August 13, 1999


If there is anything more sickening than the current issue of Mother Jones magazine, then I definitely do not want to see it. William Saletan’s “Humanitarian Hawks,” an ode to the virtues of the Kosovo war, manages to cram so many lies and evasions into such a small space that surely it is a scientific as well as a literary and ideological wonder. But we’ll get to that in a moment: first, some history.


Okay, I admit it: I have always despised Mother Jones, and in fact there is a longstanding policy here at that we never link to that rag if we can possibly help it. (A policy not strictly adhered to, I'm afraid.) Naturally, the reasons are political-ideological – they are just the sort of limousine liberals with a totalitarian bent who evoke disgust in both the Right and the Left. But, at least on my part, there is also some personal history here. My sister used to work as their advertising director, and, one day, during the 1992 election season, I went to see her at her office. While we were talking, then-editor Jeffrey Klein happened to come in. My sister started in with the introductions, but I could tell something was wrong: Klein had a pinched look on his face, as if he were in acute pain – and he was staring at my shirt. My shirt?


Well, not exactly: as it turned out, it was what I was wearing on my shirt: a button that said "YES ON PROP. 187." This was a California state initiative that would have cut off state benefits to illegal aliens, and I was quite active in the campaign to pass it. (A lot of good it did us, but that is another story.) He looked at me reproachfully, pure hatred beaming out at me like malevolent rays of death: "You can't wear that button in here."

"Excuse me?"

"No, not in here. Please take it off."

"I don't think so, buddy," I answered, rising from my chair. "But being a liberal, I don't suppose the concept of free speech means anything to you."

"Not in my office."

"I was just on my way out."

My sister, who was by this time on the verge of complete panic, darted fierce looks at me: enough already! But I couldn't resist one last jab:

"You guys are going to lose," I said, as I stood by the door, "and Prop. 187 is going to win – and win big. And, you know what? I just can't wait for Election Day." I laughed, loudly, as I made my exit. "See you later," I said to my sister, who by this time was smiling herself. She was, I knew, quite sick of the sanctimonious crunchy-granola male editors, who lorded it over their mostly female staff and ordered them about in a peremptory and often demeaning manner. At any rate, this incident sets the stage for the arrogant smugness of the Saletan article. For it illustrates the unpleasantly aggressive nature of contemporary liberalism, its disdain for social conventions, its inability to brook the least sign of dissent, and, scariest of all, its tendency to strike out at its perceived enemies.


My run-in with Klein dramatizes the emotionalism and irrationalism of the liberals' stance on matters of race. Such a rude reaction would have been completely out of the question involving any other campaign button: but since Prop. 187 had been deemed by the California media elite as little more than a "racist" attack on minorities, it was open season on anyone who dared to come out in public support – even to the extent of wearing a campaign button. The political culture of the Mother Jones office, as a leading organ of Clintonian liberalism, reflected a California-ized version of the rotten political culture on the Potomac – and it was only a matter of time before this Clintonian impulse to stamp out all opposition, embodied in Klein's boorishness, began to play itself out on the world stage.


The Kosovo war, a Clintonian crusade against "racism" and for Kosovar "civil rights," was the perfect expression of this liberal totalitarian impulse. This is why I was not at all surprised to see the following monstrous headline on the Mother Jones site: "What wars can liberals support? The kind that conservatives hate." And I quote: "You howled when Ronald Reagan invaded Grenada. You cursed when George Bush raided Panama. You winced when American jets bombed Baghdad. But this year, when progressive governments stood up to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, you felt torn. You heard the war's humanitarian rationale but hated to react like a trigger-happy Republican. If only you could subscribe to a case for military intervention defined by the values of the left, not the right."


Note that the more massive and important the intervention, the less vehemently our liberal archetype expresses his dissent. He "howls" when Ronald Reagan orders U.S. troops into tiny Grenada, ruled by a military junta to the left of Fidel Castro, but only curses under his breath when George Bush goes after much bigger game in Panama. By the time we get to the merciless bombing of Iraq, and the starvation of its children by U.S.-imposed economic sanctions, our by-this-time somewhat hardened liberal merely winces. To what can we attribute this progressive warming to American militarism? Saletan so much as confesses his secret longing "for military intervention defined by the values of the left, not the right," a craving that in today's political culture he doesn't even have the decency to feel guilty about.


Saletan's eagerness to embrace the war god without having to own up to being a posturing militarist is surely the most stomach-churning perversion to come out of the closet in a long time. At least the old-fashioned conservative warmongers had the intellectual honesty to own up to huge military budgets and praise the martial virtues. But this new breed of "politically correct" militarists, the little Napoleons of the Third Way, still cling to their own increasingly unrealistic self-image, like an aging movie star who still insists she is a great beauty. Is Kosovo a bloody chaos, from which Serbs are now almost completely purged? Is the dictatorship of the KLA fast taking hold? Are the lies and bloody crimes of this administration finally beginning to see the light of day? Never mind: we liberals are motivated by "altruism," "global responsibility," and World Peace. Not only are liberals the most virtuous people on the face of the earth, but their high-mindedness is underscored by the vulgarity of their enemies, those nasty right-wingers who "have been articulating and attacking what they call 'liberal interventionism. Liberals, they allege, are guilty of preferring to fight for humanitarian reasons rather than for oil." Stop right there!


