September 18, 2006

Bush’s Useful Idiots: the Strange Death of Liberal America (Tony Judt, 9/21/06, London Review of Books)

Why have American liberals acquiesced in President Bush’s catastrophic foreign policy? Why have they so little to say about Iraq, about Lebanon, or about reports of a planned attack on Iran? Why has the administration’s sustained attack on civil liberties and international law aroused so little opposition or anger from those who used to care most about these things? Why, in short, has the liberal intelligentsia of the United States in recent years kept its head safely below the parapet?

It wasn’t always so. On 26 October 1988, the New York Times carried a full-page advertisement for liberalism. Headed ‘A Reaffirmation of Principle’, it openly rebuked Ronald Reagan for deriding ‘the dreaded L-word’ and treating ‘liberals’ and ‘liberalism’ as terms of opprobrium. Liberal principles, the text affirmed, are ‘timeless. Extremists of the right and of the left have long attacked liberalism as their greatest enemy. In our own time liberal democracies have been crushed by such extremists. Against any encouragement of this tendency in our own country, intentional or not, we feel obliged to speak out.’

The advertisement was signed by 63 prominent intellectuals, writers and businessmen: among them Daniel Bell, J.K. Galbraith, Felix Rohatyn, Arthur Schlesinger Jr, Irving Howe and Eudora Welty. These and other signatories – the economist Kenneth Arrow, the poet Robert Penn Warren – were the critical intellectual core, the steady moral centre of American public life. But who, now, would sign such a protest? Liberalism in the United States today is the politics that dares not speak its name. And those who style themselves ‘liberal intellectuals’ are otherwise engaged. As befits the new Gilded Age, in which the pay ratio of an American CEO to that of a skilled worker is 412:1 and a corrupted Congress is awash in lobbies and favours, the place of the liberal intellectual has been largely taken over by an admirable cohort of ‘muck-raking’ investigative journalists – Seymour Hersh, Michael Massing and Mark Danner, writing in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books.

The collapse of liberal self-confidence in the contemporary US can be variously explained. In part it is a backwash from the lost illusions of the 1960s generation, a retreat from the radical nostrums of youth into the all-consuming business of material accumulation and personal security. The signatories of the New York Times advertisement were born in most cases many years earlier, their political opinions shaped by the 1930s above all. Their commitments were the product of experience and adversity and made of sterner stuff. The disappearance of the liberal centre in American politics is also a direct outcome of the deliquescence of the Democratic Party. In domestic politics liberals once believed in the provision of welfare, good government and social justice. In foreign affairs they had a longstanding commitment to international law, negotiation, and the importance of moral example. Today, a spreading me-first consensus has replaced vigorous public debate in both arenas. And like their political counterparts, the critical intelligentsia once so prominent in American cultural life has fallen silent.

Let’s all put our heads together and see if we can figure out anything else that might have happened right around that time that could have served to discredit the Left and its opposition to Ronald Reagan? Anything? Anybody?

H. W. Brands offers a much more sensible description of the Strange Death.

The Long Twilight Struggle: What a Cold War realist can teach us about winning a “long war.” (PATRICK J. GARRITY, September 6, 2006, Opinion Journal)

Of course, the bête noire of the Cold War school of competition management and stability was Ronald Reagan. Reagan disdained détente, warned of evil empires, spoke of transcending both Communism and nuclear deterrence; yet he wanted to build more missiles on the ground and defenses in the sky. The academic community, along with the majority of the foreign policy establishment, was appalled. Reagan’s strategy seemed a radicalized version of Paul Nitze’s NSC 68. Even Nitze, who served in the Reagan administration, was clearly uncomfortable with the new American assertiveness. Gaddis, surprisingly–though running as usual against the common wisdom–wrote favorably of Reagan, who he thought was pursuing a promising combination of symmetrical and asymmetrical strategies.

