The Hypocrisy of Glenn Greenwald, Iraq War edition
Several Twitterers (myself included, but he blocks me, as I block him, for reasons) have pointed to the preface of his 2006 book wherein he offers what any rational person would view as support for the Iraq invasion. He has responded by calling us (well not me, because of that whole blocking business) liars.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 19, 2013
I have written about this topic before (as have others), and in order to put to bed the “fabrication” that he supported the Iraq War, Greenwald wrote a rather ridiculous FTL (“Frequently Told Lies”) post about himself (because, you know… calling it an FAQ doesn’t hit that supercilious note that Greenwald loves so much). Here’s what he says about it (all emphasis is his):
These claims are absolutely false. They come from a complete distortion of the Preface I wrote to my own 2006 book, How Would a Patriot Act? That book - which was the first book devoted to denouncing the Bush/Cheney executive power theories as radical and lawless – was published a mere six months after I began blogging, so the the purpose of the Preface was to explain where I had come from, why I left my law practice to begin writing about politics, and what my political evolution had been.
The whole point of the Preface was that, before 2004, I had been politically apathetic and indifferent - except for the work I was doing on constitutional law. That’s because, while I had no interest in the fights between Democrats and Republicans, I had a basic trust in the American political system and its institutions, such that I devoted my attention and energies to preventing constitutional violations rather than political debates. From the first two paragraphs:
I never voted for George W. Bush — or for any of his political opponents. I believed that voting was not particularly important. Our country, it seemed to me, was essentially on the right track. Whether Democrats or Republicans held the White House or the majorities in Congress made only the most marginal difference. . . . I firmly believed that our democratic system of government was sufficiently insulated from any real abuse, by our Constitution and by the checks and balances afforded by having three separate but equal branches of government. My primary political belief was that both parties were plagued by extremists who were equally dangerous and destructive, but that as long as neither extreme acquired real political power, our system would function smoothly and more or less tolerably. For that reason, although I always paid attention to political debates, I was never sufficiently moved to become engaged in the electoral process. I had great faith in the stability and resilience of the constitutional republic that the founders created.
When the Iraq War was debated and then commenced, I was not a writer. I was not a journalist. I was not politically engaged or active. I never played any role in political debates or controversies. Unlike the countless beloved Democrats who actually did support the war – including Obama’s Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – I had no platform or role in politics of any kind.
I never once wrote in favor of the Iraq War or argued for it in any way, shape or form. Ask anyone who claims that I “supported” the Iraq War to point to a single instance where I ever supported or defended it in any way. There is no such instance. It’s a pure fabrication.
I wasn’t a journalist or government official during these radical power abuses and the run-up to the Iraq War, and wasn’t working in a profession supposedly devoted to serving as watchdog over government claims and abuses. I relied on those people to learn what was going on and to prevent extremism. But I quickly concluded that those who held those positions in politics and journalism were failing in their duties. Read the last six paragraphs of the Preface: I started writing about politics to bring light to these issues and to try to contribute to a real adversarial force against the Bush administration and its blind followers.
It is true that, like 90% of Americans, I did support the war in Afghanistan and, living in New York, believed the rhetoric about the threat of Islamic extremism: those were obvious mistakes. It’s also true that one can legitimately criticize me for not having actively opposed the Iraq War at a time when many people were doing so. Martin Luther King, in his 1967 speech explaining why his activism against the Vietnam War was indispensable to his civil rights work, acknowledged that he had been too slow to pay attention to or oppose the war and that he thus felt obligated to work with particular vigor against it once he realized the need (“Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam”).
The purpose of the Preface was to publicly explain that evolution. Indeed, the first sentence of this Preface was this quote from Abraham Lincoln: “I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” When I still trusted and relied upon the claims of the political and media class – when I was basically apolitical and passive – I tacitly accepted all sorts of views which I’ve come to see are warped and misleading. I’ve talked often about this process and am proud of this evolution. I have zero interest in hiding it or concealing it. Quite the contrary: I want readers to know about it. That’s why I wrote the Preface.
But anyone using this Preface to claim I was a “supporter” of the Iraq War is simply fabricating. At worst, I was guilty of apathy and passivity. I did nothing for or against it because I assumed that those in positions to exercise adversarial scrutiny – in journalism and politics – were doing that. It’s precisely my realization of how profoundly deceitful and failed are American political and media institutions that motivated me to begin working on politics, and it’s those realizations which continue to motivate me now.
