At first I thought it was an anomaly, a personal thing. One New York Times columnist has an epiphany. But now there are two of them, two very liberal Timesmen embracing the use of military force in Libya. And invoking a quintessential “neoconservative” justification for it. I think it’s a trend.
First, Roger Cohen, now living in London:
The Libyan people have been freed from a crazed tyranny. Unlike in Iraq, burdens were shared: America flew the intelligence missions and did the refueling while the French, British, Dutch and others did most of the bombing. Iraq was the wrong prism through which to look at Libya. I’m glad I resisted that temptation. Another cycle has begun.
In the end, I think interventionism is inextricable from the American idea. If the United States retreats into isolationism, it ceases to be itself — a nation dedicated, however much it falls short, to a universalist ideal of freedom.
There are no fixed doctrinal answers — a successful Libyan intervention does not mean one in Syria is feasible — but the idea that the West must at times be prepared to fight for its values against barbarism is the best hope for a 21st century less cruel than the 20th.
“Interventionism is inextricable from the American idea…a universalist ideal of freedom.” Got it?
Now here’s Nicholas Kristof, writing from Tripoli, surrounded by America-loving, anti-Qaddafi rebels:
“Libya is a reminder that sometimes it is possible to use military tools to advance humanitarian causes.”
I know exactly what you’re going to say. You’re going to say that this is Obama’s war, and Obama is their guy, and so of course they’re going to endorse it. Iraq was Bush’s war, so of course they’re going to continue to damn it. And I’ll give you another bit of grist for your mill: Cohen cites another “good war”–Bosnia, Clinton’s war — which he also endorsed, and he’s proud of it, even though he’s ashamed that he supported the Iraq war early, before he saw the light. So when Democrat presidents wage war, they’re ok, even noble. But when Republicans wage war, it’s bad. Check.
All true. But it is still notable that these two are now textbook neocons, “liberals mugged by reality.” To be sure, they may not get all the way to embracing support for freedom against tyrants as a fundamental principle of American foreign policy — although Cohen’s last graph could have been written by Norman Podhoretz — but they’re en route, at a minimum.
I wonder if they have thought this through. The obvious question, as Achilles once said to the tortoise, is: if it’s right to intervene in Libya to stop the carnage, is there not even more reason to stop the greater carnage in Syria and Iran? And while we’re on the subject, don’t forget that the Syrian and Iranian regimes not only slaughter their own people, but also American soldiers, and civilians from Iraq and Afghanistan to Somalia and Argentina.
What will they say?