SPECIAL MID-MONTH EDITION
COLUMN EIGHTY-NINE, APRIL 15, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
THE AMERICAN LEFT FADES AWAY
[We offer the following piece, lifted from The First of the Month, a print publication with a website at http://www.firstofthemonth.org/ ---we feature it here because of the power of author Charles O?Brien's argument. Here it is weeks after I first read this piece and this piece still has me thinking about it. To me, the Left always loses to the Right because whereas the Right marches in lockstep, the Left refuses to unify. The Left's weakness lies in the fact that it is infested with too many fringist fundamentalists. And, as everybody should know, fundamentalists are the scourge of humankind. A fundamentalist is nothing but a fanatic. Fanaticism, as philosopher George Santayna says, "consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim." A fanatic is someone so rooted in ideology that he can't budge even in the face of an onrushing tidal wave that will drown him. No matter! He is ready to die for his cause. His mind is so encased in the righteousness of his beliefs that his head may as well have been dipped in concrete. His ears are so stuffed with holier-than-thouism that he cannot hear what anyone else has to say. He can't be argued with. Not only is his mind made up but his feet are so welded to his doctrinaire soapbox that he couldn't budge an inch even if he wanted to.
And what is the aim of the Left? In my mind, the aim of the Left should be to oppose Evil. Nobody else but the Devil himself! Of course, nobody can really beat the Devil, but we've all got to keep him at bay. The trouble with the fundamentalists, who permeate the Left like holes in Swiss cheese, is that they are too concerned with trying to differentiate between greater and lesser evils even to recognize that leering red demon with the pointed tail. These maniacal fringists are too busy redoubling their efforts to remember their aim. And what should be their aim? To oppose the evil of the power-crazed, fascistic, Hitlerite corporate crooks who have lied, cheated and swindled their way into control of our government---and who now plan to sacrifice our sons and daughters in the slaughter occasioned by perpetual wars of conquest while at the same time forcing our poorer classes pay for Amerika's monster wehrmacht? Or to oppose the evil of the maniacal Islamic extremists who also want to drag us to the Armageddon of a thermonuclear holocaust? Which is the greater or lesser evil?--Al Aronowitz]
The truth is, nobody knows
what the 2002 election means. If
the Republicans won by about 53-47 (the alt parties not even an irritant), six
points difference is not so great that it can't be imaginably recouped in some
near future, nor is it itself evidence of a trend. That said, the news is all bad for the Democratic Party.
This is not 1994, where victories by a hair after an extraordinarily low
turnout were claimed as a mandate for a 'revolution."
Six points is different, and since the opposition should have won
decisively'the Democrats had promised payback in 2002'six points isn't
just six points. Bob Dole, after losing by eight points to Bill Clinton, went
on to tout Viagra.
Here's the Republicans. They
have the Presidency, both Houses of Congress, and most of the Federal judiciary.
The 5-4 Supreme Court vote that installed Bush can further
institutionalize itself at its leisure. The
3-card monte of two years ago is now solitaire.
Even New York has a Republican governor, and New York City a Republican
mayor. And unlike 1994, the
triumphal note has been shrewdly muted.
Now here's the Democrats.
Some say it only needs a little tweaking.
No it doesn't. Others say
the message didn't get out. What
message? The Party needs to stand for something. True, provided that 'something? isn't just anything.
The Party needs to run to the center (We're just like the other
guys, only not so much.) The
Party needs to run the left. (Everything
you hate us for. No more skin-poppin?!)
And look what's on the runway. Al
Gore, who won the popular vote two years ago, now has a 42-19 unpopularity
margin in one poll, and in another he loses to "no opinion? 18-13. George McGovern is back (As Benedick said to Beatrice in Much
Ado About Nothing, "Are you yet living??) with a featured article in Harper's
(Monthly, not Bazaar) under the title, "A Defense of the
Future Against the Past." Surely,
an appearance on Celebrity Boxing would have been smaller humiliation
than writing for Lewis Lapham. The
most astonishing thing about the Paul Wellstone murder rumors is not that an
ordinary plane crash is assumed to be an assassination, but the supposed motive:
that Paul Wellstone stood between the cabal and its objectives.
