Across the Bay

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Hot Panel

Earlier today, Book TV (C-Span 2) showed a live debate panel on Iraq that featured Christopher Hitchens, Michael Ignatieff, Mark Danner, and Robert Scheer.

Hitch was his usual self: smart and witty but not always right! Although he did raise an interesting point about leaving Iraq to Uday and Qusay after Saddam. Hitchens argued that the state was going to implode sooner or later and with much bloodshed and chaos. Moreover, once it did, the neighboring countries were going to interfere without a doubt (Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey). This would have prolonged the misery of the Iraqi people and compounded the danger of Iraq. Iraq, as it is clear today, is a failed state. The Americans' presence didn't make it so, Saddam did. Was the US going to gamble with that threat down the line without being an active force there? Many of Hitch's points can be found here.

Mark Danner and Robert Scheer (who served as the anti-war side) were unfortunately quite pathetic, utterly unimaginative and one-dimensional, and seemingly stuck with two points: Vietnam and WMDs.

The person who presented the most sensible view was Michael Ignatieff. He has a book out that I'm going to read after hearing him today. The book's title is: The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. It deals with the question I raised earlier of how Western societies can remain faithful to liberal values of openness and freedom when fighting Jihadist terrorism? It also argues that a liberal democracy can survive the age of terror only if it takes seriously the political context within which terrorism thrives, and therefore it must act in favor of social justice. This is the reason I believe that Ignatieff does support the war in Iraq and does see it as part of what a liberal democracy must do (i.e. as part of the war of ideas that Clarke fails to even describe!). Similarly, see Paul Berman's book Terror and Liberalism.

I found this recent article by Ignatieff that would quickly introduce some of his positions to those not familiar with them.

This section in particular drew my attention:

"The problem for my side is that if the honest case had been put -- for a preventive as opposed to a pre-emptive war -- the war would have been even more unpopular than it was. But this is also a problem for opponents as well. If they didn't think the case for preventive war was proved this time, what will convince them next time? Unless threats are imminent, democratic peoples don't want to fight..."

This is something I've been thinking about myself with regard to the WMD threat and presentation of the case for war (remember the WMD was only one reason, albeit the most publicized or most urgent or tactical reason). Despite the false (in retrospect) charge of WMD, I find it troubling that the free world wouldn't have agreed to move a finger to help the Iraqis and the peoples of the Middle East gain freedom from tyranny; a freedom that they take for granted. Let alone the long term strategic argument, which it must be remembered, the administration did make.

Ignatieff continues:

"While I thought the case for preventive war was strong, it wasn't decisive. It was still possible to argue that the threat was not imminent and that the risks of combat were too great. What tipped me in favor of taking these risks was the belief that Hussein ran an especially odious regime and that war offered the only real chance of overthrowing him. This was a somewhat opportunistic case for war, since I knew that the administration did not see freeing Iraq from tyranny as anything but a secondary objective."

I disagree with Ignatieff's final assertion. I do believe that for a rare moment, long term Realpolitik and ethical policy did converge in this case. This is certainly Paul Wolfowitz's argument. For another view of the history of the Bush war cabinet, see James Mann's book, The Rise of the Vulcans.