The Corner

The Left’s Logic of Conspiracy

There’s a lot of conspiratorial nonsense out there about Iraq that may have once served a political purpose, but which now looks ridiculous. And a lot of people try to become instant commentators about Iran and the Islamic world, but instead amplify or regurgitate just what they read in blogs. Matt Duss, a communications staffer at the Center for American Progress and a blogger for their national-security team, is upset I suggested commentators name-call to cover for weakness of argument and wrote a response for which he and the Center for American Progress should be embarrassed.  Statement by statement below:

Duss: There’s no reason that Rubin should treat my referring to him as one of Doug Feith’s oompa-loompas as an excuse not to respond to my dismantling of his blatant misrepresentation of the Islamic concept of taqiya.

Me: When I worked at the Pentagon, I did not report directly to Mr. Feith and had very little contact with him, indeed far less than the couple hundred people at the bureaucratic levels between us. (I dealt far more with Peter Rodman). Nevertheless, I think I had three interactions with him over the course of 18 months or so. I outline my rather mixed assessment of Feith’s tenure in my review of his book in the Winter 2009 Middle East Quarterly.

Me: As for taqiya, religious dissimulation, Mr. Duss does not understand that religious concepts evolve with time and are seldom interpreted singularly. On May 19, 2008, for example, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi explained the concept of taqiya as “secret holy warfare, not conservatism, or fear, or evasion of responsibility.” Alas, perhaps the ayatollah does not pass Mr. Duss’s litmus test of what he learned at the University of Washington. Rather than take a sterile view of religion as it is interpreted in the ivory tower, it is important to understand what its practitioners define it as. I’d also recommend the treatment of taqiya and Khomeini in the Winter 2003 issue of Iranshenasi. And, as for not responding sooner, I apologize. I had classes to teach, research to conduct, writing deadlines, etc.

Duss: In an August op-ed in the Washington Post, Rubin called Joe Biden “Tehran’s favorite senator” by way of blaming Biden for the Bush administration’s lack of a coherent Iran policy.

Me: Actually, no one can accuse me of not criticizing the Bush administration roundly for its lack of a coherent Iran policy. I have actually been quite vocal on that to the ire of many Bush administration officials, not letting partisanship supplant analysis. As for Biden as Tehran’s favorite senator, let’s just say it’s telling which senator Iranian officials like to quote when they wish to bash U.S. policy on Iranian television. At the same time, though, I have praised Biden when it comes to the consistency of his advocacy for Fathi ElJahmi’s freedom.

Duss: In October, Rubin suggested — without any evidence whatsoever — that Middle East scholar Rashid Khalidi was ideologically sympathetic to Saddam Hussein’s attempted genocide against the Kurds.

Me: Mr. Duss simply fabricates this and should apologize. What Duss actually refers to is a July 2004 book review. Nowhere do I claim that Mr. Khalidi is ideologically sympathetic to Saddam’s attempted genocide against the Kurds. Mr. Duss made that up.What I did write is this, “In his historical analysis, Khalidi demonstrates little understanding of Iraqi history, failing to mention Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons on the Kurds and the draining of the marshes. Rather, he implies that Arabs think with one mind and hold the Israeli-Palestinian dispute central to their identity.”

Duss: Rubin also serves as editor of the Middle East Quarterly, helping right-wing polemicist Daniel Pipes warn Americans about the Islamic terrorists lurking underneath their beds, and attacking various Americans deemed insufficiently pro-Israel or inappropriately pro-Arab

Me: I am editor of the Middle East Quarterly. The articles are grouped by category here. Nothing to which Mr. Duss links actually has anything to do with the Middle East Quarterly. Again, the Center for American Progress seems content to simply make things up. Needless to say, I doubt Mr. Duss has ever read the journal for his description is inaccurate.

Duss: And, of course, Rubin worked in the Office of Special Plans, helping Doug Feith shape intelligence to produce bogus arguments for the invasion of Iraq. But at least he was polite about it!

Me: Aside from the fact that the work on the Iraq-Al Qaeda linkage occurred before I was hired, that it was largely pursued by an activated reservist and a democrat working elsewhere in the building, and that I did not work on intelligence matters, I would be less sanguine than Mr. Duss on relying on an article that was written by a man who had dedicated his first book to his colleagues at the Lyndon LaRouche organization.

Frankly, Brian Katulis, P.J. Crowley and their colleagues on the Center for American Progress’ National Security Team should be embarrassed that this is the type of work that their team now produces. Nothing wrong with policy debate, but it shouldn’t separate itself so far from reality. As the Obama administration prepares for office, there is serious work to be done. It is time for Matt Duss to grow up.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

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