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The Neo-hawks' Secret Shame

Many of the liberal converts to the war agree with the president--they just can't bring themselves to admit that he's right.

11:00 PM, Feb 27, 2003 • By LEE BOCKHORN
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WE ARE NOW just weeks away from going to war to disarm and depose Saddam Hussein's regime, and beginning the difficult but necessary task of bringing the fresh breezes of self-government into the authoritarian hothouses of the Arab world. The arguments of the antiwar protestors--to the extent they even bother making arguments more sophisticated than placards reading "Bush = Hitler"--are refuted easily enough, and fortunately they've only strengthened the resolve of George W. Bush and Tony Blair, as this terrific response by Blair demonstrated. But alas, like the poor, those who fetishize peace so fervently that they invite war will always be with us.

The more interesting phenomenon of late is the slow but steady progression of prominent liberal intellectuals to the pro-war side. The New York Times's Bill Keller recently described himself and other recently minted pro-war liberals as members of the "I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club." Other members include Slate magazine's "Chatterbox" columnist Tim Noah, New Yorker editor David Remnick, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, and Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory (depending on when you ask--she still can't quite make up her mind).

(Before discussing these Johnny-come-latelies, I should note that many upstanding members of the liberal establishment have long supported action in Iraq, including the Washington Post editorial page and the New Republic. And Clinton administration alumnus Kenneth Pollack's compelling book The Threatening Storm has, in Keller's words, provided valuable "intellectual cover" for liberals "inclining toward war but uneasy about Mr. Bush.")

Most members of the "I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club" are no doubt sincere--"doves who've been mugged by reality, September 11 reality," as Charles Krauthammer describes them. They have courageously re-examined their thinking and jettisoned the knee-jerk aversion to the use of American power for anything beyond disinterested humanitarianism. To be sure, some are perhaps motivated also by a pragmatic desire to avoid looking foolish several months from now, when Iraq will likely have been liberated, Saddam's weapons destroyed, and the antiwar crowd thoroughly embarrassed.

But regardless of motivation, and however welcome their presence, what's grating about these neo-hawk liberals is the great measures of contempt they still express for the president, his advisers (except for Colin Powell, more about which anon), and conservatives in general. They may have rethought their position on Iraq, but they refuse to reconsider their disdain toward President Bush and those wacky neoconservatives--"imperialists" like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and those of us here at The Weekly Standard.

Alter writes that he now supports military action even though "Bush's tone has been destructive to American interests." Keller disavows the administration's "arrogance and binary moralism." (Would an octonary moralism be more palatable?) Remnick derides Bush's "rhetoric of irritation" and sniffs that the president has been "extemporizing his way toward war." McGrory calls our "touchy Texas president" a "flighty thinker." (Hello, Mary? It's the pot; you're black.)

To reinforce this criticism, many of the neo-hawk liberals lavish praise on Colin Powell, claiming that his sober presentation at the United Nations was what changed their minds. McGrory wrote that Powell made his case "without histrionics or verbal embellishments"; Keller described his presentation as a "skillful parsing of the evidence" against Saddam. In contrast to the "Crude Crusader"--as Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen calls the president--Powell was "a reasonable man making a reasonable case. . . . It was the totality of the material and the fact that Powell himself had presented it." (Cohen, to his credit, has long supported military action against Saddam.)