I just received an interesting email that proclaimed me a “reactionary hawk.” This gave me pause for in fact I am a chastened liberal, and I am not hawkish in general, just now. I was against war in Vietnam and was generally wary of intervention until the first Gulf War, which I felt necessary and appropriate.
The fact that the Gulf War was left unfinished has led to our accumulating detriment ever since. In fact every sign of military hesitation we have shown since we didn’t take Baghdad has come back to bite us in the ass and worse places.
Bush 1 should have finished off Iraq, Clinton should have taken military action after the first WTC bombing, should have done what he had to do to eliminate bin Laden, should have responded militarily after the Cole bombing, etc.
All of the above led to 9/11: not our policies toward this or that dictator in the Middle East or our support for Israel, but an accumulating sense in our enemies of our unwillingness to defend ourselves when attacked. Well I, and according to polls most of the nation, have learned our lesson the hard way.
This has little or nothing to do with left or right, just bitterly-gained experience and perspective. Our reticence to use force, even for self-defense, in the ’90s led to the emboldenment of our enemies and directly to the death of 3000 of our friends and loved ones. Many liberals, even leftists like Christopher Hitchens and Oriana Falacci, understand this, as did a leftist of another time, Albert Camus, of whom Jim Hoagland writes today:
- We must all continue to focus on human rights abuses by governments. But not at the price of ignoring or minimizing the threat of nihilism carried out by bands of fanatics who believe in and are capable of practicing what Albert Camus called “violence without limits.”
The words of Camus come to mind from reading accounts of a wide-ranging and fortuitous reexamination of his work at the Pompidou Center in Paris last weekend. The French author is a useful guide for the thinking left in this time of terror, even though he was made a Nobel literature laureate 45 years ago next week and will have been dead 43 years next month.
In his native Algeria, Camus saw the effects both of politically inspired terrorism and government repression and overreaction. He developed a philosophy out of activism and morality to counter the logic of violence and absolutism, which then as now were intimately related. He shocked his progressive hosts in Stockholm in 1957 by first denouncing racist repression and then emotionally adding: “I must also denounce a terrorism which is exercised blindly, in the streets of Algiers, for example, and which someday could strike my mother or my family. I believe in justice, but I shall defend my mother above justice.”
Our struggle is even less ambiguous: we can – and must – defend our mothers and justice at the same time.