As a colleague observes, Leon Wieseltier has written an interesting critique of the Bush administration’s decision to attack Iraq:
The rut of history: It is a phrase worth pondering. It expresses a deep scorn for the past, a zeal for newness and rupture, an arrogance about old struggles and old accomplishments, a hastiness with inherited precedents and circumstances, a superstition about the magical powers of the present. It expresses also a generational view of history, which, like the view of history in terms of decades and centuries, is one of the shallowest views of all.
This is nothing other than the mentality of disruption applied to foreign policy. In the realm of technology, innovation justifies itself; but in the realm of diplomacy and security, innovation must be justified, and it cannot be justified merely by an appetite for change. Tedium does not count against a principled alliance or a grand strategy. Indeed, a continuity of policy may in some cases—the Korean peninsula, for example: a rut if ever there was one—represent a significant achievement.
Alas, Wieseltier sees this as an argument against the distinctly non-disruptive Iran deal, as oppose to the catastrophic war he strongly supported. Oh, and against the Obama administration’s Cuba policy, which I concede is disruptive but since the existing policy has been a consistent failure for decades I’m not sure why this is supposed to be a bad thing.
Wieseltier then goes on to explain his opposition to the Iran deal on the grounds that it does not present an ironclad guarantee that Iran will never in the sweep of human history acquire a nuclear weapon, and not only that the deal doesn’t even nationalize the American health insurance industry. Anticipating the obvious objection of what exactly Obama could have done to guarantee that Iran would never again pursue a nuclear reaction, he responds with an outstanding achievement in the field of vacuous pomposity:
But what is the alternative? This is the question that is supposed to silence all objections. It is, for a start, a demagogic question. This agreement was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If it does not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons—and it seems uncontroversial to suggest that it does not guarantee such an outcome—then it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve. And if it does not solve the problem that it was designed to solve, then it is itself not an alternative, is it? The status is still quo. Or should we prefer the sweetness of illusion to the nastiness of reality? For as long as Iran does not agree to retire its infrastructure so that the manufacture of a nuclear weapon becomes not improbable but impossible, the United States will not have transformed the reality that worries it. We will only have mitigated it and prettified it. We will have found relief from the crisis, but not a resolution of it.
To the extent that there is content here, it is transparently wrong. A deal that makes it less likely that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons, the status is not still quo. Oh, and the status will also not be quo for the Iranian citizens who are suffering due to the sanctions regime, citizens who do not feature in Wieseltier’s calculus at all. But, remember, his war-is-the-answer-to-any-question foreign policy views are rooted deeply in liberal humanitarianism!