Saturday, July 03, 2004

must-read essay

The left-leaning commenter Praktike, a regular on Tacitus' blog, writes an extraordinary essay that's required reading. To me, it only confirms my worries about Kerry (remember, the essay's by a lefty). It says in part:

What's to be done? The next administration will need to either steadfastly shepherd Afghanistan and Iraq along the path to democracy, or embrace friendly authoritarian regimes. The political winds are blowing toward the latter choice, especially in Camp Kerry.

Also, this:

In lieu of obtaining legitimacy from institutions of declining relevance, we must seek legitimacy in upholding liberal values.

As you might imagine, the "institutions of declining relevance" are old, hoary ones like the UN and NATO.

To be fair, Praktike's essay isn't primarily an idictment of Kerry, though elements of it are critical of him. Part of the essay is devoted to Praktike's own rightward shift in terms of foreign policy. I think foreign policy is better served by a rightward shift than by the lefty urge to make superficial peace.

Praktike is critical of the current administration:

Would I have done Iraq as the Bush administration did? Certainly not. I would not have made claims I could not prove. I would have waited and gone in heavy and serious about the postwar situation. I would have given far more assurances about US intentions, eschewing unfortunate signals such as securing oil the fields and little else. (Of course, it is about the oil in one sense, but we don't need to make it so obvious). And I would have pressured Israel to roll back its grossly immoral settlement policy in the West Bank, and conveyed a much greater sense of commitment to a Palestinian state. There is no question that the occupation of Iraq has been deadlier, costlier, and less successful than it had to be. As the saying goes, good policy badly executed becomes bad policy.

But the paragraph right before that says:

My worry today is that the American public, and especially the left, will learn the wrong lesson from Iraq. Namely, that we should not undertake nation-building efforts in the future, such as an intervention in the Sudan or Yemen, or that voicing a preference for democracy over illiberal stability is irresponsible.

And why is this relevant?

My intent here is not to disparage these august institutions or our allies, but to puncture the illusion that they are the guarantors of international stability, or inherent bestowers of legitimacy. I wish we were operating in a postmodern world where this were not the case, but the fact remains that American tanks, jets, and ships are the instruments of world peace. To say this is not to engage in Orwellian doublespeak, nor is it to engage in facile Francophobia; rather, it is to admit that despite the great progress made in Europe and Asia after World War II, vast areas of the world remain dangerous places where the laws of the jungle still apply. Just ask the Congolese, the Sudanese, the Rwanadans, the Kosovars, the Afghans, or the Iraqis.

And further:

America is more secure when freedom is on the march. On the hegemony question, if you think hard about the problems the world faces, you have to ask yourself: just whom you would rather have lead the world in the 21st century? The Chinese? The French? The Russians? The EU? Nobody?

I didn't think so. No great power has ever shown such a willingness to go to the mat for liberal values, to intervene militarily on behalf of human rights and freedom. We're not perfect, but the American version of the next 100 years is far superior to the alternatives.

Praktike makes a point I made earlier on regarding our economy: we've got a huge economy and we'll figure our way out of any mess. Compare this to the question of national security and it's no match:

Nevertheless, the handwringing over its exorbitant cost suffers from a lack of perspective. Even if, on balance, it was a strategic error, it isn't the end of the world. America may be temporarily humbled by its experience in Iraq, but in the process, the world's balance of power has not changed in a meaningful way. Every death is unfortunate, but I find it a bit puzzling that anyone but the families and friends of the soldiers involved have a right to care. These people are not naive; they know the risks involved in military service, and believe in what they are doing.

Finally, the American economy has absorbed far greater costs in the past, and can do so again. If we need to raise taxes in the future, our standard of living will not suddenly decline.

But Praktike also brings up points from the left that are legitimate concerns: we need to reestablish our legitimacy on the world scene, and we need to go about our affairs with less arrogance (but with no less seriousness and commitment) and cynical self-interest. All valid points.

Go read the essay, which ends on a note of cautious hope for Kerry. Whether you agree or disagree (I ended up mostly in agreement), you'll find that it's worth your while. The comments thread is already over 200 comments long. At Tacitus, with its well-groomed commenter culture, that's a good sign.


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