The absurd comparison to Martin Luther King aside, what’s notable about Greenwald’s screed is that it omits the key portions of the preface that reveal him to be a bald-faced liar at worst, and at best, a man trying to distract his avid fans from the truth.
Greenwald includes the following passage from his Preface in his “FTL”:
During the lead-up to the invasion, I was concerned that the hell-bent focus on invading Iraq was being driven by agendas and strategic objectives that had nothing to do with terrorism or the 9/11 attacks. The overt rationale for the invasion was exceedingly weak, particularly given that it would lead to an open-ended, incalculably costly, and intensely risky preemptive war. Around the same time, it was revealed that an invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein had been high on the agenda of various senior administration officials long before September 11.
He excludes the very next paragraph of his Preface from his “FTL” (emphasis mine):
Despite these doubts, concerns, and grounds for ambivalence, I had not abandoned my trust in the Bush administration. Between the president’s performance in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the swift removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the fact that I wanted the president to succeed, because my loyalty is to my country and he was the leader of my country, I still gave the administration the benefit of the doubt. I believed then that the president was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to, and to the extent that I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.
He had not abandoned his trust in the Bush administration? His loyalty is to his country? He had doubts and concerns (which seems odd for someone who was so apathetic about the war) but he gave the administration the benefit of the doubt because Bush was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to?*** Bush was the leader of his country and he wanted Bush to succeed?
Here’s another section of the preface that Greenwald omits from his “FTL” (emphasis mine):
Soon after our invasion of Iraq, when it became apparent that, contrary to Bush administration claims, there were no weapons of mass destruction, I began concluding, reluctantly, that the administration had veered far off course from defending the country against the threats of Muslim extremism. It appeared that in the great national unity the September 11 attacks had engendered, the administration had seen not a historically unique opportunity to renew a sense of national identity and cohesion, but instead a potent political weapon with which to impose upon our citizens a whole series of policies and programs that had nothing to do with terrorism, but that could be rationalized through an appeal to the nation’s fear of further terrorist attacks.
Soon after the invasion he “reluctantly” concluded that the administration had veered off course? He writes that he was not politically active until 2004. That places his “come to Jesus moment” well after George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” moment. Again — yikes.
Yet there Greenwald sits on Twitter, calling people “gross” and “repellent”:
And there Greenwald sits on Twitter, criticizing Chris Matthews for his bone-headed support of the Iraq War in 2003 when Greenwald couldn’t even be sussed to give a shit one way or the other (if Greenwald’s revisionist history is to be believed):
A reminder of how MSNBC, with an assist from Chris Matthews, fired Phil Donahue in 2003 over his anti-war viewsfair.org/blog/2010/10/0…
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 19, 2013
Look, a lot of people supported that disastrous war. People I respect supported that disastrous war. People I respect were apathetic and passive as Bush and his cronies rushed this country into this war. People sat agog in front of their televisions as the media’s “repellent” and “gross” coverage of the war reached a fevered pitch. (And for the record, I agree with Greenwald that the media coverage was vulgar and that Chris Matthews was wrong.)
But those people are not doing what Greenwald has been doing, which is sitting on Twitter haughtily calling other people out and pretending that the “repellent” and “gross” media coverage wasn’t something at which he would have simply shrugged his shoulders out of “apathy” and “passivity” as Iraqis and Americans alike were dying in the desert.
Moreover, most people who supported the war (or were apathetic and passive about the war) aren’t trying to revise that support (or apathy and passivity) out of their personal history. Greenwald is calling people liars because they dare point Greenwald to his own words:
- I had not abandoned my trust in the Bush administration.
- [M]y loyalty is to my country….
- [Bush] was the leader of my country….
- I still gave the administration the benefit of the doubt.
- I accepted his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.
Those are his words. That they are his words isn’t the problem. That he is castigating others who felt the exact same way that he did is the problem. That he pretends to be superior to those who supported (or were apathetic or passive about) the war is the problem.
Had Greenwald been avidly opposed to the war from the get-go — as so many of us who he now maligns as Obama cultists were — then his Twitter theatrics wouldn’t be so absurd. But he didn’t.
And therein lies the brutal hypocrisy.
***Notably, anyone who feels Obama is entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to is an Obama cultist or Obamabot, or even someone who doesn’t quite understand privilege the way Greenwald and his brogressive painfully-white pal David Sirota does. Funny, that.
Imani Gandy (ABL)
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