View Full Version : Power and the Intellectuals

03-31-2008, 05:49 PM
As requested, we were able to get a copy of Paul's TNR piece, "WHAT LINCOLN KNEW ABOUT WAR." Which you can download here (http://bloggingheads.tv/articles/resolved-lincoln.pdf).

Bloggin' Noggin
03-31-2008, 05:53 PM
Wow! Paul Berman -- with Heather H.. This should be VERY interesting.

03-31-2008, 07:24 PM
Can anybody find a link to Berman's '03 article in TNR?

03-31-2008, 08:31 PM
Bravo Heather...for waiting for the answer that never came.
I'd say we are up against team B.
Clearly the military industrial financiers needed an enemy to implement the security state. like peter dale scott is fond of saying the deep state only reveals itself rarely.

Paul here is the king of the specious statement.

supporting families of suicide bombers after the fact is pretty thin support.
If the Iraq ba'thist were connected to terrorist wouldn't they give support BEFORE the fact. Please this is wa eek. like the notion of kidnapping Israeli soldiers is week soldiers are captured and are a military targets not terrorism.

could go on but ya get the point..... very m kaus

03-31-2008, 09:03 PM
Can anybody convince me that my impression of the disappointing weakness of Paul's long answer to Heather's question here (http://www.bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/9817?in=00:24:30&out=24:40) is false? (Due perhaps to my critical faculties being overwhelmed by my reluctance to entertain an idea I'm predisposed to disagree with?) It struck me as rambling, surprisingly hesitant, and mostly defensive. Paul's formidable reputation lead me to expect more.

03-31-2008, 09:11 PM
Can anybody find a link to Berman's '03 article in TNR?

Yeah, I'd like to read that, too. Meantime, in case you didn't see it: here's an interview in Salon, published around the same time (Mar 22, 2003). Might give you some of the same flavor: Bush is an idiot, but he was right about Saddam (http://dir.salon.com/story/books/int/2003/03/22/berman/index.html)

03-31-2008, 10:03 PM

That was what I got out of this diavlog as well. Heather would ask a pretty direct and straightforward question, and he would go off on endless tangents to avoid a direct answer. "Gee you know, we are still changing our ideas about what WW I, the American Civil War, and the Punic wars were actually really about". Yeah. Launch a war and maybe in 100 years, or 150 years, or 2000 years somebody will come up with a slicker explanation or justification. Who could possibly make any judgement about any decision without at least centuries of hindsight and attendant bias? After all, historical and philosophical judgement may someday say crack whores made the best personal decisions!

The first couple comments give me the impression that this guy is supposed to be some sort of intellectual heavyweight but it would be hard to get that impression from watching this. He came across as knowing a lot of stuff and being to talk endlessly, but understanding nothing.

The whole "tracing the roots of thought" argument Berman and Goldberg make strikes me as entirely specious. You can play that game in any way you like. From Hobbes and Rousseau there are two schools historical thought that say man is basically good, and basically bad. Thanks. We just need to check out who is wearing the white hats.

I was sort of surprised at the lack of back and forth between the two, given how smart, articulate, informed, and willing to engage Heather has repeatedly shown herself to be. Each segment basically consisted of her asking a question or two, and Berman going on and on for the rest of the segment without ever really addressing the fundamental issue. It leads me to wonder if she felt some need to defer to this dude, or was just giving him all the rope he wanted to hang himself so obviously.

03-31-2008, 10:32 PM
bjkeefe, thanks for this.

I happen to agree with Berman re Islam. I haven't read his books, but he has a reputation as being a liberal hawk. I was surprised to hear him assert that he was an outspoken opponent of the war. His position on the war was incoherent; he was in favor of whomping on Saddam, but he despised the way Bush pitched the idea. Do statements like this qualify somebody to suggest they were in correct opposition to the war?
I want to be clear on something. Do you support this military invasion?

I can certainly imagine how the whole thing can be done better. Bush is probably the most inept president we've ever had in regard to maintaining foreign alliances and presenting the American case and convincing the world. He's failed in every possible way. The defeat and overthrow of Saddam Hussein is in the interest of nearly the entire world and although it is in the interest of nearly the entire world, nearly the entire world is against Bush. That situation is the consequence of Bush's ineptness.

