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Richard Cohen and the war liberals
By STEPHEN J. SNIEGOSKI
In his May 7 column, "Never Mind the Weapons," Richard Cohen relies heavily on the "liberation" argument to justify the war. Let's look at the phenomenon of war liberalism for Cohen is certainly a liberal, not a neocon. While neocons spearheaded the war on Iraq, and without the neocons there would have been no war, they enjoyed the help of a number of auxiliaries. As foot soldiers, they had the masses of patriotic white Americans, especially the folks who rely on Rush Limbaugh and Fox TV news programs. Small in number but very important were members of the liberal media elite, who could have used their forums to discredit the war. In addition to Cohen, war liberals include Christopher Hitchens (who coined the term "Islamo-fascism" to designate the enemy for liberal ears), Thomas Friedman (New York Times), Bill Keller (NYT originator of the "I-Can't-Believe-I'm-A-Hawk Club"), Tim Noah (Slate magazine's "Chatterbox" columnist), David Remnick (editor of the New Yorker), Jonathan Alter (Newsweek), and Kenneth Pollack (a Clinton national-security expert who wrote a major book advocating the war, The Threatening Storm). If you want to call The New Republic liberal, you may add it in as well.
Many of the war liberals supported the war with certain caveats. Primarily, they have implied that the war would have garnered more international support if the Bush administration had handled the matter in a less heavy-handed fashion. Also, they criticize the administration's falsehoods, as Cohen does in his article. Cohen writes that perhaps
the administration exaggerated the Iraqi threat and hyped the sense of urgency because it wanted Saddam Hussein deposed for other reasons. Those reasons are not necessarily nefarious. Hussein was (or is) a bad guy whose nuclear weapons program was merely a matter of grammatical tense: He had one once and would certainly try to have one again.
He comes down harder at the end:
But we have an understanding in this country that a war will be waged only with the consent of the people and only after the people have been honestly told why. If, as now seems possible, this was not the case in Iraq, then the war may turn out to be a bad bargain. The democracy we want to bring to Iraq will have come at some cost to our own.
What motivated the War Liberals?
1. Liberals have not been shy about supporting America's wars since the Cold War ended. Becoming "humanitarian interventionists," they took a leading role in supporting the NATO war on Serbia. One explanation for the liberal change is that while they had difficulty in viewing an enemy, or potential enemy, on the Left, such as Communism, as being totally bad (Establishment liberals berated Reagan for calling the Soviet Union the "evil empire"), they have been able to view Milosevic and Saddam as murderous right-wing fascist dictators who must actually be eliminated, not simply "contained."
2. Liberals have championed America's past wars World War I and World War II viewing them as vehicles for progressive global reform. (A common story in history books is of American liberals becoming disillusioned with the results of World War I.) The war on Iraq is supposed to bring progressive reform to the Middle East.
3. Finally, here's the motive that's taboo to mention support for Israel. Most of the war liberals support Israel, though not in the hard-line Likudnik fashion. That doesn't mean they see themselves acting in Israel's interests. Rather, they tend to hold highly negative views of Israel's enemies.
While war liberals were not major players in the war on Iraq, it is likely that they will loom large in support of the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, who will reflect their views. To reduce the extent to which George W. Bush can benefit from the war, the Democratic candidate will profess his support for the war but criticize the Bush administration for its handling both of the war and of the occupation. The war liberals will promote that view to emphasize the patriotism of the Democratic Party. If the Democrats can prevent a substantial number of antiwar left-wing Democrats from defecting to the Greens, I think they can win the presidential election. The new Democratic president would continue to pursue American global imperialism, but in a more restrained, internationalist manner.
Posted May 16, 2003
© 2003 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.
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