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Birds of a Feather

Matthew Continetti has a long article in The Weekly Standard this week about the decline of the liberal hawk. The Standard, of course, has been railing for months against critics of the war as cowards. Continetti's article is a more fleshed-out version of that worldview--an attempt to interpret the sharp criticism from liberal ex-supporters of the war as fecklessness.

It's not that Continetti strongly disagrees with the liberal or Democratic analysis of Iraq. It's that, in nearly 4,000 words, he makes no attempt to explain or engage with that worldview. So he writes, "While the former liberal Iraq hawks ignore, discount, or dismiss the possible consequences of a U.S. withdrawal, the conservative Iraq hawks argue that the repercussions for American interests, ideals, and honor would be disastrous."

What? Liberals are constantly acknowledging that terrible things will happen if the United States withdraws. For instance, a very short search produced this passage from Barack Obama's major foreign policy speech: "I acknowledged at the time that there are risks involved in such an approach." I could produce endless such examples.

Likewise, Continetti asserts that Democrats "deny that America is fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq." OK, here's the very next sentence from Obama in the same speech: "That is why my plan provides for an over-the-horizon force that could prevent chaos in the wider region, and allows for a limited number of troops to remain in Iraq to fight Al Qaeda and other terrorists." According to her website, Hillary Clinton also proposes: "a vastly reduced residual force to train Iraqi troops, provide logistical support, and conduct counterterrorism operations."

Continetti does concede that Obama and Clinton are not isolationists, but he writes of both: "There is no grand ideological crusade to promote democracy or liberalism in the Middle East and beyond. There is no argument that America is an exceptional nation that has much to offer and teach the world."

No crusade to promote democracy? Obama says,

We have heard much over the last six years about how America's larger purpose in the world is to promote the spread of freedom--that it is the yearning of all who live in the shadow of tyranny and despair.

I agree. But this yearning is not satisfied by simply deposing a dictator and setting up a ballot box. The true desire of all mankind is not only to live free lives, but lives marked by dignity and opportunity; by security and simple justice.


We've done a good job talking about democracy but we sure haven't done a comparable good job in promoting the long-term efforts that actually build institutions after the elections are over and the international monitors have gone home.

No argument that America is the leader of the world? Obama:

I reject the notion that the American moment has passed. I dismiss the cynics who say that this new century cannot be another when, in the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good. I still believe that America is the last, best hope of Earth.

Clinton's website:

Hillary knows that America must remain a preeminent leader for peace and freedom, willing to work in concert with other nations and institutions to reach common goals.

Continetti charges liberal hawks with hypocrisy for supporting intervention in Bosnia but favoring withdrawal from Iraq: "It may seem as though the Bosnia analogy is more applicable to Iraq today, where coalition forces are the only thing keeping the various sectional, sectarian, and political factions from slaughtering one another."

Again: What? Bosnians and Serbs were not "slaughtering one another." Serbs were slaughtering Bosnians. And even if you could find some instances of mutual slaughter where liberals favor intervention, it doesn't mean that they must for the sake of consistency favor intervention in every instance of mutual slaughter.

To the extent that there is a liberal view of Iraq, it's that Nouri Al Maliki's government is a tool of sectarian death squads, so efforts to prop up that government are fruitless. Continetti doesn't have to agree with that analysis. But he should grapple with it, or at least acknowledge it.

Yet no such recognition appears anywhere in his article. Continetti never entertains the possibility that liberals have reached their position based on an understanding of facts in Iraq. Indeed, he seems incapable of understanding the concept of building your foreign policy positions on the basis of events. He thinks that everyone has a rigid ideology that dictates their position, and, thus, that a position on any subject can't be changed without a change in ideology. Of course, that's precisely how The Weekly Standard thinks about foreign policy. The comedy of Continetti's article is that he chastises liberal hawks for doing otherwise.