Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 19, 2003
WAR: Kinsley Overboard
Jonah Goldberg wrote a memorable column a few years ago arguing that Michael Kinsley tended to write columns in which he raised a bunch of questions, implied various things or attacked the form of arguments without really saying anything on the substance of a point. Goldberg had Kinsley's usual style dead-on, but Kinsley's writings on the war have been much more vibrant and direct. Unfortunately, they've also been over-the-top rants chock full of all the popular leftist tropes.
In his latest, Kinsley starts off with a laughably deceptive but common argument:
President Bush, who was oh-so-sneery about the idea of "nation-building" during the 2000 campaign, is now nation-building with a vengeance. He plans to spend $60 billion or more over the next three years rebuilding Iraq. The agenda includes everything from repairing the oil fields to rewriting the elementary-school textbooks. Like the Clinton administration he ridiculed, he now realizes that you cannot pour soldiers and bombs into a country, declare it liberated, and come home.
If you remember correctly, the conservative critique of Clinton's foreign policy, to which Bush subscribed, was precisely that we should not "pour soldiers and bombs into a country" in the first place if we did not have the kind of goals and objectives that justified things like occupations and nation-building. But remember, also: the "nation-building" argument was an argument, not against removing and replacing dangerous dictators, but against getting involved in what were essentially civil wars, where a nation's basic structure had already crumbled beyond repair.
More to the point, Bush never said we should never do nation-building, just that we should not engage in it unless our vital national interests were at stake. And you'd really have to have been living in a cave the last two years to think that the Bush Administration doesn't believe that Afghanistan and Iraq were situations that implicated our vital national interests.