Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 23, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

A LETTER FROM PAUL BERMAN....In his book The Assassins' Gate, George Packer wrote:

Before leaving for Iraq, I'd had dinner at the usual Brooklyn bistro with Paul Berman. He kept comparing the situation in post-totalitarian Baghdad to Prague in 1989. I kept insisting that Iraq was vastly different: under military occupation, far more violent, its people more traumatized, living in a much worse neighborhood.

I thought this was nuts and said so in a blog post. Well, it turns out that Paul Berman thinks it's nuts too, and today he writes to say that he never said it.


Last December you ran a short item that mentioned me, and, in retrospect, I'm sorry I didn't respond. Your purpose was to argue that, back in the early days of 2003 and the start of the Iraq war, liberal interventionists were in the grip of fantastical delusions, and, to illustrate this contention, you quoted a paragraph from George Packer's book The Assassins' Gate. The paragraph recounts a barroom chat between George and me in Brooklyn from those long-ago times, in which I am said to have likened Baghdad in the period after the 2003 invasion to Prague in 1989 during the Velvet Revolution. You took note of this passage in your blog and you pasted the word "insane" over it in order to show that liberal interventionists were out of their minds. And you went on to observe that, if historical analogies between Iraq and some other place needed to be made, many another choice would have seemed much more plausible. Kosovo, for instance among other examples that you cited. But Prague during the Velvet Revolution? No.

Now, when you ran this post, I should have written to you right away to explain that never in a million years, not even in a noisy bar at two in the morning, have I imagined that Baghdad in 2003 resembled Prague in 1989.

The anti-totalitarian revolution that took place in Prague in 1989 was altogether peaceful. And more than peaceful the revolution came very close to being legal, too, given that, in the face of popular demonstrations, the Communist leaders basically decided, after a while, to shrug their shoulders in melancholy resignation and hand over power in a fairly orderly and parliamentary fashion to Vclav Havel and his fellow liberals. I know a lot about these events because I spent a month in Prague as a reporter during those very thrilling times, and I wrote voluminously about what I saw.

It was not within my capacity, back in 2003, to have mistaken Baghdad's reality for Prague's to have mistaken a violent military invasion for a peaceful transition of power, or to have regarded the Baath Party's terrorist resistance as roughly equivalent to the Communist Party's resignation in Prague. A similarity between the super-oppressed Third World in the grip of war and the heart of Europe practising mass non-violence? "Insane," you wrote. I couldn't agree with you more.

Nonetheless, George did claim in his book that, at the bar in Brooklyn, I made precisely that very insane comparison. George is a wonderful writer and a terrific journalist, not to mention a brave and intrepid one. The Assassins' Gate seems to me, apart from a few passages, truly a superb book. But George is also a novelist, and I can only say that the person who composed that paragraph about me and Prague and the bar was George Packer the novelist. Those particular lines in The Assassins' Gate are fiction. The paragraph contributes to the magniicent color and drama of his book. But he has invented that conversation.

I didn't respond to your post back in December because, well, many silly things are said in public, and life is short, and some disputes are too picayune to pursue. I hoped that George's remark about me and Prague would simply go away. Maybe I hoped (excuse me for this) that no one was reading your blog. Big mistake! The story about me having made a preposterous comparison between Baghdad and Prague circulated, and has gone on doing so, until the Los Angeles Times got hold of it a few weeks ago and ran an op-ed saying that I had compared Baghdad to the Prague Spring of 1968 which shows how, over time, rumors grow ever more ridiculous.

I am glumly aware that I will never be able to prove that George has invented this story. There was liquor at that bar, but there was no tape recorder, unless the agents of Homeland Security turn out to have been bugging the place. I will never be able to prove absolutely that what I am said to have said is something I could not possibly have said. George himself has made clear that he is going to go to his final hour swearing to the peerless accuracy of his barroom recollections.

Still, I would like to point out that George's account and your own recycling of it make a hash of the actual position on Iraq that I and all kinds of people with instincts like mine did try to uphold, a few years ago. When you suggest that Kosovo (among your other examples) might have offered a better analogy for Iraq, I can only say, exactly!

The liberal interventionist position on Iraq, in my version of it, always argued in favor of approaching Iraq partly as an extension of the Balkans policy of the late 1990s. That was one of the points of my book Terror and Liberalism, before the Iraq war had even begun one of my bases for criticizing Bush, whose policy on Iraq showed no concern at all for the Kosovo precedent.

An extended and more precise comparison of Iraq and Kosovo occupies a big portion of my current book Power and the Idealists in order to demonstrate what an alternative liberal policy for Iraq might have been, and to shed some additional light on Bush's thousand blunders, as viewed by the veterans of the Kosovo intervention. You don't have to agree with my emphasis on the Kosovo analogy or accept my argument for an alternative liberal interventionist policy I know that your own position departs from mine. But, for better or for worse, the argument about Iraq that I and other liberals and people on the left proposed in the past did have something to do with Kosovo and had nothing to do with mistaking Baghdad for Prague.

It's true that, back in 2003, some people did expect Iraq to blossom easily and automatically into an Eastern European-type democracy, 1989-style, and these people arrived at their sunny expectations mostly out of a naive belief that iron laws of universal history, as revealed in the revolutions of 1989, were unalterably at work. I have made the case any number of times that Bush's fecklessness in Iraq owes quite a bit to this all-too-simple assumption.

Then again, Bush and his supporters were hardly the only ones to entertain the 1989 analogy in its simple, sunny version. Saddam's statue was torn down on April 9, 2003, in Baghdad, and, in the American press, the notion that Iraq was undergoing a 1989-like success became, ever so briefly, a popular cliche an irresistible one, really, because of the visual image of the falling statue. I myself was thrilled to see the statue come down, and to see Saddam's government collapse as everybody ought to have been.

Yet even then, or, better put, especially then, when hopes for Iraq were at their zenith, I warned precisely against any temptation to assume that Iraqis were now going to progress toward democratic liberty in the way that so many Eastern Europeans had done. Suzy Hansen of Salon interviewed me on that occasion, and I put a lot of emphasis on that particular warning.

"They're in much worse shape," I said about the Iraqis. I gave reasons for this why Iraq's situation was graver than Eastern Europe's, and graver than Germany's after the Nazis. I said, "It will be a long while before they can conduct normal business without killing each other." This was not a stupid remark. Nothing in this worried comment suggested that Baghdad in 2003 resembled Prague in 1989. These remarks ran in Salon on April 10, 2003 the moment of maximum optimism for the Iraqi future. The interview is still online.