Then the Cold War came to a sudden and decisive end, flabbergasting diplomatic historians and international relations theorists. Gaddis, taking advantage of the wave of archival evidence flowing out of the former Eastern bloc and being translated and summarized by other scholars, staked out a landmark post-Cold War interpretation of the origins of the Cold War. In “We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History” (accent on “now,” rather than “know”), published in 1997, Gaddis put the blame for the worst of the Cold War on Stalin. Although Stalin did not have a master plan for a global Communist empire, he was a despicable tyrant who saw the world through the ideological lenses of Marxism-Leninism. Stalin sought to dominate Europe as thoroughly as Hitler had wanted to do. Stalin assumed initially that the forces of history would bring this about naturally, as the capitalists fell out among themselves. But when the capitalists actually united in resistance, Stalin was perfectly capable of helping history along if the opportunity presented itself, as when he gave Kim Il Sung a “green light” for the invasion of South Korea. Stalin–and, to a lesser extent, his successors–had a strong streak of revolutionary romanticism that might well have led to strategic disaster had the United States not responded appropriately. The United States, of course, often did not respond appropriately or wisely, but this was the distinctly minor theme of Gaddis’s analysis.

“The Cold War: A New History” goes even further. Gaddis does not abandon his structuralist argument or withdraw the conclusion that the United States overreacted in 1949-1950. He also celebrates the fact that the Cold War did not turn hot. But as he now sees it, the stable Long Peace–especially as manifested in détente–actually proved to be unstable. The structural determinants of international relations, it turns out, include not only the pursuit of power and security but a sense of justice. National and popular frustrations grew because unfair arrangements once deemed temporary (such as a divided Europe) had become permanent. Public fear of nuclear war challenged the elites’ reliance on nuclear deterrence as a tool of Cold War management. Those living in command economies resented the manifest failure to improve living standards. There was a slow shift of influence from the supposedly powerful to the seemingly powerless, through the nonaligned movement, human rights organizations, and the like. The populations of captive nations were unexpectedly emboldened by new international standards for making moral judgments, such as the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Accords (1975).

Sensing these deeper historical trends, a few great “actor-leaders” found ways to dramatize them to make the point that the Cold War need not last forever. For Gaddis the greatest actor-leader (literally) was Ronald Reagan. “Reagan was as skillful a politician as the nation had seen for many years, and one of its sharpest grand strategists ever,” Gaddis writes. “His strength lay in his ability to see beyond complexity to simplicity. And what he saw was simply this: that because détente perpetuated–and had been meant to perpetuate–the Cold War, only killing détente could end the Cold War.” Others joined Reagan on stage, even though they were not all reading from the same script–Pope John Paul II (himself an actor as a young man), Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, and Deng Xiaoping. Finally there was poor Mikhail Gorbachev–completely at a loss to understand what fundamental change truly meant for his Soviet Union but aware that things could not go on as they were and, to his everlasting credit, willing to eschew violence and accept the verdict of history. Reagan, through decidedly un-Kennanesque means, had found a way to transform the Soviet regime.

According to Gaddis, not even these visionaries foresaw how soon and how decisively the Cold War would end. The final impetus was provided by ordinary people with simple priorities who saw, seized, and sometimes stumbled into opportunities to seek freedom (the East Germans, for example, who reached the West through Hungary when leaders there opened up the border). In doing so they caused a collapse no one could stop. Leaders had little choice but to follow, even if–like President George H.W. Bush, a confirmed member of the Cold War country club–they did so with great reluctance.



May 6, 2006

Hamas sanctions squeeze the life out of West Bank (Jane Flanagan, 07/05/2006, Sunday Telegraph)

With Hamas refusing to condemn a recent suicide attack, aid workers fear that the isolated Palestinian government – and the limited services available to its people – may soon collapse. Aid agencies would be overwhelmed if expected to pick up the pieces.

“All the international aid agencies put together will not be able to replace the services that the Palestinian Authority provides,” said David Shearer, the head of the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs.

As government coffers empty and the flow of trade and goods into the Palestinian territories dries up, medical supplies in hospitals are running dangerously low and basic food supplies are unaffordable for most families.

Last week a group of 36 aid agencies working with Palestinians, including the British groups Merlin and Save the Children UK, wrote a joint letter to Israel urging it to fulfil last November’s agreement to allow trade in and out of Gaza. Israel has remained insistent on keeping tight checks on traffic to prevent terrorist attacks.

