Let's start with the commenter to my original post. I want to reiterate that the "blame America" syndrome is not something that affects most or even many Democrats. It remains tightly contained to a small segment of the fringe. At the same time, I will stand by my claim that too many Democrats seem to take small stock in our historical commitment to human rights and liberation. I don't take this from Republican cherry-picking--I read Democratic sites and while it doesn't rise to the level that it's caricatured as, some of it really seems to be shocking when one thinks about it. Consider the comment itself. (S)he says that "[c]riticizing Mr. Bush's unwarranted Iraq adventure does NOT imply endorsing Saddam Hussein - it is more often a "plague on both their houses" situation." Well, that's okay and not okay. I do wish for a plague on both their houses. But while I want Mr. Bush to have a sort of mild flu, I want Saddam Hussein to come down with a particularly virulent and painful form of Ebola. Bush has done some terrible things in office, but clearly he does not even approach the horror of a Saddam Hussein. And the next line--that the US government (including current administration officials) supported Hussein at the height of his genocidal rage. I've never understood why that is trotted out as an argument against an intervention--I'd argue that it imposes a greater obligation on the US to make up for its complacency with past evils. Maybe it shows that Donald Rumsfeld shouldn't lead the charge, but that's an argument that can be made easily just on present performance.
Finally, what is still missing from even the charitable interpretation of the "plague on both your houses" argument is the point I made in the original post: there isn't any coherent alternative plan besides an aggressive American foreign policy to solving these moral catastrophes. The closest thing I've heard from the anti-war left is "the sanctions were working--they could have kept Saddam contained." Well, perhaps. But all that means is that Saddam would be contained to his own borders, where he could continue to murder, rape, torture, and maim with impunity. Paired with the empirical fact that sanctions fell hardest on women and the poor, and what you get isn't a human rights argument--it's a security-based argument that gives us the moral cover to allow thousands to perish. Sure, sanctions would insure that Saddam wouldn't threaten us, but we're not the only people at risk here. I don't consider this to be an adequate liberal response.
I'd also like to point readers to two stellar articles that went up on The New Republic's website over Thanksgiving (TNR, incidentally, has been a major exception to the crypto-isolationist movement creeping through the left). The first, by Lawrence Kaplan, takes issue with the Democrat's newfound love for foreign policy Realism.
The complaint here isn't with the Bush team's execution of its project to export democracy. It is with the idea itself....What we have in [its] place is a crude and cheap version of realism, which, although ostensibly a method of analysis that eschews ideology, is rapidly becoming an ideology of its own. Unfortunately, its key tenets as laid out by the Gary Harts and Paul Krugmans of this world--non-interference, narrowly defined vital interests, a foreign policy scrubbed of idealism--provide no adequate response to the war of ideas in which we're presently engaged and will be long after the war in Iraq draws to a close. Nor do its proponents factor in the steep moral price bound to be exacted by trading in Woodrow Wilson for Brent Scowcroft. Is it really necessary to point out how deeply amoral U.S. foreign policy was during the Kissinger and Scowcroft years? If idealism has failed in Iraq, the solution lies in the realm of means, not in abandoning idealism...
The second article, by John Judis, warns that a rising tide of isolationism may be overtaking the country. Isolationism did not augur the US' finest moral moments (acquiescing to the Nazi's rise to power, ignoring the Rwandan genocide in 1994, etc.).
I want to also state that I think nobody is fulfilling this obligation--by criticizing the Left, I do not mean to exonerate the Right. The flip-side of this argument is that nobody is taking this obligation we have seriously. I really liked this Kevin Drum post (linking to Dahlia Lithwick) because it shows how the right is also betraying this fight under the guise of fighting it, using an example I hadn't thought of before.
[Lithwick] Had Padilla been charged and tried back in the summer of 2002, rather than touted as some Bond villain - the Prince of Radiological Dispersion - his case would have stood for a simple legal proposition: that if you are a terrorist, a supporter of terrorism, or a would-be terrorist, the government will hunt you down and punish you. Had the government waited, tested its facts, kept expectations low, then delivered a series of convictions of even small-time al-Qaida foot soldiers, we in this country would feel safer and we would doubtless be safer.
Instead Padilla, like Hamdi, was used as fodder for big speeches. They became the justification for Bush's position that some people are so evil that the law does not deter them, that new legal systems must be invented - new systems that bear a striking resemblance to those discredited around the time of Torquemada.
[Drum] Exactly. The corrosion of civil liberties highlighted by these cases is bad enough, but it's not the only problem they've caused. Every time a dramatic set of charges turns out to be baseless, it sends a very public message that the war against terrorism is just a sham, a campaign of partisan fearmongering being used as little more than a political club. This is the same message sent by the Bush administration's misuse of intelligence, the lack of WMD in Iraq, the politically motivated orange alerts, the strategically timed marketing campaigns, and the transparent political stunts played by congressional Republicans last week in response to John Murtha's speech.
The American public can hardly be expected to take terrorism seriously if it's obvious that the Bush administration itself views al-Qaeda as primarily a political opportunity rather than a real problem. Sooner or later, we're going to pay the price for this feckless and irresponsible approach.
That's the meta-point here. Democrats are rightfully upset that Bush was misleading in his pre-war run-up. That was a grave sin, and he should take his fair sure of flogging for it. But that cuts both ways, Bush deserves to be bashed for jeopardizing the credibility of a really important mission, but Democrats had the obligation to sign on to the program even if they disagreed with the methodology. If the Democrats even were opposing the Iraq war on the grounds that we should be instead intervening in Darfur or North Korea (seriously advocating it, not just as a talking point), then I'd consider that to be a legitimate point of disagreement. But attacking the project of democratization itself is simply not consonant with liberal ideals. The issues that face us today, whether it's terrorism or human rights (I think the two are inextricably tied), are too important to be tied up in political considerations. They need to be addressed full-frontal and in good faith. And if I seem to come down harder on liberals, that's because I have more faith in them to bring about real, lasting, compassionate, and effective solutions to the problems we're faced with.