I published a think-piece in the Boston Globe three days later, once again emphasizing Iraq's several disadvantages, relative to Eastern Europe in 1989 and this, too, is still online. I worried in the Globe that Bush was likely to make too small an effort in Iraq, and was likely to behave with hubris a formula for disaster. I reminded the readers that communism's collapse in Europe led to successes in many places, but also to the Balkan genocide which suggested that Baathism's defeat in Iraq might easily lead to similar calamities, if the United States and its allies failed to act responsibly. I worried about the danger in having too few American soldiers in Iraq. In those days I was shouting to everyone who would listen about the delusions that I was noticing all around me, not in Iraq but in the United States and especially in its government.

I cite my Salon interview and my piece in the Globe, together with my books, in order to show that George's tale about me and the bar this story which your blog helped popularize runs against a main thrust of my thinking, and not just during the early months of 2003, when George claims that I made the ridiculous comparison. I have been mulling over the right and wrong conclusions to draw from 1989 for many years now ever since my book A Tale of Two Utopias, back in 1996, the same book, by the way, that describes in some detail a few aspects of the Velvet Revolution.

But I know, I know once these legends about insane barroom commentaries have begun to spread, there's no way to prevent them from continuing to do so. I'm halfway convinced that someday the LA Times or some other equally reputable publication will run an item declaring that, at a Brooklyn bar long ago, I compared Baghdad terrorism to hippie communes on the planet Venus. But, at least and I thank you for this opportunity I can in the future invite anyone who believes such a story to look up this letter of mine in your blog today, with its references to the online archives of what I actually did say about Iraq, back in the early months of 2003 and thereabouts not in a bar as recollected less than amiably by George Packer two years after the fact, but under my own byline, or else in formal interviews that, I am glad to say, did make use of that most unnovelistic of devices, that fiercest enemy of the free imagination, a journalist's tape recorder.

Final observation, if you will allow me. Liberal interventionism is a position much under criticism these days, sometimes by people who always did oppose it, sometimes by penitents who, in the past, used to uphold the position but now feel they made a big mistake. Well, everybody is welcome to criticize, and to repent, and to accuse. But the argument should be described as it was, with its nuances and complexities. Precision is everything.

Kevin Drum 1:20 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (80)

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Comments

I'm sorry, but that's just BS, especially the last sentence about nuances and how we really need to understand the debate as it was. I understand that debate: George Bush proposed a preposterous strategy accompanied by an endless torrent of lies. Liberals who had doubts were condemned as unserious. A boatload of Op/ed writers then supported the invasion and the lies, and when reality became too overpowering to deny, they started distancing themselves.

Do I care what nuances Berman used in 2003 that render his judgment not-quite-as-insane as Bush's? Not in the slightest. He offerred rhetorical support for a war that was not his to design or implement. That's all I or anyone else needs to know.

Posted by: Marshall on March 23, 2006 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting contradiction. On the one hand, Karl Rove manages the W Administation's oeuvre (and the WaPo editorial direction too it seems) with anonymous leaks. Anonymous leaks which are immediately cited by the traditional media as gospel.

But in the last 6 months, many W Administration alumni have suddenly discovered that they were misquoted - MISQUOTED I tell you! - on most of their informal, background or off-the-record conversations.

Funny how that seems to be working.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on March 23, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

He kept comparing the situation in post-totalitarian Baghdad to Prague in 1989. I thought this was nuts and said so in a blog post.

No, but it is like Tokyo after 1945 when Republican General McArthur was trying to preserve order, freedom, and democracy after WWII by fighting insurgents who tried to take back Imperial Japan. And it is also like Berlin in 1945 after WWII when Republican General Eisenhower was fighting the Werewolve terrorists who were attacking US soldiers in order to bring back the Nazis. Baghdad is no different than Tokyo and Berlin after WWII.

Posted by: Al on March 23, 2006 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

If Republicans want to call our party the "Democrat Party," we should call their party the "Repugnant Party."

Posted by: dogfacegeorge on March 23, 2006 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Great post, Kevin.

More history-making blogging!

Where else but a blog would someone learn of this continuing discussion between Paul Berman and George Packer! (OK, maybe New York Review of Books, but it wouldn't be such such a civil and gracious public disagreement.)

There's a lesson in here somewhere for the entire blogoshere.

Posted by: Russell Aboard M/V Sunshine on March 23, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

"I compared Baghdad terrorism to hippie communes on the planet Venus"

Seems an odd comparison to me.

Posted by: Petey on March 23, 2006 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

I do not understand his use of the phrase liberal interventionism. Can someone more skillful than I am in the use of the English language enlighten me on what he means by this phrase in the context of the Iraq misadventure?

Posted by: lib on March 23, 2006 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

I don't mean this in a malicious way toward Mr. Berman at all, but this is a wonderfully ironic reversal of the process by which Al Gore got labeled/libeled a serial fabricator, "wooden," etc. by the media: now it's a journalist who has felt the sting of the Conventional Wisdom Storyline-cum-telephone game.

Posted by: The Confidence Man on March 23, 2006 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

Al, you continue to be a complete idiot. Your analogy of WWII is so perverse that either you can not deal with reality, or your reality involves illegal substances. In either case, please volunteer to go to Iraq and save the situation. (Bye bye)

As for Mr. Berman, I'm with Marshall. This would have been a better post if it was shorter -- say, maybe something along the lines of "I was wrong, oops."

Posted by: Dicksknee on March 23, 2006 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

lib:
Simple. Liberal interventionism is the foreign policy practiced by the Clinton Administration in Europe (adding in, say Africa policy would move the discussion away from liberal interventionism, though, because Clinton, like everyone before him, wouldn't touch Africa with a doublelength bargepole).

Posted by: dun on March 23, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

And it is also like Berlin in 1945 after WWII when Republican General Eisenhower was fighting the Werewolve terrorists....

Yeah, both of them.

Posted by: sglover on March 23, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

man. wasn't that 'werewolf' talking point a favorite of rumsfeld's for about a week in the summer of '03? it was so easily knocked down that even he has not picked it up again.

Posted by: jag on March 23, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

The reason there is a "neo" in "neocon" is that they have coopted a traditionally liberal notion, the idea that America ought to be using its military might around the world to accomplish some good. That's not to say that "liberal interventionists" have to support the Iraq war; I myself grew up with the perhaps naive notion that our military could be helping oppressed people in some country or another, and yet I didn't see the Iraq war fitting into that paradigm in the least.

Posted by: Steve on March 23, 2006 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Paul Berman feels that Islamic terrorists are the new fascists, and bases his whole worldview upon this idea of a new type of fascism.

I suggest he take a better look, he may find that fascism is where you decide to look for it... it's finding out the real story that's harder. If you want to look for someone who spends actual time really looking - read Chris Dickey's stuff.

George in Brooklyn but not looking for Paul

Posted by: George Fiala on March 23, 2006 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Al, you're an idiot. The "Werewolves" of post-war Germany are largely a figment of some overwrought imagination. http://educate-yourself.org/cn/Ricehoaxedstoryexposed17jan04.shtml

Could you please refrain from regurgitating hackneyed fables to try and justify Bush's follies.

