I think the progressive isolationist has in fact created a convenient strawman of their own. By bemoaning the "war narrative" of the "liberal hawks" and the "Neo-cons," they can dismiss any and all arguments made in favor of taking a tough stance with Iran. If it's a "war narrative," rather than a diplomatic use of leverage against a very real enemy, well than all talk is suspect. Invading Iraq is hawkish. Staying in Iraq is hawkish. Talking tough to a totalitarian (and he is a totalitarian, Ezra) becomes the same as President Bush mismanaging the war in Iraq. It becomes the same as failing to capture Osama Bin Laden, or aligning ourselves with obviously dubious regimes like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. To the progressive isolationist, any and all talk involving our military is apparently what distinguishes the "liberal hawk" from just a plain old liberal.
Sullivan's point is well taken. The policy decisions before us - how to redeploy, regroup or withdraw from Iraq, how to deal with Iran at the same time - are simply different questions than if you supported the Iraq war in the first place or not. Yes, one position affects another. But it does not compel another. It is perfectly conceivable, for example, to hold a liberal position that opposed the Iraq war in the first place, but opposes withdrawal now. (There aren't many such liberals out there, but it's a respectable stance.) Of course, if we have learned nothing from occupying a Muslim country for four years, then we're in trouble. But equally, if we over-learn and get lazy, if our criterion is solely whether Bush supports something or not, or if we simply follow "hawk" or "dove" camps in all instances without discrimination, we're in worse trouble.
My view of the surge is that it cannot work; and my view of the occupation is that it is now part of the problem, not the solution. But this prudential judgment is logically separate from all the questions surrounding the initial invasion.
Ditto the very tough question of how to tackle Iran. Back to Sullivan's good sense:
A "liberal hawk" is simply a liberal who understands that fighting a war involves brains and brawn. They understand that you must use the former in order to avoid the latter, and that you must always have a balance of both when dealing with an enemy of the United States. The conservative approach, much like the progressive isolationist's, seems to be feast or famine. Either you engage enemies with a statist mindset, or you ignore them entirely and pretend they don't threaten you.
Liberals, such as Senator Kerry, understand that war is often fought over information, ideology and principle. Liberals have almost always understood this. We understood that World War II wasn't merely against a man in Berlin, but in fact a brutal and twisted Fascist ideology. Liberals understood that the Cold War wasn't simply a war against Moscow, but a war against a philosophy that ran contrary to liberal democracy.
"Liberal hawks" are liberals that acknowledge the existence of very real enemies in the world, and maintain any and all options in dealing with those enemies. You thank God when you can avoid confrontation, but act swiftly and decisively when left with no other diplomatic options.
The questions before us are bigger and more important than whether you despise the presidency of George W. Bush. Can we all just agree he has failed, and his policy has failed, and go on to decide, solely on the merits of the data in front of us, what to do now?