The Left and the War

THE LEFT AND THE WAR….If anti-war liberals were right about the war from the start, how come they don’t get more respect? Here’s the nickel version of the answer from liberal hawks: It’s because they don’t deserve it. Sure, the war has gone badly, but not for the reasons the doves warned of.

Is this true? I wish my memory were more detailed about what anti-war liberals were saying back in 2002, but it’s not. I once thought about browsing through old archives to at least see what the high-traffic liberal blogs were saying back then, but that turned out to be easier said than done. Matt, Josh, and I all supported the war for a while, so we don’t count. Kos and Tapped seem to have lost their archives from that far back. C&L, Firedoglake, Aravosis, Greenwald, and the Huffington Post didn’t exist back then. Atrios still has his archives, but he didn’t post obsessively about the war and didn’t write the kind of essays where he explained his position in detail anyway.

So: I don’t know. I know why I turned against the war after initially supporting it (WMD flakiness combined with the mounting evidence that Bush wasn’t serious about postwar reconstruction), but I don’t know about anyone else. So I can’t really play the game.

On the other hand, I think there’s a problem with Atrios’s response to Max Sawicky, who had chastised the early war opponents because he thought they had latched onto the wrong criticisms of the war. Here’s Atrios:

I’m sure all of these criticisms were made by many on blogs including mine, but they were just extra criticisms thrown in there in various ways in an attempt to engage the dominant discourse of the times.

….But nonetheless most people rejected the concept of “pre-emptive war” and rejected the notion that even if WMD claims were all correct Saddam was an actual threat in any way to this country. That was the point that I remember most of us desperately trying to communicate, even if other arguments were used to try to further the general cause of stopping the goddamn war.

Question: If this really was the primary critique among the anti-war left, has the Iraq war vindicated them?

I’m not sure I see it. The fact that Iraq is a clusterfuck doesn’t demonstrate that preemptive war is wrong any more than WWII demonstrated that wars using Sherman tanks are right. It’s the wrong unit of analysis. After all, Iraq didn’t fail because it was preemptive (though that didn’t help); it failed either because George Bush is incompetent or because militarized nation building in the 21st century is doomed to failure no matter who does it. Preemption per se had very little to do with it, and the argument against preemptive war, which is as much moral as pragmatic, is pretty much the same today as it was in 2002.

Now, you can argue that non-preemptive wars are more likely to get broad international support, and that this in turn is more likely to lead to success. But this just gets back to Max’s original point: does this mean that anti-war liberals think the war would have been OK if only the UN had authorized it?

Maybe so. That actually comes perilously close to my own view. But it’s not an argument I’ve heard much of lately.

PEDANTIC UPDATE: I’ve used the term “preemptive war” throughout this post, but it’s worth noting that this is yet another case in which the Bush administration has twisted broadly-accepted language for its own use. A preemptive war is one in which an attack is imminent and you decide to strike first rather than wait for a certain invasion. A preventive war is one in which you invade in order to prevent a possible but uncertain future attack. Iraq was a preventive war.