As the anti-war rallies increase in intensity, a significant question consistently surfaces: is this peace movement a "peace" movement? What kind of peace movement has a North Korean-adoring Communist sect running it, calls for revolution and pretends that Saddam is the victim?
In examining this phenomenon, another pertinent question arises: can there - as Michael Walzer has asked – even be a decent left? Indeed, if the "peace" movement today, like its anti-Vietnam predecessor, hopes for the victory of America’s despotic enemies, how can it be decent?
Frontpage Symposium explores these issues with a panel of experts. Joining us today are Sean Wilentz, the author of several books on American history who teaches at Princeton University, Ronald Radosh, Senior Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute; Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York; and the author of many books, including "The Rosenberg File" and "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left"; Michael Berube, a professor of American literature and culture at Penn State University; and David Horowitz, the editor-in-chief of Frontpage Magazine.
(1) Gentlemen, welcome to Frontpage Symposium. Let's begin with a general theme: what do you think is the nature of the "peace" movement?
Wilentz: There seem to be three distinct but overlapping elements: the organizers of the recent demonstrations, who are basically pro-PLO Communist sectarians; the broader artistic and intellectual left (Chomsky, et al.) who signed the two "Not In Our Name" ads; and the far broader active citizens whose reasons for opposing the war run the gamut from pacifist principles to unease at the current drift of U.S. foreign policy.
Radosh: The peace movement at present is not a peace movement. More accurately, it is an anti-American movement led by unreconstructed old style Stalinists and Maoists, whose current heroes include Kim Jong-Il and Slobodan Milosovic. Undoubtedly, there are some Americans who instinctively favor peace- and never see a need for war- who respond to their calls and endorse their marches and sign their petititions. They then serve the purpose of giving aid to those whose goal is not peace, but destruction of what they call the "American Empire."
Berube: Not to be contrarian from the first word or anything, but I don’t think there is a real "peace" movement in the US (whether it’s in or out of "scare" quotes). There are exceptionally few Americans who (a) have both oars in the water and (b) deny that we have been attacked by al-Qaeda and should consider ourselves at war with them.
The overwhelming majority of US citizens agree that we are indeed in a war, albeit a nebulous one waged against stateless terrorists. There is, however, substantial opposition to a US war in Iraq, particularly if it is undertaken without UN support. Much of that opposition consists of people (including myself) who supported US retaliatory strikes against the Taliban and its terror training camps, but do not see a similar casus belli with Iraq.
So it’s quite hard to pronounce on the "nature" of this anti-war movement: at the moment it seems to consist of leftists, progressives, liberals, cautious conservatives, students, grandmothers, military brass such as Anthony Zinni and Norman Schwartzkopf, and a few members of the first Bush administration. The only thing they have in common, at the baseline, is a sense that war in Iraq is unnecessary and perhaps very foolish.
Horowitz: As I have said, while there are some Americans who are sceptical about our war with Iraq for legitimate reasons (which remain obscure to me), there can be no legitimate peace movement when our country has been attacked. This is an anti-American movement by the destructive left which has never given up its belief that America is a world-oppressor or its agenda of revolution to destroy the American institutional framework of democratic capitalism and liberal individualism.
I disagree with Sean that there are three peace movements, although I agree with him that there are many like himself who are disaffected with the Bush war policy but too civilized to join the America haters. In this sense – and this alone – Michael is right. This group is not a peace "movement," sensu strictu. On the other hand, the "Not In Our Name" movement is no different in its anti-American, totalitarian leftist ethos from the Workers World Party except that it doesn’t think that Pyongyang is the new Moscow. Inside the left this is a big different; as between the left and the American people or, if you prefer, others along the political spectrum, it is not a difference at all.
(2) What is legitimate dissent and what is betrayal of your country?
Wilentz: All dissent is legitimate. Betrayal is not dissent. Betrayal is beyond dissent, taking conscious actions against the country of your citizenship on behalf of another country. That other country can be friendly or hostile (viz. Jonathan Pollard), but usually it is hostile. Dissent may lead to betrayal, but they are two different species of activity.
Berube: Going to Iraq in order to help Saddam foil UN inspectors, say, or providing the Iraqi military with tips on how to build biological weapons or shoot down US fighters would count as betrayal of one’s country, assuming of course that one’s country is the United States. Trying to rally public opposition to a possible war whose promoters have been cagey when not flatly contradictory and whose consequences could plausibly be terrible for the United States . . . this seems to me to fall under the subheading of "legitimate dissent" marked "prudent patriotism."
Radosh: Legitimate dissent is that of serious critics of the current administration's policies; i.e.; those who sincerely argue that they see no connection between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda; who believe that Hussein is capable of being deterred without military action; who believe that diplomacy and multilateral action through the UN can solve the problem without war. I think they are wrong.
For one thing, as the brilliant article in last week's New York Observer argues, they have failed to read, confront and deal with the nuanced and powerful critique by Ken Pollack in his book "The Threatening Storm." But they do not seek failure for the United States, but an alternative path towards disarming Hussein.
Those who lead the so-called peace movement which currently exists have shown themselves to be acting as mouthpieces for the government of Iraq and the most extremist anti-Israel terrorists.
Horowitz: I agree with the sentiments expressed by Sean, but I would make the distinction differently. All dissent is legitimate and should be protected speech. No dissent is treason as defined by the laws of the land. However, dissent that refuses to make a distinction between Iraq and America, dissent that compares our leaders to Nazis, dissent at this point in time that incites organized opposition to our nation’s efforts to defend itself is betrayal. Two presidents have asked for authorization to use force against Iraq, and both parties have voted to give that authorization to Bush. In war, some sort of basic unity against the enemy is necessary. To seek to disrupt that unity is to aid the enemy.
