Foreign Policy = War

In an amazingly obtuse Richard Cohen column, filled with a number of howlers, this one stuck out for me:

[I]it is with Iraq that real and long-term damage [to "liberalism"!] has been done. For years to come, his war will be cited to smother any liberal impulse in American foreign policy -- to further discredit John F. Kennedy's vow to "pay any price, bear any burden . . . to assure the survival and the success of liberty." We shall revert to this thing called "realism," which is heartless and cynical, no matter what its other virtues. The debacle of Iraq has cost us -- and others -- plenty in lives. But in the end, it will cost us our soul as well.

This is just about the stupidest thing I have seen written, and boy is that saying something, in a long time.

Forget the pure fantasy that the Iraq Debacle was a "war of liberal impulse," what about the idea that a liberal foreign policy means war first? Are you kidding me? In short, this is madness. War is a horrible, horrible, horrible thing, always to be undertaken only as a last resort after all other FOREIGN POLICY recourses have been attempted. There simply is no first resort liberal war. The idea is moronic, as well as an oxymoron.

The Bush Administration was not, of course, acting from liberal impulse in going to war with Iraq. If we want to be charitable, one could argue that the Bush Administration truly believed that Iraq was a "growing and grave danger" to the United States.

If we want to be charitable, one could argue that the Bush Administration believed that by overthrowing one of many authoritarian governments in the Arab world, a flowering example of democracy in action would reduce the impetus and strength of Islamic extremism, and thus reduce the threat of terrorism to the United States.

If we want to be charitable, one could argued that the President was not displeased with the idea of spreading democracy in the Islamic world.

But please, the Iraq War was in no way a test of "liberal foreign policy." This was no Kosovo. Iraq was not Darfur.

Finally, Cohen decries "realism" in foreign policy, I guess "anti-realism" is how Cohen would describe a "liberal foreign policy." Of course, realism is central to a liberal foreign policy. Realism is knowing that the spread of freedom and human rights throughout the world is not only right, it is in the self interest of the United States. A liberal foreign policy is the Marshall Plan, the Alliance for Progress, NATO, the UN, multilaterlism as our default position, foreign aid, etc. It is NOT Iraq.

Realism is a necessary part of a liberal foreign policy. Cohen, in a very rudimentary and ignorant way, echoes the sentiments of "liberal hawk" and Iraq War supporter George Packer. I critiqued Packer thusly:

In the end, here is Packer's problem . . .:
Anyone who spent time in Iraq during those months [after the fall of Baghdad] can't forget the longing of Iraqis for a simple, ordinary life, and their openness to those of us who came from outside. That memory, and the knowledge that, hidden now behind the screen of unbelievable violence, those same Iraqis are still there, makes it very difficult for me to write the whole thing off.

(Emphasis mine.) Well, this is aiming to sound admirable - to caring about the plight of the Iraqi people. And Packer no doubt does. But what does his empathy mean in practical terms of policy making? How does wanting to do something relate to the ability to do something and the wisdom of attempting to do something? This is his essential failing and he still fails to understand.

General Wesley Clark says "If you can do good, you should." The key word is "can." And "how" of course. The idea that anybody in the political discussion would not want a free and democratic Iraq is just nonsense. Everybody wants that. I want a free and democratic China too. I don't see Packer advocating a war of liberation there. . . .

This kind of sentimentalization of the extraordinarily bad judgment shown by the liberal hawks is exactly the wrong approach to discussing the issue. If their mindset remains mired in this approach, they simply are not credible to discuss the issues of foreign policy that require discussion.

This sentimentalization approach of Packer's is reinforced in this passage:

Last night I received an e-mail from a soldier I met in Iraq in July 2003 who is now agonizing over the way forward. He wrote: "I hoped all the way until March 2003 that we wouldn't go to war with Iraq. I'd heard all the arguments for it, many of which were good...I just didn't think that fighting a war to fix a problem that had always been a problem and wasn't particularly worse than any number of similar problems around the world was worth alienating so many of our friends and reducing our esteem around the world. And I thought the post-war activities would be miserable in that environment.

You were right soldier. And you left out one other thing. We were not capable of fixing the situation.

But now the sentimentalization intrudes:

Once I exited the C-17, though, my views changed drastically. Particularly after meeting and befriending so many Iraqis as they, it seemed to me, woke up disoriented from a generation-long nightmare, I began to believe very deeply in the morality of what I was involved in there, if not the wisdom of the policy that brought it all about.

Hold up. It is NOT moral to adopt an unwise policy that does more harm than good even if the intention of the policy is moral. Indeed, it is IMMORAL in my view.

