Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The End of the Liberal Hawks?

Abe Greenwald has an interesting article in this month’s issue of Commentary Magazine, titled “Liberal Hawks, RIP” (you need a subscription to view the entire article). It is a contemptuous look at a few liberal hawks who Abe claims abandoned the principles behind interventionism because of their distaste for George W. Bush and the failure of America’s policy in the first few years of the Iraq War. In return, Greenwald argues that the liberal hawks are dead politically, and their failure to get behind the Neocon’s foreign policy has discredited interventionism as a whole for the foreseeable future. Abe writes:
Beinart, Signer, and their fellow liberal hawks found themselves unable to commit fully to the war effort they supported because of their distaste for Bush. They nonetheless found themselves far out on a limb with their friends and allies when the war went bad. Finally, by the time they had composed their recantations, the war was being won.”
I can’t defend Beinart or Singer; they can stand up for themselves if they feel slandered by Greenwald’s assessment of their position. However, a comment made by George Packer in the NY Times does warrant attention (and was criticized in Abe’s piece). Packer wrote:
What makes the agony over Iraq particularly intense is the new role of conservatives. Members of the Bush administration who had nothing but contempt for human rights talk until the day before yesterday have grabbed the banner of democracy and are waving it on behalf of the long-suffering Iraqi people. For liberal hawks, this is painful to watch.”
Skepticism about the Bush administration’s intentions in Iraq, and its willingness to commit American foreign policy to humanitarian intervention that democracy promotion is not devoid of merit. Bush’s foreign policy direction changed significantly after 9/11, with most of his foreign policy team coming to the conclusion that the United States must play a forceful and proactive role in the international system. But every President who sends the U.S. to war claims it is for the good of democracy and liberty overseas. History has taught us this is noticeably not the case. Liberals who supported democracy promotion and the removal of Saddam Hussein’s government had good reason to question whether Bush’s transformation into a proponent of world democracy was genuine.

I had those very reservations during the build up to the war in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I opposed both at the offset, and then came to support them when I found the Bush administration did intend to follow through with the nation building and social transformation necessary in those countries to make the liberations advisable.

Abe’s criticism of those liberal’s who turned on the Bush administration’s conduct during the early years of the war requires examination as well. He writes:
The attempt to distance themselves from the war they had basically supported did not go smoothly. Liberals and leftists who had opposed the war were hot on their trails and hungry to excommunicate. In an article in the Nation published in September 2004, the foreign-policy analyst Anatol Lieven wrote,

In the place of Baathist Iraq the Bush Administration and its supporters have created a brutal anarchy that is the ideal breeding ground for terrorists who really do pose a dreadful threat to the United States. . . . At present, the liberal hawks’ legs are still sticking out of the neoconservatives’ collective mouth, kicking faintly, but in a few years, at this rate, only a pathetic, muffled squeaking will remain, protesting that if only they had been in charge, all the disasters of the coming years would not have happened.”
The initial years of the war were unmitigated disasters. It is not surprising (and even justified) that many turned against the operation after the dismal outcome the initial Bush policy produced. In the preliminary years, the Bush administration appeared to be unable or unwilling to recognize Iraq was falling apart and that a hand over of authority to the Iraqi authorities was not happening anytime soon. The Surge corrected the previous strategy that took American troops out of Iraqi neighborhoods, and helped bring the necessary security required to actually build a stable, democratic state. But it took too long, and with too many lives lost, for the Bush administration to correct their position and take on one that reflects a nation building based operation.

However, Greenwald does make a point that I have made continuously over the last few years, which is that liberals and leftists who believe the West should act to help democrats and liberals elsewhere, failed their morals when they abandoned Iraq and pushed for an American withdrawal from “Bush’s War.” Abe writes:
Had their turn toward despair been mirrored by the administration—the administration whose predilections so displeased them that they could not ally fully with it in pursuit of an aim they believed was just and necessary—the United States would have lost the war from which the liberal hawks found it so convenient to separate themselves when the going got tough. That loss would have ended even the mere consideration of American humanitarian intervention for a generation or longer.”
Whatever one thought of the reasoning for the war in Iraq, or one’s views on Bush and his government, I do believe all those who claim to stand by liberals, democrats, and workers should do so even when the strategy that backs them is unpopular. Once the liberation was executed, anyone who claimed to stand behind these people should have stood with those fighting against theocracy and reaction, even if it meant you made similar statements to that of a conservative like George Bush.

The war for democracy in Iraq is far from won; I believe we will still be talking about American policy in the country for the next decade at least. Liberal Hawks however, should be careful not to turn too far from the Bush administration’s interventionist policies. It is easy to ridicule the administration for its follies and missteps, but liberal hawks are fools to think they can divorce themselves entirely from the Neocon foreign policy, and do so at the peril of the very policy they claim to be proponents of.


Kenyon said...

do i count as a hawk? i really like wonkette!!!

TNC said...

I was just about to write something about this. It is a really weak piece of writing. Here is my letter to the editor:

Yes, Berman, Beinart and Packard have changed their position on the Iraq War. Yet these three men, whose writings are certainly influential, do not compose the entirety of liberal hawkdom. By ignoring the writings of Christopher Hitchens and Martin Peretz (aside from two sentences in the footnotes) as well as journalist Michael Totten (a Commentary contributor), Historian Jeffrey Herf, and many others, Greenwald has painted a false picture. Consider this statement in Telos in 2006 whose signatories include liberal hawks, neoconservatives and centrists:


Dandy has a Posse said...

Abe Greenwald writes a piece titled Liberal Hawks, RIP, and then selects a whole three individuals to comment on? Seems a bit myopic.

With all the friends necons have these days, I guess Commentary doesn’t feel they need interventionist friends.

bob said...

Good post Roland.

dan ml said...

Nice post.

As you say, those who call for troops to be withdrawn from there or Afghanistan because they're wars over oil, consolidation of geopolitical power or whatever else ought to consider the consequences of withdrawal on socialists, trade unionists, feminists and other progressives were that withdrawal to occur overnight.

Something a wiser man than me wrote elsewhere was that sometimes the wrong people do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

It's something those who oppose the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for partisan reasons have failed to understand.

EscapeVelocity said...

News of the death of the Republican Party as a vehicle for American Classically Liberal Christian Conservatism and Capitalism have been greatly exaggerated.