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Hard Liberals vs. Conservatives By: David Horowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, July 05, 2006

[In our last issue, we ran an exchange between Peter Beinart and David Horowitz on the issue: Can Only Liberals Win the War on Terror? We ended the discussion with Beinart's last response, reprinted again below, which argued that Horowitz had confused conservatives with hard liberals. Horowitz's rejoinder follows. We are most grateful to Peter Beinart for joining us and our pages are open to him if he wishes to continue this dialogue -- The Editors].

Beinart: Our fundamental difference is over what “hard” liberalism means—what it meant in the early cold war, and what it means today. For you, as far as I can tell, it is identical to conservative foreign policy. So you define virtually every liberal opposition to Bush’s policies—on Iraq, on oversight of the CIA etc---as Wallace liberalism. But a central theme of my book is that anti-totalitarian liberalism is utterly different from anti-totalitarian conservatism. Yes, my kind of liberals have an argument with what one might call anti-imperialist liberals like Michael Moore and MoveOn—because they opposed the war in Afghanistan and suggested that America had brought jihadism on itself. But we also have a very deep difference with the conservative tradition: people like National Review’s James Burnham who proposed preventive war against the Soviet Union in the late 1940s and called for American empire, and their ideological progeny today—George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Let me be blunt: preventive war (war against a potential, but not imminent, threat) is not in the liberal anti-totalitarian liberal tradition. Harry Truman was not soft because he didn’t launch such a war when Stalin was rushing towards getting atomic weapons in the late 1940s, nor were John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson for refusing preventive war when Mao was doing the same in China. The liberal anti-totalitarian tradition is open to the use of force, but focuses a great deal on international legitimacy—recognizing that it is a critical source of American power, and indeed, recognizes that restraint can also be a sign of strength. Truman’s policy was not preventive war; it was containment and deterrence.


That’s why opposing the war in Iraq, I believe, was in the Truman anti-totalitarian tradition (I think I was wrong in backing it, and the opponents were right. And just as you have learned from your ideological mistakes earlier in your life, this book is partly an attempt to learn from mine). The point isn’t that we need UN support for every military intervention—we only had NATO in Kosovo. But it is that “coalitions of the willing” lack sufficient post-war nation building capacity, as we have seen in Iraq, where we are doing virtually everything, and the cost is unsustainable (as opposed to Kosovo, where the burden is really shared). And “coalitions of the willing” also lack legitimacy—in the world and in the invaded country (in this case, Iraq), which makes it far harder to successfully nurture a stable democracy that doesn’t threaten America. There was a reason Ayatollah Sistani would talk to representatives of the UN, but never to representatives of the US—because the UN had far more legitimacy in post-war Iraq (as the embodiment of world opinion) than we did. (And polls of Iraqis showed that from early on).


So I disagree with your attempt to characterize everyone in the Democratic Party who opposed the Iraq war as in the Henry Wallace mold. (And indeed, I disagree with your attempt to characterize everyone in the Democratic Party who opposed Vietnam that way as well—that’s why in the book I held up Allard Lowenstein as a model of someone who opposed that war but held fast to anti-communist principles). The real question is the anti-jihadist struggle—which is relevant to Iraq today, but really wasn’t when Saddam was in power (just read the 9/11 commission report on Saddam’s lack of significant jihadist ties). For the first year after 9/11 there was little difference, according to polls, between the parties in their perception of that struggle. In the last couple of years, though, liberals in polling have shown themselves considerably less focused on fighting jihadism, and more skeptical even of the Afghan war. That’s the problem I discuss in my book—but it is very largely a product of deep (and I think, largely warranted) anger at George W. Bush for again and again using the anti-jihadist struggle as a political wedge issue (often in extremely dishonest ways) and thus weakening the country, when we could have been relatively united. Yes, liberals could learn the wrong lessons from a bad war in Iraq, as some learned the wrong lessons from a bad war in Vietnam—but I think it really depends on Democratic party leadership. Remember, Bill Clinton brought the Democratic Party from where it was in 1991—mostly opposed to the Gulf War—to where it was in 1999—virtually unanimous in supporting Kosovo. That can happen again—indeed, I think most likely Democratic foreign policy practioners (imagine a Secretary of State Holbrooke, Biden or Clark) would try to do exactly that. The problem is only insurmountable if you think “hard” liberalism is the same as conservatism—and a major part of my book is devoted to explaining why it is not.   