We interrupt this column for a reality check! – Glancing up at the top of the page on the Mother Jones site in which this tripe appears, what do we see? A large and blinking ad for none other than Shell Oil! And what is Shell shilling out to the 1960s leftovers that make up the Mother Jones audience? They are selling these hapless sheep on how politically correct dear old Shell Oil is when it comes to the environment: we see a blue sky streaked with clouds and the question "Climate change?" blinks at the reader. "Last year we cut our emissions of carbon dioxide by 3.4 million tonnes [sic]" the ad continues, exhorting us to "click here to find out how we plan to cut even more." With the news that Albania will be a way station in the Balkan pipeline that brings Transcaucasian oil to Western Europe, the Shell Oil-Mother Jones-NATO alliance begins to make sense.


It is so vitally important to shameless hypocrites like Saletan and his ilk that they continue to think of themselves as paragons of morality even while cheerleading a monstrous and tragic slaughter. The complete dishonesty that invariably accompanies smug displays of liberal self-righteousness is here in full display. Saletan quotes mainly those neoconservatives who criticized Clinton for not letting General Clark take Belgrade, including George Will, and the National Review crowd, but minimizes the openly anti-imperialist critique of Pat Buchanan and columnist Bob Novak. The former, in Saletan's view, are aghast at the "altruism" of militarized liberalism, but this merely proves that liberals like Saletan and his brain-dead readers are "selfless" – clueless is more like it – while the latter are characterized as enemies of "democracy": "Pat Buchanan accused liberals of using NATO to build a 'new world order,' and Robert Novak called NATO a vehicle for 'liberals putting out their proposals to control the world.' In other words: Liberals believe in a democracy of nations." In other words, Saletan sees nothing wrong in a proposal to control the world – as long as he and his friends (Shell Oil among them) get to do the controlling. This, my friends, is the new "liberalism." Short of Nazism, with its simplistic sloganeering and vapid emotionalism, an uglier, more openly grasping and dangerously empty-headed ideology would be hard to imagine.


While even the most militant administration spokesmen have so far shied away from proclaiming that the United States must be the world's policeman, Mother Jones walks where even Mad Madeleine Albright fears to tread: "Far from wanting to see America as the world's policeman, conservatives can't stand the job. Like comfortable suburbanites in gated communities, they'd rather build a missile defense system to keep our neighborhood safe while people kill each other on the wrong side of the global tracks." The mad "logic" of egalitarianism, which is supposed to make middle class Americans feel guilty about Third World poverty, is here translated into military terms: if some regions of the world are plunged into tribal warfare, how dare we enjoy the peace that prevails (for the moment) in our own country? And what, pray tell, is wrong with living in a gated community? In Saletan's grim world, such bourgeois values as privacy, security, and exclusivity are positively sinful: there is no right to enjoyment as long as others are suffering. This is "humanitarianism" – the most inhuman doctrine ever invented.


Saletan quotes his neoconservative comrades in the War Party, who urged us to go in on the ground, and, on that basis, then claims that the liberal proponents of this war that killed over 5,000 Serbs – and continues to kill Serb Kosovars – "hate killing." Oh yeah? – then why are they doing so much of it?


Saletan quotes war supporter and conservative commentator Michael Barone, of US News & World Report, to the effect that Clinton's war policies are "soggy" (i.e. open-ended), and unnamed "Republican hawks" who criticized him for "appeasing" Milosevic. But just who were these GOP hawks? The only one who really spoke out was Senator John McCain, and he seemed more popular with talk show hosts than grassroots conservatives. Incredibly, Saletan tries to paint Clinton as a man of peace, and actually cites as proof the fact that on one occasion Clinton failed to bomb Iraq as promised. "We have to be able to take yes for an answer," said Sandy Berger. The grotesque irony of this is the news, a few days ago, that Clinton gave the order to rain bombs on Iraqis who went out to see the eclipse. I hope Saletan chokes on the words he had the nerve to put to paper, especially his noxious claim that liberals like his pitiful self endorsed the war because "they want to give peace a chance." Fat chance of that with a President in office who sends troops into battle with the same monotonous regularity with which he is caught with his pants down.


