When a boy discovers he likes other boys, he is not gay, but merely “confused.” Along those lines, according to Tony Judt, those liberals interested in fighting terrorism are not, say, interested in keeping the free world free, and perhaps extending freedom to other nations where things aren’t so hot for women, gays, religious minorities, and so on, but are also “confused.” Much as Walt and Mearsheimer believe America would not help Israel but for its own confusion, a confusion that is, like all wars, like Astroturf, the fault of the Jews.

The obvious problem with the beginning of the article is as follows: it is illogical to say that liberals have changed without at least looking at the possibility that the other side, the object which Judt would have liberals fighting, might be what changed more drastically. Could it be that liberals no longer fight “them” on “the” issues because the “them” and the “the” aren’t what they were in the 1980s?

Judt nevertheless declares, and seeks to understand, “[t]he collapse of liberal self-confidence in the contemporary US.” “Self-confidence” can thus be used in a sentence as follows: “Flamboyant singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright lacks the self-confidence to sleep with the scores of heterosexual women lusting after him.” When people fail to do as you’d prefer, it is because they lack confidence.

Interestingly, Judt argues that Europe is chock full of Bush-supporting liberal intellectuals. Judt finds four in all of that continent, one of whom, Oriana Fallaci, has died since Judt’s article was written. If there is in fact a “trend,” not just a handful, of European liberal intellectuals in favor of the War on Terror, Judt does not provide any evidence thereof.

Now we come to the point of the article, the Israel-bashing. Judt explains that liberal intellectuals who support Israel do so not because Israel is a democracy, or because the Jewish nation ought to go on having a state, but because they are weak and confused. “One of the particularly depressing ways in which liberal intellectuals have abdicated personal and ethical responsibility for the actions they now endorse can be seen in their failure to think independently about the Middle East.” How is support of Israel evidence of a “failure to think independently”? Isn’t the definition of independent thought that it can lead anywhere? Independent thought is critical thought, but critical in the sense of analysis, not in the sense of, if Bush says it, it must be wrong.

Judt discusses “Israel: a country which for fifty years has rested its entire national strategy on preventive wars, disproportionate retaliation, and efforts to redesign the map of the whole Middle East. Since its inception the state of Israel has fought a number of wars of choice (the only exception was the Yom Kippur War of 1973). To be sure, these have been presented to the world as wars of necessity or self-defence; but Israel’s statesmen and generals have never been under any such illusion.” I’m not going to discuss whether all those wars were “of choice,” and will leave that to commentors, if they’re up for it.

Next, Judt reasserts the Walt-Mearsheimer hypothesis, that the US and Israel are effectively the same, that the US is led by Israel, and what with Israel being evil and all, now the US is a mess.

“The alacrity with which many of America’s most prominent liberals have censored themselves in the name of the War on Terror, the enthusiasm with which they have invented ideological and moral cover for war and war crimes and proffered that cover to their political enemies: all this is a bad sign.”

So if liberals do not do as Judt thinks they should, it has to be because they are censoring themselves. It cannot possibly be that they are saying what they think.

There’s a problem with Judt’s argument that today’s liberals are pushovers. Why, if liberals do as Bush says, do liberals support gay rights, gay marriage, the right to choose, the right to doggone it get some birth control… and so on. The divide between conservatives and liberals on many social issues remains strong.


Cross-posted at WWPD

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  • The funniest part of the article is when Judt attacks Paul Berman and Peter Beinart for having the temerity to write about the war on terrorism. Judt writes: “Neither author had previously shown any familiarity with the Middle East, much less with the Wahhabi and Sufi traditions on which they pronounce with such confidence.” But what qualifies Judt to write so expertly on these issues? Perhaps he thinks his vast knowledge of France provides him with the requisite qualifications to opine with such confidence. And maybe that’s why Judt’s writing on Israel tends to be so facile. An essay he wrote for The New York Review of Books analogizing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to France’s colonial occupation of Algeria comes to mind. The obvious difference (which Judt, of course, conveniently ignores as he scolds Israel) is that the Mediterranean is sufficiently wide that after France pulled out, the Algerians couldn’t launch Qassams and Katyushas at them. And there wasn’t a substantial body of opinion in Algeria that was committed to France’s destruction. But I guess acknowledging these thigns woudl have sort of undermined Judt’s expert argument.

