Thursday, October 20, 2005

Keepers of the Flame

Big Media Matt has a good article about the gyrations of "liberal hawks."

The incompetence critique is, in short, a dodge -- a way for liberal hawks to acknowledge the obviously grim reality of the war without rethinking any of the premises that led them to support it in the first place. In part, the dodge helps protect its exponents from personal embarrassment. But it also serves a more important, and dangerous, function: Liberal hawks see themselves as defenders of the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention -- such as the Clinton-era military campaigns in Haiti and the Balkans -- and as advocates for the role of idealism and values in foreign policy. The dodgers believe that to reject the idea of the Iraq War is, necessarily, to embrace either isolationism or, even worse in their worldview, realism -- the notion, introduced to America by Hans Morgenthau and epitomized (not for the better) by the statecraft of Henry Kissinger, that U.S. foreign policy should concern itself exclusively with the national interest and exclude consideration of human rights and liberal values. Liberal hawk John Lloyd of the Financial Times has gone so far as to equate attacks on his support for the war with doing damage to “the idea, and ideal, of freedom itself.”

It sounds alluring. But it’s backward: An honest reckoning with this war’s failure does not threaten the future of liberal interventionism. Instead, it is liberal interventionism’s only hope. By erecting a false dichotomy between support for the current bad war and a Kissingerian amoralism, the dodgers run the risk of merely driving ever-larger numbers of liberals into the realist camp. Left-of-center opinion neither will nor should follow a group of people who continue to insist that the march to Baghdad was, in principle, the height of moral policy thinking. If interventionism is to be saved, it must first be saved from the interventionists.

He goes on to point out that the "liberal hawks" went from pushing national security/WMD to pushing humanitarian reasons for the invasion, amazingly right in lockstep with the Bush administration.

But, granting the conceit (just for fun) that humanitarian concerns were their actual reasons for the invasion, this is still just utterly ridiculous. We had an opportunity and a need, post-9/11, to invade a country under tyrannical rule which was, in an odd way, a threat to us. That country was called Afghanistan. And, despite all the promises of saving the residents from the Taliban and engaging in a massive reconstruction of that country, that sort of didn't, you know, happen so much. It would've been nice to build some streets of gold in that country, show the world what the great benevolent United States could do, but we didn't. When the Bush administration kicked the soccer ball away from Afghanistan and towards Iraq the media and the "liberal hawks" and the country dutifully followed, aborting what could have been the greatest humanitarian triumph in history. One which, given the speed at which books about the place were selling after 9/11, would've had the full support of the country. I was somewhat surprised but deeply proud of the fact that post-9/11 much of the country seemed to buy into the idea that bad people had taken over a country of good people. There was a heartwarming generosity after 9/11, a sense that we must help those people - not the bad people, but the ones under their thumb.

Yes, we're still in Afghanistan, but we haven't exactly thrown all possible resources into bringing that country into modernity. We had our chance, but Iraq was a much shinier toy.