Posted by: Jim on March 23, 2006 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Marshall, I don't think that liberals who had doubts before the war were condemned as unserious -- except perhaps by those who had absolutely no doubts before the war. And liberal interventionists certainly don't belong to that latter group.

I do feel that a certain subset of those liberals who opposed the war from the beginning have lapsed into a repetitive and shrill insistence that liberal interventionists now recant and beg for forgiveness.

As someone who has had conflicted feeling about Iraq since before the war started, I continue to see "nuances and complexities" where apparently you don't. Yes, it was apparent to me from the get-go that Bush is incompetent, fearmongering, and mendacious. But it was equally apparent to me that Saddam Hussein was a murderous criminal on a historical scale, and while he may have posed no threat to the security of the United States, I saw plenty of good reasons to overthrow him on humanitarian grounds.

My point is not to revisit the entire debate in the run-up to the war, which anyway is certainly not an adventure that I would choose to repeat. My point is that the debate was not "BS" for all of the participants -- it was an honest one for most.

Posted by: crabshack on March 23, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

I will give Berman the benefit of the doubt on this without having read the book; after all, the substance of the quote is rather immaterial. The major point is liberal intervensionism which he supports. I recoil at how public figures are so comfortable in sending other's peoples lives to Hades. One of my principles in political discourse is an amendment to the golden rule; how would I feel if I was one of the puppets under the policy strings of my master. I read very little discourse on the destruction caused by well meaning thinkers.

Posted by: raoul on March 23, 2006 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

dun

thanks, though I was more interested in the meaning of the phrase in the context of the Iraq misadventure.

Posted by: lib on March 23, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

I'm frankly not sure if anything remains of liberal interventionism after the Iraq war, considering it was about the worst misuse of the doctrine one could ever envision. But back in the day, there really was quite a robust debate between liberal interventionists and isolationist paleocons such as Pat Buchanan.

Posted by: Steve on March 23, 2006 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Paul, I respect the position you're putting forth, tho I mostly disagree with it. I do think it's important that what you call liberal interventionism shouldn't be cartooned as it certainly had been. But there's one statement that i have to part company with very specifically, and it's one that I think sheds some light on the fundamental disagreement here.

You say " I myself was thrilled to see the statue come down, and to see Saddam's government collapse as everybody ought to have been."

Well, Yeah, in an ideal world, or as an isolated incident, everybody should have, and in fact, pretty much everybody would have been delighted to see Saddam's government come down. But, as it actually occurred, in our world, it wasn't an isolated incident. It was intrinsically and inextricably involved in a series of disasterous events, terrible decisions, moral outrages and strategic blunders. Viewing it as an isolated incident, something to be delighted in requires a serious level of cognitive dissonance and denial.

Maintaining this delight in the face of events hence requires at least tremendous mental back and forth between the good and the ever mounting bad, with the bad rapidly approaching a point (large scale civil war anyone, with our troops in the middle?) where any kind of supposed "good" is simply, eventually factored out of the equation, under any rational evaluation.

The problem is that rational evaluations rarely enter too deeply into the public discourse, even without the administration's hard work to keep it further away. So, we have a situation where people who don't engage in that kind of denial have been repeatedly demonized as not being "delighted" at the fall of Saddam's government, just because they insist on recognizing the actual circumstances under which it fell, instead of approaching it as part of this idealist fantasy.

I mean, IF it didn't feed right into the hands of Al Quaida, IF it didn't require the US to violate international law and lie to its citizens and to the world community, IF it didn't require the deaths of 100,000+ Iraqui civilians, IF it didn't make Iran stronger, IF it didn't solidify and incite resistance to the US in just the areas of the world that we should be trying to win over, IF it didn't spread our trops so thin that we were unable to respond effectively to other threats, IF it didn't feed a bunch of our tax money to war profiteers through no-bid contracts, and IF it didn't mean that a bunch of poor farm kids trying to pay for college were going to have their legs blown off as a side effect of all of the above, then maybe I would have been delighted. but I think that all of that's just too much to ignore, and I don't really see how you could think otherwise. Moreover, whatever one thinks of liberal interventionism, i don't see how anyone could think that the Bush administration would have a prayer of implementing it as a constructive policy.

Posted by: URK on March 23, 2006 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK
I do not understand his use of the phrase liberal interventionism. Can someone more skillful than I am in the use of the English language enlighten me on what he means by this phrase in the context of the Iraq misadventure?

Liberal interventionists -- and, mostly, I am one -- hold that sufficiently grave internal abuses or calamity can justify outside military intervention aimed at protecting human rights and alleviating suffering (there are a number of different bases for this, but they aren't really important at this level of an overview), as in Bush I's intervention in Somalia or Clinton's in the Balkans. They generally hold that the military intervention should be part of a broader political process aimed at a political reformation to create a government based on self-determination and with strong protections of human rights and integrated into the international community so that the problems will be less likely to recur (arguably, this was a particular area of failure of the Somalia operation -- there was no big picture.)

In the context of Iraq, a faction of liberal interventionists supported the invasion on the principle that, despite the fact that it was clear to most of them that the stated justifications of the war in Iraq were insufficient, and the President's primary overt goals were, therefore, not valid, an invasion was justified on the grounds above.

Of course, given as how those grounds weren't what was being principally cited by the Administration, and given that there was little to no sign that the Administration had any plan or interest in seriously addressing the concerns those justifications would require addressing, I thought at the time those liberal interventionists were foolish -- though perhaps they saw the war as inevitable, and thought that by arguing for it on those grounds, they could influence how it was conducted.


Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Crabshack:

Well said. True believers on neither side appreciate nuances.

Posted by: adam on March 23, 2006 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

I'd say that was pretty classy to print his entire statement. If he didn't say it, then we shouldn't be allowed to unequivocally think that he did.

Posted by: Alexander Wolfe on March 23, 2006 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

cranky:

you're thinking about the wrong Berman.

Posted by: Nathan on March 23, 2006 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Saddam's statue was torn down on April 9, 2003, in Baghdad, and, in the American press, the notion that Iraq was undergoing a 1989-like success became, ever so briefly, a popular cliche an irresistible one, really, because of the visual image of the falling statue.

One, you might note, that was staged by the administration for the American TV cameras, and not like the spontaneous outpourings in Eastern Europe. They did it to sucker in people like you with this kind of familar iconography -- and to this day it seems to have worked.

I myself was thrilled to see the statue come down, and to see Saddam's government collapse as everybody ought to have been.

You know, it's more and more difficult to make this claim. This would be one place where I'll admit I was wrong. I kept saying that "well, at least Hussein's gone and that's an unmitigated good thing."

But is it? Sure, it's never all bad that a criminal like Hussein has been ousted, but it's clearly not without strings attached.

