The Blogger at War

James Lileks used to be content with writing about his toddler's toilet training. Then Iraq gave him the chance to become the state's most famous conservative.

 Having exposed the inferiority of Sri Lankan-made screensavers and named his 15 All-Time Campiest Christmas Ornaments, James Lileks needed a breather from his popular blog, The Bleat ( He'd refrained from commentary for most of December, and those desiring fresh Bleats were forced to settle for retro-visuals and wry captions while the blogmaster dealt with the endless deadlines that haunt his existence. Then Saddam was yanked from a hole in Tikrit, causing the American media to go nuts. The dinner bell rang, and there was no way Lileks was going to miss this call--especially since he'd been valiantly cheering on the war from the front lines of Minneapolis.

They got him! Or so they suggested, back in March. No one said it explicitly, but for a day we hoped. The troops were massed and poised; intel came in, off went the rockets. I remember watching video of flames licking the sky that night--best of all possible worlds, it seemed. The war hadn't even begun, and maybe the butcher was a pink smear on a shattered hunk of concrete. Not the case, as it turned out. Then came another decapitation attempt before the troops took Baghdad, and I thought the same thing: if only."Coalition forces have discovered a liver on a rebar, and are making DNA tests as we speak!" But he lived.

Yes, but since this "decapitation attempt" took place in a heavily populated civilian area, there were doubtless civilian casualties. Their pink smears, however, were of no evident concern to Lileks--hey, that's what happens when you live in Saddam's 'hood. Comes with the blasted turf, the "best of all possible worlds."

Ryan Kelly

Having warmed up with this, Lileks went off, wildly assuming what The Arab Street thought of the event, giving Saddam a psychological profile from thousands of miles away (his imperial Joyce Brothers bit), and projecting his "ironic" Oh, isn't the U.S. just awful! routine on those who opposed the invasion. Because, you see, only a rabid America Hater could find something wrong with Bush's war.

Lileks expanded on this theme: "I've read all the nutball far-left sites worrying about the worrisome worries--does this help Dub? Was it all faked? Surely America will see that the man paraded before the cameras was a soy-based simulacrum cooked up in the Halliburton labs? It's amusing to troll the fevered swamps, but nothing they say matters in the end."

Here, Lileks was aping many of his warblogger brethren: He reduces all lefties into an easily digestible stereotype, as if a starry-eyed teen PETA activist is the same as University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole (who writes an informative, increasingly popular blog of his own (; and as if Rick the People's Poet from the old BBC sitcom The Young Ones represented the web-savvy anarchists at Being a long-term denizen of the American left myself (with time off during a few pissed-off periods), I can state with some authority that there are lefts of many creeds and moods, and not all of them get along--which is a problem in itself, but not what Lileks was going for above. He was borrowing from the P.J. O'Rourke playbook, whacking all those weirdos that any sensible American knows exist, but has never really met--cardboard outlines suitable for smashing.

Lileks wasn't as bad as some of the keyboard warriors I'd read, but there was that gloat and strut, as if Lileks had personally captured Saddam. (Lileks has written of dreams and fantasies where he kicks terrorist ass, and I was somewhat let down that he didn't sketch out a scenario where he grabbed Saddam by the beard and gave the Beast an Adam West Batman thrashing: "All right, you Mesopotamian ruffian, where are the WMD!?" SOCK! POW! "C'mon! Out with it, desert evildoer!")

Historical context is seldom welcome at The Bleat; it's totally irrelevant now that our "debt" to the Iraqis has been paid. For Lileks, the crucial historical moment has yet to happen: "The history texts will note that Baghdad fell on this date, Saddam was captured on that date, and the events between the two events will fill up a paragraph at best. Cruel but true. This was a big event, but there are bigger events to come."

Like Syria? Iran? Or maybe Pakistan, now that it appears our ally was selling nuclear material to North Korea? The Bleat will reveal all in good time.


Unlike most warbloggers, James Lileks has more mundane, even pacific, interests apart from oohing and aahing after every missile strike. He has published a book of America's strangest recipes, The Gallery of Regrettable Food, along with several out-of-print anthologies taken from his syndicated lifestyle column. (He wrote a column for this paper in the late 1980s.) And he is well regarded in the right-wing blogsphere, from the National Review to the satellite talk shows on the Patriot (WWTC, 1280-AM). His prime soapbox at the moment is the Star Tribune's The Backfence, a column devoted to the Everyday Things that define modern life: shopping, mall movies, talking on cells while driving, the wacky behavior of pets (in his case a dog, Jasper), and the glories and absurdities of raising children.

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