Wednesday, October 10, 2007

new yorker festival: seymour hersh

nb: many quotes below are not exact quotes. they are as close to exact as i could get from my hurried notes but i believe they are fairly accurate as far as "gist" goes. also, most of the discussion re: the dems on iraq is not going to show up on any transcript as it occurred post-interview, informally, with the audience members.

i think the benefit to going to these things by yourself is that you can always find one single little stray seat up front to place yourself in. and because i have an awfully big crush on david remnick, sitting 10 feet from him gave me plenty of opportunities to try to seduce him with my eyes, but i digress...

for those that don't know who sy hersh is, i was going to link his wikipedia entry. but i read it and don't find it particularly fair. it seems as though it has been tampered a bit by some right wingers who are always accusing him of making up sources, solely because his sources are of such a senior rank (and many still employed at high levels) that to be identified means losing their jobs (to say nothing of the penalties that accompany disclosure of classified information). the new yorker isn't just a highbrow mag, it's a serious news source. david remnick, hersh's editor and a fact checker at the magazine know the identity of every source hersh has had and each source has been fact checked. period. hersh is one of the greatest investigative reporters of the century.

this one is worth downloading once they get audio files online (if they haven't already). because hersh has an unbelievable amount of inside information. he also mentioned the amount of info that he has that he's going to have to take to the grave with him, memos he's received that he can't so much as whisper about.

i have a ton of notes that i'll turn into points for y'all:

-- remnick referred to bush as messianic. hersh countered that he believes bush himself would use the term self-referentially. but he also says the man is plainly ineducable. i'm paraphrasing but he said something along the lines of: "you know david, we're in the business of words. every word has deep importance. but to bush, words mean absolutely nothing."

-- he said that without a doubt, his sources have made clear, we have no idea where bin laden is.

-- pakistan "scares the shit" out of him.

-- on his sources, he said that some people confide in him because they've known him a long time. others are approaching him now out of pure patriotism for our country. that certain people cannot take the deterioration of our democracy sitting down. the abuse of power that this administration has made standard practice is encouraging his sources to share information in the hopes that some of the current problems, if revealed, can be ameliorated.

-- he didn't get into the walt and mearshimer papers but commented to say that he believes the u.s. isn't putting enough pressure on israeal to work to end the israeli/palestinian conflict.

some funny stories before i get into the serious stuff:

-- in reference to how hard hersh works and how often the two communicate remnick said, "i get calls at all hours..." and was interrupted by hersh who said defensively, "i didn't know you were in california!" as hersh is saying that remnick holds up four fingers and mouths "4am." "i'd like to remind you, sy, that 4am california time is 7am on the east coast." hersh responded with a "so sue me" shrug.

-- while hersh was writing the iran article he'd sent remnick an article right after rosh hashanah. remnick said, "i will never forget that e-mail. it went, 'david, comma, happy new year, semicolon, i need more space." "no, i think i used a comma." like a true editor remnick shot back, "you should have used a semicolon"

the most distressing part of the interview was his statement that the democrats are going to lose this election if we don't change our stance on war.

at the time he didn't elaborate and nobody asked him what he meant but i rushed up to him post-lecture and, thankfully, he expounded on it a bit. his response: "because all the top three want to do, at this point, is lower troop levels. nobody [with a chance of winning] is talking about pulling them out entirely. bush and the white house have solid plans to dramatically decrease troop levels next summer." he explained that bush's withdrawal would meet, if not beat, the withdrawals currently called for by the democratic candidates. he's going to pull the rug out from underneath them and the democrats are going to be screwed and without a plan in iraq. meanwhile bush will use the ridiculous logic that the surge has worked so well that, as a result, he can bring troops home. it allows the republicans to parade around heralding that we're (still) winning the war and they all look like heroes when the families of those serving get to see their sons and daughters back home.

of course the "surge has worked so lets withdrawal" idea is completely counter-intuitive. if the surge was working so well, we'd send more troops over so that we could actually "win" this damn war, not pull troops back out. "i think you have two options. 1.) pull all troops out by midnight tonight. 2.) pull all troops out by midnight tomorrow. i firmly believe that once we get out of the way they'll have no other option but to compromise."

i hear what he's saying but i was pretty persuaded by george packer's article about how immediate withdrawal is just not an option. (for those of you who haven't read it, i strongly recommend you taking time to do so.) regardless, hersh was adamant that this course the democrats on is a losing one and that's a pretty scary proposition.

at the end, remnick asked him why he hasn't retired. "you could stop writing and have a lucrative time lecturing from here on out." "david, i'll retire but now is just not the time to do it. there is too much important work to be done."

and here ir glynnis macnicol and rachel sklar (i.e. real writers) with an excellent rundown of the event.

4 people who played with me:

Blogger Rowdy said...

Don't know if this is meant to coincide with the lineup at the New Yorker festival but Fresh Air has recently had Seymour Hersh on and re-aired an interview with Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen.

Links below if you want to listen:

The first one is Apatow and Rogen, second is Hersh.

10/10/2007 12:45 PM  
Blogger Cousin said...

Predict 2008? Did anyone predict "Willie Horton" in 1988 or gay marriage in 2004? 2008 is as likely to turn on the economy (if it dives) or illegal immigration. And what if there's a major terrorist attack here? If the Iraq War is such a great recruiting tool for Al Queda, wouldn't one expect to see some suicide bombings in shopping malls or the like to drive voters to Rudy or his ilk (especially when the lines on the use of torture are so clearly marked -- trying to argue that torture produces bad intel is like when Dukakis tried to explain why he wouldn't want the state to fry the guy who killed his wife).

As for his "I firmly believe that once we get out of the way they'll have no other option but to compromise." Yeah, just like they did in Bosnia. And Congo. And Iraq prior to Saddam. Multicultural peace has such a strong history after all...

10/10/2007 1:02 PM  
Blogger Rowdy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/10/2007 1:16 PM  
Blogger Rowdy said...

"As for his "I firmly believe that once we get out of the way they'll have no other option but to compromise." Yeah, just like they did in Bosnia. And Congo. And Iraq prior to Saddam. Multicultural peace has such a strong history after all..."

He goes into more detail in the Fresh Air bit. I'm not buying it hook line and sinker but he does makes some compelling points.

The vast amount of oil wealth available in Iraq could be a strong incentive to cooperate. I'm willing to believe that money can cause more problems than it solves but if there's a big enough pie it can have the opposite effect.

The role of neighboring states can also have a stabilizing effect provided the neighboring states view a stable Iraq as something in their self interest. Syria for example would prefer to see the 2MM+ refugees now staying there leave. I think Turkey could have a sizeable influence on how power is distributed to the Kurds. I'm pretty sure they have no interest in a Kurd dominated Iraq or even an independent Kurdistan. Iran's role is probably too complex to analyze here, though I can't imagine they want to have a destabilized Iraq as a neighbor or they want a continued US presence there (considering we appear to be in Afghanistan for the long term as well).

The point is that there are many failures that can be pointed to but each set of circumstances are different. Plus my understanding is that Yugoslavia wasn't exactly a picnic in its unified form. Also bear in mind that Iraq prior to Saddam went from divided between the US and Britain pre WWII, taken over by pro Axis forces during WWII and was heavily backed by the US at the outset of the cold war (Bagdhad Pact). After independence (1961) the CIA spent a good amount of time helping regimes overthrow one another there. Post the Iranian revolution the effectively bankrolled and offered technical support during the Iran/Iraq war. We have not been what one would call hands off in this particular case.

10/10/2007 1:41 PM  

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