Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Victim of intellectual fashion

Contratimes author and all-around good guy Bill Gnade posted the other day a link to a Wall Street Journal interview with author and social critic Tom Wolfe.

Mr. Gnade referred to and commented on some of Wolfe's views on email, the Internet and by extension, blogs. Good points were made by all, but my attention was piqued by other statements made by Wolfe, specifically, this notion of intellectual fashion. From the interview:
This is Tom Wolfe's MO--sorting out and at once demolishing pretension, snobbery, vanity in all its guises. "There is such a thing as intellectual fashion--just as we get our clothing fashions--and often it does not mean anything more," he says. "One follows fashion in order to look proper, and it's the same thing with ideas."
The current height of intellectual fashion is to consider the Bush administration an abject failure. To dare to consider that anything positive might come from the administration at this point marks you as an intellectual square by the self-proclaimed intellectual elite.

It's something Wolfe takes exception with:
George Bush's appeal, for Mr. Wolfe, was owing to his "great decisiveness and willingness to fight." But as to "this business of my having done the unthinkable and voted for George Bush, I would say, now look, I voted for George Bush but so did 62,040,609 other Americans. Now what does that make them? Of course, they want to say--'Fools like you!' . . . But then they catch themselves, 'Wait a minute, I can't go around saying that the majority of the American people are fools, idiots, bumblers, hicks.' So they just kind of dodge that question. And so many of them are so caught up in this kind of metropolitan intellectual atmosphere that they simply don't go across the Hudson River. They literally do not set foot in the United States.
It's interesting to read these statements in light of comments made by many bloggers in conjunction with the third "anniversary" of the war in Iraq.

I think one way to identify intellectual fasionistas is by the degree to which they are open to examining all (not "both") sides of a story.

For example, Joshua at TFK recently gave his version of a numerical rundown of the war in Iraq.
"2318 American soldiers have died in Iraq, a total of 2525 coalition soldiers. Credible reports attribute 33,710-37,832 Iraqi civilian casualties to military actions since the invasion, credible epidemiological research puts the number of excess fatalities above 100,000. In 1,100 days, that amounts to ten people a day who didn't have to die."
What Joshua doesn't consider is the number of people who would have died if other, or no, action had been taken. Granted, most people would expect casualties not to be as high. But then, most people in Kansas City wouldn't have expected more than 120 homicides last year.

The intellectually fashionable fail to consider numbers from other sides of the issue:
  • 1,581 Iraqi civilians killed by Islamic terrorists so far this year
  • 4,535 deadly terrorist attacks since the attack on The World Trade Centers in New York
  • 3,262 people have been killed by Islamic terrorists in America in 37 terror attacks since 1973.
All this isn't to say that the war in Iraq has been carried out flawlessly. It hasn't. There have been many missteps with fatal consequences, and the administration has shown incompetence on multiple occasions.

But, as Mr. Gnade notes in a separate post, there is no such thing as a perfect war or a perfect world. And mistakes have to be weighed against the cost of doing nothing at all. The the best way to do this is with objectivity and intellectual honesty.

Of course, that is much more difficult and takes more effort than following the intellectual fashion trends.

tagged: , , , , , , , ,


  1. Well, the point of talking about "excess fatalities" is to capture the increase in civilian fatalities over the baseline. That figure is total deaths minus the normal number of deaths.

    If we hadn't invaded Iraq, there would be zero US casualties in Iraq. The number of US soldiers killed by IEDs or terrorist attacks would be near zero. Before we invaded, terrorists weren't killing people in Iraq.

    I guess I think I actually did capture all sides. Not sure which you think I missed.

  2. To that I would add this simple fact. Prior to our invasion of Iraq, no Americans had been killed by Iraqi extremists or terrorists. Iraq posed no threat whatsoever to Americans, or American interests. Iraq was an isolated, impotant, heavily monitored country. There was never any legitimate reason for us to be there.

  3. Xavier:

    There was never any legitimate reason for us to be there.

    The voters of the United States legitimized the Iraq war by re-electing Dubya. That's as "legit" as it can ever get for a president. "We agree, Mr. President, continue henceforth with vigilance, fury and confidence." There were no mixed signals.
    Here's the truth of it: Hussein & Co. have had a hard-on for the U.S. and particularly the Bush family for quite some time. There was going to be a fight sooner or later, and anybody could have seen that. We fucked over Sadaam before GHW ever took office, so the angst was going to be there regardless. ESPECIALLY after the asskicking we handed him in GulfWarOne...
    It was going to come to a head sooner or later, so IMHO, better there than here.

  4. I understand the point you are trying to make. I just don't buy it.

    Dubya's re-election only reaffirms the electorate's gullibility, not the war's legitimacy.

    Saddam was no threat to us. He couldn't touch us. He had NO involvement in 9/11. He had no WMD or a even a program to develop them.

    There was no need to sacrifice 2,300+ American lives just to bitch slap an impotant dictator.

  5. By Andrew's argument, only a quarter of the country validated the war. Half didn't vote, and half of those that did chose Bush. Why they did so is debatable. If you recall, the rhetoric at the time was that values were the main issue, and Iraq wasn't the deciding factor. Polls show that most Americans think it was a mistake to go into Iraq, and favor a timely withdrawal.

