The New Republic has a symposium that includes a depressing number of liberal hawks giving non-apologies. I’ll leave Wieseltier’s WMD excuses to another post, but two of the examples of not learning anything seem particularly egregious. First is up is Michael Ignatieff, one of the most irritating and self-regarding of the “I was wrong for the most honorable of reasons so I was really right and you were wrong you hippie” school of self-justification. (I suppose it goes without saying that he was also pro-torture because EVIL!) After being an effective advocate for a disastrous war, he decided to move on to his next project, destroying what had been Canada’s dominant political party for nearly a century. Perhaps some humility would be in order? Not so much; the crucial lesson of Iraq is that we should consider using force in Syria, because while there’s no reason whatsoever to believe it would work, EVIL!
But does this exhaust the lessons that Iraq holds for Syria? Has American policy become so risk averse that no action in Syria is possible? It is one thing to take futility and perversity to heart, another to conclude that doing the least you can is the only safe option. And there are robust things that can be done, even when we acknowledge the weaknesses of the Syrian opposition, the risk of inadvertently aiding Islamist combat units, and the likelihood that anything America does now is unlikely to give it much influence over the Syria that emerges after Assad’s last stand.
Myself, I have a very robust plan to ignore Michael Ignatieff’s advice on any issue.
Next up, Paul Berman, who continues his general strategy of endorsing the good outcomes of the Iraq War and disowning the many more bad outcomes, as if war can be ordered up a la carte. And, as always, to disguise the feebleness of this approach he just conflates the Iraq War with other exaggerated threats to the United States, producing one big fog that leaves nothing resembling a clear thought visible:
America was drawn into these conflicts of past and present because, in both cases, the isolationist alternative was fantastical nonsense. In the Iraqi instance we have been drawn in because, if I may lay out the reasons, during the first Gulf War, and then after the war, and then during the Clinton years, and then, and then—until, by 2003, the removal of Saddam was the only way to end the stand-off that resulted from all those other “and thens.” And then came the bad news that everyone knows, as well as its opposite: elimination of the region’s most murderous tyrant, prosperity for our ever-overlooked Kurdish friends, and so forth. Some people argue that al Qaeda in its global version underwent its most grievous defeats during the Iraqi surge, and other people insist that Saddam’s overthrow opened the door for the early liberal moments of the Arab Spring, and fervently I hope that these claims are correct, though really I have no idea.
The passive voice in the first sentence is really priceless; the Iraq War wasn’t a discretionary choice made by an administration containing many officials who had a strong interest in invading Iraq well before 9/11, heavens no. And it’s followed up by the false choice of “isolationism” to further remove responsibility from Iraq War supporters, perfect. I’ve linked to it before, but Stephen Holmes’s analysis of Berman’s attempt to make a bad Iraq regime that posed no threat to the United States into part of totalitarian threat comparable to Hitler’s Germany remains utterly devastating. (“But should someone who speculated that an American invasion of Iraq would force Islamic extremists to give up their paranoid conspiracy theories about the Jews accuse others of facile optimism?”) Berman, alas, ten years after the the disastrous invasion was launched is still making arguments that, at bottom, are just a more highbrow version of Tom Friedman’s babble about a “terrorism bubble.”
This is pretty much the liberal hawk argument, and no matter how it’s expressed it’s never been any less idiotic than Friedman makes it sound.