Failing to settle old scores

Even taking into account the intellectual inferiority complex that seems to plague certain leftists in relation to the neo-conservatives, it’s difficult to explain the absurd triumphalism of today’s column by Harold Meyerson. The burden of Meyerson’s piece is that neo-conservatives made their names by showing how the well-intentioned projects of 1960s-era liberals had, through their unintended consequences, made matters worse. But now, in a bit of cosmic irony, the neo-cons by championing the war in Iraq have “come to embody everything they once mocked and despised in ’60s liberals.”

To sustain this claim, Meyerson would have to show that, in the tradition of the liberals of yore, the neo-cons actually have made things worse in Iraq. Yet Meyerson not only doesn’t show this, he fails even to assert it. And it’s easy to understand why. As a result of our military action, Iraq is more free and probably more prosperous than before. And it has a pro-American government that lacks both the capability and the desire to export terrorism.

Commendably unwilling to argue that things in Iraq were better under Saddam Hussein, Meyerson resorts to symbolism. The symbolism that sparked the original neo-conservatives (according to Meyerson) was the flight of the middle class from our cities. Now, says Meyerson, middle-class Iraqis are fleeing Baghdad. He relies mainly on reports that lots of Iraqis have been issued foreign passports.

But symbolism is not an argument. If Meyerson wants to discredit the neo-conservatives on their own terms, he must show that, on balance, things are worse today in Iraq than they were before we went to war. Showing that violence plagues parts of Bagdhad and that lots of people have foreign passports doesn’t accomplish this. Indeed, while presenting anecdotal evidence of people leaving their homes, Meyerson ignores Amir Taheri’s point that 1.2 million Iraqis have returned since the overthrow of Saddam.

Meyerson’s piece also contains unsupported claims to the effect that the neo-conservatives “guaranteed the world an idealized postwar Iraq.” He cites Bill Kristol’s pre-war statement that there was little evidence to support the view that the Shia in Iraq want to establish a fundamentalist Islamic regime. There is still little evidence that this is so in the scary Iranian sense, and Meyerson presents none.

Finally, Meyerson trots out the myth that Gen. Eric Shinseki was “put out to pasture” for stating that the occupation of Iraq would require many hundreds of thousands of troops. First, as Robert Schlesinger noted on the Huffington Post, “Shinseki wasn’t fired; he wasn’t retired early; he retired from the Army after serving out his full term.” Moreover, as Robert Novak has noted, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld announced that Shinseki would depart as scheduled before the General made his statement about how many troops would be needed in Iraq.

This is not to deny that that the Bush administration and certain neo-conservatives made some miscalculations in the run-up to the Iraq war and subsequently. Miscalculation usually goes hand-in-hand with warfare. But to claim that neo-conservatism therefore now stands in the shoes of 1960s liberalism says more about Meyerson’s desire to settle old intellectual scores than its does about the American intellectual landscape or about conditions in Iraq.

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