Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War

What We Got Wrong and Why
Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Jan. 16 2004 8:25 AM

Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War

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Among the many thoughtful posts in this week's conversation—including Fareed's on Thursday—one of the best came from a reader. His or her point was that for Tom and Fareed especially, but to a lesser degree for others among us, the war's justification was practical and experimental: It might have certain good effects in the region and in the larger war on terrorism, or it might not—but avoiding action altogether was less tolerable than taking the risk of war. And, this reader went on, once the justification was put that way, on a practical and experimental basis, the ultimate verdict on whether or not the war was the right thing depends on how things go in Iraq and the region. In short, as Chou En-Lai said when asked what he thought of the French Revolution, it's too early to tell. But just because the outcome is still to be determined, and the job will require enormous imagination, flexibility, local knowledge, and staying power on our part, success or failure will depend in large part on whether Americans manage to summon these mental qualities. As Christopher wrote in his book on Orwell, what you think matters less than how you think—and how this administration thinks isn't reassuring. For example, it's very difficult for me to imagine a symposium called "What Did We Get Wrong and Why?" being held at the American Enterprise Institute, where so much of the Bush foreign policy has been incubated, let alone at the White House. On the other hand, I'm encouraged by this conversation in Slate and by how the participants thought. I hope it continues in other guises. Thanks for the chance to join in.

George Packer

Paul Berman is the author of Terror and Liberalism and The Passion of Joschka Fischer, which is forthcoming in the spring. Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times and most recently the author of Longitudes and Attitudes. Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and a regular contributor toSlate. His most recent book is A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq. Fred Kaplan writes the "War Stories" column for Slateand is the author of The Wizards of Armageddon. George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where his article about the occupation recently appeared. He is working on a book about America in Iraq. Kenneth M. Pollack is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. Jacob Weisberg is editor of Slate and co-author, with Robert E. Rubin, of In an Uncertain World. Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and the author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.