OK, Saddam’s in jail and Iraq is the fifty-first (and best-funded) state. Are we better off than we were a year ago?
Slate‘s Jacob Weisberg asked a prominent group of “liberal hawks” to reassess their support for the war in light of what we now know. While he does not bring up issues relating to the Administration’s morality or mendacity–not to mention the horrible precedent of the world’s only superpower launching an allegedly “preventive” war–Weisberg offers a useful summary of what’s gone wrong from a narrowly pragmatic point of view:
There is “the huge and growing cost of the invasion and occupation: in American lives (we’re about to hit 500 dead and several thousand more have been injured); in money (more than $160 billion in borrowed funds); and in terms of lost opportunity (we might have found Osama Bin Laden by now if we’d committed some of those resources to Afghanistan). Most significant are the least tangible costs: increased hatred for the United States, which both fosters future terrorism and undermines the international support we will need to fight terrorism effectively for many years to come.”
Of the group of eight, Kenneth Pollack, George Packer and Fred Kaplan have all come to regret their previous arguments to various degrees. Pollack, who is a bit equivocal on this point, lays responsibility on his own overestimation of the dictator’s WMD capacity. Fair enough; this was something on which reasonable people could disagree, and as Paul Wolfowitz later admitted, was chosen by the Bush Administration as the focus of its propaganda efforts because of its perceived political potency. Kaplan (who changed his mind before the war began) and Packer lay the blame on the Administration’s postwar incompetence, which, they believe, makes a mockery of the sacrifices it has demanded from this country and from the Iraqis themselves.
The “I’m Still a Hawk” club includes Thomas Friedman, Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens and Fareed Zakaria. I think we can eliminate Hitchens from the ranks of prowar liberals at the start. As a leftist, he heaped Cockburn-like contempt on liberals; today it’s more of the Horowitzian variety. In either incarnation, he has had little use for Isaiah Berlin or John Dewey. Neither does it make sense to include Fareed Zakaria, who is a protégé of the neoconservative Samuel Huntington (and, like Huntington, a critic of “too much democracy”) and an unrepentant Reaganite. A smart conservative does not a liberal make.
My friend Paul Berman is as genuine a liberal as you will find anywhere, but his views on Iraq derive not from the logic of realist cost-benefit analysis but from his own metanarrative of the nature of the conflict between radical Islam and the West, laid out in his provocative book Terror and Liberalism. Paul may be right and I may be wrong, but in the meantime, given his analysis, it would be awfully difficult for him to consider the war a mistake no matter how badly the Administration screws it up. What he wants are better, more intelligent wars, but this war is better than nothing.