The strange thing about Rich Lowry’s critique of “The ‘To Hell With Them’ Hawks,” the cover story of the current National Review, is that the subject is never identified by name, only by description. It’s worth reviewing that description (especially since Lowry’s full article is only available to NR subscribers), and it is worth separating the components:
[A] [T]he “to hell with them” hawks want to write off reforming Islam, since they consider it inherently unreformable. They are in favor of varying levels of frankness about this evaluation, wanting either to pass over it in silence or to be open about what they see as a clash of civilizations, with Islam itself the enemy.
[B] They don’t see any relation between spreading democracy and fighting terrorism, so want to give democracy-promotion a much lower prominence in U.S. foreign policy.
[C] They see the Iraq War as essentially lost, and want to pull up stakes either immediately or as soon as is plausible without creating further disaster. They agree on the imperative of never launching such a project again.
[D] “To hell with them” hawks are not isolationists. Almost all of them supported the Iraq War at its inception on national-security, weapons-of-mass-destruction grounds. They began to have doubts only as the retrospective justification for the war and the war aims themselves became increasingly Wilsonian.
[E] They will support military action again — against Iran, say, if nothing else will stop its nuclear program — but only if there is the guarantee against any repeat of the kind of intimate on-the-ground engagement with a native population that we’ve seen in Iraq.
[F] The “to hell with them” hawks are not protectionists either, although some of them might be tinged with protectionist attitudes.
Who is Lowry talking about? His piece grew out of a post at The Corner, identifying John Derbyshire as the patron saint “to hell with them” hawk. Indeed, Derbyshire fits all six parts of the description, and, as Lowry has noted, is the only one of those criticizing Lowry’s article who seems willing to embrace the label (complaining only of its clunkiness). But one can’t help suspecting that Lowry is drawing his line much, much too specifically.
OUR OWN JED BABBIN is certainly right to reject the label, since he does not subscribe to either point C or point A. But Jed’s brand of Jacksonianism, while an improvement on Derbyshire’s, is still in my view deficient.
If Jed thinks that “Islamic terrorism cannot threaten us significantly without the support of nations,” we have a different estimation of what constitutes a significant threat. State support for terrorism magnifies the threat, and confronting terror states is an important part of the war on terror. But as Lowry writes,
[I]t is the fire in the minds of men that matters most. As long as there are countless young men who want to do us harm, and are willing to die in the process, it is going to be hard to deny them the materials or the access to the U.S. necessary to do it. The key is to try to see that the fire itself begins to die out.
Radical Islam is itself the threat. Not just radical Islamic states, but radical Islam itself. It will be with us until the Middle East undergoes a major political transformation, and democratization — yes, even including “ugly” democratization, as symbolized by the Hamas victory in the Palestinian Authority — is a critical component in that transformation. Democracy empowers angry young men to do something about their grievances without resort to violence, and the give and take of the democratic process tends to moderate radical ideologies. And the various steps taken down the democratic path in the PA, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon suggest that encouraging democracy doesn’t necessarily require a gargantuan imperial commitment.
Jed writes that “Mr. Bush’s neo-Wilsonianism…allows the enemy and its apologists to control the pace and direction of the war.” But it’s useful, as Lowry writes, “to separate out the good from the bad in Wilsonianism” — to uncouple “the ‘Wilsonian triad’ of peace, democracy, and free markets” from Wilson’s naive faith in the ability of institutionalized international law to conquer geopolitics. Lowry writes of the latter form of Wilsonianism that “Bush partakes of none of these Wilsonian failings.” That’s not entirely true (what did we get out of going to the UN before the Iraq war, again?), and Jed scores hardest when criticizing “bad Wilsonianism” for delaying confrontation with terror states. Does “good Wilsonianism,” our commitment to democratization, delay such confrontation? I don’t think so. Let’s not throw the democratization baby out with the Turtle Bay bathwater.