Reemerging realpolitik?’s Michelle Goldberg– a leftwing opponent of the Iraq war who nonetheless has been critical of the the leadership and the anti-occupation rhetoric of the antiwar movement– was invited to speak at a conference of leading US conservatives recently and produced an informative account of the proceedings (free daypass required).

“For two days,” she wrote, “I skulked around a crowd that included House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, ultra-right strategist Grover Norquist, U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris of Florida, and neocon ideologue Daniel Pipes.”

Perhpas most disturbingly, Goldberg reported, “The self-regarding humanitarianism that the right wrapped itself in before the war with Iraq is beginning to fray and chafe… Meanwhile, the right’s intellectuals and activists had largely scrapped talk of democracy. Some suggested that the Iraqis themselves are our enemy, that we owe them nothing. Pipes referenced ‘The Mouse That Roared,’ the 1959 film in which a poor country declares war on America, hoping to lose and be rebuilt like Germany and Japan. The implication seemed to be that Iraq is both lucky and greedy.

I think Goldberg is exaggerating when she refers to President Bush’s “decision to cut and run.” But she offers evidence that many of the conference-goers– while firmly defending Bush– don’t take seriously his vision of Middle East democracy.

Commenters to Harry’s Place have complained that they can’t tell the difference between pro-war leftists and pro-war neocons. Well allow me, a pro-war leftist, to proclaim my difference from the neocon Daniel Pipes. According to Goldberg:

Before the war, Pipes was a proponent of the democracy domino theory. In February, he published a column titled “Why Stop in Iraq: Here’s a Chance to Reform the Entire Arab World.” In it, he argued with those who suggested that democracy wouldn’t work in Iraq, saying, “Japan had about as much affinity for democracy in 1945 as the Arabs do today, yet democracy took hold there … A US victory in Iraq and the successful rehabilitation of that country will bring liberals out of the woodwork and generally move the region towards democracy.”

Now, though, he’s contemptuous of the idealistic case for war, the case that wooed some liberals to Bush’s side in the first place. “We have no, no moral responsibility to the Iraqi people,” he said. “Our moral responsibility is to ourselves. I very much disagree with the name ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom.’ It should have been ‘Operation American Security.'” This met with applause.

“Our goal is not a free Iraq,” Pipes continued. “Our goal is an Iraq that does not endanger us.” What we need, he says, is a “democratic-minded strongman.”

A democratic-minded strongman? I can’t say how much Pipes’s comments reflect the secret thoughts of leading Bush administration officials– not much, I hope– but those of us who supported the Iraq invasion as a war for freedom have a special responsibility to reject as forcefully as we can that kind of reemerging realpolitik. Bush’s recent speeches suggest he himself has discarded that approach.

It appears, though, that if things deteriorate further in Iraq, a lot of conservative supporters of the war will start looking for an easy way out– regardless of the consequences for Iraqis. In that case it will be up to the more idealistic among us to hold Bush to his commitment.