There was an article today in the Wall Street Journal’s ‘Best of the Web’ column about center-left war-hawks who’ve pulled their support for military action against Iraq in light of the president’s shockingly incompetent management of the country’s foreign policy. James Taranto, the author of ‘Best of the Web’, is a tad condescending about the whole thing …
The most charitable interpretation of this sudden hesitation is that our liberal friends are confused about ends and means. The liberation of Iraq is less important to them than the maintenance of what Marshall calls the “world security system”–meaning the U.N. and NATO. But the “world security system” is only a means to the end of world security …
I’ll be more charitable and call this simply a difference of opinion. Taranto, and those who believe as he does, see the decapitation of the Iraqi government as the linchpin of international peace and security. We see it as extremely important, but as a means to creating a more stable, safer world order. Fundamentally, we see the preservation of our key alliances and standing in the world, indeed the ‘world security system’ itself as even more important than Iraq. And when we see the president destroying those to get into Iraq, we have little choice but to say he’s on the wrong track.
Taranto and Co. are following a fairly thin logic which states that since the UN didn’t do what we wanted it to, it’s defunct and irrelevant. Indeed, they seem to be saying the entire framework of American-sponsored global institutions and alliances is defunct because of this. And thus we have to start over completely from scratch. All I can suggest is that they pick up a copy of Karl Polanyi’s masterful The Great Transformation to get some flavor of what really unstable international state systems look like and how fragile they can be.
(One point that deserves notice — and which we’ll try to return to — is that the Bush crowd is now pursuing a logic on the international stage which is inherently self-validating. Every bust-up of an alliance, every disaster is proof that this or that alliance or relationship or global norm was worthless in the first place and thus we’re even more right than we thought we were in bulldozing through.)
Taranto goes in for the same old canard of hanging our international diplomatic isolation on the perfidy of the French, even though it’s clear that that is not what this is about.
Taranto later goes in for a more cutting interpretation of the center-left’s change of heart, particularly focusing on TPM. The reason it seems is that our inner partisanship is finally coming out and we just can’t resist an opportunity to stick it to the president. Taranto references this TPM post on the possible pullout of the British and writes, “Marshall is positively giddy about the possibility of Britain balking. Would he feel the same way if Bill Clinton or Al Gore were president?”
Let me quickly take these points in order. The charge of partisanship is laughably hollow since — right or wrong — those of us on the center-left who have supported military action against Iraq have amply demonstrated that our position on this issue runs contrary to partisan inclination. It’s a good deal harder to carry the administration’s water when you’re not one of its cheerleaders. So the partisanship charge falls flat.
As to the question of giddiness, one simply can’t compete with the young war-hawks of the right in this department. I mean, it’s just not possible, is it? Speaking for myself, and perhaps for some other internationalists who feel as I do, part of our frustrated anger over the current impasse is watching the present administration traduce and plow under the work of half a century and seeing the administration’s acolytes greet every new disaster and *&$#-up as a grand confirmation of their beliefs and principles. It’s like we’ve been transported into some alternative reality where the debate about international relations is some awful mix of The McLaughlin Group and Lord of the Flies. As these folks should be starting to realize about now, months of this arrogant mumbo-jumbo eventually draws a response — at home and abroad.