Tuesday, April 01, 2003
I really understand Peter Hitchens' perspective. And I appreciate very much reading a Tory critique of the war that is not overtly or covertly anti-Semitic.
We come to different conclusions, of course, for basically two reasons. First, the prudential. Hitchens implicitly accepts that Iraq and its ilk are no real threat - that this is a war of choice. I disagree. This is a war of necessity, but it has been sufficiently deferred to finally appear as a war of choice. An imperfect analogy: was war necessary in 1938? There were alternatives to war; Chamberlain found one at Munich. But the justification for war - legally and in terms of the clarity of the threat - was there from the re-occupation of the Rhineland, years earlier. Because no action was taken then, the argument that military action was necessary in 1938 was far harder to make, and war then would have appeared a war of choice. Similarly, the justification for eliminating Saddam's regime was available in 1991, when Saddam massacred his people at the end of the Gulf War; in 1993, when he attempted to assassinate former President Bush; and in 1998, when he threw out the inspectors. Failure to act then, with ample justification, makes it hard to argue why war is necessary now. But it is necessary. By 1998, containment had failed decisively, and incidentally was a major contributing cause of al-Qaeda's war on America (our troops were on "holy" Saudi soil, after all, in order to deter Iraq).
But the second reason is more complicated. Hitchens assumes that the choices available in this life are to be a leftist or a Tory. But there is still the alternative of being a Whig. For that matter, there is still the alternative of being a Jacksonian. (There isn't anything really equivalent these days to an American Tory. Actually, the best description of American conservatism I've heard comes from the Canadian David Frum. Back in the Roosevelt Administration, someone (anyone know who?) explained FDR's policies as seeking to achieve Jeffersonian ends by Hamiltonian means. Well, Frum said, a good description of American conservatism post-Reagan is a movement to achieve Hamiltonian ends by Jeffersonian means. That sounds about right to me. End of digression.) In other words: you can support this war not because you believe in forcing people to be free (that would be the Trotskyite reason that Hitchens assumes animates the pro-war "conservatives") but because you believe in using force to fight tyranny and evil. Or because you believe that enemies should be obliterated, not accommodated. Those would be the Whiggish and Jacksonian arguments for war, respectively. Neither is a leftist argument.
Peter Hitchens once made the telling point that Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher had something important in common: they both wanted Britain to become less British. Thatcher wanted Britain to become more American. Blair wants Britain to become more Continental. Hitchens will have none of either, and wants Britain to become more British - or, given that Britain has been practically abolished, at least for England to become more English. It's hard to argue with the sentiment. But I am hard-pressed to think of a civilization or a nation that successfully defended what it held most dear by turning inward, rejecting the world and indulging in nostalgia. On an emotional level, Hitchens opposes the war because it involves Britain in the expense, danger and complication of involvement in the world. Well, yes, it does. What Britain does Hitchens imagine would emerge from a generation of unequivocal retreat from that expense, danger and complication?