Theodore Draper, a Teacher for our Times

Via Laura Rozen, I see that Theodore Draper, author of A Very Thin Line, has passed away. I quoted from Draper just the other day (in a post currently on ice in the Typepad fridge) and again just a few weeks ago, so it goes without saying that I believe Draper offers us some very important insight for our times. But I’d like to make the case again. Draper’s work is still relevant because the same goons he chronicled in A Very Thin Line are back at it again, with even more ambitious goals.

I shared some of myconcerns with a civilian who had been remotely acquainted with theLuti-Feith-Perle political clan in his previous work for one of thesenior Pentagon witnesses during the Iran-Contra hearings. He told methese guys were engaged in something worse than Iran-Contra. I wascurious but he wouldn’t tell me anything more. I figured he knew whathe was talking about. I thought of him when I read much later about the2002 and 2003 meetings between Michael Ledeen, Reuel Marc Gerecht andIranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar — all Iran-Contra figures.

And he’s still relevant because he cataloged an approach that the goons are still using. Here are some excerpts from the final chapter of A Very Thin Line, presciently titled, "Unfinished Business."

  1. Anonymous says:

    DHinMI pointed me to the very good obit in the NYT. Here are some excerpts:

    His prose was blunt and factual, its logic severe and pitiless. His pithy judgment of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 as â€a perfect failure†became the earmark of that misadventure. As he said in his preface to â€A Present of Things Past,†a collection of his essays published in 1990: â€I have rarely stayed with a single subject for more than five years. I get interested in a subject; I devote myself to it; I do what I can with it; I know — or think I know — as much as I want to know; I turn to something else.â€


    In a review of Norman Podhoretz’s book â€Why We Were in Vietnam†in The New Republic in 1982, Mr. Draper sharply criticized the author’s defense of the war, saying it â€represents a trend of selective moralistic zealotry which, if permitted to spread, will give both anti-Communism and neoconservatism a bad name.†He called Podhoretz a â€potted historian.†The review reflected a sharp turn in Mr. Draper’s political thinking and left Mr. Podhoretz bewildered over what he called the cruelty of the attack, especially since Mr. Draper had been a friend.


    When approached by a reporter for an interview about his life, he declined and offered instead to write a statement to be sent in a sealed envelope and not opened until his death. In it, he said of his review of â€Why We Were in Vietnamâ€: â€I broke with Podhoretz when he changed the political line of Commentary,†a reference to what he saw as the magazine’s shift to the right in the mid-1970’s.


    â€Draper’s methodical approach conjures a spirit, an ideal, that is very powerful,†[Paul] Berman wrote. â€Rigor, thoroughness, factualness and intellectual discipline,†he said, â€were not exactly in fashion during the Age of Reagan, nor did they pop up very prominently in the House and Senate hearings. They are evident, however, in Draper’s massive deed of citizen responsibility, and the effect is strangely moving.â€

  2. Anonymous says:

    I began fashioning myself as a sort of political intellectual in the late 1980’s. I began reading Harpers and TNR and The Atlantic and some other liberal magazines. But some of the most edifying things I read were when I started forcing myself to read the New York Review of Books. At the time, many of the articles were beyond my abilities to really understand, but I had a strong sense that there were important things for me to learn in that publication. And I still remember reading Draper’s numerous articles for the NYR during that time, and how they served as a model for me: relentlessly rational and logical, unflinching, and scrupulous, but clearly driven by a burning passion for truth, justice and progressive ideals. I consider some of the articles he wrote during that time, especially the stuff he wrote about Iran-Contra, to be among the formative intellectual experiences of my very early adulthood.

  3. Mimikatz says:

    It’s cowardice. Our Founders must have believed that there never would be a lack of people with sufficient courage to make our system run, given what Americans had done up to that point. And there probably are enough, it’s just that what it takes to gain and hold office now works in the opposite direction, and creates the opportunities for thugs like Cheney/Rummy and the Iran Contra gang. So we can’t really look to the politicians. We will have to do it ourselves.

