Glenn Greenwald, Michael Tomasky, and why punditry is an amnesiac’s game

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a freelance journalist and blogger. He considers Bob Dylan and Walter Sobchak to be the two great Jewish thinkers of our time; he thinks Kafka was half-right when he said there was hope, "but not for us"; and he can be reached through the twitter via @eliasisquith or via email. The opinions he expresses on the blog and throughout the interwebs are exclusively his own.

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22 Responses

  1. Michael Drew says:

    Well, it is in fact the same country as it was under Bush, Clinton, Bush, etc., so yeah, one can overstate the differences.

    But there have certainly been accomplishments by the administration. It’s hard for anyone to really know how we’re seen in far-flung parts of the world, so I agree that is a strange thing for Tomasky to claim to know. On the other hand, Greenwald seems to deny that bin Laden was killed, or that a drawdown in Iraq has occurred. So what are we to make of that?

    I just tire of this discussion. It’s not much more than navel-gazing. Most people are neither building up what Obama has done, nor obsessing over whether “Change” has really occurred. They’re observing what’s happening, and deciding how it fits into their own lives. We should all try to be more like most people in that regard.Report

  2. Katherine says:

    I’ve actually become doubtful that the “less belligerent rhetoric” of the Obama administration is welcome. The past few years have shown that competence, better diplomacy, and less belligerent rhetoric are all it takes for liberals and even parts of the left to embrace military imperialism.Report

  3. Katherine says:

    But I would disagree with you that Clinton, Bush and Obama are part of the same trend. Granted, I wasn’t following politics during the Clinton administration. But Bush changed things deeply. He made aggressive wars of choice an acceptable use of the American military. Not wars defended by the justification of stopping an ongoing atrocity; not CIA interventions to overthrow governments that acted contrary to American interests; but full-out military invasion of any nation the US government dislikes. That’s a paradigm shift, and one that Obama has accepted.

    The same is true of torture. The US certainly committed torture during previous wars, but it never institutionalized it; its officials didn’t go on TV and say torture was right.

    My disillusionment with the Obama administration primarily due to its acceptance of these changes, rather than seeking to expose their evil and overthrow them. In 2008, I was hoping that America could and would change. Now, I’m just waiting to see which of the idiots running for president can destroy the capacity of the empire to be a threat to others quickest.Report

    • Kim in reply to Katherine says:

      … do you live in America? because it is my firm belief that the republicans will reduce America to a third world nation far quicker than the democrats will.Report

    • Art Deco in reply to Katherine says:

      Now, I’m just waiting to see which of the idiots running for president can destroy the capacity of the empire to be a threat to others quickest.

      1. There is no ’empire’.

      2. Our military is no threat to any but the most obstreperous foreign country.Report

      • Kim in reply to Art Deco says:

        … or anyone with oil.
        Operation Iraqi Liberation?Report

        • Art Deco in reply to Kim says:

          As a rule, extractive industries provide only a modest fraction of a country’s total output and constitute by value only a modest fraction of costs. Iraq had, last I heard, about 5% of the world’s proven reserves. Iraq would also surely have sold us the oil. Any benefit from the motivation you posit would be limited to that which would accrue from the difference in the evolution of the price of oil available to American refiners to be had as a consequence of occupying Iraq. The recoverable economic benefit would be far too small to justify $130 bn annual charge assessed over nine years. I think you are going to have to look elsewhere if you want to understand the Bush Administration’s motives.Report

          • Kim in reply to Art Deco says:

            you forget the benefit of denying it to our industrial enemies.
            and you also assume a degree of competence in estimating how much it is going to cost, which I do not.Report

            • Art Deco in reply to Kim says:

              Oil is a fairly fungible commodity, albeit one with no close substitutes.

              You will recall the last attempt to institute a commodity cartel in oil was able to successfully manipulate prices for about 16 years. Other commodity cartels attempted during that time period collapsed much more quickly. Ca. 1980, about 52% of the world’s proven reserves were to be found in OPEC countries. I doubt that denying the output of 5% of the world’s proven reserves would do more than irritate China, even if we hadn’t reason to stay on China’s good side.

              Back to the drawing board.Report

              • Kim in reply to Art Deco says:

                … all indications point to our current reserves being inflated, by a particular country that I’m not going to name, but which should be obvious by context.Report

      • Katherine in reply to Art Deco says:

        A military that is willing to invade a nation that is not engaged in aggression against them or against another state is a threat to everyone. Wars of aggression are always a threat. When a state engages in them unashamedly, and when said state has the by far the most powerful military in the world, the threat is extreme.

        I’m sure there were a wide variety of reasons why the US invaded Iraq, including desire for control of oil resources; the opportunity to enrich politically-connected corporations; securing a site for military bases in a strategically-significant area; and general dislike of the country’s leader. None of them were legitimate. Any of them could cause for invading many other nations who have resources, valuable strategic locations, and/or leaders the US dislikes.Report

        • Art Deco in reply to Katherine says:

          The military does not make policy.

