Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Liberal's Dilemma--Kevin Drum

Kevin Drum comments on Mr. Beinart's recent book:
"So what is it that Beinart really wants from antiwar liberals? The obvious answer is found less in policy than in rhetoric: we need to engage more energetically with the war on terror and criticize illiberal regimes more harshly.

Maybe so. But this is something that's nagged at me for some time. On the one hand, I think Beinart is exactly right. For example, should I be more vocal in denouncing Iran? Sure. It's a repressive, misogynistic, theocratic, terrorist-sponsoring state that stands for everything I stand against. Of course I should speak out against them.

And yet, I know perfectly well that criticism of Iran is not just criticism of Iran. Whether I want it to or not, it also provides support for the Bush administration's determined and deliberate effort to whip up enthusiasm for a military strike. Only a naif would view criticism of Iran in a vacuum, without also seeing the way it will be used by an administration that has demonstrated time and again that it can't be trusted to act wisely.
So what to do? For the most part, I end up saying very little. And Beinart is right: there's a sense in which that betrays my own liberal ideals. But he's also wrong, because like it or not, my words — and those of other liberals — would end up being used to advance George Bush's distinctly illiberal ends. And I'm simply not willing to be a pawn in the Bush administration's latest marketing campaign.

I don't have a very good answer" [He asks for comments, most of which prove a bit disappointing to me.]
Seems to me there's several answers:
  1. Be faithful to the facts as you see them. Facts can compel one to speak out (see Martin Luther) regardless of who is helped or hurt.
  2. Realize that the emotions of debate are good and useful. For example, to my mind Kevin overstates the villainy of the Bush administration out of emotion. That motivates him to probe the situation for facts that counter the Bush policy. Even though he mostly agrees with Bush on the nature of the Iranian regime, he's likely to come up with different facts and have different blind spots than Mr. Cheney.
  3. Maximize your impact. Where 1 and 2 would argue for a liberal to speak out on Iran, this could be seen as cover for cowardice. For example, the cases of both Iran and North Korea are very difficult. So liberals can take potshots at Bush policies that appear mistaken, but there's really no obvious alternative, so why should liberals struggle to find one? It's not written in the heavens that a liberal should have a solid policy alternative to every issue. (For one thing, the lack of a policy is a policy--kick the can down the road and hope that events change the situation. Death, after all, is certain, even for our foes.)

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