This is the second of a series of exchanges between Jacob Heilbrunn, an LA Times editorial writer and author of a forthcoming book on neoconservatism, and David Horowitz to discuss the themes of Horowitz’s book Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left and DiscoverTheNetworks.org. -- The Editors. (For the first exchange in the series Click Here.)
You’re right: the Democratic Party’s weakness on foreign policy has dogged it since the late 1960s. But to liken its state today to the Henry Wallace challenge in 1948, as you do, is rather overdrawn. Take a second look at Dwight MacDonald's classic work on Wallace and it will remind you of what “Wallace-land” was all about. Wallace really would have been pro-Soviet had he been elected, whereas a Dean presidency would not have actively tried to treat with al-Qaeda. What's more, the illusions that bedeviled western intellectuals about the “Soviet experiment” simply do not exist when it comes to the Muslim world. At best, the defenders of some of the more loathsome Arab regimes, or terrorist movements, can retreat to moral relativism, blaming their ways on Western oppression. But this is a rather different cup of tea from hailing Muslim fundamentalism as offering a superior model to the western one, which is what the fellow-travelers, you included, once did in the 1960s when it came to communism.
New Republic editor Peter Beinart, in the article you mention, acknowledged that the parallel between Soviet communism and fundamentalism is not exact, but I suspect, for dramatic purposes, he, like you, somewhat exaggerates the power of Moveon.org and the like. It’s also not clear to me how the organization would be purged from the Democrats, as Beinart suggests. In any case, the New Republic itself seems emblematic of the splits within liberalism, first embracing, then denouncing, the Iraq war.
So where does this leave the Democrats? Far from actively challenging the Bush presidency on foreign policy, the Democrats simply seem adrift. Sure they may try to pick off a few nominations such as John Bolton's, but where's the sustained and coherent foreign policy alternative to Bush?
The surprising thing might be how little opposition there has been to Bush. Unlike Vietnam, the universities are not filled with protests and Iraq has stirred little controversy. Compare Britain to the U.S. Where's the American George Galloway? The hardened leftist culture that exists in Europe has never taken root in the U.S, has never enjoyed the respectability it continues to command abroad. Even the anti-globalization movement, which was as good as it got for the contemporary left, has largely fizzled out. Anyway, I suspect most members of your generation are now consulting their stock portfolios more carefully than revolutionary primers.
No doubt the left briefly flourished in the U.S. in the 1960s. Your book Free World Colossus was symptomatic of the revisionism that the U.S. was the bad guy in the cold war that took hold. I didn't mean to suggest that I was unfamiliar with it, or the genre from which it came -- Harry Elmer Barnes was the progenitor of this foolishness, wasn't he, in arguing that the merchants of death had dragged the U.S. into World War I and World War II?--but that its influence, outside of the academy, has been slight. As for Hobsbawm and the rest, I continue to wonder how much they've actually affected the general cultural climate beyond the empyrean circles of the readers of the London Review of Books. In fact, it might be more accurate to call Hobsbawm and others reactionaries rather than leftists since they are clinging to nostalgic myths.
Yet your apprehensions about the left almost make it seem as though you believe the U.S. is taking a beating on all fronts in the war on terror. Early on, you describe the U.S. as the "prey of an invisible enemy whose agenda were genocidal and non-negotiable." But the U.S. is not the helpless "prey" of terrorists, but, rather, the target. Nevertheless, it can, and has, gone on the offensive. Whether the Bush administration has taken the correct approach is another matter--and an appropriate subject for debate. So far, that debate has taken place more on the right than the left. What timorous protests liberals and leftists have managed to mount have helped keep the administration on its toes, or, at times, simply make themselves look ridiculous. David, let's face it: the left is reeling. You flatter the left far too much in ascribing a coherence and power to it that it simply does not possess.
P.S. It’s kind of you to enlist me in the conservative camp, but I’m not sure that it’s warranted. I splash around happily in the large pond between neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. Maybe a new species should be invented called neoconservative fellow-traveler?
