

And I understand how this makes perfect sense (in particular the "I do believe that had the attack on Osirak not been launched, Saddam might have achieved his ambition by the time he invaded Kuwait") both within his worldview and the worldview of the people he's writing for.

And if you gave Goldberg's paragraph to 100 people with a reasonable education but no background in the ins and outs of this, and asked them what it meant, all of them would say:

C'mon, my friend, you get a lot of leeway as blogmaster here, but I'm not going to allow even you to claim as evidence 100 hypothetical people who just happen to endorse your interpretation. :-)

(And I disagree again, because the narrative Goldberg's spinning out—that Israel's attack temporarily delayed Iraq's nuclear program, and that that delay was critical to preventing them from ultimately achieving their "nuclear ambitions"—is taken as the most mundane statement of fact in the mainstream.)

The only reason you had that interpretation is that you knew something about the subject and Goldberg.

Nope. I read it that way because I think it's how it was intended to be read. And while I appreciate the implied compliment that I only read it like that 'cause I'm such a well-informed and perspicacious fellow, I'd suggest that it's your reading, not mine, that's being affected by your knowledge of the subject and—especially—your knowledge of Goldberg. You went in looking for lies (a not unreasonable thing to do) and you found a few nicely disingenuous bits (natch...this is Goldberg, after all). But having put yourself in that frame of mind, you misapplied it to this statement—which does in fact have a natural, straightforward, and non-contradictory interpretation that just happens to be the right one (according to the author himself), and which a highly Goldberg-antagonistic observer like myself arrived at independently.

At this point, I think we should both apologize to ourselves and the universe for spending this much of our finite life spans on this.

Totally agreed on that one...I'm going to have to go hose myself down with bleach after spending this much time in Goldberg's brain. The non-defense rests!

Posted by John Caruso at August 22, 2010 02:37 AM

I apologize to the universe for this.

I'm not going to allow even you to claim as evidence 100 hypothetical people who just happen to endorse your interpretation.

Here's the case I'm making. Let's say you gave 100 normal people this paragraph and asked them what it meant:

In 1981, while playing for the Colts, Johnson was injured in a bad car accident, halting—forever, as it turned out—his professional football ambitions.

I believe all 100 would say: "That means the accident ended his football career." And I think it's pretty weird to think any of the 100 would say: "That means that after the set back of the accident, Johnson went on to play pro football for another nine years. He never won the Super Bowl, though!"

But I guess mileage may vary.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at August 22, 2010 03:27 AM

i am like a cat to my ambitions' captured mouse. instead of halting them, i frustrate them… to death.

Posted by hapa at August 22, 2010 11:16 AM

John Caruso, I can't help myself from one last shot at this.

You wrote:

In my experience "nuclear ambitions" is an idiom that refers to concrete efforts toward nuclear power or nuclear weapons, not just hazy hopes and aspirations, and I read it that way here not only because I thought it was clear from context but because that's how I've seen it consistently used.

Now, I agree with you about this meaning of the phrase 'nuclear ambitions' and have not presumed it meant the psychological state of desire. I don't think anyone on this thread has made that confusion. In fact, I think all of us criticizing JG on this score have understood the meaning univocally. I also don't think the phrase can be understood in the context of the GOldberg piece to mean - as you suggested in your initial post - attainment of weapons. It was this initial move I found objectionable when I wrote that no one confuses ambitions with attainment. Ambitions are processes, attainment is an end state.

Here's JG's offending sentence:

...Osirak, halting - forever, it turns out - Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions

Substituting in your definition in the sentence Goldberg wrote yields:

...Osirak, halting - forever it turns out - Saddam Hussein's concrete efforts towards nuclear power or nuclear weapons

Now, the point here is that JG's sentence, understood this way (as we both agree it should be understood), is a flat out false statement, which anyone with any knowledge of the evolution of Iraq's weapons history would have to know is false. And suggesting that it be understood as meaning the 'attainment' of weapons requires, as you admit, a non-standard semantics for the phrase 'nuclear ambitions'.

