My Scene colleague Matt Feeney raises an objection to Ross’ critique of Chait‘s criticism of Kristol (ah, the fun of blogging), noting correctly that there are internal political reasons why TNR does not say much about the war one way or the other. There is something else worth mentioning here.
Ross began his post thus:
Jon Chait’s attack on Bill Kristol’s supposed “thuggery” in support of the current American strategy in Iraq would be considerably more interesting if it were possible to discern where Chait’s own magazine stands on the question.
By the same token, Ross’ critique of Chait would be considerably more powerful if it were possible to discern clearly what Ross’ own view on the war was at the present time. It isn’t that Ross never writes about the war, but he doesn’t say much about what kind of Iraq policy he thinks would be best. In his bloggingheads appearances, he will often make a point of declaring himself to be something of an agnostic on the “surge,” and thus ends up, by default, with a “wait and see” position. That’s fair enough, but it is a bad position from which to criticise someone else’s reticence about Iraq policy.
I would add that it shouldn’t matter here whether TNR’s position on the war is discernible, and I don’t know that it would necessarily make the criticism that much more interesting. If TNR were an openly pro-withdrawal, antiwar magazine, Chait’s criticism of Kristol could–and would–be written off by other war supporters as a standard attack on a prominent “hawk,” which would immediately make the criticism less interesting to large numbers of people. If it were an openly pro-war, stay-until-we-”win” magazine, this might make the article more noteworthy as evidence of some political rift among the “hawks,” but it would in no way make the underlying criticism of Kristol more or less interesting.
On the contrary, the nebulous nature of TNR‘s position could make the criticism of Kristol all the more powerful, as it sets up an opposition between a magazine trying to offer a report about the reality of the war and the reflexive, ideological, party-line response of a major war supporter. This entire Beauchamp affair has been a miniature version of the larger pro-war obsession with the media’s “failure” to report the “real news” and ”good news” from Iraq. The pro-war responses to the Beauchamp reports, of which Kristol’s is one of the more prominent, have been typical representatives of this kind of argument. Underlying this “they aren’t reporting the real, good news” view is the assumption that any media outlet that reports things that war supporters don’t want to hear must be reporting them because of their inveterate opposition to the war and their hatred of the troops, etc. After all, only ideologically-driven antiwar fanatics could believe that anything was really going awry in Iraq, since war supporters know that the “surge” is working and all will be well.
When there is the slightest hint of erroneous reporting, the war supporters believe they have found the Holy Grail in their quest to uncover antiwar media bias. Arguably, Iraq reporting in a magazine whose editors have an ambiguous or divided view of the war stands a slightly better chance of breaking through this otherwise impenetrable cloud of willful pro-war ignorance. Similarly, such a magazine’s criticisms of war supporters whose first resort is vilification and insult instead of real argument might be more effective in forcing less obnoxious war supporters to recognise the shallowness of the arguments offered on their behalf by a prominent “hawk.”
Update: Ross gives a good reply here, and he convincingly rebuts at least part of my post. TNR does have more of a responsibility to address Iraq policy.