          The United States had been in a state of belligerency with Iraq for nearly 13 years, commencing with Iraq‘s insistence on conquering Kuwait to treble its proven reserves of oil.Report

          • Kim in reply to Art Deco says:

            george hw bush knew when to quit. without george w bush, we’d never have commenced a war of aggression for misguided reasons concerning his daddy issues (read his treasury sec’s comments on exactly when bush started planning that invasion)Report

            • Art Deco in reply to Kim says:

              You knowledge of the inside of his head is likely no more extensive than your understanding of commodity markets.Report

              • Elias Isquith in reply to Art Deco says:

                Good one, Art Deco. Bravo. Enlightening for everyone, comments like this.Report

              • Art Deco in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                Why not explain why it is ‘enlightening’ for this discussion ‘Kim’ to display her imaginings on the subject of the previous President’s inner life and family dynamics? Neither is public information and it is often difficult to discern the truth of either even for people we know well. So, unless ‘Kim’ is some Bush family retainer, she almost certainly talking out of her ass.

                Figures on the value of oil consumption and the distribution of proven reserves can be had from the World Bank, among other loci.Report

              • Kim in reply to Art Deco says:

                … silver’s up because the price of gold is up, because Indian women wear their money on their sleeve,and when gold got too expensive, they switched to silver.

                … what was that? you want more?

                Investors have this funny habit of knowing at least something about what they invest in.Report

  4. Stillwater says:

    All I’m trying to say here is that, in and of itself, the presence of tribalism doesn’t automatically disqualify one from reasoned debate.

    But it does. Right on the surface. And it has to do with which way the arrow of causation goes. If one identifies with a group because it supports most of the views held after ‘reasoned debate’, then it’s hunky dory. If not, then not.

    the fact is that whatever trends (globalization, neo-imperialism, the hyper-financialization of the global economy, etc.) brought us Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are the same trends that brought us Barack Obama.

    Exactly. See, for example, George Carlin on this:

    if you’re the kind of person who found the America of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to be less than satisfactory, to say the least, there’s really no logical reason to imagine that things under President Obama could become appreciably better

    In practice, yes. But doesn’t context have anything to say here? The political winds, as it were? And also – but not an entirely separate point, btw – aren’t there contemporary institutional constraints against what one man can do? As a somewhat trivial example, Obama actually tried to get Congress to pass restrictions on the time frame between lobbyists leaving Government Service and being employed by the private sector, and he also tried to get Congress to pass open-disclosure of contract-assignment and the legislative process. These two things would have actually change the Washington dynamic in appreciable amounts. Congress didn’t agree.

    Of course, cynics say – and maybe with real justification – that Obama never wanted those things in any event. But I don’t agree: if he never wanted those things, they never would have been brought up after the campaign.

    There’s only so much one man can. Eg., Bush never achieved his dream to privatize SS. The problem isn’t with one man, it’s with the ‘system’ which generates such men.Report

  5. Walter Wit Man says:

    Tomasky’s fawning is indeed tribal. But not in the way you envision.

    It’s power politics, not a cultural affection for Obama’s tone or style. He’s in agreement with Obama that U.S. power should be projected and sold via a lying neo-liberal “tone.” But it’s not so much that Tomasky is personally attracted to the “tone” (although he probably is), it’s that the elite pundits like Tomasky have settled on this excuse and manner of wielding power. He knows he will be backed up by other pundits and Democratic partisans and he will be protected from dissent from people like Greenwald if he jumps on the tribal bandwagon. He will take comfort in the fact he will be treated more seriously than Greenwald will be in polite Washington. Maybe he even believes that by projecting and propagating the “Good Liberal Obama” image he will be able to change things for the better. But in the end, it seems much more like conscious decision to join or use the tribal power of Obama the Good Liberal than a sincere belief in the tone. That’s the tribe he’s choosing to wield power.Report

  6. Walter Wit Man says:

    I’m with Katherine. I don’t know why hoping that illegal and immoral wars will be more effective by hoodwinking the victims into thinking the U.S. is helping them is a good thing.

    As one would imagine, people in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia do not buy into the propaganda. It is actually backfiring. When Obama gave his Cairo speech and won the Nobel Prize and after the U.S. media catapulted the propaganda that Obama was seriously changing U.S. foreign policy, public opinion in that part of the world did indeed change. But look where it is now. It’s worse. People don’t like being deceived and lied to–especially when it involves killing their neighbors and fellow citizens.

    Pretty much only liberal Americans still believe the crap that Obama is seriously winding down any war. And they don’t even believe it. It’s willful suspension of disbelief to justify one’s complicity in these crimes.Report