Friday, February 11, 2011

Conservatives don't own a love of freedom in the Middle East

Charles Krauthammer plays fast and loose:

Today, everyone and his cousin supports the “freedom agenda.” Of course, yesterday it was just George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and a band of neocons with unusual hypnotic powers who dared to challenge the received wisdom of Arab exceptionalism — the notion that Arabs, as opposed to East Asians, Latin Americans, Europeans, and Africans, were uniquely allergic to democracy. Indeed, the Left spent the better part of the Bush years excoriating the freedom agenda as either fantasy or yet another sordid example of U.S. imperialism.

This is a gross distortion—maybe even a lie about—arguments surrounding the Iraq War.

Here's the truth as I see it:

* Liberals, generally, have never been opposed to the greater freedom and democracy in the Middle East. We *have* disputed whether the United States can impose its vision of democracy on the region, whether it can do so without the long and hard work of building up the supporting institutions of that make liberal democracy possible, and—most notably—whether or not the United States and its allies could impose freedom and democracy at the point of a gun.

And we were right to raise those questions.

* To the extent that there's a loud argument that Islamic culture is incompatible with democracy, it's come almost exclusively from the right, from Mark Steyn and Andy McCarthy and Newt Gingrich and others who run around screaming about sharia law. The term "islamofascism" originated in those precincts, and it's a term that doesn't really exist on the left, except when used to parody the right.

It's not "freedom" that was questioned by liberals. It was the "freedom agenda," which is something else entirely. The debate is about not ends, but means, but Krauthammer—who is a smart guy—would rather conflate the two in order to score a political point.

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