Sunday, March 08, 2009
Understanding Glenn Greenwald
Jeffrey Goldberg recently had a spat with the world's most obnoxious blogger, Glenn Greenwald. One of Greenwald's methods of self-aggrandizement is to poke big media bears, hoping to elicit a reaction he can pounce on. He's smart enough to know that most blogs combine overweening self-assurance with unlettered opinion, and this annoys real journalists, who are constantly under siege by them. So Greenwald tries to exacerbate the annoyance into outrage by launching over-the-top attacks from his Salon redoubt. The responses he gets are almost guaranteed to be curt and dismissive, which enables him to play maverick media critic on your behalf.
Goldberg, whose work I like, is the antithesis of Greenwald in relation to foreign policy: he's a reasonable proponent of humanitarian military intervention, and he morally favors open societies over tyrannies. But sadly Goldberg, like many others, fell into Greenwald's trap. So I sent him the following letter. I reproduce it here, because it covers themes central to this blog.
Greenwald is an instructive example of the Left/Right isolationist consensus that has been dangerously empowered by Bush's bungling of Iraq. In fact, the cause of their contretemps was Goldberg denouncing Greenwald -- who is often mistaken for a Left Democrat -- for writing for the Buchananite American Conservative. This consensus exerts itself more and more. We're seeing it now with the Chas Freeman controversy. Witness the Nabokovian farce of Robert Dreyfuss, an ex-Larouchie, trumpeting Freeman -- the "realist" analyst who mused that the Chinese government was too soft on the protesters at Tienanmen Square -- in the pages of The Nation! Think about that tangle of thorns. It's Freeman's perceived hostility to Israel that got all these people on the same page.
Having appreciated your work for some time, and having just finished and enjoyed Prisoners, I was gratified to see you call out the singularly noxious Glenn Greenwald on your blog. I knew he would retaliate with a polyadjectival tsunami of snark -- have you noticed how putrid a writer he is? -- but I have to say your reply "Glenn Greenwald is Hysterical" left a couple of things to be desired. One, it was too dismissive, almost making it seem like you didn't have a counterargument with which to engage him. Two, implying that Greenwald is a Jewish Uncle Tom for writing for The American Conservative played into his hands. Like many people who make a pinata out of Israel, Greenwald wants everyone to believe he endures Galilean persecution for being brave enough to criticize the Jewish State. So calling Greenwald a patsy of anti-Semites and leaving it at that was throwing him red meat.
But most important is how you've misread Greenwald. I don't think Greenwald is an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew, and anyway, his psychology is unknowable. More discernible is his political psychology. You noted that anti-Semitism is a meeting point of the far Left and Right, but increasingly since the fall of the Soviet Union, so too has been isolationism, or more accurately, military non-interventionism. Maybe the first notable example of this was the Chomskyite Left's opposition to NATO "imperialism" in the Balkans, a position eagerly echoed by Pat Buchanan and his epigones. This grew into the colicky mass of "progressives", paleocons and "libertarians" (cf. Justin Raimondo) who made up a good chunk of the "anti-war" opposition to invading Iraq. It was much remarked at the time that these people didn't agree on much; but their isolationism inured them to the humanitarian potential of toppling Saddam and his demonic sons. Now Bush's multifaceted failures in Iraq have cemented their triumphalism, and sadly, convinced a lot of liberals of the wisdom of these illiberal politics.
The other thing these "anti-war" activists agree on is the peculiar evil of Israel and Zionism. Some of them are old-style Right-wing anti-Semites; some are "New Antisemites", Leftists who genuinely fixate on Zionism rather than use it as a merkin to hide an uncomplicated hatred of Jews; and still others are committed isolationists, people of the Left and Right, who decry foreign entanglements, and often exhibit a Lindberghian phobia of Jewish foreign entanglements, both real and imagined.
The latter is the school Glenn Greenwald comes from. This isn't the first time he's written for the American Conservative (see the 1/14/08, 6/18/07, 1/15/07 and 4/10/06 issues). Those other pieces aren't about Israel, but they do treat neocon hubris and the surveillance state -- topics, along with Israel-hatred, nativism and social conservatism, that animate Buchananite isolationists. Greenwald has also praised Ron Paul, whose non-interventionism sinks to crank levels and has always had a sturdy hard-on for Israel. Greenwald is a Paulite non-interventionist dressed up as a Left Democrat. This public Janus-face allows him to appeal to both the Left and Right sides of the coalition that is his audience. His non-interventionist Israel-phobia unites progressives and Buchananites.
It's not a savory job, but pick through the compost of Greenwald's blog, which furnishes ample evidence now that you know what you're looking for. You'll find truffles like Greenwald quoting George Washington on "entangling alliances" (1,2); speculating how George Washington would feel about an alliance with Israel (3,4); sounding the reveille that "neocons" and "the Israelis" are "as transparent as they are dishonest and bloodthirsty"(5); and praising The Israel Lobby, which argues, "the U.S. has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel"(6).
After the Gaza drubbing, Greenwald was finally emboldened to spell it all out: "The U.S. already pays a very substantial price for its decades-long, blind and one-sided support for Israeli actions... U.S. support for Israel has been particularly costly over the last several years... If, as it appears, the face Israel is now choosing for itself is that of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, then the cost to the United States of ongoing, one-sided support for Israel is going to skyrocket, and the need for serious change in U.S. policy towards Israel will be even more acute."(7)
Hopefully this will help you understand and handle Greenwald, should you choose to engage him again. I think he jumped the shark a while ago, and now that Bush his bete noire is gone, he'll spin himself out on the standard crank portfolio of Israel, neocons, MSM malfeasance and the surveillance state. But I do think it's important to analyze and expose him, because Greenwald is a neat example of the post-Cold War phenomenon of Left/Right isolationism, and if people begin to properly view him in that light, maybe it will help undo some of the damage done by Bush to liberal interventionism.
The Socialism of Fools
I edited the original for clarity.
Nota bene: This American Footprints blogger believes Freeman might have been misinterpreted in relation to Tienanmen Square.
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