In an earlier post on neo-conservatism and the idea of democracy promotion, I questioned Franklin Foer's suggestion that neo-conservatism in foreign affairs set its face against Clintonian "liberal internationalism". I argued that the differences between Clintonian and "Wolfowitzian" idealism were pragmatic rather than rooted in principle. One of my reasons for doing so was my belief that there is precisely a liberal internationalist case for democracy-promotion in the Middle East. Peter Beinart, responding in the New Republic to the co-founders of MoveOn, agrees:
I want Democrats to make defeating totalitarian Islam their defining passion because I believe that it is liberalism, guided by its best traditions--not "neoconservative ideology"--that can make Muslims free and Americans safe.
And Michael Ignatieff's liberal optimism about the prospects for democracy in Iraq remains intact (just):
Pessimists say the U.S. is imposing democracy at gunpoint in Iraq, but the evidence is that millions of Kurds and Shia, and some Sunnis as well, passionately want free elections in their country. There is no reason that American soldiers cannot help them ensure a relatively free electoral process just as they have helped out in Afghanistan. This moment, frightening and precarious as it is, is the last chance Iraqis have to exit from the black tunnel of Ba'athist rule and the chaos of incipient civil war.
[T]he most noteworthy thing about Flew's neo-Deism is that this is a belief with no cash value. Obviously, the origins of life on earth are somewhat mysterious given our current state of empirical science. Nevertheless, nothing follows from believing that, in some mysterious way, a Higher Power created life as opposed to believing that the origins of life fit into the naturalistic scheme somehow but that how, exactly, it fits in is a bit mysterious. The entire apparent significance of Flew's change of heart rests on the fact that the "God" concept is, in contemporary society, deeply resonant of associations with Christian, Jewish, Islamic, etc. theology. But the stance Flew is advocating actually has nothing whatsoever in common with the world's great religions. Instead, its upshot is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the upshot of atheism. If I decided that Flew was right, I wouldn't start behaving differently in any way, or even need to modify my beliefs about any other subject.
David Horspool's review of Leigh and Woodhouse's Football Lexicon in last week's TLS (not online) has prompted Julian Barnes to write a letter to that august journal. Barnes expresses some scepticism about Horspool's suggestion that the term "handbags", used to denote an "unimpressive fight", was a coinage of "Big Ron" Atkinson. Barnes opines: "Soccer almost certainly imported the gibe from rugby. It was popularized -usually in the form 'It's just handbags at ten paces'- by the Bill Beaumont generation, and a particular favourite of Grandstand summarizer Mick 'Big Hits' Skinner. The teaky and gaudily blazered ex-England flanker also enjoyed referring to forwards doing all the hard work before delivering the ball to 'the girls in the backs' - a cognate disparagement now less often voiced."
Barnes is surely right to question Horspool's attribution of the term to Atkinson, though I'm not certain it's been imported from rugby union. If it has, then it's more or less unique. However, a reader emails to say: "I would suggest there have been several lexicon transfers across the codes. For example, the over-used oval-ball expression 'a bit of skull-duggery', which of course describes the act of kicking a prone player in the head, was also heard during Euro 2004 in Portugal, from the lips of Mr. Motson, who used it while describing the attempt by David Beckham to change the referee's mind following Campbell's disallowed goal. While it was, of course, used incorrectly, it was used nevertheless."
Franklin Foer has a very interesting piece in the New Republic (subscription required) in which he argues that the question of what to do about Iran and its nuclear ambitions has brought to light a significant, but hitherto latent, tension within neo-conservatism. Foer starts from the premise that "neo-conservatism" is a useful label, its abuse in the past couple of years notwithstanding:
It describes a distinct subset of the right. During the 1990s, a group of out-of-power intellectuals gathered in a cluster of Washington institutions--think tanks like AEI, magazines like the Standard--where they produced articles and anthologies proposing a new post-cold-war course for U.S. foreign policy, a course that included regime change in Iraq, a tougher attitude toward China, opposition to the emerging international legal system, and, above all, a more robust deployment of U.S. power. They weren't battling just the Clintonites' liberal internationalism, but also devotees of Pat Buchanan's isolationism and Brent Scowcroft's realism. Many denizens of these institutions proudly identified themselves as neoconservative.
I think that's mostly uncontroversial, though the suggestion that neo-conservatism in the 1990s set its face against Clintonian "liberal internationalism" needs finessing. For surely there is considerable overlap between the idealism of Clintonian internationalism and what, for want of a better term, one could call "Wolfowitzian idealism"? Presumably the difference between these two strains of foreign policy idealism lies in their contrasting accounts of international institutions and the proper deployment of US military power - though that strikes me as an essentially pragmatic difference, rather than a difference of fundamental principle.
I suspect that Foer is basing his remarks on the account of neo-conservatism developed here by Tod Lindberg. Lindberg argues that the "moralism [by which I take him to mean 'idealism' in the accepted international relations sense, JD] of neoconservative foreign policy [during the Cold War] amounted to an overlay upon an essentially 'realist' view of international relations". The difference is that Foer thinks there's a tension between neo-conservative realism and its idealist aspirations. Neo-conservatism, he argues, is a Janus-faced creed and the absence of a consensus on Iran makes this explicit:
The neoconservative mind has always had two lobes. One side drives neocons toward idealistic language about America's ability to spread human rights and democracy. This is the half that dominates the thinking of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and the president's senior Middle East adviser, Elliot Abrams. In a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy in 2003, President Bush provided the locus classicus of this strain when he announced his "forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East" and called for a "global democratic revolution." The colder, more analytic lobe of the neocon brain endorses all this talk about democracy. But it couches these goals in a more realist context. It doesn't want democracy planted out of altruism. It wants democracy planted when it can promote U.S. interests. Charles Krauthammer and Jeanne Kirkpatrick have been the most prominent spokespeople for this lobe. Many of these neocons, such as Krauthammer, scoffed at the Balkan interventions as social work.
Gene at Harry's Place links to Peter Beinart's manifesto for a muscular liberalism. The United States, and liberal democracy more generally, faces "a new totalitarian threat". Clive James, praising Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom in this week's TLS, agrees. "[L]iberal democracy has a battle on its hands", he says. And "nothing bad about what the good guys do makes the bad guys good".
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has called for the suspension of the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanese television station Al-Manar, currently broadcasting in France. Al-Manar, of course, has denounced the "Zionist" campaign to have its French license suspended. SOS Racisme, meanwhile, has commended Raffarin's stance: "a channel that is anti-semitic and anti-Israeli in Lebanon will be the same in France."