13 September 2006

Iraq again

I've been laying off the Iraq blogging for a while, but I have to pass this on.

In The American Prospect, Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglasias make a clear case that to focus too much on the incompetant handling of the occupation of Iraq is corrosive to our thinking about whether the invasion was a good idea or not in the first place ... and by extension confuses us about what our foreign policy principles should be.

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 you dig these kinds of questions, it's worth going to read the whole thing.

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