Thursday, January 20, 2005

Stay Free

I want to reproduce the bulk of a recent Andrew Sullivan post (scroll to Wednesday 19th), which shows that it is possible to develop a nuanced principle on something as divisive as the war in Iraq without being wholly anti to the point of virtually being an apologist for the Saddam Hussein regime or wholly pro to the point of excusing the worst excesses (and lies) of the American establishment.

Among the more bizarre notions... is that there can only be two positions on the Iraq war: a) that it's all good and that the critics are spineless anti-Americans (or, worse, reporters for mainstream media) or b) that it's a calamity from Day One and will surely end in disaster. So those of us who have been critics of aspects of the occupation - from insufficient troop members to deployment of illegal torture, for example - are accused of being fair-weather pro-warriors. Or, because we still back the goals of the original invasion and want Iraq to shift toward democracy, we're deemed Bush lackeys. The problem with this way of looking at things is that the stakes are far higher, it seems to me, than the question of whether you are pro-Bush or anti-Bush. The truth, it seems to me, is that Bush is a very mixed blessing. On the one hand, he gets the fundamental issue - the war for survival against Islamist fascism, and the critical importance of establishing some democratic space in the Arab world to undermine it from within. I've criticized this president for many things. But never for these two vital objectives, which I share and have always shared. But - again - it's perfectly legit to criticize the methods of the war, while supporting its goals. In fact, it's unavoidable if you're being more than a cheer-leader for one side or the other. You can, of course, dismiss the mistakes, ignore them or say they're not a big deal. Or you can argue genuinely that they aren't mistakes. Or you can say that you disagree, say, with the troop level critique but agree with those who want accountability (and not just an "accountability moment") for the use of torture by some American troops. But the notion that our debates have to be about whose side are you on in terms of domestic politics strikes me as depressing.

Apropos of nothing, Richard Perle was interviewed on Today FM's Last Word Wednesday evening(The programme is a current affairs drive-time show here in Ireland, which also invites comments from its listeners, who always seem to be from Cork for some reason). The interview was conducted in light of an interview the previous day with Seymour Hersh. Perle rubbished both the story and Hersh's reportage itself. He also went on to say, in a response to a question asking if the real intention of the Iraq invasion was a domino effect throughout the Middle East, "The purpose was to remove Saddam Hussein's regime... the domino concept is highly mechanistic... [and] was no part of the administraion's agenda". He admits mistakes were made, but that the mistake was to allow a liberation turn into an occupation.

That all sounds like he wanted to leave once Saddam was toppled, which is completely at odds with current right-wing pundit statements about democracy. Then again Andrew Sullivan says after the inauguration "The speech was a deep rebuke to conservative foreign policy realists. Its fundamental point, it seems to me, is that security is only possible through the expansion of liberty abroad... it was an old-style liberal speech, about as far from the conservative tradition in foreign policy as can be imagined. And at its most ambitious, it was a fusion of liberal internationalism with realism - saying that the latter cannot be secured without the former."

Try and listen to the whole thing. Download this and move to 42 mins 20 secs for the start of the interview. The Hersh interview can be downloaded here and move to 1 min 8 secs. I think I'll email Sullivan with the detail.

Matthew Yglesias also has a take on Bush's inauguration speech. Maybe Bush has a principled stand on spreading freedom, but American Realpolitik shows otherwise and Johann Hari describes Bush's speech as a "sugar coated lie" in a fine piece (although he gives too much credence to the 100,000 dead figure and the "death-squad" story).
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