Friday, March 02, 2007


A Liberal Hawk Recants (Part One)

Armed Liberal at Winds of Change links to two self-confessions of former Iraq War supporters, who now wish to publicly recant in fits of self-flagellation. The problem is, they do a lot more striking of others than they do themselves.

Peter Beinart grovels under the moral glare of his wife – so he claims – as he confesses at The New Republic, and Norwegian “Warblogger” Bjorn Staerk grovels at the altar of ambiguity. (Must be some kind of Scandinavian existentialist thing.)

I suppose that’s what “formerly” pro-War Liberals have to do. They are thoroughly on the outs with the new Majorities in Congress, their own Party, and what they think must be the entirety of the American people. Following the example of their First Family, they follow the whim of the majority, and jettison ideals or principles.

I say, good riddance to bad faith. Like most everything else in the Progressive Handbook, their short-lived geopolitical idealism was entirely dependent on the extreme perfection of Everything Going Just Great Without Any Complications. Like Nationalized Healthcare, one might add, or other Socialist prescriptions for public policy. Shake the dust off your sandals when you leave their house.

Though I count Beinart the more dishonest of the two based on their self-confessions, I don’t know Staerk at all. Beinart I’ve read previously. Call that a disclaimer if you want, but given the nature of public self-confession, I consider the confessions themselves to be sufficient context for critique. (Isn’t that their intent? Beyond a fond reminiscence for those heart-warming relics of Communism, Public Self Confessions.)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Beinart is truly remorseful for surrendering his elevated jadedness for a zeal for democratic idealism, as reflected in the way he says the phrase “If the United States were a different country” plagued his thinking for years.

Beinart then offers the sop of the liberation of Kuwait and our UN peacekeeping interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo in the transition between his first (and should have been forever) love for suspicion of all thing US inspired, and the siren’s song for military intervention in the service of progressive ideals.

Beinart met Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile and chronicler of the abuses of Saddam Hussein. Makiya saw an invasion as a chance to end the horror of Saddam:

That's why Makiya insisted that an Iraq invasion do more than merely replace Saddam with a more pliant Baathist general. In deadly earnest, he was asking the United States to become what that South African exile could not even contemplate without laughing: a revolutionary democratic power. For Makiya's neoconservative allies, the idea was intuitive: In their air-brushed narrative, that's what the United States had always been. But Makiya knew better; he knew that the United States had intervened more frequently in the Third World to quash democracy than to spread it. He knew that the Bush administration had other, darker motives. And yet, made desperate by Saddam's horrors and his resilience, he was willing to gamble. 

I don’t know how hard Beinart tried to follow up with him, but Beinart says “But I haven't seen him, or read anything he's said or written, in several years. He's living, and suffering, with the consequences of this war, I suppose. And so are we.”

I wonder at how Kanan Makiya feels about playing Siren to Beinart’s sailor. Maybe he’s suffering, I don’t know, but probably less than Beinart suffers from estrangement with his natural allies. Pity the reformed Warblogger, almost as pitiful as the deranged but still evil Neocons.

Feh. I suspect this is a bit of over-wrought hyperbole to get him back into the good graces of the Dominant Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party (others might have different labels for same). If this really reflects Beinart’s thought process, his intellect is weaker and his psychology more unbalanced than I would have believed.

Why do Liberals and leftists of any stripe so loath the foundations of the oldest and freest Democracy in the world? We set afire the hopes and aspirations of oppressed people the world over? Those fortunate enough to achieve American style liberty -- as opposed to Communist, Socialist, or Demagogic imposters – risk their lives and everything they own to attain or to retain that liberty.

Cynics like the Beinart of old, and his former and future colleagues, view any sin of commission or omission by the US as irrefutable proof that the Ideals are Lies. Hence, he can devoutly believe that only in the “air-brushed narrative” of the Neocons can one believe the US to be a “revolutionary democratic power.” Can you see the connection for Beinart? If it ain’t Socialist, it ain’t a revolution. Yet, as certain as Peace Follows Diplomacy and Prosperity follows the People’s Ownership of Production, so all should know that “the Bush administration had other, darker motives.” (Since we all know what those darker motives were, they will remain unuttered.)

I can’t explain why some erstwhile Leftists for a time backed their Grand Experiment in Iraq. I’m even less at a loss to understand any tortured logic they come up with for how they felt that way then, but see it as a ghastly mistake now. Only because the results are unpleasant or undesirable? By that standard, wouldn’t they have surely rejected the ideals and principles of Socialism, given how horrendous all historical examples have turned out?

