Sunday, October 07, 2007


Tony Judt:

THE “liberal hawks” are back. These, of course, are the politicians and pundits who threw in their lot with George W. Bush in 2003: voting and writing for a “preventive war” — a war of choice that would avenge 9/11, clean up Iraq, stifle Islamic terrorism, spread shock, awe and democracy across the Middle East and re-affirm the credentials of a benevolently interventionist America. For a while afterward, the president’s liberal enablers fell silent, temporarily abashed by their complicity in the worst foreign policy error in American history. But gradually they are returning. And they are in a decidedly self-righteous mood.

Yes, they concede, President Bush messed up his (our) war. But even if the war was a mistake, it was a brave and good mistake and we were right to make it, just as we were right to advocate intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo. (“The difference between Kosovo and Iraq isn’t between a country that wanted peace and one that didn’t,” the Slate editor and onetime war cheerleader Jacob Weisberg, now tells us. “It was a matter of better management and better luck.”) We were right to be wrong — and that’s why you should listen to us now.


We are going to hear much more in this vein in the coming months. And there is a new twist. For all its shortcomings, the Iraq war, we are now reminded, was “justified” (Bob Kerrey, the former Democratic senator) by its impeccable moral credentials. It was supported — and is still — by leading European intellectuals, notably former dissidents like Adam Michnik and Vaclav Havel. They understand evil and the need for America to take a stand. So do we. Our domestic critics simply don’t “get it.” They are appeasers and defeatists.


Finally: In a democracy, war should always be the last resort — no matter how good the cause. “To jaw-jaw,” as Churchill reminded Eisenhower, “is always better than to war-war.” So the next time someone waxes lyrical for armed overseas intervention in the name of liberal ideals or “defining struggles,” remember what Albert Camus had to say about his fellow intellectuals’ propensity for encouraging violence to others at a safe distance from themselves. “Mistaken ideas always end in bloodshed,” he wrote, “but in every case it is someone else’s blood. That is why some of our thinkers feel free to say just about anything.”