(3) What exactly does it mean that a North Korean-adoring Communist sect is running the "peace" movement? Does this matter?
Wilentz: It means that, as ever, Communist sects are extremely diligent and clever at mobilizing large numbers people to march in demonstrations by exploiting those peoples' concerns and hiding their own politics.
Berube: Second question first: as I’ve said before, yes, it does matter that International ANSWER, as a front for the Workers World Party, has led the major anti-war demonstrations. These people are – how shall I put this politely? – sectarian loons, and I don’t believe that FrontPage or the National Review could ask for a group more likely to discredit legitimate public concern about war with Iraq.
What does it mean that they have taken the lead thus far? (I do have to rephrase some of these questions in order to answer them intelligibly.) It means at least two things: first, that far-left authoritarians are much better than democratic/progressive leftists and liberals at organizing mass public events quickly and efficiently.
ANSWER jumped out of the blocks especially early because it was and is opposed to all US military action, and began mobilizing well before the war in Afghanistan had begun. (I see no reason to credit ANSWER for its efficiency; as leftist Nathan Newman writes, "I don't care if they are effective organizers. So were the Nazis.")
Second, it means that there is some serious confusion on the left about (a) the persistence of neo-Stalinist wingnuts pretending to be advocates of peace and justice, and (b) the question of whether these wingnuts should be denounced by other leftists.
Personally, I believe the neo-Stalinist wingnuts are your best friends (and there’s even a chance that David and Ronald know many of them by name, from their former lives), in the following sense: I don’t think even the FrontPage right could de-legitimate antiwar rallies quite so thoroughly as the WWP can – even though you would surely make a mighty attempt even if Miss Manners and Mister Rogers were leading the rallies.
But when we talk about the WWP we’re talking about perhaps 50-100 far-leftists who have no credibility or influence among serious people, and who have already been repudiated -- even by Z Magazine and anarchist groups. As a result, I’m far more concerned with the well-intentioned but mistaken people who say, "it really doesn’t matter who buys the permits and gives the speeches – I was so far away from the stage that I couldn’t hear them anyway. I’m just interested in making sure there’s a visible anti-war movement." The problem with this position is that it makes "visibility" of the movement dependent on the inaudibility of the speakers, and the "success" of the rallies dependent on how many people are ignorant of or indifferent to the politics of the organizers.
So far, the vast majority of anti-war protestors have turned out despite the politics of ANSWER, not because of them – which is why opposition to ANSWER has grown so strong in so many quarters, and why so many leftists are now referring to ANSWER as International AOWCUTGDPF, or "Authoritarian Opportunists Who Cozy Up to Genocidal Dictators – for Peace." The challenge now is to reach those well-intentioned but mistaken people who have no idea what’s going on up on the stage where all the microphones and cameras are.
Radosh: Yes. The excuse of well meaning people of the Left, such as Michael Berube, Todd Gitlin and David Corn of The Nation magazine, that we need a mature and responsible moderate peace movement, instead of one led by anachronistic crazy Communists, is a cop-out. They want a movement that will effectively lead the mainstream to oppose the war; yet most of them then endorse the march anyway.
Look at Michael Lerner. After being rebuffed by the leadership and refused the chance to speak and present what he considers to be his "nuanced" assessment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and after admitting that he would be listening to "knee-jerk" speeches by those who want to destroy Israel, he told his movement's members to go to the march anyway.
When it comes down to it, both sides oppose the war and agree upon ends. The so-called moderates have failed to seriously engage the issue of whether or not war may be a real necessity to guarantee a truce peace. As men of the Left, they instinctively assume that the response to aggression by any Administration- especially the current Bush Administration- has to be opposed.
Finally, in an article he wrote, Berube argues that he does not want to be stuck in the position of those 60's social-democrats, who spent more time criticizing participating in marches led by revolutionaries than in opposing the war in Vietnam. But Berube is wrong, and those social-democrats, men like Irving Howe, Bayard Rustin, Michael Harrington and others were correct. They wanted a negotiated settlement, and realized that participating in marches and protests led by Communist revolutionaries who favored victory for Ho Chi Minh was both morally wrong and tactically insane.
Berube: Beg pardon, Ron, but this is a tad misleading. Leftists who repudiate ANSWER and NION are not "copping out," they are repudiating ANSWER and NION. "Copping out" would involve keeping quiet about such groups in the interest of having no enemies on the left. And in order to make the claim that "most of them [i.e., us] endorse the march anyway," you'd have to find evidence of Gitlin, Corn, or me endorsing the march. What we've done so far, by contrast, is to support public demonstrations against the war, in principle -- while refusing to take part in demonstrations led by ANSWER, and refusing to sign petitions written by NION, and then writing in public forums about the reasons for our refusal.
Michael Lerner is a puzzling figure in all this, yes. I believe his desires are laudable and his judgement about far-left groups is unfathomable. But please note that I adduced him (in my reply to question 6 below) as Exhibit A of ANSWER's intransigence: if these authoritarians won't even allow Lerner to speak, despite the fact that he sends people to the marches and signs the NION statement, then there is no sense in which they deserve any democratic leftist's respect.