At the same time, I think that getting rid of Saddam is in our interest and in the interest of Iraq and in the interest of the Arab world. Saddam is a mad tyrant.

So I wish Bush had gone about it differently. But now that the thing is getting under way, I fervently hope it goes well. And I think that the attitude of everyone with the best of motives who have opposed the war, should now shift dramatically. The people who have demanded that Bush refrain from action should now demand that the action be more thorough. The danger now is that we will go in and go out too quickly and leave the job half-done. The position of the antiwar movement and of liberals should be that the United States fulfill entirely its obligations to replace Saddam with a decent or even admirable system. We've done this in Afghanistan but only in most halfhearted way. We should now do more in Afghanistan and do a lot in Iraq. The people who've opposed the war should now demand that Bush do more.

03-31-2008, 10:53 PM
Men invariably underestimate her.

By the time they figure out she's smarter than they thought, she has outsmarted them.

Sure enough, Berman is soon reduced to muttering about Sandinistas and "American ('forgive me') provincialism."

He delivers a poor and unpersuasive performance, as he tries both to embrace the insane Iraq War while simultaneously ridiculing Bush and Cheney.

Heather knows that Berman can't have it both ways.

Nor will she let him conflate Saddam and Al Qaeda, despite his off-point patronizing lectures on semantics and subtle permutations of communism.

04-01-2008, 12:19 AM
The quoted text in the previous post sounds awfully similiar to Thomas Friedman's position right after the war began, which struck me as correct at the time. Although, his position on the post-war situation sounds very similiar to the regret expressed by various government and military personnel, like in the film "No End In Sight," who might have supported an invasion to begin with, there is no reason to conflate the two--I don't really see any inconsistency in his writing. One can be very much against a war before it begins and very hopeful that it goes well (efficiently and quickly) after bombs start falling.

04-01-2008, 12:49 AM
he has a reputation as being a liberal hawk.


His position on the war was incoherent; he was in favor of whomping on Saddam, but he despised the way Bush pitched the idea.

He's trying to retroactively cover his ass, and he tried to hedge his bets in March of 03.

Heather properly called him on the "infatuation with the use of force" under the guise of human rights protection. Then she let him rant his way into contradiction, pedantry and oblivion. You're right: incoherent.

Simon Willard
04-01-2008, 01:05 AM
In Paul's defense, when asked if there is such a thing as islamofacism, it is fair to say that it's just a word with imprecise meaning.

But I agree he was rather rambling and unenlightening here.

04-01-2008, 01:21 AM
"We don't have a term to describe the enemy," says Paul Berman. Of course he predicates that statement on the fallacy that all of America's "adversaries" are united against us in some epochal clash of civilizations. I put "adversaries" in quotes because I don't automatically internalize the U.S government's perspective on who "the enemy" is. Often it seems our "enemies" aren't any worse than our allies: they just have a beef with US policy and refuse to bend to its will.

As for "Islamo-Fascism," it has nothing to do with describing and understanding geopolitics.

What it's really about is creating an imaginary category of Muslims into which various and disparate groups can all be amalgamated into a single 'enemy' of the United States. So for supporters of the war, the fact that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs and wasn't responsible for 911 is irrelevant as long as he can be tenuously linked to Bin-Laden under the banner of Islamo-Fascism.

If you ask who an Islamo-Fascist is; where he is located or what his ideology is, you won't get an answer because the term is intentionally so vague and nebulous that just about any Muslim person or organization can be thrown into the pot. It's quite convenient for war mongers to be able to unify the secular Sunni Saddam, the militantly religious Sunni Bin-Laden and the relatively moderate Shia Iran by simply invoking this imaginary epithet.

You can witness this all the time among Bush supporters. That this word is a slap in the face to Muslims is indeed bad, but what's really sinister is when this language creeps into the vocabulary of normal people who might be tricked into believing in this cartoon version of the world and supporting further aggression and war in the Mideast.

04-01-2008, 02:08 AM
Heather knows that Berman can't have it both ways.

Nor will she let him conflate Saddam and Al Qaeda, despite his off-point patronizing lectures on semantics and subtle permutations of communism.

