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Sunday, December 8, 2002

Liberalism's Iraq dilemma.

George Packer, author of the most compelling book I've read recently on American political history, Blood of the Liberals, knows what it means to be a committed but self-questioning liberal. In this week's New York Times Magazine, he asks many of the most influential liberal intellectuals why they are not visible in the emerging antiwar movement. Their answers are provocative and deserve serious consideration.

The brutal civil wars in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s led many liberals to revise their ideas about when the use of American military power was legitimate. Humanitarian intervention, many of them came to argue, was sometimes a higher value than respecting state sovereignty: It was more important, they said, to stop the "ethnic cleansing" promoted by Slobodan Milosevic than to keep out of Bosnia's "internal affairs."

"But on the eve of what looks like the next American war, the Bosnia consensus has fallen apart," Packer writes. "The argument that has broken out among these liberal hawks over Iraq is as fierce in its way as anything since Vietnam. This time the argument is taking place not just between people but within them, where the dilemmas and conflicts are all the more tormenting." In interviews with Michael Ignatieff, Michael Walzer, Christopher Hitchens, David Rieff, Leon Wieseltier, Paul Berman, and Kanan Makiya, he explores the reasons that many liberals who don't agree with Bush also don't automatically oppose war with Iraq. A must-read. ("The liberal quandary over Iraq," New York Times Magazine 12.8.02: 104-107, 156.)

Copyright © 2002 by Philocrites | Posted 8 December 2002 at 7:56 PM

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