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NYTimes Mag: The Liberal Quandry on Iraq
December 9, 2002 12:55 PM   Subscribe

The Liberaral Quandry on Iraq [nytimes reg req'd]. [warning : iraq political story]. As a "liberal hawk", I have had some issues regarding whether to support a war with Iraq or not. In this article, George Packer talks to four liberals (David Rieff, Leon Wieseltier, Michael Walzer and Paul Berman) about what they think, and presents a sort of top ten list of reasons for or not. After reading the article, I'm a little less confused about where I stand, and a little closer to coming to grips with it
posted by rshah21 (29 comments total)

 
The Liberaral Quandry on Iraq

to say nothing of the Conservatatives...

sorry, couldn't resist.
posted by jonmc at 1:08 PM on December 9, 2002


I was sort of surprised at the tone of the piece. The Times has had a fairly obvious skeptical bent to its winds-of-war coverage in the past six months, and this piece says (essentially) that there is no legitimate opposition to the war, principally because the most vocal and active leaders of the anti-war movement are sloganeering Marxists, rather than establishment liberals.

I don't make common cause with sloganeering Marxists but I don't think it makes much sense to say that, automatically, any movement they spearhead is illigetimate, or even particularly radical. After all, a clear majority of Democratic congressmen voted agains the war authority bill less than two months ago and the current anti-war movement is certainly drawing a more diverse (and mainstream) constituency that did the anti-Vietnam war movement at a comparable point in time.

In my view, in fact, it can only help the public dialogue to have some very empassioned and very intelligent (if generally very incorrect) people taking up an issue which is of central importance to public affairs, rather than continuing to wind themselves up over Marxist-Leninism, Mumia, Ralph Nader, and other distractions.
posted by MattD at 1:43 PM on December 9, 2002


My view of the subject is that there is not a passionate anti-war movement, but there are a lot of people who don't trust the passionately pro-war folks, who seem to come up with a different reason for launching a war every day. That and the continued thread by Al Qaeda, the ongoing war in Israel, and the increasing evidence that some of America's allies are closely linked with terrorism leads many to think that war against Iraq is not in the public's best interest.

That doesn't mean they are ready to march in the streets, but they are unsure about the intentions and timing of the war.
posted by cell divide at 1:46 PM on December 9, 2002


I should amend that sentance to say there is not a HUGE passionate anti-war movement.
posted by cell divide at 1:47 PM on December 9, 2002


well, I think we can scrub all his four pro-war arguments that start from the postulate of "democracy". There really is no reason to believe that a democratic Iraq would come into existence soon after the war, or, when it did so that it would be a beacon to the surrounding countries, or come to understand America's policies vis a vis Israel.

The real question is whether America is prepared for ten, fifteen, or thirty years of military engagement in the Middle East. Because the further you go down that road, the more disastrous a retreat becomes.

It wouldn't be a purely American disaster either.
posted by alloneword at 2:10 PM on December 9, 2002


The piece is certainly not without flaws, but it had one real insight that reverberated with me: the transformative effect of the Kosovo war on a number of liberals/lefties. That is the moment that I stopped taking Chomsky seriously. The articles Vietnam as model for US military intervention vs. WWII as the model is insightful.

Another factor against the emergence of an anti war movement over Iraq: many people who were opposed to war last time were convinced that "peaceful" means such as economic sanctions could tame Saddam without harming the innocent. As the last ten years have shown, that notion was wrong on both counts. The innocent have suffered and the regime is as brutal as it ever was.
posted by ednopantz at 2:22 PM on December 9, 2002


what the hell is a liberaral?
posted by quonsar at 2:56 PM on December 9, 2002


what the hell is a liberaral?
Dude, thats like asking what a quonsar is.
posted by jmd82 at 3:00 PM on December 9, 2002


what the hell is a liberaral?

While it's probably a typo, I think it actually is a form of the Spanish for liberal.
posted by MidasMulligan at 3:09 PM on December 9, 2002


Sincere thanks for the refreshingly non-polemical post, rshah21. You are perhaps the only person here in months, left or right, to be able to post about this subject without the fiery certitude of knowing that you must be right.

Those who are against the war need to read this article with much more care. The point is not whether the war is a good idea or a bad idea. The point is not whether the people organizing the anti-war protests are Marxist or not.