My argument all along has been that JG intentionally wrote the sentence to be understood in precisely the way it reads when your definition is substituted in. (And since JG clearly knows that it's false, the statement is a lie.) My argument has also been that the sentence permitted a weaker, non-standard reading if he was challenged on it's accuracy. You're argument (as I understand it) is that he intended to make the weaker non-standard claim, even though he his actual words convey the stronger, and obviously false, claim.

ANd in a tit-for-tat, I would also add that my theory has the merits of simplicity and cleanliness, since I don't have to cull through the muck in JG's head, which results in permanent odors that can't be masked - even by patchouli.

Posted by scudbucket at August 22, 2010 12:11 PM

Still digging, digging...

Jon, if you do return to this I'd like you to address "forever, as it turned out"; I see no other reasonable reading of that except that the "halt" was temporary, and only became permanent due to later events.

Your paraphrase of the sentence, the 'reasonable reading', still entails a falsehood. You're suggesting that the sentence be understood to mean that the halt (caused by the air-strikes) became permanent (due to other events). The semantics of 'x became y' imply a continuity of events, or uninterrupted action (eg, the caterpillar became a butterfly).

With respect to the Osirak air-strike and Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions, that's simply not the case. But I will grant you that the 'reasonable reading to attribute consistency to Goldberg' requires these types of gynmastics.

Posted by scudbucket at August 22, 2010 12:55 PM

As a normal (maybe even hypothetical) 1 of 100 people and I didn't know the back story to Johnson's football career, I'd have asked "What do you mean by 'forever as it turned out'?" Either it did or it didn't. If I did know the back story (that he played for nine more years), then I'd think that you believe that the car accident was either the beginning of the end, or a contributing factor to the end of yadda yadda.

Posted by Peggy at August 23, 2010 12:26 AM

I apologize to the universe for this.

Cheaterface!

Ok, I won't repeat anything I've already said, but I will make one last point, and it's the only one anyone really needs to consider. Forget what Goldberg said—forget the phrasing and forget the words. Forget all our semantic badminton. Just take a step back for a second and consider what you (and Greenwald) are proposing: that Jeffrey Goldberg was trying, through the power of a single sentence of his, to bamboozle his readers into believing that Israel's 1981 attack on Osirak permanently halted Iraq's nuclear program. Right?

Now, apologies in advance if this gives offense, which is not my intention, but I don't know how to say it without possible feather-ruffling: this proposition is completely absurd, because EVERYBODY IN THE FREAKING COUNTRY HAD BEEN TOLD A MILLION TIMES THAT SADDAM HUSSEIN CONTINUED HIS MAD PURSUIT OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS RIGHT UP TO THE MOMENT THE U.S. ATTACKED AND ENDED HIS REIGN OF TERROR. They heard it on Fox and ABC and NBC and CNN and PBS and CBS. They heard it on talk radio. They read it in newspapers. They heard it on Sunday news shows. They heard it in speech after speech from George Bush and Dick Cheney. They watched as Colin Powell meticulously laid it all out at the U.N., and then they saw the clips of him lying about it over and over again. They were beaten over the head day in and day out with tossed-out inspectors and aluminum tubes and Niger uranium. They heard about it more than O.J. and Elian Gonzalez combined, for months and months on end, and then they heard about it some more.

And by "they" I really do mean everybody. Everybody in my family knew it, from my brother to my cousins to my niece to my great aunt. My apolitical friend and her husband knew it. The people I work with all knew it, and everyone they knew knew it too. I'm sure there's not a person here who didn't know it. Every bubba in every trailer park in the entire country had heard the gospel on Fox so many times they could recite it in their sleep: we have to attack Iraq to put an end to Saddam Hussein's attempts to get nuclear weapons.

Ok? So what you're proposing is that Jeffrey Goldberg was deceitfully attempting, through a single sentence in the middle of a single paragraph in a single article, to convince people that none of this ever happened. In this reading, Goldberg was so confident in his abilities as a propagandist that he thought this one single sentence of his could cause people to forget everything they'd ever heard or known about Saddam Hussein's insane pursuit of nuclear weapons, and instead persuade them that Iraq's nuclear program ended permanently in 1981, thanks solely to Israel's bombing of the Osirak reactor.

