The Dirty War of the Tough-Minded Liberals
Democrats Seek to Disappear Chomsky, Nader
by Mark Hand
October 25, 2003
First Published in Press Action
About two weeks ago, I reviewed Diana Johnstone's Fools' Crusade, an excellent book that takes a critical look at U.S. and European intervention in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Johnstone explains how a large number of people on the political left fell so deeply for the propaganda campaign to Hitlerize the regime of Slobodan Milosevic that they were willing to support NATO's brutal weeks-long aerial bombardment of Serbia.
Soon after writing the review, I came across an op-ed piece in the Washington Post by E.J. Dionne that proved Johnstone's thesis was not exclusively applicable to the period of Yugoslavia's breakup. Certain left-of-center opinion-makers are as feverish for U.S. wars of conquest in the 21st century as they were for the military campaigns against Serbia in the 1990s. In the post-9/11 world, liberals have forgotten that, as Johnstone explains, "humanitarian intervention was the standard pretext for all the Western imperialist conquests of the past."
In his column, Dionne confers high praise on a new book edited by George Packer entitled The Fight Is For Democracy, which contains writings by what Dionne calls a "gathering of tough-minded liberals." What makes these liberals so tough-minded? In Dionne's mind, a tough-minded liberal (TML) is someone who's not afraid to give the U.S. military a green light to wage war under certain circumstances. In other words, the TMLers support invading and pillaging countries as long as the invading and pillaging is performed in the name of American democracy.
Dionne locates rhetorical gems in Packer's book that he believes prove certain liberals "are ready to criticize their own side." Here, Dionne distorts the debate over U.S. foreign policy occurring on the left. Since when did Noam Chomsky and others of his libertarian socialist bent switch to the Democratic Party's side? I would suggest that Dionne's American empire-loving liberals are as far apart ideologically from the legions of Chomskyites as members of Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert's regime, who used the German Freikorps to kill Rosa Luxembourg in 1919, were from the leftist revolutionaries of post-World War I Germany.
In his paean to establishment liberalism, Dionne drafts essayist Michael Tomasky into the TML brigade on the merits of his contribution to the Packer book. Tomasky's essay, "Between Cheney and Chomsky: Making a Domestic Case for a New Liberal Foreign Policy," includes a passage that could easily serve as the rallying cry for Dionne's TML brigade. "There was a liberal case for invading Iraq which has nothing to do with trumped-up arguments about Saddam's nuclear capability and everything to do with the suffering of the Iraqi people — that is, it has to do with free elections, freedom of assembly and speech, equality under the law, everything we say we hold dear and need to be willing to support, even militarily if it becomes necessary," Tomasky writes.
Tomasky's belief in invading a country for its own good represents American liberalism in its most classic sense. Liberals are secular missionaries whose aim is to travel the country and the world, sermonizing about the sanctity of American culture and government. Tomasky's essay shows how establishment liberals aren't far removed at all from the much-maligned neocons running the Bush administration — both groups are committed to a radically interventionist U.S. foreign policy.
Tomasky is the new executive editor of American Prospect, the house organ for such tough-minded liberals of the Democratic Party as Robert Kuttner, Paul Starr, Robert Reich and Bill Moyers. Prior to taking over as executive editor of TAP in September, Tomasky wrote an attention-grabbing treatise in July on the proper methods for stamping out the voices of political parties that might siphon votes away from the chosen candidates of the Democratic Party.
Tomasky attacks the Green Party for daring to consider running a candidate in the 2004 race, what Democrats are promoting as the most important presidential election in U.S. history — because the marketing message, "Vote for the lesser of two evils," didn't work in 2000. The Democrats want to scare those leftists who are disgruntled with the two-party system into voting for whomever is the nominee of the Democratic Party. Unlike many people attracted to the democratic political message of the Green Party, Tomasky takes pride in the fact that he and his fellow TMLers have had the decency not to abandon the Democratic Party.
In the TAP essay, Tomasky warns his readers about how the Green Party might once again make Ralph Nader its nominee, or how the Greens could turn to Cynthia McKinney. If they fail to attract a candidate with name recognition, the Greens are viewed as foolish enough to run someone else, an act that Tomasky worries still would take away enough votes from the Democrats to give G.W. Bush a sure victory at the polls next November. "[S]hort of a megalomaniac whose tenuous purchase on present-day reality threatens to cancel out every good thing he's done in his life, or a discredited anti-Semite, they'll settle for someone less distinguished," Tomasky writes of Nader, McKinney and the Greens.
Unlike the 2000 election, Tomasky says Democrats this time around should play hardball with Ralph Nader who still hasn't ruled out accepting a Green Party invitation to run for president. Attack him right now, "with lupine ferocity," Tomasky says. "Say he's a madman for thinking of running again. Blast him especially hard on foreign policy, saying that if it were up to the Greens, America would give no aid to Israel and it would cease to exist, and if it were up to the Greens, America would not have even defended itself against a barbarous attack by going into Afghanistan."
Tomasky does his Democratic Party colleagues a disservice with this attack list because it once again shows how closely the Democrats are aligned with the Republicans on many issues, especially those related to foreign policy. Democrats are as fond of giving aid to the apartheid regime in power in Israel as Republicans. Bombing and occupying Afghanistan was an overwhelmingly bipartisan endeavor as was giving John Ashcroft a blank check to wage war on civil liberties in the United States through the passage of the USA Patriot Act.
