Matt Yglesias’s Trouble With Matt Yglesias

Andrew Sullivan's award named for his furry Atlantic co-blogger (not Ross Douthat, the other one) to pay tribute to honorable acts of liberal self-criticism. So Yglesias isn't so gung-ho about gun control; he'll defend Bill Bennett when he thinks the … Read More

By / May 23, 2007

Andrew Sullivan's award named for his furry Atlantic co-blogger (not Ross Douthat, the other one) to pay tribute to honorable acts of liberal self-criticism. So Yglesias isn't so gung-ho about gun control; he'll defend Bill Bennett when he thinks the left's misinterpreted and vilified an offhand remark the evangelical conservative has made about the concatenation between abortion and black crime rates, etc.

All well and good, I guess, to bestow credit on someone for intellectual honesty, however sad this reflects on the state of intellectual discourse at present. Doesn't it remind you of Chris Rock's joke about taking credit for not going to jail? "Whatchu want, a cookie!?"

Though I think the proudly eponymous trophy now deserves reconstitution; it ought to celebrate the kind of liberal paranoia that lays all the trouble in the world at the door of the Bush administration. How else to account for Yglesias's notion that American provocation led to Iran's kidnapping of British sailors in the Iraqi waters of the Persian Gulf last April? Or his rather adorable act of prose snugglebunnies with Nancy Pelosi when she unconstitutionally arrogated to herself the role of shuttle diplomat and attempted to negotiate on behalf of the United States with that assassin-in-chief Bashar al-Assad? The title of Yglesias's Comment is Free post on these conjoined subjects was "Doves 1, Hawks 0" — which makes you wonder what sort of placid snow-white fowl the Syrian "president" represents…

Give a man a reputation as an early riser, said Twain, and he can sleep soundly till noon for the rest of his days. So does Yglesias's reputation as a young pundit of great political sophistication never seem to suffer from his routine displays of political stupidity. His latest skirmish with TNR honcho Marty Peretz, who hasn't got time for these damned TypePad feuilletonists, is so far the best example I've seen that you can sound like Barbra Streisand and still be considered a media "authority." This is how Yglesias rationalizes the civil war in Gaza:

Fatah used to rule the roost on the Palestinian side of the Green Line. Then the US proclaimed that the Palestinian Authority needed to implement political reforms and hold elections. The Palestinians went to the polls and duly booted out the ruling party in favor of the main opposition party. At this point, the US government, apparently run by morons, realized that the main opposition to Fatah was . . . Hamas. … At which point the United States embarked upon a campaign of funneling all monies away from the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government and directly into the hands of Fatah-run security services. Shockingly, this has tended to fuel rather than constrain intra-Palestinian fighting.

Well, no cookie for Matt here, says Noah Pollak, the editor of Azure and someone who's been studying the Arab-Israeli conflict for years and probably has better taste in indy rock, too:

[T]he Fatah party most certainly did not “rule the roost” in the territories — especially not in Gaza, where Hamas was founded and has always enjoyed its greatest popularity. The first major suicide bombings that certified the onset of the second intifada were perpetrated by Hamas (including the one that blew up the café next to my office), Yasser Arafat all the while insisting that his government should not be held responsible for such terrorism because Hamas was simply beyond his control. And at least in this case, Arafat was probably saying something close to the truth. When he arrived in the West Bank from Tunis in 1994, Hamas had already been around for eight years. The Fatah party, ruling the roost? Certainly not in Gaza.

And most certainly not in 2004-2005. Does Yglesias remember four very important events that happened during those years? First, Israel defeated the intifada; second, Arafat died; third, Mahmoud Abbas was elected the new PA president; and fourth, Israel removed itself from Gaza. The latter three in particular served to strengthen Hamas — not Fatah. The reality of the fractiousness of the Palestinian cause was already coming into view in 2005, before Hamas was elected, when more Palestinians were killed in internecine fighting than in battle against Israel. It might be gratifying to make a post facto declaration that in 2005, the old hands among the Palestinians had their territory under control until the Bush administration, which can’t do anything right, forced inadvisable changes on them. But that idea is simply a flight of fancy.

Then again, Yglesias doesn't stint on the self-criticism — it's just not the party line he's rejecting this time, but himself:

Readers might be surprised to hear — Mr. Yglesias probably among them — that less than a year ago, Yglesias wrote the following: "I happen to think the White House made the right call on the question of Palestinian elections — even in retrospect, even knowing that Hamas won." A couple of days ago, he called these administration officials "morons" for having supported the very same elections that he now condemns. I know it’s best to just hurry past the contradictions, especially when they involve the reshuffling of positions in order to condemn the Bush administration. But it is too enjoyable to avoid the conclusion that here, Yglesias is calling himself names.

Don't wait around for the netroots to tell you, figure it out yourself: Consistency of principle is for wankers.

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