"Saddam Is an Idiot, but He's Right About Bush"

Readers are divided on an interview with Paul Berman, the author of "Terror and Liberalism."

Published March 25, 2003 8:00PM (EST)

[Read the interview.]

Paul Berman is little different from Sayyid Qutb. He is just another utopian intellectual promoting his personal vision on how to make the world a better place through violence. Of course, he wants to promote liberal democracy instead of Islamic fascism, but he does not sound very different from 19th century imperialists who talked about taking up the white man's burden to bring enlightenment to the heathens.

The basis of international relations is that aggressive war is illegal and immoral. The only war that can be justified is a war of self-defense. Iraq does not pose a threat to the world or even to its neighbors. Israel could destroy Iraq in a heartbeat. No credible experts or intelligence agencies believe that Saddam Hussein currently poses any realistic threat to the world. All that we hear from the administration and the media is mindless war propaganda.

Saddam Hussein would not have been able to create any of his weapons of mass destruction without their sale by Western nations like the U.S. and the U.K. and other European countries. The way to prevent this situation from happening again is for Western nations to stop proliferating these weapons to their Third World proxies.

Afghanistan is not a shining moment in U.S. history. The U.S. has once again betrayed Afghanistan. The country is descending into the same type of warlord anarchy that existed prior to the Taliban. Except for Kabul, the plight of women is every bit as repressed as it was before. We can also be certain that when the U.S. prevails in Iraq, the result will not be the liberal democracy that Paul Berman hopes for, but either the promotion of a new, more amenable Saddam Hussein or civil war, death, destruction and anarchy.

-- Martin Kannengieser

Your interview with Paul Berman was thoughtful and important. Thank you for printing it; but please take it a step further. Who and where are the movements and organizations working for liberal values in the Middle East (and elsewhere) and how can we help them?

I will continue to protest, because I believe the goal of freeing people from tyranny of whatever stripe is possible without war, especially this war that has isolated us from the rest of the world and will be used to support the very fanaticism we must discourage. In order to do that, however, we must be proactive, as Berman recommends, in supporting liberal and democratic movements around the world (without waiting for our government to do it).

Salon has become a strong voice in bringing complexity to the ideas of the left. Now help us carry them out.

-- Deborah Block-Schwenk

An extremely interesting interview. It's refreshing to come across a thinker who describes himself as left and at the same time doesn't try to offer complicated apologies for Stalin and Co. and every other excess that left utopian ideologies have resulted in.

I have one question for Mr. Berman though: How does he explain the United States' support for military dictators across the world over the last 50 years? Where was the liberal humanist imperative then? Mr. Berman also seems to ignore the fact that the U.S. intervened to fight Nazism only when it was attacked. So isn't he being a bit naive about the supposedly emancipatory motives of the Americans and British, both earlier and this time around?

-- Rohit Chopra

Berman may be right about Bush's qualifications, and he may be right about Hussein being a tyrant. But when you deal with a man who didn't observe the rule of law in getting elected, you can't expect that same man to have any altruistic intentions whatsoever.

U.S. foreign policy has never, ever been about spreading forth liberal democracies anywhere, including in its own home. It's surprising to see that someone celebrated as a provocative thinker for the left would be so naive as to believe Bush would care what anyone else would think.

-- John Larson

Just minutes before sitting down to this article on Friday night, I had been having dinner with my father in a restaurant 30 floors up from Portland's street level. The day before a relatively small yet aggressive and antagonistic group of antiwar protesters had managed to shut down traffic throughout most of the downtown area and a portion of the freeway. Another protest was expected, and we could see police lights downtown and across bridges in preparation.

We had this very discussion. My dad is more hawkish than I. He believes that while handled badly by the Bush administration, this war was a necessary defensive tactic. I don't believe we ever need to get to this point, that diplomacy and inspections would have been effective.

But we're here now. Even though this has been a diplomatic catastrophe for the United States, we both agree that eliminating Saddam Hussein and the Baathists is a positive humanitarian action.

