It’s the 20th anniversary of The American Prospect, and as part of the celebration you can see me try to squeeze a whole bunch of historical perspective into 1,000 words.
By contrast, progressives have been much more divided. Much of the controversy over the past two decades has centered on the concept of “humanitarian intervention.” This was exemplified by 1990s arguments over military intervention in Haiti, Rwanda, and Bosnia and ultimately by the 1999 U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign that forced Serbia to concede Kosovo’s de facto independence. In world-historical terms, this war will go down as extremely trivial, but it was a key moment politically. It led, in particular, to the development of a (purportedly) new “liberal hawk” approach to world affairs in which American power would be unleashed to do good all around the world.
In retrospect, there was nothing new about this vision. In its fundamentals, it is identical to the conservative view (albeit at times with different points of rhetorical emphasis) in terms of positing American military primacy and freedom from institutional restraint as key planks of foreign policy. Sensible liberals were able to see the humanitarian ventures of the 1990s as perhaps-praiseworthy things done at a particular time and place without redefining their entire worldview around the idea of serial humanitarian wars. But many intellectuals and political leaders of the Democratic Party ended up following the liberal-hawk line right into the disaster in Iraq.
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