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June 19, 2007

The Liberal Hawks Whinge Back

I'm genuinely baffled by these responses to my liberal hawk column. "A 'liberal hawk,'" complains one, "is simply a liberal who understands that fighting a war involves brains and brawn." Ah. Cool. Further on: "Liberal hawks" are liberals that acknowledge the existence of very real enemies in the world, and maintain any and all options in dealing with those enemies. You thank God when you can avoid confrontation, but act swiftly and decisively when left with no other diplomatic options." As opposed to...who? Who are these liberal doves who avoid confrontation when avoiding confrontation is impossible, and then seek to act sluggishly and in as muddled a fashion as possible when finally moved to act? Name names, please. I'd like to steal their lunch money.

Meanwhile, Sullivan quotes this odd discourse on "what is a liberal hawk" (someone awesome, and handsome, and charming and smart, as it turns out) and then goes on to say, "The questions before us are bigger and more important than whether you despise the presidency of George W. Bush." Yes, they are. Among them is whether you think force is justified to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program. That is the point of the piece you profess to have read, and a reply that omits that critical piece of information is no reply at all. Increasingly, a liberal hawk appears to thank God when he can avoid the question, and then acts swiftly and decisively to change the subject once pressed.

Oh, and no, Ahmadinejad is not a totalitarian dictator. He'd had have to be, you know, in charge of the country for that. And this doesn't happen to totalitarians.

Update: Read Thers: "'Just because we were wrong in the past doesn't mean we are ontologically wrong,' they intone...[it] is perfectly right to judge people writing on foreign policy primarily on their stances towards real world issues. A discussion of "underlying beliefs or theories" in this context is absurd, given the horror of the Iraq debacle. If your "underlying beliefs or theories" made you stick your dick in the blender, even "reluctantly," and you haven't thoroughly reassessed these concepts, I frankly don't want to hear your advice about what to do with the weed whacker."

June 19, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

That was a great column, Ezra.

Posted by: sangfroid826 | Jun 19, 2007 3:39:25 PM

What's with spelling "whine" with a "g"? I always thought it was a British thing. Is it a West Coast thing too? Or just a lack-of-editing-as-in-all-blogging thing?

It's depressing, but not that surprising, that we're still rehashing the problems with the "incompetence dodge" thing that Yglesias co-wrote.

The corollary of these complaints [by liberal hawks] is that the invasion and occupation could have been successful had they been planned and administered by different people. This position may have its own internal logical coherence, but in the real world, it's wrong. Though defending the competence of the Bush administration is a fool's endeavor, administrative bungling is simply not the root source of America's failure in Iraq. ... The incompetence critique is, in short, a dodge -- a way for liberal hawks to acknowledge the obviously grim reality of the war without rethinking any of the premises that led them to support it in the first place.

Or, even more succinctly, what Thers said.

Posted by: Cyrus | Jun 19, 2007 4:25:40 PM

I was baffled Sullivan's post, too, Ezra. I sent him the following email in response.

Dear Andrew:
You describe Ezra Klein's recent article for the American Prospect as a "screed against liberal interventionists". But that's a grossly unfair characterization, as Ezra's actual argument is that there aren't any liberal interventionists, at least as far as Iran goes, because no hawkish liberal seems willing to go on the record and actually, you know, recommend intervention. What there are, and what Klein objects to in his piece, are lots and lots of hawkish liberals who tut-tut their dovish brethren for not taking the Iranian threat seriously enough but who refuse to articulate just what constitutes taking Iran seriously. Klein has no problem with liberal interventionists, per se. If there are liberals out there in favor of bombing suspected Iranian nuclear sites unless Iran agrees within the next year to dismantle its nuclear program, then let's hear from them. Let them make their case and let the two sides - hawkish and dovish - hash it out. But it's poor form to pooh-pooh any proposal for de-escalation as insuficiently serious and yet refuse to articulate what a serious policy prescription would actually look like.

It was clear Sullivan hadn't read the column.

