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Iraq Debate


Last week I posted some comments on the president’s decision to turn to the United Nations for help in Iraq. My main point was that the president had little choice, given the fact that our nation is too divided over foreign policy to support a larger military. I’ve noticed a fair number comments in the blogosphere, and via e-mail, to the effect that I’m trying to stifle political debate with points like that. Well, I certainly don’t dispute anyone’s right to oppose the administration’s foreign policy. And of course I’m just as free to speak out when I think the president’s critics are wrong. Over and above this, it’s important to note that this country is deeply divided on military and foreign policy issues, and that this makes a real difference in the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy. Our post-Vietnam culture war is alive and well, and this has a huge effect on America’s capacity to act in the world. Let’s say Howard Dean (or even John Kerry or Al Gore) defeats president Bush. In a post-9/11 world, and given the country’s divisions, a Democratic president is going to have trouble running our foreign policy too. He’ll probably get a whole lot of flack from folks like me (although I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised). Americans have always had differences on foreign policy, but our post-Vietnam divisions are deeper than most of our past disagreements. I happen to think the neo-McGovernism of the Democrats is deeply misguided. But it’s undeniable that the strength of the doves has had a real effect on the president’s room for maneuver. If you’re a Howard Dean fan, that’s a good thing. But any way you slice it, it’s a fact. I think folks on the left positively need and want to feel that a bunch of big bad conservatives are suppressing their right to dissent. I wrote about that sort of thing in “The Church of the Left,” and especially in this symposium on anti-Americanism. It’s no longer acceptable in some circles to get mad at folks in other countries, no matter what they do. But it is safe to get angry at fellow Americans for supposedly betraying democratic principles. This is the secret of our secular, post-sixties religion.


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