To those who doubt that The New Republic has jumped the shark, let me put it to you this way: The Fonz is on the motorcycle. There is no need to read the content number of what Spencer Ackerman calls The Giagantic Self-Parody Issue of TNR. The table of contents is enough:
TRB: To the Brink by Peter Beinart: A final gamble for securing Iraq.What Mark Twain said of Fenimore Cooper is true of this list:
Save Whomever We Can by George Packer
Send More Troops by Robert Kagan
Admit It's Over by Richard A. Clarke
Bring the Troops Home by David Rieff
Divide Iraq by Peter W. Galbraith
Keep It Whole by Reza Aslan
Force Everyone to the Table by Anne-Marie Slaughter
Ally with the Sunnis by Josef Joffe
Crush the Sunnis by James Kurth
Try Anything by Leon Wieseltier
Ignore James Baker by Martin Peretz
Deal With the Sunnis by Larry Diamond
Talk, Talk, Talk by Michael Walzer
Bribe the Insurgents by Niall Ferguson
WASHINGTON DIARIST: The Troops and Us by Lawrence F. Kaplan
A work of art? It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are -- oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.Maybe "Art" ought to be replaced with "Thought."
Counting these out, what is left is Art. I think we must all admit that.
Anyway, it's all quite miserable, and I encourage you to read as much as your refusal to pay TNR subscription fees allows. No convention goes unrevered as wisdom, no piety goes unchatechismed, no cliché goes unclicked, no howl unhowled, no yowl unyowled, no plea unplead, no dream undreamt. There is more realism in a community dinner-theater revival of Man of La Mancha than in the whole of TNR's double-issue spiritual confab about Iraq. Leon Weiseltier, who was invented by Thomas Pynchon as a parody of Leopold Bloom and then sprang miraculously to life during a Ouija session in which Marty Peretz communed with the spirit of Theodor Hertzl, writes one thousand words detailing why he believes we should "quit," before concluding that he is "unable to conclude that we should quit." This Carollian it-was-all-just-a-dream ending typifies the dominant mode of thought at TNR these days: take the facts out for a healthy spin before returning to make a totally counterfactual conclusion that bears no relationship to the preceding reportage.
The stupidest and bloodiest New Republican by far is James Kurth, and Ackerman dishes more skillfully on that point than I am able, so go read him. He nonetheless makes a point that I'd like to glide past before landing. He notes that Jimbo proposes the division of Iraq into a Kurdish state that miraculously won't antagonize Turkey and a Shiite state that miraculously won't do much of anything, one gathers, other than smoke the houkah, eat honeyed pastries, and write lyric poetry in rhythmic Arabic to be recited over dark coffee and delicate mint tea. The Sunni, meanwhile, must be left stateless. Literally. Ackerman:
So, understand this: the thing to do is to ensure the Sunnis have nothing. The U.S. should basically become a janjaweed force of sectarian elimination. On top of that, the U.S. is fighting a broader ideological struggle to convince a billion fucking Sunnis around the world that it has no beef with them, fundamentally.Spencer is being facetious, but even so gives too much credit to the oft-repeated but sourceless, evidenceless, and meaningless contention that we are fighting something called "a broader ideological struggle." And I suppose that it is true that we are fighting such a struggle, only we're fighting it in the same sense that my beloved Steelers are, at 4-7, "defending their Superbowl title." Common phrasing isn't necessarily accurate in other words.
Admittedly, there's a moldy quality to the phrase "ideological struggle" that smells to me of college-campus Karl Marx, so part of my objection to the prase is stylistic. Aside from that, it seems to me that it's a gross overestimation to assume that the contradictory grab-bag of emotions, ideas, and allegiences possessed by most people from Pittsburgh to Palau ever do or will coalesce into something as tangible (presumably) as an ideology. Ideologies are the playthings of a very small ruling elite in this world, and the rest of us suffer mostly from forced inclusion in this or that bloc. The idea that Americans, for example, are possessed of some sort of ideological attachment to freedom and liberty and representative democracy is disproven every time some security mom tells an opinion pollster that she'd gladly trade a little freedom for a lot of safety, not to mention with every successive ballot initiative in which the principles of representation are subverted by ungovernable orders to prevent fags from marrying or to keep dirty Mexicans from using hospitals for free. The idea that your man-on-the-street Indonesian and Algerian Sunni Muslims are not merely coreligionists in a vague sort of a way, but also share some particular ideological committment to . . . something. Well, you'll pardon my disbelief.
Even though the shared global distaste for America originates in policies of our government, it's a mistake to believe it's ideological. It's practical, rather. People around the world do not object to Wilsoniansism, but to its practical repurcussions. This is something that American decision-makers refuse to understand. It is also the impulse that leads so many nominal antiwar opponents to suggest that we might fix a few things on the way out of Iraq--as if we had the capacity!--in order to, you know, demonstrate our transcendent goodness and prove that however misguided and mismanaged and botched our war there, we remain, as always, good guys. We aren't good guys, however, and we haven't got the right to stick around until we've mitigated our moral culpability, as if such a thing is possible. Iraqis don't give a damn about our gold stars or demerits on the cosmic karmic scales. They just want us gone. Will they continue to fuck things up in our absence? Sure. But it is a total and unconscionable fantasy to believe that staying will ameilorate such eventuality.
So with due respect, let's put to rest this talk of an ideological struggle for Sunni "hearts and minds." We haven't got an ideology for them to buy into anymore than they--and "they" are very heterogeneous, remember--have one to abandon. Our struggle amounts to a basic PR campaign to convince them that we are not murderous, imperialist, oil-addicted, Christianizing buffoons, and that therefore our buildings do not merit bombs or hijacked airliners, thank you very much. The most straightforward way to exporting such a conviction would be to stop acting like murderous, imperialist, oil-addicted Christianizing buffoons. You will not find such talk in TNR, though. That magazine seems content to live out its ever-shortening life as the strange journal where Jewish writers reapply all the calumnies ever applied to their own tribe to the tribes of others. Ironic, yes, but not necessarily funny.