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Dictatorship Is Over…If You Want It!


A commenter chez Yglesias links to this 2003 interview with Paul Berman. I think this is my favorite part:

Even people who think that Bush is making a blunder with his military approach can try to undo that blunder themselves in some way by going ahead and doing the things that ought to be done — promoting liberal ideas. Promoting liberal ideas, finally, is the only real way to oppose the totalitarian movements that threaten us and threaten people in the Arab and Muslim worlds, whether they’re Baathist or Islamist.

Leaving aside the narcissism involved in the implicit claim that making banal arguments about liberal democracy being preferable to totalitarianism represent great courage, I’m confused about the causal mechanism here. Protests that had no impact on a domestic government’s rush to war can be expected to topple dictatorships in other countries? Protest movements in Iran will be helped by being associated with western groups? In fairness, Berman is consistent — he also seemed to really think that rather than being dispensed with once their useful idiocy had served its purpose, liberal intellectuals — including war opponents — could actually influence Bush’s conduct of the war. (“The people who have demanded that Bush refrain from action should now demand that the action be more thorough.”) Perhaps they could help by conjuring up troops that don’t exist, knowledge about how to impose democracy ex nihilo by force that doesn’t exist, etc.

It should also be noted that the interviewer does a very good job. Responding to Berman’s claims that Bush couldn’t defend this allegedly liberal war in liberal terms, she asks the obvious question: then why didn’t Blair do it? His answer:

I admire Tony Blair but I imagine that he’s hobbled by the Bush policy. Bush has confused the whole situation by saying that the goal of the war in Iraq is disarmament. Disarmament has nothing to do with the establishment of liberal freedoms.


He’s made it very difficult to present the war as an extension of the liberal and humanitarian interventionism of the 1990s in which Tony Blair played a distinguished and honorable and brave role.

Maybe it was hard to “present” that way because…it wasn’t. Anyway, apparently we were supposed to be believe that the leader of the most important American ally in the war couldn’t influence Bush’s conduct at all, but some liberal hawks with no electoral constituency who supported the war for the right reasons could. Evidently, the fact that this kind of stuff is presented in a frame of self-congratulation for telling the Hard Truths that war opponents are too blinded by Bush-hatred to see adds to the comic effect.

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