The Liberal Hawks’ Lament

The Liberal Hawks’ Lament

Consider the plight of the embattled liberal hawks and their lonely struggle to discredit the left.


When lamenting the loss of endangered species, consider the plight of the embattled “liberal hawks.” Back in their salad days, when George W. Bush’s approval ratings were sky-high and “Mission Accomplished” was not yet a poignant punch line, they spread their talons wide, leveling accusations left and left. According to the editors of The New Republic, for instance, those liberals who refused to get aboard Bush’s friendship train to Baghdad were motivated by “abject pacifism” characterized by “intellectual incoherence,” with views all but indistinguishable from “pierced-tongued demonstrators.” Today, amid the vast wreckage in Iraq that is the direct result of the policies they promoted, some members of this marvelously adaptable species have successfully reinvented themselves. They’re older and wiser but still victims of the same pacifistic, incoherent, pierce-tongued liberals who sometimes go so far as to liken them to neoconservatives. Roger Cohen, writing recently on the New York Times op-ed page, complained, “As America bumped down to earth, ‘liberal’ lost the mantle of political insult most foul. Its place was taken by the pervasive, glib ‘neocon.'” You thought the Iraqis had it bad, what with a destroyed, dysfunctional country and massive amounts of mindless murder and the like. But look at what Cohen & Co. have had to endure:

Christopher Hitchens, columnist for Slate and Vanity Fair and bestselling author; Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times and bestselling author; Peter Beinart, contributor to Time, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and celebrated author; Paul Berman, distinguished writer in residence at NYU and celebrated author; George Packer, correspondent for The New Yorker and celebrated author; Jeffrey Goldberg, correspondent for The Atlantic, formerly of The New Yorker and celebrated author; Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate and future celebrated author; Michael Ignatieff? Leon Wieseltier? Well, don’t cry for them, Hillary Clinton.

Now examine the case of the complainant himself. Roger Cohen is the former foreign editor of the New York Times, now editor at large of the International Herald Tribune, author of its “Globalist” column, international writer at large for the Times and frequent guest columnist for its op-ed page. In these various capacities, he unleashed a double-barreled barrage of personal insults last December against what he called “hyperventilating left-liberals [whose] hatred of Bush is so intense that rational argument usually goes out the window.” The column, which contained an avalanche of abuse, offered exactly one example: the nutty Scottish MP George Galloway, who had long ago been kicked out of the British Labour Party.

Cohen’s more recent screed is, in some ways, even more nakedly dishonest. He attacks an essay by “leftist commentator” Matthew Yglesias for allegedly arguing that neoconservatives “believe that America should coercively dominate the world through military force” and “believe in a dogmatic form of American exceptionalism” and “favor the creation of a U.S.-dominated ‘universal empire'” before asserting that “in these Walt-Mearsheimered days…. Neocon, for many, has become shorthand for neocon-Zionist conspiracy, whatever that may be, although probably involving some combination of plans to exploit Iraqi oil, bomb Iran and apply U.S. power to Israel’s benefit.”

But young Yglesias, a recovering liberal hawk himself, made no mention in his essay of Israel or Zionism, much less any alleged “conspiracy.” Rather, he addressed Robert Kagan and William Kristol’s argument for greater American belligerence toward China (among other places). And note Cohen’s sly employment of the intellectually incoherent phrase “Walt-Mearsheimered days,” which he uses to tar his opponents by association. (Later in the column, Cohen complains of something he calls the “Petraeus-insulting face of never-set-foot-in-a-war-zone liberalism.”)

Cohen does not demonstrate much interest in evidence. As I was researching a previous column, I inquired in an e-mail if he might have any examples other than the discredited Galloway to support his indictment of “hyperventilating left-liberals,” and he replied, “What makes you think you can express an informed opinion…?”

Faced with Michael Tomasky’s evidence-filled reply to his recent column on the Guardian‘s Comment Is Free website, Cohen responded with a personal attack on the “intolerable” fashion in which “a smug left personified by Michael Tomasky…can drone on about Iraq for 25 paragraphs or so without ever mentioning what Saddam’s murder-central was like.” He then suggested, “perhaps Tomasky should think a little more about how the Soviet Gulag slipped out of the awareness of wide swathes of the European and American left.”

Note again how Cohen’s insults are unburdened by evidence. Tomasky has never uttered a single sympathetic syllable about Saddam. Yet Cohen moves from Tomasky’s opposition to the war to an implied complicity with the Soviet gulag. Cohen further weakens his argument by deploying the dishonest debating tactic–all too frequently used by neocons–of attributing sentiments gleaned from anonymous web postings to his intellectual adversaries: “Anyone who doubts that neocon is often shorthand for ‘neo-con Zionist conspiracy,'” he writes, “should have his or her doubts laid to rest by reading the hundreds of comments [on Cohen’s blog], some of them ugly.”

It is unfortunate–though perhaps unavoidable–that those who love their country enough to persist in trying to rescue it from the myriad catastrophes caused by Messrs. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, etc., must endure such calumny. That this kind of McCarthyite missive should be published with the imprimatur of America’s most important newspaper, and one whose editorial board gave eloquent voice to exactly the position so slandered, is not merely a shame but also a scandal.

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