Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On the Other Hand …

The dean of conservative pundits, William F. Buckley questions (here) whether our efforts in the Middle East are destined to be futile. Echoing the concept that there is no way to stop an idea whose time has come, Buckley warns that “if the enemy is in the nature of a disease, [the U.S.] cannot win against it.”

Buckley’s dour estimation of our situation in Iraq bucks what many of his conservative colleagues are saying. Echoing the Murtha talking points, Buckley writes, “It is simply untrue that we are making decisive progress in Iraq. The indicators rise and fall from day to day, week to week, month to month.”

Unlike Vietnam, Buckley says, where the enemy had an “operative headquarters …, we have no equivalent of that in Iraq.” All of the terrorist mayhem seems so spontaneous. Of course, that’s the nature of terrorism. Sponsors in Iraq and Syria remain in the shadows while semi-independent radicals carry out attacks that kill and maim innocents, striking fear into the hearts of citizens.

The sharpness of Buckley’s point is apparent when he writes, “What can a “surge,” of the kind we are now relying upon, do to cope with endemic disease? The parallel even comes to mind of the eventual collapse of Prohibition, because there wasn’t any way the government could neutralize the appetite for alcohol, or the resourcefulness of the freeman in acquiring it.” Echoing Senator Reid, Buckley is arguing that we are powerless to stand against terrorism and that the terrorists will eventually unavoidably carry the day in Iraq.

On that optimistic note, let’s look at another view of the Bob Kerrey article that I discussed yesterday. Conservative contrarian Andrew McCarthy critiques Kerrey’s positions in this article. McCarthy takes Kerrey to task for equating desire for self-determination with democracy. (Never mind that many of our Founders thought the same way.) Or at least McCarthy seems to think that Iraq’s style of Islamic-centric self determination stands in sharp contrast to the way we do it in America and/or that it won’t benefit American interests.

McCarthy agrees with Kerrey that liberals ought to be in love with the Iraq War, since it is a Wilsonian “exercise in democracy building, not just mere jihadist repulsion.” McCarthy agrees that “you don’t have to occupy a country to fight terrorism,” but he argues that “you do have to occupy a country to, as [Kerrey] puts it, impose democracy.” He demonstrates his point by citing the long-term occupation required in each of the examples Kerrey cited as positive models of imposing democracy.

However, McCarthy disagrees with Kerrey’s altruistic humanitarian focus on bringing democracy to the Middle East. He argues, “A war that Americans have come to regard, rightly or wrongly, as more geared toward Iraqi self-determination than al Qaeda suppression is a war for which American support was certain to flag. We did not, after all, occupy Germany and Japan to evangelize about the glories of freedom. We occupied them because they nearly defeated us in a war of national survival: The American people, fully invested back then in victory, understood instinctively that we had to stay until the peril was extinguished.”

McCarthy seems to ignore the fact that the war against radical Islam is more like the Cold War than WWII. Americans were far more ambivalent about the Cold War than about WWII.

Kerrey contends that we ought to be in the business of imposing democracy, but McCarthy asks why. Indeed, McCarthy sounds very much like a realist when he claims that bringing democracy to the Middle East will not improve our national security (and will probably make it worse). He cites the fact that terrorists have a track record of exploiting democratic freedoms to operate quite freely in Germany, Spain, the UK, and the US. He asks why we should think that they won’t also exploit newly minted democratic freedoms in the Middle East to achieve their wicked ends.

McCarthy argues that we should dump democracy building in favor of focusing our “finite attention … on determining what measures are necessary to eradicate jihadist networks, and on bluntly considering how such steps square with our regnant international law infrastructure — the legacy of a world that no longer exists … if it ever did.”

I find it interesting that staunch liberals can be found that argue fervently in favor the war in Iraq, while some died-in-the-wool conservatives argue just as fervently that we are on the wrong track in Iraq. Despite the media’s successful portrayal, there is not a clean partisan split on this issue. Is it any surprise that the opinions of Americans in general of this issue are scattered across the board?


Democracy Lover said...

I would hardly call Harry Reid or Bob Kerry "staunch liberals". Most progressives would consider them both right of center. That aside, it seems all these arguments miss the point. Buckley sees us as powerless to overcome terrorism which is probably true, but that is not relevant. The world has always had terrorists, the objective is not to eradicate the use of the methodology, but to avoid being the victim of it. That is possible.

Kerry and McCarthy seem to think that the US is in Iraq to build democracy - a preposterous assertion. Their arguments are hollow because they are based on an irrational premise.

I would suggest you read a well-informed and truly staunch liberal on this topic, Chalmers Johnson, and see how much more sense his analysis makes than those you cite here.

Reach Upward said...

Johnson makes some good points, such as alluding to the fact that if the Democrats succeed in retaking the White House in 2008, they will find their new president suffering from a reduction of prerogatives that they caused.

However, Johnson's diatribe, couched in much more scholarly language than most of the expletive-laden hate-Bush dreck out there, is little more than a polished version of the same. If this is what qualifies as "progressive," then it is no wonder that all of the insitutions (even left leaning ones) that Johson derides find little affinity for his positions.

When I referred to Kerrey as a staunch liberal, I was merely echoing the Wikipedia declarations concerning him. While these admittedly may be less than fully objective, I believe that a majority of Americans looking at Kerrey's political positions as a whole would label him firmly in the liberal column.

Those on the bitter end of the left may find Kerrey and others like him too right leaning for their tastes, just as the harsh ends of the right find just about any GOP politician far too left leaning for their tastes. One can argue about semantics, but its simply a matter of perspective.

Democracy Lover said...

I fail to understand what part of Johnson's analysis you found objectionable. Seems pretty clear to me. Of course, he doesn't like Bush - virtually no one does. After 6 years of criminality and incompetence, it is difficult to find a reason to treat this President with respect.

Reach Upward said...

I guess my problems start when Johnson goes down the road of calling for us to impeach Bush for misuse of intelligence to get us into a war, all the time snickering behind his black cape with evil lackey Carl Rove at his side. Johnson chooses to ignore that this has been vetted in Congress and by the 9/11 Commission. Johnson ignores the fact that members of the legislature with access to the same intelligence information agreed with the proposed action. Poor judgment and incompetence simply do not rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.

And Johnson continues in this same vein throughout his piece. He broadly interprets some matters, narrowly interprets others, and completely ignores facts when they don't support his views. Although his point is clear by paragraph 3, he drags the reader through a tangled swamp of one twist after another, all seasoned heavily with arrogant bitterness, to finally arrive mudcaked at his uninspiring conclusion.

Don't feel bad. People on the right do this all of the time. And when their agreeable readers show the stuff to their liberal friends, their friends shake their heads and wonder how they could have their heads so stuck in the sand.

Democracy Lover said...


Johnson is aware that the Congress that gave Bush this power was dominated by Republicans and provided no oversight whatever to the Executive Branch. He is aware that even the Intelligence Committees were not given the full and complete picture before the launch of the war.

The Bush Administration is not really incompetent, they are obviously malicious. They do not believe in the Constitution. They have no respect for the ideals that made this nation great. They did not make a misjudgment in leading us into this war - there is ample evidence that they did so intentionally in spite of the evidence that it would be a grave mistake.

Too many people are willing to take the word of this administration at face value instead of looking at the facts. Most of the top officials of this administration belong in prison, not in the White House.