You can't simply cheer that he's gone without accepting the fact that as a result of his ouster, we've created an increasingly Islamist state and strengthened Iran's hand in the region in a way that could threaten us in ways Hussein never really could.

It's tough, with all of the objectives actually acheived, that the end results are so dismal. But such it is with brute force and unintended consequences. A lesson Berman, you should have learned a long, long time ago.

Posted by: n.o.l.t.f. on March 23, 2006 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

cranky:

you're thinking about Bremer not Berman

Posted by: Nathan on March 23, 2006 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

crabshack: But it was equally apparent to me that Saddam Hussein was a murderous criminal on a historical scale, and while he may have posed no threat to the security of the United States, I saw plenty of good reasons to overthrow him on humanitarian grounds.

Well, that's kind of you. Maybe you'd be good enough to ask yourself if all of your hard work and dedication to his ouster (and sending American lives and treasure down the drain) has worked out well on such grounds.

Nuance, I think, will show you that even throwing out murderous bastards isn't as sweet as you want it to be.

Posted by: n.o.t.l.f. on March 23, 2006 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

I get it.

Liberal inerventionists are the Rudyard Kiplings of the day carrying the White Man's Burden.

Posted by: lib on March 23, 2006 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

lib:
In the context of the Iraq war, most (though not all) liberal interventionists supported the war, on the grounds that its possible democratizing and pacifying effect was on par with the Balkan interventions.

This separated them from conservative hawks in that most conservative hawks did not support the Balkan interventions, whereas a liberal interventionist's support was contingent on the parallels between Iraq and the former Yugoslavia.

Posted by: dunno on March 23, 2006 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK
I do feel that a certain subset of those liberals who opposed the war from the beginning have lapsed into a repetitive and shrill insistence that liberal interventionists now recant and beg for forgiveness.

I am a liberal interventionist. And I still opposed this war from the beginning and demand that those who argued for this war recant and beg forgiveness. Liberal interventionism doesn't justify ignoring the considerations of proportionality and realistic prospects for success in the real circumstances presented.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

The liberal inetrventions who supported the Iraq war are either dupes or, more charitably, oxymoronic beings like compassionate conservatives.

Posted by: lib on March 23, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Following Berman's basic credo (that if you're a liberal, you should be opposed to fascism and totalitarianism wherever it is) I supported the invasion of Iraq. I held my nose to do it, because I just knew Bush was lying and incompetent. But Bush's lies and incompetence seemed less important when balanced against the prospect of bringing down a bloody-handed genocidaire. I felt sort of the same way I felt about Bosnia--when we FINALLY intervened there, it was almost too late. It WAS too late for many thousands. So on to Iraq...

Mea culpa!

Getting rid of Saddam was something that all right-thinking people would desire, but not at this cost. Clearly, this intervention was a failure if one judges in humanitarian terms, which are the only legitimate ways to think about invading another country that has not attacked you. This war is a humanitarian catastrophe. I wish Berman would acknowledge this. I'm glad he didn't make the stupid comments he was reported to have made (which kind of freaked me out), but he needs to acknowledge that he was hoodwinked by Bush and his propagandists. I wish he would, because surely what has happened in the last three years cannot be just A-OK with him.

Posted by: Robert B on March 23, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

I myself was thrilled to see the statue come down . . . .

This emotional comment is seriously unserious, pathos substituting for logos.

Berman's the one who introduced "1989" into the conversation -- twice [and doubtlessly, into his earlier conversation with Packer]. Apparently, he imagined a Baghdad Spring. It's up to him to explain why that date had, for him, such resonance. And he hasn't.

Posted by: Ellen1910 on March 23, 2006 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

lib:
As a liberal interventionist who did not support the invasion of Iraq, I cannot agree more. Liberal interventionism should be about more than just the application of military might to an end, and Berman and other pro-Iraq war lib. int.s seem to have forgotten that (or at least fallen into the "I supported the war as I dreamed it in my own head" fallacy).

Posted by: dunno on March 23, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

There is no prrof whatsoever that Paul Bernman actually wrote this. How do I know it's not fraudulent?

Posted by: TomTom on March 23, 2006 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

"those liberal interventionist were foolish"

Boy is that right. There are no absolutes in foreign policy. No intervention is necessarily like another. An intervention at the edge of Europe (Kosovo) is very different from an intervention in the middle of the Middle East powderkeg. Just for one thing, our legitimacy is far greater in one area than another (where it is nonexistent). Berman and his ilk were foolish for even imagining this intervention could work; they were not necessarily wrong in thinking that some interventions sometimes work.

Posted by: David in Ny on March 23, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

"Precision is everything."

Precision is not accuracy.

The lesson here is to respond IMMEDIATELY to what you feel is a misquote or, in this case, is claimed to be a complete misrepresentation of all you stand for, don't wait 6 months - it looks

As far as the conversation goes - I wasn't there and don't know who is lying.

I do know that Bush was lying.

Posted by: peBird on March 23, 2006 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

I think that URK's comments were fairly accurate. No action, not in biology, not in economics, not in psychology, not in the laws of physics can take place in isolation. That is why the scientific method, the attempts, most often unsuccessful, but always worthwhile, to artificially isolate causes and effects from outside influences is such a lost art. But it is also why it is absolutely impossible to hold up the overthrow of Hussein, in and of itself, as an unmitigated good.

To use an analogy that folks back home might appreciate, imagine your neighborhood is dominated by a ruthless mobster. No one "likes" him. His immediate neighbors fear him, his distant neighbors tolerate him. Would anyone shed a tear if the mobster were killed or arrested. Not likely. Should EVERYONE celebrate the mobster's demise. IT DEPENDS on what replaces the mobster. If a crack house run by drug addled pimps and dealers moved in I dare say the neighbors might look with nostalgia at the old order. Despite their hatred of mob hits and the occasional "insurance" fire, and the monthly "protection" dues, they will long for those days because the new occupants are worse. They have no sense of order, kill indescriminately, innocent, guilty, random, targeted, it does not matter. They are now selling crack to your kids, the old gang wars that the mobster quelled have flared up again. The neighbors are too scared to look out the window to help the police and the police are too scared to get out of their squad cars. The old town council, bribed to the hilt and using the Mobster's waste removal company now cannot agree on anything and the garbage is piling up. You get the picture.

Posted by: coltergeist on March 23, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Very nice--"liberal interventionism." Another way of putting the R folly back on the Ds. Very clever.

Posted by: anonymous on March 23, 2006 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Very nice--"liberal interventionism." Another way of putting the R folly back on the Ds. Very clever.

Posted by: anonymous on March 23, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

man. wasn't that 'werewolf' talking point a favorite of rumsfeld's for about a week in the summer of '03? it was so easily knocked down that even he has not picked it up again.

