The passions of war in a divided nation can be not only unpleasant, but dangerous as well. They can tie our hands, weaken our resolve, and make us vulnerable to those who are determined to destroy us. When lives are at stake – and those lives are our own – it is easy to abandon common civilities and to think of our opponents as an enemy camp vying for the power to determine our fates.
In these circumstances it is easy to forget the ties that bind us as one nation indivisible. In these times, it is easy for the worst passions in each of us to come to the surface, while the worst among us often seize control of the public debate. With the election over, however, and the contest for power decided for the moment, a window of opportunity has opened in which each of us can strive to check these currents and reaffirm our common heritage and humanity and faith.
The most important thing to be clear about in thinking through these matters is whether the differences are based in good faith. If they are not, no common front is possible. If they are, then we can agree to disagree and defend our country at the same time.
I cannot speak for opponents of the war, but if I were among them I would not find it possible to embrace people whom I believed had supported the war in Iraq for motives that were venal and reasons that are corrupt. If I believed in my heart that George Bush and Dick Cheney lied to send young Americans to war to make profits for Halliburton and to steal Iraq’s oil, I would consider them my enemies and would not be able to find a common ground to include them. If I believed that America was systemically disposed to oppress and abuse other nations, I would find myself in the enemy camp. This is indeed the problem for the hard core left, because it cannot see good in its own country, and therefore it cannot make common cause with the nation and its purposes.
As a supporter of the war, I make a distinction between those who oppose the war out of love country and those who don’t. Patriotic dissenters (to give them a name) criticize the war because they believe the conflict in Iraq reflects mainly honest but flawed decisions, weakens our security and distracts us from the task at hand. Unpatriotic critics (if I may use that term) are those who oppose the war because they regard America as essentially culpable, and share a common dream with our enemies of a world that is liberated from American oppression.
This is a view that has been expressed in manifold ways by leftists, for example, at an anti-war “teach-in” held at Columbia University in April 2003, just as the tyranny of Saddam Hussein was being ended by American troops in Baghdad. The teach-in was conducted by thirty Columbia professors, among whom was Nicholas DeGenova, who declared his wish for “a million Mogadishus.” The reference was to a massacre of U.S. troops by an al-Qaeda warlord in Somalia ten years before. “U.S. patriotism is inseparable from imperial warfare and white supremacy,” DeGenova told the 3,000 cheering students and faculty who attended the teach-in. “U.S. flags are the emblem of the invading war machine in Iraq today. They are the emblem of the occupying power. The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military.” DeGenova went on to affirm that peace was indeed “subversive” – his word -- “because peace anticipates a very different world than the one in which we live, a world where the U.S. would have no place.”
DeGenova’s view of the war in Iraq and of the importance of America’s defeat is one that is widely shared on the political left. Robert Jensen, for example, is a professor at the University of Texas. As American marines engaged Sunni terrorists in a fierce battle in Falluja on December 03, 2004,Jensen wrote: “The United States has lost the war in Iraq, and that’s a good thing…. I welcome the U.S. defeat, for a simple reason: It isn’t the defeat of the United States— its people or their ideals — but of that empire. And it’s essential the American empire be defeated and dismantled.” (Austin Statesman) In Jensen’s mind, the real America whose troops are dying in Iraq is separate from “its people or their ideals,” should be seen as an evil empire that needs to be destroyed.
This was the view of the Communist left, which regarded the Cold War as a struggle between the forces of socialism and an American Empire governed by a greeding “ruling class.” That made it possible for Communists to serve the Soviet enemy while claiming the mantle of “patriotism” for their acts. The same view animates the leaders of the two national “peace” organizations that have coordinated all the major demonstrations against the Iraq War. Both International ANSWER and the Coalition United for Peace and Justice are run by Marxist veterans of the previous “anti-imperialist struggle” to defeat the United States.
This is also the view of Tom Hayden who was a leader of the New Left’s efforts to support the Communists in Vietnam and later became a Democratic State Senator. In an article on the leftwing website www.alternet.org called “How to End the War in Iraq” Hayden has spelled out a concrete plan for Americans who want to defeat their country in war. In Hayden’s words: “The anti-war movement can force the Bush administration to leave Iraq by denying it the funding, troops, and alliances necessary to its strategy for dominance.” This is the voice – let us not mince words -- of a self-declared enemy of the United States (and in Hayden’s case, a lifelong enemy). Of course, this treachery is committed in the name of higher ideals, which Hayden has every right to express. But so do others have a right to judge them for what they are.