The economy of the Palestinian territories has been propped up by outside support since the early 1990s, when the PA was created out of the Oslo peace process as the future government of a nascent Palestinian state. In spite of the continued fighting that stalled progress towards creating a Palestinian state, the international community kept faith with the PA, ploughing in billions of pounds.

The World Bank estimates that only 12 per cent of the PA’s economic activity was ever internally generated. The rest came from outside, either through Palestinians earning wages in Israel or foreign donor support. When Yasser Arafat, then the Palestinian leader, launched the armed intifada in late 2000, Israel closed the checkpoints to the occupied territories, reducing the income from foreign earnings to a trickle. By the time Hamas won power in January’s general election, the PA was in debt to the tune of £451 million.

When aid was suspended by Brussels and Washington, Hamas asked Muslim nations for funding and won promises of tens of millions of pounds from friendly Arab nations – only to run into another problem. International banks have refused to transfer these Arab funds to the PA, for fear of being proscribed by the United States banking authorities for helping Hamas, which is on Washington’s list of terrorist organisations.

They have reason to be cautious. Five years ago, when al-Aqsa Islamic Bank in the West Bank city of Ramallah was described by President George W Bush as “a financial arm of Hamas”, its global business vanished overnight. Both America and Europe agree that economic sanctions should hurt the Hamas administration, not the Palestinian people.

Odd thing about our Left, you could starve every Palestinian to death via transnational sanctions and they’d not bat an eyelash, but the use of military force in places where it can save lives by changing the regime and allowing sanctions to be lifted is more than they can tolerate. It’s as if the positive use of American force serves to delegitimize any cause in their eyes.


May 2, 2006

The Options for Darfur: Liberal hawks, don’t do unto Darfur what you did to Iraq (Mark Leon Goldberg, 04.26.06, American Prospect)

[S]hould Khartoum continue to support the their proxy janjaweed militia, disrupt humanitarian access to Darfur, or launch aggressive military campaigns in Darfur, the United States should reserve the right to launch cruise missile or airstrikes against Sudanese military instillations. The regime in Khartoum values its fleet of converted Antonov transport jets above human lives. So why not threaten the government where it will hurt? The leaders in Khartoum are not bloodthirsty thugs for the hell of it. Rather, they devised a counterinsurgency strategy of genocide precisely because it was the most practical way to suppress a rebellion. It would not take much to make that strategy prohibitively expense for Khartoum by taking out a few dozen aircraft.

I do not propose airstrikes with great enthusiasm. They could be problematic for a number of reasons, not least of which is the potential that Khartoum follows Slobodan Milosevic’s lead and responds to an aerial assault by accelerating their ground war. But airstrikes would be a last resort, and unlike Milosevic, the regime in Khartoum is more likely to fold under the simple threat of such attacks.

The question, of course, is whether the United States seeks Security Council support to legitimize such airstrikes. The Chinese will most certainly object. To this, the Kosovo clause should apply: All available diplomatic options would have been exhausted and the urgency of the situation justifies the circumvention of a Security Council vote. This may put me in common cause with the hawks, but any airstrikes should come with the tacit understanding that no American troops will set foot in Darfur.

Getting folks like this to sanction what even their own consciences require is like pulling teeth. And when they pussyfoot about like he does here it just leaves them out of the serious conversations.


April 23, 2006

Why the Euston group offers a new direction for the left: A disparate set of left-wing thinkers meeting in a London pub has reopened an essential debate on the nature of democracy (Will Hutton, April 23, 2006, The Observer)

To be on the left is to be both temperamentally inclined to dissent and to be passionate about your own utopia, which can never be achieved. Condemned to disappointment, you rage at the world, your party and your leader.

Relative peace comes when the right is in power and the left temporarily sinks its differences before the greater enemy. But to survive in office, the left leader must keep utopian factionalism at bay and that means making your followers understand hard realities and tough trade-offs and selling them the ones you make yourself.

