the cold war, foreign policy issues rarely cut across Right-Left
lines: the Left was anti-interventionist, the Right was for
"rolling back" the Soviets and the matter was pretty
clear-cut. Oh, there were a few libertarians (such as Murray
N. Rothbard) who harkened back to the Old
Right "isolationists" of the pre-Pearl Harbor
era, and were opposed to America's policy of global intervention
on the grounds that it enormously increased the power of the
State. But they were then too numerically insignificant to
make much of a dent on the popular stereotypes of the long-haired
hippie leftist with his Che Guevara T-shirt and the buttoned-down
conservative with the crewcut and the "America, Love
it or leave it!" bumpersticker. The former wanted us
Out Now, the latter yearned to Nuke 'Em Now, and never the
twain did meet until the end of the cold war, that is.
the Soviet bugaboo suddenly vanished, seemingly without warning,
many on the Right did an about-face. The first Gulf war evoked
opposition from Pat Buchanan and a core group of "paleoconservative"
writers and publicists, grouped around Chronicles
magazine, as well as Rothbard, Lew
Rockwell, of the Ludwig
von Mises Institute, the columnist Charlie
Reese, and others. The Kosovo war expanded the ranks of
the conservative anti-interventionists, until even the House
Republicans were balking at supporting Bill Clinton's "humanitarian
interventionism." The Old Right was back, and Buchanan
expressed its essential spirit well:
of us 'neo-isolationists,' a disparate, contentious lot, are
really not 'neo' anything. We are old church and old
right, anti-imperialist and anti-interventionist, disbelievers
in Pax Americana. We love the old republic, and when we hear
phrases like 'New World Order,' we release the safety catches
on our revolvers."
the Left, the opposite reaction set in. Former opponents of
the Vietnam war began to reevaluate their old beliefs – now
that they had attained power. With the election of President
Clinton, the old Wilsonian Left was revived, and suddenly
the Democrats were the interventionist party, as their leader
sent more troops into more trouble spots than any Republican
had ever dared propose. The Kosovo war, sold as armed "humanitarianism,"
was the apotheosis of the new war-liberalism.
never forget confronting Rep. Nancy Pelosi, today elected
House majority leader, over the Balkan issue back in 1996,
when I had the dubious pleasure of being her Republican opponent.
Dubious, because Republicans are down to 12.5 percent of the
vote in San Francisco congressional elections, and a pleasure
because Pelosi was outspoken in her support for our Balkan
too, we attacked a nation that had never attacked us, and
covered up our own crimes with a smokescreen of hysterical
propaganda. When I asked her how and why the national interest
of the United States could possibly involve the dismantling
of Yugoslavia and the unleashing of a criminal
gang of drug-dealing ultra-nationalists, she whinged on
about "genocide" and cited a figure of 50,000 supposedly
slaughtered by Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic. (That
turned out to be a lie, not that she'd ever acknowledge
it.) Pelosi then denounced Milosevic, a minor thug, in much
the same terms as are now reserved for Saddam Hussein: he
was, she said, "another Hitler." Today, as the Republicans
call for "regime change" in a Middle Eastern venue,
she is singing a different tune, but others remember the old
Clintonian songs, and their voices are being heard in the
from The New Republic – which is sui generis,
since it has vociferously and pretty
consistently supported every major war since its first
issue in 1914, and was pretty much founded for that purpose liberal
voices in support of invading Iraq have been few, faint, and
somewhat ambivalent. Among Democratic politicians, Senator
Joe Lieberman and Rep. Richard Gephardt signed on to the President's
war resolution, but the former House leader is in eclipse
and Lieberman hasn't stuck his neck out all that far, as yet,
confining himself to a single joint appearance with Gephardt
and the President.
you count Christopher
Hitchens – and I would contend that renegade Trotskyists
are a category unto themselves no prominent and respected
liberal writer or activist has joined the neoconservative
war-birds in calling for the "liberation" of the
Middle Eastern peoples from themselves, and their forced inculcation
of the virtues of Jeffersonian democracy and the spirit of
the Enlightenment. At least not until Richard Just's recent
clarion call, entitled "Moral
Imperative: Any self-respecting liberal ought to support an
invasion of Iraq," in The American Prospect.