If memory serves, it was the "brilliant" scholar Condolezza Rice who served up that particular slice of historical disinfo. And yeah, it lasted about a week before it was laughed off the stage. I dunno why schools don't yank their diplomas from alumni (doctorate alumni, no less) who publish pure horseshit like that.

Posted by: sglover on March 23, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Berman would have done better to say he was drunk and just leave it at that.

This explanation is so so much worse.

HE STILL doesn't get it.

Posted by: Armando on March 23, 2006 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, Bush and his team were living in a fantasy world in the run-up to the war in Iraq. But what Mr. Berman is not acknowledging, and perhaps does not realize, is that he too was living in a fantasy world. In Bush's fantasy world, Iraq was full of people who were just waiting for Saddam to be removed in order to create a democracy. In Mr. Berman's fantasy world, the United States was engaging in a public, nuanced debated over the best foreign policy to follow. Both fantasies were disastrously misguided. In reality, the situation in the U.S. was that the Bush administration was using every tool at its disposal to push the nation into invading Iraq, and in its own way, which meant without allies, without UN approval, and with the fewest possible soldiers involved. At that time, as Bush explicitly stated, you were either for the Bush administration or against them. And Mr. Berman (like Friedman and many others), by failing to oppose the president's insane plan, essentially lent his support to it. So, maybe he never said or believed that Baghdad was like Prague. But he gave his de facto support to people who did.

Posted by: OhioBoy on March 23, 2006 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Berman just digs and digs and BSs and BSs.

Just like Sullivan, O'Hanlon and all those other suckers they drank the Koolaid and believed the garbage, and now they don't have the intellectual courage to admit they were wrong.

They're "centrist suckers", useful idiots, not "liberal hawks".

Look back at 2002. Amongst intellectuals, there were only a small group of nutcases in Washington, D.C. and London who believed the Iraq PR garbage. The rest of the world was screaming: "this is stupid!" They chose not to listen. Remember there never were larger demonstrations, nor more editorials written world-wide denouncing the invasion.

All one had to do with surf the net and find the arguments against.

It had nothing to do with being "strong", "pro-defense" or all that macho hogwash. It was simply were you a credulous and/or gullible, or were you not?

Posted by: Samuel Knight on March 23, 2006 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like another ignorant fool trying to distance himself from his initial support for this monumental disaster. We'll be paying for this thing for 50 years monetarily, socially, and politically. Prague or Kosovo? It was clear from before the start that predictions and images of positive outcomes were based on fantasy and wishful thinking.

The only reason to pull of a stunt like the Iraq invasion would be as a desperate gamble. The US had nothing relevant to Iraq to be desperate about.

Posted by: ChetBob on March 23, 2006 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Berman is a guy well worth listening to. I've read both "Terrorism and Liberalism" and "Power and the Idealists." Especially the latter makes one realize how vapid what passes for political discourse in this country is.

Liberal interventionism got a bad name because it led some people to support some sort of intervention in Iraq, but the interventionists were right about the Balkans and will be right again in some future conflict.

Posted by: Mimikatz on March 23, 2006 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Al: "No, but it is like Tokyo after 1945 when Republican General McArthur was trying to preserve order, freedom, and democracy after WWII by fighting insurgents who tried to take back Imperial Japan."

A little history for Al (forgetting the Werewolf myth which previous posters have kindly demolished):

Interposing himself as the new emperor of Japan was MacArthur's finest hour, so it would behoove anyone worshipping this "Republican" to at least spell his name right. There not only was no insurgency, there was instant, total, and unconditional surrender because Hirohito ordered it. Indeed, instead of fighting an insurgency, MacArthur rode into Tokyo from Atsugi Air Base with an advance party of the 82nd Airborne that could have been overwhelmed by the Shimbashi constabulary if the Japanese (read "Hirohito") had ordered it. As a precaution, Japanese soldiers, still armed, lined the route facing out with their backs to the motorcade, ready to take out anyone who attacked the conquerors. They did as they were told by the old emperor and the new.

To more recent history: Why Mr. Berman cares much whether he was misquoted or not in a bar about some geopolitical nuance escapes me. He is picking nits when he should be screaming mea culpa and rending his sackcloth. The important opinion is indisputably on the record. He supported Bush's fiasco before the unprovoked invasion and long after the "Mission Accomplished" campaign commercial. That, I would think, calls for a little more explanation than beery reminiscences of he-said/I-said. It wasn't Prague. It wasn't Kosovo. It was Iraq, a damn sight closer to Vietnam in fact, and farther away in American comprehension, than Prague or Kosovo. Iraq was and is a freaking disaster brought about by the most corrupt -- intellectually and monetarily -- and malignantly incompetent administration that Rovian low cunning coupled with a feckless media and money-showered punditocracy has ever inflicted on our nation.

Let us not talk of Prague or Kosovo. Let us now talk of Vietnam, if we are searching for analogies. You know: That place where chickenhawks never go to roost. Perhaps if they had, we wouldn't be mired in the bloody sands of Fallujah.

I don't hate George Bush and his henchmen. I detest them. Why? A love of country demands it. It's too late to say "God bless America." But perhaps not too late to say "God save America."

And why indeed are we in Iraq? Were they taken in by their own lies? I do not think so. Did they see their chance for unimaginable mountains of graft and take it? Of course. They are free-enterprisers, you know. And, taking note of their oil-drenched careers, the petroleum certainly counted too. But really, folks, stop dancing around it. When has the Bush gang done anything when it wasn't for votes? Anything? Anybody? Why you've got everything from covering up a desertion to a supposed Christian conversion, from damned lies about opponents' heroics to evasions about Bushian panics. You really think they'd burk at a war if it polled well? I can see them now: So let's have a dandy little war to show we're ballsier than daddy who flew in the war of his youth (whoops, unlike junior) but wimped out on going to Baghdad in the war of his presidency.

Face it. It's even more monstrous than those who are finally waking up to these cowardly crooks realize. We are maiming and being maimed, we are killing and being killed, we are bankrupting our country, we are endangering our security, we are perhaps ruined in reputation beyond repair -- all so the Pet Goat Runner could keep people from thinking about his appalling negligence before 9/11, keep them from remembering the yellow streak he left on the schoolroom floor as he skedaddled to the bunkers of Nebraska, keep them from pondering the continuing parade of Constitution-rending thuggish horrors.

In short: They did it to triangulate the Democrats and get elected. Because the press has become hopeless and the Democrats no better, and because Kerry, a genuine hero in his youth, had traded cojones for calculation, it worked.

We are in Iraq to allow the AWOL guardsman to prance around a flight deck in a flight suit he disgraced. We are in Iraq for the victory at the polls it garnered the GOP in 2002 and 2004. We need to face that fact, and strip the Bush gang and their enablers of their fortunes and what should have been their sacred honor. Sooner rather than later.

Repeat after me: The Bush gang conned us into war so the GOP could win votes. Impeach them all. Impeach them now.