Posted by: Nate W. | Jun 19, 2007 4:26:52 PM

Increasingly, a liberal hawk appears to thank God when he can avoid the question, and then acts swiftly and decisively to change the subject once pressed.
Beautiful line, Ezra, and great post.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Jun 19, 2007 4:54:03 PM

Hmmm. "Problems with the 'incompetence dodge' thing," is confusingly phrased. What I meant was problems discussed in the article of that name, or the problem that some call the incompetence dodge. Just to be nitpicky.

Posted by: Cyrus | Jun 19, 2007 5:12:05 PM

The only practical political purpose Sully serves is to allow people to take liberal positions without admitting to having done so.

Posted by: W.B. Reeves | Jun 19, 2007 5:12:25 PM

Wait, I'm sorry...you're "baffled" that SullyPoo "responded" to your post with a peevish, thin-skinned stream of pablum that took multiple paragraphs to make the "point" that the "peaceniks" living in his head are stupid, foul-smelling hippies? "Baffled," as in, this surprised you? Really?

How long have you been doing this blogging thing, again?

Posted by: Uncle Kvetch | Jun 19, 2007 5:25:56 PM

You wrote: "Among them is whether you think force is justified to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program."

You can believe that force is justified and still not be considered a hawk if you don't believe that use of force would be wise.

Posted by: MikeJ | Jun 19, 2007 5:36:30 PM

"Among them is whether you think force is justified to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program."

Yeah, but a key part of being able to get rid of Iran's nukes is having a credible threat of being able to use force. Hence the 2003 offer which Commander Guy ignored [that's if his handlers ever let him see it]. Explicitly taking the threat off the table unilaterally eliminates an incentive and a bargaining chip.

Now, of course previous hawkiness over Iraq has degraded said credibility of said threat, which just goes to show that God has a sense of humor, and gave us all free will because he needed entertainment.

Posted by: Sock Puppet of the Great Satan | Jun 19, 2007 6:49:19 PM

I always thought a totalitarian was one who subscribed to the ideology of totalitarianism. You don't need to have achieved the status of dictator in order to be a totalitarian. A socialist who hasn't yet implemented his agenda is still a socialist, etc.

Posted by: Mark | Jun 19, 2007 7:33:27 PM

I don't mean to be trollish - I agree with you on the Iran issue Ezra - but I have to say that I see the same dynamic from much of the left on Darfur: vague calls for "action" without exactly specifying what, dismissing the current diplomatic effort (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6765203.stm) as unserious, etc. Even Edwards was at it in his otherwise excellent speech today.

Posted by: Jose Peterson | Jun 19, 2007 8:53:28 PM

Also, Cyrus, "whinge" is a word in its own right, not an alternate spelling of "whine", though you're right that it's mainly British.

Posted by: Jose Peterson | Jun 19, 2007 8:55:45 PM

"As opposed to...who? "

- Liberal opposition to the war in Afghanistan is a fair litmus test. Look up any Nation writer from that time and you'll find exactly what liberal hawks are referring to.

- Anyone ever seen holding a "no blood for oil" sign.

- Any member of ANSWR.

The liberal hawk reaction is rational as it's obvious that a huge portion of the left are instinctive pacifists. Perhaps many won't admit it to themselves, but the theoretical circumstances under which they would support the US going to war are absurdly narrow.

No president (or presidential candidate) who takes these groups seriously deserves support.

Liberal hawks of course made a huge mistake supporting the Iraq war, but it's not as if the ANSWR crowd was correct in their opposition in any meaningful way.

Posted by: Steve C | Jun 19, 2007 11:38:27 PM

2002
Liberal Hawk: We must go to war with Iraq
liberl dove: I don't think that is a good idea.
Liberal Hawk: You are stupid, dirty hippy

2006
liberal dove: I didn't think going to war with Iraq was the right call and events have proven me correct.
Liberal Hawk: You may have been correct but for the wrong reasons so it doesn't count. I on the other hand was horribly wrong but for the right reasons so people should listen to me and shun you. Also, you are a stupid, dirty hippy who smells.