Wonderment, you obviously have no understanding of the esoteric nuances and intricacies connecting Islamo-Fascism, Saddam, Iran, al-Qaeda Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Let's review how the commonalities of The Enemy intersect.

1) They have brown skin
2) They speak a funny language I don't understand
3) They have a different religion
4) They're The Enemy.

I think it's pretty unambiguous whom this refers to. Isn't one of the guiding principles of war to "know thy enemy?" If more Americans thought like you and Heather Hurlburt, we'd never stand a chance against The Enemy.

04-01-2008, 03:48 AM
It's beyond me how earlier commenters can declare Heather the "winner" of this exchange. Berman, having read broadly and deeply in the totalitarian movements that threatened liberal democracy throughout the 20th century, has now read the literature of Islamists and Baathists, and his work identifies the points of commonality and even indebtedness. Heather's big "gotcha" is that Saddam wasn't a principled Islamist but allied with groups opportunistically; but this is an argument for the US in the wake of 9/11 making quite sure that Saddam had no biological or nuclear weapons to supply to terrorist organizations should he decide it was in his interest to do so. As he had publicly cheered the 9/11 attacks, it wasn't fanciful to imagine that he might well find facilitating further damage on US interests attractive, and as all the West's intelligence suggested he had weapons to supply for terrorist use, something had to be done to conclude, belatedly, a year that had continued for more than a decade. Mistakes made in the prosecution of the war don't invalidate the national-security justification for it, which was commended by the best evidence available at the time.

04-01-2008, 05:08 AM
That article is no longer available to subscribers.

However, I found this TNR blog link:


...which includes a link to this:



04-01-2008, 05:26 AM
This is another diavlog where I'm saddened to hear some in the audience talking about who "won."

My reaction, after sleeping on it, is that Paul made one especially good point: there is a decided lack of interest among Americans in knowing what motivates people who we call "the enemy." I'm glad we have people like him who are interested in reading and analyzing what I'm sure are books I'd never be able to get through.

At the same time, his affect in this diavlog made me realize why so many people reject academics as woolly-headed. I accept the complexity of the ideas that Paul was trying to discuss, but at the same time, it would have been a lot more useful had he, once in a while, answered a question crisply and directly, and once in a while, resisted the temptation to present himself as the only person in the world who has mastered the topic at hand. There is an old line that says someone who truly understands something knows how to explain it to anyone. I'll take some of the responsibility for not being at Paul's level, but I think he owns some, too, for being unable to come down to mine. At the end of the diavlog, a part of me was left thinking, "baffle 'em with bullshit." Part of me wondered whether the whole thing was the world's most complicated non-apology apology for stuff he had written five years ago.

I salute Heather for being able to track what Paul was saying and for being polite enough to let him answer at length. I thought she had some really incisive questions and made good points that served to get things back on track. I do wish she had occasionally cut him off and reminded him of her original question, though. It's hard to say whether she was being deferential or feeding him rope, but the consequence was more rambling than was useful.

Another piece of my reaction to Paul's thesis, to the extent that he had one or that I understood it, was that for all of its complexity, it came off as oversimplified. He seemed to have the attitude that the hundreds of millions of people in the Middle East can be understood by studying the ideological writings of a very few people. I'll be the first to admit that if I've changed my mind about anything over the past few years, it's that you can't expect a large group of people who have never known anything other than life in a totalitarian society to be able to implement democracy overnight. At the same time, Paul gives the strong impression that the average Arab fully embraces the thinking of, say, Sayyid Qutb. Somehow, I am inclined to doubt that.

I liked the part of Paul's attitude that he summarized with his one moment of pithiness: "We should be invading Iran with our ideas." Should we ever decide to go this route, though, I hope he's not the mission commander.

04-01-2008, 08:17 AM
In many ways, I agree with you. Paul's points about refining our definitions of the roles of diplomats, the military, and intellectuals made a lot of sense to me. In fact, little of what he said was nonsense (I'm sure it's a relief to him that I think so), although a lot of the non-factual stuff seemed arguable. My real complaint is that on basic questions, like the one I highlighted (in essense: please define the relationship between Saddam and movement Islamism - and implicitly justify, in the abstract at least, the need to remove Saddam) the answers were blurry and unconvincing, and included an awful lot of defensive posturing. "I wrote an important paper!" I am convinced I need to read that paper. I think I may watch this one again.

