The Goldberg Syndrome

It renders journalists, and lobbyists, blind … 

by , April 03, 2009

Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for The Atlantic and a prominent supporter of the Iraq war, has a bone or two  to pick with Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. Reviewing their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy for The New Republic, he disdained "their methodological arrogance, their failure to meet any serious standard of empirical inquiry, their slavish reliance on second- and third-hand works" – this from a "reporter" who, before the invasion of Iraq, wrote two extensive pieces for the New Yorker detailing the now-debunked Bush administration talking point that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were allies.  

Goldberg’s March 2002 reportage was based on the transparently untruthful testimony of one Mohammed Mansour Shahab, who was then being held prisoner in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. This testimony was easily exposed as fraudulent by Jason Burke, of the London Observer. According to Goldberg, Shahab had met Osama bin Laden near Kandahar, who had tasked him with smuggling weapons from Iran and Iraq to al-Qaeda – including a mysterious liquid hidden in refrigerator motors, biowar poisons no doubt. Except that Shahab had never been to Kandahar, as his inaccurate description of the city as made "entirely" of mud huts made all too apparent to Burke. And that was just one of the rather obvious holes in his story, which, somehow, Goldberg never saw or questioned, but merely reported as fact. 

Goldberg was perfectly willing to accept Shahab’s lies as "fact," and go on television (CNN) spreading the Bush-driven meme that Iraq possessed "weapons of mass destruction" and was about to unleash them on the world – but it’s Mearsheimer and Walt, you understand, who have "failed to meet any serious standard of empirical inquiry."

As the war drums were beating, Goldberg went on NPR’s "All Things Considered," to spread the completely fictitious story that al-Qaeda had been instructed "in the teaching of the use of poison gas" by Saddam Hussein’s government. No such lessons had ever taken place, but Goldberg’s concern over lack of empirical evidence was not, then, considered a problem, at least by him. He was too busy writing, in Slate, that Saddam had "weaponized" a substance known as aflatoxin, which he meant to dump on children, who would then come down with liver cancer. Almost as an afterthought, he wrote that those who opposed the war had "limited experience in the Middle East – unlike himself, who swallowed Shahab’s whoppers whole, without even chewing. Such skepticism, he averred, had caused war critics to "reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected." 

Wrong, as it turned out, on both counts: the war caused the loathing of America and Americans to increase ten-fold, and the aflatoxin experiments, according to Charles Duelfer’s definitive 2004 report, were not connected to weaponry. The Duelfer report provided "no evidence to link these tests with the development of BW [biological weapons] agents for military use." Indeed, according to the report, from the mid-nineties onward, "there appears to be a complete absence of discussion or even interest in BW at the Presidential level." 

Here is someone who has been wrong about virtually everything – about the consequences of the Iraq war, about the rationale for that war, about easily-verifiable facts while interviewing a source – attacking the "methodological arrogance" of two reputable scholars! Yet more evidence that we’re living in Bizarro World, where up is down, right is left, water flows uphill, and those who live in glass houses spend all their waking hours throwing stones.  

Goldberg has been on a jihad against Mearsheimer and Walt, and particularly against the latter ever since he landed a gig blogging at ForeignPolicy.com, web site of the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine: 

"Ouch. That new Foreign Policy website is craaazy. Everyone over here at The Atlantic gets along, Alhamdullilah. Not so over at Foreign Policy. Of course, they’ve hired the egregious Stephen Walt as a blogger, so it was only a matter of time before one of their commonsense bloggers, in this case the perspicacious David Rothkopf, took him down." 

Yes, everyone gets along at The Atlantic, because only pro-Israel shills are allowed to blog there, and no one is ever held accountable. And surely no one like Stephen Walt would ever be allowed to sully the web site of such a respectable venue as The Atlantic, whose writers have, to a man and woman, been just as wrong about practically everything as Goldberg, and for largely the same reasons. Now if only Foreign Policy would go along with the crowd, and, in the manner of The Atlantic and The New Republic — not to mention the New York Times — only employ as writers those who regurgitate the conventional wisdom, whatever it may be at the moment.  

Where, by the way, did the authors of The Israel Lobby ever get the idea that there is such an entity? Are there really people who consider it their job to defend Israel and its government, no matter what the charges, and who take up the cudgels against anyone who dares to point to the 500-lb. gorilla standing in the middle of the room? Well, then, let’s look at one particularly eager defender of the Lobby – Goldberg himself. Let’s look at his recent spate of blogging over at The Atlantic – and we’ll get a clearer idea of where the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis came from. 

First up, a post advertising his recent interview with Israeli Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he (Goldberg) uncritically reports the hard-line Israeli politician’s take on Iran as in the grip of a "messianic apocalyptic cult." "When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death," avers Bibi, "then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran."  

A more critical interviewer might have asked if this doesn’t also apply to Avigdor Lieberman, the neo-fascist Israeli politician who wants to expel all Arabs from Israel and yearns for an opportunity to blow up the Aswan dam. Naturally, Goldberg says nothing of the sort, but instead merely fades into the background, content to provide a platform for the belligerent Bibi. Throughout the interview, the Israeli Prime Minister communicates his message of "if Obama doesn’t bomb Iran, then we will," and Goldberg is happy to act as a conduit for this threat. Underscoring this passivity, Goldberg notes, at the end of the piece, a letter from Bibi’s elder brother to his sibling then enrolled in college in the US, in which the brother advises young Netanyahu: "He who delivers the first blow, wins." 