That's why I say forget the phrasing and forget the words—because you can construct any sentence you want and attribute it to Goldberg, and the proposition in question would still be completely broken. Nobody would read this one sentence, or any sentence at all, and conclude that Saddam Hussein never tried to get nuclear weapons again after 1981. And if you really do credit Goldberg with any intelligence or propagandistic talent at all, you must see that he couldn't possibly believe something like that would work, much less be foolish enough to consider attempting it; it's like saying he'd try to fool the world into believing that Saddam Hussein was murdered by Liberace.

In a proof by contradiction you assume that proposition P is true and then follow the implications of that assumption, and if you hit a contradiction you've just proven that P is false. In this case P was the proposition that "Jeffrey Goldberg tried to pull the wool over everyone's eyes by pretending that Israel's 1981 strike on Osirak permanently halted Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions". That leads to two huge contradictions, the first being the one I spent the last four paragraphs explaining, and the second being that Jeffrey Goldberg would be stupid enough to believe for a microsecond that one solitary sentence of his could convince anyone of something that contradicts everything they've heard over and over on this subject in the past (from him as well, as you point out).

Having hit those contradictions—and especially the second one—I think you should have concluded that P was false, but instead you (and Greenwald) have pushed ahead, running into more contradictions in the process. At some point I think you have to say, you know what? The simplest explanation (and the one that's most likely to be accurate) is that Goldberg didn't mean what I thought he meant by this ambiguous sentence, but instead meant exactly what he later explained he meant.

And with that, the non-defense truly rests.

(I'm pretty sure there's no apology I could offer the universe that would make up for this, so I won't even try.)

Posted by John Caruso at August 23, 2010 01:43 AM

John Caruso: AGREED. May be Sadaam's program was crippled beyond repair from the bombing, STILL he hanged for thinking it whether he thunk it or not.

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 23, 2010 04:26 AM

[Apologies to the universe, apologies for engaging in meta-meta, apologies for the apologizing...]

John, it is true that we were all exposed to dozens of hysterical warnings about how Iraq had a nuclear program so advanced that only war could stop it. It is also true that we have all learned, beyond any minimally rational doubt, that these warnings were bullshit. Goldberg isn't asking us to forget the warnings about Saddam being about to eat us all alive, he is asking us to accept the current knowledge about Saddam being toothless at the time we invaded, and to give credit to Israel for being the first to knock his teeth out. He knows that his Atlantic readers will pride themselves on being the kind of Serious people who acknowledge that the original warnings were bullshit. (That's how they know themselves to be members of the enlightened elite: because they aren't Pam Geller.)

Give Goldberg all the benefit of the doubt you can, and assume that what he would have written if he could say it more clearly would be something like "The Osirik attack ruined -- forever, as it turned out -- Saddam's nuclear program." It's still impossible to imagine him saying this in good faith, since the program was actually far more advanced after the Osirik attack than before it, and it was only ruined by the first Gulf war, the sanctions, the 1998 bombings, and the inspections. Coming back to the football analogy, it would be like saying "that high school injury ruined -- forever, as it turned out -- Johnson's NFL prospects," when the actual story is that Johnson recovered so well from the injury that he won the Heisman trophy, and failed to make it as an NFL running back because he was paralyzed in a car crash after being drafted.

Posted by Jeffrey Kramer at August 23, 2010 06:36 AM

John Caruso

(This will be my last salvo as well. Hurray!!)

Assuming he meant that the air strikes permanently halted Saddam's nuclear ambitions does not entail contradictions for (at least) my theory here. The explanation is that he was deliberately suggesting something that isn't true, tho there is a reading (non-standard and tortured) under which what he said is plausible (you've both provided it, and also shown how tortured it really is). That's the end of the analysis. No inherent contradictions, no pesky danglers. Only smaller and more infrequent lies on his part as criticism wanes.

And yes, I do think he was trying to pass this claim off in the face of incredible popular evidence, and for two reasons. One is that what everyone knew in 2001-2 (ie, that Saddam was on the verge of teh bombz) was simply and demonstrably not the case. So reality and evidence is reinforcing his argument here, not hindering it.

