Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Who Was Guarding the Guardian?

Charles Johnson catches Max Hastings of the Guardian in a moment of lucidity:

[...]A friend who visited the White House recently described the president's buoyant account of his Iraqi crusade, which highlighted the fact that a national government has been formed. Some progress is claimed towards normalisation in Shia and Kurdish regions. Syrian withdrawal gives Lebanon a chance of making something of democracy. Washington asserts that it is involving itself more than ever in the Middle East peace process.

None of these claims should be dismissed out of hand. The greatest danger for those of us who dislike George Bush is that our instincts may tip over into a desire to see his foreign policy objectives fail. No reasonable person can oppose the president's commitment to Islamic democracy. Most western Bushophobes are motivated not by dissent about objectives, but by a belief that the Washington neocons' methods are crass, and more likely to escalate a confrontation between the west and Islam than to defuse it.

Such skepticism, however, should not prevent us from stepping back to reassess the progress of the Bush project, and satisfy ourselves that mere prejudice is not blinding us to the possibility that western liberals are wrong; that the Republicans' grand strategy is getting somewhere.
Not surprisingly, this magnanimity does not quite last to the end of the article. Inevitably, when the left is forced to acknowledge the success of conservatism, it does so by way of contrast with the downside, in a tone of balance and even-handedness:
My own contacts say that the situation is improving, but remains precarious.
It is hard to derive much comfort from statistics that show a diminution in clashes between insurgents and security forces.
The most powerful reason for remaining cautious about Iraq must be doubt -- shared by many US officers -- about whether the country is sus­tainable as a unitary state.
Still, Hastings fights manfully against the temptation to be wholly negative:
It seems wrong for either neocon true believers or liberal skeptics to rush to judgment. We of the latter persuasion must keep reciting the mantra: "We want Iraq to come right, even if this vindicates George Bush."

Those who say that Iraqis are incapable of making a democracy work may well be proved right. But until we see what happens on the ground over the months ahead, we should not write off the possibility that the Iraqi people will forge some sort of accommodation. A premature coalition withdrawal promises catastrophe for them, not us.
Irresistibly, the old addiction to nuance and multi-lateralism resurfaces, but only in the final paragraph:
Yet it still seems reasonable to question the optimism currently prevailing among Washington's neocons, because this remains founded upon a woefully simplistic vision. It is true that, in some chronic, unstable regions, some bad governments — those of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein — have been removed by the Americans. But the fragile advantages gained will be lost, unless Washington can match its boldness in the deployment of military power with a new sensitivity to alien cultures, matched by far more subtle political skills.
Ironically, the "simplistic" Bush approach was what, during the Reagan administration, liberals used to call "common sense". American firepower employed in taking out the most egregious dictatorships was precisely what we demanded. The fact that the US did not drop its ("futile" and "counterproductive") cold war with the Soviet Union to clean up the stinking torture states of the third world was irrefutable evidence of its greed, corruption and domination by big business. Now that the USSR is gone -- and, I am cynically inclined to add, no longer in need of liberal support -- the same factors are adduced as motivations of Bush's interventionism.

What Hastings needs to remember is that the word "neocon" which he so glibly tosses around is not an epithet but has a precise meaning: a former liberal who has seen the value of conservative principles. In that light, it is hardly surprising that Bush has taken the liberal foreign policy recommendations of the '80s and actually made them work.


Addendum: In citing Bruce Cockburn's Rocket Launcher, it occurs to me that the entire song is worth quoting in this context:
Here comes the helicopter -- second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they've murdered only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher...I'd make somebody pay

I don't believe in guarded borders and I don't believe in hate
I don't believe in generals or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher...I would retaliate

On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait
To fall down from starvation -- or some less humane fate
Cry for Guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher...I would not hesitate

I want to raise every voice -- at least I've got to try
Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes.
Situation desperate, echoes of the victims cry
If I had a rocket launcher...Some son of a bitch would die
Well, Bruce, we do have a rocket launcher.

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