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Author Topic: "In the Neocons' Mouth": The Liberal Hawks
Babbler # 1064

posted 12 October 2004 01:57 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 

The failure of the Democratic Party to oppose the Bush Administration's push for war in Iraq may have doomed its chances in the 2004 elections. It exposed John Kerry to the jeering shrieks of "flip-flop" heard at every Bush rally--and not wholly unjustly, it must be said. From whatever mixture of fear and opportunism, many Democrats who at heart opposed the war reckoned that the wave of mass nationalist fervor that followed 9/11 made such a stance politically unviable in 2002-03.

But it would be unfair to accuse the Democratic foreign policy establishment as a whole of acting cynically. For there exist within that establishment powerful groups that shared and continue to share not only the Administration's case for war but most of the neoconservative philosophy and agenda in international relations. Some of these Democrats--particularly "liberal hawk" intellectuals--contributed considerably to building the public case for war.

The liberal hawks firmly believed that the Iraq war was both a humanitarian intervention and an important front in the "war on terrorism," even if they made no secret of their distrust of the Administration waging it. Nor have they been held to account for their views, even as the neoconservatives rightly take a beating for the war. Bizarrely, the liberal hawks continue to advance their approach as a radical Democratic alternative to Republican policies. In fact, they are taking the same route as the Scoop Jackson Democrats three decades ago, most of whom traveled via neoconservatism into the Republican Party.


The liberal hawks are partly right: Ideas are critical both to stemming the tide of Islamist revolution and its terrorist offshoots and to maintaining the unity of the West. But the approach they advocate all but insures American defeat, for reasons that should be all too apparent from the unfolding debacle in Iraq. These reasons are fourfold, and closely interconnected: (1) The approach lumps together all Muslim forces critical of the United States and Israel into one hostile and ideologically united camp; (2) it ignores the critically important role of local ethnic feeling not only in hostility to the United States but in the historical processes of democratization and modernization across much of the world; (3) it turns a blind eye to Israeli crimes; and (4) it treats America's allies as useful but contemptible idiots whose views and interests need not be seriously considered.


Berman, this "man of the Left," offers a portrait of "Islamic fascism" that is hardly distinguishable from that of such hard-line right-wing members of the Israeli lobby as Daniel Pipes. In terms of historical literacy, the argument is the equivalent of suggesting that because nineteenth-century European socialism and clerical conservatism shared a deep hostility to bourgeois liberalism, they somehow formed part of the same ideological and political tendency. In terms of strategic sense, it is equivalent to an argument that the United States and its allies should have fought Nazism and Soviet Communism not sequentially, but simultaneously. This strategy was indeed promoted by Churchill in the winter of 1939-40. If it had been followed, it would have insured Britain's defeat and a dark age for the world.

In other words, this "analysis" deliberately promotes and justifies the most dangerous aspect of the Bush Administration's approach to the war on terrorism: the lumping together of radically different elements in the Muslim world into one homogeneous enemy camp. As we can see in Iraq, this has been a magnificently successful example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It has created a perfect situation for Al Qaeda and its allies, on a scale they could never have achieved without massive US help.


By refusing to make this basic distinction between Arab nationalists and Islamists, Berman demonstrates the same disastrous, willful ignorance that led the Bush Administration into Iraq in the belief that by overthrowing the Baath they would also strike a mortal blow at Islamist terrorism. This applies with even greater force to the failure of Berman and others to make the critical distinction between Shiite and Sunni Islam, and between the different national agendas of Iran and various Arab states.


In another example of confluence with neoconservative positions, two signatories of the "Progressive Internationalism" manifesto, Michael McFaul and Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution, have called for the toughest possible US policy toward Iran, rejecting engagement in favor of regime change and democratization--thereby aligning themselves with neoconservative hard-liners and the Israel lobby, and against both Colin Powell's State Department and the views of leading European allies, including Britain.

Somehow, all this is said by its Democratic exponents to be compatible both with "multilateralism" and with the provision of a clear alternative to Republican strategy. In fact, it is often impossible to see any substantive difference. Thus Tomasky echoes not only the messianic democratizing rhetoric of the neoconservatives but also their ostentatious contempt for "the world."


The whole democratizing project, as espoused by the liberal hawks and the neoconservatives, is therefore inherently contradictory; and this contradiction is apparent from the very language they use. From the neocons, as Seymour Hersh has reported in The New Yorker, professed support for Arab democracy is mixed with statements that "the only language Arabs understand is force" and that they can be manipulated by sexual shame. But the liberal hawks too combine professed belief in democracy with an openly macho nationalist contempt for the opinions of every other country and its inhabitants.


This hostility to authoritarian states--even those that have been very successful in improving the lives of their peoples--is, naturally, generally shared among liberals in the Western NGO world. It is reflected, for example, in the precepts of Michael Ignatieff's recent work. The risk is that it can bring liberals together with imperialists of the neoconservative type in an alliance that much of the world is bound to see as highly reminiscent of the alliance between Christian missionaries and Western imperial soldiers in the nineteenth century. Despite their often genuine idealism and good intentions, the missionaries in the last resort depended on the soldiers, and had to abide the colonial orders that the soldiers created, however much these conflicted with Christian ethics.

The missionaries, and their democratizing descendants of today, would have done better to remember a certain Christian adage about the man who dines with the devil needing a long spoon. The liberal hawks in particular have failed to bring such a spoon to their relationship with the policies of the Bush Administration and the neoconservatives, and in consequence they are in the process of becoming dinner themselves. At present, the liberal hawks' legs are still sticking out of the neoconservatives' collective mouth, kicking faintly, but in a few years, at this rate, only a pathetic, muffled squeaking will remain, protesting that if only they had been in charge, all the disasters of the coming years would not have happened.

From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 478

posted 12 October 2004 02:27 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Very valuable indeed, 'lance. Bookmarked.

We have met with Mr Berman's arguments on babble a few times, I think.

From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 1064

posted 12 October 2004 02:34 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
And we will again, he said with only a trace of weariness.
From: that enchanted place on the top of the Forest | Registered: Jul 2001  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
Babbler # 518

posted 12 October 2004 03:54 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Berman hasn't been a "man of the left" for several decades. I well remember his "analysis" of Nicaragua during the Sandinista period.

Basically, he tried to fit every development into his own ideological mindset, which was socialism=communism=Stalinism.

So, every development in Nicaragua was compared to what happened in the Soviet Union in the 30's.

Did the Sandinistas periodically shut down the opposition paper, La Prensa, for being in league with the contras? Yes. Well, wasn't Stalin also against freedom of speech? Next, the gulag.

Of course, the Nicaraguan revolution was never like that, as the near-total absence of political prisoners, and the free elections, showed.

That never stopped Berman, though. I'd say his work is close to useless because of his ideological blinders.

From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 4790

posted 12 October 2004 06:00 PM      Profile for Cueball   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 

[ 12 October 2004: Message edited by: Cueball ]

From: Out from under the bridge and out for a stroll | Registered: Dec 2003  |  IP: Logged

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