I'm less sanguine than Mr. Berman about the hearts and motives of those continuing to protest. I believe these people have lost all sight of any humanitarian ideals. Theirs is not a protest for peace, but of political dissent, and it exists for its own self-glorification. Liberating Iraqis from totalitarianism is secondary to their self-righteousness.

-- Mark McDonald

In response to your interview with Paul Berman, I have two questions.

The antiwar movement seems to have reached the conclusion that U.S./ Bush interest in Iraq is oil and gas and that this is why it has become necessary to invade Iraq rather than use other means of interfering with Saddam Hussein's regime.

Why doesn't Berman mention oil? If the U.S./Bush agenda is really about oil (with liberal democracy a side issue) and establishing a U.S.-dominated strategic base in the Middle East, then there is every reason to march against the war because it is a dangerous and immoral action that looks like and will remind the entire region of colonialism and so play into the hands of the Islamist movement. The extreme action of the U.S. will create more extreme reactions or give credence to them. This is why I have been marching against this war.

If the Bush administration was clearly focused on establishing and supporting liberal governments in Iraq and the Middle East, I, maybe naively, would have thought that someone in that administration would have realized you don't achieve such changes overnight and you don't achieve them by creating more enemies and by using the sort of violence being unleashed on Iraq now.

Maybe the U.S. will succeed in setting up a liberal government in Iraq. But it will only succeed if the U.S. then walks away from it and does not indulge in coercive trade/aid manipulations in its own interests. If it should continue to operate in this fashion, then it risks destabilizing the whole region even further and adding more fuel to the Islamist cause. If America belongs to America, then the Middle East belongs to the Middle East!

I agree with Berman that the peace movement should now put pressure on the "coalition of the willing" to faithfully fulfill their liberal rhetoric -- and that in the past we should have been establishing links and help for Iraqi dissidents. He is right in saying that we have to recognize that the U.S. is not the only bogeyman to be wary of.

But I ask him this, should governments of liberal countries directly engage in regime change? Or should they support their own civil institutions and organizations (trade unions, public universities) that could foster and look for dissident liberal movements that are needed, or are naturally occurring, within countries ruled by fascist regimes?

So it seems there are two lessons to be learnt here. Yes, we should be marching against this war because we strongly suspect the coalition's motives. Two, we must save civil society; our blindness to Islamism and all fundamentalism is directly connected to the loss of a civil focus in the so-called liberal societies of the U.S. and its allies in this war.

-- Jann Dark

Berman has it backward: Saddam is an idiot, but he's right about Bush.

-- Chris Bille

Paul Berman's interview left me torn in half; he makes several good arguments, but I think he needs to point the critical lens he uses on Noam Chomsky back toward himself. If it is too simple to reduce the Western world to the push and pull of corporate interests, it is also too simple to reduce the war in Iraq as a humanitarian effort on the part of our unelected president. I consider myself an intellectual, but I realize the danger of hiding behind books and words and theories. Sometimes you have to fall back on feeling. And deep in my gut I do feel that Islamic fundamentalism, as evidenced on Sept. 11, is a threat to the world. But I also feel that the group of right-wing, neoconservative hawks that have stolen control of the U.S. government is just as dangerous to the security of the world. First Iraq, next Iran and Syria -- this is just the first step of this group's desire for world domination or, as they like to put it, the "New World Order." So I will march today, proudly, not only to protest the violence in Iraq, but all of the policies of an administration that has done more to harm the Constitution, the environment, and the average citizen's rights than any other in U.S. history. Sure, I see shades of Hitler in Saddam Hussein. I also see shades of Hitler in George Bush.

-- Keith Rondinelli

Thank you for this interview. It was a relief to find someone who could articulate my own terrible internal conflicts about this war and the global situation.

I hope you will continue to report on any way we can do what Berman suggests: demand more than just military intervention, demand a true effort, no matter how costly in terms of dollars, to establish peace and progress on an admirable basis in place of totalitarianism. The hopeless, helpless people of the world need us so badly, and we have just shrugged and abandoned them to their tormentors.

