Maureen Dowd Is Not an Anti-Semite

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I am in limbo at SFO airport before a long plane flight, so I'll type this out as fast as I can.

- No one will ever accuse me of being a slavish flatterer of Maureen Dowd's. We've had some unpleasant public disagreements, and I often see political and journalistic issues differently from the way she does.

- By contrast, I am a colleague and good friend of the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg. His office, as it happens, is next to mine at the magazine.

- Nonetheless, I agree with Maureen Dowd in nearly all of her criticism of the foreign policy team around Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. In specific I agree with her (a) that since there is so little there, there to Romney's own expressed foreign policy views, it is fair to observe that he has surrounded himself with advisors whose well-established past opinions are now reflected in his policy statements, and (b) that those advisors were deeply involved in leading the United States into its costliest foreign-policy error of at least the past 40 years, the invasion of Iraq.

Some of the people who fit categories (a) and (b) are Jewish. Some of them are not -- notably including Dick Cheney, who still speaks up regularly to disparage the current administration; Condoleezza Rice (despite her successful service as Secretary of State), who lambasted the administration at the Republican convention; John Bolton; and many others.

- Therefore I really disagree with Jeff Goldberg's casting of Dowd's column as one millimeter away from outright anti-Semitism, and I agree with the counter-arguments by Kevin Drum at Mother Jones and by another friend and former colleague, Andrew Sullivan, at the Daily Dish.

- For what it's worth, I know that the term "puppet-master," which Dowd uses about the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and Dan Senor, fits some anti-Semitic tropes. But it also is a normal part of English that has nothing necessarily to do with anti-Semitism. I remember hearing a college lecture about Iago's role as "puppet-master" of Othello; one biography of J. Edgar Hoover had the title Puppetmaster. As a kid I read a Robert Heinlein sci-fi novel of the same name. The very ugliest term in Dowd's column, the statement that a certain group was "slithering" back into control, was something that Paul Wolfowitz had said about President Obama! No one is identified by religion, Jewish or otherwise, in what Dowd wrote.

I agree exactly with what Kevin Drum said:

There's nothing anti-Semitic in Dowd's column. She just doesn't like neocons, and she doesn't like the fact that so many of the neocons responsible for the Iraq debacle are now advisors to Mitt Romney's campaign.

People who are not members of a certain minority group should be careful to avoid terms that that can do harm. But we all have a stake in keeping discussion as free and open as possible. In my view Dowd, with whom I often disagree, was making a valuable point -- and in this case I disagree with my friend Jeffrey Goldberg's criticism of it.

One more point. I have just seen an item by Paul Pillar, who asks why the people who led our country to disaster in Iraq still have standing to speak about America's international role. Herbert Hoover was not widely consulted for fiscal guidance after he left office, nor William Westmoreland about dealing with insurgencies. Robert McNamara did his penance in other ways, for decades, after his role in Vietnam. But still we hear from Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz. As Pillar says:

The Iraq War was one of the biggest and costliest blunders in the history of U.S. foreign relations. The human and material costs, including an ultimate fiscal and economic toll in the multiple trillions in addition to the political and diplomatic damage, have been immense. Moreover, promotion of that war demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of fault lines in the Middle East, political culture in the region, the nature of political change there, the roots of enmity and security threats toward the United States, and the limitations of U.S. power and especially military power. There is no reason anyone should pay one iota of attention to what the promoters of that war have to say today on anything related to those subjects. And yet those are the very sorts of subjects, often with particular reference to countries such as Iran, Syria and Libya, on which neocon promoters of the Iraq War expound today.

In some other political system, anyone who had been involved in an official capacity in promoting that war might, after resigning in disgrace, retire from public affairs to tend a garden, write fiction, or make money in private business. But somehow that has not happened with many of the people concerned in this instance.

It is fair to point that out; it has nothing to do with religion; and even if you disagree with this claim or Dowd's, it is not good for anyone to label such arguments as "anti-Semitic" without much stronger reason and evidence. Now off the grid and onto the United flight.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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