I just spotted this entry at Martin Kramer's Sandbox. Turns out Cole responded (without providing a link or ever mentioning Kramer by name, using instead the convenient "Neocon critics") to Kramer's knock-out post exposing Cole's dishonest backtracking on the Iraq war (see my own recent post on the matter here, and the older one here).
Cole used the word "sleazeballs" in reference to these anonymous "Neocons," which I thought was a remarkably interesting choice of words considering the slippery nature of his own response. Let me explain.
The Montgolfiere of self-puffery, to quote a friend of mine, invokes Isaiah Berlin in order to sell his new schtick (what, no more Star Wars analogies?):
Berlin is saying that in the real world, there are situations in which you can only have the one or the other. The truth is ugly, and the prettied up beautiful story is false. So then you have to decide, do you want the truth? Or do you want beauty?
In the run-up to the Iraq War, I had two values. One was justice I believed that the Saddam regime was genocidal and that the international community had a responsibility for doing something about it. That is why I said that removing Saddam would be a noble enterprise. In and of itself, it was, and I stand by that.
But the other value is the rule of law. The United States is signatory to the UN charter, and can't just get up in the morning and decide to go about invading other countries. I all along maintained that an Iraq war would be legitimate only if there were a UN Security Council resolution authorizing it.
Up until early March of 2003, I was not forced to choose between Justice and the Rule of Law because it appeared entirely plausible that the UNSC would pass a resolution authorizing the war, or that a majority, at least, would vote for it. It was during that period that I said I could not bring myself to protest the building war. It was because I knew Saddam's mass murders, and thought there was still a chance that he could be removed within the framework of international law.
So the new spin is that his rejection of the war was a matter of legality!
The problem is that this was not Cole's point! Cole's point was based on the possible risks of the war, which according to him include scenarios such as this:
Iraq is rugged; tribal forces are still important; and the majority
population is Shiite, as is that of neighboring Iran. What will happen if US bombs damage the Shiite shrines, the holiest places for 100 million Shiite Muslims in Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, India, Bahrain? What will happen if there is a riot in a shrine city like Karbala and US marines put it down by killing rioters? Do we want 100 million Shiites angry at us again? (Lately they have calmed down and it is the radical Sunnis that have given us the problems). What happens if the Iraqi Sunni middle classes lose faith in secular Arab nationalism because the Baath is overthrown, and they turn to al-Qaeda-type Islam, in part out of
resentment at American hegemony over their country? What will happen if we give the Turks too much authority to intervene in Kurdistan, and fighting breaks out between the Turks and the Iraqi Kurds, and if the Iraqi Kurds turn against the US?
As a matter of fact, the piece where this quote comes from was used by Cole in his first response, almost a year ago, and used as evidence of him "knowing his own history." The thing is, the words "UN," or "international law" don't even appear in the piece! The argument wasn't about legality, or at the very least, wasn't just about legality.
Cole's post-war spiel was that the Iraq war was a "diversion" from the real war on Al-Qaeda that has created more enemies ("Bush dropped the ball, left the fight against al-Qaeda half-finished, and ran off to the Iraq quagmire."). It was that the administration lied about its reasons for going to war. It was the US being duped by Ariel Sharon to fighting a war on behalf of Israel ("The hawks just wanted to defang Iraq as a favor to Ariel Sharon in Israel, and appear not even to have known much about who lived in Iraq or what it is actually like." Or, "'Make it good for Ariel Sharon' appears to have been the real marching orders with regard to the Iraq war."). It was that the people in charge and the pro-war "pundits" were "ignorant" abotu Iraq ("Corporate media bring in a parade of so-called 'experts' [often lacking credentials and saying ridiculous things] from 'think tanks,' in Washington and New York instead of letting academics speak."). It was that the US was going to establish another pliant dictatorship, and not democracy. etc.
There are countless other posts and statements. In other words, Cole had a million shifts and a million stories, this "justice vs. legality" spiel being the latest acrobatic spin in a long line of slippery sleaze. I would say "quit while you're ahead," but he'd have to be ahead first.