I have written to Bush pleading that the U.S. do more for Afghanistan, to stand for what we stand for, but of course it seems hopeless. What can we do that would make a difference? Why is it that there are still warlords running Afghanistan? Why did we just blow it off? The people cheered there too when the U.S. troops arrived. It was such a great chance to show the world our way, and we just dropped it like a hot potato.

I think so many of us feel what Berman has said, but we have been maneuvered masterfully. Bush and his crowd may be idiots, or they may be so politically savvy that they have figured out a way to make liberals betray our own instincts and look like fools.

-- A.M. Jay

The only possible response to the title (and theme) of this article was, "No, he wasn't." Oh, he was right that Saddam is evil, and the Iraqi people would be better off without him, but Saddam is hardly alone in being evil, or the Iraqi people unique in needing "regime change."

But that isn't why we went to war. The administration claimed that Saddam was a threat to the United States, that he was tied to Sept. 11, that he could not be deterred or contained, and that war now was the only option. None of those things are demonstrably true, and some are extremely dubious.

We don't at this point know the cost to the Iraqi people themselves of their liberation from Saddam, or their long-term prospects under their new colonial masters. But we have every reason to suspect that the cost of their liberation for international stability and U.S. security will be very high.

To decide the price we are likely to pay is too high a price for the removal of one petty tyrant of a fifth-rate military power is not to be indifferent to the suffering of those living under that tyrant. To decide we are unlikely to spread "liberal values" by cruise missile is not to suggest such values are not worth fighting for. It is simply to recognize that good intentions can still lead to hell.

(That's putting aside what the intentions of the hawks in the Bush administration actually are. Somehow I don't think they are the same as Mr. Berman's.)

-- Ted S. Raicer

Berman makes some very interesting points here. I am particularly struck by his notion that we are all still living in the shadow of the fractures of World War I. I've felt this for a good number of years myself, and wonder sometimes why it's not more often broached in serious circles.

I notice among his litany of troublesome "-isms" (Islamism, Baathism, fascism, Nazism, Bolshevism) that he seems to gloss over or simply skip Christian fundamentalism, surely as divisive and destructive in its aspirations as Islamism if its adherents are to be taken as sincere. Perhaps rather than Islamism per se, his complaint would be better taken up with all religious fundamentalism. With the exception of fundamentalist Buddhists, who seem to become quieter and less striving with the deepening of their beliefs, religious fundamentalism in any of its flavors is one of the most destructive forces unleashed in the soul of man today.

-- Alan Lloyd

Your headlining and devotion of major space to Berman's book is a travesty. We know that internal conflicts are hell, whether Stalin, Saddam, Washington, or Lincoln are in power. The cultural bigotry and intellectual arrogance underlying Berman's and other like-minded apologists' "revelations" re-present the usual self-congratulatory American readiness to make its ethnocentric and mass-destructive decision again, and again, decade after decade, on the lives of other peoples it does not and will not understand, but whose cause somehow, strangely, unfailingly serves American corporate interests at the ruthlessly indifferently effected expense of the teeming masses.

-- M Seefeldt

In this interview, Paul Berman is moved to defend those who run large American and British corporations against the criticism of Noam Chomsky. Chomsky's analysis is too simple for Berman because Chomsky blames everything on the interests of these large corporations, including the rise of Hussein and his repressive Baathist regime. Berman thereby denies the importance of Chomsky's position by suggesting that there are other, more complex, and also less rational underlying causes to this phenomenon, which he feels are more deserving of our attention. He believes that the "uncertainty" of liberal democracies, and their populations' good nature and absence of cold analysis, combine to create a climate for regimes that perpetrate mass murder and repression, such as Stalinism and Baathism (which appears to model itself on Stalinism to a significant degree). This is not an attempt at a comprehensive summary of Berman's views, but he prefers his analysis in this interview to Chomsky's prolific tendency to disparage corporations.