There are even a few who find nothing jarring about the words
"Kucinich? and "President? appearing in one sentence.
This week's Nation is a nice summation:
Nancy Pelosi is there; she's on the cover; her picture is on the cover;
the picture is in color; next to the picture, in big letters, it says
"Ready to Rumble." Delusion, in
This year, the Great Debate
over tax cuts, or Social Security, or whatever-you-got didn't get lost.
It never existed. And no one was nostalgic for the rival health-insurance
pitches that constituted the 2000 campaign.
There was one issue, as there should have been:
war. The Republicans may not
have deserved to win, but the Democrats did deserve to lose, for they had
continued to be wrong about the one thing that mattered.
It is not at all clear how
the Republicans came to own the issue. The
events of September 11, 2001 were, in fact, the result of American actions and
policies, actions and policies that belong to no particular party.
Let's look over our recent past. While
Richard Nixon was President, Arabs, with ties to the former Palestinian Mandate,
launched a campaign of piracy against the world.
The United States offered no military response.
Also, during his administration, two American diplomats were kidnapped
and shot dead in Sudan, on the direct orders of "General? Yassir Arafat.
Ever since, and to this day, Arafat's personal safety has been
guaranteed by " and solely by " the United States.2 During Jimmy Carter's Presidency, it was established that
Mohammedan theocrats could occupy American soil and subject American officials
to war crimes; and in response, the United States would not only not retaliate,
but offer concessions. These
concessions were further ratified and expanded upon by the Reagan
administration. That administration
guaranteed safe passage out of Lebanon for the defeated "Palestinians."
In response to the killing of hundreds of Marines in Lebanon, an attack
was launched on Grenada. The
American military withdrew from Lebanon. In
the years since, the American Embassy there has been destroyed, and numerous
Americans, officials and private citizens, have been kidnapped and/or
assassinated (e.g. a medical worker just last month).
The United States maintains relations with the wholly fictional
government of Lebanon. The Syrian
annexation of the country goes uncontested.
The Iranian military presence there and the international activities of
Hizbullah go unopposed. The first
Bush administration, pliant to the wishes of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,
preserved Saddam in power. Bill
Clinton failed to kill Usaama bin Laadin; allowed the Wahhabite puppet regime in
Afghanistan to consolidate its power; and permitted Iraq to expel arms
inspectors and failed to invade. His
few attempts at military action were furiously opposed by the Republican Party.3
George W. Bush's record of
inaction, as of September 10, 2001, was even more thorough.
And the current administration is even now vouching for the Saudis.4
When the World Islamic
Front for Jihad (al-qaa?ida) was planning 9/11, they expected the response to
be a lawsuit. They weren't
thinking of one party or politician. They
meant all of us.
But we're not really here
to talk about the election, are we?
The business of the
Democratic Party is supposed to be trafficking, however ineptly, in the
plausible. The left is supposed to
test the limits of the possible. Instead,
the left " specifically, the anti-war left " has been content to settle:
to settle for less, to settle for anything.
Frank Costanza once said that he found tinsel?distracting.
That left should have paid him better heed.
Today, on a newsstand, you
may find, next to Norman Mailer's denunciation of Empire (cover article on
Patrick Buchanan's The American Conservative), the latest Tikkun,
Bush's Rush to War
Now, George W. Bush has
conspicuously not rushed. Set
aside the fact that any war not at least begun by Sept. 10, 2001 is already too
late. How is it possible to find
any rush to war?
Here's one answer.
To accuse someone of rushing to war is not to object to war as such, only
to claim that it is premature. And
it is premature because it first must be cleared by somebody or other " who,
somewhere along the line is expected to say "no? and end the discussion.
First, it needed Congressional approval, or the Constitution would be
shredded. That approval was handily
won. (The objection was then raised
that it was extorted, and so wasn't really approval, or it was intended some
other way, and so on.) Next, we
couldn't go it alone; and however many countries are in alliance, some other
country's approval is needed. The
U. N. must say yes; and the Security Council did, unanimously. Unspoken in all this is:
We must approve and we never will.