And the second reason is that people held that clearly false belief about Saddam's nuclear ambitions in 2002 in large part because Jeffrey Goldberg propagandized them into believing it. He has a record of success in making people believe extravagant falsities. Why would you presume he feels unable to do it again?

Posted by scudbucket at August 23, 2010 12:31 PM

Not really a salvo, more like collateral damage:

it's like saying he'd try to fool the world into believing that Saddam Hussein [[[was murdered by Liberace]]] had a nuclear program in 2002.

Couldn't resist.

Posted by scudbucket at August 23, 2010 12:47 PM

[ Screw the universe. ]

scudbucket: ...there is a reading (non-standard and tortured) under which what he said is plausible...

No, there are two plausible but incompatible readings, and one of them must therefore be wrong. And what I've shown is that Jon's reading led to such titanic contradictions that the conclusion should have been that the reading was wrong, not that Goldberg was trying to change the whole world's mind with a single sentence—and the "forever, as it turned out", which shows that the "halt" he was talking about was not permanent in and of itself, should only have reinforced that. It's like seeing someone say "Jeffrey Goldberg is a clown" and then claiming they're a liar because nobody's ever seen Jeffrey Goldberg in grease paint and a pair of big floppy shoes, rather than thinking, hey, maybe it was just a particularly apt figure of speech.

Jeffrey K: When it comes to Johnson my reading is like Peggy's: if I knew he played football for another nine years, the "forever, as it turned out" would tell me that the car accident was either the beginning of the end or a contributing factor to the end, not the be-all and end-all in itself. And 100 people who knew he played for another nine years wouldn't be convinced that he actually stopped playing altogether by one sentence of Goldberg's, and they'd dismiss Goldberg as an ignoramus or a raving nincompoop if they thought that's what he was trying to say.

(And to be fair to your argument, regarding "It is also true that we have all learned, beyond any minimally rational doubt, that these warnings were bullshit": at some hazy point before the Iraq War, maybe, but not before the Gulf War; what we've been told is that the inspections worked better than we thought, the weapons were destroyed by the Gulf War and the inspectors, etc, etc.)

He knows that his Atlantic readers will pride themselves on being the kind of Serious people who acknowledge that the original warnings were bullshit.

I agree with you that Goldberg was aiming his article at Serious People (and the policy elite in particular), not at the bubbas in the trailers, and one of my many points here is that to those people, the story that Israel's attack on Iraq's nuclear program dealt a temporary setback that was nonetheless key in preventing Iraq from ultimately obtaining nuclear weapons is the commonest of common coins. And 100 of those people would understand exactly what Goldberg meant, and couldn't possibly be misled into believing Iraq never had a nuclear program after 1981 by an omnibus 10-article series, much less a single sentence.

Posted by John Caruso at August 23, 2010 01:23 PM

[Screw the universe.]

lol. We're just never gonna agree about this. I simply reject your premise: that there are two prima facie plausible readings of that sentence. There's one plausible reading (which, btw, is consistent with the overall thesis the sentence derives from), and one plausible interpretation (which is actually inconsistent with the overall thesis - UN-sanctions-what?). That the sentence requires substantial interpreting (as you concede it does) goes a long way to proving my point (at least from my pov). I, however, will now retire from the battlefield, depressed at my inability to make you SEE THE TRUTH, but happy that I at least got to beat on Goldberg a little bit. A pleasure, small and childish as it may be, which you cannot likewise claim, Mr Caruso.

Posted by scudbucket at August 23, 2010 02:01 PM

I think Goldberg was bullshitting, figuring that no one would call him on it. Saying the the air raid ended Saddam's program, forever as it turns out, is pure bullshit. He can't possibly know that. (Set aside the question of whether the nuclear reactor played any role in a nuclear weapons program in the first place. As a Serious Person writing in a Serious Magazine, Goldberg has to swear allegiance to Serious Facts of that sort, even if they are probably false.)

His sentence is a throwaway line in his article to convey the message that "Bombing can work". The "forever, as it turns out" simply means that the bombing was very effective, as it turns out that Saddam never succeeded. There's nothing implied there that other factors played a role, though of course Goldberg is free to concede that if someone objects. But I doubt he imagined anyone objecting.

