OxBlog

Monday, February 24, 2003

# Posted 8:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BETRAYAL OF THE LIBERAL HAWKS: Peter Beinart's editorial in the current edition of the The New Republic speaks for all of us who believe that the United States' moral integrity and moral authority in the years to come will rest not on whether the Security Council supports a US-led invasion of Iraq, but on whether the United States commits itself fully to the building of a democratic Iraq.

Even though a democratic Iraq is still nothing more than a vision at the moment, commentators across the center swath of the blogosphere have already begun to demostrate a serious concern for its welfare. On the center left, Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias have begun to ponder their separation from the main stream of anti-war sentiment.

While both Kevin and Matt have mixed feelings about their support for invading Iraq, both recognize that they are willing to stand out from the crowd because of the hope that overthrowing Saddam Hussein will mark the beginning of a march toward freedom in the Middle East. At the same, they have little hope that the Bush Administration will rise far enough above partisan politics to commit to lasting change in Iraq.

Without expressing the same reservations about hewing toward the center, Josh Marshall has begun to subtly suggest that the President's half-hearted commitment to Afghanistan is an indication of what is in store for postwar Iraq. Unsurprisingly, he is no more optimistic on this count than Beinart.

On the right of center, Andrew Sullivan has declared that
the administration needs to be put on notice by its supporters as well as its opponents. Many of us signed onto this war not merely to protect the West from terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, but as an attempt to grasp the nettle of Arab autocracy. If we make no effort to foster democratic institutions, the rule of law and representative government in Iraq, then we will lose the peace as surely as we will have won the Iraq war. And losing that peace means losing the wider war on terror as well.
Without presuming to speak for my eloquent colleague, I think that Josh shares Andrew's lack of confidence in the administration. In our recent column in the WSJ Opinion Journal, Josh and I wrote that
We are deeply troubled by last week's news that the Bush Administration failed to request any money for reconstruction in Afghanistan in the 2003 budget, and we applaud Congress for stepping in to add the funds. If the administration ever turns away from postwar Iraq in a similar manner, OxDem will be there to remind it that its job has only just begun. Until the people of Iraq share the freedom that Americans cannot live without, America's mission must go on.
As it turns out, the BBC report that provoked our concern about the non-funding of Aghanistan may not be correct. But what is more important perhaps is that Josh and I immediately seized on the BBC's account as a credible indication of the President's lack of commitment.

For months now, we have been waiting for the administration's firm but vague rhetoric to become the foundation for concrete indications that there is a commitment to democratic reform. Just yesterday, Paul Wolfowitz "vowed that the administration would never back a 'junior Saddam Hussein.'"

But how much influence does Paul Wolfowitz have? According to Beinart,
The unhappy truth is that, if the Bush administration wins the war but betrays the peace, the political consequences for the president will be small. Once the fighting is over, the American press will turn its attention elsewhere, just as it has in post-Taliban Afghanistan. But the consequences for hawkish liberalism will be great. Having been played for fools, most liberal hawks will retreat to a deep skepticism of American power...[but] Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney won't lose sleep if Chevron and Crown Prince Abdullah run things in post-Saddam Baghdad rather than Kanan Makiya. Paul Wolfowitz will either shut up or resign.
I think that Peter is right about the costs being relatively low provided that criticism of the administration comes only from the left.

As the downfall of Trent Lott demonstrated, the most effective criticism comes from within. Thus, the first indication of the political costs of abandoning Iraq will be whether the Weekly Standard and National Review are willing to put the administration on notice, as Andrew advises. On this count, there is some hope. Both publications, especially the Standard, have demonstrated that their commitment to conservative principles is greater than their concern with the public standing of Republican politicians.

While criticism from the right may count for the most, bipartisan support for such persepctives will matter as well. To that end, Josh and I have founded OxDem. After all, a commitment to rebuilding Iraq rests not on conservative principles, but American ones. If the American public can be roused enough to prioritize Iraq after the war, there is no question what sort of postwar Iraq they will demand.

While I cannot make a compelling case for why the administration should actively commit itself to reconstruction on the grounds of self-interest alone, I will say that the faith of my generation in American power as a the bearer of American ideals is something the President ought to consider. As Beinart observes,
The '90s created a historic opening in the liberal psyche. And the Bush administration has exploited it. Its suggestion that war might not only free the people of Iraq but also set off a democratic chain reaction throughout the Middle East is tailor-made to appeal to liberals newly hopeful about American power. The national security argument for this war may be based on pessimism about the inevitable spread of weapons of mass destruction, but the political argument is based on post-1989 optimism about America's ability to bring liberal government to every corner of the globe.
That opening can be undone if the war on terror does not bring a better life to the people of the Middle East.
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