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Dissent or Assent? | The Nation

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Dissent or Assent?

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Arguing About War also contains five short essays on Iraq. Their gist is given by the title of the first one: "Inspectors Yes, War No." The main problem is "European irresponsibility": If France, Germany and Russia had themselves threatened to enforce inspections militarily, the United States would not have had to. But they have been "committed, all along, to appeasement." Walzer proposes giving them one more chance, after which "many of us will probably end up, very reluctantly, supporting the war the Bush administration seems so eager to fight."

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George Scialabba
George Scialabba is the author of Divided Mind and, most recently, What Are Intellectuals Good For? and The Modern...

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Why was the Bush Administration so eager to fight? About this Walzer has nothing to say, except to take them at their word: "Delay is dangerous." To whom was it dangerous? Besides Kuwait, none of Iraq's neighbors supported the war, or even supported the sanctions. As for the threat to the United States: As Condoleezza Rice explained in early 2000, before assuming office, "If [the Iraqis] do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration."

Some of the war's opponents have speculated that the Bush Administration's motives included desire to establish a commanding military presence in the region where the most important natural resource in the world is located; eagerness to turn a large and potentially rich country into a virtually unregulated investors' paradise; a desire to impress the rest of the world once again with America's insuperable lead in military technology; a desire to exploit near-universal hatred of Saddam to legitimize (by establishing a precedent for) the doctrine of unilateral American military intervention expounded in the National Security Strategy document of September 2002; and, last but not (in the mind of Karl Rove) least, a wish to unify the country behind an Administration that was making a hash of the economy and environment in order to shovel cash at its campaign contributors. Walzer responsibly refrains from all such speculations.

He does, however, once again consider it important to chastise his opponents on the left. "Some of the most vocal organizers of the antiwar movement, here and in Europe...deny that the Iraqi regime is particularly ugly." How, he scolds, "can [Iraqi crimes] be ignored by a serious political movement?" As usual, Walzer offers no evidence that they have been. I myself have never heard anyone--except the Iraqi information minister--deny that Saddam's regime was "particularly ugly." I frankly doubt that Walzer has either.

Soft on the Bush Administration, tough on the left: Walzer's practice falls far short, it seems to me, of the ideal of social criticism that he has often preached. According to Interpretation and Social Criticism (1987), the critic ought to "challenge the leaders, the conventions, the ritual practices of a particular society," decrying, where necessary, its "public pronouncements and respectable opinion as hypocritical." One of the "tasks of the critic," he writes in The Company of Critics (1988), is "to question relentlessly the platitudes and myths of his society." The critic, he tells us in Thick and Thin (1994), "tears aside the veil" that his society's "leading members...draw over their everyday evasions and the more ugly features of the world they have made." I'm afraid all this doesn't sound much like Walzer to me. When it comes to the role of his favored states in international affairs, there is very little challenging, veil-tearing or relentless questioning. In this sphere, at least, Walzer's habitual stance is less that of dissenter than (mildly) critical supporter.

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