I agree that moderates (and even "so-called" moderates, whoever they are) *should* seriously engage the issue of whether war may be a real necessity. Any position on so grave a matter that does not engage with the best arguments of adversary positions loses moral credibility precisely to the extent that it takes on straw positions and engages in cheap shots. On this count I would direct Mr. Radosh and FrontPage readers to Michael Massing's essay in the January 6 issue of The Nation, "The Moral Quandary: Anti-Imperialism vs. Humanitarianism," which pays the pro-war position the respect of taking it seriously and debating it substantively.
Finally, about those social democrats of the 1960s. Just as Radosh does here, the social democrats overreacted badly to SDS in the early 60s, construing a bunch of Feingold-Wellstone progressives as the first wave of Paris Maoists. Participating in marches led by Communist revolutionaries would have been one thing, but participating in marches led by democrats who saw no vital national security interest in Vietnam, feared the permanent militarization of the US, and sincerely wanted to bring US troops home -- this was and is defensible on every front.
Radosh: I agree with much of what Michael says here. On the last point: As Paul Berman wrote years ago in The New Republic, SDS was wrong to NOT exclude Communists and other totalitarians from its ranks; the result was the rather quick demise of the organization and its take-over by those they erroneously welcomed. As for the marches, they were run by the Mobe, as it was called, and everyone did participate in their marches, even though they WERE lead by Communist revolutionaries. (with the exception of the 1969 Moratorium march.)
Horowitz: Point of personal privilege. My political views are on record going back to 1962 when I was a graduate student at Berkeley and first began a public political career. My first publication was a critique of Soviet Communism. My first book, published in that same year attacked the Communist Party for its lack of democracy and its record of support for the crimes of the Stalinists.
Since then I have been a consistent opponent of Stalinism in the left, including a fairly well known attack on the Maoism and Leninism on display at the 1969 SDS convention ("Hand-Me-Down-Marxism and the New Left," appeared in Ramparts magazine). The fact that the most relentless critics of my "second thoughts" have been Dissent leftists whose politics were closest to my own new leftism should give both Michael and Sean pause over who they are willy-nilly associated with – not organizationally but as generic leftists -- now.
I agree with Ron but am sympathetic to Michael’s demurral up to a point. The point is this: When are you and Sean going to gather signatures for your own statement dissociating yourselves from these fifth column clowns? What I see, instead, is an attempt by organs like Salon.com to smooth over the surfaces here, claiming that demonstrations showed the peace movement is broadening (how chanting Allahu Ahkbar on the Capitol Mall is broadening the peace movement is beyond me).
This is, to put it politely, a cover-up (because who can more authentically make the point about this left than you) and eventually becomes collusion. I had to endure being called a "red-baiter" and "McCarthyite" by Alan Colmes recently for pointing exactly what you and Sean have said in this symposium about the Workers World Party. Since I am a conservative, I am obviously an easier target for confused liberals like Colmes. How about helping out?
Wilentz: I'm not a "generic leftist" or a generic anything. I am on the masthead of Dissent and The New Republic. I don't feel uncomfortable holding the views I do about the current anti-war movement and being on those mastheads. (Wasn't Michael Walzer's piece in Dissent on "The Decent Left" cited approvingly earlier on in this symposium?) There: I've taken pause. Since I'm not and never have been associated with the Communist clowns -- I consider them a political enemy -- I fail to see the point of my putting together a letter dissociating myself from them. I have criticized them pretty harshly in public. Saying that professed Communists are Communists isn't red-baiting: It's stating facts.
Horowitz: Well you're no less a generic leftist than you are a generic professor or a generic American and yet you organized a professorial petition about impeachment, which attempted to dissociate the academic profession from the impeachment process. What's the difference?
Wilentz: I'm an American, I'm a professor, and my political views are liberal. But I'm also an individual, and, especially as an American, refuse to be reduced to a genre. And, David, you've got my 1998 activities all wrong. My aim was to help raise, publicly, crucial historical and constitutional issues that were getting lost in the national debate over impeachment -- not to dissociate the academic profession from anything. I got a lot of support, and our specific judgements about Article II, section 4 of the Constitution had some impact in the Senate. Our professorial status (though not all of us were professors) was secondary to the points we wanted to make.
Berube: I don't want to be implicated in David's complex personal/political history, so I'm not going to pause over my association (generic but not organizational?) with Dissent leftists who've criticized him. And I don't plan on gathering signatures against the far left anytime soon. I'm already on record with regard to them, even if I don't consider them fifth columnists, *and* even though I don't believe that people who attend ANSWER rallies are de facto Stalinists.
In the larger scheme of things, there's simply no need to take up torches and pitchforks against fifty foolish far-leftists; five years from now they will be the stuff of trivia questions, whereas our invasion of Iraq will have had all manner of repercussions throughout the world. So no, I can't help out on this one. I will, though, continue to press my case against those woman-hating, homosexual-hating, democracy-hating religious fanatics, at home and abroad.
Horowitz: Try 50,000 "foolish" leftists or 500,000 (if you believe their own statistics). For now, this is the left because it's the voice that's being heard. I think "democracy hating religious fanatics" characterizes them pretty accurately.
Berube: My statistics differ from David's on this.
Interlocutor: Statistics? Prof. Berube, you are evading the crucial question. You know that there are far more than "fifty foolish far-leftists" in the peace movement. And a large majority of the peaceniks side with America’s enemies and dream of the destruction of America and all that it stands for.
Let us suppose, for a moment, that I was part of a movement that sought to liberate the North Korean people. But let us suppose that this movement had one, just one crazy individual that was part of it, but who led and, therefore, represented it. And everyday he made public statements about how much he loved the Ku Klux Klan and how much he loved Adolf Hitler. And he would be best known for all the portraits of Idi Amin in his house, and he would spend most of his time talking about how his favourite system in the world was apartheid in the "golden days" of South Africa.
