Gustav Seibt (G) wrote yesterday in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung about people who get very little attention outside of Europe: West Europeans who supported the invastion of Iraq in 2003. In The Disaster of the Hawks (G), Seibt names names, and draws some spot-on conclusions:
The majority of the war’s supporters — with Herfried Muenkler as a prominent exception — never occupied themselves with Iraq, international law, or the opportunities or risks of a war in the Middle Eastern context at all. The vast majority of the arguments for the war were based on European experiences of the last two or three generations. Thus, people wrote about second-order subjects such as pacifism and anti-Americanism, about appeasement and anti-Semitism, instead of talking about the real topic itself.
They primarily occupied themselves with broad historical analogies: the desirable overthrow of Saddam was compared unthinkingly to the struggle against Hitler, the democratization of Iraq with the democratization of West Germany or Japan after the Second World War. They compared the chance of a democratizing effect on the entire Middle East to the end of the Eastern Bloc and the quick establishment of civilian democracies there afterward. They had plenty to say about many things, with one exception — the inner situation of present-day Iraq.
…The rubble of the Iraq War needs to be cleared away before we can continue an even halfway-credible debate. Nobody should be glad that writers such as Wolf Biermann, Gyoergy Konrad, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht, and Karl-Otto Hondrich, "liberal hawks" like Paul Berman and Michael Ignatieff, and even reasonable observers such as Ralph [sic] Dahrendorf and Herfried Muenkel erred in so many points. One should also credit some authors, such as Konrad and Gumbrecht, for the fact that they have generously conceded their errors in the meantime.
Seibt notes that the pro-war arguments made by these intellectuals and others almost never dealt with the concrete questions whether the war was a good idea. Instead, in a reminder of events before the First World War, pro-war intellectuals "clouded over risky military decisions with a superstructure of cultural criticism and aesthetic ruminations which had nothing to do with the specifics of military strategy." An old "warhorse and travel reporter" like Peter Scholl-Latour, Seibt observes cuttingly, "judged conditions in the Middle East better than the cleverest essayist from New York or Paris."
I noticed the same pattern as Seibt did. I think part of the explanation is that the hawkish intellectuals who supported the war engaged not with the serious critiques from war opponents, but with the goofy arguments of the weird left. They then built their case for war on a refutation of those silly arguments, rather than a carefully-reasoned argument why the war itself was necessary or desirable. "Because the anti-American, anti-Semitic wacko left is strongly against this war, and because I despise those people, the war must be a good idea. How can those people, whom I’ve spent my life criticizing, be right about anything?"
So many problems with this way of reasoning. Two of the biggest:
For every unwashed sociology dropout waving a "Bush=Hitler" banner, there were 10 ordinary, non-extremist Germans who saw the risks of the war and protested in large numbers against it, and 3 or 4 intellectuals who pointed out its enormous risks. The exclusive concentration on your opponent’s weakest arguments is a fine way to score technical debate points, but a terrible way to arrive at a responsible position on something as fateful as armed conflict.
The fact that you fundamentally disagree with your opponent does not mean everything he says is hogwash. As Orwell may once have said, "just because something is in the Daily Telegraph doesn’t mean it’s not true."
Seibt has started a necessary discussion here; let’s see where it leads.
P.S. Although I found the piece interesting, I am constrained to note that, at least in the online version, Seibt misspells the names of Sir Ralf Dahrendorf and Necla Kelek. That’s OK, nobody’s perfect and I make my share of mistakes (especially on a blog, where you only spend 15-20 minutes on each entry). But doesn’t anybody edit the SZ?