I could keep picking on the arguments of the few remaining dead-enders — did you know that Marc Danzinger is still blogging, with Weber quotes of no discernible relevance? — but I thought I would check back on the Slate year-after “reconsideration” by the Bush administration’s liberal stooges to trace the lineage of the bad arguments still being made by the Roger Cohens of the world. Let’s hear first from Paul Berman:
I never did think that Saddam’s weapons were sufficient grounds for war. I even said so here, in Slate, before the war. If WMD were the problem, containment and deterrence were the solution. But I can understand, sort of, why Bush and Blair ended up harping on the weapons issue, and why the Bush administration kept hinting at conspiracies that probably never existed. I don’t defend Bush and Blair for speaking in these ways, and I hope that future elections will show that Bush has been punished for his misdeeds, and Blair has not. But I can imagine what drove them to do this.
See, the problem is that Berman apparently had never considered that the administration sold the war in this way not to provide a clever sales job for their secret liberal-hawk-approved humaritarian war, but because they actually believed what they were saying. More to the point, one might have thought by by early 2004 it would have been obvious that irrespective of their motivations their war plan was consistent with the objective of disarming a regime with nothing to disarm but utterly inconsistent with an ambitious nation-building plan. This kind of thing remains the ultimate in “liberal hawk” solipsism: projecting a different war with different objectives that you support onto the administration and then supporting that. Of course, Berman’s conceptualization of the problem is so confused that one hardly knows what the objectives should have been:
What was the reason for the war in Iraq? Sept. 11 was the reason. At least to my mind it was. Sept. 11 showed that totalitarianism in its modern Muslim version was not going to stop at slaughtering millions of Muslims, and hundreds of Israelis, and attacking the Indian government, and blowing up American embassies. The totalitarian manias were rising, and the United States itself was now in danger. A lot of people wanted to respond, as any mayor would do, by rounding up a single Bad Guy, Osama.
Obviously, this is a strawman; presumably deposing the Taliban, say, goes beyond “rounding up one bad guy.” But the larger problem is that this whole framework is not helpful in itself and does not provides any clue for why the Iraq War in particular was a good idea. In Stephen Holmes’s phrase, “Berman’s cultural and philosophical approach…raises the identification of Saddam and Osama, the tyrant and the terrorist, to a level of blurry abstraction that no facts can possibly refute.” All of which conceals that, in classic “liberal hawk” fashion, Berman never quite gets around to explaining how installing an Islamist quasi-state in Iraq would stop this “totalitarian menace.” Indeed, once you’ve conflated Islamism and secular Baathism as part of one great “totalitarian” threat, the argument for war completely collapses on itself; attacking the latter militarily just helps the former to no discernible purpose. But he knows that dictatorships are really bad, so this must be a serious argument!