Posted by: xpara on March 23, 2006 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

I think a better term, with more historical relevance, is "liberal internationalism."

And its first notworthy American advocate with Woodrow Wilson. It's not not only "making the world safe for democracy" (and, in today's context, stopping genocide), it's working with the community of nations to do it.

Liberal internationalists support international bodies and multilateral actions to make changes in henious regimes or to stop atrocities from happening.

A liberal internationalist would never, therefore, give the world community the finger and short-circuit the UN process to invade Iraq.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

notworthy = noteworthy

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with dicely. There are always times to help someone else be freer. But when the leader of the freeing efforts demonstrates that he doesn't care about the actual freedom, there is cause to not support the actual war. It's a tough issue. I have lots of emotional sympathy for Mr. Berman; but I think his intellectual judgment was mistaken. Or, perhaps, his "pragmatic" judgment. Either way, I do think we've broken it and we're responsible for fixing it. So what do you do when you get past the point of fixing?

Posted by: ralph on March 23, 2006 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

mimikatz -

Yes, liberal interventionists will be right again. In fact, we already are right again -- or haven't you noticed Darfur, where an intervention really is needed.

Yet this just exposes, once again, the folly of the psuedo-lib-interventionists like Berman who helped push us into Iraq. There was no pressing need for an invasion of Iraq. No great new massacre was at hand. In Sudan, on the other hand, a million people have been slaughtered. But because of Iraq, we haven't the wherewithal to do anything about Darfur.

Posted by: aretino on March 23, 2006 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

Woodrow Wilson was a horrible disaster as President and I wish fewer liberals would hold him up as an ideal.

He segregated the armed forces and was personally virulent racist, thus making it more acceptable in the US.

This included him excluding all non-white people from the 14 points. This savagely disappointed many non-white people, including Ho Chi Minh.

He intervened more often and more disastrously in foreign countries than any President before or since, most supporting corporate interests in Latin America. That's when we started being the ugly american down there.

He intervened in WW I despite the fact that the US had no real national interest in it. Think about it - why did 300,000 Americans die in that conflict?

He refused to compromise on the League Nations and ended up with a failure. Taft was actually right on the objections - one of those objections became the Security Council in the UN.

The economy was a basket case when he left office, Progressivism was dead, and we had a horrible red scare.

No - he wasn't an idealist. He was an incompetent fool. Remind you of anyone?


Posted by: Samuel Knight on March 23, 2006 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

I can accept liberal intervention (my definition: military intervention to create a liberal democracy in a totalitarian or unstable country). In Kosovo, I favored. Up until 9/11, I would have been whole heartedly in favor of UN based intervention in Afghanistan, to remove the taliban and restore the country.

After 9/11, I opposed what we did because it would scatter Al Qaida in the military chaos instead of keeping them bottled where they thought they were secure. I still think that we could have closed down Al Qaida in 2 years or less if we hadn't invaded, using international law enforcement and internation military intelligence. I think it was a golden opportunity missed.

I opposed the second gulf war, because it was so obviously bullshit. I stayed home from work to watch Powells UN presentation, and it removed my last doubts -we had absolutely nothing. But once we went in, I thought they had a chance to do it right, and make it work. I didn't think they would, but they had the opportunity.

Iraq was never about creating a liberal democracy. It was always about getting US companies to pump and transport Iraqi oil, so we could jam OPEC and make 90% profit on the oil. It was always about transfering a vast quantity of public wealth to private contractors that Rummy had made central to the operation of our military. It was always about Bush being the hero his daddy never was, by "finishing the job" in Iraq.

Military intervention has to be the last resort, because if you fuck it up, you fuck it up for decades. A whole generation of iraqis growing up are going to have to work out their rage and have children who don't remember the terror of foreign Shock and Awe, of having brothers and fathers taken in the dead of night to jails where they would be lost in for months, of fearing your neighbor might turn you in for reward money to occupiers who will never check to see if the accusations have merit.

Afghanistan and Iraq are not examples of liberal intervention, but they are examples of what never to do in an occupation.

Posted by: Mysticdog on March 23, 2006 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

I'd say that was pretty classy to print his entire statement.

It was pretty damning, actually. Who would go to that length to deny something he really never said?

The gentleman, he doth protest too much.

Posted by: Swopa on March 23, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

Samuel Knight:

I'm certainly not defending Wilson qua Wilson.

Only pointing out the birth (with the League of Nations and the Fourteen Points) of liberal internationalism as an American foreign policy doctrine.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

Aretino--I agree. I opposed the war. It has made it harder to do everything we should be doing. I can't think of one thing it has helped. I have liked Berman's books, though, and think he is more subtle than people are giving him credit for. And I think he is absolutely right that liberalism (as opposed to the GOP) has to have something positive to say to the Islamic, particularly Arab, world.

Posted by: Mimikatz on March 23, 2006 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

For all those smugly dismissing "liberal interventionists," I'd like to ask what you think the response should be to the situation in Darfur. I would disagree with even liberal interventionists on Iraq, but I can understand their points and the logic becomes much less tangled in situations in which a little bit of commitment can go a long way (cf. Kosovo, Haiti) and a lack of commitment can lead to horrific results (Rwanda, Bosnia, and at this date Darfur).

Posted by: Rick on March 23, 2006 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

I still think "liberal internationalists" is a more cogent term for this discussion, because it implies that we support going through international institutions and acting within international law.

This makes it very easy to draw a distinction between Clinton in Kosovo and Bush in Iraq.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK
I think a better term, with more historical relevance, is "liberal internationalism."

I don't think its a better term for the people its being used for, here.

A liberal internationalist would never, therefore, give the world community the finger and short-circuit the UN process to invade Iraq.

Inasmuch as this is correct, its clear why it isn't appropriate for the group being discussed, many of whom were willing to do that, even though they disagreed with Bush's justification, because they saw a humanitarian justification.

The adherence to written international law at all costs that you seem to identify with "internationalism" may or may not coexist with liberal interventionism of the type at issue (I don't think its historically really a defining feature of "liberal internationalism", either, but that's a semantic rather than substantive issue.)

Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

Al:

Tell me again -- How many American troops were killed in Japan after V-J day and how many were killed by the Werewolves after the fall of Berlin ? How many were maimed by IEDs carefully placed around the Imperial Palace ?

Posted by: JohnM on March 23, 2006 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

"I didn't respond to your post back in December because, well, many silly things are said in public, and life is short, and some disputes are too picayune to pursue."

I want to translate that to: "I believe blogs are run by pajama-clad geeks in their parent's basements and only other geeks read them"?

Is that wrong of me?

Posted by: MNPundit on March 23, 2006 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

> "A liberal internationalist would never,
> therefore, give the world community the finger
> and short-circuit the UN process to invade Iraq."

