Matt Yglesias and Sam Rosenfeld have a big new article up in The American Prospect, which intends to eviscerate ‘liberal hawks’ on the basis that their only refuge is that – as they put it – “…the invasion and occupation could have been successful had they been planned and administered by different people.”
It’s a thin argument, well-padded, and it pretty much rests on one simple presumption – slipped in a rhetorical flourish in the beginning:
Victory, as John F. Kennedy observed, has a thousand fathers, while defeat is an orphan. Abandoning the orphan that is the Iraq War has clearly been a protracted, painful process for the liberal hawks, those intellectuals and pundits so celebrated back in 2003 for their courage in coming forward to smash liberal expectations and support the war. Long criticized by fellow liberals for failing, amid much hand-wringing and navel-gazing, to express clear regret over their original support for the war, these hawks have started to become a bit more vocal about their second thoughts.
Let’s be clear. I don’t have any second thoughts about the invasion.
I have all kinds of criticisms of things that I wish had not been done or had been done better. I don’t blog about those because – first – I feel like it’s somehow expected of me, and I don’t like rising to that bait, and – second – because I have a finite amount of time to blog, and that’s not how I choose to spend it. Those issues are not, to me, the critical ones today.
But, as an opener in responding to Yglesias and Rosenfeld, did I somehow miss the line of Americans hanging from the skids of the helicopters as they flew away from the Embassy roofs? Was there a surrender as our troops streamed, bedraggled, weaponless, defeated, and under the watchful eyes of their Sadrist captors out to the safety of Kuwait?
When the hell did it become the accepted public wisdom that we have lost this war?
Because, guess what – we haven’t.It’s hard – damn hard. I am in awe continually of the men and women who are prosecuting it – from the sharpest tip of the spear all the way back to the butt of the shaft.
Taking on the arguments in the article isn’t, so I’ll handle that part.
Let me summarize the arguments they make:
* We’ve failed in Iraq.
* Liberal interventionists (like myself) who supported the war are damaging the cause of future liberal intervention by hanging on to their support for the war in the form of “if only Bush had been competent” and “if only we’d invaded Iraq with 500,000 troops.” As soon as we admit we were wrong, we’ll have credibility to suggest that we send troops to Darfur.
* We must accept that we cannot change the world, and therefore limit our military interventions where our efforts “can be justified only in the face of ongoing or imminent genocide, or comparable mass slaughter or loss of life.”
Boy, there is just so much wrong with this that I don’t know where to begin.
Let me start with my own take on where we stand – we’re slowly winning, and will win in time. There will be ebb and flow, setbacks and breakthroughs, but the fundamental characteristic is to make it clear to the parties involved that we have the sitzfleisch to see this through.
I’ve got a simple indicator, and let’s use Vietnam as a good example.
The troops in Vietnam turned against the war before the mass American population did. As a ‘chickenhawk’ (and as a snarky sidenote, given the recent column about the wealthy and tax-avoiding Norm Chomsky – I’ll go back to my Black and suggest that when he advocates that Chomsky or George Soros pay what would be ‘fair’ for his taxes, as opposed to what he owes under law – I’ll gladly make a ‘chickenhawk’ pin and put it on the site), I guess I just ought to keep listening to the troops.
So no, I don’t think we’re losing. We’re certainly not winning as quickly as some had hoped, but here I’ll go to my own record and pass on (again) my own quote from before the war:
We’re in this for the long haul. We don’t get to ‘declare victory and go home’ when the going gets tough, elections are near, or TV shows pictures of the inevitable suffering that war causes. The Marshall Plan is a bad example, because the Europe that had been devastated by war had the commercial and entrepreneurial culture that simply needed stuff and money to get restarted. And while we’re damn good with stuff and money, this is going to take much more, and we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves, work, and be willing to sweat with this for some time.
Next, Yglesias suggests that the strategic justification for the war collapsed with the discovery that there was no nuclear bomb waiting to be primed in Baghdad or Tikrit.
He’s wrong there as well.
First, from before the war again:
So unless we shock the states supporting terrorism into stopping, the problem will get worse. Note that it will probably get somewhat worse if we do…but that’s weather, and I’m worried about climate.
What’s wrong with that? The reality is that even in a worst-case scenario such as I painted in Armed Liberal, our losses would be limited and readily survivable.
But I don’t think our reaction would be. I believe that a sufficiently aggressive terrorist action against the United States could well result in the simple end of the Islamic world as we know it. I believe that if nukes were detonated in San Pedro and Alameda and Red Hook that there’s a non-trivial chance that we would simply start vaporizing Arab cities until our rage was sated.
I’d rather that didn’t happen. I’d rather that San Pedro, Alameda, and Red Hook stayed whole and safe as well, and I believe the answer is to end the state support of terrorism and the state campaigns of hatred aimed at the U.S. I think that Iraq simply has drawn the lucky straw. They are weak, not liked, bluntly in violation of international law, and as our friends the French say, about to get hung pour l’ecourager les autres…to encourage the others.
Now this may seem like a week reed on which to base a war.
But it is stronger than it appears.
First, there is a legitimate case for regime change in Iraq, regardless. I’ll refer the reader back to Salon in 1998…
The reality is that positive news has outweighed the negative in the Muslim world recently.
* Support for suicide bombing is declining.
* Support for Islamists is declining.
* Sanity may rear it’s head in Palestine.
* Lebanon has kicked out the Syrians and now wants to kick out the Palestinians.
* The fact that vile, murderous dictators are now seen as vulnerable old men who may well wind up pulled from spider-holes to stand frustrated, arrogant, and powerless in the dock as they await sentencing from those they once terrorized.
So, what am I missing about the failure of the strategic justification?
* The war has left the U.S. isolated, alone in the West and without allies.
Yeah. tell that to Merkel, to Howard, Blair, and to Sarkozy.
So no, Matt and Sam, I appreciate the advice on how to rehabilitate myself, but I’ll just take a pass.
I’ll ignore the simple fact that the only alternative anti-Islamist policy to this one would involve bailing our CIA agents out of Italian jails.
So let’s check in a few years from now, and we’ll see whose reputation needs rehab.