Then there’s this:

I was willing to gamble, too--partly, I suppose, because, in the era of the all-volunteer military, I wasn't gambling with my own life. And partly because I didn't think I was gambling many of my countrymen's. I had come of age in that surreal period between Panama and Afghanistan, when the United States won wars easily and those wars benefited the people on whose soil they were fought. It's a truism that American intellectuals have long been seduced by revolution. In the 1930s, some grew intoxicated with the revolutionary potential of the Soviet Union. In the 1960s, some felt the same way about Cuba. In the 1990s, I grew intoxicated with the revolutionary potential of the United States

News flash to Beinart: you’re not gambling with anybody’s life, one, they’re not yours, and two, you are a writer, not a decision-maker, and not a particularly influential one at that. And I don’t believe for a second that you ruminated more than moments upon Panama, versus the hours you perused any number of Central and South American revolutionary movements, or the many years you were marinated in the standard Vietnam revisionist history so prevalent on college campuses. I don’t believe you viewed the American military as near invincible, at all. (Your rhetoric speaks for itself.)

Perhaps through some rebellious or contrarian streak, you thought that the Powers of Oppression could be turned this one time in service to the Oppressed. That I’d believe.

You say you were “intoxicated,” that you couldn’t find an answer to a question posed by Salmon Rushdie: “Will the American and European left make the mistake of being so eager to oppose Bush that they end up seeming to back Saddam Hussein?”

You say you have an answer now (emphasis mine):

But there was an answer, and it was the one I heard from that South African many years ago. It begins with a painful realization about the United States: We can't be the country those Iraqis wanted us to be. We lack the wisdom and the virtue to remake the world through preventive war. That's why a liberal international order, like a liberal domestic one, restrains the use of force--because it assumes that no nation is governed by angels, including our own. And it's why liberals must be anti-utopian, because the United States cannot be a benign power and a messianic one at the same time. That's not to say the United States can never intervene to stop aggression or genocide. It's not even to say that we can't, in favorable circumstances and with enormous effort, help build democracy once we're there. But it does mean that, when our fellow democracies largely oppose a war--as they did in Vietnam and Iraq--because they think we're deluding ourselves about either our capacities or our motives, they're probably right. Being a liberal, as opposed to a neoconservative, means recognizing that the United States has no monopoly on insight or righteousness. Some Iraqis might have been desperate enough to trust the United States with unconstrained power. But we shouldn't have trusted ourselves.

We lack the wisdom and virtue. Quite in contrast to the Europeans or the UN, no doubt. I wish Beinart would point to an example of a “liberal international order” that is successful at restraining the use of force, and achieving a result that is in fact desirable. I see an awful lot of pretenders out there, and a whole lot of force being restrained – especially European, Asian, and other military forces in defense of their own security, in favor of the US security umbrella. But I don’t see that getting us anything near what Beinart sees as the anti-Utopia.

The US wasn’t seeking a defensive war in Iraq, we viewed it as a valuable part of confronting the very real and growing radical Islamic terror that brought the Twin Towers to the ground on 9/11. Going on the offense against State Sponsors of terrorism, and confronting directly those nation states and non-state actors who seek to intimidate, destroy, and subjugate any enemies who won’t surrender to their ideology.

What “fellow democracies” opposed the fight against communism, whether the occasion of the war in Vietnam, or elsewhere? What “fellow democracies” opposed the war in Iraq? Germany? France? Others? I know Beinart would know better than to suggest “Russia.” That France (mostly) and Germany (somewhat less) opposed UN resolutions hardly makes a groundswell of Democratic Nation State opposition to enforcing 17 UN resolutions in toppling Saddam Hussein and bringing Democracy to Iraq. Add in the extent to which UN, Russian, and French officials were on Saddam’s speed dial (as well as his payroll), makes that argument pathetic.

What a slander to suggest that those who support the war in Iraq believe the US has a “monopoly on insight or righteousness.” Just because we deem this one intervention righteous, that makes us monopolists?

And on last retort to Beinart. The Iraqis didn’t “trust the United States with unrestrained power.” We don’t even trust ourselves or our military with that. Given the dishonest backbiting, vitriol, distortions, libels, and outright fabrications deployed to fight against the fight in Iraq – take your pick, those in Congress or in the Media – to call our efforts unrestrained is almost comical.

There’s a different answer available to Beinart, to Liberals, in answer to Rushdie’s question. “Yes. We hate George Bush that much. We don’t much care which side of justice, or democracy, or national interest, or world security that puts us on.”

Oh, that’s not what you read here, but remember that most of the same voices who speak out against this war would be silent if the President who waged it was Democrat, as they have in all previous instances. That’s why you hear so many good things about Bosnia and Kosovo from Liberals, rather than from military people more educated about the stunning success of ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Balkans.

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