Berman seems only to dislike how the Bush administration administers its Iraq policy. He is comfortable with the policy itself and our motivations for going to war. I would be interested to know what Berman thinks of the Bush administration's domestic policies. Is he as uncritical of the Economic Stimulus package, or this administration's domestic approach to the separation of church and state? If he is in one or both cases, I will suggest, as an American liberal who is fond of Marx and who, unlike contemporary Stalinists, does not see Bolshevism and Stalinism as interchangeable, and who does not feel comfortable with what appear to be the motivations underlying this operation in Iraq, that Berman is not a liberal. Nor is he provocative. Rather, he is a conservative who wishes to downplay any appearance of arrogance in our current foreign policy. Christopher Hitchens is provocative, if we're talking about conservatives who we call "provocative liberals."

-- Joseph Robinson

I had been on the fence about going to war with Iraq. While I am embarrassed about the manner in which Bush has handled U.S.-foreign relations, I wholeheartedly support democracy in Iraq. Bush's arguments for war have been inept and at times downright silly. However, Americans cannot understand what life is like under a megalomaniac dictator and therefore cannot understand that Iraqis are thrilled to be free of Saddam -- provided that we don't ditch them halfway as we did 12 years ago. I hope that the antiwar protesters seriously consider the life they would leave Iraqis subjected to if they (the protesters) had their way.

-- Amy Hempe

It is curious that Salon is parading a number of supposedly friendly critics of the "left" lately. A few days ago it was Salon senior news editor Edward W. Lempinen, and today we have associate editor Suzy Hansen interviewing Paul Berman, "one of the most provocative thinkers on the left."

Again I must remind you that the term "the left" is just a metaphor, symbolizing mostly a loosely imposed grouping of intellectuals and activists. I say "loosely imposed" because it is not a group that bonds particularly well.

Even more to the point, though, is that the metaphor is a lazy substitute for real thought and analysis. There is no "left," and there never will be. I will leave it to others to pick Mr. Berman's argument apart, and there will likely be plenty. Suffice it to say that his understanding of Islam, fundamentalism, and fanaticism is sophomoric.

One can always cherry-pick one's angle(s) on what the causes and effects of historical phenomena are. It's a mental masturbation game that is the luxury of ego-centered intellectuals and self-appointed "leaders." David Horowitz, as a dimly shining example, is one who can easily drift from one pole of the imaginary spectrum to the other, and can drift back at any time of his choosing. What matters most to such a poseur is not the particular extreme of the spectrum, but that said poseur is strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage. It doesn't occur to such egomaniacs that the day will come when they are heard no more.

But, thankfully, that day will come. Hopefully, by their example we can at least learn by the yogic process of "Neti, neti (not this, not this)."

-- John Hamilton

Although I agree with Paul Berman that it is imperative to do everything possible to ensure that a humane government takes power in Iraq after the war is over (assuming it's as much of a cakewalk as the administration believes -- or wants us to believe -- it will be), I don't think for a minute that the peace movement has remained sanguine about the dangers of fundamentalist Islam -- or for that matter, any fundamentalist religious movement (such as President Bush's born-again Christian beliefs about crusades and the Almighty being on our side). I have seen no support for Saddam Hussein among the peace movement. Clearly, he is a pathological sadist who should be removed from power.

But surely there are other options to explore other than simply letting him be, having ineffectual inspections go on forever, or preemptively launching an incredibly destructive, inflammatory "Shock and Awe" war. If we had been able to build a powerful, inclusive international coalition, including moderates in the Middle East, perhaps we could have found another way to unseat him. Not much creativity has been shown so far. Now it will never have a chance to be developed.

In addition, if the Bush administration is really so concerned about the radical element that hates us so much, why are they treating Saudi Arabia as if it's our friend and ally? That, evidently, is where much of the funding for the radicalization of young Muslims is taking place. It is also the country of origin for the majority of the hijackers on 9/11. And as the Iraqi woman interviewed in Sheerly Avni's article pointed out, it is very difficult to trust the motives of a government who basically left Saddam Hussein in power for 12 years, knowing full well that he was a butcher then as now. If they left him in power for 12 long years, what is the rush now? It is even more difficult to trust the motives of a government in which the second-most-powerful executive is receiving a million dollars a year from one of the companies who won the contract to rebuild Iraq after the war.