A more celebrated prophet of the anti-American left is Michael Moore, who has regularly denied the very existence of a terrorist threat. (If there is no terrorist threat, then American policy looks predatory indeed.) Moore’s repellent perspective and activities did not prevent him from being honored with a seat next to a former President, Jimmy Carter, at the Democratic National Convention, from gaining the support of many Democratic Party leaders at the opening of Farenheit 911, his screed against America’s war in Iraq. In a statement defending the Zarqawi terrorists Moore has said: “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘The Enemy.’ They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win. Get it, Mr. Bush?” A man who thinks that the terrorists are not the enemy, clearly believes that America is. If you are convinced, like Michael Moore, that America is the global imperialist power and that the future progress of mankind depends on an American defeat in this war, then you will necessarily think of the terrorist enemy as a liberating force that is serving the function that leftists like him are presently too weak or too cowardly to accomplish on their own: to bring down the Great Satan himself.
There was a refreshing candor to the movement of the Sixties (to which both Moore and Hayden belonged), which has been absent in recent incarnations of the left. Out of disgust with the Stalinist generation that posed as “progressive” and “liberal,” the New Left openly proclaimed itself revolutionary and proud of it. It is true that, in order to mobilize large constituencies, leaders of the anti-Vietnam movement claimed that their only agendas were “peace” and “justice,” and that they organized opposition to the war under the banner of “Bring the Troops Home,” as though their primary concern was the safe return of American soldier. But there were also many in the movement’s ranks who remained true to the code of New Left authenticity by flying the flags of the Communist enemy and chanting “Victory to the Vietcong.” Tom Hayden was one of these worthies, and even attempted to incite a guerrilla war in American cities in a radical homage to his Communist heroes in Vietnam. In fact, victory for the Communists in Vietnam was an agenda of all New Leftists at the time, though it is also true that many anti-war liberals who did not share this hope were seduced into joining the demonstrations the New Leftists organized.
It is this amalgamation of forces on the left – both liberal and radical – that makes the present task of distinguishing patriots who disagree with the policies in Iraq from anti-American radicals who want to bring down the “empire.” This latter group rarely expresses its goals as candidly as Professor DeGenova did at the Columbia teach-in. That is because it is aware that its revolutionary goals constitute an outlaw agenda the vast majority of Americans would reject.
It would be far easier to separate this anti-American left from patriotic critics, if the patriots would do some of the separating themselves. It is difficult to establish such a separation, for example, when leaders of the Democratic Party are embracing unsavory figures like Michael Moore, or when anti-American radicals become Democratic Party legislators. It is difficult when prominent figures in the Democratic Party embrace MoveOn.org radicals who opposed the war in Afghanistan and allow them to become one of the principal funders of the Party’s campaigns. Further complicating the task of clarity is the existence of an entire Internet industry, funded by liberal donors, whose agenda is to smear conservatives as “rednecks,” “racists” and “witch-hunters” whose agenda is to tar any criticism of the war as unpatriotic.
These smear sites include David Brock’s MediaMatters, MediaTransparency, PublicEye, NameBase, Disinfopedia, SouthernPovertyLawCenter, and the “Rightwing Watch” section of www.PeoplefortheAmericanWay.org. I don’t for a moment suggest that conservatives are free of any guilt when it comes to using a broad brush in dealing with political opponents. On the other hand, if radicals pretend to be liberals and liberals embrace them, it’s understandable if their opponents often miss the difference.
The failure of the patriotic left to dissociate itself from the Haydens and Moores, the Coalitions United For Peace And Justice, and MoveOn.org, often expresses itself in the form of venomous attacks on conservatives who do make these distinctions. I, myself, have been attacked this way, even though I have criticized conservative writers who failed to recognize the patriotism of leftists critical of the war. The technique of lumping opponents for purposes of attack has a name in the leftwing tradition. Trotsky called it attack by “amalgam,” as when Stalinists smeared their Bolshevik opponents for allegedly being “in league with Hitler and the Mikado,” because all of them were opponents of the Stalin regime. Stalinists coined the term “social fascists” to attack democrats and socialists whom they opposed.