If the above quotes have been nauseating, get yourself some Dramamine tablets and try to keep from barfing at what follows. In answer to the conservative case against the war and the charge that it ushers in a new era of militant interventionism dangerous to the peace and inimical to the national interest, he disdains the very concept of national interest as inherently immoral: "How do humanitarians and idealists plead to these charges? Guilty, says longtime antiwar activist Robert Borosage, a co-director of the Campaign for America's Future. America should 'build multilateral ways of acting and use its power proportionately, so that it's seen not as a bully but as part of a legitimate global order in which everyone has a stake,' says Borosage. 'Nation-building is a part of that. Multilateralism is also. The sensible part of the intervention [in Kosovo] is the attempt to build a legal and moral framework that says when you have grotesque crimes against humanity, sovereignty will not be a shield. If you're Pinochet, it won't be a shield from legal recourse. If you're Milosevic, it won't be a shield from an attempt to bring your crimes to an end.... And that is in the national interest.'" A more succinct summary of how and why the peaceniks of yesterday sold out to Shell Oil has never before been uttered. Some "idealists"!


Borosage's moral compass, if he ever had any, is permanently broken: If the mightiest military machine on earth, allied with all the nations of Europe, attacking a small nation like Serbia is not cowardice, then the word has no meaning. And what if you are not a Milosevic, or a Pinochet, but a Clinton – a man who bombs women and children in the name of "human rights"? It isn't national sovereignty that protects you, in that case, but pure power


These people – I mean the Mother Jones-type liberals – are such moral cowards. Just as they hide behind bromides like "being your brother's keeper" and "global responsibility" to describe their rapacious and self-serving policies, so they try to hide the ugly reality of their war and its hideous aftermath behind harmless-sounding slogans like "multilateralism" and "conditional sovereignty." There is no mention of Yugoslav casualties, or the suffering of that unfortunate people, from this alleged "humanitarian."


And what about this clown Borosage? He claims to be a "longtime antiwar activist," but his biography mentions only his political activities on behalf of Senator Barbara Boxer and other Democrats. The magazine does not mention his affiliation with the Center for National Security Studies, a Washington thinktank established by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Fund for Peace in 1974, ostensibly devoted to "civil liberties" and opposing secrecy, and which later served as the incubator of liberal interventionism. (Born-again liberal hawk Morton Halperin is another CNSS alumnus.)


What kind of an "antiwar activist" invokes "multilateralism" as a rationale for war? What Borosage is saying is that it's okay to gang up on a small country like Serbia, and then deliver the equivalent of a beating half to death – as long as you don't go in there by yourself and fight mano-a-mano. It is a truly odd kind of high-mindedness that justifies gang rape, but rules out a more evenly matched struggle. What is grotesque is that Borosage dares to raise the question of a "moral and legal framework" – this from the same laptop bombardiers who cheered as NATO bombs pulverized a Serb television station and killed the night janitor, the make-up woman, and a few news anchors. No doubt Saletan and his confreres thought this was a great victory against "hate speech."


What has happened to the Left? Or, one might ask: where oh where is the Left? As the United States lords it over prostrate Serbia, and the American colossus looms over Russia and the oil-rich Transcaucasus, the danger of another world war casts its shadow over us all. Where are the leftist opponents of war who once filled the streets with tens of thousands of protesters?


I'll tell you where they are – they are sitting over in the editorial offices of Mother Jones magazine in downtown San Francisco, ordering around their female "interns" and wondering where their rotten hero will strike next, They are hoping for East Timor, but will settle for Rwanda. As they sell out to Shell Oil, perhaps they are thinking of that old New Left slogan, the exhortation by Huey Newton (or some other Black Panther thug) to "pick up the gun!" And so they have.


I get letters from lefties and socialists all the time about how the Left has not really sold out, and the pro-war liberals and "right-wing" New Laborites like Tony Blair are not representative of their species. But why does the Left put up with this kind of crap from Mother Jones? Why do they continue to support a magazine that has betrayed the antiwar tradition personified by the original Mother Jones, the Commie labor organizer whose name they have appropriated: Saletan's ode to war would have sickened her. Why doesn't it sicken today's lefties?


Come on, you guys: you're all worked up over some completely obscure fracas over at KPFA Radio, in Berkeley, where 15,000 people recently demonstrated against the "betrayal" of a longtime leftist institution. But what about this even more egregious and revolting sellout over at Mother Jones? Here they are hailing Clinton's vicious war on the Serbian people, celebrating the slaughter, and we hear not a peep out of the Bay Area's leftist community. In its heyday, the Left – the real Left, the old-fashioned Marxist Left, which always put the fight against imperialism at the top of its agenda – would have started a boycott (if not a picket line) as soon as the offending issue hit the stands. That none of this is happening means that, as a moral as well as a political force, the Left is as dead as a doornail – and will never rest in peace as long as Mother Jones continues to speak in its name.


Come on all you Commies, lefties, and honest liberals out there – what about a "We don't read Mother Jones" campaign – I'm almost sure we can get Mumia Abu-Jamal to endorse it.

Check out Justin Raimondo's article, "China and the New Cold War"

"Behind the Headlines" appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).


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