The war in Iraq is a neo-conservative project, right? Yes, in the sense that in the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have come to believe that “the defense of freedom requires the advance of freedom.”
But little noticed is the fact that some of the strongest supporters of this revolutionary idea are on the left.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, leader of Britain’s Labor Party, is the most obvious example. “A democratic Iraq,” he insisted earlier this year, “is not just a giant step forward for Iraq itself; it is a blow right at the heart of the global terrorism that seeks destruction not just in Iraq, but in Britain and every major country in the world.”
Blair may be a rare figure on the left _ but he is hardly alone, as has now been demonstrated by Thomas Cushman, Professor of Sociology at Wellesley and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Human Rights. Cushman has edited “A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq,” a collection of essays by two dozen liberal/left thinkers, all of whom, Cushman writes, represent “what might be called a third view. The basic elements of this perspective are a strong liberal commitment to human rights, solidarity with the oppressed, and a firm stand against fascism, totalitarianism and tyranny.”
Among the best-known of the contributors is Christopher Hitchens, a self-described socialist, who two years ago chided the mainstream media for “not doing their job” regarding the “innumerable links” between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
That media failure has only become more egregious since Stephen Hayes published, “The Connection,” as well as a new and highly detailed article in The Weekly Standard based on internal Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) documents recently recovered in Iraq. Among them: an internal Iraqi intelligence memo dated March 28, 1992 specifically listing Osama bin Laden as an asset of the IIS, one who has a “good relationship with our section in Syria.'”
Hitchens’ support for the liberation of Iraqis has not prevented him from criticizing Bush. Indeed, he writes, he could “not easily name a mistake the Bush administration has failed to make.”
The same may be said of Paul Berman, author of “Terror and Liberalism,” and another of the contributors to Cushman’s anthology. Berman has called Bush “an unusually repulsive politician.” But he does not indulge in the “Bush-lied-people-died” brand of polemics.
On the contrary, he observes that while stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq after Saddam was toppled (as the major intelligence services expected), “astonishing progress was made in tracking down weapons programs and trafficking in Libya, Iran, Dubai and Pakistan. Some people will go on insisting that sudden progress on these matters has nothing to do with Iraq, and the dominoes tumbled simultaneously by sheer coincidence _ but some people will believe anything.”
In a similar vein, Adam Michnik, a leading force in Poland’s Solidarity trade union movement, says that “in the conflict between totalitarian regimes and democracy, you must not hesitate to declare which side you are on.”
Ann Clwyd, a British Labor MP, writes: “We should have dealt with Saddam sooner. But now that he has been removed, we need to commit ourselves to working with the Iraqi people, to build a new society, based on the ideals of democracy and human rights. And we need to stay the course to enable them to succeed.”
And Ian Buruma, Luce Professor at Bard College, writes of the “moral paralysis of the left when it comes to non-Western tyrants,” adding: “When Indians kill Muslims, or Africans kill Africans, or Arabs kill Arabs, Western pundits pretend not to notice or find historical explanations, or blame the scars of colonialism…But if white men, whether they are Americans, Europeans, South Africans, or Israelis, harm people of color hell is raised …One could claim this is only right, since we can only take responsibility for our own kind. But this would be a rather racist view of world affairs.”
Among those Cushman does not include in this volume are Senator Joseph Lieberman, leader of the shrunken “Scoop Jackson Wing” of the Democratic Party, R. James Woolsey, who served as President Clinton’s first Director of Central Intelligence, former Czechoslovak president Vacav Havel, as well as Martin Peretz and Peter Beinart of the New Republic.
These individuals are not apostates _ they are dissidents. Unlike so many on the left, they have not been swept away from their core beliefs in a post-humanitarian tsunami. They refuse to condone _ or even minimize _ the crimes and menace of Baathism, Radical Jihadism and other varieties of contemporary fascism.
Agree with them or not, they are serious people raising serious questions, in particular, as Paul Berman put it: “The question of how a free society can endure for more than a little while.”
(Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.)