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Jewish World Review Oct. 23, 2002 / 16 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Michael Kelly

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Anti-war effort perverts liberal values | Since liberalism is an argument for a morally ordered world, liberal arguments are at bottom moral arguments, and there is a moral basis to the liberal argument against war with Iraq, as it has cohered in recent weeks. But, as it turns out, this argument perverts liberal and moral values.

In its essence, the liberal argument against war is that the immoral actor here is America--that America is, or imminently threatens to become, what the American president might call evil: a nationalist, imperialist, law-breaking pariah state at odds with its own traditions and values.

This bitter view has become the liberal establishment line, here and in Europe. A candid explication of the line is put forward in "The Threat of America,'' the lead article in the October issue of the London Review of Books. The article is by Anatol Lieven, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. A slightly more polite bashing may be found in "Bush and Iraq,'' the lead article in the Nov. 7 issue of The New York Review of Books, by the former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis.

Lieven sums up his America: "What we see now is the tragedy of a great country, with noble impulses, successful institutions, magnificent historical achievements and immense energies, which has become a menace to itself and to mankind.'' He describes a government dominated, and a country illegitimately misruled, by "the radical nationalist Right ... Republican nationalists,'' who are pursuing "the classic modern strategy of an endangered right-wing oligarchy, which is to divert mass discontent into nationalism,'' and who are also motivated by a scheme "to take the Jewish vote away from its traditional home in the Democratic Party.''

Lieven holds out only one faint hope--that the inherently non-imperialist American people will reject the machinations of the right-wing evildoers. Lewis, in his echoing article, quotes Lieven to this effect, and says, in an Eeyore-like tone, "We can only hope he is right.''

What is striking about these arguments is what they refuse to even acknowledge: the liberal--moral--case for war. This case was made, in the best argument written to date on either side of the issue, in an article plugged in this space last week, but not plugged enough: Jonathan Chait's cover story in the Oct. 21 issue of The New Republic, "The Liberal Case for War.''

Chait begins by approvingly noting the three core liberal principles in foreign policy: advancing humanitarian goals, observing international law and acting in concert with international institutions. In each instance, he persuasively argues, the Bush administration's policy meets the liberal test.

The most compelling argument, and the issue at the heart of the liberal perversion of liberalism, is in the area of humanitarianism. You can read all of Lieven and all of Lewis, and there is one thing you will not find: any consideration that an American war against Saddam Hussein's regime might be worth risking--I mean according to liberal humanitarian values, not merely as a matter of selfish practical concerns--because such a war could rescue a people from one of the most cruel dictatorships on Earth.

The depth of denial here is stunning. Lieven concedes that the militarily superior United States probably could topple Saddam's regime. But what then? He writes: "The 'democracy' which replaces it will presumably resemble that of Afghanistan--a ramshackle coalition of ethnic groups and warlords, utterly dependent on U.S. military power and utterly subservient to U.S. (and Israeli) wishes.''

Yes, I suppose what exists in Afghanistan is only (so far, at least) a "democracy,'' not a democracy. And it sure is ethnic. And ramshackle. And, sure, post-Saddam Iraq would probably be the same.

But isn't Afghanistan after America's rescue a better place to live than it was before? I mean, again, from the liberal point of view: no more throwing homosexuals off buildings, whipping women, banning kites, that sort of thing. No more fascists.

Wouldn't Iraq as a "democracy'' be a better place too, liberal values-wise? Wouldn't the freeing of the Iraqi people, like the freeing of the Afghan people, be a great moral victory?

In the end, it comes to this: The anti-warriors of the left would rather see Iraq continue as a slave state under Saddam than concede any legitimacy to the idea of an American (or at least a Republican) use of force. It's a price they are willing to pay. Because, you see, America is "a menace." Well, it is a point of view. But you might have a hard time convincing the average Iraqi torture victim that it is a liberal one, or moral one.

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