04-01-2008, 08:42 AM
WTF was he rambling on about? Not one single coherent point made in the whole argument. Yesterday's man looking at tomorrow's problems in the rearview of a Ford Model T.

04-01-2008, 09:38 AM
FromNew York’s Liberal Intellectuals Are Back at Each Other’s Throats—Buruma and Berman Slug It Out Over Political Islam:
Mr. Berman bristles at the suggestion that his beliefs have turned him into a neoconservative. “A lot of these guys are … afraid of allowing themselves to appear as though they resemble neocons,” he said. “These people have lost the sense of confidence that should allow them to maintain their own position regardless of what kind of blather the president happens to be saying at any given moment.” Mr. Berman admits that, post-Iraq, those arguing for unapologetic confrontation with the Islamic world are at a disadvantage: “I think at the moment, in this country, my side looks beleaguered, and the other side looks like it has the big institutions,” he said. “But I think it’s going to go the other way. We’re right and they’re wrong.”

Whatever I think about the details of Paul Berman's point of view, and I think some of his problems in this diavlog were due to Heather's pointed and uncompromising questions - I get the feeling he expected a softer interview style - this quote evokes a great deal of respect from me. This guy has balls, an attribute I'd like to see in a greater number of left-leaning writers and thinkers. Apologies to all who'd prefer less sexist metaphors.

04-01-2008, 10:12 AM
Would that it were true.

04-01-2008, 10:13 AM

This guy has balls, an attribute I'd like to see in a greater number of left-leaning writers and thinkers.

My immediate response is to agree with you. On many other hands, though:

o Lots of lefty intellectuals have, and display, balls. To name but one example, think of those who had the courage to lambaste Bush when his approval ratings were through the roof and most of the nation had a hard-on for invading Iraq.

(Okay, the male-centric metaphors need to stop.)

o Lots of right-leaning people have displayed a singular lack of courage. Even if the focus is limited to Iraq, their sins run the gamut from chickenhawkery to mealy-mouthed non-apology apologies to the instant cliché "I still think the war was a good idea, but I blame Bush for poor execution."

o It doesn't really take a lot of courage to adopt a contrarian pose. There are entire websites (http://slate.com/) devoted to self-congratulation for such antics.

All that said, I do share your emotion. I just think such admiration should be qualified.

04-01-2008, 11:04 AM
Ok, I'll substitute the original metaphor with the adjectives "assertive," and "bold." Let me clarify what I'm saying, which isn't that I think lefties lack those qualities proportionately to those those on the right. Berman, at least as characterized in the quote I highlighted, stands in opposition to both his his ideological opposites, including those in power, but also to his presumptive fellow travelers. Me, for instance, the anti-war left, those who oppose the war because they oppose the current adminstration, etc... There are plenty of folks on this side, for instance the nitwit who pops up on this site full of self-righteous indignation and ad hominem venom blaming David Frum and Eli Lake personally for this war (and on whom the comments nanny seems to have commited a mercy killing) who see the war as a simple test of basic morality - either you're on the side of the angels or you're the devil incarnate - who are going to reflexively hate anybody with opinions resembling Paul's. Among non-crazies there are still an enormous number of us who will see Paul as a member of the opposite camp - or simply wrong. His particular set of opinions seems optimized for the smallest possible set of allies. It's not really an ideological point - I like it when I see the same attribute among those on the right - a reason why I admire National Review's John Derbyshire, despite a lot of wackiness in his worldview. Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan also come to mind in this regard - though Hitchens' caustic style can put even me off, sometimes.

Asserting a position contrary to that of your opponents is one thing. An opinion that might cost you your friends is another.

One last point. If Berman were merely another concern troll, or yet another "I was a liberal until 9/11 which changed everything" type, none of the above would be particularly valid. I don't get the feeling that either is the case.

Abu Noor Al-Irlandee
04-01-2008, 11:26 AM

I am trying to figure out how to jump into this discussion but let me start with this observation.

