Moral Seriousness

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"Moral Seriousness"

Alongside the silliness of the Baker-Hamilton Commission and Tom Friedman’s newfound commitment to good sense, there’s yet another new brand of liberal hawk madness bopping around town. This week’s New Republic editorial, for example, perspicaciously observes that “On the question of withdrawal, which is politically the most sensational question, the report is evasive” before going on to evade the question of withdrawal. In the same issue, Peter Beinart complains that “across ideological lines, American politicians and pundits are finally coming to a consensus on Iraq: It’s the Iraqis’ fault” and concludes that “If we need to leave; we need to leave. But let’s not pretend the defeat is anyone else’s but our own” but doesn’t say whether or not we need to leave. Likewise, George Packer groused in The New Yorker that withdrawal advocates were being unduly rosy about the potential outcome of withdrawal without saying whether or not he favors withdrawal. And here we had Jason Zengerle charging me with undue churlishness in my estimation of Robert Gates’ support for the continuation of the war, combined with an unwillingness to express a view on the underlying policy issue.

To dust off an old term, I think we need to have a conversation about “moral seriousness” here. This passion for nitpicking and meta-commentary is a serious abdication. If you’re going to spend your time writing about Iraq, you have some responsibility to form a view on the central Iraq-related question: The wisdom of continuing the war. If we should stay, then, fine, complain about the rhetoric of withdrawal advocates. But if we need to leave not only do we need to leave, but people who think we need to leave need to say we need to leave.

On the issue Beinart raises, I agree with him. The “blame the Iraqis” account of the war is somewhat offensive and factually misguided. That said, it’s a lot less misguided than continuing the war. If politicians who need to stand for election choose to put the most-politically-palatable possible spin on that policy view rather than the most exactingly accurate one, I don’t think that’s seriously problematic. Practical politicians are in the business of putting positive spin on their policy preferences, and there’s no sense calling 911 every time you hear it happening.

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