For anyone looking for a single succinct passage that epitomizes everything that is wrong with Jeffrey Goldberg’s world view, this is it:
THE next president must do one thing, and one thing only, if he is to be judged a success: He must prevent Al Qaeda, or a Qaeda imitator, from gaining control of a nuclear device and detonating it in America. Everything else — Fannie Mae, health care reform, energy independence… — is commentary.
Even if you grant him the right to make a hyperbolic argument, the statement is absurd. The next president must do MANY things–not “one thing only”–if he is to be judged a success. And only some of those things involve preventing a nuclear attack on America.
What we have here is basically the rehash of the Bush-neocon argument following 9/11 that the War on Terror was to become the raison d’etre of our national government. Everything else took a backseat. And we can see where such an attitude led us. To disaster after disaster, whether it be domestic (Katrina) or foreign (Iraq). To the extent that John McCain adopts this political agenda as his own, it will doom his own presidency (should he be elected).
A presidential agenda is the epitome of multi-tasking and juggling conflicting priorities. To the extent that any presidency becomes bogged down in, or obsessed by a single priority and takes its eye off the others–it must fail. The American people will simply not accept a monomaniacal president. In George Bush, we have come as close to that as we care to, and his current approval ratings indicate what our judgment has been.
Goldberg is unintentionally ironic in making this claim:
The nuclear destruction of Lower Manhattan, or downtown Washington, would cause…the comprehensive repudiation of America’s culture of civil liberties.
What does he think’s been happening since 9/11? A civil liberties picnic? He also fails to understand this it is precisely rants like his own that cause Americans to be prepared to repudiate civil liberties.
Unfortunately, the Times editors seem to have done a poor job of vetting statements such as this:
Many proliferation experts I have spoken to judge the chance of such a detonation to be as high as 50 percent in the next 10 years.
Which proliferation experts? And on what basis do they judge the possibility so likely? Might it be that some of these unnamed, unquoted alleged experts might have political axes of their own to grind? We actually can’t be the judge of that since Goldberg conveniently omits any concrete reference to them.
Here is another untested claim:
Only technical complications prevent Al Qaeda from executing a nuclear attack today.
I simply must quote Tony Karon’s hilarious send-up of this passage from his own blog:
Is the New York Times edited by complete cretins?
Only technical complications prevent my neighbor who smokes those horrible cigars from trading in his pit bull for a nuclear weapon. Only technical complications prevent me from turning my bicycle into a Maserati. And, technical complications aside, if my grandmother had had wheels, she’d have been a bus.
Aside from technical complications, doesn’t the tiny question of WILL come into play here as well? Meaning: DOES Al Qaeda want to mount such a nuclear attack? Clearly, Richard Reid wanted to develop a dirty bomb. But what current intelligence indicates that Al Qaeda is planning such an attack? I have seen none. Nor does Goldberg provide any. Since I am not an intelligence expert on this issue, it’s possible that Al Qaeda does want to mount such an attack. But you’ll have to pardon me for preferring to see evidence on the subject before judging whether the claim is credible or not.
Finally, in his interview with John McCain, Goldberg elicits a startlingly erroneous claim about Hamas’ goals and he does nothing to point this out:
I asked him [McCain] not long ago whether he believes that America conflates its problem with Iran with Israel’s Iran problem…“I think these terrorist organizations that [Iran] sponsors, Hamas and the others, are also bent, at least long-term, on the destruction of the United States of America…”
If Goldberg was a truly capable interviewer and reporter alarm bells should’ve been ringing both during the interview and in writing this column. Yet he appears not to have recognized the grievous error McCain has made. Hamas has never expressed interest either in the short or long term in “the destruction of the U.S.” Not even Hezbollah has done so. But since he mentions Hamas and not Hezbollah, let’s stick with Hamas. You can argue that Hamas is many bad things, but you simply cannot credibly argue as McCain claims. Goldberg should’ve called him on it and didn’t. Another opportunity lost.
Finally, there can be no doubt that national security is a critical component of a successful president’s agenda. I am not minimizing the threat posed by Al Qaeda or any terrorist threat. But I AM warning against the hysteria and paranoia characteristic of Goldberg’s perspective on this issue. Just because a journalist pundit and the Republican crew are prepared to go overboard doesn’t mean we all have to jump ship with them.
This was also published in Comment is Free.