The Left’s Destructive Self-Indulgence of Idealism

As Bernie Sanders’ campaign continues to gain momentum, a few sober-minded adults have seen fit to chide his supporters for their idealism. These members of the reality-based community claim that Sanders’ supporters are unwilling to accept that politics, as any undergraduate will tell you, is all about compromise. One simply cannot conjure up House and Senate majorities that will raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hour, make higher education free, and pass a single-payer healthcare system. Sanders, if he were to be elected president, would have to operate within the world as it exists rather than the world as he wishes it to be.

As Paul Krugman wrote a few days ago, “while idealism is fine and essential — you have to dream of a better world — it’s not a virtue unless it goes along with hardheaded realism about the means that might achieve your ends.” He warns Sanders supporters not to “let idealism veer into destructive self-indulgence.”

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Seymour Hersh’s Bombshell

There are a number of startling revelations in Seymour Hersh’s latest report in the London Review of Books. Hersh’s claims not only challenge the established narrative of how the US located and killed Osama bin Laden (OBL) but also reveal Pakistani intelligence and Saudi complicity in keeping the al-Qaeda leader under house arrest in Abbottabad. According to Hersh’s account:

  • Osama bin Laden was being kept in Abbottabad by the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI) and his “upkeep” was being paid for by Saudi Arabia. The head of Pakistan’s ISI General Pasha told the US that OBL was being held as “leverage against Taliban and al-Qaeda activities.”
  • US learned OBL’s location from “a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer” who, in August 2010, approached Jonathan Banks, the CIA station chief in Islamabad. He “offered to tell the CIA where to find bin Laden in return for the reward that Washington had offered in 2001.” The administration claim that the CIA learned OBL’s location by tracking his courier was false.
  • The raid that killed bin Laden was staged by the US military and ISI: “an ISI liaison officer flying with the Seals guided them into the darkened house and up a staircase to bin Laden’s quarters.” Pakistan agreed to the raid after “a little blackmail” and “because the Pakistanis wanted to ensure the continued release of American military aid.” Pakistan was also promised “a freer hand” in Afghanistan.
  • After the crash of a Navy SEAL helicopter the Obama administration abandoned its plan to claim that bin Laden had been killed in a drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Immediately going public with the story was seen as a betrayal by Pakistan.

The report is attributed to a single “retired senior intelligence official” with some knowledge of “initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.” This source was also “privy to many aspects of the Seals’ training for the raid” and to various “after-action reports.” Two other American sources had “access to corroborating information.”

There were always reasons to doubt the official narrative of the search for bin Laden. Hersh’s story not only rejects the official narrative but offers an alternative one, and it is by no means clear that his account is any more accurate.

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Dyson against the Left

There is quite a lot to say on Micheal Eric Dyson’s 10,000 word article in the New Republic lambasting his old friend Cornel West. Much of the criticism he levies against West is personal and that’s unfortunate. It should be obvious that Cornel West is not beyond reproach. Nor is he above making needlessly personal charges against opponents. All that aside, what concerns me is Dyson’s pretence that he has maintained an independent, critical outlook on the Obama administration. “I expressed love for Obama and criticized him for not always loving us back,” Dyson writes, adding that “[t]hroughout his presidency I have offered what I consider principled support and sustained criticism of Obama.” In reality, he has long performed as a loyal Democratic party operative, tempering left-wing criticism of the Obama administration and defending its record regardless of the policies it pursues.

In 2010 the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs angrily denounced the “professional left” for what he deemed its unreasonable expectations of Obama. “I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. “I mean, it’s crazy.” Admonishing this “professional left” for having a loose grip on reality–echoing Dyson’s own comments about Obama’s left-wing critics–Gibbs remarked that they will only be “satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon.” Long before Gibbs made those comments, Dyson had already established his vocation of shielding the Obama administration from left-wing criticism. That, above all else, has been Dyson’s political function since Obama announced his candidacy. Consider the following examples:

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