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Thursday, August 25, 2005



How depressing this all is.


When this first broke, I posted something about it, but then started reading blogs that cast doubt on whether Cindy Sheehan had actually written the letter - so I took down my posting, feeling like I was gratuitously beating up on a woman who has suffered a great loss. (Even though I really don't agree with her position). Elsewhere on the net, linked to it by a right-wing blog or website (maybe Free Republic, I don't remember), I found another story about Cindy Sheehan participating in a forum in the Bay Area together with Lynne Stewart (there were other speakers too), and also saying some things about Israel that I didn't particularly like. But, again, I don't know if this is a trustworthy source either, so I didn't blog about it. I've heard her speak on the radio and on television a couple of times and she seems very sincere - and quite a good public speaker for an ordinary private citizen, and in those speeches she's seemed quite in control of her message and unlikely to say wild things about Israel. On the other hand, I have read some stuff she's posted to left-wing blogs that strikes me as somewhat wild (not so much in content but in tone). So I don't know. In any case, even if she did write that letter to Nightline, she seems to have repudiated its content. So I also don't know.

I'd like to agree with her, but I worry too much about what would happen in Iraq if we just withdrew all our troops immediately. Another way in which I definitely disagree with her is that in the speeches of hers that I've heard or read about, she seems to ignore the fact that even before the U.S. invasion of Iraq life was not wonderful for people there, given the murderous nature of the Baathist regime. It's not like the loss of life began with our invasion. But then, on the third hand, the carnage is horrendous now, and I really don't know what to do about it.

Passin' Through

The Billmon post to which you link is not particularly clever. He attempts to equate an analysis of the consequences of invading Iraq with Sheehan's assessment of the causes of that invasion. I can believe that a democratic Iraq might benefit Israel, just as I believe that a democratic Iraq would benefit Jordan - but I don't believe that either potential consequence was a significant factor in the decision to invade.

So, did she say it? I doubt we'll ever know for sure. But for me at least, it strains credulity to believe that way back in March the right wing was attempting to smear her. I am disturbed by the propensity of my fellow liberals to tie together the cause and the spokesman, or to believe that because some people are smeared, no allegations are credible. The more we rally to Sheehan's defense, the worse it's going to look if someone definitively substantiates these statements. There's enough out there already for me to conclude that Sheehan has been incautious about the company that she keeps, and on occasion, intemperate in her remarks.

There is, for example, this article in the slanted, conservative, and unreliable Front Page Mag:
On the other hand, it dates from May - again, before Sheehan was a prominent figure. And while I'm willing to believe that FrontPage routinely exagerates and plays fast-and-loose with the truth, I'm a little more skeptical that they simply fabricate direct quotes. At the very least, the photos running with the story suggest poor judgment in Sheehan's choice of fora for her message. Centering this debate around Sheehan is a strategic mistake. The moderate center of the political spectrum, initially drawn to a mother's suffering, will ultimately be driven away by her fellow-travelers, if not her own past indiscretions.

That the right-wing routinely blusters, exagerates, lies, and smears does not mean that it is always wrong - it simply means that we should examine each allegation with all due skepticism. We should also apply a similar dose of healthy skepticism to our own claims - that sort of intellectual honesty, ultimately, is what distinguishes liberalism from dogmatism.


"So I'm remaining agnostic on the antisemitism question, as billmon puts it"

Just to clarify: I'm not agnostic on the antisemitism question -- I'm against it, and I don't think Cindy Sheehan is an antisemite. I'm agnostic on the question of exactly what role the neocons and their Likud connections played in the decision to invade Iraq. If I had to guess, I would probably say it was a contributing factor but not a decisive one. I think the neocons just hoped that Israel would benefit, particularly if they could manipulate the post-war transition to make "their" guy, Ahmed Chalabi, the new Iraqi dictator.

There's also the more general question of what role Israel and its American supporters have played in U.S. policy in the Middle East over the past 20 years, but the answer that is also hardly cut-and-dried.

Clearly, after 9/11 the neocons thought they saw an opportunity to fundamentally reshape policy in a way that would drive a wedge between the United States and its traditional Arab allies (Saudi Arabia in particular) and enlarge the direct U.S. military presence in the region, providing Israel with the strategic depth it otherwise lacks. But whether the neocons saw this as primarily serving Israel's interests or America's interests is hard to say. These guys don't see any difference between the two, which is the REAL problem.

As for Sheehan, I think she's someone who didn't know much about U.S. foreign policy, but who went looking for answers after he son was killed and came across some of the more extreme believers in the "it's all the PNAC's fault" theory. The risk is that if the U.S. ends up bogged down in an endless anti-terrorism/counterinsurgency mission in the Middle East, a lot more people who don't know much about U.S. foreign policy are going to go looking for answers and are going to find the Jewish state a very convenient scapegoat. Whis why in the long run a more balanced, less special relationship is probably in Israel's interests as well.

"We should also apply a similar dose of healthy skepticism to our own claims - that sort of intellectual honesty, ultimately, is what distinguishes liberalism from dogmatism."

Actually, in these days of 24/7 propaganda, it's what distinguishes winners from losers.

Rebecca Lesses

Yes, billmon, that's the FrontPageMag story I remember reading a while back. While the author of the article is obviously writing from his own right-wing view, I don't think that necessarily excludes the accuracy of his reporting on Cindy Sheehan, especially since she had not yet become publicly known when this was first posted.

Ben G.