Horowitz: This is a disappointing answer in that you don’t respond to the central point of my critique – the lack of a political base in today’s Democratic Party today for what you call “hard” liberalism. On the other hand, the argument you are making vis-à-vis the Democratic Party left is an important one, and that makes our debate important as well.


I did not (and do not) identify hard liberals with conservatives. I merely pointed out that in a book about hard and soft liberalism that goes back to the Truman Administration you had not discussed Clinton’s failures -- as a hard liberal -- to confront the terrorist threat. You don’t do that in your replies to my comments either.


Your comment that Truman did not order a pre-emptive strike on Russia because he was a liberal rather than a conservative and did not believe in the principle of pre-emptive war reflects the abstract nature of your argument. Principle was hardly the issue in this decision. After all, Truman was the first (and only) political leader to drop a nuclear weapon on any enemy target and he did it on two civilian populations. I think those were correct decisions, but I hardly think they make him a foreign policy liberal in any sense. Moreover, Truman was further to the right than any contemporary conservative with whom I am familiar, having made a famous statement in 1941 that America should stay out of World War II, letting the Germans and the Russians kill as many of other as possible, and only then decide whether to get involved.


The reason Truman did not order a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union in 1949 after the Communists exploded their first atomic weapon was entirely a practical matter and had nothing to do with liberal values or anti-pre-emptive strike principles. First, since the Soviet Union was a state and not a terrorist organization like al-Qaeda. Therefore, the fact that the United States had its own nuclear arsenal that could inflict much greater damage on the Soviet Union was thought to be a deterrent to Soviet use of their atomic bombs, particularly since we had more in our arsenal. And it was. We are now facing an enemy which cannot be so deterred, in part because it does not hold power in any state and in part because  Islamo-fascists believe that if they are all killed they will go directly to the Garden of Allah and the virgins. Saddam was not himself an Islamist, but a maniac, determined to revenge his defeat in 1991, who had extensive ties to Islamic terror organizations including the one run by Zarqawi in his own country. A great weakness of the current liberal argument on pre-emptive warfare is its refusal to confront the changed circumstances of a war in which the enemy is a fanatical religious movement that possesses or may imminently possess weapons of mass destruction.


The focus of my criticism of your book is its lack of realism in discussing the political situation in the Democratic Party, and in particular the weakness within the Party of those who share your views. Joe Lieberman, the most obvious hard liberal in the Democratic Party has been attacked by the anti-anti totalitarians and is fighting for his political life. Despite this, you gave a leader of the anti-Lieberman movement, Markos Zuniga a favorable blurb for his new book, Crashing the Gates, calling it “an insightful guide to how the Democratic Party can retake power.” But which Democratic Party? And why – if you are politically serious -- would you praise and promote this man’s book? This is surely not the path that Walter Reuther, Hubert Humprhey, Arthur Schlesinger or any of the other cold war liberals you admire would have taken.


It is my view, as I have said more than once, that the left -- the anti-anti-totalitarians -- already have a lock on the Democratic Party’s electoral apparatus and congressional caucus. That’s why the Democrats in congress are constantly embarrassing themselves by attempting to set deadlines for America’s withdrawal from Iraq in advance of securing a stable anti-terrorist Iraq regime. They can’t win without the support of the anti-war left, and they probably can’t win with them. With anti-war spokesmen like Jack Murtha in the lead, this is Vietnam all over again – McGovernite/Kerry cut and run versus Nixon “peace with honor.”


