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Liberal Hawks (Part II)
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Here's Day 2 of the Liberal Hawk Retrospective over at Slate, today featuring Christopher Hitchens and the only one who says he's changed his mind, even before the war started, Fred Kaplan.

But first, Hitchens:

I said that the threat was latent not blatant, and that the main "immediate" danger was an off-the-shelf purchase by Iraq from North Korea, and by the way I think I was right. But I was not an elected officeholder in a democratic government in a post-9/11 atmosphere. If I had been, I would certainly have decided to make the worst assumption about any report on Saddam's capacity for lethality, and I would have been operating at all times on the presumption of guilt. As a civilian, I would have wanted to criticize any Western government that did not err deliberately on this side.

And now, he argues, we know much more clearly the actual threat he posed...but that doesn't mitigate Saddam's culpability in not disclosing and cooperating. On a routine stop, the policeman may warn the driver once, twice, or even several times...but if the driver's hand keeps inching toward the glove compartment, at some point the policeman must shoot, whether he knows for certain what the box contains. The international community warned Hussein 17 times.

As Hitchens says:

Thus, we now can account more or less for Iraq's lunatic mixture of missing and undeclared weapons, and that in itself is an achievement.

And like Packer yesterday, Hitchens tallies up the sheet, the financial costs, casualties, and bad blood between nations, compared to the benefits:

Since the regime changes in Kabul and Baghdad, other regimes from Riyadh to Islamabad to Tehran have quietly but decidedly changed their tune, while some others have gone so far as to drop their weapons. There is no serious state-sponsored hiding place for al-Qaida, whereas a quiverful of measures and tactics now exists, well field-tested, to tackle any new challenger in this field. Myself, I still have a fondness for the micro-policies, too. The Marsh Arabs are returning to their habitat, my profession can be practiced again in one of the places where writing was invented, the Shiites can follow their own religion, the Kurds are nearer to self-determination, there is politics again in a serious country, and we have seen the tree of liberty being watered in the traditional manner, which is an event that not every member of every generation can take pride in.

So obviously I agree with Hitchens that the war was (and is) worth the costs.

Fred Kaplan disagrees:

My membership in the "I can't believe I'm a hawk" club dated from Feb. 5, 2003, with Colin Powell's (now utterly discredited) pitch to the U.N. Security Council and expired a month later when I realized that, whatever the merits for war (and I'm still ambivalent on that question), the Bush administration was incapable of pulling it off.


My case for multilateralism was, and still is, strictly pragmatic: The United States does not have the budgetary resources, the military manpower, the international legitimacy (especially in the region), or, I suspect, ultimately the political wherewithal to go this all the way to the finish line alone.

Nice to see that principle means little or nothing to Kaplan. Such a decision is merely a matter of pragmatism. Apparently you should only fight tyranny when it's practical to do so. Nice.

Still, he does ask some good questions, including these:

Saddam Hussein was clearly a nasty, evil dictator. So were Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. So, today, is Kim Jong-il. Does that mean we should have declared war on the U.S.S.R., China, and Cambodia? Does it mean we should declare war on North Korea now? I ask those who support the Iraq war on humanitarian grounds: Why not?

North Korea is a humanitarian disaster. Kim Jong-Il is essentially starving millions of innocent men, women, and children to keep his army strong and fund his weapons programs. Gross human rights violations are ongoing in that country, and the horrors are not more widely known because it is now the most cloistered nation on the planet.

But I have always agreed with the premise that war is a means of last resort.

Diplomacy, economic sanctions, and armed containment had been applied to Hussein's regime for well over a decade. He had been warned and warned and warned again many times over. All peaceful means, and even forceful means short of war, had been completely and thoroughly exhausted (and please don't give me the "only a few more months" bullshit). In the 12 years since the end of the Gulf War, diplomacy and economic pressures had been exhausted, and were an utter and complete failure. (As I've asked before, if they were not exhausted, please tell me exactly under what conditions you would consider them exhausted.)

But with North Korea, no such steps have even been taken. If anyone needed better evidence of the U.N.'s complete and utter failure to promote and protect its ideals, they need turn no further than North Korea. What steps has the international community taken to try to reform North Korea (besides trying to fob the entire problem off on the U.S. to handle)? Absolutely fucking zero, as far as I can tell.

In order to engage another country in war you have to have tried everything else short of it first. Yet no one has lifted a finger to do anything about North Korea, and this inaction is disgusting and shameful, especially from those with the most influence toward it, such as Russia and China.

With Saddam and his sons' dynasty ousted, Kim Jong Il is now by far the most contemptible leader on the planet, and the unwillingness of the international community to confront this disgusting regime and the daily nightmare it inflicts on its citizenry will go down as one of the most miserable failures of international will during this period of history.

So to answer Kaplan's question: No, we don't have the justification to wage war on North Korea because we haven't even tried anything else, not just the U.S. but the entire world.

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