Perhaps some of us are looking beyond the simplistic, obvious fact that having the loathsome Saddam Hussein out of the picture is a good thing. What happens afterward? Especially with such a powerful military-industrial complex at the helm, poised to make billions and billions of dollars, and an administration who has shown nothing but contempt for the concerns of so many other countries around the world. For all the billions that we're going to spend on this war, we could have used that money much more creatively to build positive feelings toward the U.S., taken advantage of talented, well-educated, and culturally insightful diplomats who could figure out strategies that wouldn't terrify the rest of the world, wouldn't justify the agenda of radical Muslims, would have built more consensus at home, and wouldn't be trampling all over our civil liberties in this ultra-nationalistic, paranoid fervor.

Instead, we've alienated most of our allies and are inflaming the anti-American sentiments among the Muslim community worldwide, and we ourselves are on our way to becoming a police state. Why on earth would concerned citizens stop marching, particularly now that tons and tons and tons of bombs are being dropped on Iraq and the war is not over yet, no rebuilding taking place? Moreover, this administration has shown remarkable indifference to the views of citizens who disagree with it. What makes Mr. Berman think they're going to pay any more attention to their citizens' desires for the rebuilding strategy? I'm sure they're going to do whatever they want. They're laying waste to social programs at home, targeting such successful anti-poverty programs as Head Start, further redistributing the wealth to the ultra-wealthy, and undermining the health of the middle class -- why would we think that they're benevolent humanitarians, even if accidental?

Many of us are feeling powerless and frustrated, and marching for peace is at least helping us to assuage our sorrow and dismay over the fact that our administration bungled diplomacy so badly (and that's being generous) that a terrifying war is now taking place. If Iraqis are feeling that the peace marchers don't care about their suffering under Saddam Hussein, it's because the media hasn't made any attempt to clarify this fact. Everyone I know who has participated in the peace protests is horrified by what has taken place under his regime and wants to do whatever it takes to alleviate their suffering -- apart from dropping bombs on Iraqi citizens. And it is quite, quite clear that religious fundamentalism, of any stripe, is frightening and totalitarian at its core.

-- Celeste White

Thank you for the interview with Paul Berman. Finally an articulate voice for the truly moral position on this war is heard amid the din of reflexive anti-Americanism and an unreflective inability to comprehend any positive results from the use of military force. Many of us whose beliefs were forged more by Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo than by earlier conflicts believe that inaction when dealing with brutal totalitarianism leads to far greater loss of innocent life than intervention. There are unfortunately far too many examples that support this position. Saddam Hussein is a monster guilty of directing genocide, the use of chemical weapons, mass executions, and unimaginable atrocities, and his removal is a moral imperative.

Yes, Bush's colossal failure at diplomacy and articulating why intervention is the just course of action, as well as his previously stated aversion to nation building, is cause for serious concern. But rather than protest action that will liberate millions, what is needed from the left is a vigilant and vocal movement to demand that the rebuilding of Iraq is done right and a concerted effort to effectively communicate the humanitarian necessity of this regime change.

-- Larry Weissman

Thank you very much for the interview with Paul Berman. As this war begins, I have been spending a long time puzzling over my position, and Mr. Berman has a lot of thought-provoking things to say. One mistake I truthfully think he makes, though, is to call the Bush administration "inept" because of the enemies that we have made. This, as software designers say, is not a bug, but a feature.

Imagine the neocon mind: He has increased military budgets as far as the eye can see, divided and demoralized the E.U., the U.N. and the global-warming sissies, and after this war he's going to spend all that political capital on dismantling Medicare and Social Security. He hasn't made a convincing case for the liberalization of the Arab world as an answer to terrorism because he doesn't believe liberal society is good for anything. That's the whole source of his smirk, of his dismissive attitude toward everything that involves intellect. It's not stupidity, it's thuggish anti-eggheadism.