2008
Liberal Hawk: We must bomb Iran
liberal dove: Bombing Iran will not further our strategic goals
Liberal Hawk: You are a stupid, dirty, smelly hippy who hates America and your utopian pacifist views are dangerous to our country.

2010
liberal dove: Bombing Iran has completely backfired
Liberal Hawk: Come over here you stupid, dirty, smelly , unserious, traitorous hippy so I can beat you with a stick.

Posted by: timeline | Jun 20, 2007 8:44:23 AM

The common ground between these so-called liberal hawks and their neo-con fellow travelers is that the use of violence to attain ends is a completely abstract exercise. The many innocent civiilians who will be killed are "collateral damange" i.e. less than fully human and certainly not lives equivalent to American ones. There is no acknowledgment that violence begets violence in an endless cycle of recrimination and retaliation, that a permanent bitterness is sown, and that pretty Western words like democracy and human rights are rendered meaningless in the part of the world where we allegedly wish them to resonate. Violence is not redemptive. (This kind of thinking used to be the exclusive perserve of totalitarians and their intellectual cheer leaders like Sartre and Franz Fanon.)

The dream (or delusion) of the liberal hawks is that one can apply force so decisively that we will magically change minds in the process. I believe in Vien Nam there was a pithy phrase that captured this attitude -- "if you've got them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow." And we all know how well that worked out.

But slaughtering innocents (and what else would the willingness to use nuclear weapons lead to) is not only immoral and cowardly, it is not smart.

I know the "f" word is overused on the left, but to view your perceived enemies as less than human enough to justify slaughtering them is a form of fascism, plain and simple. It sure isn't "liberal."

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Jun 20, 2007 8:53:20 AM

The liberal hawk reaction is rational as it's obvious that a huge portion of the left are instinctive pacifists.

So you cannot, in fact, name names, then?

Liberal hawks of course made a huge mistake supporting the Iraq war, but it's not as if the ANSWR crowd was correct in their opposition in any meaningful way.

... I'm sorry, I can't summon the sarcasm this morning to deal with the second part of this sentence as it deserves, so I'll just have to be serious. As for the first part, though: "mistakes," okay, but what were they, exactly? Do you know? Can you tell us? (If you say "we trusted Bush" or something, please note that it has been addressed upthread.) I'm not just looking for contrition here: If your principles and theories are so screwed up that they led you to supporting the Iraq invasion, and you have not changed them in any meaningful way, why should anyone take you seriously?

Posted by: Cyrus | Jun 20, 2007 9:17:47 AM

- Liberal opposition to the war in Afghanistan is a fair litmus test. Look up any Nation writer from that time and you'll find exactly what liberal hawks are referring to.

I have a better idea. Since you're so up on all this, why not cite a specific example rather than engaging in windy generalities?

- Anyone ever seen holding a "no blood for oil" sign.

Hardly a pacifist sentiment since it only excludes a single, specific use of violence

- Any member of ANSWR.

If you are so politically illiterate as to believe that ANSWER is motivated by pacifism, there seems little reason to give your judgements any weight at all.

The liberal hawk reaction is rational as it's obvious that a huge portion of the left are instinctive pacifists. Perhaps many won't admit it to themselves, but the theoretical circumstances under which they would support the US going to war are absurdly narrow.

Ah, I see. It doesn't matter what the "the left" actually says because you know better than they what they actually believe.

No president (or presidential candidate) who takes these groups seriously deserves support.

Actually more appropriately said of anyone who takes your brand of empty bombast seriously.

Liberal hawks of course made a huge mistake supporting the Iraq war, but it's not as if the ANSWR crowd was correct in their opposition in any meaningful way.

Of course, ANSWER was never representative of more than a fraction of anti-war sentiment, your fabulations to the contrary not withstanding.

Posted by: W.B. Reeves | Jun 20, 2007 9:31:02 AM

So, any photograph containing a person with a "No Blood for Oil" sign isn't enough?

Katha Pollitt
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20011105/pollitt

Jonathan Schell
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20011112/schell

A couple of classic examples of "effective" pacifism. A war must be all things to all people and solve world hunger before it can be a good idea. More insidious that outright opposition, in my opinion.

