Fighting the Right

FIGHTING THE RIGHT….Mark Kleiman suggests today that favoring the use of military force shouldn’t be (and historically hasn’t been) considered solely a right-wing view:

If freeing the Haitians from the tyranny of the Tontons Macoutes, or the East Timorese from the tyranny of the Indonesian army, were progressive things to do, why isn’t freeing the black Sudanese from the tyranny (amounting in some cases to actual slaveholding) of the Arab Sudanese an equally progressive goal? The overthrow of the Shah seemed like a good idea at the time, to those of us on the left who didn’t know enough to guess what would replace him. Why shouldn’t the overthrow of the Iranian theocrats and of the Saudi royal family be desired, on the left — precisely on the left — with equal fervency?

I think there’s a lot to be said for this, and I’d like to see the Democratic candidates do a better job of articulating what they think the proper use of American military force is. Mark doesn’t delve into this, but I think the primary question is a simple one: when should American force be used? The apparent Republican answer of “whenever we feel nervous” isn’t sufficient, but an instinctive reluctance not to use force at all isn’t sufficient either.

So: there are lots of nasty regimes. At what point does one become nasty enough that we ought to do something about it? Detailed white papers are not necessary, but something beyond platitudes is.

Mark also suggests that Democrats should combine a willingness to use military force with an argument that threats to the United States today come primarily from

movements and regimes that are both right-wing and illiberal. That ought to be a political gift to the Democrats. The phrase “Taliban wing of the Republican party,” which had a brief vogue as a description of Pat Robertson and his buddies, was grossly unfair, but it reflected quite genuine commonalities between American and Islamic fundamentalists who were lovers of hierarchy and traditional values and opponents of social democracy and of more equal social, political, and economic roles for women. (I recall Jesse Helms expressing admiration for the Saudi law prescribing stoning for adulterous wives.)

I’m not so sure this has a chance of gaining political traction, but it’s an intriguing thought nonetheless.

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