Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 15, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WAR AND PEACE....From Slate's liberal hawkathon, here is Paul Berman on Monday:

Sept. 11 showed that totalitarianism in its modern Muslim version was not going to stop at slaughtering millions of Muslims, and hundreds of Israelis, and attacking the Indian government, and blowing up American embassies.

....But Sept. 11 did not come from a single Bad Guyit was a product of the larger totalitarian wave, and the only proper response was to comprehend the size and depth of that larger wave, and find ways to begin rolling it back, militarily and otherwisemostly otherwise.

....But I haven't responded to what everyone else has said, or said anything about non-military ways to go about this. I promise to do so tomorrow.

Paul Berman on Tuesday:

The goal [of the war] is to cause people all over the Muslim world to abandon the cult of mass death and suicide. What would be a complete victory? The rise of liberal societies and liberal ideas. That is because the opposite of totalitarianism is liberalism. And so, our goal has had to be: to damage and discourage the Muslim totalitarians and to hearten and aid the Muslim liberals.

....Why don't people understand these goals and accomplishments?...The blame, a lot of it, does fall on Bush, who, in addition to his other errors, has given a very muddy picture of the reasons for war and its goals, sometimes making one argument, sometimes a contradictory argument. Really, the man has a lot to answer for.

Paul Berman on Wednesday:

But, yes, totalitarian movements can ultimately be defeated only in the realm of ideas. Millions of people have to be persuaded to change their ideas. Not forcedpersuaded. Which is to say, someone has to go out there and try to persuade people.

On this point, which happens to be the most important point of all, Bush has failed us almost totally. It is pretty outrageous. His failure to take up these matters ought to be seen as a calamity. But then, who has been making up for this terrible failure of his? Who has taken up the burden to wage a really extensive war of ideas, a war of TV networks, radio programs, lectures, books, magazines, and everything else? I don't mean something smallI mean a massive campaign.

I think the political right is incapable of waging such a war, by virtue of its own militaristic and isolationist instincts. The neocons do sometimes talk about a war of ideas, but, on these matters, neoconservatism is all talk, no action. So, then, this should be the business of people on the left side of the spectrum. But where are the Democrats, on these matters? The left? This is truly a problem, and nobody seems to be doing very much about it, not on a grand scale, anyway.

Paul Berman on Thursday:

Nothing.

Apologies for the lengthy excerpting here, but do you think he's ever going to talk about the non-military ways to wage this war that he promised on Monday? There's only one day left.

I don't mean to be petty, but I'm bringing this up because basically I think Berman is right: it's important to talk about the lack of WMD, it's important to talk about the Bush administration's mendacity in leading us to war in Iraq, and it's important to talk about the execrable job Bush has done in explaining what the war was about and what needs to be done in the future. For those reasons and more, Bush should be voted out of office in November.

But even more important is to do what Berman said he was going to do on Monday: explain what needs to be done to win this contest of ideologies. I agree that military force won't get the job done, no matter how good it makes some people feel, but what will?

That's important. I hope he gets around to providing his views on this on Friday. I'd sure like to hear a muscular, liberal alternative to Bush's incompetent blustering.

Kevin Drum 7:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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