THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2003
THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF FISKING: Theres plenty to criticize, critique and assess when it comes to those Dem Hopeful views on Iraq. But just how lightweight is our discourse? At the New Republic web site, Andrew Sullivan fisks statements by Kerry and Clark at last Sundays Dem debate. But alas! Regarding one key statement by Clark, he offers a tired assessment:
CLARK: Ive been against this war from the beginning. I was against it last summer, I was against it in the fall, I was against it in the winter, I was against it in the spring. And I'm against it now. It was an unnecessary war. There was no imminent threat.A fisking, of course, is supposed to be a close, careful reading of somebodys text. But just how closely does Sully read Clark? In his rebuttal, Sullivan types a Standard Formulation: No member of the administration used the term imminent threat to describe Saddam Husseins Iraq. No one. It feels very good to type such scripts, although this script is a pointless misdirection (see below). But in what way does Sullivans statement serve as a rebuttal of Clark? In his statement, Clark said nothingnada; zilchabout what Bush or Bush spokesmen have said. He merely said the war was unnecessary because there was no imminent threat. He made no claim about what Bush said. But Sullyresponding to a statement not maderushes to say that Clark lied.
Alas! The desire to type familiar, canned spin is pervasive among modern journalists. In the passage presented above, Sully has fifty words to fisk. But even in reading a mere fifty words, Sullivan simply cant stop himself from rebutting a claim that isnt there.
Two comments are worth appending:
First (again): It is simply inane to keep insisting that no one in the Bush Admin ever used the words imminent threat. During the fall of 2002, Bush and others made repeated presentations that could only be understood one way; Saddam posed a threat to the United States, and that threat was immediate. In his high-profile speech in Cincinnati, for example, Bush said that Saddam could strike us on any given day. School kids know what words like that mean. But high-profile typists do not.
Second: There would probably be a lot to gain from a full examination of Clarks past statements. What did Clark say about Iraq last fall? Surely, few Americans know. In fact, Clark warned that force should be a last resort, but many Dems might be surprised by what he seemed to mean by such statements. For example, heres how he finished an essay in Time:
CLARK (10/14/02): The key issue about Iraq has never been whether we should act if Saddam doesnt comply with U.N. resolutions and disarm. Rather, the problems are how we should act, and when. As for the how, the answer is clearmultilaterally, with friends and allies, with every possible effort to avoid the appearance of yet another Christian and Jewish stab at an Islamic country, with force as a last resort, and with a post-conflict plan in place to assure that the consequences of our action do not supercharge the al-Qaeda recruiting machine. As for the when, lets take the time to plan, organize and do the whole job the right way. This will only take a few more weeks, and its important. Its not just about winning a warits also about winning the peace.What were General Clarks actual views? Americans gain from actual knowledge. But theyre hobbled by what theyre handed instead: Light-weight spin from tired old spin-shops, accompanied by dark claims of lying.