The fact that the Democrats voted in lockstep with the Republicans to take away some of our freedoms here at home immediately after 9/11 seems to have escaped Tomasky. He writes that had a Democrat been selected for the Oval Office in 2000, the United States would not have had the Patriot Act. Really? Does Tomasky have information about the 9/11 attacks that he isn't sharing? The implication is the twin towers of the World Trade Center would not have collapsed under the leadership of a President Gore.
But the only way we could have avoided the Patriot Act with Al Gore as president was to have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Because had those attacks occurred under the watch of a Gore/Lieberman administration, Gore and his spineless Democratic colleagues in Congress certainly would have sprinted to draft a liberty-eroding bill to "fight terrorism" at home to prove to the establishment media that they could be as tough-minded as Republicans.
Democrats had plenty of practice with riding roughshod over the Bill of Rights during Clinton's two terms. Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair wrote in November 2001 that the contents of the terrorism bill that the Bush administration sent to Congress on Sept. 19, 2001 surely were very familiar to Democrats because "in large part they had been offered by the Clinton administration as portions of the Counter-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996."
The Democratic Party and Its Historical Fondness for War
In the 1960s, Democrats also were firmly supportive of the U.S. military's slaughter in Southeast Asia as well as the FBI's war against dissent here at home. But in his essay contribution to "The Fight Is For Democracy," Tomasky argues that the war in Vietnam was not the work of liberals in Washington and that President Johnson was forced into escalating U.S. involvement because he was worried about the political cost of withdrawal. Tomasky cites a statement Johnson made to his friend, Georgia Democratic Senator Richard B. Russell, during Johnson's presidential campaign against Barry Goldwater. "They would impeach a president that would run out, wouldn't they?" Johnson asked Russell.
Tomasky reveals that he believes the U.S. war in Vietnam was wrong. If you combine this claim with his allegiance to the Democratic Party, then it's not surprising that Tomasky blames the escalation of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam under both Kennedy and Johnson on "conservatives" in Congress. The conservative arguments in 1964-65 were "dead wrong," Tomasky writes. "They forced us into a war we shouldn't have fought."
In 1968, at the height of U.S. intervention in Vietnam, Tomasky argues that public opinion shifted toward a "liberal foreign policy," a trend that lasted through 1978. Since then, the general public has returned to a mood of providing Washington as much leeway as it needs to place its stamp — militarily, if necessary — on the rest of the world. The Chomskyites and others on the left have failed to recognize this shift in U.S. public opinion, Tomasky argues.
In this new world, Tomasky says that liberals must have something "to be for" with regard to foreign policy in order to counter the competitive advantage held by the Republicans in taking credit for expanding the global U.S. empire. Tomasky explains: "While doing the above to contend against Cheneyism, liberals must make a clear break with Chomskyism as well."
Tomasky urges liberals to "separate themselves explicitly and conclusively from the Left, and from those vestiges of the liberal foreign-policy argument that suggest equivocation about America's capacity as a moral force."
Clearly, Tomasky's vision of something "to be for" doesn't include a foreign policy that softens the sting felt by many countries who come into contact with the endless tentacles of U.S. government and corporate interests. On the contrary, Tomasky's current vision for U.S. foreign policy is based on maintaining U.S. primacy around the world.
This liberal interpretation is grounded in the simplistic narratives included in U.S. history textbooks. America's policy of isolationism of the 1920s and 30s turned a blind eye to the fascism that was taking hold in Europe and Asia, or so the story goes. After defeating the original Axis of Evil, America then found itself confronted by the menace of communist totalitarianism, which provoked successive U.S. presidential administrations into committing many mistakes, the Vietnam War being the biggest. The disappearance of the Iron Curtain in 1990, however, gave the United States a new lease on life to make up for its sins of the past by spreading its style of democracy around the world with impunity.
Since nuclear war with the Soviet Union is no longer a possibility, the liberal missionaries now realize they must use this window of opportunity to forge ahead with purpose and fortitude to transform the undemocratic world into the image of America. As ambassadors for what is good about America, the liberal missionaries are taken aback when pundits on "their own side" criticize their efforts to galvanize world opinion behind U.S.-style democracy, especially now that the countervailing force that existed during the Cold War has crumbled.
The anger against the likes of Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal has been building among the liberal missionaries since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Out of this anger emerged the tough-minded liberals who now feel they must loosen their chains in order to confront their enemies on the left. Friction has always existed among the various shades on the left side of the U.S. political spectrum, especially since the Russian Revolution of 1917. These simmering hostilities have occasionally boiled over into virtual war, with anger against Johnson's war in Vietnam and the resulting 1968 Democratic presidential nomination fiasco serving as clear examples.
Another showdown is brewing for 2004. In his American Prospect essay, Tomasky lobs a grenade toward his enemies on the left. "Nader is obviously out to kill the Democrats," he writes. "The collateral damage, to regular citizens whose lives are directly affected by which party is in power, is not his concern. He has long since quit caring about that. It's time a Democrat killed back."
It's apparent that anti-imperialist forces on both the left and the right in America have nothing in common with those tough-minded liberals and neocons who dominate foreign policy in Washington. Although not a pure anti-imperialist, Dennis Kucinich represents the closest thing the Democrats have to someone who will roll back the dangerous empire-building policies of the last 25 years. Kucinich isn't viewed as evil incarnate by Tomasky because the Ohio congressman can be easily neutralized through his decision to work inside the Democratic Party.
Political aspirants who dare to work outside the Democratic Party and who continue to challenge the radical foreign policy direction of the tough-minded liberals are now public enemy number one. When George Packer refers to a "fight for democracy" in his new book, he's not referring to battles against Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. Instead, Packer, Tomasky and their fellow TMLers have declared war on Americans of all political stripes who oppose the United States' endless flexing of its political, economic and military muscle around the world.