Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic interviewed Time’s Joe Klein about, among other things, Klein’s recent assertion that Jewish neoconservatives have “divided loyalties.” The interview is quite a journey into the angry and emotional world of Joe Klein. Klein says, for example, that he is “very, very angry” at the Jewish blogosphere. When asked about why he puts the adjective “Jewish” in front of the word “neocons,” Klein pays homage to his own courage. “It’s about time,” he says. “I think everyone else is too afraid to do it.” He accuses those who have a different assessment of the importance of championing liberty in the Middle East as being guilty of “a very, very dangerous form of extremism.” Klein talks about how both the left-wing bloggers and the right-wing bloggers “hate me.” And he accuses people like me and Jennifer Rubin (a contributor to Commentary’s “Contentions”) of wanting to “stifle opinions that are different from theirs.”
“I’m certainly not going to back down,” declares Joe the Intrepid.
Rather than speaking in terms of standing up or backing down, perhaps it would be more useful to examine the quality and accuracy of Klein’s assertions.
1. When asked what he meant by the term “divided loyalties,” Klein claims, “I did not mean to imply that they were disloyal to the United States.” But, in fact, he did. Here is what Klein wrote:
The notion that we could just waltz in and inject democracy into an extremely complicated, devout and ancient culture smacked–still smacks–of neocolonialist legerdemain. The fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives–people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary–plumped for this war, and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties: using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel.
The terms “divided loyalties” and “dual loyalties” have a particular meaning and context; for Klein to use it as he did reveals his belief that Jewish neoconservatives are more loyal to Israel than they are to America. And that is a pernicious and despicable charge. Klein should not compound his calumny with dishonesty.
2. Klein says, “I think that my reading on the nuclear issue is, given the level of threats that they’ve been getting from the United States, and from Israel, it’s a logical thing for Iran to want nuclear weapons as a deterrent.” The United States and Israel, in other words, are the real culprits.
For one thing, the “threats” that Iran is receiving from the United States and Israel are based on Iran’s effort to gain nuclear weapons, not the other way around. If Iran gave up their quest for nuclear weapons, the “threats” would evaporate.
In addition, the historical facts refute Klein’s theory. In 2003, for example, the IAEA reported that “Iran has now acknowledged that it has been developing, for 18 years, an uranium centrifuge program, and, for 12 years, a laser enrichment program.” The IAEA also reported that Iran had produced small amounts of plutonium, generally only associated with nuclear weapons programs, between 1988 and 1992. The programs were secret and only came to light after the uranium enrichment program was exposed by an Iranian opposition group in 2002. To pretend that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are being driven by the “level of threats that they’ve been getting from the United States and from Israel” is silly.
3. Klein tells Goldberg:
[Neoconservatives] pick Ahmadinejad specifically because he’s the guy making the wildest antisemitic statements. I think that’s being done for political purposes, to scare the s*** out of my parents. It’s a Broward County strategy, it’s a Florida strategy.
That’s one interpretation; the other is that they “pick” Ahmadinejad because he happens to be the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran and, as Goldberg himself has documented on his web site, has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel. That is significant. It is true, as I wrote in early 2007, that “the Iranian government has several different power centers, including the presidency, the parliament, the Revolutionary Guard, and the office of the Supreme Leader — currently filled by Ayatollah Khamenei, who ultimately oversees the armed forces and exerts great influence.” But to dismiss Ahmadinejad’s words, as Klein does, simply because he is not Khamenei — who after all was himself a key figure in Iran’s Islamic Revolution and a close confidant of Ayatollah Khomeini — is, I think, a mistake. We cannot know for sure what Iran’s intentions are or how they would act, or how Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt would react, if Iran gains possession of a nuclear weapon. But such a moment could not and would not be good, and for any serious-minded person it ought to be a source of real concern.
Pointing out Ahmadinejad’s words, then, might not be a “Broward Country strategy;” instead, it may be that Ahmadinejad’s words and intentions are worth noting before Iran possesses a nuclear weapon.
4. Klein refers to the idea of spreading democracy to the Arab Middle East as a “benign domino theory” and claims it represents a “really dangerous anachronistic neocolonial sensibility.” That’s an interesting way to describe it. There are others. For example, during the “Arab Spring” in 2005, this is what Klein had to say:
And yet, for the moment, Bush’s instincts—his supporters would argue these are bedrock values—seem to be paying off. The President’s attention span may be haphazard, but the immediate satisfactions are difficult to dispute. Saddam Hussein? Evildoer. Take him out. But wait, no WMD? No post-invasion planning? Deaths and chaos? Awful, but…. Freedom! Look at those Shiites vote! And now, after all that rapid-eye movement, who can say the Shiites and the Kurds won’t create a government with a loyal Shiite-Kurd security force? And who can say the Sunni rebels won’t—with some creative dealmaking—eventually acquiesce? The foreign-policy priesthood may be appalled by all the unexpected consequences, but there has been stunned silence in the non-neocon think tanks since the Iraqi elections.