Guess what? I would spend a large amount of my time and energy going to war with this leader, disassociating myself from him, signing petitions against him, denouncing him, and trying to overthrow him.
I would never remain silent. But if I did, what would it mean about me? It would mean, at best, a callous indifference and apathy or cowardice. At worst, it would mean a private collusion and empathy with this leader’s views. Would it not?
Berube: There can't really be someone out there pretending that all I've said is "statistics," can there? And surely no one can pretend that I've "remained silent" about ANSWER. In fact, I know I've said quite a great deal about this issue in this symposium. But here's the heart of the matter: I deny categorically the premise of far-right ideologues that "a large majority of the peaceniks side with America's enemies and dream of the destruction of America and all that it stands for." I actually think this is borderline insane.
And I am fortified in this belief by conservative Democrat Mickey Kaus, whose Kausfiles blog recently featured a quick take on ANSWER and the rallies: "The people who showed up on the Mall to protest against Vietnam weren't Trotskysists and they didn't become Trotskyists -- and everyone knew that," writes Kaus. "Similarly, if millions of Americans one day join ANSWER's demos, that won't mean they've become Stalinist cadres. It will mean the Iraq war has serious opposition." I suggest that FrontPage readers can gauge their distance from the vital center by how strenuously they disagree with Mickey Kaus on this one.
Interlocutor: A large majority. . .a large percentage. . .a significant amount. . .we can debate the statistics and the numbers all day and night. The bottom line is that the "peace" movement today is organized and led by communists and, except for a handful of leftists, no one in the movement is denouncing them. Prof. Berube, you continue to refuse to fully answer the question: why?
You say it is "borderline insane" when I affirm that "a large majority of the peaceniks side with America's enemies and dream of the destruction of America and all that it stands for." Let me say this: it is without question that the anti-American demonstrators who attend these rallies dream of a future America that has been transformed into the antithesis of the capitalist and free society it is today.
In the hypothetical situation that I raised in my last question, I proposed that there was just one person, but that he was the leader of the movement, and that he supported Hitler and the KKK. And I asked: what if I refused to denounce him?
But you will not answer this question, remaining self-satisfied that you have said a few disparaging words in this symposium about the communists who represent the cause you share.
Thus, Prof. Berube, as you boast earlier, you "don't plan on gathering signatures against the far left anytime soon." My point exactly. But for some reason, I have a hunch that if the "peace" movement was taken over by the hypothetical Nazi Klansman leader I describe, your vociferous moral outrage would know no boundaries, and your signature-seeking for petitions of denunciations would know no limit.
Horowitz: Much as I admire Mickey Kaus, if anything is "borderline insane" it is to suggest that people can go to a demonstration that consists of three hours of rants against "imperialist" America and its "evil" government, calls for revolution and crowd chants of Allahu Akhbar and not be guilty. Guilty of participation, not association. Are Kaus and Berube really making the "good German" argument here? Let's not forget that two presidents have called for war powers and gotten them from both parties. In other words the people have spoken. To call this government which clearly reflects the will of the American people on this issue, evil, is to call America evil.
(4) How can this movement be a "peace" movement when its leaders are calling for revolution and pretending that Saddam and North Korea are the victims?
Radosh: It can't be, and it isn't.
Wilentz: Those who call for revolution and pretend that Hussein and North Korea are victims are manipulating the "peace" slogans, just as they manipulate the rhetoric of civil rights. But in lots of locales -- including my own -- the leadership of the "peace" movement is sincere, at least in its opposition to all war, and not just this one. So it depends whom you're referring to.
Berube: Is it cold in here? I sense a strange chill. . . .
If WWP truly spoke for all the demonstrators, or even half (and I know FrontPage has to keep insisting on this or it wouldn’t be FrontPage, but I have a hard time believing that any intelligent person can insist on this with a straight face), then I would say, "why, by crickey, y’all got a point – this isn’t a peace movement at all!"
But as I noted above, the pro-war right doesn’t have to worry about the WWP. The WWP is behaving exactly as you’d like it to, kind of like a hideous cross between Milosevic and Monty Python. The people you have to worry about, on the prowar right, are the altogether sensible folks who turned out despite the weather and the leftover Weathermen at the microphone:
From the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A11722-2003Jan18.html) : "Alex Maertens, 30, who lives near the Southeast Washington march route, fit the protest into her other chores for the day. ‘I don't like having to march with people who are sentimental fools, but I happen to think that this war is an immense mistake,’ said Maertens, a toxicologist studying at Johns Hopkins University. ‘The burden of proof is on us and that case has not been established.’"
And from Salon:
"former Marine Kevin McCarron stood holding a huge color photo of the sneering vice president beneath the words ‘Dick Cheney Never Served.’ McCarron fought in the Gulf War and in Operation Provide Comfort, which protected the Kurds after the war's end. He was proud to do so -- ‘morale was high. We believed in our mission.’ McCarron's under no illusions about Saddam's evil, but he also believes that George Bush is out of control and that his obsession with Iraq has little to do with America's interests. ‘This is clearly a one-man war,’ he said. ‘It's a real insult to be told that our views are unpatriotic by people who did everything they could to avoid military service.’"
The anti-war movement is a movement because it consists of people like this. You can pretend they’re all Stalinist dupes if you like, but you’re not going to be credible – least of all among centrists and conservatives who harbor real doubts about the wisdom of war.
