The Corner

Marshall’s Retort

Last week I wrote a column addressing Josh Marshall’s much-discussed cover story in the Washington Monthly. James Taranto picked up the case later in the week.

Anyway, Josh Marshal says he never wrote that Bush has a “secret plan” to democratize the Middle East. Further, by suggesting that he did write this I was discrediting his argument unfairly. Fair enough. He didn’t use the phrase “secret plan.” He did say that the disconnect between Bush’s actual plan and his public comments “breaks new ground in the history of pre-war presidential deception.” He then runs through a history of lies by FDR, Johnson and Clinton. Adding, “But in the case of these deceptions, the public was at least told what the goals of the wars were and whom and where we would be fighting.” He continues:

“Today, however, the great majority of the American people have no concept of what kind of conflict the president is leading them into. The White House has presented this as a war to depose Saddam Hussein in order to keep him from acquiring weapons of mass destruction–a goal that the majority of Americans support. But the White House really has in mind an enterprise of a scale, cost, and scope that would be almost impossible to sell to the American public. The White House knows that. So it hasn’t even tried. Instead, it’s focused on getting us into Iraq with the hope of setting off a sequence of events that will draw us inexorably towards the agenda they have in mind.

If that doesn’t sound like a “secret plan” thesis, I don’t know what does. If I tell you I want to buy your car for the spare parts, when I really want to get the ten million dollars in diamonds hidden in the back seat, I’m keeping something secret from you. The whole tone and tenor of Marshall’s article is dedicated to the thesis that Bush is keeping his real intentions and ambitions secret from the American people.

Not so says Marshall:

“I think the whole argument that I’m wrong on the deception point actually collapses under the crushing weight of its own insubstantiality. The great need to refute this argument virtually confirms the impossibility of its refutation.

Here’s why. What if I said, ‘The President passed a huge tax cut. But he kept from everyone that he thinks it’ll spur economic growth!!’ Or maybe, ‘Sure the president wants to build a national missile defense, but he’s not telling anyone that it’s intended to knock down limited missile attacks from rogue states!!’ No one would respond. And they certainly wouldn’t get bent out of shape about it. They wouldn’t even care. Why? Because no one feels accused if they’re alleged not to have told people something that everyone actually already knows.

James Taranto has some thoughts on this too, but here’s mine: I cannot believe that Marshall is being so disingenuous here. I like the guy and maybe I’m reading it wrong, but what the hell is he talking about?

If I write that Marshall writes his blog to pay for his kiddie porn habit, or that he’s secretly a racist, he might feel the need to respond precisely because the accusation is untrue. And I then wrote in response to his denials “Marshall’s great need to refute this argument virtually confirms the impossibility of its refutation” I would be denounced as a McCarthyite. Surely Marshall knows that the charge of “neoconservatives” pulling strings behind the scense with intentions contrary to the best interests of the American people is a controversial accusation. That Josh being “bent out of shape” by an accusation is proof of that accusation’s veracity, strikes me as outrageous. Marshall may be right about some of the ambitions of some of the “neoconservatives” around Bush. But even if he’s completely accurate, responding that the burning need to refute the charge is proof that the charge is somewhat accurate is not a civil form of argumentation.

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