Let's begin the reply to Hilzoy's broadside with her most stunning claim: "Despite George W. Bush's attempts to paint al Qaeda as a totalitarian group bent on imposing a Caliphate on the world, al Qaeda is not a totalitarian organization." Al Qaeda doesn't need the likes of George W. Bush (notice how it always comes back to him) to "paint" it as "totalitarian," it is totalitarian. I suggest she read Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism for more on the totalitarian roots and aims of Al Qaeda, or review any of the published and widely available statements of Osama bin Laden and his deputies.
She then states that "al Qaeda's natural allies are not totalitarian regimes but failed states." There's no question that al Qaeda tries to exploit failed states as sanctuaries and safe havens, but claiming that al Qaeda is "allied" with them is a bit like saying it's "allied" with the equator.
Now, since we're all being "charitable" with one another, perhaps what Hilzoy meant to say is that al Qaeda's natural allies are the unfortunate people who live in failed states. But this, too, is not quite right. Last I checked, the ranks of al Qaeda were not choked with Haitians, Chadians, or Timorese.
Al Qaeda's natural allies are those who share its Islamist totalitarian vision for the future. Osama bin Laden went to Afghanistan not because it was a failed state, but because it was a Taliban-run Islamist state. At the same time, this ideology is transnational and can survive without overt support from a state sponsor -- just as communism existed for several decades before the Soviet Union came into being.
It's also telling that in Hilzoy's extensive list of "our central foreign policy problems," there is no mention of al Qaeda or radical Islamism at all. She does mention "the risk of further destabilization in the Middle East and Pakistan" -- a strange, but revealing, formulation. For Hilzoy, as for many on the left, there's no agency, no ideology, no actor behind this destabilization, except, of course, America, George W. Bush, and the criminal neocon cabal.
Hilzoy then writes that I have "provided very little evidence" for my claim that "'Syria and Iran have effectively declared war on us', a declaration I must have missed, especially in the case of Syria." This is pedantry. Obviously (and I didn't think I would have to say this) Syria and Iran have not explicitly vocalized that they are at war with us. A declaration of war, signed by President Ahmadinejad himself, will not be arriving through the diplomatic pouch anytime soon. But Iran and Syria are directly arming groups and individuals which are killing American soldiers and our allies in Iraq. The two countries have been doing this for years and are the leading state-sponsors of terror. Does Hilzoy deny this? Is David Petraeus a "warmonger" for reporting that Iran and Syria are responsible for sowing murder and destruction against innocent people and American troops in Iraq? Why, just today American forces assaulted a residence housing "leaders of Special Groups responsible for logistical facilitation of Iranian weapons and lethal aid flowing into Iraq." If the systematic killing of American soldiers is not a declaration of war, then what is? The attempts to deny the Iranian/Syrian proxy war against us, and the slandering of those who merely point it out as irresponsible "warmongers," is just another indication of the death of the anti-totalitarian liberal spirit.
Hilzoy asks what my evidence is for the claim that the Democrats are animated by "a mere hatred for the president and a serious lack of faith in even the potential role America can play in the world" and she challenges my assertion that the Democratic Party is going to undergo a "realist takeover." Perhaps this is only obvious to people who don't consider themselves Democrats. Of course, there's no statistical way to measure this sentiment that will please Hilzoy, but her frankly astonishing denial that al Qaeda is totalitarian and that Iran and Syria are aggressors are indicative of this trend, as is the fact that not a single Democratic candidate chose to attend the Democratic Leadership Council's annual "conversation earlier this year," instead opting for the YearlyKos convention instead.
I read liberal blogs every day and have been getting a lot of email this week from liberal readers. Much of the it has been excoriating me for not going after the real totalitarians: that is, the Bush administration. If this is what people actually believe, then I'm afraid there's nothing any reasonable person can say to dissuade such an individual. And this stunning lack of moral clarity is, yes, another indication of the death of liberal anti-totalitarianism.