A post in Brock’s site, MediaMatters follows this well-worn pattern. It accuses me of attacking all Democrats as enemies of America. In fact, in the article cited I was attacking only one faction in the Democratic Party whose criticisms of the war were unprincipled and reckless. Here is the MediaMatters post: “David Horowitz [says] Democrats, media are ‘getting Americans killed in Iraq … because of their pathological hatred of George Bush.’” The Media Matters charge has stimulated several emails of complaint to the effect that I have unfairly tarred patriotic Democrats with the unpatriotic brush.
In fact, the editorial I wrote, an which MediaMatters even linked, says exactly the opposite. The headline I wrote makes this clear. It says: “This is Not a Magazine about Republicans and Democrats But About a War We Have to Win.” In my editorial, which was published the day before the election, I observed that this was “a season of poisoned politics and fierce divisions,” and attempted to distinguish between patriotic dissenters from the war and those who wanted the United States to lose it. I referred to conservative critics who were suspicious of nation building and feared that Iraq was a distraction from the larger war on terror. Of them I said, “These are patriots and belong in our camp.” My very next sentences were:
There are worthy Democrats who belong there too. Joe Lieberman should have been the Democrats’ candidate for President. Dick Gephardt would have made an equally worthy leader. Both have been models of principle as potential leaders of the opposition, but have been silenced by the stampeded majority of their party from the common purpose and by the frenzy of hatred against the incumbent George Bush.
I have made similar distinctions elsewhere, including in my book Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left. But none of this has prevented critics of mine, like Fox host Alan Colmes, from accusing me of “McCarthyism” because I allegedly do not make such distinctions. In fact, I have always made been mindful that many opponents of the war are patriots. I have even posted the articles of anti-war critics on the FrontPage site, including Todd Gitlin who was one of the professors at the Columbia teach-in. Nonetheless, the smear campaign against me (and conservatives like me) is so pervasive in the constituencies of the left that nothing I could write would shake their conviction. And this is precisely what leftwing smear tactics are intended to do: silence any opposition.
The other day I received an email from a friend of mine who is a leftist, a Democrat and an opponent of the war, but also a man whose eloquent expressions of patriotism I have posted on www.FrontPagemag.com. Sherman Alexie is a Spokane Indian, and one of the most talented and lyrical writers of our time. I can’t recommend highly enough his novel Reservation Blues or his most recent collection of poignant stories, Ten Little Indians. The email I received from Sherman was provoked by the false representation of my position on the MediaMatters site.
Wow, all you guys calling each other names. Such entertainment. Do you think Jack White, in calling you an angry man, reveals himself as an angry man? And do you think David Brock realizes he’s the jailhouse stoolie of the Republican Party? Yeah, I figure he’s telling the truth about his former Republican dirty trickster friends, but now he seems to have become a Democratic dirty trickster. What's the difference between a Republican and Democratic dirty trickster? Only the source of funding.
And David, where’s your logic? How can you possibly accuse various leftists of dirty tricks and slander when you have accused us anti-war folks and Bush-haters of getting troops killed? There is no larger insult, no greater accusation of evil than that, David. And wildly inaccurate.
You make it sound like only pro-war Republicans have friends and family in Iraq. That only pro-war Republicans are worried about the troops. At every talk I give, I ask all of the people who have friends and/or family in the military to raise their hands. Then I ask the Republicans to lower their hands. There are always dozens of hands still raised. Do you think all of those anti-war Democrats want their friends and families to die?
Talk about elitist! David, I guarantee you that I have more friends and family in the military than you do now or have ever had. I know hundreds of current and ex-soldiers. I’m an email pen pal to a dozen friends in Iraq. Republican small town guys who believe in their mission, who love their country and their families, but who count on me to be the anti-war guy even as I send them all of my prayers and support and dirty jokes.
It’s the whole red state-blue state separation illusion. There are millions of us redstate children who became bluestate adults and we live and love in both worlds.
I was disappointed that Sherman could be so influenced by Brock’s post and that he could think I didn’t understand his own deep affection for his country, after I had posted his writing on my site. I disagree with him, moreover, that Brock was telling the truth either before or after his conversion. Brock is so much a hired gun and so little a reporter that if he does tell a truth here or there it’s more like an accident than an intended result. I also don’t think that being “bluestate” is a sign of maturity. But this kind of disagreement is what makes life interesting.
