We are living through an age of liberal betrayal, but David Horowitz and Ben Johnson can only see a part of it in their new book, Party of Defeat. For them, the Left’s treason is of an old-fashioned kind: giving comfort to the enemy in a time of war. In the lucid style of a relentless prosecutor, they lay out ample evidence to support the charge. I could go through it all with you. A grateful Osama bin Laden paraphrasing Michael Moore’s excuses for tyranny, the Democratic congressmen trying to ensure the US Army lost the second Iraq war, MoveOn.org being cheered on by those same senior Democrats for denouncing General Petraeus as ‘General Betray Us’ when he worked-out a strategy for winning the second Iraq war…the case for the prosecution is long and convincing.
But although I can envisage a Democrat Senator or an editor on the New York Times being unnerved by an unfamiliar puncturing of their righteousness, I can also imagine liberals rallying robustly. To the authors’ assertion that the Left has undermined the American cause and diminished America’s ability to defend itself, they could reply that although the Left was wrong about the surge, it was right to argue that the second Iraq war was an ill-conceived, ill-prepared adventure. To argue against bad policy is no treason, they might say, but a democratic duty.
Horowitz and Johnson concede the point, although with reluctance. For my taste, they display a touch too much jealousy for the supposed advantages enjoyed by the strong man or reigning psychopath in authoritarian regimes. ‘A democracy at war is faced with problems dictatorships find avoidable,’ they sigh. ‘Its citizens have a responsibility – as the Left never tires of repeating – not to abandon the freedoms they are defending.’ Yet even Horowitz and Johnson pull back from the ugly implication of their complaint and conclude, that ‘criticism of every war, including the one in Iraq, is warranted’.
Given that concession, their targets may wonder where the problem lies. Even if Horowitz and Johnson can make what they said sound hysterical, paranoid or dumb in retrospect, they had good grounds for believing what they said at the time. The charge of betrayal doesn’t stick when the authors admit that there were no weapons of mass destruction worth talking about and that the Bush administration’s failure to prepare for the carnage of the occupation was shameful.
I’m sure conservative readers would not buy this defense. Having seen liberal opinion here in England go berserk during the war, I don’t buy most of it myself. All I am saying is that Horowitz and Johnson’s liberal opponents will think they can dismiss the arguments of this book.
But they cannot dismiss a deeper liberal betrayal. As conservatives, our authors can’t quite grasp its nature although the evidence screams at them from the first to last page.
They begin with of a portrait of George Soros – and I’m grateful to them for showing me that contrary to meritocratic theory a man can become very rich while remaining remarkably stupid. The financier was enraged by George W. Bush’s statement after 9/11 that countries had to choose whether they were going to help America or provide safe havens for terrorists. ‘Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make,’ Bush said. ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.’
Bush’s doctrine was unexceptional – a leader would be guilty of a dereliction of duty if he did not treat those countries which harbored those who would slaughter his fellow citizens as ‘hostile regimes’ – but it was not allowed to stand. First his opponents pretended that the he had said ‘you’re either with us or against us’ – an unforgivably crass notion to their minds that challenged the central belief of postmodern liberalism that moral problems are never black and white only blurred shades of grey.
Then Soros got to work. The Hungarian billionaire whose speculations on the money markets fund the supposed left-wingers at moveon.org declared: ‘When I hear Bush say,
“You're either with us or against us,” it reminds me of the Germans. It conjured up memories of the Nazi slogan, "Der Feind hoert mit" (The enemy is listening). My experiences under Nazi and Soviet rule have sensitized me.’
They did not sensitize him sufficiently, and not only because fuehrers do not observe constitutions, as a rule, or retire to Texan ranches when their term limit expires. Bush was not an inheritor of the totalitarian tradition, but America’s enemies most assuredly were and are. Radical Islam takes the Nazi’s Jewish conspiracy theory. It also seeks to destroy what rights Muslim women have and kill homosexuals, free thinkers, Muslims who change their faith or challenge their interpretation of Islam, and, of course , all non-believers and idolaters. Meanwhile Baathism in Iraq was not only based on the Fuehrerprinzip but so emulated the model of 20th century totalitarianism it gassed the ‘impure’ Kurdish minority. The targets of Islamists and Baathists are many, but they include the traditional friends of rich western liberals: trade-unionists, feminists, democrats, journalists, intellectuals and free-thinkers.
Yet Soros and the millions like him cannot acknowledge the victims of Islamo-fascism or offer them the smallest support. In their liberal anxiety to denounce their government they betray liberals and liberalism.
There are many gruesome scenes in Party of Defeat none more so than the moment when a blogger with the Daily Kos, Democratic candidate and self-proclaimed ‘Mayanist poet’ called Jeeni Criscenzo flies to Iraq to schmooze with the Sunni remnants of Saddam’s regime and the political wing of the Shia death squads of Muqtada al-Sadr. One of the Sheikhs she met eulogized the mass murderers of al Qaeda. ‘These young men who came here from other Muslim countries are very brave. They left their homes and comfortable lives to protect Muslims,’ he cries. No they didn’t they left their homes to slaughter Muslim Iraqis including liberal Iraqis who had every right to expect the support of the American and European lefts.
It may not be a surprise that Ms Criscenzo could not see what was in front of her nose, but it is flabbergasting that George Soros, Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and the New York Times shared her myopia. Their behavior calls into question what it means to be liberal in America and Europe, and what it means to be conservative as well.
Now what with one thing and another, American conservatives must be feeling a little bruised at the moment, so I hope they don’t think I’m nagging when I say they should take more notice of the ideological shifts around them. In the Arab world and beyond, people who are liberal and remain liberal are being betrayed by liberal Westerners simply because their suffering cannot be blamed on America.
The case Ayaan Hirsi Ali illustrates my point. She experienced abuse and forced marriage, renounced Islam and embraced feminism and atheism. She was, in short, a classic liberal heroine, the more so because psychopathic misogynists were trying to kill her.
The attack on her liberalism in the West, however, was not led by traditional conservatives but by liberals – Dutch leftists, Oxford dons and contributors to the New York Review of Books, who hated her for challenging the stereotypes of their reactionary multi-culturalism, and denigrated her in the most patronizing manner they could devise. In the end, she found a haven with the American Enterprise Institute. What we used to call ‘the Left’ had rejected her and offered nothing more than formulaic criticisms of those who would murder her, so she turned to what we used to call ‘the Right’.
I know from the last time she spoke in London that her commitment to feminism and atheism is undiminished. Has then she shifted from Left to Right or have all the liberals who criticized her? Is the American Enterprise Institute, which came to her rescue ‘conservative’, and the New York Review of Books, which demeaned her, ‘liberal’, or is it the other way round? These questions are becoming pointless because the conflicts of our time are draining old labels of meaning.
I can say with confidence that more will follow Hirsi-Ali, but only if conservatives accept the liberal values liberals are so thoughtlessly discarding.
I’m not sure if David Horowitz and Ben Johnson can take the necessary next step. Because they are patriots first and foremost they write with great brilliance and rigor on the liberals’ betrayal of country but cannot appreciate their betrayal of liberalism and of all those suffering at the hands of anti-American and anti-liberal totalitarian movements.
I expect that this is a criticism that neither gentleman is used to hearing, but the trouble with their critique of American liberalism is not that it goes too far but that it does not go far enough.
Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and New Statesman. He is one of the authors of the Euston Manifesto - a strong statement in defence of liberal and democratic values in response to widespread violations of leftist principles by the political Left. His most recent book is "What’s Left: How Liberals Lost Their Way." Visit his site at