Last but not least, this is the second time you’ve mentioned North Korea. Interesting. Perhaps even the most fanatic of pro-war hawks have begun to get nervous about Bush’s egregious and embarrassing diplomatic missteps with regard to North Korea, not least because they call attention to the difference between Bush’s war preparations in a defanged Iraq teeming with UN inspectors, and Bush’s backpedaling in the face of a saber-rattling, nuclear North Korea. Suffice it to say that the Bush team has done more damage on the North Korean front in one year than the Workers World Party could do in a lifetime. Good luck cleaning up that mess, folks.
Radosh: I speak only for myself, not for a publishing entity called Frontpage, which prints opinions of contributors. Berube misses the point. Of course not all the demonstrators marched to the WWP's tune. What they did in effect, however, is to agree to march under their umbrella- accepting all of their conditions- because their goals are the same as that of ANSWER and the WWP: no war with Iraq, whatever the situation is that may necessitate a war.
Moreover, Berube, who quotes Alex Maertens, are both wrong in the argument that a case for war has not been established: it has, primarily as I wrote by Ken Pollack, in an op-ed with Martin Indyk in The New York Times and by Pollack in his book. Indeed, in his State of the Union Address, President Bush used some of these same arguments to further spell out the administration's case. Berube may not agree with these arguments, but he prefers to simply avoid them and repeat the mantra of "the case has not been made."
One should not, further, use the fact that someone fought valiantly and now opposes war with Iraq to score points; nor should one use the argument that someone favoring war did not himself fight in a previous era's military action. The military cannot comment on policy for a good reason; we have civilian control of the armed forces, and policy is set by the government and enacted by the Commander in Chief. In the cases Berube cites- the Marine and the Vice President; their arguments have to be taken on the merits of their presentation---and not on the service or lack of service of the person making the argument. Berube, I thought, was above using such cheap shots
As for North Korea, they already have nuclear weapons--due, in no small part---to the ineptitude of the previous administration and in particular to Jimmy Carter, who has never met a dictator he doesn't trust or like. There is a difference between a North Korea with hundreds of thousands of its troops ready to attack South Korea--and with nuclear arms- and a regime thoroughly isolated in the world -- and Iraq; which if it gets in the position North Korea now has, will become a threat far more serious than any our nation now faces.
Berube: I can see the dice being changed here. I mentioned Maertens and McCarron because their opposition to war in Iraq has nothing to do with the politics of WWP. Such people agree with me that there is a very good case for containing and disarming Saddam but not such a good case for invasion.
Radosh's objections to McCarron's arguments are beside the point: the point, remember, was that many marchers are in fact good, solid American patriots, even if they do take the occasional cheap shot at Cheney (though we should credit McCarron's restraint with regard to the Commander in Chief himself). North Korea is probably material for another symposium. Suffice it to say for now that Pyongyang decided to open hostilities only *after* the Bush administration added it to the "axis of evil" and rejected the Agreed Framework.
For further reading, consult Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo, beginning with this: "most conservative commentators refuse to recognize what is obvious to everyone with their eyes open -- that the Bush administration is now looking for a deal pretty much just like the one the Clintonites were working on. Failing that, some administration supporters insist that this whole embarrassing spectacle is actually part of some grand master-plan. (This would be one of those classic diplomatic masterstrokes in which you put forth a maximalist position, cave shamelessly, have a lifeline thrown to you by second- and third-tier powers, and then emerge in a miraculously strengthened position.)"
See also Fareed Zakaria, Kudos to the Bush team, in the meantime, for turning to Clinton's former Energy Secretary to bail them out.
Horowitz: I’d like Michael to explain how and why the "authentic" protesters for peace chanted "Allahu Ahkbar" with the others and didn’t leave the crowd.
Berube: Honestly I have no idea. I do not have figures on how many protesters joined in this chant, or how "authentic" they were. The uninformed among them might have thought they were simply affirming, multiculturally, that God is great, and that they might as well be singing gloria in excelsis deo. (Since, of course, the phrase is used by suicide bombers, assorted Islamist radicals -- and all praying Muslims.) But to all those who ignored Imam Mussa, salaam.
Horowitz: This is a cop out.
Berube: Yes, I thought you would say that. But I cast my lot with those who ignored the Imam, nonetheless.
Interlocutor: Shouldn’t we cast our lots with those who will one day not ignore the Imam, because silence can be read as complicity, but who will vocally denounce him right there and then?
Berube: Point taken.
(5) How does this "peace" movement differ from the anti-Vietnam War movement?
Wilentz: Too early to tell. But one obvious difference is that the anti-Vietnam War movement in many ways grew out of the civil rights movement, which was very different in the mid-1960's than its descendants today, for all sorts of reasons.
Radosh: The anti-war movement in many ways was similar. The leadership of most of the marches was that of a front group of the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyist Communist group that mobilized most people under the slogan of unilateral withdrawal. The only broad based effort was that led by Sam Brown and David Hawk, the Vietnam Moratorium, that obviously reflected the pent-up and growing feeling of a large segment of the population that there was no light at the end of the tunnel, and that the war had to come to an end. This group was not anti-American, and reflected the point of view of Norman Thomas, who said that he came not to burn the flag, but to cleanse it.
But aside from the one Moratorium day event, the organized movement remained that led by the radicals who wanted a Vietcong victory, and who also sought to use the broad anti-war marches they controlled to recruit people into their own Marxist-Leninist sect.
