HPRgument Blog, United States — February 21, 2010 5:37 am

Why Andrew Sullivan is a Hack, Part I

By

No, I don’t think he’s an anti-semite (see Jonathan Chait on that). But he has been reckless enough with the truth, and obsessed enough with Israel, that much of the recent criticism is spot-on.

Take Sullivan’s latest post on CPAC for example. He begins by heralding Ron Paul’s surprise victory in the CPAC straw poll, and ends up with yet another diatribe against Israel and the ”neocon” quest for an “unsustainable neo-empire.” As if Paul won at the mainstream conservative conference this year due to a massive groundswell for… neo-isolationist foreign policy.

But no matter, somehow the Project for a New American Century — and yes, Israel – must be drawn into this. Watch closely, because he moves fast (emphasis mine):

At least Paul has some core integrity; at least he believes in small government and has long been honest about what he wants to cut; at least he fully understands that continuing an empire with this level of debt is unsustainable and unconservative:

He will continue to be smeared by the more extreme neoconservatives precisely because they see his attempt to unwind an unsustainable neo-empire as an end to open-ended, unconditional support for an increasingly far right and fundamentalist Israel and an end to the PNAC global control ideology that is slowly corrupting this country and bankrupting its treasury.

Sorry, what? Who are these “more extreme neoconservatives” and what are the “smears” that they deploy in place of legitimate arguments? And is it merely Ron Paul’s less-than-unconditional support for Israel that irks them? Not, by any chance, their nearly 180-degree divergence on the orientation of foreign policy across the board?

If Sullivan had left it at “PNAC global control ideology,” it would have been minimally tolerable. But what does “fundamentalist Israel” have to do with global control, pray tell?

For Sullivan, this level of clarity is par for the course. Just over a year ago, he was harping on much the same quasi-conspiratorial nonsense.

How exactly does a Harvard PhD come up with a paragraph like this?

The closer you examine it, the clearer it is that neoconservatism, in large part, is simply about enabling the most irredentist elements in Israel and sustaining a permanent war against anyone or any country who disagrees with the Israeli right. That’s the conclusion I’ve been forced to these last few years.

Neoconservatism is not simply about anything. It is anything but simple. Most recently, it has referred to a set of ideas about American foreign policy with roots in hard-line anti-communism during the later decades of the Cold War. It has changed very little as a foreign policy doctrine since then, except that most of its proponents now find themselves on the American right and their primary ideological enemy has changed from communism to radical Islam.

Neoconservatives advocate the use of American power to promote democratic capitalist ideology around the world, on the premise that democratic expansion generally advances American interests. Hence their support for intervention in Bosnia in the 1990s, and their insistence on a sphere of democracy in the former Soviet Union (particularly through NATO expansion).

So what “forced” Sullivan to conflate neoconservatism, a broad set of deep-rooted ideas about American foreign policy, with the particular bidding of the Israeli right? If he has evidence that these are one and the same, he shares none of it with his readers. Instead of reasoned argument, we are left with rhetorical flourishes like this:

But America is not Israel. America might support Israel, might have a special relationship with Israel. But America is not Israel. And once that distinction is made, much of the neoconservative ideology collapses.

To recap: America does not equal Israel. Therefore, neoconservatives have nothing useful to add to the foreign policy debate. Their “ideology,” which has no connection to real American interests or values, actually collapses. Q.E.D.

For a seminar paper on American foreign policy this past semester, I checked out more than 30 books on neoconservatism and the Iraq War. For all of the griping about AIPAC’s influence in Washington, I never encountered a shred of evidence that the impetus for the American invasion came from the Israeli right. To put it another way: PNAC is not AIPAC, and once that distinction is made, Sullivan’s argument collapses.

I was once intrigued by Sullivan’s complexity as a thinker with no obvious “party or clique.” I am no longer charmed. It is as if Sullivan’s identity as a gay, Catholic, conservative Obama supporter is supposed to substitute for actual nuance in thought.

On the other hand, it is hard to keep up the same baseline of bombast and bluster when feelings take a back seat to facts. And maybe you don’t become the most popular pundit on the net by publishing conscientious dissections of Middle East policy.

So I am reading too much into it, you say; Sullivan is blogging, after all, and you can’t spell “blog” without a good part of “bloviate”.

Well, realizing that Sullivan is just another blowhard with a Harvard degree is half the battle as far as I’m concerned. Sullivan may or may not have the intellect of Oakeshott, whom he claims as his mentor, but he has the intellectual integrity of Olbermann and O’Reilly.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

  • Pingback: Three Weeks of HPRgument » The HPRgument

  • paxromana

    This article takes a pretty narrow view of Sullivan’s work, really taking issue only with his recent writings on Israel and neoconservatism. It’s rash of the author to conclude that Sullivan is “just another blowhard with a Harvard degree,” and most anyone who actually reads his blog on a regular basis will know that that’s a completely unfair characterization. The comparison to O’Reilly and Olbermann is especially laughable.

  • http://www.harvardpoliticalreview.com Alex

    Thanks for your comment –

    But I don’t think it’s an unfair characterization at all, given that Sullivan’s writings on Israel and neoconservatism constitute some of his most numerous and most vitriolic posts.

    I don’t think Sullivan is wrong on every issue, or that he is incapable of sensible thought across the board, but enough of his posts display enough of a dearth of intellectual integrity and nuance that I think it’s fair to describe him as a hack.

    Maybe not on the level of Olbermann or O’Reilly — he’s certainly much more intelligent — but intelligence is not the same thing as integrity, and he’s a far cry from Oakeshotte on either score.

custom writing