Friday, January 16, 2004

Liberal Hawks debate on line at Slate

There is a very interesting email debate organized by Jacob Weisberg at Slate among liberals who backed the war in Iraq. The purpose was to answer the question, "Should We Have Backed This Invasion?". The participants, other than Weisberg, are Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Kenneth M. Pollack, and Fareed Zakaria. It is a debate that went over 5 days. Befofre you read it, ready yourself for the usual anti-Bush blah, blah, blah. Other than Hitchens, who is as unflinching and principaled as usual, all the others seem to feel a need to establish their liberal credentials with lots of qualifications and Republican bashing. But some make thoughtful comments. I am personally a fan of Paul Berman, who wrote the excellent book Terror and Liberalism, and who, despite a Terrets-like dislike of Bush, is outstanding at putting the conflict in perspective.

Read whatever suits you (at the bottom of each page is a tab for a different date), but don't skip Hitchens or Berman. And on the WMD debate, the Hitch is right in this response to Pollack, who does a mea culpa in what he thinks was his own over-estimating of the WMD strength of Pre-War Iraq:
Pollack may have been led to overstate the immediate danger from WMD, but he did so on persuasive evidence that was supported by a long history of exorbitant behavior by the Baathists, and on a long history of culpable underreaction by Washington. (There was no comparable inquisition, as I recall, when the intelligence "community" failed to predict, and very nearly failed to report, the invasion of Kuwait. And the antiwar forces cling to their taunt on WMD because every other part of their propaganda and prediction has been utterly exploded.) That's if WMD ever were much of an argument in that quarter. I myself had a different experience from Pollack, in the run-up to the war. I had to debate, every week and sometimes every day, with anti-interventionists who said that Saddam's possession of WMD was a reason NOT to attack or attempt to depose him. I said that the threat was latent not blatant, and that the main "immediate" danger was an off-the-shelf purchase by Iraq from North Korea, and by the way I think I was right. But I was not an elected officeholder in a democratic government in a post-9/11 atmosphere. If I had been, I would certainly have decided to make the worst assumption about any report on Saddam's capacity for lethality, and I would have been operating at all times on the presumption of guilt. As a civilian, I would have wanted to criticize any Western government that did not err deliberately on this side.


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