The real point is that the anti-war movement in general has completely failed to articulate a basis for opposing the war that is sufficiently inclusive to attract their natural allies on the center-left of American politics. As the article asks upfront, "why is there no antiwar movement that [liberals] want to join?"

A majority coalition, of the sort that elected Clinton, will never respond to an anti-war movement that opposes war by demonizing America, personalizing the issue by questioning Bush's motives, relativizing the issue by pointing to other despotic regimes, polarizing the issue by framing it as an ideological debate, or least constructive of all, accusing people of being sheep manipulated by a biased media. The anti-war movement seems curiously uninterested in actually creating a political basis for stopping the war effort.

A pragmatic anti-war movement would need to start by accepting the legitimacy of the question "should we go to war against Iraq as a way of solving the problems its regime creates?" Only then could this movement go on to present the case for answering "no", recognizing as well the responsibility to propose an alternative policy.

I have yet to see the anti-war posse on MeFi address the question this way.
posted by fuzz at 4:31 PM on December 9, 2002


When I read this I figured it was a reprint from The New Republic, so sure of it’s blessed imperialist ascendance and historical revisionism.

This in particular caught me, “This thinking prompted Noam Chomsky to leap to the defense of Slobodan Milosevic...”

Which makes this NYT something more than just an ideological driven publication. I wonder when the last time a man called another a horrible tyrant, a murderer and a pyschopath, years later was said to be defending him.

Hitchens and Wieseltier also lied about this subject. They say the US is all about protecting Kurds out of some sort of pure-as-the-driven-snow humanity. Well, tell that to the Kurds in Turkey, where the US gave war machines to commence the slaughter of Kurds there.

Oh, sorry, didja forget that Hitch? Wieseltier? Didja forget about American Apache helicopters blowing up Kurdish women and children? No, I don’t think you did. I think you’re liars. If the US gives weaponry to a government which in turn uses it to kill an ethnic group in one country, but protects that same ethnic group in another country that seems to mean something other than humanity is driving those actions.
posted by raaka at 6:21 PM on December 9, 2002


On war with Iraq, Thomas Friedman's latest column is well worth reading for liberals and conservatives alike.
posted by homunculus at 7:55 PM on December 9, 2002


I challenge the premise of this article head on. I guess no one here is aware that -

First of all: The NYT, and National Public radio both initially estimated (in their news coverage of the event), the attendance of the recent AntiWar protest in DC at "tens of thousands". Both mentioned, I believe, the weak turnout.

This linked to NYT piece repeats the same innacurate protest event numbers: "tens of thousands".

Well.....both the NYT and NPR published (or aired) retractions of this estimate, bumping the estimated number to over 100,000. The NYT buried the retraction far from the front page. NPR was, to it's credit, very vocal about having made a tremendous error in their estimate. The Los Angeles Times piece (the morning after the protest) pegged the number more accurately at as high as 150,000.

Meanwhile, there have been very substantial antiwar protests in Boston, Portland, San Fransisco, and elsewhere... en thousand here, twenty thousand there, fifty thousand..it sure does add up. It's not that convenient to drive to such a rally and stand around in the cold listening to speaches. This suggests committment: the usual liberal suspects? OK, but for a paper (NYT) which has recently admitted massive errors in coverage of the antiwar movement to now proclaim the movement's non-existance is, well, Orwellian.

Fuzz - Is that the real point? Could another "real point" concern the ongoing pro-war media blizzard? Is it about the antiwar movement's posession of incisive arguments or about it's access to mainstream media? I can dump more incisive antiwar argumant on your head than you could read in a week. But you won't hear them voiced on TV - or even in mainstream print or radio media.

Your assertion ("A pragmatic anti-war movement would need to start by accepting the legitimacy of the question "should we go to war against Iraq as a way of solving the problems its regime creates?") assumes that that there is some neutral mas media forum which the antiwar movement has access to. This is not the case.

Also, could you provide some evidence of this "demonizing of America" of which the US left is guilty? - not criticism of US government, please (as dissent is an inherently patriotic act), but the demonization of the american people by a significant percentage of the US left?

