...something is missing from our modern way of discussing the world. We know how to describe certain things—and have forgotten how to describe certain others, which are sometimes larger. This has been true of the war's proponents, except for a few of us lonely liberals (and even we have been inconsistent), and true of the war's opponents. It is a vocabulary problem. The words are missing.
The language of WMD, Bad Guys, humanitarianism, and all the rest cannot describe these movements and their doctrines and their fanaticism. We know how to speak about member states of the United Nations. But totalitarian movements have always been international, with and without state support. We have lost the ability to speak about mass international movements of that sort.
What was the reason for the war in Iraq? Sept. 11 was the reason. At least to my mind it was. Sept. 11 showed that totalitarianism in its modern Muslim version was not going to stop at slaughtering millions of Muslims, and hundreds of Israelis, and attacking the Indian government, and blowing up American embassies. The totalitarian manias were rising, and the United States itself was now in danger. A lot of people wanted to respond, as any mayor would do, by rounding up a single Bad Guy, Osama.
If you're wondering what on Earth Berman is talking about, welcome to the club. Indeed, something is missing from the modern world, or at least Berman's version of it. It's called rationality. Awhile back in response to a post by Matthew Yglesias, I wrote about how liberal hawks just don't get what was wrong with their rationales for the war. For Yglesias, it was the belief that the humanitarian rationale for the war would work out in the end. For Berman, it's all about 9/11 and totalitarian Islamic movements. In fact, his fear of totalitarian Islam is so great that there are no words for it. Never mind that we came up with plenty of words to describe the totalitarian movements of the 1930's and 40's, movements which posed a considerably more dire threat to us than terrorists ever have.
I honestly don't understand how anyone can conflate what the terrorists did on 9/11 with an existential fear for the future of our country. I can't explain it, and neither can Berman, because there is no explanation. It's irrational. It's fear, plain and simple, which comes in pseudo-intellectual varieties just as often as it comes in the wet-your-pants variety you or I might experience on a daily basis. It's the same sort of thinking that leads Jaime Kirchik to think that we're entitled to return Somalia to chaos on the basis of some possible negligible benefit in the GWOT.
The simple truth of the matter is this: the best argument for war in Iraq was that Saddam Hussein had WMDs, and was preparing to use them on our country at some point in the future (not the imminent future...just the future.) This wasn't good enough at the time to justify invasion, as was clear to me and my co-bloggers in 2002 and 2003. But that rationale has long ago been revealed to be a fraud and a lie, and now those who want to have been right about Iraq despite the results cling to notions that it was still reasonable to invade despite the fact that the primary rationale has proven to be false. And so now they resort to things like Peter Berman's fear of totalitarian Islam. Never mind that no combination of Middle Eastern nations pose the same threat to us that Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia did. Never mind that our enemies are not unified in any sense of the word. Never mind that no terrorist proponent of an Islamic dictatorship has the ability to control the government of even one minor Middle Eastern nation. No, there are "no words" to describe the fear.
In fact, what's clear at this point is that there are no words to describe the variety of completely irrational motivations for the war in Iraq, and that there is a certain segment of our society-mostly on the right, but some on the left-for whom irrational and improbable fears justify the invasion of sovereign nations and the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.