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WaPo culture critic settles some old scores

Philip Kennicott (Yale College ’88) must have gotten a bad grade from Donald Kagan. How else to explain this WaPo hit piece on Kagan’s Jefferson lecture, which Peter describes here?

Kennicott manages to demonstrate, first, that he has no real interest in ideas or in education: he dismisses Kagan’s argument as "boilerplate," asking "who really cares whether poetry or philosophy or history sits at the top of the humanities heap? Is it really a contest?" Anyone who takes education or philosophy (Kennicott’s major at Yale) seriously cares. A "culture critic" ought to care.

Then Kennicott tries to hoist Kagan by his own petard, accusing him of partisanship. We go from a dismissal of Kagan’s pedagogical and intellectual concerns to an attack on his politics. If you don’t care about the former, isn’t the latter all that’s left (the double entendre is intentional, by the way)? In other words, Kennicott offers a partisan attack on Kagan’s alleged partisanship, all the while arguing that partisanship gets in the way of "sane evaluation of real threats."

His example of Kagan’s failing in this regard was his worry, in a book published in 2000, about WMD in Iraq. It seems to me that in 2000, worrying about WMD in Iraq was a bipartisan and multinational activity. Only when it became convenient to claim that Bush and Blair "lied" about WMD did people on the Left forget what they had thought just a few years earlier.

It is instructive, by the way, to contrast Kennicott’s fawning portrait of Columbia University Middle East Studies Professor Rashid Khalidi, who "straddles a difficult line between academic historian and political commentator," with his treatment of Kagan, whose straddling clearly doesn’t meet with Kennicott’s approval.

Discussions - 4 Comments

Actually, before 9-11 it did seem a bi-partisan concern about the possiblity that Iraq may have or develop a weapons program. Which is a legitimate concern. I don’t remember anyone in 2000 telling the American public that there were wmds and we know where they are or terrifying people with the symbolism of a "mushroom cloud". C’mon - even the Bush administration displayed concerns about Iraq, but still stated that they were not sure of the capabilities.

Kennicott’s characterization of WHILE AMERICA SLEEPS is distorted and misleading at best, outright false at worst. Did he even read the book?

In WHILE AMERICA SLEEPS, Kagan does not go "on and on about potential WMDs in Iraq." He talks, though not in much depth or at great length, about the status of Iraq’s WMD programs (whose existence the UN confirmed at the time) after the first Gulf War, how the US should ended the war prematurely, and how the IAEA was too lax. When he addressed the current (i.e. 2000) state of affairs in Iraq, the inspections had just ended, and he was worried Saddam would use the interlude to develop more weapons and conceal them more carefully. All of this is defensible, and most folks, right and left, believed it then and in 2000, when the book was written. Not to mention it’s far from the raving lunacy Kennicott implies.

Kennicott should be ashamed of himself. And so should the Post.

I think that the Left saw what I saw in the WMD story: Our new Commander-In-Chief telling us via his underlings that there was a threat. Great flow charts, overhead projections, photos, and memos. It was all there and looked great.

Now there is proof out there that the reasons for war were fabricated. WMD, Osama connections, etc were all debunked. Now the Left feels misled, and rightfully so. Because they are the oppositional party to the Right-wing, they are entitled to feel a bit lied to. That’s why there’s "flip-flopping". Actually, it is from getting educated on the truth and making a change in their misbehavior and misguided attempts at supporting their President when he asked them to.

First of all, where’s the proof that the reasons were fabricated? I’ve seen evidence that the intelligence was flawed, but everything points to Bush’s acting in good faith based on that flawed intelligence.

And actually, the Left -- at least senators and representatives on the Left -- didn’t get all their information from Bush or his "underlings." They saw the intelligence for themselves, and most of them came to the conclusion that Saddam was a threat.

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