At least, that is what you might conclude from The New Republic‘s latest editorial on the war, which concludes with a classic, “yeah, but…” proviso:
At this point, it seems almost beside the point to say this: The New Republic deeply regrets its early support for this war. The past three years have complicated our idealism and reminded us of the limits of American power and our own wisdom. But, as we pore over the lessons of this misadventure, we do not conclude that our past misjudgments warrant a rush into the cold arms of “realism.” Realism, yes; but not “realism.” American power may not be capable of transforming ancient cultures or deep hatreds, but that fact does not absolve us of the duty to conduct a foreign policy that takes its moral obligations seriously. As we attempt to undo the damage from a war that we never should have started, our moral obligations will not vanish, and neither will our strategic needs.
Kevin Drum is not satisfied with this admission of error, and for good reason–it doesn’t really explain why they regret their error or what the error really was. Here’s part of Drum’s critique:
Nor do they give a clue about whether the Iraq disaster has prompted any kind of broader re-evaluation of their support for foriegn military adventures in the future.
Indeed, was the error to trust this administration to conduct the war successfully? Was the error trusting the administration’s claims too readily? The nature of the intervention itself? Intervention as such? Who knows? They regret it, and that’s all you need to know. Oh, and they’re also against “realism” but not realism. Helpful, isn’t it? Presumably, the bit about “realism” means, “We will never agree with actual realists, who believe in “realism,” but we will rename our own liberal interventionist foreign policy as realist, which allows us to change nothing and still sound deeply serious and reflective.”
The last lines are priceless. They still talk blithely of “our moral obligations,” when it was just this kind of talk that brought in many of the war’s supporters and helped encourage people to mistake a war of aggression for a noble endeavour. Naturally, TNR is never all that concerned about “our moral obligations” when those obligations might require us not to intervene in someone else’s civil war or attack someone else’s country. Moral obligations always seem to be urging us to attack! attack! attack! I assume that those sorts of “moral obligations” will be with us for as long as there are people at The New Republic and The Weekly Standard to tell us how we simply must act now to free the suffering people of Cabinda or Karnataka from the oppression of somebody or other.