Liberals believe that a system works best when it appeals to the better qualities of human nature while Conservatives believe that society works best when the worst tendencies in human beings are constrained. As a result, Liberals tend to see themselves as more caring and compassionate than Conservatives, who they often see as cruel and unfeeling. This has been captured by the aphorism that Liberals think Conservatives are "evil" while Conservatives think Liberals are wrong. I admire the liberal impulse to seek,, and expect, the best in everybody, and most of the time, my trust is rewarded. The problem for Liberalism is that by living as if their philosophy was not only better, but was true, we have effectively made international relations much more risky and made international disaster much more likely.
Two weeks ago Scott Johnson at Powerline wrote about an article in the current Claremont Review of Books that sought to understand why Israel has been losing the war with the Palestinians while having an overwhelming military advantage. Joseph Tartakovsky's review of Stephanie Gutmann’s The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy is Pictures worth a thousand lives. He suggests that there are three main reasons the Israelis have lost the media war:
In the media war, Israel has three disadvantages. The first is an open society, which allows reporters (and filmmakers and activists and human-rights observers) the freedom to roam, record, and interview in first-world comfort. This has saddled Israel with what may be the world's highest per capita concentration of reporters. Jerusalem is host to 350 permanent foreign news bureaus, as many as New York, London, or Moscow; the volume of reportage on Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank is 75 times greater than on any other area of comparable population. This obsessive attention necessarily distorts, by casting the Israel-Palestinian war in a theatric, world-historical light.
The second disadvantage is that news bureaus can not safely report the news when they are held hostage by vicious brutes who will stop at nothing to control their version of the news. Eason Jordan is an expert on this, having sold CNN's integrity for access to Saddam Hussein; the New York Times perhaps blazed the trail for just such a position and recently reaffirmed its committment to such "high minded journalistic ethics", in reference to the series of fictionalized accounts of life in the Soviet Workers Paradise by their Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Walter Duranty . And then there is this:
Israel's third disadvantage is media convention itself. Gutmann reminds us that all news is constructed: "Behind every picture there is a long story and a regiment of people who brought that particular picture, of all possible pictures, to you." And construction is rarely better than its architects: "producers sitting in carpeted, climate-controlled studios in New York and London are making war their subject…. [A]nd journalists, dumped on the ground with little prior knowledge, are forced to condense and 'package' terribly complex and crucial events." The general leftism in the news media gives reporters and producers many ways of introducing their bias into the simplified narrative: "David and Goliath, Poor versus Rich, the Third World versus Western Colonialism, Man versus Machine, even you-in-third-grade versus those-guys-who-always-beat-you-up after school." With Israel and the Palestinians, the overall result is "Large Mechanized Brutes versus Small Vulnerable Brown People."
The combination of factors that apply to Israel in their war with the Palestinians, a war in which the proclaimed goal of at least a large percentage of the Palestinians remains the destruction of the state of Israel, applies to an even higher degree to the United States in any conflict in which we might become involved.
In the same issue of the Claremont Review was a long, fascinating, article by Angelo M. Cordevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, called "The Logic of the Peace Process" (not available on-line) in which Cordevilla suggested that our current policy in Iraq is unworkable. Cordevilla makes a strong case that since the enemy in Iraq is primarily the Sunni ex-Baathists, the only way to arrive at a resolution of the insurgency would be through an overt civil war, rather than the low level civil war that has been going on. This would have required the United States entering Iraq with a well thought out recognition of who the enemy was (Iraqi Sunni's), what would define "victory", and the willingness to wage full scale war on the opposition. According to Cordevilla, just as in Palestine we have never allowed the Israelis to have an unconditional victory over their enemies, so too in Iraq we have tried to wage peace without waging war. He expands his argument to include our tolerance of Saudi duplicity, as well as our seeming insouciance in terms of Syrian and Iranian meddling and "sanctuary."
Victor Davis Hanson, among others, has repeatedly made the point that in order to end a war there must be a universally recognized winner and loser. I agree with Cordevilla that we have not been waging a war that we could win but have been trying to wage a peace which would leave everyone happy (or equally unhappy.) There is still a chance that Iraq will turn out well, that the Sunni Baathists will lay down their arms and fully engage in the political process, however, even if the best case scenario comes to fruition, the reality of the unexpectedly arduous effort it has required will make such "nation building" a thing of the past.
Waging peace is a poor option in war, but I think that Cordevilla fails to recognize that the decision to wage peace was not a foolish decision made by a collection of idealistic naifs in Washington, DC; I think that in the current, Liberalized, zeitgeist as it exists in Western Civilization, there is no longer any other possible way to wage a limited war. Furthermore, our handicaps now constrain our ability to react in areas as diverse as Iran and Darfur.
Iran has proclaimed their goal is to finish the job of genocide of the Jews that was started by Adolf Hitler. They are feverishly working toward getting Nuclear weapons and have threatened dire consequences for the West if we try to stop them. Michael Ledeen has proposed that Iran is ripe for revolution by a populace that is strongly pro-America. Wretchard correctly points out that our capacity to influence events in Iran is extremely limited:
Perhaps one of the reasons the US adopted the military approach against terrorism and struck at targets amenable to the application of force was that it was obliged to use the only instruments of national power which reliably worked.... All the talk about "nuanced" or "sophisticated" approaches evaded the fact that there were no effective policy instruments between a diplomatic note and sending in the Marines.