I also appreciate Paul Berman's being willing to actually delve into the intellectual currents of Islamism as well as his interest and ability to talk about intellectual history generally. I love intellectual history. I actually prefer academic discussions of intellectual history to the kind of "What's the policy implication of this?" focus to every question that someone like Ms. Hurlbert has...although of course policy discussion and analysis has its place.

While Mr. Berman is more intelligent and serious than someone like Jonah Goldberg (who isn't?) I feel similarly when listening to or reading his work on Islam as liberals do when they read Jonah Goldberg. He actually makes the point in this diavlog that the issue is not whether one can find links between something like fascism and something like Islamism but how much weight to give those links, what else to emphasize and understand, etc. However, in his actual work, he consistently emphasizes certain points which are not the ones someone from the inside of the ideology or someone sympathetic to it and understanding it would emphasize. With someone like Goldberg, I get the sense that its because he doesn't care about the truth but has an agenda. With someone like Berman, he obviously has an agenda, but I sometimes get the sense he doesn't really have much feel for the Arab and Muslim mind, despite having done more reading of some Muslim thinkers than many talking heads who pontificate on the subject. I will have to find the exact dingalink later, but I think he makes some kind of statement which mentions that Sayyid Qutb's thought was based on an indepth reading of the Qur'an and then also influenced by streams of thought prevalent in the society at the time. Well...obviously. But if one then basically ignores the majority of Sayyid Qutb's thought that was based on his understanding of the Qur'anic message (because either one is unable to understand it or just uninterested) and focuses only on picking out a few influences in the way he articulated things which came from ideologies like fascism and communism which were very powerful in the world at the time Qutb lived and wrote you will end up completely distorting Qutb's message (in my opinion) and even more so distorting the message of those who admire and read Qutb today but who understand they need to discount certain aspects of his thought which were clearly responses to or products of his own time and place. I realize this is actually also true of many critiques of conservative Christian thought coming from secularists or just liberals, they do not take the Christian content seriously. Now, one may decide the Christian content of some on the religious right is not serious, but one has to go in assuming it might be and being willing to take it seriously, or else you will never understand it. Now, one can take the attitude I don't want to understand Christianists or Islamists. But if one does want to engage with them, one has to at least be open to seeing the world the way they do. And I would say the same vice versa.

So, I think this diavlog ended up being kinda two people who were interested in different things and so while the contrast was beneficial, I think what's really needed to illuminate the issues is someone who actually understands Islamist intellectual thought and takes it seriously to interact with Mr. Berman since Ms. Hurlbert was not in a position to challenge any of Mr. Berman's real reading of Islamist thought, or even his take on Saddam and Ba'thism but instead she basically conceded Mr. Berman's points and said, but even if you're right about the intellectual stuff, the policy implications might be such and such. I'd be interested to see someone like Noah Feldman talk with Mr. Berman.

I don't know, inshAllaah more later.


Bloggin' Noggin
04-01-2008, 11:45 AM
Well, I was opposed in the first place to the war. But once we actually started the invasion, I certainly hoped it would go well for both the Iraqi people and the US (though of course, I was afraid what false "lessons" its going well would teach US policy makers). So I don't see that remark as incoherent.

04-01-2008, 11:58 AM
I am glad to have been able to put a face to the name “Paul Berman.” I agree with those who think that Berman acquitted himself poorly, extremely poorly, and I also agree that he descends into an obscurantism that is most unseemly. At two crucial points in the diavlog, Hulbert poses perfectly straightforward and intelligible questions to which Berman replies that she has asked too many questions at once, in one instance, “about 92 questions,” I believe. Just preposterous.

I am generally sympathetic to the Hegelian idea that ideas have real importance in history. But who believes, other than Berman, that communism fell world-wide (and it has not fallen definitively, in any case) because of a rational debate with the liberal-democratic West, i.e. that communism was rationally argued into submission? That’s just nonsense. It fell because its own socio-economic hypothesis was not working.

