Jonah Goldberg Embarrasses Himself Once Again
by Juan Cole
Goldberg attacked yours truly in
a column recently.
I think it is time to be frank about some things. Jonah
Goldberg knows absolutely nothing about Iraq. I wonder if he
has even ever read a single book on Iraq, much less written one.
He knows no Arabic. He has never lived in an Arab country. He can't
read Iraqi newspapers or those of Iraq's neighbors. He knows nothing
whatsoever about Shiite Islam, the branch of the religion to which
a majority of Iraqis adheres. Why should we pretend that Jonah Goldberg's
opinion on the significance and nature of the elections in Iraq
last Sunday matters? It does not.
Jonah Goldberg was a cheerleader for the unprovoked, unilateral
US attack on Iraq. The reason he repeatedly gave was that Iraq was
close to having a nuclear weapon.
Goldberg: We've just seen this last week what a problem North
Korea is once it has a nuclear weapon. Once a county has a nuclear
weapon, it becomes almost impossible to deal with it using military
force. And then that country can basically blackmail the world
for whatever it wants, and that's what North Korea is doing today.
hawks like Jonah Goldberg used their privileged position as pundits
to terrify the US public that Iraq was a threat to the US. He repeatedly
said in the buildup to the war that Iraq was a menace to the US,
and he repeatedly brought up North Korea's nuclear weapons as a
reason for a preemptive attack on Iraq.
. . . we do not want to take to ignore problems in the
world before they become insurmountable, and that's why it is
a proactive approach to try to keep Saddam Hussein from becoming
the North Korea of the Middle East, and he would be extremely
dangerous if he did that.
CNN SHOWDOWN: IRAQ 12:00
December 17, 2002 Tuesday
Iraq never has had nuclear weapons. Iraq never has been as close
as two decades from having nuclear weapons. Iraq dismantled all
vestiges of its rudimentary and exploratory nuclear weapons research
in 1991. Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program in 1992, 1993
and all the way until 2002, when Jonah Goldberg assured us Americans
that we absolutely had to invade Iraq to stop it from imminently
becoming a nuclear power just like North Korea.
By the way, I am in print in January 2003 saying that I did
not believe Iraq posed a danger to the United States. It did not.
If Jonah Goldberg had asserted that he could fly to Mars in his
pyjamas and come back in a single day, it would not have been
a more fantastic allegation than the one he made about Iraq being
a danger to the United States because of the nuclear issue. He
made that allegation over and over again to millions of viewers
on national television programs, to viewers who trusted his judgment
because CNN and others purveyed him to them.
Jonah Goldberg is a fearmonger, a warmonger, and a demagogue.
And besides, he was just plain wrong about one of the more important
foreign policy issues to face the United States in the past half-century.
It is shameful that he dares show his face in public, much less
continuing to pontificate about his profound knowledge of just
what Iraq is like and what needs to be done about Iraq and the
significance of events in Iraq.
Goldberg criticizes me for saying that the 1997 presidential election
in Iran was more democratic than the Jan. 30, 2005 election in
Iraq. His complaint is that the four candidates for president
were vetted and approved by Iran's Guardianship Council.
It is certainly the case that although Iran has elections, they
are flawed because many candidates are excluded on ideological
grounds. To say that, however, is not to say that the popular
will can never unexpectedly make itself known in Iran. In the
1997 election the vetting was lax, and a relative liberal, Muhammad
Khatami, was allowed to run. He had earlier been fired as minister
of culture for being too liberal. He wrote about Habermas and
civil society and democratization in Iran (he had lived in Germany
several years and read Habermas in German).
The four presidential candidates in Iran were all known by name,
unlike the candidates for Iraq's parliament, most of whom remained
anonymous to voters in the weeks leading up to the election. I'd
say that is a sign of greater transparency in Iran. The Iranian
participants were not in danger if they campaigned or ran, one
of the criteria of a successful democratic election according
to international watchdog groups. In this respect, too, Iran in
that year was superior to Iraq in 2005.
Khatami's victory in 1997 was a big surprise. He was put in by
the youth vote and the women's vote, against the wishes of the
hardline clerics. If a candidate wins who wasn't expected to,
that is a sign of lack of manipulation of the results.
