Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Dilemma

I think Kevin Drum hits the key dilemma for the Democrats in the area of national security:

So what is it that Beinart really wants from antiwar liberals? The obvious answer is found less in policy than in rhetoric: we need to engage more energetically with the war on terror and criticize illiberal regimes more harshly.

Maybe so. But this is something that's nagged at me for some time. On the one hand, I think Beinart is exactly right. For example, should I be more vocal in denouncing Iran? Sure. It's a repressive, misogynistic, theocratic, terrorist-sponsoring state that stands for everything I stand against. Of course I should speak out against them.

And yet, I know perfectly well that criticism of Iran is not just criticism of Iran. Whether I want it to or not, it also provides support for the Bush administration's determined and deliberate effort to whip up enthusiasm for a military strike. [emphasis added] Only a naif would view criticism of Iran in a vacuum, without also seeing the way it will be used by an administration that has demonstrated time and again that it can't be trusted to act wisely.

So what to do? For the most part, I end up saying very little. And Beinart is right: there's a sense in which that betrays my own liberal ideals. But he's also wrong, because like it or not, my words Â? and those of other liberals Â? would end up being used to advance George Bush's distinctly illiberal ends. And I'm simply not willing to be a pawn in the Bush administration's latest marketing campaign.

The Democratic hawks who criticized other Democrats for not getting on board the Iraq War effort (Beinart among them) made a fundamental error in judgment. They assumed that those who opposed the Iraq war did so because they were pacifists (i.e., "squishy Dems") who simply weren't serious enough to make the tough choices when it came to national security. Those types do exist among the anti-war left, but the large majority of people I have met in the anti-war movement were more anti-this-war instead of anti-all-war. And believe me, we resented it (and still resent it) when the hawks would repeat Republican talking points about our motives.

The decisive factor in my opposition to the war in Iraq was simply that it was George W. Bush who was pushing for it. I didn't trust him to make an honest case for war (because he was so obviously lying) and I didn't trust him to have the skills to pull it off (because his incompetence was manifestly obvious even then). I think it is safe to say that my lack of trust in George W. Bush has been proven correct.

I am anti-imperialist in the sense that I don't want America to impose its own vision of peace on the world. But I am not fundamentally against the use of military force to address problems in the international arena. Indeed, I think a legitimate case could have been made for some form of military intervention in Iraq, if for no other reason then to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding inspections. And an argument can be made that a military strike against potential nuclear development in Iran is both reasonable and practicable.

But Kevin points out the fundamentadilemmama: how do you give weight to that option without giving support to the agenda of George W. Bush and the whole PNAC crowd?

I don't know the full answer to that, but I've come to the conclusion that sometimes it is better to let a bad, but tolerable situation persist than it is to support an administration that you are convinced will only make it worse.

It sucks, but there it is.

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