But there are things this
"we? will approve. Start with
the United Nations Organization, which is mistaken for a world government or an
embodiment of the world's opinion. It
is neither. The U.N. is a place where differences may be aired, not where they
must be resolved. It is ineffective
by design. Any body where one vote
out of five may block action is deeply committed to stasis. Its record in the field is unsurprising.
Massacres in Africa, in East Timor, in Srebenica have been carried out
under the noses of armed U.N. representatives.
The anti-war left of today aspires to be an update of the movement
against the Vietnam war. But that
movement owed exactly nothing to the U.N. And
the U.N.'s pet cause, the "Palestinian people," is the product of the 1967
war, which was the product of the withdrawal of U.N. troops from the Sinai,
which was, in turn, the product of nothing more than a simple request from
It would be easy to cite
instances of moral squalor at the U.N., but the point lies elsewhere.
Just as the U.N. is not designed to be effective, it is not designed to
be good. It is an assemblage of the
world's governments, and not even on their best behavior.
It is l?homme moyen tyrannique.
It is The World As Is, alibis included.
The anti-war left's
appeal to "international law? is baseless.
International law is a kind of law. But just as a Dutch uncle is not your mother's brother, or
a French letter doesn't belong in a mailbox, international law won't get a
car towed from your driveway. It is
either purely consensual (countries agreeing to mediation), impurely consensual
(smaller countries yielding to larger countries or to consortia of the more
powerful), or not consensual at all, but with some semblance of benignity (e.g.
The Nuremburg trials, which acquitted a few defendants, and hanged the clearly
deserving). It is a law without a
sovereign. And, in present
circumstances, it is no impediment at all to, say, a nuclear war.
Here at home, the anti-war left has found more reasons to be cheerful. They may fairly wiggle out of the embrace of a David Duke (although their discomfort is entirely deserved).5 But if they only seem to be saying the same things as Duke, they really are saying the same thing as Brent Scowcroft, as Colin Powell (and the State Department generally), and if he would have them, as Henry Kissinger. Their main voice in the press is not, say, a contemporary I. F. Stone's Weekly, but The New York Times.
The CIA has struck a dovish
pose. Well, okay, but what should
their opinion count for? 9/11,
after all, calls their performance into question.
They may or may not have been grossly at fault.
If they were, their opinion isn't worth much (and even less, if they
have to make excuses, without seeming to, for their failures)
If they weren't, it's
for one of two reasons. Either they
caved under pressure from the left, as the right claims (the culture of Allen
Dulles yielded to the culture of Frank Church), or nobody could reasonably have
been expected to prevent 9/11. Neither
seems entirely true, nor entirely false. But
whether the CIA is in disarray, or just out of its depth, it can't speak too
authoritatively. A few years back,
it was asked, What's left of the left? Today,
it should be, what's left to the left?
The military, bless "em,
is pro-war, and, bless "em, good at it. The
anti-war left, though, has latched on to a few retired generals.
These guys, who oppose war, need to be heard.
Now, a few opinions are possible about the American military. Here are two: First, it is the most efficient human rights
organization on earth. Second, it
is an organization that specializes in atrocity. Among those who make up the
anti-war left, almost no-one believes the first, while the second is almost an
Article of Faith. It's worth
asking: if war on Iraq has everything to do with human rights, and
the military is antithetical to human rights, are old soldiers even competent to
talk about this stuff? A retired
military officer's arguments (like anybody else's) deserve consideration,
but it is not a uniform that speaks. The
members of the anti-war left, so long so hostile to the military, are now
telling the rest of us, 'they're baby-killers, yes, but they're wise
The anti-war left has come to adore deterrence.
They, for real (or as for real as they get), have learned to stop
worrying and love the bomb. There used to be talk of the overwhelming psychic burden that
the very existence of nuclear weapons brought.
Martin Amis, for one, claimed the thought of the Bomb made him literally
nauseous. Turns out, according to the peace movement, it's not so bad.
M.A.D. did work " but it almost didn't, and it probably won't in
changed historical circumstances. Its very success is dangerously lulling.
