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A Nation of Fools By: Ryan O’Donnell
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, August 15, 2003


In the January 24, 1981, edition of The Nation, the late English historian E.P. Thompson anxiously chronicled what he perceived to be the growing gap between a petulant young America and its more judicious neighbors across the Atlantic. In the piece, entitled America’s Europe: A Hobbit Among Gandalfs, Thompson bemoaned “that the Atlantic seems to be growing wider, even though it now takes only some six hours to cross…there are times when Europe and America appear to have drifted beyond range of communication.” Thompson then proceeded to fondly recall a time when “opinion in the United States was finely attuned to the causes and issues of other nations,” an era in contrast to the present one where a new defensive concept of “pre-emptive deterrence” is destroying the United States’ standing with the international community.

It’s understandable if Thompson’s argument sounds familiar. It is, after all a nearly perfect representation of the apocalyptic scenarios routinely put forward by the Left since President Bush’s seminal 2002 State of the Union Address. For instance, on February 10, 2003, The Nation ran a piece entitled “USA Oui! Bush Non,” declaring “the emotional gap [between Europe and America] may well become deeper than it has ever been since the end of World War II.” In fact, according to The Nation in February 2003, a “divorce” between the United States and Europe appears “imminent.”  Subsequently, for the readership of The Nation, present concerns over the direction of American foreign policy must seem like déjà vu all over again. Just as the Reagan Administration’s strong stance against the USSR spooked Mr. Thompson and The Nation in the early eighties, The Nation’s twenty-first century incarnation is likewise quick to denounce the “unelected, unusually aggressive and unthinking” Bush administration as the catalyst for the present European/American rift. However, just as the end of the Cold War justified the Reagan Administration’s firm hand to the international community, the spread of democracy in the Middle East, much to the chagrin of the political Left, will be the Bush Administration’s legacy.

The argumentative slant of Thompson’s article is but one example of the fact that while the dates of The Nation’s alarmist rhetoric may change, the arguments are almost indistinguishable from decade to decade and century to century. As the flagship publication of the political Left, The Nation consistently champions leftists’ lost causes, supporting totalitarian and Communist regimes while simultaneously rejecting any suggestion the United States is justified in military, or even philosophical, opposition to these rogue states. However, while The Nation’s leftist vision of foreign policy has been constant, it has also proven to be consistently wrong. Throughout much of the twentieth century, and now, with its coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the twenty-first century, the political Left’s ideology, as profiled in The Nation, has been continually predictable, shortsighted and ultimately erroneous with the vast majority of its foreign policy analysis. Certainly, it would be unfair to criticize The Nation for a few instances in which ideological fervor clouded the publication’s rationale. However, for almost a century now, the pages of The Nation continues to illuminate the Left’s analytical inaccuracies in nearly every seminal foreign policy issue encountered by the United States.

At the conclusion of World War II, the political Left grew increasing vocal in its support for Stalin’s USSR. Predictably, The Nation’s articles began bleating the Stalinist line, arguing fervently against waging (or really retalitating in) the Cold War. Such erroneous inklings are clearly present in a 1930 edition of The Nation (vol.131, 3397), in which Oswald Garrison Villard questions whether or not, “the United States should make effective its disapproval of both the Russian and Italian dictatorships to aid in bringing them down in a collapse which would enable the masses of both countries to erect more democratic governments.” Rather than topple or contain oppressive  monsters like Stalin and Mussolini, Villard suggests perhaps the West should address domestic issues such as reforming the United States’ penal system.

Although Villard was one of the first voices in The Nation to reject the idea of an American foreign policy designed to undermine antagonistic governments, he was hardly the last. In the aftermath of World War II, The Nation expressed doubts over the success of the Marshall Plan, providing a forum for critics of this unprecedented aid package. (One such critic was Gunnar Myrdal, the head of the United Nations Economic Commission.) As was the case with the publication’s most recent antiwar crusade, The Nation frequently justified its opposition to the Marshall Plan by citing concerned international “experts” such as Myrdal. Writing in the August 13, 1930, edition of The Nation, a Mr. Del Vayo mocks the United States’ policy to divide the international community between capitalist and Communist, foreshadowing The Nation’s reaction to President Bush’s declaration that in the War on Terror, nations are either “with us or against us.” Underlining the Left’s intrinsic sympathy toward socialist dictatorships, Del Vayo exhorts The Nation’s readership to oppose the Marshall Plan and to “do away with our craven fears of the Communist menace.” By painting anti-Communists as pusillanimous rubes, Del Vayo provides a telling example of the Left’s fanciful political posturing that began during the Cold War era and persists to this day: Leftists are enlightened innocents doomed to be crucified by unsophisticated Red baiters.

In place of the Marshall Plan, which The Nation opposed,  Del Vayo advocates the gentle embrace of international trade and mediation in order to stave off the Armageddon a strong policy of containment would surely yield. According to The Nation, “Mussolini and Stalin can no more be overthrown from outside than Herbert Hoover be driven out of the White House by foreign pressure.” Nor, according to Del Vayo, did the United States, whose people are among the most “feared” and “hated” on earth, have any right to pass judgment on Stalin and his USSR.