Several weeks later, in a column titled “Look Who Has a Shot at the Nobel Peace Prize,” Klein wrote this:
Under the enlightened leadership of Grand Ayatullah Ali Husaini Sistani, the Shiite majority has played the democracy game with gusto. It has acknowledged the importance of Kurdish and Sunni minority rights and seems unlikely to demand the constitutional imposition of strict Islamic law. Most important, it has resisted the temptation to retaliate against the outrageous violence of Sunni extremists, especially against Shiite mosques…. If the President turns out to be right—and let’s hope he is—a century’s worth of woolly-headed liberal dreamers will be vindicated. And he will surely deserve that woolliest of all peace prizes, the Nobel.
So what Klein today calls a “really dangerous anachronistic neocolonial sensibility” was for him, just three years ago, an undertaking of the Bush administration worth, perhaps for the president, the Nobel Peace Prize.
5. When asked, “Wasn’t there a period when you were for the war?”, Klein responds:
No, I was very skeptical about the war. You can look at the columns I wrote. But at one point – and this ironic because both the left-wing bloggers that hate me and the right-wing bloggers that hate me always cite this – on one appearance on Tim Russert’s cable show, which happened within a month before the war started, the troops were all in place, I did a really stupid thing, I started thinking aloud, “Well you know, it’s going to happen, maybe we should do it,” that sort of thing.
Here’s what Klein actually said in his February 22, 2003 interview with Tim Russert:
This is a really tough decision. War may well be the right decision at this point. In fact, I think it—it’s—it—it probably is…. [Saddam] has been defying the world for twelve years. It is very clear—I mean, I—I—I haven’t found anybody who doesn’t believe that he’s hiding stuff there. And if there’s going to be a civilized world order, the—the world has to be able to act on its—you know, on—on—on its agreements. And—and there have been now seventeen UN resolutions calling on this guy to disarm, a—something that he agreed to do, and at certain—at a certain point, you have to enforce it.
Now you can quibble with the fact, you can argue with the fact that the Bush administration forced this judgment at this time in this way, but I think—and—but I—but I do believe that it was Bill Clinton’s moral responsibility and responsibility as leader of the country to do it in 1998, as we—as we were saying before. And—and I think that now that we’ve reached this point, where the inspectors are in and it has become absolutely manifestly clear that he’s not going to abide by this—you know, just look at his behavior in the days since the peace protests. All of a sudden, you know, he’s—he’s—you know, he’s defiant again. So I think that, you know, the—the message has to be sent because if it isn’t sent now, if we don’t do this now, it empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.
So when asked if he supported the war, the truthful answer would be “yes” rather than “no.”
6. When asked by Goldberg about the fact that most Israeli politicians, left and right now, seem to believe that Iran poses an existential threat to Israel’s existence, Klein, speaking like the master geopolitical strategist he views himself to be, says, “That’s because they f***** up the war in Lebanon. The lesson here is, don’t let an Air Force guy run your military.” It’s that kind of Kissingerian insight that led Klein to support a war he now calls “the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made by an American president” and fiercely oppose the surge, which even Klein now admits has been stunningly successful.
The truth, of course, is that the concern posed by Iran against Israel pre-dates the 2006 war in Lebanon. Here’s a thought: Perhaps Israel views Iran as an existential threat because of the statements by Iran’s President that he wants Israel liquidated.
7. Klein ends his interview by stating this:
And they seem to think, when you look at what Pete Wehner said, or what Jennifer Rubin said on their blog a couple of days ago, “I can’t imagine why Time hasn’t shut this guy down and fired him and blah blah blah blah blah.” That’s what they want to do. They want to stifle opinions that are different from theirs. I’m certainly not going to back down.
For the record, here is what I wrote:
Joe Klein appears to be a man who cannot control his anger and even hatred toward those with whom he has policy disagreements. It is a sad thing to witness. And those who care for Klein should do him a favor and urge him to give up blogging, which allows his unfiltered rage to make its way into print and embarrass him and the magazine for which he writes.
In light of Klein’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, I’d say my words and warning look more prescient than ever. My only amendment would be to add “interviews” to the list of things Klein should discontinue.
Joe Klein is free to say what he wants. And the rest of us are free to point out the foolish and ad hominem nature of his pronouncements, as well as his past words.
— Peter Wehner, former deputy assistant to the president, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.