Berman and Hulbert apparently have completely different interpretations of the 60-page Defense Department document concerning Saddam’s links with Islamic terrorism. Hulbert says Ba’athism was secular, Berman claims the contrary, largely based upon his very tedious digression into the tyrannical mythomania business and Saddam’s novel. The whole distinction between the totalitarian mythologizers and “normal political parties or actors” strikes me as extremely questionable political science. I mean, the United States also sees itself as having extraordinary properties and insights into the human project.

I don’t mind too much if Berman wants to pompously trot out all the time he has taken to read things that others have not read. But, please, just answer the questions. This performance was just so disingenuous, so pompous, so unbearable. In the end, I learned nothing. I would have preferred to hear an argument about the 60-page Defense Department document, with line-by-line exegesis, if necessary. I don’t get the impression that Berman is an honest person.

04-01-2008, 01:29 PM
Well, I was opposed in the first place to the war. But once we actually started the invasion, I certainly hoped it would go well for both the Iraqi people and the US (though of course, I was afraid what false "lessons" its going well would teach US policy makers). So I don't see that remark as incoherent.
Maybe the remark I quoted doesn't adequately illustrate the point I was trying to make. In the Salon interview, I understand Berman to have said that he supported the exact same war that was then underway, but he thought it was somehow catastrophic that Bush pitched the war as being in the US's self interest instead of a humanitarian exercise. He was in favor of the war itself, but not Bush's reasons for the war. Deposing Saddam was a worthwhile goal, but only if it's done for the right reasons.

I also thought his remarks in the diavlog were misleading, when he announces that he was a staunch opponent of the war. Again, he was in favor of the war, just not Bush's explanation for it. My guess is that your opposition to the war, BN, was grounded upon, you know, opposing the war.

This was a telling paragraph from the NY Observer article:

Mr. Buruma added that much of Mr. Berman’s piece—namely, his rigorously academic analysis of Mr. Ramadan’s intellectual roots—was detached from reality. “Berman is a very bookish man who seems to think that social and political issues are all driven by ideas, and that if you read all the text somehow you can come to an understanding of what’s really driving things,” Mr. Buruma said. “In fact what is much more important to look at is, you know, employment policies, economic issues, education policies, demographics.”

I don't think Western ideas have any more influence on the direction of the Islamic Resurgence than Islamic theology has on the direction of Western politics.

Bloggin' Noggin
04-01-2008, 02:09 PM
Buruma's portrait of Berman is certainly borne out by George Packer's portrait in _Assassin's Gate_. If I recall correctly, Packer says that Berman lives in a small apartment which is crammed full of books (to the point of leaving them in piles on the stairs to the apartment). He's portrayed as a kind of intellectual hermit whose only connection to the outside world is books and conversation.

You're certainly right that I opposed the war, not just Bush's stated reason for it. I was concerned that we'd be likely to make things even worse, not better, for the Iraqis and ourselves.
Of course, the selling of the war was relevant to how thoroughly I opposed it. Bush sold it as a kind of preventive war -- and I didn't like that precedent. He also failed to sell it, not only to the UN, but to our main allies (apart from Britain). If he could have legitimated the war and made it clear (to the world and to the American people) that we were not embarking on a string of neo-imperialist wars, that would have made a difference. Justifications that focused narrowly on the history of Saddam Hussein's defying the UN and the truce agreement at the end of the first Gulf War would have been limited in this way. And of course, they were offered, but only in the context of the much more sweeping claims about preventive war. It was pretty clear at the time that Bush wanted to move on from success in Iraq to Iran and Syria. So the degree of my opposition was probably dependent on how the war was sold (and how far the selling was successful with the rest of the world).

04-01-2008, 02:27 PM
A different kind of diavlog to be sure. Heather would ask a question and his answers went on for ever and rarely arrived at a point of clarity. She exercised restraint and patience with this long winded interviewee. Hopefully, if Paul reads these comments he will be more succinct next time around.


04-01-2008, 02:37 PM

Thanks for clarifying. One last bit of quibble, though:

Asserting a position contrary to that of your opponents is one thing. An opinion that might cost you your friends is another.

Point taken, and to some degree, such a stance is indeed admirable. On the other hand, one can go too far down this road. I have known enough intellectually arrogant people to say that many care little about having a lot of friends. I don't know Paul well enough to say this about him, of course, but if I had to bet ...