is the theoretical journal of an eclectic amalgam
of Hillary Clintonites and right-wing Social Democrats, aspiring
American Blairites who hope to duplicate the success of the
British example here in America. In its very title – which
Just, as online editor of TAP, had some hand in writing
the piece revives the Wilsonian hectoring that had
been the leitmotif of the Clintonian foreign policy, and this
note of preening righteousness is maintained throughout.
points out that the Democrats in the 2000 election campaigned
on a program of hard-line interventionism, and that "both
Gore and his running mate, Joe Lieberman, had enthusiastically
supported every American military action since the end of
the Cold War." He also astutely notes what no Republicans
now care to remember: that year, the Republicans were playing
at "isolationism," and although Just doesn't cite
George W. Bush's plea for a more "humble" foreign
policy, he sees the guiding light of the Bush camp to have
been Colin Powell's "virtual isolationism."
overstates the case, unless "virtual" means "not
really." Bush not only supported the Kosovo war, once
in office he kept our troops there, continuing the Clintonian
policy of intervention on behalf of the Osama
bin Laden-supported Kosovo "Liberation" Army.
But what's interesting is that he also makes the key link
between war and the achievement of liberal domestic goals:
Bush and Republican congressmen of the late 1990s, Bill Clinton's
repeated deployment of American troops and American airpower
in faraway places stunk of overambitious moralism in the same
way that his health-care program stunk of overambitious concern
for the disadvantaged."
as the early 20th century classical liberal Randolph
Bourne put it, "war
is the health of the State." But for Just – a modern
liberal, i.e., a kind of anti-libertarian – this is
a good thing. State-worship is the secularized religion
of modern liberalism, and it's only natural that the evangelical
zeal of armed social workers bearing health-care programs
and declaring their concern for the disadvantaged should seek
to expand their good works well beyond our borders. Implicit
in Just's argument is the promise of gaining some political
advantage: support the war, and liberals will be rewarded
with some victories on the home front.
an odd twist, Just couples Bush and Green party candidate
Ralph Nader as right and left versions of the same essentially
"isolationist" (i.e. pro-peace) position, a juxtaposition
that seems chiefly rhetorical. In any case, the author goes
on to make the point that 9/11 marked a radical reversal of
political polarities, as the Left went "isolationist"
and the Right took on the colors of the War Party:
seized their chance to wrench the soul of Republican foreign
policy away from the Powell realists, and liberals dutifully
re-cloaked themselves in the awkward discomfort with American
power that they had worn almost without interruption (and
not always without justification) from the beginning of the
Cold War through Clinton's deployment of troops to Haiti in
process he describes is largely a function of partisan politics:
the party out of power must be seen to forge an alternative
policy, it is in opposition by definition, and the implication
is clear: the liberal Democratic reaction was an unthinking
reflex, and one that needs to be reconsidered. He writes:
do not know if this reversal is a bad thing for America. (There
is, to be sure, inherent democratic value in genuine ideological
opposition, even when that opposition is wrong.) But it is
almost certainly a bad thing for liberalism. We now find ourselves
about to go to war with Iraq, and most liberals have lined
up against such an invasion. Their main argument rests on
the thesis that Saddam Hussein can be deterred. This argument
is bad for liberalism for three reasons: because its veracity
is highly suspect, because it is woefully inadequate as a
statement of policy and because it is not, in fact, a 'liberal'
argument at all."
their essence, these three arguments boil down to the following:
tried to assassinate George Herbert Walker Bush when he was
President, and, since this would have meant war if successful,
amounts to an act of war punishable, presumably, by invasion
and indefinite occupation.
that case, Cuba should have declared war on us at least three
times over, because I don't know exactly how many attempts
our intelligence agencies have made on Fidel Castro's life
the years, but surely by now the case for a Cuban preemptive
strike is clearly established – at least if we use the moral
yardstick employed by Just and his Bushian confreres. How
many foreign heads of state have we had a hand in assassinating,
and how many times did we bungle the job? If even the mere
act of planning such an act is grounds for retaliation, then
there's no telling how many countries have the alleged "right"
to occupy Washington and put our leaders on trial. Or is Just's
brand of liberal moralism only aimed outwardly, at other nations?
