Certainty is sometimes a transient thing — as three prominent liberal commentators might have been reminded last Sunday, when the New York Times Book Review published highlights of their roundtable discussion on the future of liberalism in America. The discussion, which featured Peter Beinart, editor of the New Republic, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation, and Michael Tomasky, executive editor of the American Prospect, took place on January 21, a week before the Iraqi elections, just as terrorists led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were ratcheting up their homicidal mayhem. So when the topic of Iraq came up, the roundtable participants had no qualms writing off the entire invasion as an unmitigated disaster:
“There is no question that the war is going very, very badly,” declared Beinart.
“In the context of the war on terror, Iraq was an act of self-sabotage,” declared vanden Heuvel.
“I think the war in Iraq was a catastrophic mistake,” declared Tomasky.
Six weeks later, the Islamic world is undergoing seismic changes the likes of which have not been witnessed in more than half a century: First came free and fair elections in Iraq — with a turnout, even in the face of deadly violence, of around 60 percent of eligible voters. The Iraqi elections were followed, in rapid succession, by the first tentative steps towards democratic reform in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the renewal of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and the promise to pull out of Lebanon by Syria.
All of the above can be attributed, in whole or in part, to George W. Bush’s determination to end Saddam Hussein’s maniacal reign in Iraq. Add to that list what was already known when the liberal roundtable gathered: the December 2003 decision of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi to abandon his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and submit to United Nations weapons inspections, and January 10, 2005 election of Mahmoud Abbas, a popular moderate, as president of the Palestinian Authority.
I wonder if Beinart, vanden Heuvel and Tomasky are quite as certain today as they were six weeks ago.