Friday, May 27, 2005

An Act Of War

Matthew Yglesias drops a stupidity bomb, "liberal" casualties are inflicted (though some return fire), then he flies his craft to the safety of Josh Marshall's base.

"Mission Accomplished".

Yglesias, you see, has come out as a chickenhawk, and a condescending one at that:

Politics and policy aside, I think those of us who'd classify ourselves as being among the more "hawkish" brand of liberals have a media strategy problem. Roughly speaking, a lot of Democratic voters don't like us very much. What we need to do is convince more liberals that they should like us. That means spending more time trying to convince liberals of the merits of our views, and less time re-enforcing the impression that we're just opportunists searching for votes out there in some ill-defined center. Give the people a convincing argument for a plausible hawkish policy (Kosovo, for example) and plenty of liberals will come along for the party.

To which Atrios responds:

Well, look, the reason why a lot of left of center types don't like the "'hawkish' brand of liberals" begins, of course, with their support of the Iraq war. Nice move that turned out to be. Then, you know, that group tended to think monitoring liberals for insufficient enthusiasm for painted schools and turning-the-corner-lights-at-ends-of-tunnels was more important than pointing out the obvious clusterfuck that was unfolding in their pet war. Once regret set in and the election passed we were told that the real reason we lost the election was because Fat Michael Moore and the Move On crowd were insufficiently enthusiastic about blowing shit up generally and supporting more George Bush led wars, and these "softs" tainted the Dems so much so that they should be purged from the party.


While many "liberal hawks" have in one way or another admitted that their support for the Iraq war was perhaps misguided, few if any have confronted the fact that the mess they helped make isn't just the mess in Iraq - it's the mess of the incoherence of Democratic foreign policy. The perfect chance to establish a "tough but different" foreign policy stance happened when CooCoo Bananas decided to manipulate the country and the gullible press into going to war. It would've been right on the merits and right on the politics to oppose that obviously bad idea.

So, liberal hawks, it's your mess - figure out how to clean it up...

The primary conceit of the "liberal hawks" has been and is that only they are "serious" about the security of the nation. Support for the Iraq war demonstrated that seriousness, no matter how misguided it was. The truth is concern for our national security was a very real reason to oppose the Iraq war, and the primary reason for lots of its opponents.

Mmmhmmm. Steve Gilliard has more. That pretty much takes care of that. But there is a larger issue, too, one that is brought up in Yglesias's post's comments by "Robin the Hood":

The last time I checked Iraqis and Afghans were not American citizens, and therefore not the direct responsiblity of the American government, or the American people. It's one thing I think to recognize that we are in fact an empire with a "homeland" for the purposes of realpolitik, but you seem intent on raising the wages of empire to the level of both virtue and moral necessity. I'm more willing than other Democrats to see the war in Iraq in complex terms (ie other than blood for oil and Chimpy McBush) but at the same time I'm not prepared to bullshit around the central issues.

A functioning democracy may be the ultimate result of the war in Iraq, but no one in their right mind should believe that a) 9/11 would've ever happened to us if we were not running an imperial protection racket throughout the Arab and Muslim world, propping up repressive detectors with our military presence therein and that b) we'd be running said imperial protection racket if we weren't dependent on mideast oil and that c) we wouldn't have treated Saddam Hussein's Iraq exactly as we're treating North Korea if Itaq wasn't sitting atop the world's third-largest reserves of oil.

We should do nice things for other peoples when we can (and preferably when it is vital to our national interest), but I wish that there would be even a faint recognition on the part of committed liberal hawks (not to mention neocons) that America cannot afford her current domestic and foreign policy commitments

This is well-put, and the first sentence's common sense is lethal to certain strains of internationalism. The American government owes its citizens protection and rights. American tax revenues should first be spent in ways that benefit people who live here. We are wealthy, and should give money to people abroad, but only after our needs are first addressed.

John Kerry was right; contrary to this goofy argument by Christopher Hitchens, government money is a zero-sum game, and, by god, if we need a firehouse here but so do the Iraqis, and there's only enough money for one, it's a no-brainer who should get it.

I suggest there is a philosophical relation from Yglesias's hawkish internationalism to his neoliberalism: both come from the belief that the American government is an international rather than national entity. I suggest that from this ova of belief, imperialist babies gestate and are eventually born, gun in hand, ready to fight a Vietnam here and an Iraq there and a Philippines yonder. It is also born ready to argue that the American government should hold as sacrosanct "laws", invented by economists, which have the effect of "improving" the lifestyles of extra-national peoples to the express detriment of American citizens whom the American government is exclusively bound to protect. For Yglesias, everyone in the world is an American, or should be. Actually, the only duty that the American government has to people outside America is to not blow them up and to not force them into any political or economic course against their will except in cases of belligerence, which should be rare. It'd be nice if it fulfilled that duty, but then that's the irony: when "first, do no harm" flies out the window in favor of "higher ideals", most often harm is absolutely done to those abroad and at home.


There is a meaningful moral distinction to be gleaned from studying this subject, as well. Yglesias is a hawk; along with every other hawk, he caused the American government to do this, this, this, this, and that, which stains every American and I absolutely believe there is a guilt here that does not exist when Saddam Hussein, say, commits atrocities. Saddam Hussein is not my responsibility as an American, but the criminality and depravity in those links is my responsibility because my government caused them. True, my guilt is less than Yglesias's, since I was always against this stupid war and he was for it, but I'm still responsible.

Hawks would have it that "to do nothing in the face of evil" is the same as causing evil. It is not. Not for nations and governments.

John Quincy Adams said,

America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy…. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the powers of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom…. She might become the dictatress of the world; she would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.

Note that this philosophy would not have kept us out of WWII, nor would it have kept us from hitting Osama bin Laden. But this attitude would have kept us out of all the other wars we've fought, Iraq included, all of which, since the Gilded Age, have been pointless, stupid, ideological or opportunistic, and fucking bloody as hell of course. To the extent that Saddam Hussein was ever our responsibility was because Ronald Reagan's adminstration armed him. First do no harm, and then you shall suffer no blowback, no unintended consequences, no quagmires.

It's quite enough for me that my government doesn't install dictators or aid those that have installed themselves. If this policy had ever been followed, it would have served the cause of democracy, here and abroad, far better in the long run.

**Update: See also Crooked Timber.