From Paul Anderson’s review of Michael Bérubé’s The Left at War in The Tribune.
Michael Bérubé, an academic who teaches literature and cultural studies at Penn State University, and is that rare thing in the United States, a self-confessed social democrat, hasn’t much to say about Obama except that he hopes for the best. But he does have a take on Afghanistan and Iraq (and on Bosnia and Kosovo) that goes beyond trotting out the old arguments for and against.
His line is that different parts of the left had (and have) radically different philosophies when it comes to the US and its allies using military force against rogue regimes that oppress their people and harbour or promote terrorists. There’s a “Manichean left” that says all intervention is evil imperialism (Noam Chomsky, John Pilger et al); a “liberal hawks” left – or maybe ex-left – that in the end backs any intervention against such regimes (Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen et al); and a “democratic left” that bases its judgments on evidence and international law, sometimes backing intervention and sometimes not.
Like me, Bérubé supported intervention in the Balkans and in Afghanistan but not in Iraq, and he sees himself as a spokesman for the “democratic left”. But although I’m coming from pretty much the same starting point, I’m not entirely convinced. A lot of what Bérubé says is on the money. His chapter on the “Manichean left” is a competent demolition of Chomsky and of the Leninist and anarchist anti-imperialist hard left, though it is far from comprehensive. He is incisive on the worst excesses of the “liberal hawks” and his idea that knee-jerk counter-culturalism is an endemic problem on the left is spot on.
But, well, he doesn’t get any of it quite right and then goes off on a tangent. He over-eggs the case against the war to topple Saddam Hussein (without, however, deploying one of the most important anti-intervention arguments, that if Iraq really did have weapons of mass destruction it would have been irresponsibly risky taking him on). He under-eggs the case for getting rid of Saddam which was – yes, really – a lot stronger than he claims. And he brushes aside the argument, made by the anti-war signatories of the Euston Manifesto – remember that! – who said that once the invasion had happened it was stupid to continue wittering about whether it should have taken place in the first place. That isn’t an unprincipled position. In politics you always start from where you are.