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February 23, 2007

War and liberalism

I've got a new essay, "War and Liberalism," just out in The New Republic.

The main argument of the piece is that historically liberal government "has turned out to be stronger and more effective in war than its adversaries have expected, and ... more resilient under the pressures of war than liberals themselves have feared."

One of the main reasons that democracies have a better record in war than dictatorships do is that democracies rarely begin wars that they cannot win, and win quickly According to the historical pattern, the Iraq War should never have happened. Why it did and why it has gone so badly and done so much damage to America's interests are all immensely revealing about what is wrong with the conservatism of the Bush era.

Here is the concluding paragraph:
There is a different way of thinking about power from the one that conservatives in the Bush era have championed, and that way of thinking grows out of the liberal tradition and historical experience. The crucial historical lesson is not that liberal principles and public debate must give way in war for the sake of national defense: constitutionally limited power has proved to be more powerful than unlimited power. Democratic partnerships at home and abroad are critical to the nation's strength. America has risen to its current position partly on the basis of these ideas, and staying true to them would be a victory in itself.

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February 21, 2007

Congressional battleground

I have a new column just out, "Congressional Battleground," from the March issue of The American Prospect, arguing that to get the additional votes in the Senate needed to change policy in Iraq, Democrats and opponents of the war ought to focus on states with vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection in 2008. I wrote this piece on February 11, before the Senate vote on the 17th that fell three votes short of the margin needed to close off debate.

In arguing that this winter's debate on the war is just a rehearsal for a major confrontation with the president to come later this year or early next, I was assuming that Democrats would not be able to get the support in the next several weeks or months to limit the war through an appropriations bill, which would need only 51 votes in the Senate. We'll see whether that expectation turns out to be right.

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February 14, 2007

An Olive Branch to Former Hawks

Many Democrats and liberals are now engaged in an unproductive argument about whether those who originally supported the Iraq War but have since changed their minds ought to make an abject confession of their error. The particular focus of this controversy at the moment is Senator Hillary Clinton, who has blamed Bush for misleading Congress and the country and insisted that if Congress had known then what it knows now, there never would have been a vote to authorize the Iraq War in the first place.

I opposed the war from the beginning in the pages of The American Prospect, but I see no point in berating the war’s early supporters and demanding a public confession. During the lead-up to the war, none of us could be certain whether or not Saddam Hussein had a program to build weapons of mass destruction. Nor could we know for sure the difficulties that would confront an American invasion and occupation.

I had supported the Gulf War in 1991 as well as the war in Afghanistan in 2001, and I might well have become one of the liberal hawks who supported the Iraq War—except that I found too many reasons to be skeptical of Bush’s claims and too many reasons to believe that invading Iraq would lead to disaster.

It turned out those suspicions were correct. But it is now time to wind down the argument about who took what position in the past and how members of Congress voted on the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. Remember that Congress was asked to vote on that resolution as the administration was supposedly trying to work through the United Nations to avoid war. As a result, anyone who voted against the resolution might have appeared to be undermine the negotiating leverage of the United States and thereby making war more likely.

The blame for the fiasco in Iraq ought to rest squarely on George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and the conservative foreign-policy intellectuals--both neoconservatives and “vulcans”--who were directly responsible for it.

Those who now recognize the war as a mistake ought to focus their energies on how to bring it to an expeditious conclusion.