Luckily, for freedom loving people across the globe, America’s leaders like Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan took a slightly different approach to dealing with the “Evil Empire.” The pressure wrought by the United States and its Western European allies, beginning with the Marshall Plan, drove the Soviet Monster to its knees, tore down the Berlin Wall and introduced capitalism to Eastern Europe, all with nary a mushroom cloud in sight. Not a bad century’s work for the most feared and hated people on the planet.

The Soviet Republic is by no means the only doomed dictatorship that has garnered support from The Nation and its leftist constituency. In the heady days following the Cuban Revolution, The Nation’s Carleton Beals, in an article reflecting the Left’s infatuation with all things Castro, proclaimed Fidel a “hero,” who had thus far “shown the finest qualities of true leadership: self-sacrifice, dedication, patience, confidence and ready pliability in the most difficult situations.” Beals also praises Castro’s call for “free elections” while gushing, “The revolution sweeps on in many directions…these are days of great promises and great hopes.” Unfortunately, Fidel Castro quickly extinguished any hope the Cuban people may have felt; the only direction in which the country progressed was towards poverty and despair. Yet, throughout Castro’s brutal reign, the political Left, as represented in the pages of The Nation, has been unable to bring itself to criticize the gross human rights violations and abject poverty that continue to strangle the Cuban people. Rather, The Nation has chosen to focus on alleged United States’ alleged ”aggression” towards the "defenseless" isle and its solicitous sovereign. For example, in the August 20, 1983, issue of The Nation, Sidney Lens referred to the Cuban Missile Crisis as an act of “U.S. belligerence” that “threatened to blow Cuba (and a good part of the rest of the world) off the map.” Defending Cuba as “one of the most egalitarian societies in the world” (obviously; everyone but Castro is poor), Lens rejects any suggestion that the United States is justified in undermining Castro’s workers’ paradise.

Throughout the 1980s, the Left's unbridled admiration for Fidel Castro seems to have prompted The Nation’s adamant opposition to American counter-revolution activity throughout Central and South America. In its December 17, 1983, issue, The Nation published a lengthy piece championing the Sandinistas’ cause, trumpeting how since overthrowing the government, the Marxist rebels had provided “health care, housing and social services to most of the population.” Once again, the Left's upbeat analysis was proven to be shortsighted. While the Sandinistas did initially offer some rudimentary reforms, their 1979 revolution inflicted substantial long-term damage to the Nicaraguan people. After seizing power, the Sandinistas set up a ruling junta, which rescinded the group’s previous demand for international nonalignment by accepting substantial military and financial aid from Cuba and the Soviet Union. The presence of Soviet and Cuban personnel and weaponry in Central America represented a violation of the Monroe Doctrine and subsequently threatened the United States national security. Yet, rather than focusing its energy on discussing not only why yet another socialist utopia their magazine supported had gone amiss, but why the Santanistas were compromising their “revolutionary principles” and embracing the USSR, leftists used The Nation to focus on the United States’ “Central American Policy Outreach Program.” Of course, this program only became necessary after The Nation’s revolutionaries du jour hopped into bed with the USSR.

No sooner had the dust from the torn down statues of Stalin settled when Kim Il Sung’s North Korea supplanted the former USSR as the preeminent cause in the hearts and minds of the political Left.  In the September 9, 1991, issue of The Nation, Charles William Maynes declared that “North Korea is abandoning its traditional policy of autarky and defiance,” while describing how Kim has rebuilt the North to the point where the “beauty” and “technological achievements” of Pyongyang “shock the foreign visitor.” Subsequently, Maynes questions the United States policy of “baiting” the North Koreans, “who have made it clear to a growing number of foreign visitors that they want to normalize their relations with the rest of the world, including the United States and that they are willing to compromise to achieve this normal level?” “It would seem prudent,” Maynes concludes, “to explore at a higher level what the North Koreans are prepared to do.”

When it became apparent that the North Koreans were not particularly prepared to do anything, The Nation, in an article entitled “Korean War II” (July 4th, 1994) argued that the North certainly could not be expected to turn over its nuclear “ace in the hole” until “it gets something tangible out of Washington.” This article even goes so far as to chide the Clinton administration for not “rewarding” the North for their offer to “clearly…stop reprocessing pending an agreement, and after an agreement, open up the history of the reactor to U.N inspectors.”

However, even rewarding North Korea would likely fail to satisfy leftists and their flagship publication. Rather, the ultimate goal of The Nation’s coverage of not only North Korea, but also the USSR, Cuba, Central America and most recently, Iraq, seems designed to shift the responsibility for these countries’ totalitarian belligerence to the United States.

