Beyond Caricature

Beyond Caricature

Ken, since I have commitments most of today, I can answer only briefly and perhaps a little too abruptly, the surprising, even astonishing remarks in your last post, remarks so surprising, given their source, that I am wondering whether someone pretending to be you actually made the post.

Let’s begin with the granular. In my post on the Israeli-Palestine conflict I say the following: “I neither claim nor believe that the U.S. and the Islamic world would like down together like the lion and the lamb in the Peaceable Kingdom in the event of a settlement. There are other neuralgic points and the baggage of history is not discarded in a moment.” In my book at p. 170 I describe as “hallucinatory” the thesis that a settlement of the conflict would transform the Middle East into the Peaceable Kingdom.

I don’t know if you read my post before writing but you claim to have carefully read my book twice. Nevertheless you reduce it to the proposition that “Resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and you essentially resolve America’s terrorism problem, too . . . “ You go on to say “I realize that this is a caricature, but I don’t think it’s a completely unfair reading of the thesis.” Caricature is one thing. Grotesque misrepresentation is another.

It is misrepresentation at two levels. At the granular level it ignores my explicit rejection of the thesis you impute to me. At a higher level of generality, you state that your reading must be deemed fair because all of the features I have attributed to neo-conservatism could as easily be attributed to the right as a whole. Hence Israel must somehow lie at the heart of my analysis. Yet you yourself go on to distinguish neo-cons from their main allies on the right, Jacksonian nationalists like Rumsfeld and Cheney, precisely as I have done, by emphasizing the neo-con’s identification with or attempted appropriation of liberal aspirations to foster the spread of American values. Of course that also distinguishes them from the isolationist Buchananites. Neo-cons may not be the only unilateral global engagers along the American foreign policy spectrum, but they are the only ones that profess liberal goals.

What distinguishes them from liberals is that while liberals too would love to see a world of democratic states, their operational commitment to human rights and their relatively cosmopolitan outlook influence profoundly the means they are prepared to employ. To put it in philosophical terms, neo-cons are pure consequentialists: Good ends justify all means. Liberals are not because they are committed to a belief that certain basic rights cannot be trumped by claims to advance the general welfare. That belief does not always govern their actual policies, but it at least adds moral ballast to the means they are prepared to contemplate.

Of course I am just repeating what I said in my book and in my posts, particularly my first one. Remember my comparing neo-cons to Marxists in terms of both being indifferent to means as they pursue their dreams of universal freedom.

Your last post makes it appear that my book is in the nature of a continuation of the Meirsheimer-Waltz book on the Israeli lobby. That is the gravest distortion of all. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is hardly even a footnote to my final chapter about the elements of a liberal response to the problem of terrorism. It is irrelevant to my long chapter on communal conflict, in particular the search for terms of accommodation between secular liberal regimes and Traditionalist communities of faith. And it has only a marginal presence in the chapters on the use of force and the means used in conducting military and policing operations. In short your caricature of my book is a caricature of the Reductionist mind which I discuss in my final chapter.

Otherwise, and I do not mean this sarcastically, we are in broad agreement. For instance, I too have noted elsewhere the various features of society and politics in West Asia that will continue to make it an arena of great turbulence. And I too have noted the Jacksonian feature of American foreign policy culture which, by the way was first described as such by Walter Russell Mead, I think, not Fukuyama.

Since I must rush off, let me close by urging you to read my book a little more carefully, to read all of its chapters. I cannot help but feel that you being a fair-minded scholar will conclude with me that your last post goes beyond caricature. In any event, let me express to you and the other editors of Opinio Juris my appreciation for being allowed to exchange ideas with all of you. I anticipated an intellectual feast and now, having enjoyed it, I hope to sup with you again.

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