Oliver Kamm has made a brave attempt to reconcile left-wing idealism with US neoconservatism. But can non-Americans really be neocons?by David Clark / February 26, 2006 / Leave a comment
Anti-totalitarianism by Oliver Kamm (Social Affairs Unit, £13.99)
Click here to buy Anti-totalitarianism from amazon.co.uk It was perhaps inevitable that a book entitled Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-Wing Case for a Neoconser-vative Foreign Policy would deal at length with the Iraq story, and Oliver Kamm is to be congratulated for offering a spirited defence of regime change. Unfortunately, the limitations of his position remain all too visible.
Kamm’s claim that the fall of Saddam has encouraged a democratic upsurge in the wider middle east already looks dated. The Ba’athist regime was not, as he suggests, a major state sponsor of terrorism. Indeed, like other neoconservatives, Kamm has difficulty comprehending a world in which the most serious threats are stateless in origin. His argument of last resort—that Saddam’s removal was necessary on the basis that he was likely to have become a threat at some unspecified point in the future—is feeble. The idea that without Saddam’s exit, “we should one day have woken to an ultimatum from him to transfer Kuwait’s oil revenues to a numbered bank account, or else see a nuclear device exploded over Kuwait City” is fanciful in the light of what we now know. Containment was far more effective than even its advocates imagined.
But to dwell on Iraq would be to do an injustice to a book that sets out to make a far bigger point about military intervention and its political significance. Kamm sees the row over Iraq as illustrative of a deeper ideological divide that has characterised foreign policy debate for 100 years. On one side stand the realists who take narrow national interest as their only guide. On the other side are the idealists who see the interests of humanity as indivisible and want to spread democracy and human rights. As the left proclaims the internationalism of this latter position, it follows that it should welcome a US government pledged to making it a reality. In Kamm’s conclusion, “the neoconservative stance accords with the historic values of the democratic left.”
The corollary of this position is that those on the left who oppose the Bush administration’s foreign policy are being untrue to themselves. It isn’t necessary to share Kamm’s neoconservatism to see some truth in this. For all the good arguments against the Iraq war, it is striking that the anti-war left chose to rely on so many bad ones. Chief…