Wretchard was indirectly referring to the emasculation of the CIA under Democratic, liberal auspices, ever since the Church commission in 1973. The CIA has become such an ossified, bureaucratic environment, whose first rule has apparently become CYA, that any possibility of covert action has become essentially impossible. Further, the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and other paragons of liberal virtue, have made it their job to expose any use of American power that does not meet the standards of the Constitutional protections offered to American citizens. They are ready to commit what in past years would have been called treason but, in league with disgruntled leakers, Democratic politicians, and occasional grandstanding Republican politicians, are prepared to risk American lives in order to assure themselves that we are playing by the Marquis of Queensbury rules in a street fight where cheating is routine.
Liberals still live by the creed of the Church Committee, as expressed by Morton Halperin, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs:
"Our Presidents should not be able to conduct secret operations which violate our principles, jeopardize our rights, and have not been subject to the checks and balances which normally keep policies in line."
We expect our spies and our military to protect without ever really hurting anyone; in fact we would prefer if they didn't offend anyone greatly. Charlie Munn is one of those men who has chosen to protect us; he writes at The Officers' Club:
Here’s the problem that most people drinking Starbucks coffee and complaining about the president can’t wrap their brains around. We live in the real world, not just in America. There are many dark places in the real world, like the streets of Tangiers, the slums of African urban villages ruled by 14 year-olds with AK-47s, countries in the Middle East where the female half of the population is treated like furniture, and industrial Asian powers who starve their people while indoctrinating them to suicide themselves for "the cause." The world is a dark, dangerous place. [Emphais mine-SW] But that’s hard to realize while you’re reclined at your local Starbucks, sipping your vente mocha frappachino. We live in a world of light, because it was hacked out of the wilderness by idealists 300 years ago. We live in a world of light because the Framers of the Constitution declared that all men were endowed by their creator with unaliable rights, and that all men were created equal. America was established with high ideals, protected by oceans, and blessed with a frontier and natural resources as far as the eye could see.
Those who allow our protesters to act out their adolescent tantrums deserve our thanks, but too many Liberals offer them opprobrium instead. And where does that take us?
We now have a CIA which is incapable of acting, and a military that is constrained from conducting conventional war if it lasts longer than a few weeks and causes collateral damage that will show up on al Jazeera and CBS the next day. Our options are becoming quite limited.
Think about it: If conventional war if off the table and covert war is off the table, what is left? Our choices now seem to have devolved, if I may paraphrase Wretchard, to writing a diplomatic note or annihilating our enemies.
When we consider Iran, the only viable option seems to be an air war, during which we will, using conventional weapons alone, bomb Iran "back to the stone age." No one can possibly desire that. Even in these terms, our Liberalism has made sure that we can only do the job in the most damaging, least precise way. Our Congress, in their wisdom, decided that nuclear bunker busters are "evil" weapons and can not only not be used but cannot even be investigated or built. In such a setting, without the availability of weapons that could be most certain of destroying the Iranian nuclear program, we are left with conventional bombs alone. Further, the very existence of such weapons might have been helpful in convincing Iran that their best hope for regime longevity would be to eschew nuclear weapons rather than to rush headlong for them.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, our options to stop genocide in Darfur have been destroyed by the same Liberal impulses that have damaged our ability to deal with Iran. Any effort to protect the people in Darfur would require American troops and American casualties. Since there is minimal American national interest at risk in Darfur and any "peace keeping" mission would require an open-ended effort, the chance of an American President ordering troops into Darfur is nil. A "humanitarian mission" to Darfur would be taken as a declaration of war by Sudan, an Islamist state, and would set up a new zone for Jihadis to flock to. Only if we are willing to destroy Sudan can we succeed in rescuing the victims in Darfur.
Darfur would appear to be an ideal place for the UN to do its "good works" but, again, because our Liberal ideals required us to not notice the corruption in the UN until it was unavoidable, the UN is no longer of any value at protecting innocent people anywhere on the globe.
In every area of defense, the Liberalism of the last 30 years, since Vietnam and while the world was becoming smaller and smaller, has narrowed our options in an increasingly anarchic and dangerous planet. At this point it seems clear that for the foreseeable future, our choices will be to play defense/small war against our enemies (though using a slowly expanding arsenal of "smart" weapons) or to annihilate them.
We cannot protect the people of Darfur. We must fight the members of one of our two political parties, along with a well funded media, academic, and legal elite, in order to most effectively protect ourselves. And the ever-present risk is that one attack of sufficient magnitude, if large enough to be considered a great victory by our enemies, would lead inexorably to a catastrophic response which would effectively destroy their people.
The very impulses and desires that are most admirable in Liberalism have inadvertently led to a situation where war has become extraordinarily difficult to wage in a limited manner, where the removal of the threat of limited war has ratcheted up the risks and stakes in any confrontation, and the least desired outcome, of catastrophic destruction, has become more likely when pressed to our limits. Dangerous, and sad times, indeed.