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Thursday, June 17, 2004

Liberal hawks revisited, yet again.

The New Republic reexamines its support for the war to depose Saddam Hussein and asks, "Were we wrong?" The lead editorial says: "The central assumption underlying this magazine's strategic rationale for war now appears to have been wrong. . . . But, if our strategic rationale for war has collapsed, our moral one has not."

I was fairly sympathetic to the moral argument against Hussein — browse through my posts from January or February 2003 — but the timing seemed tragic. (So much could have been accomplished if the U.S. had stayed focused on Afghanistan and al Qaeda, including the not insignificant possibility that American liberals and American conservatives might have come to some new conclusions about the merits of intervention and nation-building. Oh, well! Back to our post-Vietnam corners.) Instead, America's credibility and capability to intervene in a just cause have been seriously damaged by Bush's conduct of the war.

Leon Wieseltier puts it succinctly: "Whatever the merits of preemption, there was nothing to preempt. It really is as plain as that." He goes on to say:

It is important to remember that freedom is not the same thing as democracy. When people are liberated, they become free to be what they already are. They almost never are already a democracy. Democracy is an elaborate structure of principles and institutions. It is built, not found. The liberation of Iraq is only a condition for the democratization of Iraq.

I don't feel especially encouraged about liberal democracy's chances in Iraq, because I haven't seen indications that anyone except the president's speech-writers gets it. Paul Berman laments the likely outcome for American politics (sub req'd):

I am dreading what some people claim already to have learned from the blunders in Iraq. Even now, some people are saying: You see! There's no point in overthrowing dictators by force! (Though many dictators have been forcibly overthrown, to good effect — from Germany to Afghanistan.) And no point in trying to do good for anyone else! (Though humanitarian intervention has had its successes, from Kosovo to East Timor, not to mention Kurdistan.)

The U.S. failure in Somalia led to a different kind of U.S. failure in Rwanda. There will surely be Rwandas in the future — there is one right now in Darfur, Sudan (where the ethnic cleansers come out of the same mix of radical Islamism and Arab nationalism that has caused so much suffering in many other places, including our own places). Who in his right mind is going to call for U.S. intervention? Doubtless, in the future, when things are not so grim for us, some people will, in fact, call for U.S. interventions, and justly so. And yet, other people are going to say, Oh, right, and let's put Donald Rumsfeld in charge. And this will be a devastating reply.

There's more. Lots more. The magazine's full of introspection and what-ifs. Non-subscribers can read Thomas L. Friedman (still hopeful), Kenneth Pollack (who wrote the book on going after Saddam), and Fareed Zakaria. Subscribers like me can read Fouad Ajami, Anne Applebaum, Peter Beinart, Joe Biden, John McCain, and Michael Rubin, too. (I think I'll wait for my copy to come in the mail. That's a lot of reassessment to do on a Thursday evening.)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 17 June 2004 at 7:35 PM

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