For the past year and half, I have immersed myself in the politics of left-wing thinkers on campus. I have attended their events, debated with their most outspoken constituents, been a passerby at their rallies and, at times, been schooled by their favorite faculty members in the classroom. They are an eclectic crowd, self-proclaimed proponents of many things: socialism, feminism, gay rights, equal rights, the poor, the weak, the third world, the Muslim world and -- one mustn't forget -- the environment.
The list of that which they are presumably for is dwarfed by that which they oppose -- beginning, of course, with capitalism and the Christian Right. I sympathize with most of their causes, however misled their implications may be, and I am always eager to be challenged by these "voices of dissent."
But I am thoroughly bewildered (and occasionally repulsed) by what drives them to their political angst, an unspoken mantra that subjects all the rest: America can do no good; therefore, her enemies can do no wrong.
As the opposition hastens to contest the imminent war in Iraq, this overriding principle has been neatly brought to the forefront. It must first be understood that this is not a war about oil or revenge or as Jay Bookman recently charged in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "world domination."
If one were even to glance at the histories and writings of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz or Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle, two men playing a profound role in the policies of the current administration, realpolitik concerns or yearnings of empire are hardly of essence.
In fact, the grand strategy behind the Bush Doctrine can nearly be seen as a refutation of the myriad Cold War tactics that have marked the modern age. For many, especially the Iraqi citizens who await our arrival, this is a progressive war of liberation, rooted in an American lineage of liberal intervention -- epitomized on the shores of Germany and Japan following World War II. For many, this is a war in deference to the best, not the worst, of the American foreign policy tradition.
But the radical left has intentionally ignored this reality, and for good reason. If President George W. Bush and his lackeys can effectively be dismissed as warmongering, bloodthirsty, greedy imperialists, then the far more explicit and atrocious crimes of Saddam Hussein can be temporarily forgotten.
For the campus radical, opposition to America and the West must consistently and unconditionally trump any concern for socialism, women, gay rights, equal rights, the poor, the weak, the well being of everyday Muslims and the environment. In other words, even though Saddam Hussein is an abject violator of everything the left claims to defend (and in far greater proportion to any of our government's sins), he must still be defended for the sake of being anti-American.
Pick up the leading journal of the left, The Nation, and see routine whitewashings and excuses for what Christopher Hitchens has aptly coined "Islamo-Fascism."
Read Edward Said's "Orientalism" and experience the systematic defense (or at least mitigation) of virtually every human rights violation under the sun, spanning the persecution of women, Christians, Jews, homosexuals and political dissidents.
Or witness this leftist incarnation in the hallways and sidewalks of academia, where the illiberal practices of the Middle East are increasingly and embarrassingly being accepted as an alternative and equally suitable way of doing things. Of course, it is only American culture, American opinion and, at the end of the day, American civilization that must be deemed foul play.
Liberalism is, at its core, an ideology of recognition for that which is right and that which is wrong, and a tradition of undying and committed defense of such precepts. It is, in spirit, the ardent preservation of racial, religious and philosophical diversity. And it is, in substance, a political prescription for assuring that the rights of all men and women be equally and fairly respected.
But liberalism has not, does not and will not allow slaveowners to perpetuate slavery for the sake of tolerance, explain away genocide for the sake of tolerance or condone despotic and murderous regimes for the sake of tolerance. Tolerance is a means to an end, that end being individual freedom.
For whatever reason, the radical left has chosen to scorn an institution that has -- however flawed -- come closest to embodying this ideal. It has simultaneously chosen to aid or abet (by speech and otherwise) its most vigorous enemies, in callous disregard to their own illiberal credentials. In other words, the [Noam] 'Chomskyite' left of today is not a democratic left. It is not a left that espouses women's rights, free speech or religious diversity. While this may be what they are in rhetoric, they are something far bleaker in practice.
As the people of Iraq continue to suffer under Saddam Hussein's brutal reign, the left holds up peace signs. But as any sincere liberal would acknowledge, the Iraqi people are not living in a state of peace. And the fundamental freedoms of others mustn't, in principle, be subordinated to our own liberties.
In the case of Iraq, America can do good, and its enemies have done wrong. Until the radical left concedes this reality, it cannot, under any objective standards, continue to hail the banner of liberal democracy.
To the contrary, like the pro-Nazi left of the 1930s, they must be called for what they are: sympathizers and -- if not in intent, certainly in effect -- protectors of illiberal governance.