One of the most persuasive arguments for war in Iraq -- the only argument that still powers the blood-and-bucks guzzler that Iraq and Afghanistan have become -- was put forward by liberals turned neocon apologists. Members of the "I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club," as New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller called them (Thomas Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman), saw Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden as a new breed of fascists. Whether one had WMDs or not, whether the two conspired over 9/11 or not, whether American interests were threatened or not wasn't ultimately the reason to go after them. Destroying their totalitarian cult and replacing it with liberal democracy was.
As Friedman put it, he had no regrets for hoping to "remove the genocidal tyranny of Saddam Hussein and replace it with some kind of decent, pluralistic, representative government in the heart of the Arab world." To Berman, the goal of America's wars "is to cause people all over the Muslim world to abandon the cult of mass death and suicide. What would be a complete victory? The rise of liberal societies and liberal ideas." And Hitchens, the neo-hawks' Dr. Phil, argues that Abu Ghraib at its degrading worst under American occupation was "unarguably, the difference between night and day" when compared with what it was before: an "abattoir, a torture chamber, and a concentration camp."
Say what you will about the neo-hawks, they can make liberals seem pretty dishonest for chanting democracy over here while tolerating repression over there. They can -- if you buy into their distortions.
Distortion #1: The problem in the Islamic world was the totalitarian regime Saddam imposed, and the totalitarian regime bin Laden wants to impose or Iran has already imposed. It's not the totalitarian (or, in some milder cases, authoritarian) regimes the United States supports, militarily and financially, in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and that pearl of duplicity, Pakistan. The problem isn't the masses of people in those countries who daily suffer the oppression and corruption of those undemocratic regimes. It's those "terrorists" who would undermine those regimes -- that is, undermine America's proxies.
Distortion #2: It's moral and just to take a stand against oppression. Never mind that there was never a question to invade the Soviet Union when oppression there for half a century was more systematic, brutal and deadly than it ever was in Iraq or Afghanistan, and forget the supreme irony: that containment, not bombs, defeated the Soviets. Never mind that there's no question of spilling blood or bucks in the Congo, where 5 million people, if blacks count as people in America's moral calculus, have died from civil war since the mid-1990s.
Distortion #3: Warring for "some kind of decent, pluralistic, representative government in the heart of the Arab world" in the shadow of American guns is a noble and just mission, and not at all a recasting of a century of Western colonial presumptions the Arab world never asked for then, and doesn't trust now.
On June 15, 1938, The New York Times ran a nearly full-page editorial that took issue with the United States' Neutrality Act in the face of rising fascism in Europe. It was a convincing argument against isolationism and in defense of interventionism, but only in so far as it meant defending the Western, democratic way of life.
The perpetual war express that George Bush began, that John McCain hopes to ride on and that liberal neo-hawks still defend isn't about defending that way of life. It's not even about imposing "liberal societies and liberal ideas" anymore, as governance Iraq and Afghanistan constantly remind us (as I write this, a journalism student in Afghanistan faces the death penalty for downloading and distributing an article questioning why men, but not women, may practice polygamy under Islam). It's about imposing American hegemony by any means necessary.
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