Reply by James B. Rule

Reply by James B. Rule

Bad faith, indeed! George Packer’s opening sentences in the New York Times Magazine article he published as the Iraq invasion loomed read, “If you’re a liberal, why haven’t you joined the antiwar movement? More to the point, why is there no antiwar movement that you’d want to join?” A little more than two months after these words appeared, an antiwar demonstration numbering somewhere between three hundred thousand and one million filled the streets of New York. Similar demonstrations occurred on the same date in other U.S. cities and abroad.

Had these utterly legitimate protests been heard, the massive destruction triggered by this disastrous invasion would have been averted. The effort to discredit popular efforts to block what is now revealed as a horrifically irresponsible lurch to war—or to airbrush those efforts out of existence—is an insult to those who rallied against the war. This includes, I believe, most Dissent readers and writers. We hardly think of ourselves as “controlled by the furthest reaches of the American left,” as Packer described us.

Seven years later, pleas for “responsibility”—in the form of open-ended pursuit of U.S. war aims in Iraq—from those who dismissed efforts to stop the war in the first place ring hollow.


Michael Walzer, on the other hand, professes to find my message excessively “high-minded.” But I think that’s really not what’s eating him. I fear—hoping I’m wrong—that he’s resisting my central appeal to retool the United States as a “normal country,” halving its military budget and renouncing its imperial ambitions.

A number of his attributions to my essay are simply unwarranted by anything I wrote—particularly the serious charge that I deny “any possible moral conviction” to “anyone who disagrees with” me. The neoconservatives who gave us the Iraq War certainly have their own moral convictions, as do other worldviews foreign to our own. Among our natural allies on the democratic Left, I simply hope that hard-headed analysis—moralizing very much included—will reinforce the conviction that a hypermilitarized, imperial America is an obstacle to our key values.

More interestingly, Walzer notes that some unilateral invasions have produced life-saving results, and he argues that some of the world’s people would prefer to live under stronger states. Yes and yes—sometimes. But I hold that we should work for a world marked by less recourse to unilateral invasion and less reliance on state power as the exclusive form of political authority in general.

Right now, Walzer argues, “there is only a wasteland” beyond the state. But in fact, recent decades have produced beginnings of many new forms of authority above and beyond state power. These include nascent international and supranational legal authorities with powers to level sanctions for abuse of state power...

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