Billmon, thanks for clarifying your positions... I've been trying to put across that there is a distinction to be made between "being an antisemite" and saying something antisemitc. If Cindy Sheehan said Casey Sheehan died for Israel, I think she said something antisemitic. As Rebecca says, Sheehan has distanced herself from the remark, which suggests she is not committed to the antisemitic positions that are prevalent among some folks on the left. But I wish she'd been able to more quickly and more unequivocally denounce antisemitism in the antiwar movement. Her first move was just to say she didn't say it. It took another day or two for her to more fully renounce the antisemitic position. Because she was slow to come up with a stronger statement and because she has not been able to be entirely clear about the circumstances surrounding the letter, it leaves the whole thing open to further questions—a bad thing for the reasons that passin' through mentions.

But my reading of Cindy Sheehan's politics is pretty similar to yours, which means that I don't think I can really peg her for being antisemtiic without more information and more time to observe her in action. It will be interesting to see how she handles herself in DC when activists of all stripes show up, many of whom will want to ride in on her coattails. In the meantime I am reasonably comfortable remaining agnostic on the antisemitism question (to slightly modify your turn of phrase).

Ben G.

Rebecca and passin' through, you both ask whether it's really plausible that Cindy Sheehan was targeted for a smear campaign back in the March and May, before she drew the attention she has since gotten at Crawford. This is a reasonable question, and it is one that I myself have spent some time asking.

I am disturbed by the propensity of my fellow liberals to tie together the cause and the spokesman, or to believe that because some people are smeared, no allegations are credible. The more we rally to Sheehan's defense, the worse it's going to look if someone definitively substantiates these statements. There's enough out there already for me to conclude that Sheehan has been incautious about the company that she keeps, and on occasion, intemperate in her remarks.
It was precisely such sentiments of my own that led me to spend much time researching the authenticity of the letter and raise the issue of antisemitism. And I continue to say that I'm not fully satisfied with Sheehan's answers to the questions we're discussing.

But here's the thing about the smearing. I have read many hundreds of pages of FBI documents on my father's and others' political activities on the left in the 50s and 60s. I have also read hundreds of pages of Mississippi Sovereignty Commission documents, detailing the surveillance of civil rights workers in MS. What I know from this filthy literature is that back then the government was tracking the activities of every activist that it could. For example in the 1200 pages or so that I have on NY SANE (Dad was Exec. Director in '61 and '62), almost everyone mentioned has a rap sheet of political meetings they'd attended, often dating back to the 1940s.

Sovereignty Commission investigators used to go to the parking lots outside of NAACP meetings in Misissippi and take down the license plate numbers of all in attendance. The SC had countless lists of activists and people merely sympathetic to the cause. And there was a lot of information passed back and forth among HUAC, Senate Subcommittee On Internal Security (chaired by Mississippi's notoriously racist Senator Eastland), the FBI, the Sovereignty Commission and other similar spy and anti-civil rights organizations throughout the South. When Andrew Goodman arrived in Mississippi, Eastland already had his number because he'd been tracking the Goodman family's involvement in Pacifica Radio.

If the government and private racist groups like the White Citizens Councils (who received state funding for quite some time) were doing all this sort of stuff then, I can only assume comparable surveillance is going on now, only it's more high tech and more of it is legal under the Patriot Act. A lot of liberals worry about their privacy under the Patriot Act. But the Patriot Act isn't anti-privacy. It is anti-dissent.

I know I am ranting a little here. It's hard not to talk about this subject without getting angry. Given our country's track record on surveilling and targetting dissenters, I have to say there is no reason not to think that Cindy Sheehan was identified as someone to mess with as soon as she became a known activist.

Rebecca Lesses

Ben, what you're saying is certainly possible, although the article in FrontPageMag sounds like it's written by a student Republican at the college she spoke at, who personally went to the event she was speaking at (which many other people also spoke at), and slammed her along with all the others, without singling her out. On the larger point of government surveillance, however, it is definitely possible. I've been looking at the hostnames for some of the people who visit my blog, and there have been visitors from the Department of Justice, the FAA, and from a .mil site. Now, these could be visits from people who happen to work at those places and are just surfing the internet, but when I went on Google to get more information, I came across a range of websites by people who had noticed the same kind of interest from government addresses, and who thought it indicated some kind of spying. Now, I don't know why someone would be interested in my blog - I'm not particularly radical (some might call me conservative, in fact), but maybe it's not individuals but some kind of automated search being run on certain keywords? I don't know, but I did wonder when I saw those hostnames.

Ben G.

As far as my own conspiracy theories about Cindy Sheehan go, I was thinking more about the Nightline letter and how a docotored version could have ended up on the google group back in March. I would likewise doubt the student reporter was doing something insidious on the government's behalf. There has also always been some fluidity between specific government surveillance and counter intelligence programs and folks who just feel emboldened to provoke and smear. The political climate now and back then provided a permissive atmosphere for such behavior. It is sometimes truly amazing what got reported as reliable information from civilian informants in FBI files. Some of the sources on my dad are audibly contemptuous when they speak about him.

I've also noticed hits from such host names. I usually assume it's a government emplyee surfing the web. But sometimes the web search or the pages visited make me think otherwise. One thing to note, if your site stats show it, is the ip # from the host. Is it the same computer each time or are there different people from the same work place getting to your site. Though that may not really tell you a whole lot more about the nature of the visit either.

It's possible that either the name of your site or the mere fact that you write about middle east politics draws some level of interest.

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