Tuesday, December 04, 2007

n-pod actually has a point

it seems that when we're talking about the evilness of another country the right often takes the same tact: they claim that no serious person can question their basic assumptions, even when those basic assumptions are subject to vigorous debate.

at least that's what struck me when i read norman podhoretz's defensive reaction to the release of the latest national intelligence estimate about iran. n-pod, as always, assumes that iran has an active nuclear program, so he presents the NIE's dissenting view as if it comes out of nowhere and is alone in its conclusion. indeed, he refers to the theory that iran had an active program as a "universal view."

but that's actually quite untrue. whether iran had or didn't have an active weapons program has never been settled by anyone. mohamed elbaradei, head of the international atomic energy commission, has repeatedly stated that there was no solid evidence that iran had an active nuclear weapons program. and that view is also held by such obscure and unknown countries as china and russia.

but who ever heard of them? certainly not n-pod. the self-proclaimed expert on iran doesn't seem to even have a passing familiarity with the positions of some of the key players in the debate.

in other words, the way to win an argument--at least in the podhoretz school of debate--is to ignore the people speaking out against your position, and then claim that no one contests that same position. we saw the same thing in the run-up to the iraq war. even now, you still hear from conservatives who have convinced themselves that there was no dissent over whether iraq had WMDs (n-pod's latest even includes this canard when he refers to "the then universal belief that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction"). i've even run into people who tell me that there was no dissent over whether to attack iraq.

but it looks like the NIE is too big of a deal for n-pod to ignore, so he's falling back on plan B: make up a story about the NIE's author's motives so that he can then use that story as a basis for ignoring the NIE's conclusions. and so he describes his "dark suspicions" that the intelligence agencies are conspiring to undermine the bush administration and its planned attack on iran. the charge is that the NIE is not evidence driven, it's policy driven. podhoretz believes that the people in the intelligence agencies don't want an attack against iran, so they've made up a report that undermines the case for an attack, regardless of what the evidence actually says.

it's a potentially serious critique, but one that equally and quite clearly applies to norman podhoretz himself. n-pod wants the u.s. to attack iran. his arguments are not driven by evidence--that's why he is so determined to undermine the NIE--it's driven by his goal that the u.s. attack iran. whether the NIE ultimately proves to be right or wrong, the consensus of all the american intelligence agencies is an important piece of evidence in the mix. n-pod doesn't seem to be interested in considering whether the report could be right. he's decided it must be wrong. it must be wrong because it takes away the basis he has been hawking for an attack on iran. he's just as policy-driven as he accuses the NIE's authors to be.

so for the same reason n-pod wants us to ignore the latest NIE, n-pod inadvertently makes a pretty good case that we should ignore n-pod himself.