February 25, 2003

I asked God to send

I asked God to send me a Lincoln, but all I got was this lousy Bush

Paul Berman gets in touch with his inner Wolfowitz. Well, maybe not entirely, since he leaves Reagan off his list of Presidents who pushed the envelope in support of the revolutionary ideals of liberal democracy. (Painful as it is for many to admit, it's true: he wasn't wrong about everything.) As usual, Berman's essay is powerfully argued, elegant, and provocative. Whatever you think of Bush's Iraq strategy (if such there be) there's no denying: he ain't no Great Communicator. He's also not much of a Metternich; nor are there good grounds for supposing that he has the Heart of a Lion. But it's also true that, should this war ever begin (war? what war?) and terminate successfully, Bush will be remembered for the intermittent bursts of Wolfowitziana and Churchill-evoking "resolve" that have occasionally found their way into his talking points, rather than for the dithering, meandering, mushy, incoherence that has characterized much of the past year of the putative "war." There's nothing wrong with that, perhaps. Great ideals and noble aims do not always require titans as their instruments. (Though it would be nice.) At any rate, even those who believe that deposing Saddam Hussein and liberating Iraq would be a practical and a moral good have ample reasons for regarding Bush with a certain amount of skepticism. They would be well-advised to watch him like a hawk. So to speak.

By the way, I'm a bit puzzled by this Instantman-linked critique. I'm sure John Coumarianos knows what he's talking about in re: Berman's flawed, superficial, or insufficiently nuanced use of Tocqueville, Hobbes, and Kant to make his points. Yet somehow he thinks that Berman's essay is an attempt at an "argument against going to war." Huh? I don't know who's to blame, but what we have here is a failure to communicate. If Berman needs to brush up on his Tocqueville, Coumarianos should probably brush up on his Berman.

(TNR's current issue is devoted to "Liberalism and American Power," and includes this and many other excellent attempts to place American power and national identity in the context of Liberalism as well as "liberalism." On the whole I'm pretty much with the Kaplans (the guarded optimism of Lawrence F., tempered by the realism of Robert D.) on this one. Yet there's also enough gloom and doom to scare the daylights out of anyone who likes or predicts that sort of thing. In other words, it's the best issue of TNR I can remember reading. Well worth the price.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 25, 2003 11:08 AM | TrackBack