A few days ago, buy the excellent Salon Magazine, page to which you all should subscribe, breast had this interview with Paul Berman, subtitled “Paul Berman, one of the most provocative thinkers on the left, has a message for the antiwar movement: Stop marching and start fighting to spread liberal values in the Middle East.”

My view of the interview is that Berman is taking an overly academic pie-in-the-sky view of a very practical problem. The question isn’t whether we support liberal values in the Middle East, but how should we get there?

An example of Berman’s wishy-washy thinking:

Q: Salon: Then what is it that the public doesn’t understand? What hasn’t [Bush] been able to get across?

A: One thing he hasn’t gotten across is that there is a positive liberal democratic goal and a humanitarian goal here. Iraq is suffering under one of the most grotesque fascist tyrannies there’s ever been. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a million people, have been killed by this horrible regime. The weapons programs are not a fiction. There’s every reason to think that Saddam, who’s used these weapons in the past, would be happy to use them in the future. The suffering of the Iraqi people is intense. The United States is in the position to bring that suffering to an end. Their liberation, the creating of at least the rudiments of a liberal democratic society there, are in the interests of the Iraqi people and are deeply in the interests of liberal society everywhere. There are reasons to go in which are those of not just self-interest or self-defense, but of solidarity of humanitarianism, of a belief in liberal ideals. And Bush has gotten this across not at all.

This begs the following questions: Why Iraq? Why now? Why us? Is war an effective path to democracy? At what cost (money and lives)? Do we have the follow-through the jump start a democracy there, or will it end up like Iran after our Shah? [And, of course, there’s question of where these non-fictional weapons of mass destruction are? And why don’t these intensely suffering Iraqis seem very glad to see us?]

Here is really thought-provoking analysis from the military on the difficulties of building democracies under the best of circumstances.

“The flawed assumption that underlay post-1945 nation building was that democracy constituted the natural reflex of peoples liberated from suffocating tyranny.” More flawed, even, in Iraq, I should think. Where are the throngs of people welcoming our soldiers with open arms? The smiling Shiite children receiving candy? I see a bunch of old men dancing the jig after shooting down a 22 million dollar apache helicopter with a cheap rifle.

I think Kristof’s column in today’s Times is insightful:

“Will we in the U.S. set Iraq policy according to facts or ideology? In the end, we will win this war, and Saddam will be gone. But it is less clear that we will win the peace, and that outcome will hinge on our willingness to adjust to realities on the ground. What troubles me most about the way the invasion has begun is that the war plans seem to be based not just on our first-rate military expertise, but also on hunches by ideologues in Washington who have never set foot in Iraq. For example, the war plan assumed that Iraqis would welcome us as liberators, even though every visitor to Iraq heard ordinary people warning that they would pull out their guns and take potshots at any invading Americans.”

Let’s face it. We don’t have the money to rebuild a post-war Iraq alone (75 billion for six months of war. 40 billion to prop up Turkey. And a tax cut.) and we won’t have the street cred to impose a new government in Iraq against the will of the U.N., the Arab League and after the truly intense suffering of the people in cities like Basra who may soon start to die en masse from lack of water or food.�

In other news, the Times has a story today that the pro-war protests are organized by Clear Channel (run by a Bush crony who set up the Rangers deal that made W. his multi-millions), and debunked the theory that the anti-war protestors are all tofu-eating tied-die-wearing hippies.