Best of the Web?

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Someone wrote to tell me that the Al Sharpton photo I just linked to was cited earlier today in James Taranto's Best of the Web. So I wandered over there to check it out, and found this alarming headline: "Mandela Backs 'Holocaust.'"

Wow. What had Nelson Mandela said? I quote Taranto:

"It is a tragedy what is happening, what Bush is doing in Iraq," Mandela said in a speech today in Johannesburg, South Africa. "What I am condemning is that one power, with a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust."

But according to Reuters, Mandela also "said he would support without reservation any action agreed upon by the United Nations against Iraq."

So it seems Mandela is all for a "holocaust"–provided the French and Germans approve.

Taranto's concluding crack would make sense if Mandela had declared that any invasion of Iraq would constitute a holocaust. What he actually said, you'll note, is that action by "one power" (i.e., the United States) could plunge the world into a holocaust, but that action by the United Nations would not.

There's plenty of legitimate criticisms you can make of this position, but none of them bear any resemblance to what Taranto wrote, and none of them justify his inflammatory headline.

NEXT: Go, Al, Go!

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  1. “..is that action by “one power” (i.e., the United States) could plunge the world into a holocaust, but that action by the United Nations would not.”

    Either way you slice it, it’s a pretty stupid thing to say.

  2. I agree, but you have to admit that leaving the definition of ‘Holocaust’ up to(among others) Germans is, well . . .

  3. Is there a quantitative difference between the two options? There’s (A) “unilateral” action that would be a “haulocaust”, and (B) multilateral action that would not be? What’s the difference? Will there be more bombs dropped if we go without U.N. approval?

    I have placed the word “unilateral” in quotes, because even without U.N. approval, there are other countries on board for military action. The anti-war line is that if we go without the U.N. we’re “going it alone” which is simply not true, however irrelevant Poland’s or Australia’s support may be in the long run.

    These comments of Mandella’s are asinine, and I hate to see someone of his stature reducing himself to Harry Belafonte’s level.

  4. Geophile:

    It seems clear that it is not the war itself that Mandela is describing — he says that the U.S. might “plunge the world” into a holocaust, not plunge Iraq into one. Presumably he feels that U.N. action would not have the same repurcussions. Indeed, if you read the article that Taranto linked to (it’s at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A94-2003Jan30.html), you’ll see that the whole context of his remarks is criticizing Bush for giving too little respect to the U.N.

    I do not have the same faith in the U.N. that Mr. Mandela has. But that’s beside the point, which is that Taranto grossly misrepresented Mandela’s argument.

  5. Mandela’s comments, as a whole, were over the top, especially:

    “Both Bush as well as Tony Blair are undermining an idea which was sponsored by their predecessors. They do not care. Is it because the secretary general of the United Nations is now a black man?”

    That’s a wild, unfounded, offensive accusation.

  6. “one power […] is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust”

    The current American plan is to, along with other nations, invade Iraq and remove Hussein from power. Ergo it follows that Mandela is claiming that a USA/British/Australian/etc invasion of Iraq would “plunge the world into a Holocaust”.

    Now, the only reason the United Nations will not back the aforementioned USA/British/Australian/etc invasion of Iraq is if France, Germany, and/or China veto it. If France, China, and Russia approve of it, it will happen, and Mandela will, by his own admission, endorse it, because it will have UN approval — which means he’ll be endorsing something he considers a “holocaust” simply because France, China, and Russia signed on.

    So Taranto’s off-base, but only because he said “France and Germany” instead of “France, China, and Russia”. 🙂

  7. Ben: While you’re at it, the claim that Bush is “wanting” to plunge the world into a holocaust is a pretty wild accusation, too. Like I said, I’m not defending the content of Mandela’s remarks.

    Dan: Mandela isn’t saying that the invasion of Iraq will itself be a holocaust — that may be a defensible proposition, but it’s not the claim he’s making. He’s saying that the invasion of Iraq will plunge “the world” into a holocaust unless it has the backing of the U.N. Presumably he worries that such a war would lead to destabilization, and to further destruction outside the boundaries of Iraq, unless the U.N. is attached to it. I don’t share that view of the United Nations’ powers — don’t share it at all — but it isn’t alien to people who think the U.N. represents the “international community.”

