In the Weekly Standard, Bruce Bawer reviews Jeremy Scahill’s recent book, Dirty Wars, which is about America’s approach to war, counterterrorism and targeted killings over the past decade. Bawer’s review is an ugly piece of work that is awash in evidence-free assertions and attacks on Scahill’s character. He calls Scahill “a radical ideologue out to discredit America and debilitate its defenses,” and closes with this paragraph:
What Scahill has given us here is, in short, an indictment of the West’s entire post-9/11 struggle against jihad. To offer serious criticism of American strategy is, of course, thoroughly legitimate. But Scahill isn’t a patriot who wants to see America triumph. On the contrary, it seems clear that the only thing he would hate more than a mismanaged war on jihad would be a successful one. Indeed, it’s hard to avoid feeling that this book’s definitive goal, like that of Awlaki’s sermons, is to swell the jihadist ranks—anything to bring down the Evil Empire with which Scahill has been at war all his professional life.
Bawer’s piece has other problems, but this passage exemplifies what is easily the worst thing about it: the fact that a good chunk of it is devoted to attacking Scahill’s motives rather than his arguments. Moreover, the motives that Bawer assigns to Scahill—namely, that he doesn’t want “to see America triumph” and that his goal in writing the book “is to swell the jihadist ranks”—are absurd on their face. Using Bawer’s method of argumentation, one could just as easily contend that the real reason that he and the Weekly Standard’s other authors generally support the measures the United States has taken in waging the “war on terror” that Scahill criticizes is that they are sadists at heart who take a visceral pleasure in the idea of killing people around the world. Of course, this would be completely ridiculous. But it’s no more so than what Bawer actually wrote.
Back in reality, Dirty Wars is a deeply reported, well-written book that covers a whole slew of important issues and is very much worth reading, for supporters and critics of current U.S. counterterrorism policy alike.