Until Iraq, Blair had been pretty effective in squaring away his various critics, but the war has overwhelmed him. Almost every strand of left utopianism has been offended, from human-rights activists to anti-American imperialists, internationalists to straightforward peaceniks. And with Iraq now on the edge of civil war, their every fear and warning has been amply validated. With no strand in the left ready to utter a word in his support, the Prime Minister has had zero leverage to fight back. Down and down he has gone in the eyes of his left-wing critics.

Which is why a small meeting of disillusioned leftist journalists, university lecturers and passionate bloggers in a London pub last year is proving a potentially important political event. Two or three internet bloggers have been arguing strongly for some months that whether it was for or against the Iraq invasion, Western liberal opinion must now stand united behind the attempt to create and entrench the panoply of democratic and human rights in Iraq and be against the religious fundamentalism propelling it down.

Western liberalism has been making a fundamental mistake in claiming that, because they spring from a war so many of us opposed, the anti-Enlightenment jihadists and insurgents are somehow Bush and Blair’s responsibility. The right course now is to construct an Iraqi democracy which means backing the hated Blair and Bush.

Note the core problem that Mr. Hutton and the most good-intentioned members of the Decent Left can’t overcome: they accept the notion that you can be a liberal in good standing but oppose replacing a genocidal tyrant like Saddam with a parliamentary democracy on principle. They want to sleep with Evil but wake up virginal in the morning.


April 20, 2006

The Euston Manifesto: It started with some like-minded progressives meeting in a London pub. Disenchanted with what they saw as the wrong-headed thinking of the anti-war movement, they began to talk of a new left movement. (Norman Geras and Nick Cohen, 17th April 2006, New Statesman)

In the preamble to the Euston Manifesto, we announce our broad aim:

We are democrats and pro-gressives. We propose here a fresh political alignment. Many of us belong to the left, but the principles that we set out are not exclusive. We reach out, rather, beyond the socialist left towards egalitarian liberals and others of unambiguous democratic commitment. Indeed, the reconfiguration of progressive opinion that we aim for involves drawing a line between the forces of the left that remain true to their authentic values, and currents that have lately shown themselves rather too flexible about these values. It involves making common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not.

We then go on to a statement of principles. There is no space here to present them in detail, but this is a brief summary:

We value the traditions and institutions of the liberal, pluralist democracies, and we decline to make excuses for, to indulgently “understand”, reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy. We hold the fundamental human rights codified in the Universal Declaration to be precisely universal. Equally, violations of these rights are to be condemned whoever is responsible for them and regardless of cultural context. The manifesto speaks of our attachment to egalitarianism in all domains.

We reject the anti-Americanism which is infecting so much left-liberal thinking. We support the right of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples to self-determination within the framework of a two-state solution. There are paragraphs opposing racism and identifying the resurgence of anti-Semitism; on terrorism and against the excuses made for it; on humanitarian intervention when states violate the common life of their peoples in appalling ways.

We argue that the time is long overdue to break with the tradition of left apologetics for anti-democratic forces and regimes; that there is a duty of respect for the historical truth; and that it is more than ever necessary to affirm that, within the usual constraints against incitement, people must be at liberty to criticise beliefs – including religious be liefs – that others cherish.

The left now has to fight two battles simultaneously. We defend democracies against all who make light of the differences between them and tyrannical regimes. But these democracies have shortcomings. Their social and economic foundations are marked by deep inequalities and unmerited privilege. In turn, global inequalities are a scandal to the moral conscience of humankind. Millions live in terrible poverty, an standing indictment against the international community. In keeping with our traditions, we on the left fight for justice and a decent life for all. In keeping with the same traditions, we have also to fight against powerful forces of tyranny, which are on the march again.

The supporters of the Euston Manifesto took different views on the war in Iraq, both for and against. We recognise that it was possible reasonably to disagree about the justifications for the war and the manner in which it was carried through. We are, however, united in our judgement of the reactionary, murderous character of the Ba’athist regime in Iraq, and we recognise its overthrow as a liberation of the Iraqi people. We are also united in the view that, from the day this occurred, the proper concern of the liberal left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to create, after decades of brutal oppres-sion, a life for Iraqis which those living in democratic countries take for granted – rather than endlessly rehearsing the arguments over intervention.