Berube: It’s gotten off the ground much faster, for one thing, holding demonstrations to prevent war rather than to call the troops home. But in the early anti-Vietnam War movement the democratic left was much more prominent (SDS) and the Marxists were adjuncts (SWP). Beyond those obvious differences, this question seems to me material for an essay rather than a brief Q/A, or perhaps a collection of essays by various thinkers of Second Thoughts.
Horowitz: Ron has it right. But there’s a big difference. All you have to ask yourself is how can any one claiming to have the values of the left get out in the streets to defend a cause led by religious fanatics which is openly anti-democratic, anti-female, anti-gay, anti-Jew, etc. etc. Or am I missing something?
(5) Some people, like our guest Michael Berube, have maintained that the movement has broadened and overcome its origin. Is this the case?
Wilentz: Well, if you mean that there are a lot of people involved in demonstrations, petitions, etc. who have nothing to do with International Answer, the reply is obviously "yes."
Berube: Actually I’ve maintained that the movement needs to broaden and overcome its origin, and while I’m encouraged by the emergence of more mainstream groups like Win Without War and United for Peace (not to mention those prudent Republican business leaders taking out antiwar ads in the Wall Street Journal), I don’t think the anti-war movement will have found its center of gravity until the radical fringe is just one player among many.
In order for that to happen, of course, the radical fringe will have to stop crying "McCarthyism" and "Red-baiting" every time a democratic leftist complains that the authoritarian left has bought up all the protest permits and has even refused Michael Lerner a chance to speak for fifteen minutes. If the movement had broadened and overcome its origin by now, then ANSWER would be a small co-sponsor of public events, over there on the side with Nudists Against War and Alien Abductees for One World. It would be welcome – it’s a big tent, you know, all fifty remaining Stalinists can sign up right here, next to the Rotarians and the former Marines – but it would be influential only in proportion to its actual numbers.
Radosh: I think Michael Berube is engaging in wishful thinking. Look at the ad taken in The New York Times by "Not in Our Name", or the supposedly broader march scheduled in February by a new group claiming to be broader in composition. Its leader is a woman named Leslie Cagan, who was always a pro-Soviet extreme revolutionary herself, and a proud member of the extremist Left. Both of these efforts are awash in the same anti-Americanism, except that they are led by those who are not followers of The Workers World Party.
Berube: I may very well be engaging in wishful thinking, but the point remains that I wish for a broad and popular anti-war movement that outgrows its origins in the sectarian and authoritarian reaches of the left. There's no need to cite Not in Our Name to me, since I am already on record as criticizing their petition on two substantial counts, and I stand by my original critique. As for United for Peace, the sponsors of the February march, I will wait to see what it does and says before I make up my mind about it.
(7) Can there be a decent left - as Michael Walzer has asked? After all, we've been through this with the Communists during the Cold War. The Vietnam movement had its victory and it clearly helped the Communists win. How can the left at this point in time support despots like Saddam in good conscience?
Wilentz: Wilentz: It can't. Or it shouldn't. But it (or much of it) does. So the auguries are not good -- despite Michael Walzer's bracing "j'accuse." The comparison with Vietnam is very misleading here. There were plenty of good liberal anti-communist reasons to see why that war was a disaster, and I believe these finally prevailed. The Communist left and much of the New Left hated that reasoning, saying it was just another example of Cold War corruption. But that's another matter, for another day.
Radosh: There can be a decent Left, and Walzer is perhaps the sole figure involved, and perhaps some of his fellow editors at Dissent magazine. Walzer's article was, however, severely criticized by many of those in his own group, who thought it far too critical. From my point of view, what is called the "Left" is politically irrelevant; its proposals and arguments have been shown to be rather slim and unconvincing. But a starting point for creating one would be a Left whose leaders acknowledge that there might indeed be a valid case for war against the government of Iraq. They would be taking a step akin to the brave group of pro-war socialists during World War I, who endorsed the Wilson administration and stood against the majority of the Socialist Party.
Berube: How can the left support Saddam . . . hmm, you don’t suppose you could ask a more leading question, do you? I mean, how long have I been beating my wife – let’s see, only since Bush took office, thanks to the Supreme Court. . . .
Seriously, this question looks like it came from the pages of The Onion. Yes, the Vietnam movement had its victory. Unfortunately, it came too late for the 50,000 Americans who were sent to their deaths in Vietnam, not to speak of the much vaster numbers of Vietnamese dead.
But unless you believe that Onion headline about President Ford turning over the US government to the North Vietnamese, you can’t be offering this question in good faith. The anti-war movement in the 1960s was right: Vietnam was not, in fact, vital to national security. The domino theory did not hold; we lost in Vietnam, yet won the Cold War a decade and a half later. Which means that we could have walked away from Vietnam forty years ago today, my friends, and the Soviet Union would still have fallen, and we’d all still be here talking about how anybody could still belong to the Workers World Party. Except, of course, that 50,000 more of our fellow citizens would be with us now, and the country wouldn’t still be replaying the trauma of that divisive, murderous, and fruitless conflict.
Can there be a decent left? Of course there can. It’s been around for decades: it brought you the weekend, the Social Security Administration, unemployment insurance, the Civil Rights Movement, and those pesky federal regulations for food, drugs, children’s pajamas, and occupational safety. It saw the wisdom of containing Stalin and his successors, just as it sees the wisdom of containing Saddam today. And it imagines a society in which basic human rights like food, shelter, education and health care are not rendered contingent on the ability of individuals to pay for them.