    Steve Clemons had a good post on this yesterday. Worth reading.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Oh, and outrage. He didn’t engage in histrionics, but the outrage over the misdeeds of the administration and the failure of the Congress to flinch from fully pursuing the case evoked outrage in the reader. Draper didn’t grandstand in showing his outrage, he provided you with the facts and arguments that led to your own outrage over what he was reporting. I’ve alway found that approach a far more valuable contribution to democracy than the histrionics of talk radio, the shouting shows on television and, unfortunately, too much of what you read in the blogosphere.

  5. T Pastrick says:

    Thank you for alerting me to Theodore Draper’s passing. The Iran-Contra Affair is the seminal event in this phase of American-World history. Clearly this group in power will not relinquish it without a tremendous fight. Their non-stop pursuit of Clinton, who at the time was not on the inside, attests to their tenacity and ruthlessness. Everything they do is passed through the filter of power-retention rather than governing. But I don’t let past Congresses off the hook for having given them so long a leash (or in the current case, no leash at all). A cunning and relentless coup has been put in motion whose goal is to transfer power to Eisenhauer’s famously labeled military industrial (post industrial) complex and out of the hands of democratically elected representatives. It is evil and shame on us and those in Congress for looking the other way. The elections in 2006 will mean nothing if these people aren’t confronted and brought to justice. Patrick Fitzgerald is actually leading the way in this fight, though who knows how long he can hold them off?

  6. JohnLopresti says:

    I think we have come a long way since the issues Draper most greatly struggled to add to public discussion, and the internet has helped that history’s writing become more clear.

    May Draper rest in peace, well deserved and appreciated. The following is a review of some fairly related items of note this past few days:

    On Iran-Contra, the likelihood of conflict between congress and the new Chief Justice is easy to foresee in this transcript in WaPo of Leahy September 13, 2005 Senate Judiciary Committee questioning Roberts on Roberts’ memo entitled â€War Powers Problemâ€. Essentially, it is Roberts dancing away from the question saying it is not specific enough and he would expect White House Counsel and OLC, SG, would argue for CinC superseding the power of the purse, with Leahy bemusedly lamenting that something the framers wrote there has atrophied and Congress even equipped with Boland was blindsided and marginalized bereft of its lineitem control as its principal tool to reshape and halt conflicts pursued by the executive branch.

    A list of administration political appointee displacements in Bush-2 from N. Turse at TomDispatch February 12, 2006. Peanutgallery’s article in Middle East Policy Council Journal winter 2004 declaring much the same about the Bush appointee process and depicting it as a continuum of ideology inspired strategists who have limited and imprecise scope; the article traces some individuals’ roots to political pragmatists as long ago as 1960; mostly the tenor of the Peanut article is academic outrage at the sloppiness of the policy design which siderails regionally oriented historians in order to implement short-sighted policies for the benefit of the currently favored school of pragmatic political policies. This is the article linked to a link Peanut contributed here in the postmodern thread a few days ago; a promising line of thought; one worthy of a new book if Peanut is prepared to dedicate the time to write one; as stinging as Draper’s style.

    Judge Walton February 25, 2006 protects Fitzgerald’s right to conceal from Libby the identity of leak source (Novak’s 2nd source?).

  7. antiaristo says:

    â€If the people were to ever find out what we have done, we would be chased down the streets and lynched.†— George Bush, cited in the June, 1992 Sarah McClendon Newsletter

  8. timski says:

    Thank you John Lopresti,for the link to the middle east policy council article. So much I didn’t know! You guys are all great. keep it up. I may be remedial because politically asleep for many years, but I’m awake now, and hungry for more. Don’t forget all us remedials. I’ve seen references to PNAC for several months now, intermittently, w/o really understanding what it was or its place in the rise of the debacle we now are witnessing.