This puts us in opposition not only to those on the left who have actively spoken in support of the gangs of jihadist and Ba’athist thugs of the Iraqi “resistance”, but also to others who manage to find a way of situating themselves between such forces and those trying to bring a new democratic life to the country, or who pay lip-service to this aim, while devoting most of their energy to criticism of their political opponents at home and observing a tactful silence about the ugly methods of the Iraqi “insurgency”.

The problem — as Michael Walzer, who’s featured in Redefining Sovereignty, has pointed out — is that there seemingly can’t be a Decent Left. In effect, these folks are somewhat unwilling members of the Right. However, should they ever process the fact that Third Way/New Democrat/Ownership Society policies are the best way to help the world’s poor they may become willing.


January 15, 2006

A Nation of Pre-emptors? (DAVID RIEFF, 1/15/06, NY Times Magazine)

The fact that political debate over the U.S. intervention in Iraq breaks down largely along party lines, with Republicans generally in favor and Democrats skeptical or opposed, has tended to obscure the fact that American interventionism has historically been a bipartisan impulse. Indeed, far less separates the parties than it might seem from the current polarized discourse in Washington. For all their scruples about the Iraq adventure, few Democrats question the idea that it is right for the United States to “promote” democracy in the world, by force if necessary. It could hardly be otherwise. As George W. Bush has pointed out, nation-building was a principal foreign-policy cornerstone of the Clinton administration.

Nonetheless, the pervasive sense that the Bush administration bungled the mission in Iraq has led Democrats to play down their own ideas about reshaping the global order. Recently, however, a number of Democratic foreign-policy analysts have tried to reinvigorate their party’s internationalist traditions. In a series of articles, Ivo Daalder and James Steinberg, both of whom held senior positions in the Clinton administration, have argued that “states have a responsibility to head off internal developments – acquiring weapons of mass destruction and harboring terrorists, to name two – that pose a threat to the security of other states.” If they do not do so, outside powers may and sometimes must intervene. “It would be unfortunate,” they write, “if President Bush’s doctrine of pre-emption were a casualty of the Iraq war.” For them, “conditional sovereignty” is “central to a new norm of state responsibility.” Implicit in their argument is the view that nondemocratic states are especially likely to breed threats. For this reason, the lack of democracy may itself pose a security problem – a notion that Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair, once summed up when he declared that “the spread of our values makes us safer.”

At first glance, such a foreign policy combines the best of Wilsonian moralism and sober realism. What could be wrong with a global consensus supporting action against states that commit crimes against their own citizens or maintain a nasty habit of supporting terrorists or seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction? But the sad fact is that what at first may seem morally obvious may prove to be morally ambiguous as well. The problem is that it is probably not the “international community” that will be doing the intervening; it is particular states – above all, the United States and its allies. And as the international reaction to the Iraq war so painfully demonstrated, the gap between the international perception of the legitimacy of America’s actions and the American view could scarcely be greater.

The Bush administration has claimed that the essential question is not whether an intervention is unilateral or multilateral, United Nations-sanctioned or not, but whether it is right or wrong. Agree or disagree, it is a coherent position: the world needs American leadership, and America must provide it.

The new theorists of conditional sovereignty share this benign vision of American power.

The one condition placed on modern sovereignty is that America approve of your regime.


January 9, 2006

Tories surge in poll (CAROLINE ALPHONSO AND BRIAN LAGHI, January 9, 2006, Globe and Mail)

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have opened up an eight-percentage-point advantage over the Liberals, the biggest gap of the campaign going into tonight’s crucial debate, a new poll shows.

The survey, conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV News by the Strategic Counsel, also shows that voters believe the Conservatives hold values that are closest to theirs, a turnaround from the first week of the campaign when Canadians identified more closely with Liberal values.

“This is huge,” said Allan Gregg, chairman of the Strategic Counsel. “This really does show . . . that by virtue of the kind of campaign they’ve run, an issues-based, measured, moderate campaign, they have slowly convinced the population that they are not kind of offside the mainstream of Canada.