I don't mean to take anything away from him with that observation. Good for him for saying what he believes. It's just that I don't think there's anything unusually courageous about someone who already has a comfortable life arguing positions in relatively high-brow locations that fail to adhere to one group's dogma. It's not nothing -- props to him for not twisting with the wind or being part of an echo chamber. But it's not medal of honor stuff, either.

04-01-2008, 03:02 PM
Abu Noor:

You make a good point about Paul being an outsider looking in. You make another about how a Muslim of today might read Qutb -- discarding or deemphasizing parts that seem relics of a different era.

Without completely disagreeing with you, though, I think one cannot dismiss an outsider's perspective entirely. Sometimes, maybe even often, people who live among the trees have no idea about the forest, and one especially common characteristic of such people is they dislike outsiders making observations. To a degree, such a complaint is valid: often, an outsider cannot fully know all the details of life within, and it's almost always a mistake to confuse "some" with "all," particularly for large groups. Nonetheless, I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that an outsider who has studied a group and its unifying philosophy can make some salient observations. To pick one example, I find it very helpful to hear what my non-American friends have to say about the US.

In the particular case of Paul Berman and his view of Islam, I can only say that some of his thoughts sound plausible, especially as Islam manifests itself in politics and the never-ending struggle for power. He may go too far or gloss over differences in trying to connect Mussolini, say, with certain leaders in today's Middle East. However, there is no doubt that there are parallels, like the totalitarian ways in which some governments control their citizens and the desires for ideological conquest that many of their prominent voices articulate.

04-01-2008, 03:34 PM
But it's not medal of honor stuff, either.

Agreed. I think I was beginning to feel as if we were piling on excessively, and I wanted to point out that he probably doesn't deserve our complete disapproval. (IMHO, of course.) I may have swung too far out the other way.

04-01-2008, 04:07 PM

No need to apologize. I think you're right in your call that piling on was happening (though some (http://toohotfortnr.blogspot.com/2008/04/public-witness-aint-seeing-too-much.html) might say it's justified), and I applaud you for making a vigorous case for another point of view.

I would say I probably stretched my true views a little, too, also for the sake of debate, since, compared to my characterization of Berman, I am a wannabe intellectual who suffers from arrogance and sometimes wishes he didn't care so much about keeping friends. So, his courage is non-zero.


Related to nothing: in searching through my browser history for that above link, I noticed that the text string b-e-r-m-a-n also appears in Lieberman. Both liberal hawks. Coincidence??? And when you really look at it, it spells LIEberman. Ominous foreshadowing???? A vice-presidential candidate more ready to equivocate and to bomb than the current one?????

Gotta go take my meds.

04-01-2008, 04:23 PM
Packer says that Berman lives in a small apartment which is crammed full of books (to the point of leaving them in piles on the stairs to the apartment). He's portrayed as a kind of intellectual hermit whose only connection to the outside world is books and conversation.


You're certainly right that I opposed the war, not just Bush's stated reason for it. I was concerned that we'd be likely to make things even worse, not better, for the Iraqis and ourselves.

Quite reasonable. But what's infuriating about Berman is that he's playing a different game: rationalizing support for a war that required no Ph.D. or literary hermit lifestyle to oppose.

Knowing the Iraq holocaust was a very very bad idea merely required a modicum of good judgment and a sensitivity to the evil of inflicting immense gratuitous harm on an innocent civilian population.

The debate about the Iraq War is over. The positions staked out after the fact are by now tedious, and in Berman's case, embarrassingly convoluted.

For all his frantic differentiation from Cheney, Berman comes across as a loquacious version of the VP: smug, self-righteous, patronizing and dismissive of people who don't agree with him ("American provincialists" who don't read enough -- like computer translations of alleged novels by SH, that, in fact, was published AFTER the war began.)

04-01-2008, 08:17 PM
Please read Terror and Liberalism, twice. Its brilliant. I'm so happy he's on BHTV. Bring him back!

I love most his prescription at the end of the diavlog for a strong, relentlessly honest, international relations "intellectual corps". We need one. Washington think-tankers and mediocre bloggers (is there another kind) dont read even the basic works of their supposed field before jumping into the "debate"

Acedemics on the other hand do actually read, but tend to have weak spines and thin skins and often hide in their echo-chambers.