Articles like this are not carefully laid out philosophical arguments with clearly stated premises, evidence and argument carefully laid out so one can follow them to a conclusion, maybe identifying along the way points that reasonable people could dispute. Articles like this are bullshit in the Frankfurt sense. Goldberg said that the 1981 air raid ended Saddam's nuclear ambitions forever not because he thinks he has evidence that shows this to be the case--he said it because it goes along with the message he's trying to convey, which is that Israeli air strikes can be marvelously effective. It probably didn't cross his mind that anyone would object and so when someone does, yes, he falls back on reality and says "Of course there were other factors involved in preventing Saddam from acquiring nukes." But going into all those other factors would have detracted from the point he wanted to make--the magical effectiveness of Israeli military action.

As for the people who read the Atlantic or the NYT or other Serious Elite newspapers or magazines, bullshit is expected. Does anyone besides me read the NYT Week in Review faithfully each Sunday? People make the most astonishing assertions with the air of someone stating a fact known to all. It's expected. It's a literary form of some sort--fictional non-fiction or I don't know what to call it. Oh wait--bullshit.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 23, 2010 02:40 PM

scudbucket: ...happy that I at least got to beat on Goldberg a little bit. A pleasure, small and childish as it may be, which you cannot likewise claim, Mr Caruso.

Which just shows you haven't read my comments very closely. The difference is that even though I enjoy insulting Jeffrey Goldberg and calling him out, I'm not willing to believe every negative thing about him even in the face of major contradictions.

Donald Johnson: ...the message he's trying to convey, which is that Israeli air strikes can be marvelously effective.

Thanks for introducing the last flaw in Jon's proposition that I wanted to point out, namely that for the purposes of this article, Goldberg had no need whatsoever to try to claim that the halt was permanent rather than temporary. His point was that despite the many potential negative consequences, the Israelis might reasonably believe they can temporarily halt Iran's nuclear program just as they temporarily halted Iraq's, and they might therefore conclude it's worth the risk; this is the entire thrust of the paragraph in question and the paragraphs leading up to it. And that's a natural and reasonable thing to think in the Goldbergian/policy elite worldview.

This is one of two reasons why I mentioned Mr. Bill of Ockham—because not only was Goldberg not saying the halt was permanent, there was absolutely no need for him to do so to make his point.

And I've just bothered to actually go and look at his article long enough to discover this:

The Americans consider a temporary postponement of Iran’s nuclear program to be of dubious value. The Israelis don’t. “When Menachem Begin bombed Osirak [in Iraq], he had been told that his actions would set back the Iraqis one year,” one cabinet minister told me. “He did it anyway.”

You see? TEMPORARY. The explanation I've been describing that's so straightforward and obvious to me, but that some people here find so tortured, convoluted, and entirely unbelievable, is RIGHT THERE IN BLACK AND WHITE IN GOLDBERG'S ARTICLE. Does anyone really believe the guy is such an idiot that he'd contradict his own nefarious master propaganda sentence just a few paragraphs later in the same damn article?

Unfortunately I think I know the answer to that question, and I'm sure there are at least a few people in the world who hate Jeffrey Goldberg so much they'd happily believe he tore babies out of their incubators in Kuwait and threw them on the floor to die. So as painful as it is, I guess I'll just have to live with the fact that someone is wrong on the Internet.

Posted by John Caruso at August 23, 2010 04:15 PM

"When Menachem Begin bombed Osirak [in Iraq], he had been told that his actions would set back the Iraqis one year,” one cabinet minister told me. “He did it anyway.”"

So what? Goldberg said it turned out that it halted his program forever. Obviously the Israelis were just too modest about their own marvelousness. The paragraph shows that even a temporary halt is worthwhile, but says nothing about whether the 1981 bombing merely delivered a temporary halt.

