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Friday, February 21, 2003

Have liberals been duped?

Peter Beinart wonders whether liberal hawks have made a bad bet:

The unhappy truth is that, if the Bush administration wins the war but betrays the peace, the political consequences for the president will be small. Once the fighting is over, the American press will turn its attention elsewhere, just as it has in post-Taliban Afghanistan. But the consequences for hawkish liberalism will be great. Having been played for fools, most liberal hawks will retreat to a deep skepticism of American power. They will end up on the decent, feckless left — in the company of those who sincerely condemn men such as Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam but have no strategy for toppling them except empty exhortations to people power. And that soft isolationism will likely retake the Democratic Party. On the right, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney won't lose sleep if Chevron and Crown Prince Abdullah run things in post-Saddam Baghdad rather than Kanan Makiya. Paul Wolfowitz will either shut up or resign.

Many people would consider this ideological reshuffling an improvement. At home, liberals could reclaim the language of human rights for themselves, secure in the knowledge that it, and they, would no longer be sullied by an association with the 82nd Airborne. The collapse of hawkish liberalism might actually diminish anti-Americanism abroad since, absent their liberal allies, Rumsfeld and Cheney would be less likely to drape their actions in the moralistic talk Europeans find so grating. After all, no one protests Russia's intervention in Chechnya on the streets of Paris and Rome.

But, when the next Bosnia did come along, its leaders wouldn't find America's new separation between liberalism and power nearly so refreshing; between the realist left and the McGovernite left, they would have nowhere to turn. The truth is that liberalism has to try to harness American military power for its purposes because American tanks and bombs are often the only things that bring evil to heel. Opposing this war might have helped liberals retain their purity, but it would have done nothing for the people suffering under Saddam. If liberals are betrayed a second time in the Gulf, hawkish liberalism may well go into temporary eclipse. But one day we, and they, will need it again.

My hunch is that we have lost this bet. So it's time to think long-term once again. (Why, you ask?)

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 21 February 2003 at 5:29 PM

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