Khatami was elected by 69% of the Iranian electorate, and 76 percent
of eligible voters voted. The latter number is higher than will
be true for Iraq.
In every way, from the transparency of candidates and platforms,
to safe conditions for voters, to unexpected results, to the percentage
of eligible voters who voted and the percentage of the electorate
that directly chose Mr. Khatami, his election was more democratic
than the elections just held in Iraq.
The reason Mr. Goldberg is alarmed that I pointed this obvious
fact out is that he wants to kill thousands of Iranians and thousands
of US troops in a war of aggression on Iran. If the American public
knows that there is a lively struggle between hardliners and conservatives
in Iran, and that an American intervention there would be a huge
disaster and would forestall the natural evolution of Iran away
from Khomeinism, then they might not support Mr. Goldberg's monstrous
That is why he attacked me.
So let me propose to him that we debate Middle East issues, anywhere,
any time, he and I.
Otherwise he should please shut up and go back to selling Linda
Tripp tapes on Ebay.
In his smarmy reply, Goldberg says he wanted a war with Iraq
because it did not have a nuclear weapon. This is just arrant
nonsense. The point is that he kept trying to give the impression
that Iraq was about to get a nuke, just as North Korea did, and
that was why a war had to be fought. Iraq was not just about to
get one. And even George Tenet told Bush that. By the way, I Lexis-ed
him, so he should be careful about denying that he made this point
repeatedly; it can be documented. Goldberg did not name any book
he has read on Iraq, and admits he knows nothing about the 1997
election in Iran and will have to "check with someone." Wouldn't
the time to do that be before he went into print criticizing me
for saying something knowledgeable about it? He is openly admitting
that he speaks without having the slightest idea what he is talking
about! I have to deal with this maroon, and I have spent a lifetime
studying this subject and know Persian. Goldberg also seems very
afraid of debating me in person, since he did not respond to my
A reader wrote in complaining about my suggestion that people
who speak publicly on a subject try to know something serious
about it, as elitist. I replied:
"If you saw an hour-long piece on al-Jazeerah about the reality
of the United States, with English subtitles, and the reporter
speaking on the U.S. had never been to America, had never read
a book about America, did not know a word of English, and moreover
said all kinds of things that were complete fantasy and altogether
wrong, would that man be someone you would recommend to others
as having an important opinion on the matter that millions of
people should be exposed to on NPR and CNN every other day?"
A reader wrote in:
' ..". let me propose to him that we debate Middle East issues,
anywhere, any time, he and I . . .
"I wouldn't rush to pack your bags. But if you actually do get
an opportunity to verbally castrate this weasel, ask him if
he truly meant "In the weeks prior to the war to liberate
Afghanistan, a good friend of mine would ask me almost every day,
"Why aren't we killing people yet?" And I never had a good answer
for him. Because one of the most important and vital things the
United States could do after 9/11 was to kill people." '
on Goldberg's Language Competencies
Wolcott of Vanity Fair weighs in on the Goldberg/Cole
debate. My favorite line:
but Jonah speaks fluent Simpsons, which is why he's so popular
with campus conservatives as he goes about entertaining and mentoring
the maroons of tomorrow."
the way, there was some poster at Daily
Kos who misinterpreted me as saying that you need to know Arabic
to have an opinion on Iraq. I listed 7 or 8 ways you could get to
have a valued opinion of Iraq, of which that is only one. Personally,
I prefer to get my analysis of French politics from people who speak
French, but maybe I'm funny that way. Also if an analyst has a track
record of getting things right, you might forgive him some of the
desired bits of expertise. That isn't true for Goldberg on the Middle
my God! He actually said it! Goldberg replied to this comment
from my reader:
if you actually do get an opportunity to verbally castrate this
weasel, ask him if he truly meant "In the weeks prior to the war
to liberate Afghanistan, a good friend of mine would ask me almost
every day, "Why aren't we killing people yet?" And I never had
a good answer for him. Because one of the most important and vital
things the United States could do after 9/11 was to kill people."
He looks to be of military age. Ask him why his sorry a** isn't
in the kill zone."
the record, I did in fact mean it. I wrote it here. As for why my
sorry a** isn't in the kill zone, lots of people think this is a
searingly pertinent question. No answer I could give I'm
35 years old, my family couldn't afford the lost income, I have
a baby daughter, my a** is, er, sorry, are a few ever seem
helped send nearly 1500 brave Americans to their deaths and helped
maim over 10,000, not to mention all the innocent Iraqi civilians
he helped get killed. He helped dragoon 140,000 US troops in Iraq.
