NRO’s Goldberg speaks on Iraqi conflict successes, future

Conservative writer and political pundit Jonah Goldberg delivered a lecture centered on the current American policy in Iraq Wednesday night to a packed house in Chapin Hall, offering his views on the situation in the Persian Gulf with a speech entitled, “War in Iraq – A First Step to Rebuilding the Middle East?”

In a peripatetic, humor-filled narrative that gathered momentum as it progressed, Goldberg detailed his thoughts on multiple aspects and implications of the second Gulf War, from specific denunciations and rebuttals of anti-war claims to musings on the broader meaning of democracy.

A contributing editor at the National Review and editor-at-large of the award-winning National Review Online, Goldberg’s opinions are most commonly disseminated through thrice-weekly online columns, as well as nationally syndicated space in papers such as the Washington Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. Goldberg’s resume also boasts experience in television, as both a regular panelist on Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer and an occasional host of Crossfire on CNN.

That history of talk showmanship was obvious from the start, as Goldberg sprinkled his lecture with a formidable amount of allusions and references to history and popular culture.

After introductory remarks from Sean Clifford ’05, Goldberg launched into his lecture with a bit of self-effacement, contrasting the historical meaning of the word “pundit” – from the Hindu pandit, describing a distinguished person of considerable education and wisdom – with the current usage, which he termed as “someone who will offer an opinion on any topic whether he knows anything about it or not and will never hesitate to immediately change his mind when he is proven wrong.”

Goldberg proceeded to chronicle the objections to the current military actions in the Middle East from both the right and left and offered evidence and arguments to refute that opposition.

He expressed little but contempt for much of the anti-war left, saying that the oft-repeated claim that “violence doesn’t solve anything” was “just not true,” and contending that those that demonstrated against intervention “had to explain why it’s a bad thing that hundreds of children were let out of torture chambers and prisons today.”

Isolationist arguments against the war were more credible to Goldberg, who remained nonetheless in opposition to them.

He couched his disagreement in historical terms, saying that if at one point in time it made sense to stay away from conflicts that did not immediately threaten us, that time had passed.

He offered technology as the variable in the equation, noting that Baghdad was no more than eight hours away, and that weapons of mass destruction offered a spectre of menace that brought the danger to America’s doorstep. “The world has gotten too small for Fortress America,” he said, “and so we need to go out and change things in the world ourselves.”

The United Nations also bore the brunt of Goldberg’s ire, as he opined on more than one occasion that “the UN sucks.” In large part, he argued, this was due to the false belief that “if the United States wants to do something and the UN agrees, that somehow makes it more right.” Using the African nation of Cameroon as an example, he cited the “backwards” practices or customs of member nations as proof that many of these countries are “not on the same page as us.”

Goldberg criticized the organization of the UN subcommittees by citing the rotating leadership of those committees, such as Syria’s chairing of the Human Rights Commission and Iraq and Iran’s planned roles as the heads of the Disarmament Commission, as clear evidence about the ineffectiveness of the respective bodies.

These facts led him to conclude that “people that imbue [the UN] with any special moral authority just don’t read the paper.”

Moving into a more general exploration of the region, Goldberg advanced his ideas on why citizens of Middle Eastern countries were so much worse off than their Southeast Asian counterparts, “who were [all] essentially in the same boat 50 years ago.”

In explaining this, he referenced the theories of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, and argued that the different types of social contracts set up in the post-World War II period had determined their fate. The citizens of South Korea, Goldberg said, had given up part of their liberty in exchange for a promise of wealth, whereas the Arab autocracies had guaranteed to “stand up to the USA and Britain” instead. This, Goldberg said, “was not a good deal.”

Goldberg also mentioned religion during the course of his lecture, and flatly contradicted the assertion that “‘Islam’ means peace.”

Rather, he argued that most religions are not inherently violent or non-violent, but are merely structural tools to enforce the morality of whomever controls the specific faith. “Islam as practiced by Osama bin Laden is evil,” he concluded, while citing historical examples such as the Spanish Inquisition and wife-burning during the Raj period in India as instances of religion trumping morality.

Goldberg concluded with several bits of introspective commentary on freedom.

He argued that “liberty and the rule of law are more important than democracy itself.” Voting, he said, was an act with no inherent weight, but becomes important only “in the structure of a free society, where things like property rights and contracts are enforced.”

Normal life – of the kind that will be needed in post-war Iraq – is not ballot box-centric, he argued, but instead hinges on “being able to sit at a café and talk about politics without having your tongue cut out.”

The early moments of the talk were punctuated by the flying of an anti-war banner from the balcony of Chapin Hall. Goldberg remarked that “we’ll get to that soon.”

Two students, Brigitte Teissedre ’03 and Meagan Bossong ’05, crafted a sign that listed a recent history of US military actions with their dates and posed the question, “World domination; Who’s Next?” The two “were in stark opposition to all his views regarding foreign policy,” and claimed to be unswayed by Goldberg’s reasoning.

Not all were similarly downbeat on the lecture, however. Davida Kutscher ’03 professed to be satisfied with the speaker, “a moderate, eloquent mainstream conservative, which is refreshing after Gary Bauer and Pat Buchanan.”