Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Failure to Communicate

[posted by Callimachus]

I should just stop reading Memeorandum. It does me no good and makes me mean-mad like Tom Joad.

I see a link to this opinion piece which seems to me to raise an essential question -- the one I've been grappling with all through this war/occupation: This ought to have been the "liberals' war." It promised the projection of American might in the interest, partially if not largely, of a humanitarian cause. It came at a moment when national interest dovetailed with a bid to make a suffering swath of the world a better place. Nation-building was a liberal cause. Cleansing the world of our bad bargains from the Cold War was a liberal cause.

I understand people who saw that and were tempted by it but backed off out of suspicious of Bush and company and their former unwillingness to do any of that, of Rumsfeld's known contempt for nation-building, and of the evidently muddled motivations. All us old Cold War liberals who weren't outright pacifists had to pause and ponder and cross that bridge, or not.

But so many seemed never to acknowledge the humanitarian justification, or that such a thing even could exist. So many seemed to focus so entirely on Bush and his administration that they never bothered to address the thing in the context of what a liberal foreign policy and military policy ought to look like. Or whether such a thing would be worth doing with an administration they trusted.

It baffled me, because some of our heroes among the eloquent champions of liberalism around the world were persuaded -- tempted, if you must -- by the humanitarian justification for the war. If not America, who will do it? If not now, when it nearly converged with her national interest, when? It seemed to me that many self-identifying liberals at that watershed moment revealed themselves as more America-hostile than essentially liberal. It was where I and others finally parted ways with many former political bedfellows.

It didn't turn out anything like I had hoped. Those who acknowledged the humanitarian justification but were overruled by their suspicion of the administration's motives or competence have the right to say they were both liberal and astute. More so than I was. Those who merely trashed the whole thing as blood-for-oil and naked Israel-inspired imperialism, and who write as though the alternative to overthrowing Saddam was to live forever in February 2003, can't claim that. But they are the ones who most loudly do.

Anyway, the above column was written by one Jonah Goldberg, whose name I see kicked (literally) around the Web a lot. He seems to be a neo-con legacy of some sort. But his argument was essentially the same one used by José Ramos Horta and Václav Havel and André Glucksmann, updated with some quotes from current Democratic candidates. As with John Kerry in 2004, none of them has answered the dilemma to my satisfaction; none seems to have tried. If I could ask it, I might frame it like this: With reference to both military and diplomatic themes, and in light of Oil-for-Food revelations and the blackmailability of our old allies in Europe (cf. the recent deal with Libya over the doctors), what is a post-Cold War liberal American policy for dealing with rogue nations, former U.S. allies who also happen to be genocidal maniacs, and dangerous regional tyrants? Does our commitment to freedom and liberties and the rights of man die at the borders? What should be the role and weight of human rights and the better angels of human nature in guiding our decisions about national interest?

So I see via Memeorandum one of the progressive (for want of a better word) bloggers has weighed in on this column. And it is one who is often mentioned with respect by many of the un-progressive (for want of ...) people I read and respect. So I follow the link to find an answer. But I don't find one. The question never gets consideration. The whole post is an extended, foul-mouthed ad hominem rant, with an impenetrable title and nothing to even explain the depth of the fury. It amounts to "How dare he ask that?"

It's hardly even ad hominem because the homo in question never appears. The piece just assumes we know the name and know exactly why it's impossible for him to ask that question. Perhaps in the echo chamber, that is true. If the problem is Goldberg, she never explains that. If the argument is simply rubbish and the facts are simply wrong, as claimed, she never shows you how. The blogger can't be bothered. And frankly, after venting about it thus, neither can I.

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