[Marxism] Tony Judt on liberal hawks

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Oct 7 09:05:37 MDT 2007

NY Times, October 7, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor
 From Military Disaster to Moral High Ground

THE “liberal hawks” are back. These, of course, are the politicians and 
pundits who threw in their lot with George W. Bush in 2003: voting and 
writing for a “preventive war” — a war of choice that would avenge 9/11, 
clean up Iraq, stifle Islamic terrorism, spread shock, awe and democracy 
across the Middle East and re-affirm the credentials of a benevolently 
interventionist America. For a while afterward, the president’s liberal 
enablers fell silent, temporarily abashed by their complicity in the 
worst foreign policy error in American history. But gradually they are 
returning. And they are in a decidedly self-righteous mood.

Yes, they concede, President Bush messed up his (our) war. But even if 
the war was a mistake, it was a brave and good mistake and we were right 
to make it, just as we were right to advocate intervention in Bosnia and 
Kosovo. (“The difference between Kosovo and Iraq isn’t between a country 
that wanted peace and one that didn’t,” the Slate editor and onetime war 
cheerleader Jacob Weisberg, now tells us. “It was a matter of better 
management and better luck.”) We were right to be wrong — and that’s why 
you should listen to us now.

In addition, they say, we have the guts to call a spade a spade — to 
designate Muslim suicide-bombers “Islamic Fascists” (Paul Berman) and 
“Islamofascists” (Christopher Hitchens) — and to denounce Iranian 
demagogues as would-be Hitlers. We are the heirs, according to the 
former New Republic editor Peter Beinart, of the anti-totalitarian 
struggles of World War II and the cold war, and our battle against 
terrorism is the defining cause of the age.

We are going to hear much more in this vein in the coming months. And 
there is a new twist. For all its shortcomings, the Iraq war, we are now 
reminded, was “justified” (Bob Kerrey, the former Democratic senator) by 
its impeccable moral credentials. It was supported — and is still — by 
leading European intellectuals, notably former dissidents like Adam 
Michnik and Vaclav Havel. They understand evil and the need for America 
to take a stand. So do we. Our domestic critics simply don’t “get it.” 
They are appeasers and defeatists.

This is a seductive tale. But before it takes hold in the Democratic 
Party, here are some dissenting observations. First, we should not be so 
quick to wrap ourselves in the mantle of the pro-war Eastern European 
dissidents. The personal courage of these men is beyond question. Not so 
their political judgment.

Their common outlook was shaped by life under Communism and the need to 
choose between right and wrong, between good and evil — an 
uncompromising choice which they (like President Bush) subsequently 
projected on to the more complex realm of international relations. 
Vaclav Havel is now a co-chairman of the Committee on the Present 
Danger, a Washington lobby of ultra cold-warriors recycled as 
cheerleaders for the “global war on terrorism.”

The case for liberal interventionism — “taking a stand” — had nothing 
whatever to do with the Iraq war. Those of us who pressed for 
American-led military action in Bosnia and Kosovo did so for several 
reasons: because of the refusal of others (the European Union and United 
Nations) to engage effectively; because there was a demonstrable and 
immediate threat to rights and lives; and because it was clear we could 
be effective in this way and in no other.

None of these considerations applied in Iraq, which is why I and many 
others opposed the war. However, it is true that United States military 
intervention in urgent cases will be much harder to justify and explain 
in future. But that, of course, is a consequence of the Iraq debacle.

Liberal hawks have been quick to swoop down on dovish critics of the 
American military — condemning in particular MoveOn.org’s criticism of 
Gen. David Petraeus. Quickly, it has become conventional wisdom that 
liberals should never disparage the military.

But why not? Soldiers have to respect generals. Civilians don’t. In a 
free society, it is a sign of robust civic health when generals are 
pilloried for getting into policy issues. Liberal Democrats should ask 
themselves whether, amid today’s cult of military “heroes,” a president 
would dare cashier a Douglas MacArthur for insubordination, as Harry 
Truman did in 1951 — and what our liberal hawks would say if he did.

Finally: In a democracy, war should always be the last resort — no 
matter how good the cause. “To jaw-jaw,” as Churchill reminded 
Eisenhower, “is always better than to war-war.” So the next time someone 
waxes lyrical for armed overseas intervention in the name of liberal 
ideals or “defining struggles,” remember what Albert Camus had to say 
about his fellow intellectuals’ propensity for encouraging violence to 
others at a safe distance from themselves. “Mistaken ideas always end in 
bloodshed,” he wrote, “but in every case it is someone else’s blood. 
That is why some of our thinkers feel free to say just about anything.”

Tony Judt is director of the Remarque Institute at New York University 
and the author of “Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945.”

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