> Inasmuch as this is correct, its clear why it isn't appropriate
> for the group being discussed, many of whom were willing to
> do that, even though they disagreed with Bush's justification,
> because they saw a humanitarian justification.

Exactly. Which is why Berman and pundits like Hitchens, Sullivan
(and Drum?) who bled for Saddam's torture victims and the starving
babies of the sanctions, etc. could never claim the mantle of
liberal internationalism. I didn't introduce this term to find
an appellation for Berman's ideology -- only to differentiate
it from the true liberal internationism of Clinton and GHWB.

As far as I'm concerned, "liberal hawks" works fine as an
off-the-cuff journalist's term. Or maybe "bloody hearts" (as
opposed to bleeding hearts). But to even use the term "liberal"
is distortive, because this idea is based on American exceptionalism,
which -- implying a hierarchy of nations -- isn't particularly
liberal. It might be humanitarian in intent, but it's messianic.

> The adherence to written international law at all costs
> that you seem to identify with "internationalism" may or may
> not coexist with liberal interventionism of the type at issue

Liberal internationalism is a subset of liberal
interventionism, if "internationalism" is understood in
its usual sense to contrast with "isolationism." Note that
either can be idealist or realist. Bush's hard-power idealism
is closer in truth to Machiavellian realism with a vision more
toward a future world order which doesn't threaten America's
interests than an idealist belief in successful nation-building.

And that's a large part of why it has foundered ...

> (I don't think its historically really a
> defining feature of "liberal internationalism", either

Absolutely not. It's a brand-spanking new doctrine. The closest
analogue might be a T Roosevelt or Wilsonian approach to our
sphere of influence and/or possessions applied to the whole world.

It's not idealism, exactly. It's American exceptionalism (a kind
of curdled form of idealism) combined with bald power politics.

> but that's a semantic rather than substantive issue.)

No, I think it's an important distinction. It shows that
a genuinely liberal-idealist support for this war (which
implies broad international consensus) is doctrinally impossible.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

Jeez... I dearly love Kevin's blog, but the signal-to-noise ratio in the comment field (and not just in this post) is staggering. It reminds me why I rarely venture into these waters.

Those willing to dismiss Paul Berman out of hand for his pre-war position on Iraq, those who would advise him to simply recant and beg forgiveness, are guilty of the worst George W. Bush-style anti-intellectualism. Berman is a true scholar of left-progressive history and thought -- both in the U.S. and in Europe -- and he deserves a more literate readership than most people in the comments seem capable of offering.

How about, you know, actually reading some his articles and/or books before you disown his ideas? Accusing Berman of being a useful idiot or Kool-Aid drinker on Iraq is just nuts.

Posted by: Aaron on March 23, 2006 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK
Exactly. Which is why Berman and pundits like Hitchens, Sullivan (and Drum?) who bled for Saddam's torture victims and the starving babies of the sanctions, etc. could never claim the mantle of liberal internationalism. I didn't introduce this term to find an appellation for Berman's ideology -- only to differentiate it from the true liberal internationism of Clinton and GHWB.

Clinton was clearly a liberal interventionist; I'm not sure he was a liberal internationalist in the strong-international-law sense that you describe. He clearly had a greater respect for international institutions than the overt disdain of the Bush Administration, at the same time, the international law justification for Kosovo was pretty much a fig leaf (though still much more than anything that existed with Iraq.)

And I still think you define liberal internationalism two narrowly. It certainly seeks strong, effective, and well-constituted international institutions; I don't think it demands, however, complete subordination to the imperfect institutions that exist where they are clearly inadequate. I don't think the liberal idealism cannot accept intervention beyond the formal rules of international bodies.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 23, 2006 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

> Clinton was clearly a liberal interventionist; I'm not
> sure he was a liberal internationalist in the strong-
> international-law sense that you describe.

Well, at the risk of picking nits, I'm going to disagree
here, Chris. I never described a "strong-international-law"
sense; you inferred it and I left it unchallenged. Clearly
international law and international bodies are imperfect and
sometimes need to be circumvented. However, rejecting the
UNSC on Iraq, the ICC, Kyoto and the ABM treaties, appointing
John Bolton to the UN, etc. are orders of magnitude different
than a Democratic or even GHWB realist internationalist approach.

The key distinction is between multilateralism and unilateralism.

> He clearly had a greater respect for international
> institutions than the overt disdain of the Bush Administration,

To say the very least.

> at the same time, the international law justification
> for Kosovo was pretty much a fig leaf (though still
> much more than anything that existed with Iraq.)

Certainly. The UN by that time was becoming a dysfunctional
institution; the Blue Helmets didn't have a good success
record and Europe couldn't agree on what it wanted to do
with genocide at their doorsteps. An internationalist doesn't
ignore this reality and keep banging away at meetings forever.

But an internationalist absolutely does *not* blow off
the world community and go it alone. The international
justifications might have been a fig leaf -- but our
military coalition was quite real and organized under the
auspices of NATO, with UN peacekeeprs after the air war.

And it certainly wasn't done under strenuous
protest by our European allies, as was the Iraq war.

> And I still think you define liberal internationalism
> two narrowly. It certainly seeks strong, effective,
> and well-constituted international institutions;

Exactly. It doesn't pull off an empty-gesture UN charade for
months to placate an internationalism it prima facie rejects.

> I don't think it demands, however, complete subordination
> to the imperfect institutions that exist where they are clearly
> inadequate. I don't think the liberal idealism cannot accept
> intervention beyond the formal rules of international bodies.

Of course. The world is quite different now than in the cold
war, when the western coalition was tightly knit together by the
threat of Communism. But don't make "strong internationalism"
into a straw man. Internationalists still abide by the terms
of a broad consensus on goals, and pay creedence to our
allies which amounts to genuine listening and not lip service.

You needn't dot every i and cross every t proceedurally and/or
legally to develop and use a consensus in support of our goals.

It's the difference between a genuine NATO military coalition
in the Balkans and the faux Coalition of the Willing in Iraq.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a liberal intervensionist as well. But we need to actually be liberal when we do it. That means allowing them to decide their own way, both politically and economically.

Posted by: Karmakin on March 23, 2006 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

Let me get this straight: Berman is drinking with Packer. He did or did not say this. Packer puts it in his book. Berman does not publically renounce it-- maybe he did privately.

Kevin quotes the Packer anecdote here. The LA Times picks it up (from Kevin's post? From Packer's book?) and messes it up.

Finally Berman comes forward and indicates it's Kevin's fault that this has entered the rumor mill (although Kevin quoted Packer accurately).

Well, if nothing else, this shows that he thinks far more people read this blog than that book. :)

Posted by: an on March 23, 2006 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely: a well-put explanation of liberal interventionism.

Posted by: secularhuman on March 23, 2006 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

Well let me clarify one more time:

I am decidedly *not* a liberal interventionist. Since you can't unilaterally intervene in a country while upholding international law, I believe that's an oxymoron.