Saddam gets nuclear weapons, he, unlike Stalin, or the North
Koreans, or the Indians, or the Pakistanis, (or the Israelis,
for that matter) cannot be deterred, because – well, you see,
he's "a madman." But even if he could be deterred,
Just gets around that by enunciating the third leg of his
is nothing good or 'progressive' about a situation that prevents
us from shielding ethnic minorities from their tormentors
or shielding democracies from their foes."
that principle, there can be little or nothing bad about a
military action that "liberates" the Iraqi people
and implants "democracy" as one might undertake
surgery on a sick patient and implant a new heart. The radicalism
of such a project, far from deterring our modern liberals,
merely emboldens them, and Just's war manifesto rings with
liberals have derided the prospect of a liberated Iraq serving
as a model for Arab democracy and starting a domino
effect that could liberate the Muslim world from the grips
of petty despots and theocratic lunatics as fanciful.
But for all their talk about the 'root causes' of terrorism,
my fellow liberals have spoken very little about how they
plan to remedy the situation."
must always be there with their State-created and subsidized
remedies for all of society's ills, not only here but abroad
as well. This Wilsonian nosiness and self-righteousness recognizes
no borders: its ambition is boundless. As Just puts it:
have never been any great liberal strains in American life
that were fueled by a desire to just let things be. Think
of the domestic causes championed by liberals at this magazine
and elsewhere: public financing of campaigns, measures to
conserve the environment, universal health care they are all
ambitious in the great progressive tradition."
forbid we should ever leave anybody alone. Now surely that
is the leitmotif of modern liberalism, a principle that they
logically wish to extend into the realm of foreign affairs.
And who am I to argue with them? Given their (entirely false)
premises, they are right.
we are witnessing the birth of a new political paradigm: national
greatness liberalism. The neoconservative variety has long
been aborning in the McCainite camp and the Weekly
Standard crowd. The keeper of the "national
greatness" flame, Marshall
Wittmann, was recently hired on as Senator McCain's new
communications director, and clearly a coalition is forming
around the virulently pro-war, ultra-interventionist blowhard
from Arizona, who could move into a leaderless Democratic
party vacuum and take the prize.
from building great "monuments," libraries, and
other accouterments of great wealth and even greater power,
the one big activity that constituted proof of a nation's
"greatness," according to the neocons, is war. Now
the liberals step forward, and add their own wing to this
House of National Greatness: a section devoted to national
healthcare, and one for full employment, and, who knows, perhaps
even a "War on Poverty" at home to complement the
perpetual "War for Democracy" abroad – just like
in the good old days of the LBJ-Scoop Jackson Democrats!
happy days are here again!
Wilson, FDR, and the "liberating" power of the State,
Just makes the case for the new war-liberalism by saying,
essentially, let's get in on a little of this war fever and
use it to achieve our own political goals. The Republicans
are playing the war card, but two can play that game.
a seductive argument, because modern liberalism, as state-worship,
has everything to gain and nothing to lose from the Bushian
policy of perpetual war. In calling for the merger of the
two main streams of American interventionism, Just implores
liberals to throw in their lot with the empire-building neoconservatives,
so as to ensure that all citizens of the Empire have state-subsidized
health insurance, three squares a day, and the right to cast
a ballot for the crook of their choice.
gets Just's goat about liberal opponents of this war is their
lack of the old crusading spirit: "It is not a policy
of hope; it is a policy of little imagination and puny moral
spirit." He is "disappointed," he says, in
this puniness, and calls forth his liberal fellow warriors
in a great crusade to … yes, to make the world safe for democracy.
where have we heard all this before? Like the liberal crusaders
of yesterday, who went abroad to "liberate" Europe
– and created, instead, the conditions for the rise of Hitler
and a new worldwide conflagration Just and his cohorts
are marching into the ever-darkening future, the bright banner
of warrior liberalism unfurled. God save us from these liberal
neo-imperialists, whose arrogance rises to the level of any
neocon, and whose idea of "national greatness" is
just as overblown and bloodthirsty.
liberals fall for it? We'll see, but I predict that the answer,
in large part, will be yes, particularly if the United Nations
can be forced into following the Bush administration into
war. Then the "multilateralist" critique of Al Gore
and even Todd
Gitlin will be rendered irrelevant, and there would be
little to prevent a general consensus of the "respectable"
Left and the neoconservative Right around going to war with
speaking at UC Berkeley at a forum on Iraq sponsored by the
Libertarians, on November 20, at 7:00 pm, in Room 2050
of the Valley Life Sciences Building. My topic: "Iraq:
First Stop on the Road to Empire."
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