    To say that "there are no mixed signals" is laughable. If a few thousand people in a single state had voted differently, or chose to show up at the polls, Kerry would have won. Would that have been an unambiguous national condemnation of the war in Iraq?

  6. It is disappointing that Xavier Onassis should appear un-informed: the Iraqi connections to, for instance, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (in which several people were killed) are well known. Many of us, I am afraid, forget about that violent (and potentially far worse than 9/11) day in American history. Moreover, American pilots were constantly shot on by Iraqi forces during the Clinton Administration's enforcement of the No-Fly zones. America has been at war with Iraq since 1991.

    Also, Mr. Onassis is flat-out wrong in his intimation that there was no connection between 9/11 and Iraq: The 9/11 Commission merely determined that there was no collaborative connection between Al-Qaida and Iraq. However, Iraq was the CAUSAL reason for 9/11, since it was Osama bin Laden's 1998 fatwa that made Iraq the central reason Americans should be attacked (and they were, in 2001). And the connections are increasingly piling up, by the way.

    The only viable issue to argue is not whether Iraq is central (it is), but whether military action was the right course to take. My post and follow-up comments (to which emaw_kc kindly linked) make a fairly strong (though hasty) case for military involvement, as do the comments by Christopher Hitchens in the Wall Street Journal. Also, I commend to you the comments and links posted by Extremist at Occasional Outbursts.

    Lastly, thanks to emaw_kc for his kind words: I am honored to be considered a good guy. No doubt Mr. Onassis is too. How could he not be, with sunglasses like that? Clearly there is plenty of common ground on which Mr. Onassis and I can stand...

    Peace and mirth to you all,


  7. "the Iraqi connections to, for instance, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing...are well known"

    Really? What would those connections be, exactly. There were connections to bin Laden, I know.

    "American pilots were constantly shot on by Iraqi forces during the Clinton Administration's enforcement of the No-Fly zones"

    Well yeah! Iraqi military forces firing on American military forces hardly counts as terrorism.

    "Iraq was the CAUSAL reason for 9/11, since it was Osama bin Laden's 1998 fatwa that made Iraq the central reason Americans should be attacked"

    What? Huh? So, if bin Laden didn't issue his "fatwa" until 1998, then why was the WTC attacked in 1993? Makes no sense. And for the record, it is our presence in Saudi Arabia that really has Osama's panties in a twist.

    Peace rightbackatcha brutha!

  8. Dear Mr. Onassis,

    It seems, perhaps, that you misunderstood what I wrote. The 1993 WTC bombing was not attributed to Osama bin Laden; rather, there was a connection between that attack and Iraq. A former Clinton staffer (her name eludes me, but it's something like Laurie Malroy) wrote about that connection; Stephen F. Hayes, if I am not mistaken, has also written about it. In fact, for a more comprehensive look at the connections between Iraq and Al Qaida, see Hayes' book, "The Connection." As for the immediate connections to the 1993 attack (which, had it been successful, would have been far worse than 9/11) was that (if memory serves me well) several of the bombers were Iraqi, or the bomb designer was, and after the attack at least one of the bombers was granted asylum in Iraq. It was largely because of this attack that the initial reports out of the White House post-9/11 pointed to Iraq: Iraqis were involved 8 years earlier.

    So, of course the way you've described things makes no sense: OBL was not the force behind the FIRST WTC attack. But it was his fatwa, drafted in 1998, that called for attacks on America for its continued involvement in Iraq. Hence, Iraq was made CENTRAL by OBL. Moreover, in response to OBL's fatwa, then-President Clinton signed into law the Iraq Liberation Act, which called for "regime change" in Iraq. That act, also drafted in 1998, was the US law re: Iraq that President Bush inherited in 2001.

    So, if the WTC bombing in 1993 was Iraqi backed, then you are wrong about Iraq NOT killing Americans. And when you say that "Iraq posed no threat whatsoever to Americans, or American interests", you omit the incredible American interest of containing Hussein's Iraq, of which the enforcement of the No-Fly zones was a significant, and dangerous, part. But as I said, the US has been at war with Iraq since 1991, and that fact itself is not only reflective of American interests, it provides cause for considering one'e enemy, ie. Iraq, no matter how weak, to be something of a threat.

    As for Saudi Arabia, you are right: this ticked off OBL. But our only reason for being in SA was to launch attacks on Iraq, which REALLY pissed him off. If you have not read the 1998 fatwa, permit me to quote it here:

    "First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.

    If some people have formerly debated the fact of the occupation, all the people of the Peninsula have now acknowledged it.

    The best proof of this is the Americans' continuing aggression against the Iraqi people using the Peninsula as a staging post, even though all its rulers are against their territories being used to that end, still they are helpless. Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, in excess of 1 million... despite all this, the Americans are once again trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation. ..."

    Those "horrific massacres" that America allegedly wanted to repeat, by the way, were the massive sorties dropped on Iraq by the Clinton Administration: The Clinton Administration actually dropped more bombs and launched more missiles on Iraq than were used in the Gulf War. (Warning: I may have just made this part up, but I don't think I did. I believe I've read this in several reliable journals, including Richard Miniter's interesting book, Losing Bin Laden.

    Anyhow, I hope this is helpful. It is late, and I am no expert. But you have at least got one thing VERY right: we indeed are very much brothers.

    Peace and mirth,



Your turn to riff...