Justin at Americana reads a little dust-up over at Crooked Timber, which consists of a long post about this, that, and the other by Michael Bérubé followed by a zillion comments on the subject of: War, What Is It Good For? Bérubé's spidey sense was tingling--he's got an astonishing, extrasensory ability to dragoon every squib and squeak about his own damn self. Alexander Cockburn said, and Chomsky said, and so it goes, around and around, with Bérubé bellowing at anyone who didn't open wide for the "single most promising practical argument against war in Iraq [...] that it represented a disastrous diversion from the real battle, the battle against al-Qaeda and radical Islamism" was ex ante responsible for the failure of something called a "broad antiwar movement," which, as noted, wasn't especially effective at preventing the war. For a guy who spends as much time lamenting the "intellectual dishonesty" (is there another kind?) of his infinite array of intellectual opponents, this is startlingly disingenuous. You know, I think the kids in ANSWER are kinda funny too, but I'm able to loosen by garters and pull off my opera gloves and admit them to the Brotherhood of Don't Invade Iraq. And if they want to bring along their "Free Mumia" tee-shirts, good golly, let 'em. When folks like Bérubé start chattering about The Message, you can be pretty sure that something's up, and that something almost always looks like a Democrat who wants to be sure not to "discredit" some or other sort of "intervention." The Message is marketing; it's a word for political campaigns. Of course they want their rallies to look like Just Folks. They love Just Folks.
The sanctimony of it is galling, but it's the dumb that gets me. The "practical" reasons for Iraq War opposition that attract Bérubé, single, promising, or otherwise, have at their core the common feature of being almost totally arbitrary. They're based on particular, peculiar judgments, and the Prof is pretty clear on who's got the right to make those calls: He is. Bill Clinton might be. Madeline Albright probably was. Oh, and the "liberal and progressive blogosphere." An offending passage:
People like Michael Ignatieff and George Packer took Kosovo as a model for Iraq, and in so doing, traduced the very idea of international humanitarian intervention they were trying to promote. (Though, notably, Ken Roth wasn’t fooled, and neither was Samantha Power, and neither was Michael Walzer or Danny Postel or Ian Williams, and neither, for what little it’s worth, was I. Neither was most of the liberal and progressive blogosphere.)Firstly, can you trust a cultural critic who uncritically uses a phrase like "international humanitarian intervention," which is a hoary euphemism even if you agree with and support the actions that it actually entails? Secondly, and more importantly, comes the crazy idea that the task of the reasonable, responsible opponent to war is to oppose narrowly--not to get fooled, as it were, by the bad wars; not to get lazy and "blur the distinctions" by opposing the good ones. (I hope Arthur doesn't read Bérubé; I'm afraid his head might actually explode when his eyes made contact.) Killing people for good reasons is bad, not in the least because those good reasons so often turn out to be entirely other than good. How many times must we say it: The American Liberal won't accept antiwar sentiment that is effectually antiwar. They don't want to preclude their precisious Donkle from engaging in future bouts of World-Saving. Surely somewhere some tribe is killing some clan is oppressing some ethnicity in the vital national interests of the United States. Send in the bombers!