Not one reason from people that far to the left should be taken seriously, because they are simply lucky. They are like the economist who has predicted 10 out of the last 5 recessions.

As for me, Cyrus, I have learned nothing because I opposed this war from the start -- but simply because parking our entire army in a country for very little gain meant more mischief from Iran and friends. For the leaders of these countries, what makes them pay attention is a threat to their sovereignty. In that sense the war in Afghanistan was absolutely necessary - to demonstrate what happens when we're attacked. It was of course a good idea for many other reasons.

Taking this further - had Bush invaded Afghanistan and avoided Iraq (and therefore, done a better job in Afghanistan), I would certainly have picked him over Kerry in 2004. For all his (many, many) other faults, it would have been an example of getting the big things right.

Posted by: Steve C | Jun 20, 2007 10:16:44 AM

I'd like to know how Ezra intends to steal a liberal dove's lunch money if he explicitly disavows using force.

Ezra: "Give me your lunch money. I will never, ever use violence against you. But, regardless, give me your lunch money."

Liberal Dove: "No."

Ezra: "Ummm..."

Posted by: Al | Jun 20, 2007 10:35:47 AM

So, any photograph containing a person with a "No Blood for Oil" sign isn't enough?

Well, not really, no. I don't doubt that such people exist, just that they are neither particularly powerful not the majority of the anti-these-wars groups. And your links don't show otherwise. Liberal hawks, on the other hand, include current and recent elected officials and influential writers and editors of influential magazines. To me it seems a bit strange, to say the least, that those people are so concerned about the marginal groups to their left than the actions of people now in power. I'm relieved to see that you were against invading Iraq to begin with, and maybe I should feel a little guilty for assuming that you hadn't been just because you're defending those who weren't.

Posted by: Cyrus | Jun 20, 2007 11:16:51 AM

A couple of classic examples of "effective" pacifism. A war must be all things to all people and solve world hunger before it can be a good idea. More insidious that outright opposition, in my opinion.

Yeah, that would be a good point if either one of those citations said anything like your characterization. Nice strawmen you have there. They must be a constant source of comfort to you.

Posted by: Col Bat Guano | Jun 20, 2007 3:42:22 PM

Yeah, that would be a good point if either one of those citations said anything like your characterization. Nice strawmen you have there. They must be a constant source of comfort to you.

Not to mention that Katha Politt's piece is explicit in its criticism of a pacifist position on the war. Steve C. either doesn't understand the definition of pacifism, doesn't care what it is, or both.

Posted by: W.B. Reeves | Jun 20, 2007 4:23:13 PM

Pollitt's article ends with this line:

"But a war can be "just" in the sense that it is a response to aggression--as Vietnam was not--and also be the wrong way to solve a problem."

Which is as good an example of effective pacifism as is possible to come up with. With historical perspective it's utterly ridiculous.

Another way to put it is, Katha Pollitt will never write an article arguing for a US-led war, unless maybe the Chinese are invading California.

Posted by: Steve C | Jun 21, 2007 2:08:05 AM

Another way to put it is, Katha Pollitt will never write an article arguing for a US-led war, unless maybe the Chinese are invading California.

This doesn't follow logically from Politt's statement that you quoted. "Aggression" has a much broader definition than "Invasion" but your interpretation relies on treating them as synonyms. Aggression takes many forms and not all of them are best met by military means, although aggression is always seen as a justification for military action.

Politt's point is clear. Although military action may be "justified", it isn't always the smartest move. That is simply a recognition of reality. Far from proof of Politt's "essential pacifism", a phrase which evidently means whatever you want it to mean, you display an outlook that would treat anything less than the embrace of war as a casual instrument of policy as "pacifism".

Neither of the above citations support your assertion that the authors claim a war must be "all things to all people" before it has legitimacy. That appears to be a fiction born of your own imagination.

Posted by: W.B. Reeves | Jun 21, 2007 11:46:50 AM

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Posted by: judy | Oct 8, 2007 9:11:24 AM

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