Thursday, March 02, 2006

The New Republic is sinking

Twenty years ago, the Internet didn’t exist. There was no ready access to countless periodicals. At that time I subscribed to a number of weekly magazines purveying opinions. My favorite was The New Republic, then coming into its most brilliant period under the editorship of a young Englishman transplanted to Harvard, Andrew Sullivan. After he left, I have had occasion to engage in many colloquies, some heated (but in a good way), with Andrew.

I liked the fact that in those days The New Republic took the issues as they came; at no time was it predictably liberal or conservative. The book review section, edited by Leon Wieseltier, never failed to astonish with a steady stream of incisive, sprightly essays—generally superior, I thought, to the ponderous productions featured in the New York Review of Books.

In a management shakeup, Sullivan resigned as editor. Almost single-handedly, he now runs our most distinguished blog (in my view), and may now enjoy more influence than he had in the old days at the helm of the magazine.

Now management at The New Republic has decreed a new turn of the wheel of fortune. Editor Peter Beinart, a liberal hawk, is steeping aside in favor of another boy wonder, Franklin Foer.

Today the magazine is in trouble, having lost, according to one report, some 40% of its subscribers. It is unlikely that a change at the helm can alter its fate, especially as Beinart’s hawkishness has alienated its original core constituency of liberal democrats. I know that some, whose opinions I respect, remain concerned about the fate of The New Republic. I am not. Frankly I am looking forward to the magazine's demise.

I stopped subscribing several years ago. And in Slate Jack Shafer has articulated why I, and doubtless many others, decided to sever the connection:

"It's not Beinart's fault that he was editor during the interval when long-time owner and editor-in-chief Martin Peretz winnowed his three obsessions—Israel, race, and Al Gore—to one: Israel."

Peretz holds that the security interests of Israel are identical with those of the United States. If there is any discrepancy, it is US interests that must yield.

Advocacy of invading Iraq in the interest of protecting Israel goes back at least eight years. At that time the neocons Richard Perle, William Kristol, Douglas Feith and others developed a plan under the auspices of the Project for the New American Century (that is the name, if memory serves). In its original version the scheme called for an invasion by the Israeli army. Why attempt that, though, if a superpower can be induced to do the job?

Once Feith and other neocons got into the Bush administration they began a relentless push for our government to invade Iraq. After 9/11 they swept the field. The original cabal was reinforced by Donald Rumsfeld and especially by the fanatical Dick Cheney, Bush’s evil twin. But the impetus that caused the plan to be formulated in the first place cannot be forgotten. Nor has it been laid aside, as rumblings of another attack, this time on Iran, proliferate. Iran’s growing nuclear capability is mainly a threat to Israel.

Halfway through the disastrous occupation, two of its neocon proponents indulged themselves in a cry of triumph. According to Robert Kagan and William Kristol, "It is also becoming clear that the battle of Iraq has been an important victory [sic] in the broader war in which we are engaged, a war against terror, against weapons proliferation, and f o r a n e w M i d d l e E a s t." It is the last five words (emphasis added) that are the operative ones. This point should be remembered when we hear that the only fault of the neocons is their idealistic but "utopian" pursuit of democracy.

As I have indicated, the key name in the aetiology of the war starts with the letter I. Of course another letter, O (for oil), quickly came into the picture. All the same, the fons et origo, a set of policies catering to the intransigence of the Likud party, stands squarely at the center of the target, accounting for why we went down the road into the cataclysm we now face.

The pundit Pat Buchanan holds many opinions that I find repellent. But he has been absolutely right about this issue. From my modest academic perch I spoke out against the war, and wrote about it. Once Secretary Powell gave his pathetic speech before the United Nations on February 3, 2003, it was crystal clear that the Bush administration, and the cabal that was manipulating it, had no case. But that did not stop them. Needless to say, most of our brave investigative reporters swallowed the rationale whole.

Shafer's comment indicates that it just won't fly any more to dismiss those who make such observations as anti-Semites. First and foremost, our foreign policy must be an A m e r i c a n foreign policy, and not one held in thrall to the interests of a foreign power.


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