Like Bill Clinton, I am a liberal internationalist.

You can be an interventionist outside of the scope of international consensus, of course.

But not a liberal one.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

American exceptionalism, practiced with whatever intention good or bad, is simply not a liberal doctrine.

It's a messianic doctrine which rests on a cultural supremecist foundation.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 23, 2006 at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK

I think there were more like 15 werewolves. 10 men in their 70s, and about 5 13 year olds. With 4 panzerfausts and 3 rounds of ammo.

Posted by: merlallen on March 24, 2006 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

I am decidedly *not* a liberal interventionist. Since you can't unilaterally intervene in a country while upholding international law, I believe that's an oxymoron.

Bob, that's kind of silly. Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor (and Afghanistan, nota bene) are the prime examples of liberal interventionism as the issue has been discussed over the past 15 years. Did you support those interventions, or didn't you? If you did, then it's pretty hard to shy away from the tag. Your distinction between unilateralism and multilateralism is a good one, but being a multilateralist doesn't mean you're not a liberal interventionist; if it did, then Bill Clinton and Tony Blair would not be liberal interventionists either, and since they basically defined the genre, that's a weird way to stack the cans.

The issue we're facing in the aftermath of Iraq isn't whether or not multilateralism is good; that issue is settled. No, the issue is whether both the Dems and the GOP will turn against humanitarian or nation-building interventions. That's the reason why Berman's post here is important. Berman remains one of the lions of liberal interventionism, and what he's saying in his letter is that his support for the invasion of Iraq was not based on sugary fantasies of finding Prague '89 or beaches under the pavements in Baghdad. The question today is: should the catastrophe of Iraq convince us not to intervene in Darfur, as the catastrophe of Vietnam made it unthinkable to intervene in Cambodia? Should the misuse of liberal interventionist rhetoric in Iraq kill the liberal interventionist proposition itself? Berman clearly thinks the answer is no, and the debate is an extremely important one as we look at where the progressive agenda goes after Iraq.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 24, 2006 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

brooksfoe:

> "I am decidedly *not* a liberal interventionist. Since
> you can't unilaterally intervene in a country while
> upholding international law, I believe that's an oxymoron."

> Bob, that's kind of silly.

Well, the discussion is getting kind of silly because (as cmdicely
pointed out) it's more about semantics than substance -- although
I think my distinction between internationalism and interventionism
is important, whether or not I'm using the current terminology.

> Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor (and Afghanistan,
> nota bene) are the prime examples of liberal interventionism
> as the issue has been discussed over the past 15 years.
> Did you support those interventions, or didn't you?

I did, of course.

> If you did, then it's pretty hard to shy away from the tag. Your
> distinction between unilateralism and multilateralism is a good
> one, but being a multilateralist doesn't mean you're not a liberal
> interventionist; if it did, then Bill Clinton and Tony Blair would
> not be liberal interventionists either, and since they basically
> defined the genre, that's a weird way to stack the cans.

I think it's a useful way to stack the cans. We need a way to draw
a hard and fast line between what Clinton did in Kosovo and what
Bush is doing in Iraq. I don't like the term "interventionism"
because it does not make that distinction. Liberals like Berman
thought they could piggyback on Bush's decidedly illiberal, American
exceptionalism-driven messianic mission because he thought some
humanitarian good would come out of it. Well the moral of the
story is you cannot redeem a mission like Iraq. You have to
ask the question what makes interventions morally justifiable.

The single most important criteria is an international consensus
in favor of the operation. Not necessarily a full-blown coalition,
but at least global assent that the mission is morally appropriate.

All the interventions you mentioned met that international test.

Iraq did not.

I think internationalism implies the possibility of intervention,
especially since it's most often contrasted with isolationism.
Interventionism can be liberal or illiberal. We can be GloboCop
or we can be Imperialist. It also rankles my isolationist bones
a bit (I have internationalist bones, too), because I think we do
need to very carefully pick and choose interventions, and I am not
ashamed mouthing the cliche that we can't be the world's policeman.

Benjamin Barber very persuasively makes the case in Fear's Empire
you make in this post that we can't let the failure of Iraq turn us
inward into an isolationist phase, as so often happens in American
history after a conflict. I agree with this as well. That's why
I like liberal internationalist -- because it implies that we work
within a community of nations according to a global conscience.

Interventionism has a connotation of meddling that I find distasteful.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 4:15 AM | PERMALINK

Someone said:
"As someone who has had conflicted feeling about Iraq since before the war started I continue to see "nuances and complexities" where apparently you don't. Yes, it was apparent to me from the get-go that Bush is incompetent, fearmongering, and mendacious. But it was equally apparent to me that Saddam Hussein was a murderous criminal on a historical scale, and while he may have posed no threat to the security of the United States, I saw plenty of good reasons to overthrow him on humanitarian grounds."

It makes my skin crawl to read this kind of thing on a "liberal" blog. Constitutional grounds? Fine. Grounds of international law? Even better. But "humanitarian grounds?" This is, I think, the entrance to the Joe Lieberman path, which is the poorly disguised neo-con path of, "I have virtuous motives, therefore what I do must be virtuous as well." Joe Lieberman, meet Ollie North.

Posted by: Tom Ellis on March 24, 2006 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Tom Ellis:

True dat.

A large part of why I have trouble with the term "liberal interventionist" as opposed to "liberal internationalist."

The danger of hubris in the world's only superpower is not to be taken lightly.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Constitutional grounds? Fine. Grounds of international law? Even better.

Neither the Constitution nor international law provides grounds for intervention. Each provide procedural rules and conditions, but those rules and conditions are not grounds. Inasmuch as adherence to those institutional rules are necessary, or at least desirable, they are clearly not the same thing as justification.

Law tells only what you are allowed or forbidden to do by formal social constraint, not what you should do.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 24, 2006 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Berman's being saddled with a famous but nonexistent remark reminds me of the fuss conservatives have made over Pauline Kael's supposed statement that she didn't know anyone who voted for Nixon.

Posted by: Kyle on March 24, 2006 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

I do have a soft spot for liberal intervensionists. They were duped. Made into Fools. Who would have thought, as we all know now, Al and his delusional fellow travelers are in charge of the White House and Pentagon and that they would make a complete hash of the Iraq Occupation.

Liberal intervensionists were even the greater fools to believe that the invasion would succeeded without the manpower to pacify Iraq. Ah! But there was no way the US could have gotten the 500,000 boots on the ground and Pakistani troops to overthrow Saddam in 2003 because UN Inspectors would never have found the non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction. A successful Iraq invasion was never ever in the cards.

Posted by: VietnamVet on March 24, 2006 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

VietnamVet:

Amen, brother.

And thanks for your service to our country.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 24, 2006 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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