Mr. Berman has a way to go to convince me this is the right war at the right time, but he made some progress. But what the left desperately needs is someone who can do some jiu-jitsu on Mr. Bush about the war issue: to claim it from him, change its nature, and speak to broader needs in a different context. One example is our response to bioterrorism. The fact is, the best way we can respond is to have a larger and more accessible public health system: Universal care would be the best way. So why isn't bioterrorism our issue?

-- Jim Hassinger

Paul Berman says, "People want to avoid a war in the Middle East, they say they're not for Saddam but yet they don't really want to do anything against Saddam. They see Iraqi liberals and Kurdish democrats struggling against Saddam, and they really don't want to help these people." Who on the left exactly is Mr. Berman talking about? Maybe a better question is, who on the left is he talking to? Not any leftists or progressives I know. Organizations on the left have long been highly critical of Saddam (as they were of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan). For decades, the crimes of these regimes against their people were ignored or minimized by our government and the major media, but to say that the left is guilty of the same is either ignorant or a lie. The real question that is bothering the antiwar left that I know is: Must we use violence and bomb the people of Iraq in order to bring democracy to them? Is the killing of Iraqi innocents really the only way to free them from tyranny?

The very day this "war" began, I received several e-mails from organizations that have been instrumental in organizing the antiwar protests, such as Moveon.org, reminding me of the importance of supporting human rights and disaster relief agencies that will be moving into Iraq during and right after the conflict. They have continued on a daily basis. Again I ask Mr. Berman, who are these people on the left who are ignoring the Iraqi people?

-- Daniel Majoros

I have to say this article is silly. The most basic problem is that, though Saddam Hussein is a terrible tyrant and psychopathic loon, comparing him to Hitler or Stalin is a silly rhetorical gesture. Hitler and Stalin were at the head of not only armies but also massive industrial machinery that could support extended conquest. Hussein is the tinpot dictator of a declining nation with little industry and (obviously) almost no ability to fight a modern war. Thirteen years ago he was well able to overrun a country the size of Rhode Island, but today he is in no such condition. One may be sure that were U.S. and British forces not concerned about civilian deaths, Iraqi arms would have been annihilated already. To see Hussein as a serious threat to our nation is simply bizarre.

Berman also uses overheated logic to place Hussein in a dangerous Islamic conspiracy. First, of course, he is a secularist. He'd no doubt love to be a threat to us, and his hour of success made him a popular figure, but let's not forget that the Muslim world is still in the grips of colonialism, from the literal colonialism of Israel (where, may I remind Berman, Israelis live on land, in villages, even in houses that within living memory belonged to Arabs who, when they either fled or were expelled during the war of Israel's founding, were forbidden to return) to the Western-backed regimes of Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Any symbol of successful resistance, however rotten, must look pretty good. Remember that in his time Vlad the Impaler was a hero to Christians for fighting off the Turks.

As for the Islamists, just as happens in many communities in the U.S., religious fundamentalists are quick to prey on people who feel powerless and frustrated; the traditional intertwining of church and state in the Arab world, and the weakness, clumsiness and overreactions of the local governments (anybody remember the nullified Algerian election that led up to the recent insanity there?) makes this easier and more dangerous than is the case with fundamentalist movements in the United States. Trying to make a new Red Menace out of this doesn't help understanding, though it might sell a few books.

And while we're rightly horrified at Saddam's treatment of his own people (so reminiscent of Stalin in the midst of his purges), let's not forget that the government we installed in Guatemala in the 1950s went on to murder 250,000 of its own citizens (with our support, of course), or that our friends in El Salvador and their death squads killed 10,000 of that country's inhabitants. Is a man who tortures soccer teams really any worse? This sort of thuggery is hardly unique to Arab nationalism.

Or we could make the Islamic world this great, incomprehensible alien thing that we have to control or invade. Let's forget that, after their Islamist revolution, most Iranians are choosing democracy.