04-01-2008, 08:21 PM
Sadam needed to be dethroned by force and we finally did it after 9/11. We dont need any link to 9-11 or bin Laden to be glad the war was waged and his family killed.

04-01-2008, 08:52 PM
Interesting that Berman, who spends close to an hour arguing that Islamofascism should be considered a single coherent entity because of certain rhetorical and historical commonalities, nevertheless protests with indignation when Hurlburt points out that he and Dick Cheney share some rhetorical commonalities.

I was really expecting more from Berman, who seems to be treated with such respect by serious thinkers. His books are probably more coherent, but in this conversation, every time Hurlburt tried to get him to answer a question, he responded with an obfuscatory lecture full of semi-relevant details which served to muddy the issue as much as enlighten.

And when she pointed out that one could just as easily draw connections between Saudi Arabia and others and term it "Islamofascism," he ignored the point of her analogy and instead just pointed out that Saudi Arabia is complicated and different. No kidding! That was her point! I got the impression that at some point she decided it wasn't worth trying to engage him, since all his answers were rambling nonresponses, so she ended up sitting quietly and letting him talk for most of the second half of the discussion. Oh well. There's no doubt he knows a lot, but there seems to be a forest and tree problem as well as the pot and kettle problem mentioned above.

a Duoist
04-02-2008, 06:29 AM
After reading the works of Sayyid Qutb in Egypt, Abul Mawdudi in Pakistan, Ibn Wahhab in Saudi Arabia and Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran, then read Hitler and Mussolini's writings. Two things become clear:

There is no such thing as 'Islamofascism,' but there is very definitely something such as 'theofascism.' Iran's revolution is definitely theofascist; while jihadism and takfirism are deadly, they are far from being fascist.

Secondly, the use of 'Islamofascism' as a pejorative is propagandistic. Like the old story of the boy who called 'wolf' too many times, our use of 'Islamofascism' has the unintended effect of diminishing our understanding of the actual deadliness of Iranian theofascism.

Both jihadism and theofascism are deadly, but Iranian theofascism, as a genuine evolved form of fascism, will have far more homicidal impact in the years ahead.

04-03-2008, 01:00 PM
As requested, we were able to get a copy of Paul's TNR piece, "WHAT LINCOLN KNEW ABOUT WAR." Which you can download here (http://bloggingheads.tv/articles/resolved-lincoln.pdf).

I'm not sure when this link was posted, but I'm glad to have read the TNR piece.

I think, with obviously necessary revisions, it would make a helluva Fourth of July speech. However, re Western/Islam relations, it's nonsense. If we've learned anything about Islam, it's that messianic American proselytization of Western values, whether it's labeled Lincolnian, Wilsonian, or neoconservative, is repugnant to the Islamic Resurgence. It just doesn't work. Such "proselytization," if you will, via war, is wacky. The Gettysburg Address makes as much sense in the world of Islam as one of bin Laden's rants makes in the US. My man Samuel Huntington understands this. Berman doesn't.

04-03-2008, 01:11 PM
As requested, we were able to get a copy of Paul's TNR piece, "WHAT LINCOLN KNEW ABOUT WAR." Which you can download here (http://bloggingheads.tv/articles/resolved-lincoln.pdf).

Thanks very much for reading the forums and fulfilling this request. This qualifies as above and beyond the call of duty. I owe you a beer or other beverage of your choice.

04-03-2008, 01:37 PM
Paul Berman is simply wrong about the European left wing and communism. Contrary to the US left wing they preferred contact with communists and plotted actively to keep US representatives out. If they met with Eastern opposition groups the advocated minor reforms to communism instead of a change. Ask any Solidatiry member you know.

04-07-2008, 08:22 AM
So has this this diavlog somehow become truncated since it was originally posted?

I've just watched it and Berman ends in mid-sentence at 72.23 not having explicitly said that he opposed the Iraq war in 2003 - but several commenters seem to think that he did - so are they misinterpreting him or have we somehow lost the final few minutes where he does say it?