But anyway, I think that maybe you and Jon are both overanalyzing this. He wrote the Osirak sentence with no consideration whatsoever as to how one could justify it as true. How could he know whether it halted the (hypothetical and probably nonexistent at that point) Iraqi nuclear program? He just made it up as a cool way of showing off his deep historical knowledge and to say that "Bombing works" and he expected his remark to go unchallenged because it's traditional to spout crap like this in magazines like the Atlantic and expect that people will politely nod along. It wouldn't have crossed his mind to think people would hold that sentence to any sort of intellectual standard. He's paid to write unverifiable nonsense that props up the worldviews of people like himself.

There might also be an element of "Israel rocks" in his comment, because a fair number of Americans seem to worship the Israeli military and Israeli intelligence, so the more credit you give them the more you satisfy that craving to elevate the Israeli military in this case (or Mossad in other cases).

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 23, 2010 07:18 PM

My last Goldberg comment (I hope) and also a return to Robert Wright-- If you bother to read what Goldberg said about Wright and then click through a few links, you'll see the willingness to spread misleading half-truths designed to give the wrong impression about one of his critics AND HE DID THIS IN A FORUM WHERE IT WOULD TAKE ANYONE WHO CARED TO CHECK ABOUT FIVE MINUTES TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH.

I shout to emphasize my point. This is the behavior of a guy who's used to writing this way about his subjects--he expects his dupes/readers to believe him and not to check up on what he says and he has been amply rewarded in his career for doing just that. I reread part of his article on Hezbollah in the New Yorker in 2002--I defy anyone not to recognize it as propaganda, something written by a man who apparently expects his New Yorker audience to uncritically swallow his almost 19th century style account of his trip where he visited the Hezbollah savages and studied their peculiar Jew-hating fanatical ways. Not that I know to what extent Hezbollah members hate Jews, but he does his best to ignore the context--he basically sneers at the museum at Khiam where "allegedly" Lebanese were tortured by Israel and their Lebanese Christian allies. A real journalist might have tried to check with human rights organizations on what they knew about Khiam. Not Goldberg. He also reduced the start of the 1982 war to the George Will version--the PLO fired rockets and Israel invaded.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 23, 2010 09:09 PM

Donald Johnson

I think you're probably right that JG wrote the sentence without alot of critical analysis: it fit with the general theme, suggested something strong, also hedged a bit. Good solid propaganda.

I also like your take on his writing process - that it's not necessarily analytical or finely tuned wrt premises, conclusion, etc. (I disagree a bit since, having combed thru that paper, he does present something like theses and supporting arguments, even thou the internal contradictions are stunning.)

The criticism I have is that insofar as we read propaganda by the writers rules, we have already lost the righteous War On Disinformation. We have to read this stuff critically, and objectively, with normal semantics and sentence structure in mind. Once we stoop to the level of interpreting their awkward and misleading sentences in order to make their argument coherent (because they're not dummies after all), we not only have lost the specific argument with them, but we have acceded to the Orwellianization of our language.

John Caruso

I would have thought better of you had you refrained from suggesting that my argument about Goldberg is personal. Even though you might like to believe it, when I say that I don't agree with your view, it's not because of a vendetta. It's because I wasn't persuaded by your case.

Posted by scudbucket at August 23, 2010 09:11 PM

Donald Johnson: If you bother to read what Goldberg said about Wright and then click through a few links...

None of which proves anything in one direction or the other about this case; just because Goldberg is capable of lying and has lied in other instances doesn't prove he's lying now. And I've never said or implied that Goldberg was honest in general or even that he wasn't spinning off all manner of bullshit in this very article—in fact I've told Jon I agree with the other things he pointed out, and have even cited a choice bit of BS he didn't mention. All I've said is that Jon is wrong on this particular point.

I think it was perfectly reasonable for Jon (or you, or anyone else) to read the sentence the way he did initially; I just think the serious contradictions and problems that reading leads to should have made it clear that it wasn't the right one. And I give Jon credit for being reasonable enough to grant that my reading is plausible even if he still disagrees with it. In my perfect world, that kind of thing would happen a lot more often.

Posted by John Caruso at August 24, 2010 12:10 AM

And I give Jon credit for being reasonable enough to grant that my reading is plausible even if he still disagrees with it. In my perfect world, that kind of thing would happen a lot more often.

