The Corner

Re: A Liberal War No More

If I may intrude, I guess I’m on a slightly different page than you guys. As a matter of analysis and prescription, I’m all in favor of the war in Iraq becoming less “liberal” — as you folks are using the term around here — and more realistic, i.e. ruthless. No fan of “liberalizing” Iraq can be against winning there first.* So I hope Rich is right.

Where I guess I disagree is this idea that Americans don’t — and shouldn’t — care what kind of government Iraq has. I think a great many do, and even more should. I certainly care what kind of government Iraq has. Particularly since America is on the hook for getting rid of the old one. A few reasons why I think others should care:

1. Democracy — by which I primarily mean a liberal order marked by the rule of law and political accountability of government officials — is morally preferable to tyranny and it is always worth some measure of our effort to advance it wherever tyranny reigns. That doesn’t mean we should deliver liberalism at gunpoint around the globe. But even if it is a matter of rhetoric and soft diplomacy, we should always be on the side of freedom. Necessary compromises with reality are forgivable, even advisable, but that shouldn’t change our conviction. Charges of hypocrisy as we deal with the Musharrafs of the world is a small price to pay for championing liberty. I thought this was the sort of stuff Reaganites believed.

2. Realism, properly understood, demands that we pay some respect to the idea of promoting democracy. Andy may not have liked all of the democracy-mongering in defense of the Iraq invasion, but the case for regime change would be beyond impossible without appeals to America’s sense of decency and, yes, mission. There’s a lot of unrealistic realism on display out there when people talk about how we should have — and could have — destroyed the Saddam regime and then walked away. It’s a seductive position, but I have a hard time seeing America or Congress supporting that or being able to stay on the sidelines as America-induced chaos took-over in post-Saddam Iraq. (You might note we had chaos anyway, but that doesn’t change what the political reality would have been had we chosen the “realist’s” path).

3. Americans want to feel good about their wars, particularly their wars of choice. This is something many Democrats constantly fail to adequately appreciate. Saying that the war was a pointless mistake will always be a bitter pill for lots of Americans (which is one reason why I think the Democrats fail to grasp how much they are reprising their Vietnam era role. Being anti-war can be a winner during the war, but deadly afterwards). Recall how in the run-up to the Iraq invasion how often our role as liberators, as opposed to occupiers, was raised by everyone from Colin Powell to many of us around here. While security must always come first, security is often insufficient in making the case for using the military. I’m not arguing for noble lies or propaganda, merely noting that Americans are a moralistic people, even in their foreign policy, and they often need to be reassured they are the good guys.

4. The root causes crowd isn’t entirely off base. The Arab world is a riot of dysfunction. One of the main arguments our enemies use against us is that America doesn’t really care about democracy, we just want to guarantee the flow of oil. Does anyone doubt that America’s acquiescence to a tyrannical regime in post-war Iraq would result in anything but a propaganda coup for these people? Moreover, another tyranny in Iraq would ultimately serve as a breeding ground for precisely the forces we’re at war with. That is assuming Iraq doesn’t simply become the seat of the new al Qaeda caliphate, in which case it won’t merely be a breeding ground for terror it will be a terror state par excellence. In short, you can’t beat something with nothing. Their something is sharia and post-mortem virgins. Our something must be freedom.

* Indeed, it’s worth noting that supposedly democracy-drunk neocons were among the first on the pro-war right to criticize the Administration for not sending enough troops and securing Iraq first. It’s a point worth recalling as the conventional wisdom hardens that it was the democracy-voluptuaries who insisted this war be a utopian “liberal war.” I don’t think that is so.

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