  • Oops, okay, upon rereading, Judt did acknowledge those arguments, he just didn’t take them seriously.

  • Well, there is that entire historical homeland business to consider as well. When French say “Algiers” it isn’t the same as when a Jew says “Jerusalem” or “Hebron” or “Safed.” There is also that entire business of national presence versus an area being a province of another colonial empire. Finally, one has to consider that the Jews returned to their homeland to re-establish home and their national self-determination, while the French were sojourners intent on despoiling Algeria of whatever goods, wealth or strategic benefits it might lend. The Jews arrived with the notion of building something while absorbing the existing population into its democratic state, the French had no objectives of absorbing anyone or building a state.

  • Could be mistaken, but I believe the French regarded Algeria as part of France (and not simply a colonial possession a la West Africa), in the same way that Guadeloupe, Reunion Island, et la Nouvelle Caladonie are officially part of France.

  • “Judt reasserts the Walt-Mearsheimer hypothesis, that the US and Israel are effectively the same, that the US is led by Israel, and what with Israel being evil and all, now the US is a mess.”

    Well he got it half right. The US ad Israel are the same in three important ways that liberals will never understand; Judeo-Christian values, liberal democracies, and a deep disgust for any’thing’ or anyone who purposely targets civilians for their evil(a given based own our shared values) aims.

    This guy is highly confused himself Phoebe, and hardly worth your intelligent attention. On the other hand, it has to be done I guess in order to try to save some of the confused that may be influenced by his educated ‘fool’ishness.

  • I would add another sameness. The willingness to call evil by its name, in our time that would be Islamist terrorists, and go to war to stop it.

  • This is some seriously confusing stuff Phoebe. Liberals ‘everywhere’ are not all one thing or another. It seriously depends on what you’re talking about. Neo-Cons are well, Neo & CON(servative). They are most decidedly NOT ‘Liberal’ in most dimensions worthy of mention. They are creatures of the right wing, exclusively created by right wing minds for ‘adventuresome’ foreign policy designs that just happen to look a lot like the ‘new, new Crusades’.

    Liberals in Europe are vastly different in many respects than any liberals to be encountered in the US, the same goes for Canada too BTW. The liberal establishment in the US got President Harry Truman to recognize the State of Israel, as the first and most important state to do so. Then those same damnable ‘liberals’ did something that no Neo-con has ever been reported doing, many signed up to actively fight and defend the new state from attacks from various Arab armies. They kept this up too, and raised plenty of funds to see that this project was a success as well. Our neo-cons are the paper warriors, the same ass clowns w/o any military experience who’ve seriously botched 2 wars and are going for a 3rd now. Read the new book ‘Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone’ for a peek into the wonders of what the neo-cons were up to in Iraq. Also read ‘Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq’ by Thomas E. Ricks, this is what the neo-cons have wrought. Not your hated & much cursed ‘liberals’ Phoebe! Support of Israel has always been an active Liberal project since it’s founding. The same can not be said for any conservative of almost any stripe. Cheers, ‘VJ’

  • VJ, had you read the post and not just the title, you’d see that the question–“Are liberals neocons?”– refers to Judt’s assertion that this is the case. I argue otherwise.

  • I read it Phoebe, and it’s seriously confusing. Everyone knows not to take what Tony Judt has to say about most things all too seriously. I’ve learned not to listen when I hear these long winded turgid intellectual arguments offering friendly ‘advice’/’analysis/counsel to Israeli intellectuals (and others no doubt). They matter little to me. Everyone knows that Israel is the only functioning democracy for 1500KM in almost every cardinal direction until you get to Turkey, and they’ve got plenty of problems too. Past that you can expand it to just about ICBM range at or near 4000 KM. I knew this as a child, it was patently obvious then, it’s no less true today. No amount ot trees dying for the cause can tell us otherwise. Cheers, ‘VJ’