It was more bearable to think that M.A.D. made us invulnerable. It did
not, and present strategies (airport security, etc.) that pretend to make us
invulnerable are useful but insufficient. Enemies
like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, etc. must have their vulnerability brought home
to them, just as ours has irreversibly been brought home to us.
The World Islamic Front " and its admirers " never doubted that we
could incinerate them, only that we would.
That confidence needs to be erased:
if less bloodily, better, but erased certainly, and erased forever.
Containment has found some
new admirers. It worked,
supposedly, with the USSR, and it could with, for example, Iraq. But in the Cold War, it worked uncertainly, and only by
default; and it ended with a kind of rollback.
In the case of Iraq, containment has already failed.
And Iraq is only a special instance of a larger problem.
At the heart of almost all Arab politics " all successful6 Arab
politics " is a genocidal racism. That
racism will not be kept behind lines on a map.
And even if containment did work, there's a moral issue.
Direct, all-out military confrontation with the USSR could not have been
won. The term "captive nation?
used to enjoy some currency. Iraq
is clearly such a nation, and its captors can be killed.
To urge containment is to consent to quite a lot.
It's easy to live next door to a torture chamber.
When it gets loud, just shut your windows.
The case for inspections is
a version of the fondness for containment.
It begins, of course, by jettisoning the whole question of human rights.
But by what right do you impose an inspections regime on this state, if
not that it is illegitimate? Why
then tolerate it at all? You may
(probably foolishly) think it's easier for you, but there are other people in
the world. What recommends
inspections? The latest Dissent,
online, features an article by Michael Walzer, "Inspections Yes, War No."
Inspections, in other words, don't have to work; they only have to be
anything-but. Hans Blix is hardly
likely to report a material breach. Kofi
Annan still finds Saddam someone "I can work with."
Ineffectual, world-without-end inspections become their own objective.
Further, if inspections are advisable, it is because they are
indispensable; and they did not become indispensable suddenly.
How many of those now so resolute for inspections have been pressing the
point only in recent years? Inspections
are better than no inspections. But
only the prospect of massive American violence has produced the current round.
Clearly, better than the drole de paix has been the threat of
force; and better than the threat of force, it will prove, will be the use
The Arabs, generically,
have been cast as the latest example, a particularly unsuitable one, of what
used to be known as a substitute proletariat.
They, and particularly the "Palestinians," are imagined to be
victimized. Ramsey Clark talked
Lynne Stewart into representing the first crop of World Trade Center bombers
with the argument that the "Arab world? should not feel abandoned by the
American left. Shouldn't an
American left be "Abd-al Rahman's worst enemy?
Arab political aspirations
didn't used to rate very high on the left.
When " infrequently " an argument was made for some military
dictator, it was not because he was "progressive? exactly, but because he
opposed the most reactionary types imaginable " precisely the "Abd-al
Rahmans. The mustaches were deemed
preferable to the beards; but today's anti-war left is happy to lie for the
beards, to chercher l?infame. The
Arab side " and particularly the "Palestinians? " admired Mussolini,
backed Hitler, allied with the USSR, will now support both Saddam and Usaama.
That the anti-war movement is embracing al-watan-al-?arabi is not good news
for either side.
The left has, for some time, been very needy. Two examples: one Trotskyist group in the "80's liked to paint this on walls: SUPPORT SOVIET AID TO AFGHANISTAN. There spoke
10 years ago'
conviction, though its
appeal was not broad. The second
example is the freeze movement. That
movement was generally in sympathy with Soviet positions.
This was not because the freeze movement was a Communist operation, but
because of what the Situationists had called, in a related context, an absence
of imagination. The USSR was not cherished as a heroic myth of October, but
acceded to as part of the world as given. The world was not alterable, and the
left wasn't going to try. The
freeze movement sprang from exhaustion.
It failed in its immediate objectives, and it was disappointed in its
larger expectations. It left
nothing behind but candidates for the next bad idea.
