National Review Gives Up, Tries Magic
By way of an introduction, I’m a contributor to Vanity Fair and Skeptical Inquirer as well as other random outlets, and the author of one book on intelligent design and another upcoming book on why Thomas Friedman, Charles Krauthammer, and others are symptoms of a broken republic. I’ve written for The Onion, New York Press, National Lampoon, Huffington Post, Skeptic, McSweeney’s, Nerve.com, a bunch of policy journals in the U.S., and some newspapers in Texas and Mexico. I’m also doing some sketch writing for Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s website Funny or Die with a producer for whom I’m also writing a film treatment. As of two weeks ago I’m an advisor to Wynne LeGrow, the Democratic candidate for Virginia’s 4th congressional district. I’ve served as director of communications for the pro-secular PAC Enlighten the Vote for a couple of years, and I’m the founder of the distributed think-tank Project PM, on which I now spend most of my time. I’m 29 and from Texas, though I’ve also lived in LA, New York, Tanzania, and Mexico.
I’d like to begin here by asking everyone to note that National Review has today put up an article by a certain Joel Rosenberg, who is presented as an expert on the Middle East. This is a wonderful coincidence, as I happen to know a few interesting things about Rosenberg. For instance, he claims to have predicted the last decade of Middle Eastern affairs by interpreting the Book of Ezekiel and other items of ancient Hebrew prophecy. “That’s what I’m basing my novels on,” Rosenberg told CNN in 2006, referring to a series of techno-thrillers he maintains have proven him prophetic. “ I have been invited to the White House, Capitol Hill. Members of Congress, Israelis, Arab leaders all want to understand the Middle East through the – through the lens of biblical prophecies. I’m writing these novels that keep seeming to come true, but we are seeing Bible prophecy, bit by bit, unfold in the Middle East right now.”
According to his website, Rosenberg has quite a track record of predicting the not-so-distant future. “The first page of his first novel – The Last Jihad – puts you inside the cockpit of a hijacked jet, coming in on a kamikaze attack into an American city, which leads to a war with Saddam Hussein over weapons of mass destruction,” it says. “Yet it was written before 9/11, long before the actual war with Iraq.” That actually sounds pretty impressive. I mean, that’s exactly what ended up happening!
Still, though, Rosenberg did indeed write up a scenario in which we’d fight yet another undeclared war against Iraq over WMDs, which certainly ended up happening. Did he predict that 150,000 U.S. troops would be deployed to Iraq, topple Saddam, occupy the country, and find out that there aren’t any WMDs after all? Because that would be pretty impressive if he did. But he didn’t. Instead, his book details how Saddam tries to blow up the U.S. with ICBMs launched from his super-secret ICBM launchers, at which point the U.S. gets all huffy and nukes Baghdad and Tikrit. My memory is a little hazy, but I don’t remember any of that actually happening.
There’s also the matter of Rosenberg’s hijacked airplane, the one that comes in “on a kamikaze attack on an American city.” In Last Jihad, said plane crashes into the presidential motorcade in an attempt to assassinate the commander-in-chief. Well, that didn’t happen, either, but surely the fact that Rosenberg used a plane crashing into an American city as a plot element makes him an extraordinarily important person whose views should be sought out by the White House, Capitol Hill, and Kyra Phillips. But what if he had written a scenario in which terrorists attempt to crash a commercial airliner into the World Trade Center itself, and said scenario had been released in narrative form just a few months before 9/11? That would be more impressive still, right?
In fact, that scenario was indeed written, and said scenario was indeed released in narrative form just a few months before 9/11. But it wasn’t written by Rosenberg, or by any other modern prophet. Rather, it was an episode of the short-lived X-Files spin-off called The Lone Gunmen. I don’t know who the writer was, but I’m pretty sure he hasn’t been invited to Capitol Hill or the White House or even CNN. But why not? Coming up with a scenario in which such a significant event happens before it actually happens is, as we’ve determined, a valuable skill, perhaps even more valuable than Rosenberg’s ability to predict a few things that sort of happen along with a bunch of shit that will never happen at all. As Condoleeza Rice put it during her 2002 testimony before the 9/11 Commission, “No one could have imagined them taking a plane, slamming it into the Pentagon… into the World Trade Center, using a plane as a missile.” No one but the guy who wrote that one show with those guys from that other show, that is.
I’m kidding; plenty of people aside from that guy who wrote that one show with those guys from that other show imagined that such a thing could happen, and Condoleeza Rice is, of course, a liar. In 1993, the Pentagon itself commissioned a study in which the possibility of airplanes being used as weapons against domestic U.S. targets was looked into; similar reports on the topic conducted by various other agencies would follow over the next few years. In 1995, an Islamic terrorist plot to crash eleven planes into various world landmarks was foiled by international authorities. In 1998, the Federal Aviation Administration warned airlines to be on the alert for hijackings by followers of bin Laden, and a number of reports that circulated through the intelligence community over the next two years warned that said followers might try to crash airliners into skyscrapers. And in 1999, Columbine assailants Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wrote out their plan to shoot up their school, blow up the building, escape to the airport, hijack a plane, and crash it into New York City, but only got around to doing the first part. Had they refrained from doing any of it and instead simply described that last event in a book, they probably could have looked forward to lucrative post-9/11 careers as novelists/cable news mainstays, insomuch as that they would have been “writing these books that keep seeming to come true” to the same extent that Rosenberg does.
Ah, but Rosenberg has written other books as well. Back to his website: “His second thriller – The Last Days – opens with the death of Yasser Arafat and a U.S. diplomatic convoy ambushed in Gaza. Six days before The Last Days was published in hardcover, a U.S. diplomatic convoy was ambushed in Gaza. Thirteen months later, Yasser Arafat died.”
That a U.S. diplomatic convoy might be ambushed in Gaza is hardly a tough bet; the reason that it was a U.S. diplomatic convoy in the first place, and not a U.S. diplomatic bunch-of-cars-driving around-individually-without-a-care-in-the-world-through-a-very-dangerous-region-where-anti-U.S.-sentiment-is-high-and-everyone-is-armed, is that Gaza is a very dangerous region where anti-U.S. sentiment is high and everyone is armed.
In fairness to Rosenberg, his plot points don’t simply involve things that have already happened several times or things that have almost happened several times or things that are happening right now; occasionally, he goes out on a limb by describing events that can only happen once, such as the death of Yasser Arafat mentioned above. The reader will no doubt recall that Arafat did indeed die of health complications in 2003, having reached the age of 75 in a region where life expectancy is a bit lower than that and also after having been in and out of hospitals for several years, which is generally the sort of situation that leads one to die. And so it would have been pretty easy to predict in 2003 that Arafat might very well pass away in 2003 or 2004 from a combination of disease and plain old age.
But as easy as such a prediction might have been to make, it was still too difficult for our prophetic friend Rosenberg; The Last Days opens with Yasser Arafat being blown up in a suicide blast along with the U.S. secretary of state… in 2010. So, although Rosenberg does indeed predict the death of Arafat, whereas many people less astute than himself had no doubt predicted that Arafat might live forever, the actual death of Arafat, coming seven years before his fictional technothriller death in 2010, actually made Rosenberg’s own scenario not more accurate, but less accurate and, in fact, impossible. Nonetheless, this is one of a handful of plot points that Rosenberg uses as an example of how he’s managed to write “these books that keep seeming to come true.”
This is the person whom the editor of National Review has decided to publish as one of publication’s contributing Middle East experts.