The battle's done, and we kind of won, so we sound our victory cheer - where do we go from here?
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Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Monday, December 22, 2003
On Saturday I suggested that Libya would pose a test of intellectual integrity to the supporters of the application of the "Bush Doctrine" in Iraq. The Bush doctrine declared that war with Iraq was necessary because international inspections could not guarantee American security against the threat of WMD in the hands of rogue regimes, and that only regime change to a democratic system could provide such security. In the case of Libya, the rather clearly non-democratic regime of Moammar Qadaffi remains in place, with a promise to allow international inspections to verify the country's surrender of its WMD. In other words, Libya is fairly clearly a repudiation of the Bush doctrine, not its vindication. The test of intellectual integrity, therefore, was this: would advocates of the Bush doctrine in Iraq attack Bush for violating his doctrine in Libya by dealing with a dictator and relying on inspections, or would they praise Bush out of partisan loyalty?
The results that I've seen so far? Unsurprising. Bill Safire leads the partisanship brigade, celebrating Libya as a vindication of him and his "fellow Wilsonian idealists" (!). The reliably hawkish Washington Post joins in, as does the Wall Street Journal and the National Review (come on - at the very least, Michael Ledeen, scourge of the "terror masters," has to hold the line, right? We'll see). Andrew Sullivan ("Gaddafi made the decision as the coalition invaded Iraq. Hmmm. Maybe Howard Dean would have sent Warren Christopher instead."), Glenn Reynolds, and Dan Drezner fell happily in line. Tacitus too, although he at least reserved some anger about Bush's continuing to deal with a dictator. That's about as far down the right wing food chain as I care to go.
In fairness, it's important to distinguish two arguments - the "hawk" argument and the Wilsonian argument. The hawk argument couldn't care less about regime change or democracy, it simply suggests that expressing strength pays off. The Wilsonian argument is the one that cares about democracy and regime change. Libya can be plausibly - incorrectly, I think, except at the margins, but plausibly - claimed for the hawks, but not for the Wilsonians. I seem to remember an awful lot of Iraq war supporters reinventing themselves as Wilsonians after WMD failed to turn up in Iraq ("this was never about nukes for me, it was about bringing democracy to the Iraqi people"), who now suddenly appear as reborn hawks. But these are differences that make a real difference, and sliding back and forth between them when convenient is intellectually sloppy.
I guess six months ago really is ancient history - remember, your arguments are only weapons with which to attack your enemies, and should be abandoned when no longer useful. Partisan advantage is everything.