“If they can maintain this, they have basically taken the Liberals’ trump card away.”

It would be a minor but welcome victory to have them rejoin the Anglosphere. But you wouldn’t want to bet a body part on the Tories winning a Canadian election. It seems quite likely that they could falter late for the same reason that Merkel did in Germany and the constitution did in France–equalitarian fear of Anglo-American liberalization, domestic and global.

Conservatives betting Canada wants change (Rebecca Cook Dube, 1/08/06, USA TODAY)

Pollsters say Harper’s underdog Conservatives have seized the momentum in the campaign. Canada last had a Conservative-led government under Brian Mulroney in 1993.

“If Mr. Harper does well in the debate, he could seal this right then and there,” says Christian Bourque, vice president of polling firm Leger Marketing in Montreal.

Although all the results are within the margins of error, five recent national polls show Conservatives leading by 2-5 percentage points. The latest poll, released Sunday by SES Research, shows Conservatives would get 34% of the vote and Liberals 32% if elections were held now. The far-left New Democratic Party (NDP), the separatist Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party split the remainder. A large number of Canadians — 17% — are undecided and could determine the outcome of the elections, according to the SES poll done for CPAC, a public affairs cable TV channel similar to C-SPAN.

Ignatieff to deal with Liberal `mess’ (ROB FERGUSON, 1/09/06, Toronto Star)

Michael Ignatieff admits the Liberal government’s “failings” and tells a voter he’ll take a shovel to Ottawa to “try to clean up the mess” if he’s elected as MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

The former Harvard professor is using his rookie status to bluntly criticize the multi-million-dollar Quebec sponsorship scandal as he campaigns to keep the riding, held by Jean Augustine since 1993, in Liberal hands as voters express a desire for change. […]

[I]t’s just not the national campaign weighing on Ignatieff, whose opinions as an internationally renowned author and academic occasionally catch up with him. Like at the home of University of Toronto biostatistics professor Paul Corey, who’d just been visited by Tory candidate John Capobianco.

There’s a big orange New Democrat sign on Corey’s front lawn. But a different colour is on his mind.


“I’ve scared some of my NDP friends by saying I’ll vote Conservative to keep Ignatieff out,” says the resident of the posh Kingsway neighbourhood near Royal York and Bloor at the riding’s north end. Corey, who admits to voting for all three major parties in the past, still counts himself an undecided voter.

Among other things, he is not happy with Ignatieff’s support for the U.S.-sponsored war on Iraq. Ignatieff defends that, saying he approved because of Saddam Hussein’s deadly attacks on the Kurds after the first Persian Gulf War.

“If he’d already been in cabinet, would we have soldiers in Iraq?” Corey asks, hinting at speculation Ignatieff seems destined for more than an MP role if the Liberals are re-elected.

Mr. Ignatieff would be an ideal Conservative foreign minister.


December 11, 2005

Remembrance day: Kanan Makiya wants his fellow Iraqis to remember what Saddam Hussein did to them, and what they did to each other (Chris Berdik, December 11, 2005, Boston Globe)

Profiled in these pages in November 2002, [Kanan] Makiya was an outspoken and influential supporter of invading Iraq on moral grounds-to rid his native land of Hussein and strike a blow for democracy in a region long dominated by dictatorships and the Islamic extremism they spawned. Allied with the controversial Ahmed Chalabi, then head of the pro-war exile group the Iraqi National Congress and now a deputy prime minister of Iraq, Makiya had the ear of the White House, and in January 2003 he assured President Bush that Iraqis would greet American troops ”with sweets and flowers.”

But nothing about post-invasion Iraq has been as simple as Makiya and others anticipated, and his argument for a liberal-democratic war has been severely tested. […]

Over coffee recently in his Cambridge home, surrounded by books shelved from floor to ceiling, and with traces of the Memory Foundation’s work sitting in file boxes marked ”documents” and ”oral histories,” Makiya spoke of the prospects for a new Iraq and the importance of acknowledging the crimes of the past. A democratic Iraq, says Makiya, ”can only arise in a society that is aware of its own frailties and limitations-that is aware of what it did to itself.”

