Friday, December 15, 2006

Jonah Goldberg is a moral degenerate

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Not to mention a moron, a twit, an embarrassment, a fool, a joke -- indeed, a fucking idiot.

Since the recent death of Augusto Pinochet, Chile's former dictator, the American right has gone to great and morally vacuous lengths to come to his defence, to excuse him, to apologize for him, even to praise him. He wasn't nearly as bad as Castro (or Allende, whom he overthrew -- or any other socialist, for that matter), goes the right-is-always-better-than-left argument, and, what's more, he did some lasting good that outweighed the bloodletting. There was some killing, maybe even some torture, but, on the whole, he succeeded in transforming Chile for the better. He was a strongman, but he was also a strident anti-communist and U.S.-style free-marketeer.

There isn't even an enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend self-awareness here. These apologetic conservatives unironically admire Pinochet. It starts with Thatcher, but his followers extend into the ranks of the American right. For more, see this post at CJR Daily (which also quotes -- favourably, I might add -- this blog).

But Jonah Goldberg takes the right's embrace of the deceased Pinochet to a new level. In his latest column at the L.A. Times, he writes that Pinochet is just what Iraq needs right now:

I THINK ALL intelligent, patriotic and informed people can agree: It would be great if the U.S. could find an Iraqi Augusto Pinochet. In fact, an Iraqi Pinochet would be even better than an Iraqi Castro.

Who says that the two options for Iraq are a Pinochet and a Castro? Regardless, he goes on:

Now consider Chile. Gen. Pinochet seized a country coming apart at the seams. He too clamped down on civil liberties and the press. He too dispatched souls. Chile's official commission investigating his dictatorship found that Pinochet had 3,197 bodies in his column; 87% of them died in the two-week mini-civil war that attended his coup. Many more were tortured or forced to flee the country.

But on the plus side, Pinochet's abuses helped create a civil society. Once the initial bloodshed subsided, Chile was no prison. Pinochet built up democratic institutions and infrastructure. And by implementing free-market reforms, he lifted the Chilean people out of poverty. In 1988, he held a referendum and stepped down when the people voted him out. Yes, he feathered his nest from the treasury and took measures to protect himself from his enemies. His list of sins — both venal and moral — is long. But today Chile is a thriving, healthy democracy. Its economy is the envy of Latin America, and its literacy and infant mortality rates are impressive.

I ask you: Which model do you think the average Iraqi would prefer? Which model, if implemented, would result in future generations calling Iraq a success? An Iraqi Pinochet would provide order and put the country on the path toward liberalism, democracy and the rule of law. (If only Ahmad Chalabi had been such a man.)

I have already discussed what Pinochet did to Chile -- see here -- and I won't repeat myself. Suffice it to say that Goldberg's understanding of Chilean history is -- how shall I put it? -- misguided. Pinochet led a coup against a democratically elected government, installed himself as dictator, and brutalized his country. There is a good reason why so many Chileans celebrated his death. How can Goldberg even begin to turn to "the plus side"? As Eric of Total Information Awareness puts it, Goldberg provides "almost a morale-crushing amount of ignorance to ponder". And he asks a key question: "I always wonder how someone like Jonah Goldberg would react if he were to find himself, transported in time and space, to a country like Chile in the mid to late 1970s. Do you think he would be so enthusiastic, so flip, so apologetic, so sycophantic?"

Surely not. Goldberg writes a column for the L.A. Times. He's a big-time conservative pundit. He's a regular on TV. What does he know about what Pinochet did to the Chilean people? How would he like to live in a country where people just disappeared? The ignorance here is astounding, but so is the amoral detachment from reality and so is the utter lack of compassion. Consider what the Chileans had to endure. Because Goldberg doesn't. For him, Pinochet's brutality -- indeed, brutality generally -- can be excused because he's so morally, emotionally, and intellectually bankrupt that he can't possibly understand what that brutality was. He represents everything that is wrong in American punditry. He is paid handsomely, one presumes, to write a column in which he opines without any regard for truth and without any connection to reality. He lives a comfortable life, one presumes again, but with such comfort, with such seclusion, with such detachment, with such disregard for consequences, comes moral degeneracy. And if he was morally degenerate before, which may well have been the case, the degeneracy has only deepened.

Within the parameters his editors set for him, he can, like other pundits, write whatever he wants. He can go on TV and say whatever he wants. He may stimulate discussion and debate, but he is effectively impotent. Who cares what Jonah Goldberg thinks about anything? Even writing this post I don't care. And yet there he is in the pages of a major American newspaper -- a newspaper that, unlike The Washington Post and various right-wing publications, did not excuse or defend Pinochet -- spewing such nonsense, such filth, such abject depravity. Should he not be held accountable?

But what of his argument that a Pinochet would be good for Iraq? I have read enough Machiavelli to know the case for a strong and even dictatorial leader who establishes sufficient order so that a more democratic rule may follow. But Iraq does not need a Pinochet anymore than it needs a Cesare Borgia. The world is not what it once was. Bloodletting for the greater good is not excused the way it once was. And what would the rule of an Iraqi Pinochet say about the U.S.? That it replaced one dictator with another, that the extent of its disastrous war was ultimately to maintain the yoke of tyranny? (That it is as morally degenerate as Goldberg himself?) What do you think the Iraqi people would say to that? Would they like a Pinochet to beat them into submission after decades of Saddam's tyranny? Would they like the sectarian violence to be replaced with the Saddam-like violence of a new U.S.-sanctioned ruler? I have also read enough Hobbes to know the case for a strong and even dictatorial government that maintains the peace so as to prevent society from slipping back into the state of nature. But, again, the maintenance of peace should, in these times, be possible without recourse to dictatorial brutality.

Goldberg's column is one of the most disgusting things I've read not just on the Iraq War but in general in the mainstream news media. There is no excuse for it -- ignorance is no excuse -- just as there is no excuse for Pinochet.

(For more, I recommend excellent posts by Eric of TIA (see above), Larisa Alexandrovna, Barbara O'Brien, Scott Lemieux, BooMan, Matthew Yglesias, Kevin Hayden, and Steven Taylor.)

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