I haven't read Peter Beinart's book yet, though induction tells us that it will be thoughtful and worthwhile. It's fashionable on the left now to deride everything Beinart does...but intellectual and political fashions are approximatley the most unreliable things known to man.
Kevin Drum exerpts the following quote to discuss:
A November 2005 M.I.T. study...found that only 59 percent of Democrats — as opposed to 94 percent of Republicans — still approved of America's decision to invade Afghanistan. And only 57 percent of Democrats — as opposed to 95 percent of Republicans — supported using U.S. troops to "destroy a terrorist camp." George W. Bush, in other words, has used the war on terror to cover such a multitude of sins that for many liberals the whole idea of focusing the nation's energies on defeating global jihad (whether you call that effort the "war on terror" or something else) has fallen into disrepute. Just as Vietnam turned liberals against the cold war, Iraq has now turned them against the war on terror.
Now this is an extremely alarming development. This is exactly the kind of thing (or, rather, a kind of thing--one of two hundred or so) I've been worried about since the disastrous Iraq adventure began. There's a pacifist/irrationally anti-violence streak on the left end of the political spectrum, and it seems to have been activated. Of course it's clear that violence is bad under a wide range of conditions we all agree about. The pacifist left, however, and those who sometimes incline in that direction, mistakenly think that violence is always or very nearly almost always bad. The war in Afghanistan was a just war, and it's a very, very, very, very, very bad sign that only 59% of Democrats seem to acknowledge that.
Unfortunately, people tend to paint with and overly broad brush. Somehow it becomes difficult for people to believe that (a) Afghanistan was justified, that (b) Iraq was not, and that (c) Bush is bad all at the same time. They get so mad at Bush and so fed up with Iraq that they just throw Afghanistan in the mix, too. But failure to support a just war is every bit as serious an error as supporting an unjust war.
Unfortunately, Drum can't quite bring himself to just acknowledge that Beinart is correct, writing:
Maybe so. But this is something that's nagged at me for some time. On the one hand, I think Beinart is exactly right. For example, should I be more vocal in denouncing Iran? Sure. It's a repressive, misogynistic, theocratic, terrorist-sponsoring state that stands for everything I stand against. Of course I should speak out against them.
And yet, I know perfectly well that criticism of Iran is not just criticism of Iran. Whether I
want it to or not, it also provides support for the Bush administration's determined and deliberate effort to whip up enthusiasm for a military strike. Only a naif would view criticism of Iran in a vacuum, without also seeing the way it will be used by an administration that has demonstrated time and again that it can't be trusted to act wisely.
So what to do? For the most part, I end up saying very little. And Beinart is right: there's a sense in which that betrays my own liberal ideals. But he's also wrong, because like it or not, my words — and those of other liberals — would end up being used to advance George Bush's distinctly illiberal ends. And I'm simply not willing to be a pawn in the Bush administration's latest marketing campaign.
Drum's a thoughtful guy, and he's obviously genuinely thinking about this problem. He's also worried about something genuinely troubling. However, criticism of Iraq and other tyrannical regimes does not automatically equate to support of Bush. For one thing, one can explicitly note that one's opposition to the tyrannical regime in Iran should not be construed as support of the Bush administration, nor of any attack on Iran, nor of the doctrine of preventive war. Behold:
"Iran is an unjust state, and it would be very bad if they got nukes. No one should have any illusions about that. Let me make it clear that this does not mean that I support the corrupt, criminal, and incompetent Bush administration, nor any of their policies toward Iran, nor that I support military strikes against that country."
Since this isn't really that hard to figure out, nor to do, my guess is that this isn't all that lies behind the hesitance of some liberals to say it. My guess is that the problem here is partially a psychological one. The Bush administration has become so bad that it's hard for many people to bring themselves to agree with it about anything. But that's a psychological glitch that one simply has to overcome.
Note also that if Drum were right, then the alternative is worse. If acknowledging that Iran is bad will inevitably be construed as support for Bush, will acknowledging that Bush is bad inevitably be construed as support for Iran? If we start thinking like this it seems that we are paralyzed into saying nothing for fear of misconstrual. If you dislike Dubya, you have to hate the Ayatollahs. Those guys make Bush & co. look like the staff of Mother Jones.
Atrios--more strident all the time, and, consequently, more prone to error--seems to explicitly deny that one can distinguish among different reasons for supporting or opposing a war. I'm not sure whether this is really his considered opinion, or, rather, just another anti-Beinart screed. (Atrios calls Beinart 'Petey'--everybody Atrios disagrees with gets a nickname or derogatory description...'Petey' or 'Tweety' or 'whiney-ass titty-baby'...) He writes:
Supporting or opposing the Iraq war wasn't simply about supporting or opposing a policy, or even supporting or opposing a particular war. Climbing on the Bush train to disaster involved endorsing a completely disastrous foreign policy "doctrine," endorsing a completely dishonest sales job for the war, endorsing a polical climate which branded opponents of that war traitors, etc... etc... Even the more sober supporters of the war like Ken Pollack, who won't get off my television for some reason, knew there was no urgency for whatever reasons they imagined the war would be necessary, but they all decided that supporting this misguided war RIGHT THEN was more important than having any understanding of what Bush and the gang was doing with it.
Supporting the Iraq war wasn't some abstract policy mistake. Supporting it involved endorsing a whole menu of horrible things. I remember at the time all these people thought, Friedman-like, that they'd get their fantasy war. But any sensible person knew they were going to get George Bush's war.
One mistake here is to contrast "abstract policy mistakes" with endorsing a "whole menu of horrible things." Those aren't opposed to each other. Many people supported the war because they made abstract policy mistakes. Furthermore, supporting the war didn't necessarily mean that you agreed with the "whole menu" of mistakes. I knew people--and this was basically the position of Beinart and TNR, too--who were disgusted by Bush's lies, but still thought that it so important to remove Saddam that we should do it. They thought that Bush was doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, and lying to us about the whole shebang...but they thought that it was the only way to get the right thing done. They in no way endorsed the whole menu, but they thought that one of the items was important enough that the others should be ignored. These are very, very different things. If Atrios were right about this it would mean that one could never support a policy that had any implications or accoutrements that one disagreed with.
I didn't agree with Beinart and TNR about the war, incidentally. I thought that allowing ourselves to be taken to war on bogus grounds was too high a price to pay. I wasn't willing to weaken American democracy to create Iraqi democracy. But I am still not sure that my reasons for opposing the war were sufficiently strong, and I still think that people like Beinart and the editors of TNR might very well have had a more rational position than I did. Whether they did or not, they were, at least, in the ballpark, and their position was a lot more rational than that of many opponents of the war.
But whether or not Beinart's position about the war was right, his worries about its effect on American liberalism are right on the money. If only he'd recognized this as a possible consequence of failure, that might have been enough to tip his position on going into the war in the first place. Too bad that he didn't and it wasn't, because his position on the war has now shut him out of much of the conversation on the left, and other, less level heads are left to fill the vacuum.