Friday, February 23, 2007
underneath the painting where once it was clear, well, I was rolled in water -- I was rolled out past the pier:
Peter's last TRB is one of the most honest, reflective, and insightful things I've read in a good long while.
We can't be the country those Iraqis wanted us to be. We lack the wisdom and the virtue to remake the world through preventive war. That's why a liberal international order, like a liberal domestic one, restrains the use of force--because it assumes that no nation is governed by angels, including our own. And it's why liberals must be anti-utopian, because the United States cannot be a benign power and a messianic one at the same time. That's not to say the United States can never intervene to stop aggression or genocide. It's not even to say that we can't, in favorable circumstances and with enormous effort, help build democracy once we're there. But it does mean that, when our fellow democracies largely oppose a war--as they did in Vietnam and Iraq--because they think we're deluding ourselves about either our capacities or our motives, they're probably right. Being a liberal, as opposed to a neoconservative, means recognizing that the United States has no monopoly on insight or righteousness. Some Iraqis might have been desperate enough to trust the United States with unconstrained power. But we shouldn't have trusted ourselves.
Peter explains his support for the war through his admiration for the Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya. Kanan, one of the most guileless and brave people I've ever been privileged to meet, is someone I hold in similar esteem. (It probably says something about the times we live in that Cruelty and Silence -- an overview of Iraqi desperation and its apologists -- appears more apt and poignant than Republic of Fear does.) If there's anything I'd add to Peter's column, it would be this: it wasn't Kanan's fault that anyone supported the Iraq war --wait, wait, hang on, let's make this more personal. It wasn't Kanan's fault that I supported the Iraq war. It was for wanting to believe so badly in the righteousness of America's terrible swift sword. I wanted to be worthy of the respect of such a brave man as Kanan that I ended up unworthy of it by abandoning rigor.

One final thing. Many of you out there really, really dislike Peter Beinart. I hope you'll read his column and see him as I see him: a scrupulous, honest writer who doesn't stop challenging himself. If he falls short, he acknowledges it and tries to learn from the mistake.
--Spencer Ackerman
I have no beef with Beinart. This mea culpa is solid. Now all I ask is that the principles enunciated therein be put into practice.

By, say, starting to counter some of the malignant warmongering that Marty is cultivating on the other side of the TNR coin.

Otherwise, it's just so much posturing. And I don't think Beinart intends to be so vacuous. At least I hope not.
Blogger Eric Martin | 7:41 AM

His valiant search for truth isn't what pissed people off. It was the Sistah Soldjah bullshit.
Anonymous Anonymous | 12:00 PM

Why is it his last TRB? Where is he going?
Blogger t.s. | 12:37 PM

Well, as other people have said elsewhere, I'm still troubled by the fact that Beinert and other "hawks" continue to marginalize (i.e., attack and condescend to) people who were right about Iraq. Or at least he had been doing so until very recently. Also, as others have said, the notion that we don't have the wisdom to change the world through preventive war is off-base, and indicates (to me) that some further rethinking is required on Beinart's part. It would be closer to the truth to say that we (meaning the US) don't have the *ruthlessness* to remake the world through preventive war, and that this is all to the good, if you believe in human rights and democracy and all that good stuff. (This is a line of thought I'm stealing from Talking Points Memo.) I would like to see Beinert reevaluate his romanticization of war and violence (which is still at work in his thinking, I think).

Enough said.
Blogger mary | 1:46 PM

Sorry, but 1 article won't do it.

He's about 3,153 stories short.
Blogger Lone Wolf | 7:40 PM

I was all over the lot before the war started: facing its inevitability under Bush, knowing Iraq was a threat--but a third-, or fourth- or fifth-rate threat, feeling sorry for the Iraqis under a heinous tyrant, not trusting the neo-cons (a well-known group of alarmists from the old Plan B days) and so on.

Every time I would read/listen to Makiya, I would get pulled back into the pro-war camp. He was really powerful; in fact, he, himself, seems to have been the source of the "greeted w/flowers" prediction in a meeting w/Bush.

Finally, I read General Clark's interview with Salon, and got my head screwed on straight.

For me, in retrospect, (and my mea culpa for my moments of thinking "maybe we should") an absolutely key proposition is simply put: NO MORE PREVENTATIVE WARS period full stop.

Hilary's obfuscations, BTW, amount to a concerted non-foreswearal of such wars--and so, for me, I must follow her advice and find another candidate (at least until the general election).
Blogger dell | 9:17 PM

I've long liked Peter's writing. I bought his book, and I'd like to think that I evolved along with him, in once supporting this war I fought in, and now opposing it.

That said, people who opposed the war from the outset do themselves no favors when they strike a self-righteously omniscient pose and assume that everyone who's come to the party late is simply a moron, and or lacking some kind of moral standing.

Lone Wolf says that Peter (and by extension, I would suppose, myself, and anyone else who supported this war at the outset, and argued for it) are 3,153 stories short--by which I would imagine LW means the servicemembers who've died.

When are we done atoning, Wolf? When? Why, when I sit here at 2 in the morning Mountain time, haunted yet again by the demons of my dreams, must I shoulder not just the burden of my guilt and regret, but also the burden of your righteousness?

Can it not be enough to say, I was wrong, and I have learned, and let us now be on our way?

Must you arrogate to yourself the power to forgive? And if so, what will it take? It bears reminding that the heights of your righteous indignation also serve as a prison of self-righteousness.
Blogger Raf Noboa | 1:17 AM

I liked this column, and it says a lot about him that he was willing to use his last TRB column as a mea culpa.

T.S. - Peter is no longer going to be wirting the TRB column- Jon Chait is taking it over. Peter is still an "Editor at Large" at TNR and Member of COouncil on Foreign Relations.
Blogger Scott L. Stuart | 5:59 PM

Ditto the theme of this comment thread. I used to love TNR and Beinart was one of my favorites. And this mea culpa is a nice little gesture.

A little gesture. Too little, and too late. I've just completely exhausted my tolerance for the magazine and anyone associated with it (at least anyone not named Cass Sunstein or Alan Wolfe. Or Spence Ackerman.).
Blogger Unknown | 9:58 AM