Looking at his latest column in the New York Post (August 27, 2005) by Mr. Buckley’s handpicked successor at National Review Rich Lowry, I was not at all surprised to find there a predictably muddled historical example. Two years ago Lowry likened the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians to the Spanish Civil War, and in the course of reading his remarks, it was obvious that he had no idea about who fought whom in that Iberian struggle. It was not even clear that he knew that the Communists and General Franco were on different sides. Lowry’s latest rape of Clio comes in the context of responding to a provocative question: Why do the loudest advocates of global democratic crusades stay the farthest from the battlefield?
Note that in other wars even those who opposed American intervention, like Charles Lindbergh and Archie Roosevelt (TR’s son who, unlike his brother, had survived the First World War) ran to volunteer once their country was engaged in a war they had urged American leaders to stay out of. This however has not spared patriotic America Firsters from the nonstop invective of Mr. Lowry’s neocon buds. It is therefore fitting and even long overdue that some of us should ask the very question Lowry thinks out of order: “How can neoconservative publicists in the prime of their lives fervently support and even incite a war without running to fight in it?” In Lowry’s case, this question is particularly appropriate since in his tribute to Condoleezza Rice in National Review Online (February 11, 2005) he praised the newly appointed secretary-of-state for wanting to bring the American civil rights movement from Birmingham, Alabama to Iraq. As someone who missed the experience of participating in the first part of that movement he reveres, one might think that Lowry would not miss the opportunity to put his body on the line for its present extension. An Israeli veteran and author of a book on Middle Eastern affairs, Leon Hadar once raised a related question in conversation with me about those who “hang around fancy restaurants in D.C. but never serve in the Israeli army that they try to push into combat.” Given this attested habit, it is certainly justified to treat the charge in question as something much more than an “anti-war cheap shot.”
The way Lowry approaches his accusers is to accuse them of being “partisan.” After all, many of those now aligned against the war supported the Kosovo War and had nothing against other military ventures launched by the Clinton administration. They have also advocated costly policies, e.g., clearing landmines from the Korean DMZ and fighting AIDS in Africa, but do not volunteer for such projects themselves. Like Lowry they rely on others, trained professionals, to fulfill their wish list. Although both rejoinders contain some merit, there is a difference of kind between fighting a full-scale war in the Middle East, which is what W is doing, and dropping bombs from an airplane on Serb sites in Kosovo, which is what Clinton did. As someone who opposed Clinton’s unprovoked war on Serbia, I am not going to defend his action there or his “humanitarian” uses of American armed forces. His foreign policy was uninterruptedly foolish but did not cost as much money and treasure as the neoconservative war of choice raging in Iraq — a war that, if some had their way, would have been pushed into Syria and Iran. Moreover, with the sole exception of Charles Krauthammer (even the devil here deserves due praise), I cannot think of anyone in Lowry’s camp who did not endorse Clinton’s Kosovo War. It’s not as if the neocons and their Republican followers only support the wars they have a hand in starting. They love to see bloodshed anywhere unleashed by American armies, even if the other party provides the occasion.
But now to Lowry’s deployment of historical parallel, which comes like a bolt of lightning at the end of his apologia pro sua vita. He asks rhetorically: “Since when do liberals favor government on the model of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany, with the military running amok since civilians don’t have standing to direct it?” Aside from the mystifying misuse of “liberal” to refer not to free-market economists but to those whom neocons disagree with but whom they decide not to call “fascists,” Lowry’s historical example turns out to be false. Although the German military was given almost carte blanche to control military policy in World War One, a policy that Lowry seems to accept for the 82nd Airborne in Iraq, it did not supplant the constitutional government that continued to function on German soil. The Reichstag not only met throughout the war but a majority of its members pushed for a negotiated peace, which the Kaiser and his ministers seriously considered, once the balance of forces had begun to shift. This German parliamentary move toward peace would have been inconceivable in “democratic” France or Wilson’s America, where opponents of the war were summarily jailed and all opposition suppressed. In France after Clemenceau became premier, his political opponents were arrested, after being charged with favoring something less than a total victory for the Allied side. What amazes me is the continued abuse of the German Second Empire as some sort of evil stepping-stone to the Third Reich. Compared to the “antifascist” regimes that now dominate Europe, a nasty subject on which I have just published a book, the Second Empire was a bastion of bourgeois liberty, even under the foolish William II.
The most perplexing part of Lowry’s argument however is that his “liberal” critics are accused of being against civilian control of the war. How this is the case is never explained, although Lowry seems to believe that “rigorous civilian control” means having him and likeminded friends advise the military. Allowing for gaping holes in his arguments, Lowry seems to be saying that “the American public” “get to decide all sorts of questions, even if they are not experts or don’t have personal experience with whatever is at issue.” Somehow through this “democratic” decision-making, whose workings elude me, power devolved on Lowry and people like him. Therefore it is best not to have them report for military duty, because we need their expertise. Perhaps Lowry’s expertise is his proven ability to reinvent the past. If not, the location of this expertise remains as much a mystery as Lowry’s elliptical reasoning, which I’m still trying to unravel.