Second up, a post on the Hezbollah media web site, Al Manar, which, according to Goldberg, has snazzy graphics (unlike the relatively primitive Hamas site), and these graphics are "linked to an outside article, written by such figures as Roger Cohen and John Mearsheimer." The link to Mearsheimer’s name goes to a particularly abusive – almost childish – post, in which Goldie calls the premier advocate of foreign policy realism and an accomplished scholar "stupid," implying that he’s  too radical and too much of an anti-Semite even for Hezbollah. The Cohen link goes to one of Goldberg’s posts that implies the New York Times columnist – who recently wrote a series of columns from Iran that portray the country as tolerant of Jews — is inspiring and encouraging suicide bombers to target Israel. 

Third up – a post on the play "Seven Jewish Children," and the stance by the new pro-Israel group "J Street" to support its staging at a Jewish theater. The play – about what Israelis might be telling their children about the recent Gaza war – is compared by Goldberg to the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." 

Next up – a virulent post, which excoriates former CIA officer and chief of the bin Laden unit, Michael Scheuer, whom Goldberg describes – without any evidence – as "viscerally anti-Semitic." Scheuer’s crime? He told the National Journal the following: 

"There is indeed an identifiable fifth column of pro-Israel U.S. citizens — I have described them here and elsewhere as Israel-Firsters — who have consciously made Israel’s survival and protection their first priority, and who see worth in America only to the extent that its resources and manpower can be exploited to protect and further the interests of Israel in its religious war-to-the-death with the Arabs. These are disloyal citizens in much the same sense that the Civil War’s disloyal northern "Copperheads" sought to help the Confederates destroy the Union. The Israel-Firsters help Israel suborn U.S. citizens to spy for Israel; they use their fortunes and political action organizations to buy U.S. politicians with campaign donations; and most of all they use their ready access to the media to disguise their own disloyalty by denigrating as anti-Semites or appeasers fellow citizens who dare to challenge them. The Israel-Firsters are unquestionably enemies of America’s republican experiment and will have to be destroyed as the Copperheads were destroyed — by the people, after a full public debate, at the ballot box." 

He did not, as Goldberg avers, say that "all Americans who support Israel" are "traitors," but only those who make Israel their first priority – the distinction is clear to anyone whose vision is not blurred by ideology. Goldberg lamely claims that "Israel-Firsters" is a code word for "Jews," yet the born-again dispensationalist Christians who make up a substantial portion of the Republican party’s electoral base are more fanatical – and numerous – than the increasingly apathetic (when it comes to Israel) or outright indifferent Jewish population of the US. Mearsheimer and Walt have made the same point in their book, yet Goldberg and his Likudnik confreres don’t want to hear it. 

Unencumbered by facts, or, indeed, any methodology that employs them, Goldberg compares Scheuer to … Father Coughlin! Good old Father Coughlin, the left-wing radio priest of the 1930s, whose crack-brained economic theories – easy money for all! – resemble nothing so much as the printing-press Keynesianism of the more radical Obamaites (minus the anti-Semitism, of course). What would the Lobby do without this economic illiterate out of the past? Anyone who questions the "special relationship" is inevitably likened to this rather obscure figure, whose significance in death is far greater than it ever was in life. If anyone can link Coughlin to Scheuer, it is Goldberg, however – after all, this is a "journalist" who linked Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden, and got it printed in The New Yorker

An Israel Lobby? In the media? Why, who ever heard of such a thing?!  

If Jeffrey Goldberg has any doubts about the existence of such an entity, he should try looking in the mirror. That he can’t – or won’t – see what, increasingly, the rest of America sees, is an indication that either he’s going blind, or that he’s just not telling us the truth. Of course, it could be both: that he’s blind, and willfully so. This is a telling symptom of what we might call the Goldberg Syndrome: an inability to see and/or acknowledge what everyone knows to be true – that a lobby, and a powerful one, exists in this country that puts Israel’s interests above those of the US.  

Furthermore, this Lobby is currently running into some big problems: the foreign policy it has imposed – yes, imposed – on the US has caused a train-wreck in the Middle East, with reverberations around the world and on the home front, too. Americans are waking up, and the Israel Lobby is reacting with its characteristic blind virulence. The consequences – for Israel, first of all – aren’t going to be pretty. Yet the blindness of the pro-Israel ideologues renders them unable to see any of this coming. 

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I am very pleased to announce the latest addition to our stable of columnists: Edouard Husson is Maître de Conférences at the Sorbonne, a historian specializing in the history of Germany and Europe in the 20th century. He is author of “Nous pouvons vivre sans les juifs” (2005) and Heydrich et la solution finale (2008), and others.

He was my host at the recent conference I attended at Bernadin College, the newly-establish Catholic university set up in what was once a 16th century monastery. And what a host he was – I was quite thrilled by the experience, and by the wonderful French hospitality epitomized in my host and his staff. From my vantage point in the middle of the Latin Quarter, high up over the rooftops of Paris, I got to experience the best that France has to offer – and that was true intellectually, as well. The conference on the prospects for peace in the twenty-first century had an amazing array of speakers, and a fascinating cross-pollination took place, with speakers from a wide variety of perspectives, and Prof. Husson was an engaging and challenging moderator.

His first column for Antiwar.com is, I think, a good indication of his general views on foreign policy: his “France first” perspective, which envisions a multi-polar future in which Paris charts an independent foreign policy course, recalls the old Gaullist vision of a “third force.” In any case, here is his first “Letter from Paris,” the first of many dispatches from one of France’s new thinkers – an intellectual innovator who nevertheless makes his appeal to the traditional French sense of uniqueness and zest for independent action.

Read more by Justin Raimondo