We'll be seeing considerably more discussion of the Bush legacy on Iraq in the near future, as we make the transition from one administration to the next. As it is, leftists are super-senstive to any meme on the right that credits the administration with the greater security of the nation. On Iraq, leftists continue to decry the origins of the war, harping on "the lack" of international legitimacy for the deployment, and discounting any effect of the virtually treasonous backstabbing we saw among antiwar activists and top members of the Democratic Party both before and after the first shots were fired.
Along these lines, Dave Noon, of Lawyers, Guns and Money, has published a review of David Horowitz and Ben Johnson's, Party of Defeat: How Democrats and Radicals Undermined America's War on Terror Before and After 9-11.
Noon's piece, first rejected by the editors of FrontPageMagazine, is now published at The Edge of the West. Here's the introduction, for some flavor:
In a little less than two months, George W. Bush will leave office as one of the most despised presidents in American history. Taking mild comfort, perhaps, in the fact that he will end his term according to the customary schedule, Bush would nevertheless have much to envy in the presidency of Richard Nixon, who resigned — amazingly — with lower disapproval ratings than George Bush currently enjoys and could, for all his administration’s flagrant criminality, at least take credit for bringing a pair of Giant Pandas to the National Zoo. Bush, by contrast, may well be remembered as simply the least capable two-term president in the history of the republic. In accounting for this failure, there are almost too many factors to consider, but the administration’s showcase project — the war in Iraq — will weigh heavily on Bush’s historical legacy. On its own merits, the war was a profound disaster for a full four years. The much-vaunted “surge” may have contributed to an improvement in certain conditions, but the likelihood that the United States will ever be able to offer a plausible claim of “victory” in Iraq is slim. No less a figure than Gen. David Petraeus recently conceded as much.Perhaps Noon, despite his training as an historian, is not familiar with the reseach on interwar Britain and France, for example, Peter Corthorn and Paul Corthorn's, In the Shadow of the Dictators: The British Left in the 1930s, or Eugen Weber's, The Hollow Years: France in the 1930s.
The authors of Party of Defeat are to be congratulated, then, for struggling valiantly (if unpersuasively) upstream in their quest to vindicate this administration’s baleful legacy. They do so, however, by taking a primarily negative tack. That is, they defend Bush’s war in Iraq not so much by hailing its achievements but rather by impugning the motives of its most vocal critics, whom they argue have somehow forced the president to deviate from the path to victory. It is, in the end, a strange argument on which to hang a book. So far as I can recollect, no credible works of history or political science have ever been written based on the thesis that a minority party in a democracy — one that in fact witnessed its minority status intensified over two election cycles — somehow bears responsibility for taking the country to the brink of ruin. But Party of Defeat is not a credible work of history or political science.
The former explicitly examines the British left's refusal to respond seriously to the gathering threat of fascism in Europe before World War II, and the latter examines the collapse of national morale in interwar France that contributed to the country's utter collapse in the face of German power in 1940 (not unlike the evaporation of outrage and resolve among the American left since 9/11).
But no matter.
Historical accuracy is not Noon's design. There's really no rational argument that could shake folks like Noon - who populate the denialist left in ever-increasing numbers - from their hegemonic project of demonization of the Bush administration and the neoconservative right. Rather than engage Horowitz and Johnson's substantive points by other than a wave of the hand, Noon repeatedly hammers the claim that the book is not a "legitimate" work of scholarship:
In 164 pages of prose, the authors cite exactly zero historians and political scientists who enjoy any degree of credibility in the area of US-Middle Eastern history specifically or international relations more broadly. The authors are clearly not stupid men, but their footnotes reveal a research method for which the term “shoddy” is almost too generous a description.This is such a blatantly dishonest statement I can only shake my head. Looking at the footnotes right now, I see Horowitz and Johnson cite Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay in the footnotes to Party of Defeat on page 174. Daalder and Lindsay are both political scientists and foreign policy experts (Daalder's Ph.D is from MIT, and Lindsay's from Yale). But more than this, the notes from Party of Defeat reveal a research process relying heavily on primary documents, archival materials, and first-person accounts and biographies that are central to the methods of diplomatic history. Perhaps the shift in the historical profession to the new "social history," and the concomitant refusal to teach military history to the youth of today, explains Noon's irresponsible dismissals of Horowitz and Johnson.
Indeed, Noon should pay more attention to the very scholarly literature he so pompously pumps. The Security Council authority for the use of force in Iraq embodied in a series of resolutions calling for Iraqi disarmament and compliance with multilateral demands dating from 1991. Resolution 1441, which many focus on in discrediting international action, was in fact a huge victory for the U.S. and the world body in signaling that Iraq risked a preponderant display of force in flouting the will of the international community. And even in the absence of a secondary resolution in the run-up to March 19, 2003, the U.S. - based on power, values, right, and responsibility - was obligated to act against Saddam's breach of faith.
Noon reacts to this as follows:
There are some real whoppers, such as their insistence that U.N. Resolution 1441 provided sufficient authority to launch a war against Iraq.It's not a question of whether Resolution 1441 was "sufficient," but whether the world body in fact was prepared to act when objective international circumstances warranted it. As political scientist Anne Marie Slaughter argued on the legal rational for regime change in Iraq, Resolution 1441 and the French resistance to it:
If the United States has a majority and the French vetoes, then the United States will go ahead and will have the better of the legal argument, assuming the war is as the United States predicts—both short and successful.At this point, how we reconcile all these views is less important than the larger divide between left and right on the legitimacy of the use of force in international affairs.
As Arthur Borden, the author of A Better Country: Why America Was Right to Confront Iraq, has written:
It is time for the nation to overcome the partisanship that has split us for the past five years. The current administration may have made errors in prosecuting the war, implementing post-Saddam renewal within Iraq, and communicating its message at home. Nevertheless, the underlying policy of protecting U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf as prosecuted by the Republican George W. Bush was in line with the long-standing bipartisan consensus as articulated clearly by Democrat Jimmy Carter and understood subsequently by both political parties.It's the Democratic Party that has obliterated this same bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. This is what Horowitz and Johnson document in painstaking and scrupulous detail, and this is why leftists have placed their book in the nihilist crosshairs.
David Noon, unable to discredit these arguments on the merits, attacks Party of Defeat from some assumed but flimsy perch of academic superiority. As such, as I've noted previously, he "epitomizes the contemporary pacifism of the hard-left of the Democratic Party."