And, "The anti-war movement seems curiously uninterested in actually creating a political basis for stopping the war effort." - how do you propose that the antiwar movement accomplish that goal? The US right has made major inroads over the past two decades - with deep pocketed funding. Billions of dollars are spent in major US election cycles to influence US public opinion. I see no deep pocketed billionaire giant striding over the horizon to fund antiwar efforts in the US.
posted by troutfishing at 8:40 PM on December 9, 2002


And a bit more about the Orwellian inversion of this NYT piece: It was not until after several years of war (and thousands of US military casualties) that mass protests against the Vietnam War began. The current antiwar protests have begun - on a huge scale - before, even, the first shot has been fired, or the first US casualty acknowledged. -- Doesn't this suggest a very deep vein of public opposition?

The NYT can ignore these facts, but in doing so it degrades it's own authority.
posted by troutfishing at 8:54 PM on December 9, 2002


The US right has made major inroads over the past two decades - with deep pocketed funding. Billions of dollars are spent in major US election cycles to influence US public opinion. I see no deep pocketed billionaire giant striding over the horizon to fund antiwar efforts in the US.

And i supose its bad that right-wingers use their money at their own descretion? But, oh wait, its used to buy their way into politics so it must be bad discretion. Its a person's choice to spend their money how they choose. Don't bitch about how the right uses their money for political use. You seem to imply that we've bought our way into the government. Maybe its just the lefts' fault for not using their deep pockets and they ought to be the one's you're complaining to.
posted by jmd82 at 9:58 PM on December 9, 2002


Wanted: an anti-war movement that's not anti-American. I'd sign up in a minute. No, I have no interest in "freeing" Mumia, and I think free trade is often a good thing.

Whatever happened to single-issue protests?
posted by owillis at 9:59 PM on December 9, 2002


fuzz: The real point is that the anti-war movement in general has completely failed to articulate a basis for opposing the war that is sufficiently inclusive to attract their natural allies on the center-left of American politics.

Hmmph. Well, I think the stance of the American people should be something along the following lines: "Given the high social, financial, and environmental cost of war, we resolve not to go to war (much less start one pre-emptively) unless there is a compelling reason to do so."

It's kinda like the doctrine of innocence-until-proven-guilty (I must note that I am *not* drawing this analogy to Saddam & Co.) Why must the default position be war, unless an anti-war movement articulates an inclusive basis of opposition?

If war is such a good idea, then convince me of it. Sell me on it. Give me a reasonable casus belli that's free of exaggeration, hyperbole, PR firms, and focus groups, and I might well come around and think that this is a good idea.

I still haven't heard anything convincing. What I've heard so far are murky arguments, unrealized promises to produce definitive evidence later on, and a whole lot of saber-rattling.make it up for me.
posted by Vidiot at 11:26 PM on December 9, 2002


uh, take out those last five words above. Editing error.
posted by Vidiot at 11:28 PM on December 9, 2002


The NYT piece was an interesting description of a non-representative subpopulation: liberal hawks. Most liberals oppose an Iraqi war; for example, no pro-war articles have appeared at Common Dreams.

Three months ago, the Nation had a fascinating article The Left and 9/11, describing the various opinions among the Left about military action in Afghanistan, a cause with far more support than a war against Iraq.
posted by JulianA at 11:47 PM on December 9, 2002


You seem to imply that we've bought our way into the government. Maybe its just the lefts' fault for not using their deep pockets and they ought to be the one's you're complaining to.

So the left are not in power because they're too miserly?
posted by niceness at 2:05 AM on December 10, 2002


So the left are not in power because they're too miserly?

Not exactly, but that's what trout's diatribe about right-winger's use of money implies (that the right uses their money to buy their way into politics).
posted by jmd82 at 8:59 AM on December 10, 2002


American politics always seems so vehemently bipolar. Suppose it makes taking sides easier.
posted by walrus at 9:50 AM on December 10, 2002


Well, the right has long been been more effective than the left at a.) agreeing on a common message; and b.) communicating it effectively.

B.) tends to require lots of money. The left can have money, but the lack of a common message tends to dilute any kind of awareness campaign.
posted by Vidiot at 9:53 AM on December 10, 2002


I don't suppose it would occur to you, Vidiot, that money or not, a message may be received -- but rejected?

Also, keep in mind that democracy does not require persuading every last person in the country. A majority are already well persuaded that war is necessary, and this instead places the burden on the minority to persuade the majority otherwise. That the administration has failed to sell you on the idea is of little consequence to them.

But this is all just an expression of the Democrats' problems with the national security issue.

