Thursday, May 05, 2005

Fighting "liberal prejudice"

One would think the term "liberal prejudice" would be an oxymoron--but then, one would be wrong. Liberals are hardly immune to prejudice, as this article, appearing, surprisingly, in The Guardian (courtesy LGF) concedes--that is, if the prejudice happens to be dislike of Bush and his merry band of neocons.

I applaud the author of the article, Max Hastings, as I applaud anyone who dares to consider giving credit where credit is due even if it might be due to someone he/she has been reviling lately. It takes courage to do this, especially if Hastings' fellow broad-minded liberals end up extending their "liberal prejudice" to Hastings himself.(* see below) It's been known to happen.

I can't say that Hastings doesn't flinch. He does; there are some hemmings and hawings and throat-clearings and caveats. But despite this (or perhaps because of it) he allows himself to get around to saying what needs to be said--which is that liberals should consider the possibility that Bush may have been right (in his hedgehoggy way) about certain "big things" in the Arab world and the Middle East:

....scepticism, however, should not prevent us from stepping back to reassess the progress of the Bush project, and satisfy ourselves that mere prejudice is not blinding us to the possibility that western liberals are wrong; that the Republicans' grand strategy is getting somewhere....

It seems wrong for either neocon true believers or liberal sceptics to rush to judgment. We of the latter persuasion must keep reciting the mantra: "We want Iraq to come right, even if this vindicates George Bush....

We must respect American power, and also acknowledge that the world sometimes has much need of it. As Sir Michael Howard, wisest of British strategic thinkers, often remarks: "If America does not do things, nobody else will."

* A caveat of my own is due here: after writing this, I decided to do a little research on the topic of the author. After all, although I am quite familiar with the ultra-liberal--even leftist, at times--slant of The Guardian, I really had no particular knowledge of the politics of Max Hastings. From the article itself, I assumed he was typically liberal (he certainly identifies himself as such), and had been against the Iraqi war from the start.

But when I started checking him out, it turns out that the situation got "curiouser and curiouser," as another Brit might say. It turns out Hastings is a far more complex figure than that. Here is Hastings himself, writing on the topic of his own views:

I am more instinctively supportive of institutions, less iconoclastic, than most of the people who write for the Guardian, never mind read it. I am a small "c" conservative...

So, Hastings seems to be more middle of the road in his political stance, having once been editor of the Telegraph, and also, apparently, having been an early supporter of the war. As best I can tell, he is the British equivalent of Andrew Sullivan--neither stylistically nor sexually, that is, but in terms of a hyper-reactivity and changeability on the war when the going got rough. British journalism and journalists is a topic that is way way way outside any area of expertise I might be said to have, of course. But I still decided to publish this post, as an object lesson in the principle "things are usually not quite exactly as they seem at first glance," and because I am impressed by Hastings's (or anyone's, for that matter) ability to say "Perhaps I was wrong."


At 12:43 PM, May 05, 2005, Blogger Alex said...

Um, isn't the British equivalent of Andrew Sullivan... Andrew Sullivan?

At 12:52 PM, May 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooops--touche! Excellent point. I guess I don't think of Andrew Sullivan as strictly British any more. But that's a fine illustration of my point--I'm not afraid to admit to being wrong :-).

So, let me amend: Hastings is the even-more-British-than-Andrew-Sullivan equivalent of Andrew Sullivan (after all, Hastings is a "Sir!")

At 1:02 PM, May 05, 2005, Blogger Michael B said...

Prejudice, vis-a-vis classical liberal conceptions and motifs, at least as understood in something of an ideal sense (i.e., by definition), very much is an oxymoron. Yet the term "liberal" has long been a co-opted label, a syntactical device or technique, tailored for political rhetoric - i.e., deceptive forms of propaganda - than for honest and transparent forms of communication. That was true even before the advent of post-modern effusions.

Regarding honest and transparent forms of communication, Martha Gellhorn has a quote concerning journalism that is deserving of broader applications:

"Serious, careful, honest journalism is essential, not because it is a guiding light but because it is a form of honorable behavior, involving the reporter and the reader."

Putative "liberals," "progressives," etc. are convinced they themselves are guiding lights, yet they not only fail to communicate to others in an honorable manner, they very much eschew the very idea of such an "honorable" ideal when it fails their test of political expeciency.

At 1:33 PM, May 05, 2005, Blogger demulcents said...

Isn’t it wonderful that the Iraqi people are rising to the challenge of creating their own democracy? Also those in Afghanistan, Lebanon, maybe even Egypt and Palestine? Their courage muffles the “Bush lied; people died” crowd.

Long way to go, but still moving along the right track.

At 9:35 PM, May 05, 2005, Blogger goesh said...

John, don't forget Libya and Iran. Many students and journalists are being persecuted/killed in Iran for questioning and challenging the mullahs.

At 1:06 AM, May 06, 2005, Blogger gatorbait said...