In its August 23, 1993, edition, The Nation’s Bruce Cumings, in comments mirroring alleged “craven” Cold War concerns, mocks American concern over the North Koreans as a product of the Pentagon’s “overweening desire to locate a new enemy” in the aftermath of the USSR’s implosion in order to justify “its inflated budgets.” Yet, according to The Nation, financial conspiracies are but a peripheral component to the true cause of the United States aggression towards the peace-loving North Koreans: America’s irrepressible “genocidal impulses.”  With such leftist logic dictating The Nation’s editorial slant, it should come as little surprise that in the September 29, 1997, issue of The Nation, the publication blamed “Pyongyang’s worst aspects” on “fifty years of confrontation with recalcitrant elements in U.S. and South Korean military circles.” The Nation seems to truly believe that The United States, not the Kim totalitarian regime, is to blame for the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

In recent years, however, events on the Korean peninsula have once again disproved the leftist thesis presented in The Nation. For example, following a similar course of action as prescribed in the pages of The Nation, the Clinton administration appeased the North Koreans by offering them Western-developed light-water nuclear reactors in exchange for an agreement to freeze their nuclear weapons.

However, in the years following this “rewarding”, the behavior of the North Koreans demonstrated precisely why The Nation’s policy of polite engagement is dangerously ineffective for dealing with hostile nations. In September 1999, North Korea pledged to freeze testing of long-range missiles for the duration of negotiations to improve relations. President Clinton, in turn, allowed the first significant easing of economic sanctions against the Communist regime since the end of Korean War in 1953. The U.S. continued to show its good faith when, in December 1999, an American-led international consortium signed a $4.6 billion contract to build two safer, Western-developed light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea. In return, North Korea reneged on its promises. In July 2001, the State Department reported that the Stalinist regime was going ahead with development of its long-range missile. It had already conducted an engine test of the Taepodong-1 missile.  

During the lead-up to military action in Iraq, the North Koreans announced their violations and bad faith to the world. On October 4, 2002, North Korean officials informed the U.S. that they had a second covert nuclear weapons program that involved the use of uranium, in direct violation of the 1994 agreement. Then two months later, on December 12, 2002, North Korea announced that it was reactivating its nuclear facilities at the Yongbyon reactor, which had been frozen under the 1994 deal. Finally, on January 10, 2003, North Korea announced that it would withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and have been saber rattling ever since.

According to that timeline of events, under the Clinton Administration, the United States pursued the major Korean policy elements prescribed by the political Left and repeatedly highlighted in The Nation: America eased economic sanctions and rewarded nuclear non-proliferation. In return, the North Koreans lied to the United States and the entire international community and developed nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Now not only is North Korea a brutal Stalinist dictatorship that starves and brainwashes its own people, but it is a nuclear-armed brutal Stalinist dictatorship that starves and brainwashes its own people. Furthermore, an argument could be made that by easing sanctions and providing technology to North Korea, the Clinton administration aided the totalitarian nation in its quest for weapons of mass destruction.  It is horrifying to imagine the outcome of the Cold War if President Regan had adopted a policy of “appeasement” similar to the one advocated in the pages of The Nation.

As the threat of a nuclear North Korea continues to cast its shadow across the international community, The Nation’s recent opposition to Operation Iraqi Freedom grows more incomprehensible. Despite the lessons taught by the USSR, Cuba, and over the last decade, North Korea -- that an assertive foreign policy is the only means to ensure the security of the United States -- The Nation still vigorously contested a pre-emptive strike against Saddam. In a March 3, 2003, article the publication argues that North Korea, not Iraq, is the primary threat presently facing the international community. Yet, once upon a time, North Korea was a distant second to the USSR in the race for distinction as most dangerous nation. It was only the effete American foreign policy devised by the political Left, and embraced the Clinton Administration, the same foreign policy of mediation and sanctions championed by The Nation for the last century, that allowed North Korea to assume its present role as international enemy number one. 

All this déjà vu at The Nation, like a glitch in the Wachowski brother’s Matrix films, signals that something is terribly amiss. Despite almost a century of historical precedent disproving its approach to international affairs, the political Left, as documented in The Nation, continues to recycle the same tired arguments against a pre-emptive foreign policy. Meanwhile, conservatives are left scratching their heads, wondering why The Nation continues to run in circles.  Perhaps The Nation and its leftist constituency just can’t help themselves. Any projection of American power beyond our own borders sparks such wildly impulsive reactions from the Left (see Michael Moore's 2003 Academy Award meltdown for a vivid example). Maybe arguments like those found in The Nation over the past century are simply instinctual. After all, no matter how irresponsible and destructive leftists’ political prescriptions reveal themselves to be, The Nation never considers 1) apologizing or 2) abandoning them. By championing a strong moral vision, an assertive American foreign policy threatens the Left’s most sacred of cows: relativism, which forms the core of the Left's worldview.

The cruel truth is the Left despises the foundations upon which this nation was built: liberty, individual responsibility and capitalism. Raging blindly against everything American, they cannot help making common cause with America's enemies. Only in totalitarian regimes is the Left's hatred of the United States so perfectly reflected. Such a conclusion may seem simplistic, but so are creatures driven by rancid instinct.


Ryan O’Donnell is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross. He currently resides in Washington DC, where he is at work on his first novel. Please visit him at http://www.RyanODonnell.com or email him at raodonne@hotmail.com.


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