In my reply to Sherman I pointed out that in thinking that only conservatives were making serious charges, he had missed the other side of the conversation (a rarity for him). When opponents of the war say that the war is not just wrong-headed but based on “lies,” that it is a “fraud” concocted for the President’s friends in Texas and that the President and those who support him are getting Americans killed for no reason, that is just as serious an accusation as mine. Moreover, these charges from the left came first, and it is these very attacks – not general dissent from the war -- that in my view are “getting Americans killed.”
There will always be dissenters in a democracy. It is the air we breathe. My concern (and that of the article I wrote) is not about dissenters but about those who have fundamentally broken with America and its purposes and gone over to the enemy camp. It is also about opportunistic Democratic leaders, like Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy and Al Gore who have broken with the tradition of bi-partisanship in foreign affairs to attack the President in the reckless fashion they did. In my view, to call the commander-in-chief a liar and a traitor is to sabotage the war effort and undermine our troops in Iraq. Dissent by my friend Sherman Alexie -- and others like him -- is not. Leaders of the Democratic opposition have a greater responsibility because of their position of national trust. The reckless charges made by Gore and Kennedy gave license to people who supported them and trusted them to open up a war within the war -- to conduct a war on the war from inside the American establishment. This is unprecedented in the modern era, indeed since the Civil War itself.
The way I put this view in a speech I gave at Georgetown University was as follows: “When you are eighteen or nineteen years old and you are in Fallujah surrounded by terrorists who want to kill you, and you hear the leader of the Democratic Party who is within a hair of the presidency say you shouldn’t be there in the first place -- that does more than simply ‘confuse’ you. It demoralizes you; it saps your will to fight, and it gets you killed.”
Similarly, when the New York Times runs stories about the mishandling of prisoners at Abu Ghraib story on its front pages for 65 days, humiliating America’s forces in Iraq and disorienting America’s allies, and when Ted Kennedy compares America’s prisons in Iraq to Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers, that is as effective as any enemy propaganda could be in demoralizing Americans and undermining their will to resist an enemy who is as ruthless as any they have ever faced. The Imam Ali Sistani the Shi’ite leader in Iraq said nothing about the matters at Abu Ghraib precisely because, unlike the Times’ leftwing editors, he wanted America’s liberating forces to win.
If things go badly in Iraq, the New York Times and the Democratic Party leadership have themselves partly to blame. Since Howard Dean and his supporters stampeded the Democratic Party into the anti-war camp, the Administration has had to fight the war in Iraq with one hand tied behind its back. To point this out, to say that this degree of distortion at the very center of America’s political debate and this volume of attack at the highest national levels gets Americans killed is obvious. It is an appropriate criticism. And it is very different from saying that any criticism of the war is tantamount to treason, or that all “anti-war folks” are in the enemy camp.
What Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and Ted Kennedy have done is to destroy the bi-partisan principle in the national debate on matters of war and peace. This was a tradition honored by both parties during the Cold War and up to the moment Al Gore and Jimmy Carter decided to throw it overboard in the fall of 2002. When Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, liberals hated him with ill-concealed passion. But no Democratic leader accused Ronald Reagan (or any Republican President) of betraying the American people on issues of war and peace, let alone of lying to put American troops in harms way, as Al Gore and Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy in regard to President Bush.
The anti-war left has obviously never operated under such constraints. “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” was but one of its characteristic “anti-war” cries. But even Democrats like Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy, who finally broke with the Vietnam War, never spoke about a President in office in the ugly accents employed by the present Democratic Party opposition. This decorum symbolized the bonds we shared as Americans and it made our country strong.
The closest any congressional figure came to the kind of poisonous rhetoric that has become commonplace of late was when radical congressman Ron Dellums told a “Stop the Draft” protest in Berkeley, that “Washington D.C. is a very evil place.” It was during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the first time the Red Army had crossed an international border since 1945, and Jimmy Carter’s Administration was trying to re-introduce a draft to meet the crisis. Dellums dismissed the Soviet threat in these words: “From my vantage point, as your Representative, I believe we are at a very dangerous moment. Washington, D.C. is a very evil place. While Mr. Zbigniew Breszinski (the President’s National Security Advisor) professes to see the arc of crisis in Southeast Asia as the Balkan tinderbox of World War III, well Ron Dellums sees the only arc of crisis being the one that runs between the basement of the West Wing of the White House and the war room of the Pentagon.”