Horowitz: The anti-US-effort to prevent the Communists from overrunning South Vietnam and Cambodia in the1960s was of course horribly wrong. And about everything. American policy was not run by multinational corporations and their imperialist interests (we left when the people rejected the policy), the United States was not an imperialist power, the war was not about the self-determination of South Vietnam (the NLF was a Hanoi front that collapsed in January 1968 – seven years before the end of the war) – it was a conquest of the South by the Communist North.
Finally there was indeed a bloodbath after the war just as Johnson and Nixon had warned, and the South Vietnamese have been worse off – politically and economically – for the last 28 years than they were under the dictator Ngo Dinh Diem.
(8) Isn't the left just an anti-American movement at this point? Isn't its unity based on perceiving the US as the Great Satan? What positive program would lead it to line up with women hating, homosexual-hating, democracy-hating religious fanatics -- other than its own fanatical hatred of America? In this context, the question must be asked: how can individuals, such as our two guests Mr. Berube and Mr. Wilentz, associate with this "peace" movement, support it, or not be appalled by what the left has become?
Radosh: This question is one better left to Sean Wilentz and Michael Berube. Knowing the work of both of these men, I suspect that both of them will be more than willing to dissociate themselves from the current "peace" movement leaders and their activities.
Wilentz: Well, I'm not associated with this "peace" movement and don't support it. I agree that, coming out of a melange things written and done in the 1960's -- including, I note, David Horowitz's "Free World Colossus" -- the United States became, in many leftists' minds, a substitute for what the bourgeoisie was in Old Left thinking. It's a major mutation in left-wing thought, and it's out there, big time. And insofar as it is a major presumption of today's American left -- and I think it is -- I am appalled.
Berube: Since there’s no plausible sense in which I associate with the WWP, let alone people who call the US the Great Satan (I sense there might be some trouble with your TV reception, and that instead of picking up anti-war demonstrations you’re getting broadcasts from Tehran circa 1979), I can’t begin to make sense of this question.
Yes, the left has its lunatic fringe, willing to "line up" with damn near anything that offers a challenge to US global domination. But it is lunatic, and it is a fringe, and it does not belong at the head of a broad antiwar movement. You’re quite right to insist that there is no "positive program" that would lead the left to line up with women-hating, homosexual-hating, democracy-hating religious fanatics. Indeed, whenever the radical left lines up with people who look and think exactly like the radical religious right, the democratic left should be on the front lines – and even in FrontPage – criticizing them ruthlessly.
And then we can all get on with the important business of promoting a pro-woman, pro-homosexual, pro-democratic secular society in the United States. I hope you’ll join us on this – I wouldn’t want to think that your invocations of women, gay rights, democracy and secularism are merely gestural or opportunistic.
Radosh: Berube now makes a point I agree with---the current movement is lunatic and a fringe---yet many like him still are willing to march behind its ranks. Evidently its fringe nutty status does not change anything. Again, after the march, Michael Lerner reiterated his opposition to the leadership, and again urged his followers to march. This, I might say, is as nutty as the politics of the WWP's leaders.
Finally, Berube confuses support for a free, democratic and secular Iraq--one that would allow women freedom and not stone homosexuals to death for their sexuality---and "promoting a pro-woman, pro-homosexual" society. What, precisely, is that society? Indeed, last week, The New York Times featured a joint op-ed written by a leader of NOW and a leader of one of the anti-abortion groups---trying to find common ground in a sometimes fiercely fought cultural war.
Undoubtedly some in both groups would not like their joint argument; but is either of them not pro-woman? If one objects to the program of, let us say, one of the extreme groups like NAMBLA, which purports to be in the vanguard of gay rights, does that mean that such a person is not pro-homosexual? If I'm for no discrimination against homosexuals but against some of the arguments of left-wing gay rights groups, am I thus to be labelled by Berube as anti-homosexual? Here, he falls into the old and turgid left wing logic in which any opponents of programs of the political left are by definition the enemy.
I end by saying that one would hope that Berube would join others in the democratic Left, the political center, and the political conservative community in standing together against our nation's enemies---whatever his disagreement on domestic programs.
Berube: There's no old and turgid left wing logic here, save for the horrid old stuff Radosh remembers from his days as a turgid old leftist and drags out in this reply. The original question asked is, "How the left could line up with 'woman-hating, homosexual-hating, democracy-hating religious fanatics?' " It's a good question: the left should not line up with such people at all. But the American right has far more work to do on this score, and I'm willing to credit any tiny steps it might take in the future.
For starters, it could stop citing NAMBLA as a representative gay-rights group, and (in other contexts) it could stop likening homosexuality to bestiality, too. As for Radosh's first point, I can only say this so many times: people who march behind the ranks of ANSWER are not, in fact, like me. It's dismaying watching former leftists haul out the old Stalinist guilt-by-association tactic even when there's no guilt and no association. I stand against Saddam Hussein. I remain unconvinced that war is the best way to take that stand at the present time.
Radosh: I respect Michael Berube's arguments. I acknowledge that he is against Saddam Hussein, unlike the WWP crowd. He recommended that I read Michael Massing's article, which I read and found not convincing. I hereby recommend he read Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan, both of whom in their articles have laid out a strong case for why war is the only road to liberation of Iraq from the grasp of Saddam Hussein, and of course, read, ponder and try to answer (if he can) the nuanced and powerful assessment made by Ken Pollack in his book. Then, hopefully, since he is smart and serious, he will come to change his position that we can win without war.