In your view, however, it is liberals’ justified anger at George Bush that has overwhelmed their better instincts and created this lock for the left. I will come back to this in a moment. The real issue between us is whether the anti-totalitarian liberals (the “softs” as you call them) can prevail and bring the Democratic Party back to its anti-totalitarian roots. Secondarily, the question is: how strong is the will of hard liberals like yourself to fight the left


In your original article, as I pointed out, you invoked the purge of Communists from liberal organizations (e.g., Walter Reuther’s expulsion of twelve Communist unions from the CIO) as a model for what needed to be done. You identified the Moveon.org crowd as a group from which hard liberals need to dissociate themselves. But in your book, as I pointed out, there is no such practical resolve. The fact that you would blurb a book by a leader of the anti-Lieberman left is not reassuring. What I find disappointing in your response to this criticism is your unwillingness to even discuss the issue. Perhaps you will reconsider so that we can return to this pivotal question in another round or at another time.


Before leaving this question, allow me to make one more point. I don’t like your terminology of “hard” and “soft” liberalism, and I think that using it speaks directly to the weakness of your analysis. “Soft” liberals are not liberals. They are leftists. That is why they are soft on a movement as morally and politically repellent as Islamo-fascism. They are willing to consider Islamo-fascism the lesser of two evils because they see America as the root cause of Islamo-fascism, the Great Satan whose global oppressions drive the oppressed to desperate measures of revolt.


I have written a book about this, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left which describes the kind of Nazi-Soviet Pact (generally informal but in many instances formal) that secular leftists have made with the Islamo-fascist jihad. My book, in fact, pays due respect to the Cold War liberals you revere and to Joe Lieberman, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in particular. (As someone whose only strong belief is in himself, on the other hand, Clinton should probably not be included in any group). In my view the Democratic Party today can best be understood as a “popular front” in which genuine liberals are united with a crypto-communist left in opposing conservatives. I am waiting for a split in this popular front analogous to what happened in1948, which produced the bi-partisan foreign policy that won the Cold War.


In fact, in the latter days of the Cold War I was a welcome contributor to The New Republic precisely because of this bi-partisanship on foreign policy. Although the Democratic Party had already shifted dramatically to the left, The New Republic under Marty Peretz’s leadership played an important role during the wars with the Sandanista Marxists and El Salvadorean Communists in Central America in keeping the nation on course. Marty was a featured speaker at the Second Thoughts Conference, Peter Collier and I organized in Washington. Now, however, the welcome mat has been withdrawn; The New Republic didn’t even bother to notice a book like Unholy Alliance.


What I find interesting in your response is the clarity with which you draw the line between hard liberals like yourself and conservatives who would seem to be much closer to you in opposing the Islamo-fascist enemy. I look forward to the day when the line you draw between hard liberals and softs is at least as clear.


In your view, the problem we are discussing is not really a problem created by liberals and leftists. It is – like many other problems as you see them – a dilemma created by George Bush.


You regard Bush as the divider, and the declaration of war in Iraq as the division point. But how much reality is there in this claim? The use of force in Iraq was authorized by both parties and by UN Resolution 1441, which was a war ultimatum. (This is not a conservative view. It was so described by Hans Blix, who of course is a Swedish socialist, in his book Disarming Iraq). The ultimatum deadline for Saddam was set for December 7, 2002. Saddam failed to meet the deadline, in fact did not take it seriously (again, this is the judgment of Blix). This was the 17 UN Security Council Resolution he had basically ignored. The United States and Britain felt that 17 was more than enough and to fail to enforce a war ultimatum would have created a very dangerous situation. But three of the veto powers on the Security Council refused to join America and Britain in enforcing the ultimatum they had signed, leaving it to Bush and Blair to go it alone. These are the facts.


The reason there was no Security Council support for enforcing the ultimatum is that France, Russia and China were actually allies of Saddam who had armed him to the teeth and probably helped him to squirrel his WMDs to Syria just before the war broke out.