  8. I think you’re taking this too seriously. Taranto is poking fun at the absurdity of Mandela’s position that the difference between going into Iraq with and without UN approval is wide enough to drive a holocaust through, which *is* Mandela’s position, and seems absurd to me as well.

  9. I understand that he’s poking fun. But for the joke to be funny, the setup has to be accurate. And I have no doubt that Taranto would be all over someone who made even a good joke along those lines, if the target was George W. Bush.

  10. Just to belabor this for no good reason…

    Taranto simply grants the absurd position, then follows it to logical conclusion. It seems like a fairly normal critical techinique…

    I’m not saying its funny, but it doesn’t seem like it required such ire on your part.

  11. I’m still trying to figure out how non-UN sanctioned military action would “plunge the world into holocaust.” Is Mandela referring to the “Arab street”? Terror cells? I’m guessing that Mandela proposes that terrorists and terror-sponsoring powers-that-be would attempt revenge on the U.S. if we acted “alone”, but not if we acted with the blessing of the U.N. to remove Saddam? I’d have thought Mandela would understand that disarming Saddam was important because of his current or impending ability to arm terrorists with WMDs, and that terrorists, as evidenced by 9-11, like the newly sentenced Shoeless Rick Reid, require no further encouragement.
    I’m also curious about why Mandela felt a need to critique America’s policy in terms of “unilateralism” vs. coalitionism, rather than announce HIS (or even South Africa’s) assesment of whether Saddam needs to be forced into either compliance or exile (or something more permanent).
    He seems to be wonkly focused on diplomatic procedure rather than on publicly investing his reputation in a judgement on the rightness or wrongness of the action itself. If war on Saddam is the right thing to do with a coalition, why would it be the wrong thing to do unilaterally? I propose that only the morally confused could fashion an answer to that.

  12. I find it amusing that so many seem to think that acting against Saddam (and the numberless civilians in the way)will somehow offend the terrorists.
    First, they’re TERRORISTS! They’re always pissed off. Second, we’d probably be doing them a favor by violently murdering,errr. . . disarming Saddam; they hate him in the worst way by all accounts.
    This alone is reason enough to leave him alone.

  13. Just one more kick to this decomposing horse…
    I think the critical point of Mandela’s quote is that he thinks ‘holocaust’ is a US goal. He says, “What I am condemning is that one power[…] is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust.” It’s the ‘is now wanting’ part that makes his support for a UN-sponsored invasion baffling. I know Jesse’s argued that Mandela is saying he fears a US action might plunge the world into holocaust, and that somehow the UN would block that from happening even if it took the same actions.
    But Mandela doesn’t worry that holocaust may be a byproduct of the US action – he says that’s the goal of it. Then he turns around and says that if the US can persuade the UN to go along, everything will be fine. This is non-sensical. You can claim that a US (or US/UK + others) war will be a holocaust, but if you do, you’d think the assemblage of a coalition wouldn’t change that basic fear. It’s not as if special, non-holocaust-inducing war plans would be drawn up by Namibia or Guyana if the UN S.C. signs on. It’s merely a stamp of legitimacy, and one that means less and less. So no, I don’t think Taranto’s quip is that much of a mischaracterization – Jesse’s softening of Mandela’s remarks in the 4th comment.

  14. Tuning Spork – he’s an old dude. . . you can almost hear the wind rattlin’ around inside his skull. I don’t think there’s a lot of logic to his ravings.

    Well, that’s a charitable spin. He could be just an idiot.

  15. ooops…
    ‘Jesse’s softening of Mandela’s remarks in the 4th comment is (roughly) equivalent.’

  16. Thank you Marc, you said it much better than I did.

  17. You guys are reading to much into this. Mandela’s comments as quoted:

    “said he would support without reservation any action agreed upon by the United Nations against Iraq.”

    So, if the UN supports killing every Iraqi in the country, Mandela’s behind them. No independent exercising of judgement. He’s with them all the way.

    This is clearly a ridiculous position for Mandela. The observation also parodies the position of the leftists who appear to be claiming that Bush (or America) exercising judgement independeant of the UN is unacceptable regardless of how many other countries agree with us.