Berube: Ron is right to direct me to Pollack, who, I've gathered, has indeed made the most nuanced case for war. I haven't yet read The Threatening Storm; I've followed Joshua Micah Marshall's smart and detailed discussions of it thus far, and (as I noted earlier) I do think the left should take seriously the possibility that there will someday -- someday -- be no other option, since the sanctions have been disastrous on all counts and Saddam does not seem to want to opt for exile (though he should).
But there's one thing that Hitchens and Sullivan have not adequately addressed: if indeed war is the only option left, then the manner in and the auspices under which it is conducted will determine a great deal of what the aftermath will consist of. That's why it's so important not to go it alone (or alone-with-Blair).
That's also why it's so important not to shuffle the pro-war arguments every week -- from humanitarian intervention on behalf of Iraqis, to regional stabilization and Iraqi disarmament, to revulsion at Saddam's methods of torture, to punishment for Saddam's violations of UN resolutions, to our strained attempts to link Iraq to al-Qaeda, and so on.
Radosh: I agree with most of what Michael says. But all of the pro-war arguments he cites are in fact connected; it is right, I think, to cite all of them, and not just one. The administration perhaps made an error in first arguing that the only task was to disarm Saddam; then change to an emphasis on other points. This was done to avoid the obvious---that there can be no disarmament in Iraq unless there is regime change, to which many critics of the administration were objecting to. The standard liberal argument, after all, was to say "what right do we have to call for a change in regime of a sovereign, elected government?" They seem to forget that Hitler's government was elected also.
As for what Michael calls the "strained" attemps to link Saddam to Al-Qaeda, it depends on whether or not you think the CIA's denial was accurate, or was itself a strained attempt to cover for its own incompetence, and hence to deny what others, like William Saffire, argue is solid evidence. We have to wait (I am writing before Feb.5th ) until Wednesday of next week, when I trust, Colin Powell will tell the UN, and all of us, what previously secret intelligence establishes is the real set of facts. Finally, I thank Michael for the serious and civil exchange of ideas on this most important topic.
Horowitz: The Pollack book is excellent. It is especially persuasive because it was written by a Clinton official. Why does Michael think the Bush Adminisration is attempting to go it alone? The White House is putting together a coalition which will eventually include the Europeans, since everybody loves a winner. But does he really disagree with Bush's determination to form the coalition on our terms? Or does he want these allies to be co-equals -- the French who built Saddam's nuclear reactor, the Germans who built his poison gas factories and the Russians who are his long-standing allies? As for the multiple arguments Bush has used, this is a political necessity for winning hearts and minds in an environment in which the hard left and the soft (the Democrats) are obstructing his efforts to do what must be done to defend ourselves and secure peace in the Middle East.
Let me concede here that the Dissent leftists who have assaulted me in my conservative years were right in the 1960s and 1970s (they had a falling off in the Eighties when they got soft on the Stalinist regime in Nicaragua). Now, how about a concession from Sean? Without the conservatives in this country, the Communists would have won the Cold War, and without George Bush, Osama bin Laden would still be conducting his terrorist operations with the blessings of the Taliban, although I’m sure President Gore would have flattened some buildings in Kabul.
Berube: Let's hold off on that last item until we know bin Laden has stopped conducting terrorist operations.
Wilentz: It's no concession: Yes, American conservatives certainly helped us, and not the Communists, win the Cold War. (Somewhere, I have praised Ronald Reagan for one of the most eloquent and effective human rights speeches of the era, when he stood before the Berlin Wall.) So did -- I think David will agree -- American liberals, from Truman on. And so did many other Americans whom I find more difficult to classify, from George Kennan to Al Shanker. It was a trans-partisan effort.
As for Bush, bin Laden, etc., I give Bush high marks for ousting the Taliban. I admire David's confidence in his own certainty that a President Gore would have responded less effectively to the terrorist atrocities, but I don't share either his confidence or his certainty. For the record, I think Nicaragua in the 1980s was actually the point where a number of leftists in and around Dissent wised up, as discussed in George Packer's recent New York Times piece on today's liberal hawks.
Horowitz: For the record, Ron Radosh who was on the Dissent editorial board was banned from writing about Nicaragua because of his anti-Sandinista views by Irving Howe himself and eventually purged from the board.
Wilentz: I was referring to Dissent writers such as Paul Berman (yes, David, I know he's a nemesis of yours) who became sharp critics of the Sandinista regime in the 1980s, and to some of the other latter-day liberal hawks profiled by Packer.
Radosh: David's point is accurate. Most of the Dissent group hardly faced the truths about Nicaragua. Except for Paul Berman, who eventually moved a great deal from his original purely anti-contra position, most Dissent democratic leftists persisted in seeing the Sandinistas as a viable and democratic third force, not as a Leninist vanguard party modeled on Castro's Cuba and Soviet Russia. And sadly, it is true that Irving Howe in particular banned me from writing about Nicaragua because he considered me too anti-Sandinista.
Horowitz: Just for the record, Berman declared war on me. I have defended myself, but never gone out of my way to attack him. As you may have noticed, we posted Mitchell Cohen's views on the war in an issue of frontpagemag.com this week. We posted a similar piece by Todd Gitlin before that. On the other hand, I have been as viciously attacked by Cohen as by Gitlin and Berman. It has always been a puzzle to me why the Dissent group should have made me its enemy, and I invite Dissent readers and editors to come into our pages to explain this, or invite me into their pages to discuss it.
Interlocutor: Gentlemen, we are out of time. Michael Berube, Sean Wilentz, Ron Radosh and David Horowitz, thank you. It was a pleasure. We'll see you again soon on Frontpage Symposium.
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