Nancy Pelosi began the Democratic attacks on this war on April 13,2003, six weeks after it started, and just four and a half months after the Democrats in Congress had voted overwhelmingly to authorize the use of force against Saddam. By June, the Democratic Party leadership was in full attack mode over the trivial Niger issue, calling the commander-in-chief a liar who had gone to war on false premises. In fact Jimmy Carter and Al Gore had already launched attacks on Bush’s foreign policy that were unprecedented in their harshness in September 2002, even as Bush was attempting to bring Saddam to heel and going to the UN General Assembly for help. So how can Bush be blamed for being the divider and using the war as a wedge issue, when the Democrats who betrayed their own votes to authorize force were clearly the aggressors?


You have invoked Truman, as an exemplar of Cold War liberalism to distinguish him from the conservatism of George Bush. I have already dealt with this in relation to the nuclear threat. But even on the conventional front it is hard to see any difference between the positions of Truman and Bush. Did North Korea’s attack on South Korea pose an “imminent threat” to the United States? Hardly. Did Truman get UN support? Yes. But how was he able to do that? Because Russia had previously walked out of the UN Security Council and was unable to exercise its veto. If Russia had not denied itself the veto, Truman would have been in the same position as Bush was in regard to Iraq following the Security Council war ultimatum. In other words, he would have been faced with the decision to go to war without UN approval or let the North Korean Communist aggressors conquer the South. Is there any doubt in your mind as to what decision Truman would have made?


If Truman had come to the aid of the South Koreans without UN support how many Democrats do you think would have opposed him? We can only speculate on the answer but the fact is that Vito Marcantonio, a Communist fellow-traveler, was the lone vote in Congress against the Korean war. Whereas more than 100 Democrats voted against the use of force to topple Saddam Hussein, not only in 2002, but in 1990 following his invasion of Kuwait. Only six Democrat senators voted to oppose Saddam’s aggression in 1990. One of those was Al Gore who has now joined the anti-war camp. What a different party the Democrats became after 1972. Surely you cannot lay all this at the feet of George Bush.


So, yes, the question before us, as you put it, is flagging Democratic support for the anti-jihadist struggle. You and I both think that there are too few Democrats committed to this cause. But you attribute this to the divisive incompetence of Bush. I don’t, and my critique of your book is that you fail to examine how the Democratic Party went from a Party in which only one of its members voted against the Korean War, to the party of 1980s which in its majority opposed the anti-Communist struggle in Central America, and the party of 1990 which in its majority opposed the anti-Saddam war, and the party of 2006 which is virtually united in its opposition to the war against al-Qaeda and its allies in Iraq.


I agree that Clinton was successful in bringing the Democrats back to a somewhat robust foreign policy in respect to the war in the Balkans. I am less optimistic than you about this foro two reasons. First Clinton was unable to commit ground troops, which would have been a real test. And second, I don’t see a Democratic leader on the horizon with Clinton’s skills, and in particular his ability to keep the left in line while pursuing a centrist course. Is there another politician in the galaxy who could have publicly humiliated a black, female civil rights lawyer and kept the support of the Democratic base, let alone been celebrated as the first “black” president? What leader do you have waiting in the wings who can perform feats like this? You may argue that Hillary has the potential. But since you have not provided us with a realistic view of the forces she is up against in her own party, we can only speculate on what the chances of success for a Hillary-led anti-jihad policy might be.


I can sum up my problem with your book and your case this way: Hard liberalism doesn't seem able yet to confront the hard questions about liberalism itself -- that is by post-Kennedy-Johnson-Humphrey liberalism which in my view is a species of leftism. As such it is unwilling to fight the good fight against totalitarianism at home and abroad.


Thank you for participating in this discussion. I hope you will consider resuming it and addressing these questions before long.


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David Horowitz is the founder of The David Horowitz Freedom Center and author of the new book, One Party Classroom.

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