Thursday, October 04, 2007

Feeling The Pain Of The Liberal Hawk

Richard Cohen has written a column called The New L-Word: Neocon. Cohen makes a feeble attempt to shore up the flagging spirits of America's liberal hawks, but the most cursory examination of his points should serve to show the bankrupt logic which drives Cohen, Lieberman and the rest of the gang. Basically they have hitched their wagon to the wrong team, and now they don't like the road they are on.

First let me describe why this subject interests me. Regular readers most likely know that I have a passing interest in military tactics and history. In fact I used to consider myself a liberal hawk. I held liberal views on social issues and generally supported a robust American presence on the international stage, with a view that we should stand for traditional "American" ideals. From that perspective I contend that there are two types of military intervention which liberal hawks should support. Intervention to end regional instability causing wide scale humanitarian crisis, and intervention in response to an attack on the United States or an ally. We should deal with stable governments who oppose us, and/or oppress their people via diplomacy.

Many hawkish liberals chose to pile on the bandwagon in the leadup to the Iraq war, and I am convinced most of them did so from political expediency. (I was not blogging then, so you will just have to trust me when I say that I never supported President Bush's drive to war, but resigned myself to the inevitable early on in the process.) These liberal hawks had bad memories of Bush Sr, leading a triumphant military campaign in Iraq after most Democrats had gone on record opposing that effort. The nation was still traumatized by 9/11, and standing in opposition to the administration led to some ugly recriminations. The Republicans did the nation a disservice by bringing the issue to the nation during an election season. All of these political considerations led many liberal hawks to lose their bearings and they now find themselves beset from all sides, floundering against the left and disdaining the right because of the mess the President has made of a policy they supported.

Cohen remembers the halcyon days of Bill Clinton and, wishing to draw a comparison between the popular Balkans intervention and the unpopular Iraq disaster, he writes "Baghdad is closer to Sarajevo than the left has allowed." Actually Cohen is so completely wrong that he is almost right. Baghdad today is closer to Sarajevo ten years ago, than the right has allowed. That similarity was caused by the invasion which led to the destabilization of Iraq and sectarian bloodshed. However, before President Bush drove America into the Iraqi quagmire, Baghdad was closer to Pyongyang: the capitol of a nation ruled by a brutal dictator, opposed to United States interests, but not the source of ongoing regional instability.

The reason Clinton and Nato went into the Balkans was because of the instability and war then wracking the region. Are we to believe that if Milosevic had managed to keep Serbian control of the Balkans via political means alone, and peace had ruled the region all the while, that Nato still would have felt the need to intervene to overthrow that system? Sarajevo then and Baghdad now are indeed similar Mr. Cohen, but only because we brought chaos and instability to Baghdad much like Milosevic brought chaos and instability to Sarajevo.

Actually Sarajevo then was more like Mogadishu in the early 90's. The very mention of Mogadishu reminds us of downed helicopters and Americans being dragged through the streets, all under the governance of Bill Clinton. But it was actually George H.W. Bush who intervened in Somalia, in December of 1992. Certainly no one believes that the first President Bush was a wild eyed lefty, but then again Sr. was no Neocon with the example of handling a war with Iraq providing a stark contrast to that of his son.

It is instability and sectarianism/tribalism/whatever else ism, and the resultant scenes of massive misery and suffering which is liable to lead to Americans supporting military intervention, and which should be the cause of the liberal hawk. Bill Clinton says that his greatest regret as President was not moving to stop the genocide in Rwanda. We are not usually moved by the over riding desire of Americans to bring freedom to the oppressed. Otherwise these hawks should be calling on us to start the draft and pump up our armed forces in preparation for the invasion of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Note that the drive to war in Iraq was not based upon the rally cry of freedom and democracy. We were lied into that war by ginned up intelligence about WMD and the supposed ties of Iraq to Al Qaeda.

The Iraq debacle is a singular instance in American military history which really has no comparison in it's germination (except low grade 1 week military adventures against tiny nations [Grenada] in which the outcome was never a question). Even the Vietnam war was an intervention on behalf of a sitting government, even if we did initiate our ill fated role based upon deception. In the case of Iraq we simply decided to overthrow the sitting order without being attacked, having achieved containment after past troubles. There was no widespread instability immediately prior to our invasion. This is a singular example of imperialism, and one which the liberal hawks have been ill served in defending.

Beyond the regional chaos example provided by the Balkans is the model provided by Afghanistan. The Taliban regime fostered an organization which attacked the United States, and the invasion that deposed them was widely supported by the vast majority of Democrats and the American people. Indeed, one of the main complaints from the left about the Iraq debacle is that it moved resources and attention from completing the mission in Afghanistan. The right has invested a lot of energy in conflating the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as the two parts of the same struggle. But there is a clear difference, which explains why the American people still widely support the effort in Afghanistan but want the Iraq quagmire wrapped up asap.

Liberal hawks have been ill served by tying their fortunes with the Neocon agenda. Ramming western democracy down the throats of the rest of the world should not be any guiding principle of liberalism. Robust diplomacy, intervening to stop humanitarian calamity and defending ourselves and allies: those are fine ideals from my lefty, formerly hawkish perspective.

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