And he does not have the courage of his convictions. His excuse
is that he couldn't afford to take the pay cut!
is Goldberg going to say to the
tens of thousands of reservists he helped send to Iraq, who
are losing their mortgages and small businesses and have been kidnapped
for 18 months at a time (not what they thought they were signing
up for) by Rumsfeld? "Well guys, thanks for carrying out the policy
I wanted to see, and for putting your own little girls into penury.
I'd have loved to help out, but my little girl is more important
than yours and besides, I like a good meal and I hear you only get
reader at Atrios's Eschaton
Salon profile of Goldberg.
complete list of logical fallacies involved in Goldberg's further
comments and those of his fans is
Juan posts a reader's response to Jonah G.
reader cc'd me with this letter to Jonah Goldberg and allowed me
to share it here.
your post to the Corner today ("A NEW DAY"), you leave the impression
that the only emails you have received supporting Professor Cole
were written by deranged anti-Semites. I sincerely doubt that was
the case. However, just to be sure, I wanted to provide you with
at least one email that did not fit that description.
your post titled "EMPIRICISM," you quote a reader who seems to value
concepts above experience. In many ways, this may be a good explanation
of the root of your feud with Cole. By all appearances, you view
the war in Iraq much the way you might treat today's Superbowl.
It's something about which you feel free to state strong opinions
and something which might provoke a certain amount of emotional
might win or lose a few dollars and/or the ability to gloat for
a few days. But, in the end, its simply entertainment. Certainly,
despite the strength of your convictions about aspects of the game,
you don't feel yourself qualified to actually take the place of
Belichick or Reid. You wouldn't consider for a moment strapping
on a helmet and lining up in place of TO.
on the other hand, knows that war is not a game. He lived in war-torn
Beirut and knows the realities of civil strife. While your opinion
on whether the Eagles should pass or run will have little affect
on today's game, your support of the war from such vantage points
as CNN has had a real effect. As a result of policies you have supported,
people have died. Those are real people, not "conceptual" people
or "theoretical" people. Those are empirical people. Yet, to you
they are much like any players that will be injured today. The expected
outcome of a game, but nothing about which to be too concerned.
your post "SOMEBODY DOESN'T LIKE ME," you make much of supposed
personal attacks on you by Cole. But, you started this contretemps,
by describing him as "the dashboard saint of lefty Middle East experts."
That's hardly the best way to open discussion with someone with
whom you hope to remain on civil terms. The entire tone of your
discussion of Cole was demeaning and condescending. As a result,
you have little room to whine about personal attacks (especially
when the supposed attacks are simply statements of fact).
then go on to say that "I don't think I made the allegation that
Saddam had nuclear weapons 'over and over again' on CNN or anywhere
else." Yet, this was not an allegation that Cole made. What he actually
wrote was "[t]he reason he repeatedly gave was that Iraq was close
to having a nuclear weapon." This is exactly the position that you
go to lengths to restate. In trying to refute Cole, you actually
confirm his allegation. However, you somehow manage to avoid the
more central issue. Clearly, Saddam was not on the verge of obtaining
a nuclear weapon, despite your claims to the contrary on CNN and
elsewhere. What do you have to say about your error? Do you feel
any responsibility for the real and empirical deaths that have occurred
due to your mistakes of concept and theory?
I really appreciate your frankness in explaining why you are not
currently serving in "the kill zone." It is the best and most
honest display of chickenhawk hypocrisy I have yet to come across.
It confirms my belief that the war in Iraq is little more than a
game to you. Its fun to talk about on CNN and maybe debate with
someone in "The Corner," but to expect you to put yourself on the
line is out of the question. I have just one thing to ask: do you
support the immediate dismissal from military duty of all over-35
fathers who request such a dismissal? If so, would you be willing
to use your media pulpits to support such a policy? In theory, Professor
Cole would have great praise for your so doing. In reality, its
just one more time that you will show that you are simply an unprincipled
Cole [send him mail] is Professor
of History at the University of Michigan. Visit
2005 Juan Cole