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Wehner on Will

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Wehner on Will"

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George Will is, it seems, turning skeptical about the war in Afghanistan. Which was good enough to earn him this long hit piece from Peter Wehner. Once upon a time I thought Wehner was dishonest, but reading his work over the years I think it’s pretty clear that whether or not he’s dishonest he’s also a bit dim-witted. And I think it tells you a lot about the Bush administration that apparently the President and other key members of his team regarded Wehner as a major intellectual force. Being governed by stupid people leads to a lot of problems.

At any rate, Wehner’s screed ends thusly:

In 1983 the French journalist and intellectual Jean-Francois Revel wrote How Democracies Perish. It was a withering critique of the West’s loss of nerve and will in the face of the totalitarian threat it faced. In his book, Revel wrote, “Democracy tends to ignore, even deny, threats to its existence because it loathes doing what is needed to counter them.” In a column praising Revel’s book, George Will wrote, “Defense of democracy depends on pessimists who are not defeatists. It depends on spirited realists such as Jean-Francois Revel.”

Now, like then, America needs spirited realists, not defeatists. We need individuals who believe a nation must be willing to fight for what is right even when it is hard. We need people who are going to resist the temptation to eagerly support war at the outset and then prematurely give up on it.

Note for one thing that Wehner apparently has absolutely no idea what the term “realist” means in international relations. Suffice it to say that “individuals who believe a nation must be willing to fight for what is right even when it is hard” is pretty much backwards.

But consider Revel. His thesis was that the West had lost its nerve in the face of the totalitarian threat it faced and that Western democracy was on the verge of perishing. Six years later the Berlin Wall came down. Two years after that, the Soviet Union broke up. Why would you cite that guy as prescient? He’s an example, if anything, of the conservative tendency toward bedwetting hysteria in the face of foreign threat along with totally unwarranted lack of confidence in the ability of liberal institutions to prevail over the long term. Democracy didn’t perish in the 1980s, the main ideological alternative to democracy perished. Maybe you couldn’t have known any better in 1983, but how has Wehner not noticed this twenty-five years later?

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