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The Liberal Slant on the Liberal War

Any American who has glanced at a newspaper in the past two years knows that the liberals are unhappy about George W. Bush’s war in Iraq.

Editorials continue to cite our failure to discover weapons of mass destruction, as well as the greater hostility and more advanced nuclear capabilities of Iran and North Korea, as evidence that the invasion of Iraq was motivated by economic interests.

Liberals accuse Donald Rumsfeld of turning a blind eye to torture and of signing condolence letters with an automatic pen. They see Condoleeza Rice’s shrugging off problems in the rest of the world as grounds for skepticism about the administration’s intent. They ask, “Does Bush plan to invade all or any of the sources of authoritarian regimes from North Korea to Zimbabwe?” (Harvard Crimson)

The left is severely critical of our efforts in Iraq. Yet if Maureen Dowd were to write a handbook called “How to Fight a War According to Liberal Principles,” Bush could comfortably sleep with it under his pillow.

Bush didn’t carpet bomb Iraq, confiscate its oil, and declare it the 51st state. Though he went into Iraq against grumbling from the United Nations, he’s certainly doing his best to make up for it now with his good-will tour of Europe to “change the ugly atmosphere” (New York Times).

On its face, the war in Iraq was a liberal dream come true. American forces carefully avoided civilian casualties, engaging in a difficult ground war when they could have simply leveled cities first and asked questions later. They struck only government and military targets. They cleanly decapitated the regime, removing a reviled dictator who had spent decades opposing multiculturalism, environmentalism, abortion, and women’s suffrage (as well as terrorizing and torturing his own people).

Bush proceeded, not to withdraw from Iraq and to leave it in turmoil as liberals erroneously predicted, but to pump billions of dollars into its economic infrastructure and to encourage the Iraqi people to engage in democratic elections. Al-Jaafari, the top-contender for Prime Minister, announced to reporters his intention to employ Islam as “the official religion of the country, and one of the main sources of legislation.” Bush did not object: like a true liberal, he showed himself to be willing to accept the results of democratic elections unconditionally.

Still the liberals are dissatisfied. They are unimpressed by the democratic elections, choosing instead to pick at the negative details. Yes, yes, says a New York Times column called “When Camels Fly,” there was indeed a democratic election in Iraq, “But we have to be very sober about what is ahead….The walls of autocracy will not collapse with just one good push.” Another article guardedly points out that, after all, “most Sunni Muslims, at the urging of their leaders, did not vote.”

Why the lack of optimism? Wouldn’t a liberal president be lauded for this step towards democracy?

The most revealing accusation, though, came in a campus publication, Yale’s Daily News, which declares Bush’s whole project defunct because: “Honest support of the spread of democracy, freedom and free markets would mean the decline of America’s own super-power pre-eminence.” Here, a college student is willing to state baldly the real issue: no matter how many people America helps, no matter how many liberal ideals Bush upholds, if America is not taking actions that will lead to its own decline–to the president’s head on a pike, the stock market in shambles, and America’s cities reduced to rubble–then America is morally in the wrong.

If America had fought an identical war in Zimbabwe against Robert Mugabe, the left would be, if not thrilled, at least not hysterical. If troops had sunk themselves into Rwanda to end ethnic cleansing–fine. Such wars could not be interpreted as selfish or self-righteous. George Bush could not stand behind a podium and proclaim proudly to the world that America’s safety was secured by the removal of Robert Mugabe.

But those on the far left, who would decry even our hypothetical Zimbabwe War, give away the deeper motives of the liberals. They see any action that America takes as “cultural imperialism”–as an assertion of what it believes to be right–merely by the fact that it takes a stand. Ultimately, the liberals do not hate the liberal Iraq War merely because of the morality of self-interest to which Bush pays lip-service, or even his loudly pronounced Christian ethic, but because he proclaims a morality period, and does so proudly.

This is the target at which all of their equivocations and pragmatism are aimed. In the face of moral certainty, the left doesn’t care how liberal the president’s war becomes–it cares only to undermine his conviction, subordinate his America to the will of the United Nations, and efface any inclinations he might have to act independently to defend an America that he honestly seems to love.

The liberals cling to petty potshots in the face of a war fought clearly in accordance with liberal ideals. It can only be because they do not care about those ideals, but merely about tearing down all ideals as such. Their op-eds are not written to champion a positive vision of the good, but to reduce all such visions to rubble.

Liberals need to find a positive moral compass if they want to make a meaningful contribution to American politics. They should pick up the mantle that the conservatives have long since abandoned: principled, secular individualism.

Rebecca Knapp is a junior at the University of Chicago. She is studying classics and plans to go to law school.

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