Iraq's Summer Soldiers: Liberal Hawks as Ideological Deserters

By Cavanaugh, Tim | Reason, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Iraq's Summer Soldiers: Liberal Hawks as Ideological Deserters


Cavanaugh, Tim, Reason


IF PRESIDENT Bush's re-election demonstrated wide support for his "forward strategy of freedom"--the aggressive region-building scheme embodied in the Iraq war--you never would have known it from the people who took that strategy most seriously and argued most eloquently for it.

When the invasion of Iraq was still in its notional phase, a coalition of liberal hawks joined the president in arguing for the war as a Progressive intervention. Figures from academia, politics, and media--Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Fred Kaplan, Kenneth Pollack, Fareed Zakaria, Jeff Jarvis, Andrew Sullivan, Michael Ignatieff, and many others--defended the forward strategy as the main objective of the war. This was in sharp contrast to the Bush administration, which foregrounded the argument that Saddam Hussein's regime posed an immediate threat to the United States.

In one respect, the Iraq war's liberal hawks were more coherent than many of their counterparts, who had been happy to watch the Clinton-Berger-Albright foreign policy team pursue its humanitarian interventions in the Balkans but balked when the question of deposing Saddam arose. By any humanitarian measure, Slobodan Milosevic was small potatoes compared to Saddam. To the extent that you believe in an American mandate to correct problems abroad--and to be clear, this writer does not believe in it at all--the liberal hawks got through the pre-war and invasion period with a pleasing logical consistency.

It is in the open-ended occupation that they lost their nerve--even though this was when their arguments for regional transformation could have had the most impact. As the weapons-of-mass-destruction argument vanished, Saddam's supposed links to Al Qaeda proved chimerical, and the notion of Iraq as a robust or even functional adversary was revealed as a myth, the idea of transforming dictatorships into democracies throughout the Middle East became, by default, the only visible reason for an American role in Iraq. Instead of maintaining warts-and-all support for this colossal national mission, however, these summer soldiers expressed surprise and disdain that there are any warts at all. …

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