Jeffrey Goldberg is exasperated. With adverbs.
His latest piece in Bloomberg caustically criticizes Obama’s approach to the Syrian crisis, calling out the president for condemning Assad but refusing to take action. Goldberg snarkily congratulates Obama for “[helping] Syrians understand, among other things, that the English language contains many synonyms for ‘repulsive’” and “[carpetbombing] Damascus with powerful sentences and, at times, whole paragraphs.” He then warns of an approaching crisis in which “America’s stockpile of vivid adjectives is being depleted rapidly” and calls for more action—“a ‘surge’ of new adjectives and adverbs in their campaign” to ensure “even Assad must understand that his time is nearly up.”
The piece is subtle as jackhammer. Goldberg, appalled at the administration’s refusal to arm rebels, create safe havens or otherwise intervene in Syria, sees the increasingly strident rebukes of Assad as laughable—and makes this view abundantly clear. That his flippant tone is inappropriate for the subject matter almost goes without saying. He speaks, by his own admission, about “one of the most blood-soaked acts of political repression” in decades, yet he does so with tongue firmly in cheek.
Perhaps Goldberg believed sarcasm and open hostility would somehow enliven a debate weighed down by heavy questions of ethics, human rights, national interest and humanitarian intervention. Perhaps he sought to interject some levity and humor to an overwhelmingly sad subject—without doubt, there are chuckle-worthy lines. But the overall result is disconcerting.
Or maybe Goldberg is onto something. Perhaps this piece, in which troublesome moral dilemmas are cast aside in favor of biting sarcasm and harsh realities cloaked in acerbic wit, will cause the White House to see the error of its ways. Goldberg, after all, unleashes a barrage of not only adverbs but also adjectives, verbs and even nouns to denounce the cowardice of the Obama administration. Surely it will pay attention?
Merrily engaging in the very behavior one criticizes produces a flawed piece, saved only from the howler category by the fact that readers may find it entertaining at times—if they can suspend reality for a few pages.