IDEAS: Have your personal views of liberal intervention changed in the aftermath of the invasion?

MAKIYA: I got a number of things wrong, in retrospect. But calling for an intervention, a war, to unseat this regime in Iraq was not one of them. Among my mistakes were underestimating the Baath Party, underestimating the damage done by the sanctions, misjudging the extent to which the state institutions would survive…. But [Iraq] truly was 25 million people without a possibility of hope…. That situation needed a resolution.

In the run-up to the war, I was saying that even if there was just a 5 percent chance of success to build a democracy in Iraq, I thought it was a risk worth taking. Iraq may be a troubled country, may be a country going in all sorts of directions at once, but it is a country that is learning, like an infant in swaddling clothes, to walk in politics for the first time.

[The war] did not go in the facile and simple way that some of us may have painted in the run-up to the war. It turned out to be far more complicated. But that doesn’t mean yet that we can make a judgment as to whether we were in error. It will take another generation to judge that in Iraq.

IDEAS: What do you believe is fueling the insurgency now?

MAKIYA: The insurgency is about an old order, that perhaps we underestimated before the war-people like myself underestimated it-that is now at war with the emergent order that was made possible by the US war and occupation of Iraq. At its essence [it] is about Iraqis fighting other Iraqis. It’s an incipient civil war.

If universal liberal democracy were easily achieved it woiuldn’t have taken us 6,009 years…and counting….


November 30, 2005

REVIEW: of The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror by Michael Ignatieff (Eve Garrard, Democratiya)

Which is most important, security or rights?

Ignatieff’s answer is to find a middle way: neither rights nor security, he thinks, is always most important, can always act as trumps. The violation of rights is always morally wrong, in his view, but nonetheless it is sometimes necessary to preserve democracy against those who would bring it down. If it’s necessary, we ought to do it, but all the same there remains something wrong in such decisions, and we must hedge about the policy of temporary rights-infringement with constraints and limitations (he particularly emphasises the need for ongoing adversarial review of such measures), to prevent us entirely losing our grasp of what it is we’re trying to defend. This is the ‘lesser evil’ which he sees as an alternative to the two greater evils which, in his view, threaten us as we respond to terrorist attacks. One of these greater evils flows from the adoption of a purely consequentialist view of defence against terrorism, in which any action which protects democratic society should be adopted, no matter what rights it violates, since preserving democracies will ultimately give rights their best protection. Ignatieff quite plausibly argues that, given some well-known and pessimistic facts about human nature, this view will rapidly lead to the destruction of respect for rights and human dignity. The other greater evil which he discerns results from what he calls perfectionism – the view that rights must act as absolute constraints on action, so that we are never justified in violating them. The perfectionist believes that any failure to respect rights, particularly at the level of policy, is morally unacceptable, and will probably take us down a slippery slope to unrestrained tyranny. We must set our face against any weakening of our commitment to rights and liberties, and maintain our full array of liberal democratic practices unchanged by the threat from terrorism. Ignatieff thinks (again quite plausibly) that this approach will be so ineffective at protecting security that it will yield democracies up to destruction at the hand of terrorists. Rather than incurring either of these greater evils, Ignatieff argues that we should adopt a lesser evil approach, in which we allow some trade-off of rights against increased security, so long as we do this in ways which limit the threat to rights and human dignity as much as is compatible with effectiveness against terrorism. […]

[T]he linchpin of the book is the claim that security and rights must be traded-off against each other, that such trade-offs are necessary to preserve democracies but must always be as limited as possible consonant with effective self-defence, and that necessary though they are, they’re still in some way wrong. This is his conception of the lesser evil: it’s preferable to the greater evils which are likely to follow from pure consequentialism or pure perfectionism, but it’s evil nonetheless. The whole of the rest of the book stands or falls with this conception. It’s not clear, however, that it can stand in the terms in which Ignatieff presents it.

