Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
New Republic literary editor and guy who also for some reason regularly writes political columns Leon Wieseltier did not enjoy Rachel Maddow’s latest book, everyone. He thinks it is “an anthropologically useful document of the new American disaffection with American force,” by which he means it is annoyingly anti-war.
Written in the same perky self-adoring voice that makes her show so excruciating, it offers some correct observations about certain lamentable trends in the American military— its reliance on contractors, its exploitation of reservists, its surfeit of nuclear weapons; but its righteous aim is to make the use of force itself seem absurd.
You have to appreciate a literary critic who objects to the notion that war is absurd. (As for Leon Wieseltier calling out another author’s “self-adoring” tone, well … no one would ever accuse Wieseltier of being “perky,” I suppose.)
But his critique of Maddow’s book is only the preface to yet another column on the urgent necessity of military intervention somewhere. God bless the New Republic. Let’s hope new owner (and self-proclaimed publisher and editor in chief) Chris Hughes respects its grand tradition of never turning down an opportunity to demand that bombs rain down somewhere far away in the name of freedom and democracy.
Today, the U.S. must intercede in Syria and oust Bashar al-Assad. How? I dunno. He’s sort of unspecific on the “how.” But America must act, because Assad is bad.
No argument here! Assad is a monster. But what, precisely, should the United States do? I mean besides the sanctions we’ve already imposed?
In Washington the usual excuses, familiar from Bosnia to Libya, were offered: the global isolation of the perpetrators (which is incorrect, since they always have Russia); the terrifying might of the Syrian army; the obscurity, or the disunity, of the opposition; the hidden hand of Islamists and terrorists; and so on. Meanwhile the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff blurted out to Congress that “we can do anything,” thereby vitiating the plaintive appeal to the limitations of American competence. There are Arab states agitating for action to stop the slaughter, and arming the Free Syrian Army, whose ranks are growing. But Obama refuses to consider any direct or indirect application of force.
There is … no reason to believe that Obama is straight-up refusing to consider any direct or indirect application of force, and the only evidence Wieseltier provides of his claim is understandably diplomatic language from the president. His presidential mind-reading effort aside, Wieseltier’s summary of the arguments against armed intervention are very silly. He seems to think that people oppose introducing American armed forces to another overseas civil conflict because doing so “would contradict their conception of American power” — they don’t want to bomb Syria because they prefer to believe in American decline! — and not because the use of military force always involves unintended consequences. (Like, the death of even more people, including Syrian civilians and possibly members of the American armed forces? And the delegitimization in the eyes of the populace of the pro-democratic forces in the country? And the possibility of anti-Alawite ethnic cleansing post-Assad? I’m just spitballing, here.)
No, to Wieseltier, the idea that force — or, to be precise, the application of American force in a foreign uprising — might produce “a medicine that’s worse than the disease” is inherently ridiculous. In 2012, people like Leon Wieseltier are still pretending that American firepower is a literal magic bullet able to produce whatever outcome we desire in any nation so long as we believe strongly enough in our own “power.”
Wieseltier regularly writes of being distraught that modern liberals have turned away from interventionism because of the lies and failures of the Bush era, and he bemoans the commonplace idea that the promotion of democracy and human rights need necessarily come “at the barrel of a gun,” but he provides absolutely no other suggestion as to how the United States would promote democracy in Syria and Iran besides with bombs or arms. The modern history of liberal interventionism is in fact pretty sorry, in part because it’s rarely as “liberal” as it’s sold as being, and the long-term consequences of intervention are rarely predicted with anything approaching accuracy. Yet those who invariably support “doing something” — with deniable vagueness as to what “something” should be — for some reason always paint their opponents as the naive ones. (Or both naive and far too cynical.)
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)