Late last week, I had to phone an editor to get a spot edit done on a book review that was about to go to press. My review began with a list of contributors to Seattle’s number two alternative weekly, The Stranger, on subject of the looming war with Iraq. In the interest of accuracy, one name had to be removed from the pro-war column.
In the most recent issue, Stranger editor Dan Savage, a self-identified “lifelong lefty of the commie- pinko-faggot variety,” confessed that though he had initially found himself “just slightly to the left” of Ann Coulter — and though he still theoretically favors complete regime change in the Middle East — he is against invading Iraq for the moment.
Why? Savage reasoned that “the people” took to the streets; and France and Germany don’t want a war; and, let’s not forget, President Bush is “an idiot.” Therefore, and I am not making this up, “we’ll just have to wait until after New York or Paris or Seattle or Strasbourg is wiped off the map to do what must be done.”
Nor was Savage alone in this sudden about-face. Previously militant liberals such as Thomas Friedman and Josh Marshall (the Dennis Kucinich of pundits) are among those who have decided that peace should be given another chance. Though they may have articulated it a bit differently from Savage, their underlying reasoning is the same: they don’t like Bush and they don’t want the U.S. to buck world opinion. Like Savage, they assume that war will occur in the future and they might even support it then. However, right now, it just doesn’t, you know, feel right.
What I find maddening about this approach is not their opposition to war or the fact that I have to phone in the occasional correction. I can understand and respect both writers who oppose this war and those who advocate invasion. I think it’s even possible to have some measure of respect — though let’s not be too generous — for squishes like myself, who see both moral and practical arguments on both sides and aren’t willing to put forward a definitive opinion before we’ve arrived at one.
But the position of what some have dubbed the “fair weather hawks” is more of a posture than an argument. Beneath all the blather about “multilateralism” and “timeframes” and screwing with the “international state system” is a disdain for Bush and company, and an arrogant belief that if only they were in charge, Osama’s head would be displayed on a pike, Saddam Hussein would be in exile, the United Nations would be eating out of our hands and the lion would lie down with the lamb.
I exaggerate, but only slightly. Read enough of Marshall or Friedman (I’ll give Savage a pass because I like him and because his day job is a sex advice column) or any number of other temporizing liberal hawks, and a sort of myopic utopianism will come into sharp focus. They want a world in which America is both loved and feared. That would, of course, be ideal. But sometimes you can’t have both.