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?
All born-again hawks set a dangerous trap for themselves: once their righteous indignation overwhelms them, they always want to bomb, bomb, bomb. Sometimes it’s the only way. But bombing is sometimes the result of failed policy, not a wonderful demonstration of our humanitarian impulses. When a revolutionary president named Reagan designed a strategy to destroy the Soviet Empire, he sponsored revolution. He worked with democratic dissidents. And he changed the world. There’s not a single word from Kristof or Cohen about support for revolution, even though there are many examples of successful American non-violent “intervention” against evil tyrants.
Finally, Cohen’s account of Iraq is predictably wrong. “Unlike Iraq, burdens were shared…” Tell it to the Brits, the Poles, the Salvadorans, the Italians, the Romanians, and the dozens of others who shared the burdens and lost young men and women in Iraq. There were many things wrong about Bush’s war, but lack of allies was certainly not one of them. The Iraq coalition was much bigger than NATO. And I wouldn’t be in a hurry to claim, as Cohen does, that our allies did most of the bombing in Libya, or that America’s role there was de minimus. Those enthusiastic Libyans singing love songs to America in Nick Kristof’s ears probably know a lot about all the things we did.
But let’s not be churlish. Welcome, Rog and Nick. Glad to have you in the war camp. Since you haven’t been here for a while, here’s a refresher course on some of the basic rules:
–There are many ways to wage war, and it’s better to keep the best Americans — those in uniform — out of harm’s way;
–America is the only truly revolutionary country in the world. Therefore the tyrants hate us, and therefore their freedom-seeking people love us;
–Therefore we must fight tyranny, it’s what we are all about;
–So fight the tyrants all along. Yes, life is sloppy, sometimes, when it’s the lesser of two evils, we will have to have tyrannical allies, but such alliances will always fail, sooner rather than later. We still have to work for, and with, the democratic dissidents (a propos of the current unpleasantness, that helps sort out the real democrats from the phonies). Hosni Mubarak can explain it to you;
–Support the fight for freedom non-violently whenever possible. Bombing and invading usually mean that we failed to fulfill our revolutionary ideals. It may be too late for a successful non-violent strategy in Syria, but it is probably not too late for it to work in Iran.
UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit for linking. He’s right about the education bubble, too, btw.