Advancing the debate on my faith in Saddam Hussein’s words and deeds

Last week Michael Cohen, former speechwriter to the US Ambassador to the UN during the Clinton administration, wrote unhappily about progressive bloggers engaging in name-calling toward people like himself:

[I]nstead of demonizing those we disagree with, we should debate them on the merits…Why [Atrios] feels the need to wrap his criticism in childish and tasteless attacks is beyond me. If you don’t agree with me or any other blogger, explain why. Calling me stupid might make you feel good, but it does nothing to advance the debate.

This led to a lengthy back and forth between Cohen and me, in particular regarding the Clinton administration’s policies toward Iraq during the late nineties. Sadly, it consisted of exactly what you’d expect: childish, tasteless name-calling on my part, while Cohen patiently attempted to debate me on the merits.

If you want to read it all, it’s here, here, and here. But all you really need to know about it can be found in this exchange:

1. Cohen wrote: “Saddam never acknowledged that he didn’t publicly have WMD.”

2. Childishly and tastelessly, I pointed out that (a) the Iraqi government passed a law banning WMD in February, 2003; (b) Saddam Hussein stated Iraq no longer had WMD in a February 26, 2003 interview with Dan Rather; and (c) Saddam then said the same thing in Arabic on Iraqi national television.

3. In comments, Cohen understandably responded: “Why you put so much faith in the words and deeds of Saddam Hussein is beyond me.”

Thus in the end, we find ourselves where we began, with the same unanswered questions. Why do bloggers like myself persist in our childish name-calling toward serious, sober foreign policy professionals? And why do we refuse to advance the debate on our faith in Saddam Hussein’s words and deeds?

AND: Remember this problem predates blogs—serious foreign policy professionals have long had to deal with this unseemly behavior by the public. For instance, here’s Madeleine Albright at a “national town hall meeting” on Iraq at Ohio State on February 18, 1998. As you see, she attempted to advance the debate, only to be met with childish, tasteless name-calling:

QUESTIONER: What do you have to say about dictators of countries like Indonesia, who we sell weapons to, yet they are slaughtering people in East Timor? What do you have to say about Israel, who are slaughtering Palestinians, who imposed martial law? What do you have to say about that? Those are our allies. Why do we sell weapons to these countries? Why do we support them? Why do we bomb Iraq when it commits similar problems?

ALBRIGHT: I really am surprised that people feel that it is necessary to defend the rights of Saddam Hussein.

ALSO: Thanks to SteveB for pointing out how Cohen, when confronted elsewhere with childish name-calling, wrote this in another patient attempt to advance the debate:

[Y]ou have as much right to hate America as I do to love it