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December 11, 2004

Must-Read From Jonah Goldberg: Liberals, Soft on Terror

Outstanding summary of liberals' three-year AWOL status on the war on terror:

Conservatives have been saying that the Left is making the Democrats too dovish for a very, very long time. After 9/11 this became a standard refrain in most of the relevant conservative analysis. And, typically, the response from the knee-jerk Left and liberals was, "How dare you..." How dare you question my patriotism! (Kerry himself offered up that one quite often.) How dare you question my commitment to defense! How dare you assume that conservatives are better at foreign policy! Etc.

One regular source of this sort of complaint was Kevin Drum, the in-house blogger of The Washington Monthly and something of a clearinghouse for smart liberals on the web. He's normally sober-minded, but sometimes he sounds like he's lined up too many fallen soldiers on his airline tray. I still remember when John Ashcroft warned β€” presciently β€” that al Qaeda might try to influence the U.S. elections as it had in Madrid. Drum responded, "What a despicable worm. What a revolting, loathsome, toad." The upshot was that Drum took some modest offense at the suggestion that Democrats would be any less resolute in their fight against America's enemies.

So, I was particularly intrigued by Drum's initial response to Beinart's cri de coeur [about liberals' unseriousness about fighting terror]: "What he really needs to write," harrumphed Drum, "is a prequel to his current piece, one that presents the core argument itself: namely, why defeating Islamic totalitarianism should be a core liberal issue." He continues later on: "That's the story I think Beinart needs to write. If he thinks too many liberals are squishy on terrorism, he needs to persuade us not just that Islamic totalitarianism is bad β€” of course it's bad β€” but that it's also an overwhelming danger to the security of the United States."


There've been campus debates, symposia, and course offerings. There've been international conferences, speeches, lectures, documentaries. Whole new chairs have been established at think tanks and universities, and there've even been new think tanks established, dedicated to defending democracy against this "new" form of totalitarianism. Two Cabinet positions have been created β€” with bipartisan support in response to this threat. Both presidential nominees staked their campaigns in large parts on their ability to fight and win the war on terror, a sometimes-clunking euphemism for Islamic fundamentalism.

But, what Kevin Drum thinks liberals need is a really good argument explaining the threat from jihadism. Where has he been these last few years?


If Drum needs another argument to be persuaded about the threat, he is flatly unpersuadable. Indeed, if Beinart could surf back on the space-time continuum, he could have used Drum's response as an example of exactly his complaint: that the Democrats don't care enough about fighting Islamic totalitarianism.


[After largely agreeing with Beinart, he found it necessary to backpedal and] post this: "UPDATE: I guess I need to say this more plainly: I'm not taking sides on this debate right now. I'm just saying that I'd like to hear the arguments."

Why not, Kevin? Do you need more data? This is not a new conversation. Indeed, it's been close to the only conversation on the web for over three years now, and you don't want to take sides?

Read the whole thing, as the man says.

Goldberg also explores the various rhetorical dodges liberals use to explain their reluctance to be serious about the War on Terror. Primary among them is that the war in Iraq was exectued poorly; the implication is that had the "execution" been better, they'd be gung-ho terrorist fighters, same as conservatives.

Let's extend that a bit: Whenever a proposal is made to fight terrorism, domestically or overseas, liberals begin attacking the idea, not in principle, mind you, but with a thousand complaints over details. It's not the principle of fighting terrorism with which we disagree, they say, it's all these little details that make this particular idea unacceptable to us.

That, in one brief Anglo-Saxon vulgarity, is bullshit. Look, if a Republican claimed that he was all in favor of, say, extending and increasing welfare benefits, and yet quibbled with every single implementation of this policy, stating that for each and every different proposal he had a host of "questions" about each proposal, what other conclusion could a liberal -- or anyone -- draw except: He's not really in favor of this proposal at all. He claims to be in favor of it, in principle, most likely because he realizes it would be politically hazardous to oppose it outright. So instead he finds a thousand little "problems" with each proposal and then rejects each proposal in turn, which allows him to dishonestly claim he's in favor of the notion while finding a way to oppose each and every attempt to pass it into law.

Let me say that shorter: there is no such thing as perfect legislation which satisfies your every concern, no such thing as a perfect plan for war and peace which can answer your every "question" and satisify you with perfect confidence that it will all work out nicely. And if your position is that your require such perfect implementation of an idea, you have deliberately -- and dishonestly-- set the bar impossibly high for gaining your assent. You are dishonestly posing as someone in favor of a policy, where in fact you oppose it.

At some point every legislator or policy wonk or commentator or policy wonk has to decide: Am I in favor of this idea enough to overcome the inevitable fact that it won't be implemented perfectly according to my own idiosyncratic lights? And, as a practical matter, if each new iteration or implementation of the idea causes you to resist again, then you're actually not in favor of the idea at all.

And you should probably just be honest about it and say so.

This is what annoys me so much about liberals constantly carping and complaining about each set-back in Iraq. Not only does such exhuberance seem like an unhealthy pleasure in American failure and American deaths, but the implication of these bitchfests is always, "See? The details of this plan were all wrong. Now, were someone with 'intellectual curiosity' were running the show..."

But that's just not true. Most liberals were not in favor of liberating Iraq, under any circumstances, or under any management. In fact, most weren't too keen on the War in Afghanistan, either, which is also something that rankles: they speak endlessly of their opposition of the War in Iraq -- an opposition, it must be said, where they are (or could be) on fairly defensible ground -- and dishonestly fail to disclose that they were pretty much against the War in Afghanistan, too.

But that one was too popular and, despite their carping, too successful. Hence, they don't want to talk about it much, and instead use the War in Iraq as a proxy-argument for their real position: An unhealthy and naive opposition to using military force under any circumstances, especially in those few cases where such use of force seems intended to serve America's own security interests.

When we're dicking around in Haiti, they seem to have much less of a problem with putting American lives in jeopardy.

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posted by Ace at 02:40 PM

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