Roger ‘Not-Richard’ Cohen is a columnist for the International Herald Tribune, which is essentially the international-version of the New York Times. He was ‘The Times’s Balkan bureau chief based in Zagreb from April 1994 until June 1995’. In his column today he decries the way the term ‘neocon’ has become an all purpose insult to shout down anyone that supports a robust American interventionism. But his argument exhibits some of the worst traits of Liberal Hawkishness. Take, for example, the following passage (emphasis mine):
In short, neoconitis, a condition as rampant as liberal-lampooning a few years back, has left scant room for liberal hawks. “Neocon is an insult used to obliterate the existence of this liberal position,” says Paul Berman, a writer often so insulted.
Liberal interventionists, if you recall, were people like myself for whom the sight in the 1990s of hundreds of thousands of European Muslims processed through Serbian concentration camps, or killed in them, left little doubt of the merits, indeed the necessity, of U.S. military action in the name of the human dignity that only open societies afford.
I don’t remember any Serbian concentration camps and I certainly don’t remember hundreds of thousands of Bosnians being ‘processed through them’. Here is what I remember.
Two weeks after President Bush ordered American intelligence agencies to determine whether Serbian forces were systematically killing prisoners at detention camps in Bosnia, Administration officials say they have found no evidence to authenticate such allegations.
Intelligence officials, noting that Mr. Bush renewed the order last week, said they had “redoubled and tripled” their efforts to establish what had been happening in detention camps for Croats and Muslims in areas seized by Serbian forces since April.
The officials said they had reached roughly the same conclusions as had European Community observers, United Nations representatives and journalists in Bosnia: that killing and torture had taken place at some of the Serbian camps but that there was no evidence of systematic or institutionalized killing.
By DAVID BINDER, Published: August 23, 1992
In fact, you should not be surprised by the source of this false rumor.
According to senior Administration officials, the first independent official report that torture and killings had taken place in specific detention centers run by Serbian forces was handed to Assistant Secretary of State John R. Bolton by a Bosnian Government official on July 29 at a United Nations conference on Balkan refugees in Geneva.
Like some kind of Where’s Waldo puzzle, the same people seem to show up wherever there is an opportunity to lead this country into war. Unfortunately for the Mustache, his report didn’t pan out.
Backtracking, the State Department on Aug. 4 and Aug. 5, and then President Bush on Aug. 6, said the United States was unable to confirm these reports. It was on Aug. 6 that Mr. Bush ordered the intelligence agencies to investigate the allegations.
An official who has access to intelligence reports and diplomatic cables about the Yugoslav conflict said: “I found nothing confirmed. There were comments in cables over the last five or six weeks saying we have to be concerned that there might well be camps, but no confirmed reports. There were rumors of camps for refugees. The embassy in Belgrade did not have any hard information.”
The official said that until now the National Intelligence Daily, a summary from the intelligence community circulated among top Government officials, including President Bush, had not mentioned concentration camps either.
A quick Google of “Serbian Concentration Camps” will show you just how thin the evidence was, and is, that they existed. There were detention facilities. There were atrocities and mistreatment in those facilities. But there was no systematic killing. That was propaganda. Yet, Cohen repeats it here as if it were an established fact. Why should we listen to another word he has to say?
He creates a fantasy about Serbian concentration camps processing and killing people and then he uses it to justify the use of military intervention. Without the fantasy, where is the justification? It is as illusory as the justification for invading Iraq after the discovery that there were no weapons of mass destruction.
If there is a difference, the difference is only in the effectiveness of the intervention. Cohen would have it otherwise:
Beyond that, neocon has morphed into an all-purpose insult for anyone who still believes that American power is inextricable from global stability and still thinks the muscular anti-totalitarian U.S. interventionism that brought down Slobodan Milosevic has a place, and still argues, like Christopher Hitchens, that ousting Saddam Hussein put the United States “on the right side of history.”
Cohen exaggerates. The war in Iraq has not led very many people to revisit the interventions in Kosovo and Bosnia. But they should revisit them. And they should revisit the decision to give Hussein a green-light to invade Kuwait and the decision to reverse that decision and liberate Kuwait. This possibility seems to be the thing most worrisome to liberal hawks. They fear that George W. Bush’s war in Iraq has weakened the Establishment’s ability to intervene in other areas of the globe when the cause might actually be justified. They are addicted to American power. This excerpt gets to the heart of it.
…neocon has morphed into an all-purpose insult for anyone who still believes that American power is inextricable from global stability…
Cohen cites, for his authority, Isaiah Berlin.
No matter that 20th-century liberal thought, like Isaiah Berlin’s, stood in consistent opposition to totalitarianism in fascist or communist form.
Of course, having come through the trauma of two world wars, including the unfathomable brutality of the Axis powers in the second one…and having found ourselves in a nuclear age…Cold Warriors can be forgiven for ignoring the old saw that discretion is the better part of valor. We did not want to wait around and allow new dangers to gather. American had tried isolationism and it had not protected us. Standing up to totalitarianism, even with Realpolitik compromises, was something most Americans could understand and support, regardless of political ideology.
But the end result has been catastrophic. By hording power to ourselves we have become the only nation with the Navy and Air Transport systems capable of global military intervention. We have effectively become responsible for global stability…especially in the energy sphere. And it is bankrupting us financially, militarily, poltically, and spiritually. If we learn nothing else from the experience of Iraq, it should be that we need a consort of powers to maintain stability. We cannot do it alone.