-- Bill Mercer

Ah, it begins. The cognitive dissonance caused by seeing Iraqis actually glad that the idiot Bush brought war to their country to liberate them -- yes, liberate them! -- is causing even Salon to begin to wonder whether maybe, um, well, it's OK to use military force sometimes.

But of course you couldn't just come out and say, "Folks, it looks like we were wrong and the president was right on this one." A little graciousness, a little humility, a concession that maybe George Bush isn't Satan incarnate but actually a man with a determination to do the right thing who actually meant what he said in every speech since Sept. 11. Which was that the purpose of getting rid of Saddam is to rid the world of a dangerous WMD threat and to free the Iraqi people. Oh no, you've still got to ridicule and belittle him.

So the new line is going to be, well, Bush is a complete idiot who totally botched every aspect of diplomacy and probably just got lucky and is deeply flawed and stole the election and made the world hate us, etc., etc., etc., but he was possibly correct that Saddam needed to go.

If this is what it takes for you to get yourself on the right side of history with respect to the liberation of the Iraqi people and the elimination of Saddam's threat to Middle Eastern and world peace, so be it. Maybe the next step you'll be ready for will be to admit that George Bush actually handled this situation just about as well as it could possibly be handled given the utter lack of interest on the part of the other world powers in getting rid of Saddam. From his speech to the U.N., which led to the first real chance of Saddam cooperating, to his prosecution of the war with remarkably swift and relatively manageable damage, Bush has handled this situation very well. You could have saved yourselves a lot of political fallout if you hadn't been blinded so much by your scorn for the man's background and elocution from the beginning.

-- Mark Jankus

Paul Berman's otherwise reasonable stance on Iraq shows us how the gratuitously condescending phrase "Bush is an idiot, but..." has become the leftist's passport to reluctantly enter the world of mainstream opinion and common sense.

This is the same slander the academic and media elites pounded into Ronald Reagan, who, dumb as he was, helped free hundreds of millions from murderous tyranny.

If all the "smart" people like Noam Chomsky oppose what you and I agree is obviously right, but Bush supports and enacts it, who is truly dumb? And if the "dumb" presidents are repeatedly right, at what point do you realize that the "smart" leftists are only clever at being really, really dumb?

-- Timothy Usher

Paul Berman did put forth a compelling case for everyone to confront radical fundamentalism. But I have some reservations about his argument because he is truly disingenuous on the issue of Zionism, which is itself radical fundamentalism.

How else do you describe behavior such as that of Israelis who shout for the death of all Arabs? Who destroy the homes of Palestinians while they are still inside, homes that existed before Israel was put on maps? Who make claims that Israel is a democracy when it's clearly an apartheid society enforced by a military-centric government? Who imprison its own dissenters, such as Benjamin Netanyahu's own nephew, for the simple act of conscientious objection? Who denigrate all Jews who question Zionist policies by calling them "self-hating"? Who align themselves with the fundamentalist Christian right in order to advance repressive goals? (I recall an ad that appeared in the New York Times years ago that featured an Israeli award for its supporters, among them Newt Gingrich.) Who value a racist agenda by proclaiming that 100 Arabs' lives are not worth one Jew's finger? Who denounce moderate Jews as immoral and call for racial purity by not mixing blood, in marriage, with Gentiles?

If Paul Berman wants to help examine radical movements worldwide in order that we can achieve a peaceful future, as he appears capable of helping to do, he should at least be honest and open enough not to discount one of the most pervasive movements today.

-- James Healy

Thank you for Suzy Hansen's thought-provoking interview with Paul Berman. It seems to me a distinct possibility that what we on the American left now face is a case of the wrong leader doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Though I remain opposed to this war, and to President Bush's prosecution of it, I very much hope that Saddam Hussein is deposed soon and with as little bloodshed as possible. Afterward, the onus will be on us to see that Iraq (and the now neglected Afghanistan) really do become the model democracies that the man who once opposed nation building has so rashly promised.

-- Joan Opyr

By Salon Staff

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