JulianA: Common Dreams is not a comprehensive representation of the liberal point of view. Common Dreams is explicitly pacifist. This may even be a majority of liberals today, although I suspect not; but do not think of CD as a place where dialogues take place. Like raaka, they hope to eject from liberalism anyone who does not follow the dove ideology.
posted by dhartung at 10:31 AM on December 10, 2002


A majority are already well persuaded that war is necessary

True, but it does appear that support is conditional on UN acceptance for the majority, which is a position many if not most mainstream liberals would likely agree with. Bush's best political moves were bringing the Iraq issue to the forefront, and then bringing the UN in. He outflanked the Democrats at every turn, as their best hope with an angry and scared public was to press for a more multilateral approach, which is exactly the course Bush is (or appears to be) following.

The reality is that the American public not bloodthirsty, but wants the country to do something. The Republicans have put forward Iraq as that something, the Democrats have yet to propose anything. I am quite certain that the American public is not completely sold on the idea of Iraq, however to most people it beats the alternative offered by the peace camp, which is to do nothing.

I am confidant that if an intelligent alternate plan to do something about a world that threatens civilians all over the globe was put forward, it would gain a huge amount of support. But what is clear to the electorate is that business as usual isn't an option anymore.
posted by cell divide at 10:58 AM on December 10, 2002


jmd82 - let me refine my diatribe a little. First of all, money does generally translate fairly well into political power. That can be empirically demonstrated. Popular sentiment can also have great politcal currency, but is seldom aroused sufficiently to overwhelm money (though it always is a political force, to some extent)

And as wealth distribution in the US increasingly skews towards the top 1/2 of one percent, this means that a tiny percentage of the electorate is coming to wield a vastly disproportionate influence on the US politcal process - not a healthy condition for a democracy.

Dhartung - I expected you to show up on this post sooner or later! - Sure, "a message may be received -- but rejected", money doesn't always translate into political power as a linear function, as the recent Louisiana election shows.

As Vidiot mentioned (I agree), " the right has long been been more effective than the left at a.) agreeing on a common message; and b.) communicating it effectively."

Let me make a more subtle point; much of the political groundwork for the American right, election time or not, is acomplished by advertising techniques. The business class, much more heavily represented in the ranks of the Republican party, is more familiar with advertising concepts than any American group (except media studies academics, and they're a wee lot) and so it comes as no surprise that republican money is often spent more efficiently than democratic money. Republicans are not squeamish about using sophisticated (and covert) advertising techniques. Democrats are much more interested in "uplifting" the electorate, in making sense.

I think this predates Nixon's "southern strategy", with it's coded use of rascist themes, but '68 was clearly a watershed election, in "advertising" terms.
posted by troutfishing at 11:16 AM on December 10, 2002


cell divide. You hit the nail on the head: a left devoid of constructive ideas. Maybe it's dietary - too much tofu?
posted by troutfishing at 11:20 AM on December 10, 2002


I'm a liberal? I read Common Dreams? When the fuck did all this happen?

You'll be first against the wall dan!
posted by raaka at 4:00 PM on December 10, 2002


dhartung: I don't suppose it would occur to you, Vidiot, that money or not, a message may be received -- but rejected?

Actually, it does, dhartung. I know what the Bush administration is saying. I have received that message, but I reject it. They have failed to convince me that pre-emptive war with Iraq is a reasonable step or in our national interest. (Incidentally, I also reject what the Iraqi government is saying.)

Also, keep in mind that democracy does not require persuading every last person in the country. A majority are already well persuaded that war is necessary, and this instead places the burden on the minority to persuade the majority otherwise.

Really? I didn't get a chance to vote in that referendum. I don't even think that a "majority are already well persuaded that war is necessary." I think that the administration is beating the drum louder and louder...and without any coherent voice, alternative plan, or effective way to get an opposing opinion out there and on the collective radar, any sort of anti-war sentiment is overlooked.

That the administration has failed to sell you on the idea is of little consequence to them.

That's been made abundantly clear; this administration's regard for minority opinion and tolerance for dissent are the lowest in my memory at least.

(So hard to refrain from making a 2000 election joke there...you should be proud.)

I'm not saying that money translates into political power. But as troutfishing observed, it certainly helps. Money can refine and transmit a message (through PR, ads, think tanks, and myriad other ways), and the right wing has historically been more effective in this area than the left has been.

Also, what cell divide said.
posted by Vidiot at 4:56 PM on December 10, 2002


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