Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War

Iraq's Crack Polish Division
June 1996 - June 2006.
Jan. 13 2004 3:50 PM

Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

A word about Fred Kaplan's post. Fred explains that he supported the war, for a little while, because of Colin Powell's U.N. speech—which is to say, Fred never accepted the deeper reasons for the war, given that Powell never did explain them. But here is a problem. Someone who doesn't see the deeper reasons (at least, as I understand them) is not going to be able to identify the strategic goals.

The war was brought on, in my view, by the mass totalitarian movement of the Muslim world—the totalitarian movement that, in its radical Islamist and Baathist wings, had fostered a cult of indiscriminate killing and suicide. The true strategic goal of such a war can only be to discourage and defeat that movement. The goal is to cause people all over the Muslim world to abandon the cult of mass death and suicide. What would be a complete victory? The rise of liberal societies and liberal ideas. That is because the opposite of totalitarianism is liberalism. And so, our goal has had to be: to damage and discourage the Muslim totalitarians and to hearten and aid the Muslim liberals.

Are these strategic goals so impossible to see? On Sept. 10, 2001, the totalitarian wave in the Muslim world appeared to be at high tide. Many millions of people did think so, at least, and therefore felt inclined to give the various tendencies of the larger movement their support. In quite a few countries, the most gruesome tyrannies were in power, in the name of sundry versions of the totalitarian ideology. There seemed to be no prospect, none whatsoever, of seeing those tyrannies overthrown.

And today? The larger totalitarian movement in the Muslim world has been dealt two very powerful blows. The Taliban no longer rules Afghanistan and has been reduced to a guerrilla insurgency. The Baath in Iraq has likewise been reduced to a guerrilla insurgency. Some 45 million Afghanis and Iraqis, who had previously been confined to the lowest ranks of hell, are now engaged in a very tough fight—a fight in which there is at least a plausible hope of achieving a better society, animated by liberal values in a suitably Muslim version.

On Sept. 10, 2001, liberal-minded people in those two countries had no reason to think that life would ever be better. Today the liberal-minded Afghanis and Iraqis have been given a somewhat shaky boost, but a boost, nonetheless, which can only encourage their fellow-thinkers in other parts of the Muslim world. Strategic goals? These are the strategic goals.

Why don't people understand these goals and accomplishments? (And, therefore, why don't they lend their support, which is desperately needed, if only to undo the American blunders that Fred correctly identifies?) The blame, a lot of it, does fall on Bush, who, in addition to his other errors, has given a very muddy picture of the reasons for war and its goals, sometimes making one argument, sometimes a contradictory argument. Really, the man has a lot to answer for. I don't see how Powell has helped (though it's good to have someone with personal charm speak for the country and not leave it to Rumsfeld to give the world the willies).

But some of the blame falls as well on the anti-Bush naifs who pretend not to hear when anyone speaks about the larger reasons and goals—the people who pretend that WMD and non-existent conspiracies were the only reasons for war and pretend that the only serious goals were the arrests of a couple of men, or the achieving of a magical utopia tomorrow, and pretend that if war has still not ended, we have gotten nowhere at all. It's all too true that better leaders could have made better plans, and the French and the Germans and the United Nations could help even now, if only they would. But it ought not to be so hard to see that, even so, the prospects of the totalitarian movement are looking a lot less healthy today than they did on Sept. 10, 2001 and the prospects of Muslim liberalism are looking up, somewhat.

Fred Kaplan writes, "Please, don't talk to me about the crack Polish division." I can't help myself—I've got to talk about it. To see Polish troops taking part in the overthrow of Baathist tyranny is, in my eyes, hugely inspiring. No country on Earth has fought harder over the decades against totalitarianism than Poland, and the Poles are fighting now. Poland is not a rich country, and every society contributes what it can (if it chooses to contribute at all). But the Poles are contributing. You have only to read some of the comments by the Polish commander in Iraq to see why the Poles are there. They are the enemies of totalitarianism. They, or at least their commander, seem to understand what so many people find difficult to understand: In Iraq as in Afghanistan, a liberal war is going on—liberal in the philosophical sense, meaning liberty.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?