  18. You dopes. Mandela’s right. We are on the path to making the entire world into a paranoid powderkeg. Bush’s hero is Ariel Sharon who is “sick and tired”, too. If unopposed, the peace Bush wants will be similar to Israel’s.

    Germany and France (and Russia and South Africa) know what war REALLY is, up close and personal. You don’t do that shit unless you absolutely have to.

  19. All this hair-splitting over how a U.S. invasion of Iraq will “plunge the world into holocaust” while a U.N.-backed invasion supposedly won’t smacks of a game of “Simon says” run amok. Either a war on Iraq will produce the disastrous consequences Mandela predicts, or it won’t; it’s not going to turn on whether or not we can first persuade Gerhard Schr?der, Jacques Chirac and Kofi Annan to say a few magic words on our behalf. So while Mandela did not technically say that a French- and German-backed holocaust would be acceptable, what he actually said was dumber still.

  20. Hey, Lefty:

    so, you’re saying that, if we go after Saddam, the terrorists will come after us…..but isn’t that already happening? I mean, who came after who here? Seems to me it was the terrorists who slammed a couple planes into some buildings and killed some folks, right?

    Do you REALLY think they’re going to stop if we leave Saddam alone?

  21. It seems to me the real holocaust is the AIDS epidemic in Mandela’s own backyard. No matter how many may die in action in Iraq, it will not come close to the death and devastation going on right under his nose.

    I am afraid I tend to agree with SomeGuy; I think Nelson’s becoming a little loopy.

  22. America doesn’t get to make one set of rules for itself, and expect the rest of the world to live by another. If we unilaterally invade a country that has not and is not about to attack us, just because it could be a threat to us at some indeterminate point in the future, every other nation is going to apply that logic to its own situation. We are the world leader, and our actions will set the precedent for other natin’s actions. Think India and Pakistan, or even China and Taiwan. Eek! Making UN approval a condition for this kind of thing would make “preventative” wars by other countries less likely.

    So, yes, UN approval could well be the difference between setting a precedent for endless wars, and keeping the destabilizing forces of this invasion in check.

    Taranto took a cheap shot, because it was politically convenient to do so.

  23. Mandela says:
    “What I am condemning is that one power[…] is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust.”

    Jesse Walker says:
    “What he actually said, you’ll note, is that action by “one power” (i.e., the United States) could plunge the world into a holocaust”

    Mandela didn’t say ‘could’, in other words he wasn’t speaking about the hypothetical, he was saying this is what Bush is doing. Taranto’s ‘crack’ makes more sense if you keep the quote strait.

  24. Taranto’s interpretation doesn’t change if Mandela says “could,” “is,” or anything else — the variable is the UN.

  25. Mandela also said something along the lines that Bush “doesn’t think right,” implying he’s dumb as a doorknob. This got a big chuckle out of the audience. I won’t argue the merits of this position. But, looking at the way Bush has tied Europe up in knots in the past few days (with the able assist of Blair), I think these folks underestimate Bush and his administration at their peril.

  26. Taranto’s interpretation doesn’t change if Mandela says “could,” “is,” or anything else — the variable is the UN.

    Correct, but Jesse Walker’s interpretation of Taranto’s quip does if he misquotes the source

  27. No, Taranto’s “quip” only makes sense if Mandela said that any invasion of Iraq would be a holocaust. He clearly did not say that. Mandela believes the U.S. is plunging the world into a holocaust. That doesn’t mean he thinks that couldn’t be changed.

    Taranto was trying to be clever, and instead sounded stupid.

  28. I’ve read Opinion Journal and Taranto for a while now, and it’s true that he never passes over a cheap shot, especially if he can dash off a zinger of a punchline.

    You could have come up with a better punchline, Jesse 🙂

  29. Mandela is a sorry old fool who hates white people, which is of course, the only group nowadays it’s ok to hate unreasonably, although anti semitism is making a big comeback and is trendy again in those holier than thou foreign capitals. My question is : what is everyone afraid of here ? the Rampant Spread of Democracy ? ooooh the horror, the horror !
    let’s get this straight for all the apologists, liberals, and morons out there ,when we are discussing Saddam and president bush, SADDAM IS THE BAD GUY, FOLKS !!!!

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