Conservatism has undoubtedly taken it on the nose lately, but it is instructive now and then to recall the calamitous successive failures of Liberalism, and reflect on how being a Liberal seems to mean never having to say you’re sorry. Consider, to take a salient example, the ruinous incompetence of the Liberals who handled American-Iranian relations on the eve of the Iranian Revolution. Some excerpts from Steven F. Hayward’s engaging study The Age of Reagan:
One reason the CIA and DIA offered such poor intelligence work is that the post-Watergate reforms to protect against the excesses of the 1960s and early 1970s made it difficult for the United States to conduct intelligence operations in Iran or elsewhere in the Middle East [this came back to haunt us again, of course, and even more terribly, on September 11] . . . The CIA, it later turned out, not only hadn’t read any of Khomeini’s writings, but didn’t even have copies of Khomeini’s writings. . . . “Whoever took religion seriously?” a State Department official later asked. . . . Neither the State Department nor the intelligence community [did], while American scholars on Iran deprecated the idea that the clergy would participate directly in forming or running a government. [Some] went as far as to recommend that the United States support Khomeini and the revolution, arguing that Khomeini would be a progressive force for human rights. . . . Typical the self-delusion of American liberals was the case of [a] Princeton University professor [who] wrote that Khomeini’s circle was “uniformly composed of moderate, progressive individuals” who shared “a notable record of concern for human rights.” . . . A few human rights activists in the State Department compared Khomeini to Gandhi, arguing that, like Gandhi, Khomeini would turn out to be a moral leader who would leave actual administration to a democratically elected government. . . . [UN Ambassador] Andrew Young even suggested that Khomeini would someday be considered “some kind of saint.” (p. 554-7)
It was, of course, many of the same Liberal generation who: (1) sowed (or at least greatly exacerbated preexisting) ruin in our inner cities with their Great Society welfare policies; (2) prosecuted a war to defend an ally in Southeast Asia with little notion of how to win it, then (2a) abandoned that essentially noble venture, deserting a dependent ally and handing over the region to the tender mercies of Communism; and (3) cravenly capitulated to a bunch of scraggly radicals, hucksters and mau-mauing thugs in a cultural revolution which overthrew the ideal of liberal education and replaced it with tedious identity politics, self-righteous narcissism, and a general collapse of academic standards.
Quite a resume for a generation. But what’s most remarkable about it is that we all have to endure its regular effusions of self-congratulation, and who knows how long the spectacle will go on.