And this is the fundamental point. Packer wants to grasp the mantle of the "right thing to do" even if unwise. I categorically reject that. It was the wrong thing to do and not moral.

Not to accept that is to not learn from your mistakes. Packer, it seems to me, and no, I have not read his book, just his posts, has learned nothing.

George Packer is a more intelligent person than Richard Cohen, who is basically, at best, a middling hack. But, in his own way, Cohen is echoing Packer - and is just as wrong.

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    Liberal? (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Molly Bloom on Tue May 29, 2007 at 07:45:28 AM EST
    Is he being paid to write propagada to obsolve the Neo-Conservative foreign policy?

    Or is this just the natural result of several years of propaganda calling Bush's foreign policy "Wilsonian" (which it was not)?  

    Bush's foreign policy at best is "bluster loudly and carry a big stick" it is neo-empire, It is cowboy nationalism,  it is Straussian. It is not JFK, "bare any price bare any burden for freedom". It is not  liberal foreign policy by any sane definition of the term.

     Can we trade Cohen for Bacevitch and a player to be named later?  

    Cohen is just stupid (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue May 29, 2007 at 07:53:10 AM EST
    not corrupt.

    Hyperbole (none / 0) (#4)
    by Molly Bloom on Tue May 29, 2007 at 08:06:32 AM EST
    I agree he is amazingly stupid and it most likely is just  the natural result of calling Bush "Wilsonian".

    Calling it liberal foriegn policy is a gross abuse of terms and a gross absuse of most reader's intelligence.


    You're letting him off the hook (none / 0) (#5)
    by Chincoteague on Tue May 29, 2007 at 08:58:15 AM EST
    as I don't think anyone could be so stupid as to write such claptrap.

    The push IS on to make Bush a 'liberal', therefore not a Republican.


    Having read Cohen for a while (none / 0) (#6)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue May 29, 2007 at 09:01:06 AM EST
    I would have to say that it would be difficult to understate his stupidity.

    Let me put it this way (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by scarshapedstar on Tue May 29, 2007 at 09:15:12 AM EST
    To write this column in good faith, Cohen would have to be more stupid than George Bush himself.

    And? (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Tue May 29, 2007 at 09:21:26 AM EST
    What makes you think that is not so?

    bear, not bare more coffee! (none / 0) (#2)
    by Molly Bloom on Tue May 29, 2007 at 07:46:13 AM EST
    Cohenating (definition): (none / 0) (#9)
    by Edger on Tue May 29, 2007 at 09:38:48 AM EST
    Cohenating: Coulterintuitive Condilyzing causing Demagogarrhea.

    Cohen is in the throes of Glenndemma and probably running a high risk of Gorinecrophilia.

    Liberal equals 'Always Wrong' (none / 0) (#10)
    by Ellie on Tue May 29, 2007 at 01:17:11 PM EST
    C'mon, we liberals must be used to being society's favorite whuppin' child by now.

    The current congaline scapegoating us: Dems, Rethugs, "other" liberals (DINO's, actually), conservatives, theofascisti, ultra-left, ultra-right, self-loathing liberals who have taken to calling themselves 'progressives' because "liberal" is a baaaaaaaaad word ... (and so on)

    Cohen hasn't been a liberal since he last jacked off to an Angie Dickinson appearance on The Tonight Show. This sloppy cultural alchemy of re-labeling every neo-con failure as "liberal" simply must stop.

    A busy calendar is only thing preventing myself or other actual liberal from riding Cohen's pointless ass to the Pecos and back after making him eat several hard copies of that column for fuel.

    Yes, Richard Cohen is this dumb. (none / 0) (#11)
    by Geekesque on Tue May 29, 2007 at 04:33:27 PM EST
    This may not even be the dumbest thing he has written--remember his Monica Goodling column, which included this gem:

    In the end, though, some thought has to be given to why Monica Goodling feels obligated to take the Fifth rather than merely telling Congress what happened in the AG's office. She's no criminal -- but what could happen to her surely is.

    You forget his premise... (none / 0) (#12)
    by libertarian soldier on Wed May 30, 2007 at 04:52:50 AM EST
    that JFK's foreign policy--Bay of Pigs, Berlin Wall confrontation, advisors to Vietnam, etc.--was a "liberal" foreign policy.  Given that, the rest follows reasonably naturally.  Of course, a false premise invalidates the subsequent reasoning.

    libertarian sikdier (none / 0) (#13)
    by jimakaPPJ on Wed May 30, 2007 at 08:24:26 AM EST
    No. His foreign policy is more accurately described as Wilsonian.

    Hardly (none / 0) (#14)
    by Molly Bloom on Wed May 30, 2007 at 08:43:54 AM EST
    bluster loudly and carry a big stick is closer to TR.