Hilzoy, however, may be right in her observation that realism has not bubbled up to the leading presidential candidates, but I'm talking about the party: its activist base, the people who vote for it, its policy wonks, et. al. After all, I wrote, "Thankfully, Hillary (the presidential candidate, with two "l's"), who has taken on something of a motherly role in her frequent repudiations of the more naive pronouncements of her opponents, refuted Edwards for his attempts to win over the Kossack wing of the Democratic Party." As Michael Crowley wrote some months ago, Hillary is, by instinct, a hawk and an interventionist. But I don't know how tenable Hillary's positions will be considering the fact that there is little to no Scoop Jackson constituency--animated by the cause of democracy promotion abroad and understanding how that aim protects America's long-term interests--in the party anymore. We've seen the contortions she's had to undergo over her previous support for the Iraq War, and John Edwards' saying that there's no such thing as a war on terror (as well as the popularity of this sentiment among the party base and liberal bloggers, neither of which Hilzoy or Steve have decided to address) is more evidence of Democratic fecklessness. Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have been arguing for withdrawal from Iraq, damn the consequences and irrespective of what General Petraeus reports next month.
With regards to the post on "grit," I never once said, as Steve Clemons accuses me, that the "neocons (or neocon-sympathizers)...are somehow the ones who understand "grit" better than the rest of us." I understand how throwing around the word "neocon" (and McCarthyite calls for "Purging the neocons from the American soul"), as Steve regularly does, is now standard practice in some quarters as it provides a helpful substitute for actual argument, but providing red-meat to the nutroots doesn't make it any more intellectually responsible. My original post "On Grit" also had nothing to do with Iraq, but the war on Islamic fundamentalism more generally. My correspondent later wrote me that, "It is incredible not to have planned ahead for post-war Iraq and a huge failure of leadership." He is not a "neo-con" or a Bush administration defender. Again, it says much about the death of liberal anti-totalitarianism if the mere call for a more resolute Western defense of our freedoms in the face of totalitarian evil generates so much vitriol and accusations.
With respect to Barack Obama's stance on America's role in preventing genocide, Hilzoy writes that I make a "very serious charge without having any real basis for it." Well, let's go back to what Barack Obama actually told the Associated Press, as posted on his very own website.
If that's [genocide] the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of US forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right nowwhere millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strifewhich we haven't done.
This is casuistry. The United States invaded Iraq and, (arguably, for those calling for immediate withdrawal), has some responsibility for the security situation in that country. Comparing American responsibilities in Iraq to those in the Congo is deceptive.
Secondly, the rationale for the United States' intervention in Sudan (and doing our best to avert genocide in Iraq) is not in any way tied to the rationale of intervention in the Congo. The United States can selectively intervene to prevent genocides and other mass humanitarian crises, and it's cynical for Obama to argue that to support intervention in place A one also has to support it in places B,C and D. This reminds me of one of the more obnoxious arguments put forth by the anti-war left prior to the Iraq invasion; that, yes, Saddam's a brute, but why aren't you invading North Korea? I frankly don't care if it's inconsistent (and it's not) to try and prevent one genocide but not all of them. And Hilzoy's defense of Obama's position that "[America's] presence in Iraq was making the fighting worse, not better," flies in the face of what most experts on the region believe will be the consequence of American withdrawal, including the notorious neo-con/Bush shill New York Times correspondent John Burns. Like I said, Obama is no better than the rest of the candidates when it comes to Sudan, but he's the only one--to my knowledge--to come out so forthrightly in favor of a policy that is literally "impassive" about genocide and that would leave Iraq to the likes of al Qaeda and other, yes, totalitarian movements.
Hilzoy sums up Obama's position thusly: "Obama thinks that we should not put our own troops into Sudan not because he is opposed to taking action of any kind, but because he thinks that we have squandered our credibility in Iraq." Does this mean that once we elect Obama (or another Democrat) as president, we will immediately regain our credibility, Al Qaeda will call the war off, and we'll then be able to do as we please?
As to Hilzoy's final questions, all I can say is that I've never impugned her motives, so I won't respond in kind. When Andrew introduced us all last week, he wrote: "They don't agree on everything, especially foreign policy, which should make for some fun." He didn't want an echo chamber, and I apologize to anyone who had to endure the pain of reading something with which they don't agree.