And NO WAR ON IRAQ is one
such bad idea. A couple of months
ago, I saw a sticker on a lamppost that said, "Invading Iraq is so 10 years
ago." It's a sentiment that's
not true, and it lacks a certain intellectual heft.
But it does have charm, wit, style.
It popped into someone's head. Naturally,
the anti-war left has preferred the supercilious "NOT IN OUR NAME," the
prissy (and unearned) "Our grief is not a cry for war," the beating-worthy
"Move On." "No Blood for
Oil," weary then, has aged particularly badly.
People who are really going to war for access to oil do not first insist
on sanctions. One would expect them
to act like a CEO of Haliburton in the "90s, not like the Vice President of
the United States in 2002. One
would expect them to cozy up to the Saudis " who call Saddam "brother."
Nineteenth Century models of imperialism don't fit the modern petroleum
market. Middle Eastern oil,
discovered by Western geologists, dug by Western engineers, maintained by
Western technology, funded by Western capital, valuable because of Western
industry, transported by pipelines of Western design, manufacture, and
maintenance, or by Western tankers in seas protected by American warships "
that oil is simply theirs. Licensing
agreements have been torn up. Marketing
practices that would have resulted in long prison sentences here have been
routine. A country like Libya could
expropriate the assets of a Western oil company with no fear of retaliation.
The OPEC members most eager to jack up prices in the "70s were those
staunch pro-Americans " the Pahlavi and the ibn Sa?ud families.
War in Iraq is no more about oil than the war in Vietnam was.
But, the further objection
is raised, Saddam may not be the very worst the world has to offer.
What difference does it make? He's
past due, and if he goes before, say Hassan Nasrallah, that's a matter not of
ethics or strategy, but simply tactics. Democratic
sensibilities should not be squeamish. The
anti-war movement would rather go on about Bush's war. When Bush
appeared at Ground Zero, he was not selling war to those present on 9/11.
The people of New York had known what must follow, while George Bush was
still sailing among the clouds. The
left looks at Bush and says, "We're not him."
The truth is, Not even him. The
anti-war movement would rather parade its blamelessness and purity of intention
than acknowledge a harsh but not irremediable world. Their loss. Wo
ich war, soll es werden.
Leftists fancy themselves
as those who dare to dream. Rather,
they're the party with the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door.
12 " 6 " 02
* * *
1 Neighbor, how stands The Nation" Week after week it serves up its three unreadable stylists,
John Leonard, Alexander Cockburn, and the now departed Christopher Hitchens; big
articles?like Jonathan Schell?on nuclear weapons?(con); Katha Pollitt's
'subject to Debate? (Her and who else?
As Beatrice says to Benedick: "Nobody marks you."); the humor column
" the humor column is a must! " by Calvin Trillin; and in the back of the
book a lot of dancing about architecture: musical
criticism, Edward Said on treble, Gene Santoro on bass, and if you still
haven't had enough, Stuart Klawans on movies.
reason The Nation can be found in dentists? waiting rooms. After, needles, hooks, drills, and pliers will all seem sweet
2 Arafat's own security forces are tasked with the killing of
the unarmed, Arabs, Jews, and others.
3 Commentators on the right gleefully resurrected warlike
remarks, from 1998, by Tom Daschle. But
who backed him up then? There's
enough hypocrisy for everybody.
4 In the (U.K.) Guardian, dated December 5, there is a
short article strongly suggesting that the recent attempted mass murder in a
Moscow theater was a job contracted out from Saudi Arabia.
5 When Laurent Murawiec gave a presentation before the Defense
Policy Board where he offered some " actually " pretty penetrating
observations on Saudi Arabia, he was denounced by the peace movement.
But he was not answered with argument.
Rather, it was noted that, some years back, Murawiec had an association
with Lyndon La Rouche. Murawiec was therefore discredited. Richard Perle, who had attended the presentation was
discredited. Paul Wolfowitz by
extension was discredited. The war
party was discredited. The peace
movement embodies reason. Q.E.D.
Rouche himself is firmly in the peace camp.
'successful? here is a relative term.
Charles O?Brien's articles on the war " and other subjects " are online at http://www.firstofthemonth.org . ##
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