Firstly, it’s not at all obvious that the contrast Ignatieff draws between security considerations and respect for rights can really be sustained. The rights which are immediately threatened by increased security measures are liberties of various kinds, and liberty and security needn’t be seen as entirely different kinds of things. After all, security protects people’s liberty to exercise their rights, and indeed can be regarded as a necessary precondition of that exercise. So the trade-off between the two on which Ignatieff places so much weight may be better seen as a choice between different ways of promoting rights and liberties. If that is so, then there is no profound conflict here, and no tragic dilemma of the kind which might prompt thoughts about lesser evil.

Indeed, to pretend that the fight for democracy is tragic does little but serve the purposes of those who don’t want to engage in it.


November 17, 2005

The Limits of Sovereignty; The Legitimacy of Collective Action (Carroll Andrew Morse, 11/17/05, Tech Central Station)

[G]iven reasonable certainty that the Bush administration is not making high-profile noises against Syria without preparing to follow through, what happens next? The answer will depend, in large part, on the usual critics of Bush administration foreign policy. Syria’s crude use of political violence provides an opportunity to unify a number of American foreign policy strains that have recently been estranged from one another. Syria’s assassination of a political leader is frowned upon not only by hawks of various stripes, but also by process-oriented liberal internationalists — who do not like one state interfering with another through the use of violence — and by realists who view the assassination of leaders as dangerously destabilizing. Add in the growing contingent who believes that the United States should more skillfully combine participation in international institutions with the pursuit of American interests, and there should be a wide constituency for meaningful action against Syria.

In the best case outcome, America bootstraps the world towards a meaningful act of collective security. The liberal internationalists take the lead on the political left. They help forge an agreement between America’s different foreign policy elites on a plan for dealing with Syria that has tangible goals, realistic deadlines, and an enforcement mechanism. Confronted with a united America, nations not always inclined to support US foreign policy decide that sacrificing one clumsy dictator is more prudent than spending — perhaps overspending — the political capital of the United Nations to protect assassins harbored by the Syrian government. Syria, lacking any meaningful international support, is forced to turn over its government officials and nationals involved in the al-Hariri assassination. The growing spectacle of weakness and incompetence undermines Syria’s government, setting Syria on a path to political modernization.

And in the worst case? The liberal internationalists succumb to their own worst tradition. Instead of leading, they follow the lead of the visceral anti-Bush partisans and join tortured arguments that at best ignore, and at worst justify, state-sponsored political assassination. Sensing a divided America, the UN is never compelled to move beyond approving resolutions that do nothing more than threaten other resolutions. The Bush administration — strongly committed to the idea that not acting once engaged shows dangerous weakness — assembles a coalition outside of the UN to act against Syria. A divided Congress either barely supports or barely rejects action outside of the UN and future political assassins are emboldened during a debate where many members of Congress declare that no one should act against political assassination without UN permission.

Not everyone believes that action outside of the UN following a UN non-response qualifies as a “worst case scenario”. A United Nations that refuses to act against cross-border assassination — an offensive act of war by any reasonable standard — serves no purpose and should be allowed to continue its slide into irrelevance. Will the liberal internationalists and the further leftward skeptics of George W. Bush’s foreign policy take this opportunity to demand that international institutions take a stand against anarchy? Or will they continue to undermine the legitimacy of those institutions by using them as justification for surrendering to anarchy?

Sadly, the reality is that there are only a handful of liberal interventionists around–Michael Walzer, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Ignatieff, Paul Berman, George Packer, Ed Koch, Joe Lieberman, and a very few others–and even several of them go wobbly any time the rest of the Left criticizes George Bush loudly enough. we do well to recall Mr. Walzer’s question after we toppled the Taliban, and his sad answer:

[C]an there be a decent left in a superpower? Or more accurately, in the only superpower? Maybe the guilt produced by living in such a country and enjoying its privileges makes it impossible to sustain a decent (intelligent, responsible, morally nuanced) politics. Maybe festering resentment, ingrown anger, and self-hate are the inevitable result of the long years spent in fruitless opposition to the global reach of American power.

Given that American power has been used over the last ninety years to defeat colonialism, Communism, Nazism, and now Islamicism, the opposition to that reach must be called indecent.