Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Word with Paul Berman


Dear Mr. Berman:

If you will, I am just finishing reading your very fine Terror and Liberalism. Even its very Preface--to the 2004 edition--raised a question which has been on mind throughout my reading. That question is this: whether (what I take to be) your original support for the second Iraq War, its flawed execution notwithstanding, rests on reasoning very similar to the notion of prevention (as opposed to preemption) forming one of the pillars of George W. Bush's first term foreign policy?

If you have any time to respond to my question, I'd be obliged.

Paul Berman:

Dear Mr Basman,

I have never taken positions on debates over prevention v. preemption, and that sort of thing. I think the grounds for overthrowing Saddam were large and complicated, and the debate over which single term to use was not helpful in identifying those large and complicated grounds.

Paul Berman


Dear Mr. Berman:

Thanks for your reply.

I have some thoughts about it but don't want to bother you.

Perhaps at a better moment I may pursue them out of my own intersest as
spurred by your book.

In a short word, my nascent thought is that if we (Liberalism) are engaged
in a struggle with Islamism as the latest iteration of twentieth century
Totalitarianism, and if Saddam Hussein was a most prominent and terrible
instance of the latter, then grounding a rationale for the second
Iraqi war on the idea of prevention--as opposed to preemption, which is an
anticipatory self defensive response to a discrete, concrete and imminent
military danger--has complex resonance, is a wide ranging and radical notion
and bears, at least for me, interesting consonances with the argument of
your book, even granting its ultimate focus on a "mental war". (I note, now
that I've finished your book, that, in its very last part, you advert to
the idea of prevention, but in a much different way than I am pointing to.)

In any event, perhaps, as I say, I can, at a better moment, try to flesh
out these thoughts in a more comprehensive way. If I ever do, I'll let you

Thanking you,

Itzik Basman

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