Speaking of “liberal hawks,” the Bush administration’s idea of a Deep Thinker tries to combine the vain preening of liberal Iraq War dead-enders with very strange conservative strawman arguments about moral relativism. And, alas, it succeeds:
It is inherently difficult for liberals to argue against the expansion of social and political liberalism in oppressive parts of the world — though, in a fever of Bush hatred, they try their best.
Yes, some liberals hate Bush so much they really don’t want states to become more democratic! Omitted: not only actual names, but what the Iraq War, at its immense cost in money, opportunity, and human life, has actually done to advance “political liberalism.” Reason for omission: the answer is obviously “nothing.” Gerson’s argument is the flipside of the “you were opposed to the war because you secretly like Pol Pot” silliness of Cohen. It’s all an attempt to pre-empt rather crucial questions about whether their favored policy is actually advancing their very noble-sounding goals. Then there’s this:
The unavoidable problem is this: Without moral absolutes, there is no way to determine which traditions are worth preserving and which should be overturned. Conservatism assumes and depends on an objective measure of right and wrong that skepticism cannot provide. Without a firm moral conviction that independence is superior to servitude, that freedom is superior to slavery, that the weak deserve special care and protection, the habit of conservatism is radically incomplete. In the absence of elevating ideals, it can become pessimistic and unambitious — a morally indifferent preference for the status quo.
Again, this is just a pointless non-sequitur. Very few Americans on either the left or right believe that the Hussein regime was a just social arrangement worthy of preservation. A lack of moral conviction on the trite question of whether liberal democracy is better than brutal dictatorship is not the issue. The problem Gerson is eliding by conflating normative and empirical skepticism is that our conviction that a social order is unjust is neither here nor there in terms of whether or not a half-baked military intervention is capable of replacing said unjust social order with something substantially better at a cost that wouldn’t be put to better humanitarian purposes elsewhere. Like “liberal hawks” Gerson wants to be judged on intentions rather than results. I’m guessing most Iraqis suffering under the disaster Gerson helped create and is still apologizing for might want to apply a different criterion.