I don’t care to get involved in the kerfuffle going on about the catfight between Juan Cole of Informed Comment, professor of Middle Eastern studies at University of Michigan and prospective head of the department of Middle Eastern studies at Yale and newspaper columnist Christopher Hitchens. James Joyner has a good description of the back-and-forth. I said my piece on Professor Cole some time ago: I don’t hold him in the reverence that some in the blogosphere do, nor do I despise him as others do. I do think he’s bootstrapping which, as James Joyner pointed out, is an occupational hazard for a public intellectual. It saddens me to see people of obvious talent and ability squandering their gifts on petty squabbling and malice. That goes both for Professor Cole and Christopher Hitchens.
There continue to be several extremely interesting discussions going on in the blogosphere relating to the tiff. For example, if you haven’t already taken a glance at it, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the debate between dueling Iranian translators in the comments thread of this post at Winds of Change. Obviously, where you sit depends on where you stand.
What really moved me to write this post was this post at Dean’s World. The conversation there has gone somewhat far afield and the observations I wanted to make were sufficiently discursive that I decided to turn them into a post of their own.
One of the commenters in that thread notes:
Actions have consequences. The fact is that we decided to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam (an evil dictator) without thinking through what the consequences of that action would be. Now you and other people are trying to convince us we should bomb Iran without thinking through or understanding the consequences.
Inaction has consequences, too, and this is a point that too many people are missing, apparently believing that passivity innoculates them against culpability. The Hamlet-like inability to act was the problem of Jimmy Carter as president and it was Bill Clinton’s problem, too. That certainly hasn’t been Bush’s problem and it’s why, although in 100 years both Carter and Clinton will be footnotes—caretaker mediocrities, Bush will either be held to be the “worst President ever” as some of his opponents have held or another Lincoln, as some of his supporters apparently believe. Maybe both.
Patience is, indeed, a virtue but sometimes a little action at the right time will accomplish what requires an enormous effort later.
When a country started experimenting with democracy for the first time, the Soviets would insinuate communists into the election under the rubric of mild-mannered “socialism.” These were quite often actual members of the KGB (as was the case, for example, with Ho Chi Minh)
This has now been documented in the case of Mossadegh in Iran by the Mitrokhin archives. That’s not an irrelevancy: the overthrow of Mossadegh, which I’ve written about at length, was the first link in the chain of events that brought us to the precipice on which we now stand. Not that Mossadegh, himself, was a KGB agent but that the KGB was heavily involved in Mossadegh’s government would now seem to be beyond dispute.
The irony, actually, is quite delicious. The United States has never had, even at the height of its influence in Iran, more than one or two CIA agents there and they frequently were pretty ineffective The Soviets, on the other hand, had significant numbers of very highly-placed and influential KGB agents there who were quite effective in shaping events. And, yet, we’re “the Great Satan”. The Russians must have better publicists.
All I’d like to know, Mike, is if the misdeeds of the US 50 years ago relieve us of ever using our forces morally, then shit, who in the world DOES have the moral authority to do ANYTHING ?
Moral authority is irrelevant. It’s the Spiderman rule: with great power comes great responsibility. We either act or we don’t act. The search for moral purity is futile because every action or inaction has complex consequences over which we have little control and of which our action or inaction requires we take ownership. The best that we can do is muddle through.