The Left’s Man in the New Iraq (Paul Berman, July 7, 2004, LA Times)

The war in Iraq has always been a war against fascism, a liberation war for democratic freedom — even a left-wing war. Or so I have always thought. All over the world there are people who consider themselves liberals or left-wingers who think the same and who have backed the war in one fashion or another, even while criticizing President Bush’s way of conducting it.

I have to admit that quite a few other people take a different view and look on the war as a strictly right-wing adventure — a war for oil, or for imperialism, or for Republican interests. We liberal and left-wing supporters of the war have had a pretty hard time of it as a result.

But 10 days ago in Iraq, the left-wing hawks achieved a genuinely impressive success. A new government took office in Baghdad, led by a prime minister, Iyad Allawi. But directly beneath him is a deputy prime minister who has been selected with the approval of not just the United States government, as you may have been led to believe, but quite a few disparate political factions around the country.

The new deputy prime minister is Barham Salih, a Kurd. Salih is, by all accounts, hugely popular in the Kurdish provinces — the kind of person who, in a truly democratic Iraq, would rise to a lofty position of power. But something else: He is one of the heroes of the democratic left in the Middle East. […]

I can understand why many left-wingers and liberals all over the world have not responded to these speeches. It is because when they open their ears to the Iraq debate, they hear the off-putting voice of George W. Bush and do not hear the voices of the democratic left in Iraq.

But let us listen. This is a war for democracy, not for oil. An anti-fascist war. It is a war that, for the moment at least, has brought to power, as deputy prime minister, a genuinely admirable figure in the struggle for liberty in the Middle East. That man asks for our solidarity. He deserves to have it.

One of the lunatic relatives in the great play/film Arsenic and Old Lace is convinced that he’s Teddy Roosevelt and so, in addition to digging a “Panama Canal” in the basement, is prone to sounding “Charge!” and racing up the front staircase, as if assaulting San Juan Hill. Being deranged, he can be excused for not noticing that no one ever follows his lead.

Paul Berman, on the other hand, is not crazy, in fact he’s quite thoughtful and serious and he’s written some of the best arguments in favor of liberating Iraq of anyone on the Left, Right or Center. But they’ve taken on an increasingly wheedling and pleading tone as he sounds the charge time after time and no one on the Left follows. In the wake of his fellow Leftists misery at the liberation of Afghanistan, Michael Walzer asked the poignant question Can there be a Decent Left? The answer, as Mr. Berman, Danny Postel, George Packer and others have hinted at, but can not face, is: no.

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