This is downright sad.

Posted by scudbucket at August 24, 2010 01:12 AM

Osirak bombing did not halt Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions. It aroused Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions.

Posted by abb1 at August 24, 2010 07:54 AM

John, one of your arguments was that Goldberg would never be silly enough to tell an easily disproven untruth. That's why I brought up the Wright thing--he did there.

As for the Osirak reactor comment, I don't know that it contradicts anything because I don't think JG meant it as a statement of fact--it was more one of those comments you find in sacred texts and mainstream articles on foreign policy. Not literally true, just an article of faith about the glory and the wonder that is Israeli military intervention.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 24, 2010 05:25 PM

I mean, look at it--

"In 1981, Israeli warplanes bombed the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, halting—forever, as it turned out—Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions"

There's no way a rational person would make a categorical statement of fact like that unless he had very strong evidence or alternatively, was just bullshitting And his explanation , which you quote, shows he was bullshitting--

"I meant to suggest only that the Osirak attack was more effective than the Israelis thought it would be, because Saddam never achieved his ambition of nuclearization. [...] I should have added another sentence to explain exactly what I meant by "ambitions." I do believe that had the attack on Osirak not been launched, Saddam might have achieved his ambition by the time he invaded Kuwait..."

He had no basis for his original statement except his "belief" that Saddam "might" have achieved his ambition if not for the air raid. That morphed into a stronger statement that the air raid "ended, forever as it turned out" Saddam's ambition. It morphed into that because it was convenient for his argument.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 24, 2010 07:49 PM

Donald Johnson: I mean, look at it--

Yes, look at it—not just the sentence but the entire article. Look at how the whole point is to analyze the factors around a possible Israeli air strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Look at how the entire article focuses on the viewpoints and strategic thinking of Israeli planners regarding an attack. Look at how the two paragraphs leading up to the paragraph in question minutely detail the pluses and minuses of an attack from the Israeli point of view. Look at how the word "Israel" appears nearly 200 times.

All of that is a gigantic hint as to why, in the sentence in question, Goldberg focused on the effects of the Osirak attack solely from the Israeli perspective. He wasn't writing an article about Iraq's nuclear program—he was writing an article about why Israel might want to attack Iran's nuclear program. That's why the sentence in question focuses just on the Israeli contribution to balking Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions, only obliquely referencing the larger history, and that's why it presents the Israeli view of that history: that Israel's 1981 attack on Osirak was critical to ensuring that Saddam Hussein did not ultimately fulfill his nuclear ambitions.

This is Goldberg's view, it's the mainstream view, and I'm sure it's the view of most of the Israeli officials Goldberg interviewed. And that's why he wrote what he wrote.

Posted by John Caruso at August 24, 2010 09:56 PM

Sigh. My point is that it's BS and he wrote it because he knows his audience, he knows he can get away with writing such crap, and he knows he can be as sloppy as he wants to be because he's saying what his Serious Person audience wants and expects to hear and because it dramatizes his point. That's what BS is, if I understand Frankfurt's terminology. It's why it's pointless arguing about whether he's "lying". It's almost a category mistake.

Now if you actually asked him what facts and evidence, what technical details, what interviews with scientists and engineers actually led him to believe what he wrote, it might dimly enter his mind to realize you were asking him for a different literary genre than the one he chose to write--you'd be asking him for real journalism.

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 25, 2010 01:00 AM

Good old wikipedia. It's almost like they had Goldberg's writings in front of them when they wrote this article

BS

Posted by Donald Johnson at August 25, 2010 01:06 AM

John Caruso,

(Apologies for the length of this comment!)

I went back through all of the comments to try to understand where some of the confusions between participants originated, and I discovered that I have under-argued certain points which would lead you - quite correctly - to think I'm nuts for holding some of the views I've been suggesting here. In particular, you wrote (way upthread) that my view entails contradictions, and quite frankly, I couldn't figure out where you were getting that from.

Here's the thing about that: given that I didn't explain myself regarding the two quotations in the initial post (the ones Jonathan suggested were contradictions) it would be easy to conclude that I don't know what 'p and not-p' really means.

