OpinionMeister

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Another Liberal Division

Martin Peritz, editor-in-chief and chairman af the liberal New Republic magazine, takes his fellow liberals to task in an article titled "The Politics of Churlishness." Link.
If George W. Bush were to discover a cure for cancer, his critics would denounce him for having done it unilaterally, without adequate consultation, with a crude disregard for the sensibilities of others. He pursued his goal obstinately, they would say, without filtering his thoughts through the medical research establishment. And he didn't share his research with competing labs and thus caused resentment among other scientists who didn't have the resources or the bold — perhaps even somewhat reckless — instincts to pursue the task as he did. And he completely ignored the World Health Organization, showing his contempt for international institutions. Anyway, a cure for cancer is all fine and nice, but what about aids?

No, the president has not discovered a cure for cancer. But there is a pathology, a historical pathology, that he has attacked with unprecedented vigor and with unprecedented success. I refer, of course, to the political culture of the Middle East, which the president may actually have changed. And he has accomplished this genuinely momentous transformation in ways that virtually the entire foreign affairs clerisy — the cold-blooded Brent Scowcroft realist Republicans and almost all the Democrats — never thought possible. Or, perhaps, in ways some of them thought positively undesirable. Bush, it now seems safe to say, is one of the great surprises in modern U.S. history. Nothing about his past suggested that he harbored these ideals nor the qualities of character required for their realization. Right up to the moment Bush became president, I was convinced that his mind, at least on matters Levantine, belonged to his father and to James Baker III, whose worldview seemed to be defined by the pecuniary prejudice of oil and Texas: Keep the ruling Arabs happy. But I was wrong, and, in light of what has already been achieved in the Middle East, I am glad to say so. Most American liberals, alas, enjoy no similar gladness. They are not exactly pleased by the positive results of Bush's campaign in the Middle East. They deny and resent and begrudge and snipe. They are trapped in the politics of churlishness. (...)

The Clinton administration seized on every possible excuse — from the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, right through the atrocities in Kenya and Tanzania, to the attack on the USS Cole — not to respond meaningfully to Osama bin Laden. This aggressively dilatory approach was set early on, when Bill Clinton's first secretary of state, dead-man-walking Warren Christopher, proposed that a special bureau be set up to deal with drugs, crime, and terrorism in a single office, as if terrorism is a problem for policemen and not for strategists. The 9/11 Commission Report records that only congressional opposition aborted Christopher's concoction. Attorney General Janet Reno always worried about retaliation against any moves by the United States; Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, preoccupied with her "push for a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis," was concerned that military strikes against the bin Laden operations in Afghanistan would strengthen the Taliban; National Security Adviser Sandy Berger fretted that a shoot-out might be seen as an assassination, and, always the trade lawyer, he consistently held out hope that some sort of carrot would turn the Taliban against bin Laden; General Anthony Zinni was more concerned about human rights abuses by the Taliban than by its hospitality to Al Qaeda and worried also that a mosque might be damaged in the course of bombing operations; Pentagon officials warned that a missile aimed at bin Laden might kill a visiting Emirati prince instead (but why was a UAE prince hanging out with bin Laden anyway?); and CIA Director George Tenet had so many objections to decisive action that it would be nearly impossible to enumerate them. (...)

The fine fruits of the Bush administration's indifference to international opinion may be seen now in Lebanon, too. What is happening there is the most concrete intra-Arab consequence of the Iraq war. (...)Even if the outcomes will not be exactly the same, this was Prague and Berlin at the end of the long subjugation to their neighbor to the east. More immediately, this was Kiev only a few months ago. (...)

So the situation is certainly complex. But complexity is not a warrant for despair. The significant fact is that Bush's obsession with the democratization of the region is working. Have Democrats begun to wonder how it came to pass that this noble cause became the work of Republicans? They should wonder if they care to regain power. They should recall that Clinton (and the sanctimonious Jimmy Carter even more so) had absolutely no interest in trying to modify the harsh political character of the Arab world. What they aspired to do was to mollify the dictators — to prefer the furthering of the peace process to the furthering of the conditions that make peace possible. The Democrats were the ones who were always elevating Arafat. He was at the very center of their road map. After he stalked out of a meeting room in Paris during cease-fire talks in late 2000, Albright actually ran in breathless pursuit to lure him back. It was the Democrats who perpetuated Arafat's demonic sway over the Palestinians, and it was the Democrats who sustained him among the other Arabs. And so the cause of Arab democracy was left for the Republicans to pursue. After September 11, the cause became a matter also of U.S. national security. (...)

It has been heartening, in recent months, to watch some Democratic senators searching for ways out of the politics of churlishness. Some liberals appear to have understood that history is moving swiftly and in a good direction, and that history has no time for their old and mistaken suspicion of American power in the service of American values. One does not have to admire a lot about George W. Bush to admire what he has so far wrought. One need only be a thoughtful American with an interest in proliferating liberalism around the world. And, if liberals are unwilling to proliferate liberalism, then conservatives will.

I know this exerpt was awfully long, but it was hard to pick out the best parts. The whole article is so worth reading. Petitz defines the Democrats' problem very well. We can hope that someone will come along with a solution.

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