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May 22, 2007

Mr. Kerrey's Offensive WSJ Oped
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I feel bad for picking on Edward Luttwak in my last two posts. His article was, for the most part, a harmless articulation of an idea that no rational person (I hope) would ever take seriously. More problematic and more worth our time, attention, and worry is this most recent attempt at impersonating Joe Lieberman - mixing the Connecticut senator's vapid self-righteousness, macho posturing, conservative suck-upping, and shocking ignorance of the Middle East into one oddly compelling, if dispiriting package. No such impersonation is complete in scope and offense unless it gets published in the Wall Street Journal, and gets a gold star from Kathryn Jean Lopez who, quite rightly, observed that Bob Kerrey is now her favorite democrat. The kiss of death, indeed.

For those of us interested in resuscitating the "liberal interventionist" tradition from the grips of death, then it is people like Bob Kerrey and opeds like the one he just published which make such an effort, however noble and urgent, all the more difficult.

Ok, so here goes:

Shirin Ebadi delivered our commencement address. This brave woman, who has been imprisoned for her criticism of the Iranian government, had many good and wise things to say to our graduates, which earned their applause. But one applause line troubled me. Ms. Ebadi said: "Democracy cannot be imposed with military force." What troubled me about this statement--a commonly heard criticism of U.S. involvement in Iraq--is that those who say such things seem to forget the good U.S. arms have done in imposing democracy on countries like Japan and Germany, or Bosnia more recently.

Yes, I suppose democracy “can” – at least in theory – be imposed by force. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. It rarely is, particularly in a region where we had previously, shown little or no interest in encouraging democracy even through peaceful, gradualist means. Instead of democracy at gunpoint, which is a difficult sell in the Middle East, why don’t we start off by peacefully supporting Arab democracy by putting economic and political pressure on the dictators of Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, etc, all of whom are our allies, and many of whom receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. in foreign assistance. Strange how we don’t see many republicans talking about that. In fact, when an amendment that would have reduced aid to Egypt by $100 million came up for a vote last year, Republicans voted overwhelmingly against it (while Democrats largely supported it).

Let me restate the case for this Iraq war from the U.S. point of view. The U.S. led an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein because Iraq was rightly seen as a threat following Sept. 11, 2001. For two decades we had suffered attacks by radical Islamic groups but were lulled into a false sense of complacency because all previous attacks were "over there." It was our nation and our people who had been identified by Osama bin Laden as the "head of the snake." But suddenly Middle Eastern radicals had demonstrated extraordinary capacity to reach our shores.

Try reading that a couple times and if it makes any sense to you, please tell me. Why exactly was Iraq more of a threat after 9/11? And what does Bin Laden have to do with this? Is Kerrey channelling Cheney?

The critics who bother me the most are those who ordinarily would not be on the side of supporting dictatorships, who are arguing today that only military intervention can prevent the genocide of Darfur, or who argued yesterday for military intervention in Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda to ease the sectarian violence that was tearing those places apart.

Apparently determined to make WSJ readers gush profusely, Kerrey is in effect saying that those who opposed the war were “on the side of supporting dictatorships.” Is it too much of an intellectual stretch to imagine that someone could have been against dictatorship and against Saddam while still opposing the war, or is this possibility too difficult to fathom in the Liebermanesque self-constructed world of black and white, good and evil, where nuance is to be shunned like a Muslim at a CPAC conference, or worse, a gay man at a Muslim barbeque in Birmingham (England, that is)?

Suppose we had not invaded Iraq and Hussein had been overthrown by Shiite and Kurdish insurgents. Suppose al Qaeda then undermined their new democracy and inflamed sectarian tensions to the same level of violence we are seeing today. Wouldn't you expect the same people who are urging a unilateral and immediate withdrawal to be urging military intervention to end this carnage? I would.

Huh? A paragraph of utterly befuddled prose. Where is Chris Hitchens when you need him? Those are a lot of “suppositions” in three short sentences. So let me get this straight: Shia and Kurdish insurgents would have overthrown Saddam (even though there was no active insurgency at the time), and magically founded a democracy. That much, I suppose, is remotely possible if you grant yourself the luxury of an overactive imagination. But how the heck would Al-Qaeda have “undermined” democracy in Iraq, considering there had never been an al-Qaeda presence there to start with?

American liberals need to face these truths: The demand for self-government was and remains strong in Iraq despite all our mistakes and the violent efforts of al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias to disrupt it. Al Qaeda in particular has targeted for abduction and murder those who are essential to a functioning democracy: school teachers, aid workers, private contractors working to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, police officers and anyone who cooperates with the Iraqi government. Much of Iraq's middle class has fled the country in fear.

Um, ok, tell us something we don’t know.

With these facts on the scales, what does your conscience tell you to do? If the answer is nothing, that it is not our responsibility or that this is all about oil, then no wonder today we Democrats are not trusted with the reins of power. American lawmakers who are watching public opinion tell them to move away from Iraq as quickly as possible should remember this: Concessions will not work with either al Qaeda or other foreign fighters who will not rest until they have killed or driven into exile the last remaining Iraqi who favors democracy.

My conscience (do dictator-loving, New York Times-reading, apologist-appeasers, Neville Chamberlain-worshipping liberals have consciences?) tells me that we should begin a partial drawdown of troops, but maintain a rapid-reaction-force in the country to prevent ethnic genocide, minimize spillover effects, fight al-Qaeda, and maintain some level of basic security in key areas.

Oh, wait, Kerrey tells us that “Democrats are not trusted with the reins of power.” Because, of course, Republicans are trusted because they’ve been absolutely competent on all things foreign-policy related, and have made us the most loved, admired country in the world. Not only that, they've induced Iran to stop its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Oh, and I almost forgot - they've also made huge headway in promoting a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

Those who argue that radical Islamic terrorism has arrived in Iraq because of the U.S.-led invasion are right. But they are right because radical Islam opposes democracy in Iraq. If our purpose had been to substitute a dictator who was more cooperative and supportive of the West, these groups wouldn't have lasted a week.

The point of having an op-ed editor is to edit prose that makes no coherent sense. I have no idea what this paragraph means. Does this mean Kerrey would have supported substituting Saddam with a friendly, pro-West dictator? What would have compelled Kerrey to write an op-ed like this?


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Here's an interesting analysis of Kerrey's op-ed. I'd love to see you tear it apart.

Well, of course Bob Kerrey's op-ed doesn't make much sense: it's a pro-war piece in the Wall Street Journal: it doesn't have to make sense, it just has to look good and sound good. And beat the simplest theme possible into the reader's skulls: The War in Iraq is Good ('cause it's all in the name of Freedom and Democracy); ergo , pro-War people are Good, anti-War people are Bad ('cause who but the Bad can be against Freedom-n-Democracy??). Simple.

You don't understand Kerrey's commentary because you don't want to. It's fairly easy to comprehend his point, unless, of course, you are so blinded by one ideological viewpoint... I thought liberals were supposed to be intellectually superior, comprehensive in thought and able to understand perspectives. I guess that only applies in certain cases.

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