Dear Roger Cohen

by tristero

Dear Roger Cohen,

I find it hard to maintain my composure when confronted by your blatantly misleading, self-serving, and malicious essay.
Neocon, for many, has become shorthand for neocon-Zionist conspiracy, whatever that may be, although probably involving some combination of plans to exploit Iraqi oil, bomb Iran and apply U.S. power to Israel’s benefit.

Beyond that, neocon has morphed into an all-purpose insult for anyone who still believes that American power is inextricable from global stability and still thinks the muscular anti-totalitarian U.S. interventionism that brought down Slobodan Milosevic has a place, and still argues, like Christopher Hitchens, that ousting Saddam Hussein put the United States “on the right side of history.”
Let's stop right there. "Ousting Saddam Hussein" is not, and never was the issue. Roger, my friend, the world knows the truth: Iraq was invaded and conquered by the United States (with the help of a few British and the indispensible 4 soldiers from Palau). As a by-product of that utterly illegal, utterly immoral, and utterly stupid invasion, Saddam Hussein fled, was eventually captured, and killed. Few people mourn his death.

However, if the "ouster" of Saddam Hussein was Bush's real goal, it could have been achieved by many other means short of invasion. Recently, for example, there have been news reports that for 1 billion bucks, Saddam would have happily retired .That, dear Roger, truly was an irresistible bargain (note to self: Borrow 2 billion from Bill Gates and offer Bush and Cheney the same deal).** But the invasion of Iraq was Bush's goal, not Saddam's ouster and so here we are, spending what? 1 1/2 billion dollars a week - a week ! - partly because you and Hitchens and so many others were too intellectually sloppy to make the distinction between removing an odious dictator from power and destroying a country's government, infrastructure, and culture. Illegally, immorally, and for no good reason whatsoever that anyone can discern.

But being intellectually sloppy seems to be a problem common to liberal hawks:
In short, neoconitis, a condition as rampant as liberal-lampooning a few years back, has left scant room for liberal hawks. “Neocon is an insult used to obliterate the existence of this liberal position,” says Paul Berman, a writer often so insulted.
Roger, Roger Roger...There's a wonderful Gary Larson cartoon where a bunch of psychiatrists are peering into roomful of lunatics and one of the doctors says something like, "We know they're all nuts, but WHAT kind of nuts are they?"

They both may have the same first name and that surely is confusing for a world-class pinhead like Douglas Feith, say. But I assure you, we liberals are smart enough to know that Berman is not Wolfowitz. No one, except for you,Berman, and other liberal hawks is confused about this (and Feith, but he's confused about everything). Certainly your critics aren't, because if they were, you'd give an example, and you don't:
For this left, anyone who supported the Iraq invasion, or sees merits to it despite the catastrophic Bush-Rumsfeld bungling, is a neocon.
No, Roger, I honestly don't think you're a neocon. I just think you're a goddammed fool.

And you're a fool who still doesn't understand that only incompetents who rose to unimaginable power, like Bush and Rumsfeld, would ever have thought the invasion of Iraq was a good idea in the first place.

You deplore the lack of "nuance" amongst those of us who were right about Iraq from the beginning. And yet, you lump us together into some amorphous category called "the left." Really, now? Is Paul Krugman a leftist to anyone except the clinically paranoid O'Reilly and his pals? Is Al Gore? Feingold? Rush Holt? Barack Obama? Jessica Mathews? Joseph Cirinncione? They are not. They are all centrist liberals. Would that there were genuinely leftist voices in mainstream American politics, not because I agree with many of their positions, necessarily, but simply because the breadth of "acceptable" public discourse in this country is dangerously claustrophobic. And it leads precisely to the kind of mistake you and your liberal hawk pals made: mistaking the likes of Wolfowitz, and Perle for serious thinkers. And more tragically, mistaking Bush/Iraq for a good idea.

In your wrap-up, you assert that " is the Petraeus-insulting face of never-set-foot-in-a-war-zone liberalism." Let's ignore the Petraeus-bashing bashing - we both have more important things to do, like watch glue set on a broken pot. No, I've never been in a war zone, thank God, and I won't pretend that being in Manhattan on 9/11 means I was, as some rightwingers have. But it doesn't take that experience to know that what everyone sane who HAS been in a war zone says is the truth: War is a horrible tragedy, a failure of civilization, to be avoided whenever possible, and to be undertaken with reluctance, with an awesome sense of responsibility, and with a willingness to make every effort to end it quickly on those occasions when it is unavoidable. This is not hippie pacifism. Nor is it a position of "liberal interventionism," which is just Rambo justified with big words.* No, it is the basic tenet of a realistic (in the everyday sense) approach to international relations.

And that, Roger, is the kind of liberalism that warned you and warned you and warned you that Bush/Iraq was a catastrophe. And warned you in 2002! And you wouldn't listen. And Berman wouldn't listen. And so many others, who should have known better.

And the war came. And here we are. You were dead wrong about Bush/Iraq, and you are dead wrong now about the liberals who were absolutely right. Roger, let me ask you a question:

In 2002, your hero, Kanan Makiya, once declared that the conquest of Iraq would succeed as a "triumph of hope over experience". And you still want to stand by that schmuck? Really? What kind of nut are you?


*Well, what about Serbia? Ok, what about it? Nothing about it the Balkans justifies reifying the reasons for that particular situation into a foreigh policy position, let alone an entire ideology.

**[UPDATE: One implication of what I wrote is that the US would have bribed Saddam. Not so, as ecoast pointed out in comments: He wanted to take a billion dollars of his own money. Still, it's a bargain and I still should get in touch with Bill Gates...]