Fastings has written some revisionist histories, "Overlord" comes to mind, where the Germans are glorified and the GI is rather slapped down. Golly Sir Max, just how in the hell did we win, then? Material superiority was not heavily in evidence in the early part of the Normandy campaign, either. Oops, strayed a little off topic, but it might help get his mindset toward us colonial hicks.

At 5:43 AM, May 06, 2005, Blogger David Blue said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 6:04 AM, May 06, 2005, Blogger David Blue said...

Sir Max Hastings is a fully respectable military historian. It's his job to notice who is winning, even if he'd rather not.

Sir Michael Howard, "wisest of British strategic thinkers," is also a very eminent name in the field. But by praising him so effusively Max Hastings reminded me of Michael Howard's on-the-record "wisdom" regarding the war on terror.

"Mistake to declare this a 'war'" by Sir Michael Howard, against war in Afghanistan and indeed any military response at all to 9/11, copy held at H-War (military historians' discussion list) - can't link, which is why the previous post was deleted: I tried to link and it turned into a mess.

"But to use, or rather to misuse the term 'war' is not simply a matter of legality, or pedantic semantics. It has deeper and more dangerous consequences. To declare that one is 'at war' is immediately to create a war psychosis that may be totally counter-productive for the objective that we seek. It will arouse an immediate expectation, and demand, for spectacular military action against some easily identifiable adversary, preferably a hostile state; action leading to decisive results." Etc.

How obvious it was to "wise" Sir Michael that to talk of making "war" on terrorism (directly after 11 September 2001!) was a ghastly error committing one to sheer lunacy.

"Any suggestion that the best strategy is not to use military force at all, but more subtle if less heroic means of destroying the adversary are dismissed as 'appeasement' by ministers whose knowledge of history is about on a par with their skill at political management."

That's right: no military force at all for Sir Michael. Perhaps the Taliban government should have been kissed or charmed from history's stage? No real alternative was proposed. (By all means, read it all. The steady accumulation of petty slights makes it even worse than my excepts look.) As for those who thought that the trashing of the Twin Towers required a military response, they were simply historically ignorant boobs as far as Sir Michael Howard was concerned.

(And inept at "political management" too - is that a prediction that George W. Bush, John Winston Howard and Tony Blair wouldn't be up to winning re-election? Or just empty-headed, content-free snark, absolutely unbefitting someone from whom a serious military historical analysis should be expected?)

"I would like to think that, thanks to our imperial experience, the British understand these problems - or we certainly ought to - better than many others. So, perhaps even more so, do our neighbours the French. But for most Americans it must be said that Islam remains one vast terra incognita - and one, like all such blank areas on medieval maps, inhabited very largely by dragons."

How patronizing - and how dense. Trust the French, pat the stupid Americans on the head, and never listen to wild warmongers like Tony Blair (for whom: thank God!) - that was all wise Sir Michael Howard's advice. It's smug, cold, sneering, insufferable and phony as a three dollar bill coming from a student of Clausewitz who knows, who has to know, how well turning the other cheek has historically worked against jihad fanatics. He'd done all the reading. And he didn't care.

I wasn't impressed at the time. I'm still not.

My former friends, who made it unbearable to remain friends with them because I was for the invasion of Afghanistan and they were protesting to prevent it, will certainly never admit they were wrong - or even grant decent tolerance to someone who wasn't of the same mind.

I very much doubt "Sir Michael Howard, wisest of British strategic thinkers" will unsay what he said then either.

Professional military historians who committed themselves to pacifist lunacy in the face of terror have no right to have their public arguments for the wrong side forgotten.

At 8:47 AM, May 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I don't think all that much of 'Overlord' either, 'Six Armies in Normandy' is as good a book as there is on the Normandy campaign, and Hastings certainly holds the 101st very highly in that book. I think it's a bit unfair to accuse him of anti-Americanism.

He's a good writer, and a fine historian. Certainly not a pillar of the British left, and slightly out of place at the Guarian. And, as noted, being a good historian doesn't make him right of course.

And I'm sure Sullivan will end up knighted. :) Hastings is what, 30 years older than him.

At 7:06 AM, May 09, 2005, Blogger Tom Grey said...

What if I was wrong?
If I was wrong about supporting Op Iraqi Freedom, that means:
10 000 American casualties in 3 years;
or a civil war in Iraq with over 100 000 male (fighting) casualties, and twice that in women and children; or Iran develops a nuke and gives it to a non-state actor who uses it against Tel Aviv (or New Delhi, or Islamabad, or Moscow).

Wait. Terrorists getting nukes is a possibility with or without invasion. In fact, I thought a nuke use in 10 years was some 20% likely without invasion, only 2% likely with invasion. Still possible.

Being right or wrong means supporting a good or bad decision -- but even good decisions can have bad outcomes.

Most on the Left won't admit they were wrong -- even about the Vietnam war. How many have to die in SE Asia before it is so many that it was "wrong" to leave? Leftists won't answer.


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