One of the more depressing aspects of the Iraq Attaq, has been the way in which many conservative intellectuals have been caught with their pants down. It hasn’t been just the hacks. Michael Novak, Thomas Sowell, David Brooks, Victor David Hanson. These aren’t idiots. The question is, what to do about them? Should they all be fired for gross incompetence? There certainly is a very good prima facie case that if you screw up that bad, you should face some fairly severe consequences. On the other hand, the fact is these people have done excellent work in other areas. ~The Man Who Is Thursday
Via I, Ectomorph
I do share TMWIT’s disappointment with Sowell. Not having been a great fan of any of the others or their work before the war, I can’t say that I was either terribly surprised or disappointed that they advocated for the war as zealously as they did and as they more or less continue to do today.
Whatever his occasional insights about immigration, Hanson is a militarist who has exulted in the devastation that Sherman wrought in the March to the Sea. He saw that mass of atrocities as a necessary blow to “aristocracy” in the South. He is a confirmed democratic egalitarian, or at least this is what he will say, and he thinks it is quite appropriate to lay waste to entire lands for the sake of these supposedly high-minded ideals. His support for the war was completely predictable for those familiar with his political writing.
David Brooks was one of the early writers at The Weekly Standard and a proponent of “national greatness conservatism.” Enough said. Anyone who didn’t see his dedicated support for the invasion coming wasn’t paying close enough attention.
Michael Novak and his partner in theological crime, George Weigel, are completely predictable “theocon” jingoes. As an offshoot or a group very closely related to and intertwined with neoconservatives, the major “theocons” of First Things, including the current editor Joseph Bottum, follow the neocon line on military adventurism (to the extent that they talk about foreign affairs at all) essentially without exception. In his newer capacity writing at NRO, Novak has continued with the jingo bluster and bad WWII analogies.
Thomas Sowell is the most disappointing, because I admired his work more than that of the others and I assumed that his old no-nonsense insistence on empirical evidence would compel him to be very skeptical and even hostile to the administration’s claims about Iraq. I was wrong. Perhaps, as Steve Sailer writes in the comments to TMWIT’s post, Sowell didn’t write about Iraq that often, but when he did his views were reliably in favour of it.
The final straw for me was his disgusting, anti-intellectual dismissal of the damage done to the antiquities in the main museum in Baghdad. It was true that the original reports of the devastation were significantly exaggerated, but the losses were still bad enough to pain and horrify anyone who loved knowledge and the study of the past. He wrote:
Even when the military campaign in Iraq was triumphant, there was a chorus of complaints in the media about artifacts missing from a museum in Baghdad. It later turned out that these artifacts were not missing, after all, but even if they had been — since when are soldiers in a war zone supposed to be acting as museum guards?
In fact, under international law all belligerent forces are obliged to respect and secure such sites for the sake of the preservation of their contents. There had once been a sane and humane recognition that museums and stores of knowledge were goods that were important to preserve for the future. The truth of the matter was that many artifacts had been destroyed or stolen (some, like the priceless Warka Vase, were recovered), and this information was available to anyone interested in finding out. The magazine Archaeology made a point of assessing the damage done and discussing the problem at length before Sowell wrote his column. For those not likely to browse a specialist magazine, The Economist covered the matter in some detail starting immediately after the looting. His ignorance of what happened and his obvious indifference to any losses told me all I needed to know about the man. Here was someone who held himself out as a scholar adopting a Rumsfeldian pose of “stuff happens” towards the destruction of invaluable artifacts–what villainy!
After that, I virtually never read Thomas Sowell again, convinced as I was that he would sooner carry water for the administration and the official line of, “What, me worry?” than acknowledge the terrible, irreparable damage that the war had done to the record of human knowledge. That damage, so I thought, should deeply trouble him as a scholar. Obviously, I overestimated the man’s seriousness.
I will probably have more to say about Ecto’s claim that, “I still can’t see how we are worse off now than we would be if we could wind the clock back to 2002 and let things go on as they were.” I suppose that depends on what he means by “we,” but if by “we” he means Americans, Iraqis and all other Westerners, I should hope that the ways in which “we” are all worse off are now leaping to Ecto’s mind. For what it’s worth, the Chinese and, say, the Brazilians are scarcely feeling any pain, so viewed from their perspective the invasion has probably provided net benefits.