Ron Dellums is a charter member of the anti-American left, a pro-Castro radical who colluded with the Marxist dictatorship in Grenada to deceive his own government about an airstrip Cuba was building on the island to accommodate Soviet nuclear bombers. But while Dellums denounced Jimmy Carter and his administration as evil and a threat to the peace, the Democrats themselves appointed him to head the congressional Subcommittee on Military Installations (worldwide) and then to head the House Armed Services Committee itself, the most powerful legislative position overseeing national defense. When Dellums eventually retired during the Clinton Administration, he was awarded the highest civilian honor for “service to his country” that the Pentagon can bestow.
This is what makes it difficult to draw the necessary distinctions on the Democratic side of the debate. It is also a reason why Democrats have a large credibility problem on issues of national defense, a key factor in deciding the last presidential election.
That election result, on the other hand, has begun to stimulate some second thoughts in liberal circles. Peter Beinart is the editor of The New Republic, which is a liberal magazine that thanks to its publisher Martin Peretz has generally taken a strong anti-Communist/anti-totalitarian position on matters of national defense. The December 13th issue of The New Republic contained a long and thoughtful essay by Beinart which was self-described as “An Argument for a New Liberalism” and specifically for an “anti-totalitarian liberalism.”
The problem, as Beinart posed it, was that while the Democrats had a “fairly hawkish foreign policy establishment” at the top of the party, “below this small elite sits a .. grassroots that views America’s new struggle [the war on terror] as a distraction if not a mirage.” Beinart calls the members of this grassroots “softs,” and believes that the Democratic Party has a dim electoral future if it continues to allow them to shape its policy. He recalls the days of the early Cold War when the Democratic Party was riddled with Communists and their sympathizers who thought the struggle against Stalin and the Soviet empire was also a distraction and a mirage. The remedy liberals eventually arrived at was to condemn the Communists and fellow-travelers (who called themselves “progressives” then as now), and expel them from their organizations.
The precursors of what Beinart calls the “softs” on totalitarian Islam were the followers of former Vice President Henry Wallace, who allowed himself to become the presidential candidate of the Communist-controlled Progressive Party and condemn the Cold War. Beinart identifies as current symbols of “Wallacism” in the Democratic Party, Michael Moore and MoveOn.org:
Moore views totalitarian Islam the way Wallace viewed Communism: As a phantom, a ruse employed by the only enemies that matter, those on the right. Saudi extremists may have brought down the twin Towers, but the real menace is the Carlyle Group. Today, most liberals naively consider Moore a useful ally, a bomb-thrower against a right-wing that deserves to be torched. What they do not understand is that his real casualties are on the decent left. When Moore opposed the war against the Taliban, he casts doubt on the sincerity of liberals who say they opposed the Iraq war because they wanted to win in Afghanistan first. When Moore says terrorism should be no greater a national concern than car accidents or pneumonia, he makes it harder for liberals to claim that their believe in civil liberties does not imply a diminished vigilance against al Qaeda.
Beinart is absolutely right about this and it is encouraging to hear him say that the time has come for liberals – the decent left -- to take back their movement. He takes as his model the purging of Communists from the CIO and other organizations by socialists like Walter Reuther and liberals like Hubert Humphrey and Harry Truman. “Liberals …must first take back their movement from the softs. We will know such an effort has begun when dissension breaks out within America’s key liberal institutions.”
I hope this happens, but I am not as sanguine as Beinart that it will. In the first place I think Beinart underestimates the opposition that decent leftists like him face in purging the “Communists” from their ranks. The left – the hard, indecent left – is much more powerful today than it was in the heyday of Communism. In the second place, the Michael Moores are not merely “softs” as Beinart describes them. (“The softs … were not necessarily Communists themselves. But they refused to make anti-Communism their guiding principle.”) There were, and are, softs like this. But Michael Moore and the leaders of the “anti-war” movement are more analogous to the Communists of the Cold War. They are activists who believe not that there is no enemy, but that we are the enemy. The fact that people like this are entrenched in major institutions of the Democratic Party, for example MoveOn.org and the constellation of Soros-inspired 527s, and in the leadership of the government unions and control the funding base of the Democratic Party is unprecedented, and will make this battle much more difficult. (On the other hand, the grim prospect of another 9/11 could alter the political dynamics overnight.)
The most important aspect of Beinart’s article and its support by The New Republic is that it reminds us that liberals like Beinart and my friend Sherman Alexie, share a common agenda with conservatives when it comes to defending this country and its liberties from the totalitarian enemy. This is the bond that makes us a nation, and it must stand before all others in matters of war and peace.