Here's what I failed to explain along the way (though it probably doesn't change the fundamentals disagreements you and I were having). When I initially read this post, I concluded immediately that the two quotations were not contradictory. My reasoning was that in the second quote (where JG says that Greenwald incorrectly asserted that "I (JG) believe that Israel's Osirak attack ended Saddam's desire for nuclear weapons in 1981") JG was being deliberately obfuscatory by using the word 'desire' in its standard meaning (ie, psychological sense)in a context where people would quite naturally understand him to mean 'nuclear ambitions'. Hence, on my initial reading there were no contradictions, but two statements which I viewed as being lies.

On this score, I agree with your initial assertion that the two sentences aren't contradictory (I should have made this clear), but I disagree with the reasoning. On my view it's because JG used words with their standard meanings in both of the sentences at issue ('nuclear ambitions' refers to concrete efforts to acquire nuclear capabilities, and 'desires' refers to a psychological state). And given this (literal) understanding of the meanings of the words he used. A contradiction would only arise if you understood the phrases 'nuclear ambitions' and 'desires' as synonymous. This I did not do.

However, I concluded that both sentences were lies (some of this is covered above). The Greenwald, in particular, is a lie because Greenwald never referred to Goldberg's beliefs about Saddam's psychological state of desire, and GOldberg falsely claims that he did.

This may go some distance in resolving what was a an issue between us: that I was introducing into the debate an interpretation under which 'nuclear ambitions' referred to desires, and that my view entailed contradictions (by assuming the synonymy mentioned above). I can see how you would get that impression, given that I never mentioned the Greenwald sentence.

Now, I don't think this changes much of our disagreement (except if you were to agree with me that JG was being literal in his use of 'desires' when he criticized Greenwald), but it may clear up some of the arguing back and forth about contradictions.

So, in sum my views during this whole very interesting debate are as follows:

1. The initially posted assertions from JG aren't contradictory.

2. Both claims are deliberately misleading in such a way as to constitute lies (since JG - on my view - knew that they were deliberately misleading).

3. That there is only one plausible reading of Osirak statement.

And now adding, belatedly

4. That JG's Greenwald assertion was a lie because he falsely accuses Greenwald of something which Greenwald never said: ie, claiming that GOldberg thought the strikes ended Saddam's (psychological) desire for nuclear weapons.

And one last thought so that this comment doesn't foster, rather than settle, some confusions. I think we can all agree with GOldberg that Saddam never gave up his desire for nuclear weapons' without the substantive disagreements discussed on this thread being affected one way or the other.

Posted by scudbucket at August 25, 2010 11:42 AM

Some typos and chopped sentences in the above.

OOOOPS! I hope the overall point is unaffected.

Posted by scudbucket at August 25, 2010 11:47 AM

Another oops. I just reread my above post and it's confusing too. Point 1 says I believed that the two sentences were not contradictory (which I failed to mention in my comments). Yet I did say that there was a contradiction!? Wtf? The contradiction I was referring to , which I (incorrectly) assumed was clear from the context of the prior comments, was between the Osirak sentence and JG's 2002 claim that Saddam had a weapons program (a claim that was also mentioned in Jon's initial post). I mean, right from the start focus was on the Osirak sentence, and I just never even considered the Greenwald sentence again, or commented on it.

It's like I thought - we were talking past each other much of the thread. I should have been a bit clearer. Apologies to you and everyone else that was confused by what I wrote.

Posted by scudbucket at August 25, 2010 02:41 PM

YOU GUYS all went to highschool with Jeff, right?

Posted by Mike Meyer at August 25, 2010 03:38 PM

scudbucket: Thanks for the olive branch. It was actually Jon (via Goldberg) who introduced the notion of ambition=desire in the posting itself, but while I'm glad to see that he (and you) have recognized that this particular posting was misguided, it's barely a nit compared to the rest of the problems I've brought up.

So no, that's at most a minor part of what I meant when I said that your (and Jon's) view involved contradictions. I've explained those contradictions at great length throughout the thread, though, so I won't repeat them. But I do appreciate you taking the time to explain.

Posted by John Caruso at August 25, 2010 10:24 PM