P.S.S. You mention at the close of your book that your daughter is opposed to the war for legitimate reasons. You can’t leave your readers hanging like that--what are her grounds for dissent? Are heated debates taking place in the Horowitz household?
The Wallacites were the leftwing of the Democratic Party whose agendas (Communist-inspired anti-Cold War politics) were driven by a radical ideology and whose purposes were at odds with the America’s. As I have described in the section of my book Unholy Alliance called “The Mind of the American Left” radical ideology is today both continuous with its Communist roots (as a Marx-based attack on the democratic West) and also modified in the following way. Today the radical coalition is actively formed by the nihilistic side of its utopian ideologies. It shaped into a coherent force by its anti-American and anti-Israel passions. (Andre Markovits, a leftist professor surveying the history of radicalism since 1945 has come to identical conclusions in a recent essay that appeared in the winter issue of Dissent).
Every revolutionary cause embraces the destruction of the status quo order along with a vision or -- in the case of anti-capitalist revolutioinaries -- a fantasy of what would replace it. Fifty years ago, the publication of the Khrushchev Report, a pronouncement from the Communist Vatican itself revealed that the leader of the world revolution was one of the greatest monsters in human history and socialism a grim fiasco (though the Report itself did not draw the latter conclusion). When the Report was leaked to the world by an Israeli spy, the Communist movement began a rapid disintegration in the Western World and a “new left” based on the same destructive assumptions was born.) But nothing has since replaced orthodox Marxism or Communism as a coherent ideology and program for “progressives.” What unites the global left today is the negative program and destructive anti-capitalist and anti-Western themes of its utopian aspiration. (The aspiration itself is psychologically indispensable to every leftist as the testimonies I examine in Unholy Alliance make clear.)
It is the negative program of the Communist agenda that energizes and guides the contemporary left in its mission to cripple – or in the case of moderate leftists like Howard Dean – to diminish American power. “Progressives” see this power as a “root cause” of the problems that beset the rest of the world and as the immediate cause of the hostility of those actors in the world who oppose us. The negative program of the left includes – sabotage of the globalization process; deconstruction of the idea of American nationality and of the sense of national loyalty that accompanies it; undermining of America’s borders; undermining of America’s national security apparatus and military defenses; sabotaging of America’s wars; rewriting of America’s Constitution to reflect its passions for group rights and redistributionist agendas; politicizing and undermining America’s independent judiciary system in order to carry out its social engineering projects; politicizing of American education to make it an instrument of anti-American doctrines; and in general measures that would weaken America in the face of the terrorist threat, which it radically discounts or with which it actively sympathizes.
It is for this reason that the fact that “the illusions that bedeviled western intellectuals about the ‘Soviet experiment’ simply do not exist when it comes to the Muslim world,” is only marginally relevant in understanding the threat from the left. The same is true about the perception that American radicals don’t always hail “Muslim fundamentalism as offering a superior model to the western one” (in their solidarity with the Palestinian cause they seem to do just that).
The parallel that connects the agendas of leftist secular radicals to those of the Islamic jihadists is that they both regard America as the Great Satan (and Israel as the little Satan), namely, the root cause of “social injustice” in the world. Depending on the degree of their radicalism, therefore, they are intent on putting their weight in the political scales (and thus in the war on terror) in the balance against us. Fellow travelers like Howard Dean are just as likely to want to weaken American sovereignty in favor of the United Nations, the World Court, or open borders; to weaken America’s defenses or the military operation in Iraq which keeps the enemy off balance; to weaken key anti-terror provisions of the Patriot Act, which has criminalized material support for terror and strengthened domestic surveillance programs; or to deny this nation an anti-missile defense system in favor of mythical “arms control” arrangements. So while the parallel with the Wallacites is not precise, it is a serviceable (and historically instructive and accurate) model for understanding the internal threat to the American future from America’s domestic fifth column.
In fact, a very large segment of the American left, as noted in passing, does indeed support the actual agendas of Islamic radicalism in the fifty-year Arab war against the State of Israel. The PLO – broadly supported by American leftists, particularly in the universities – is a radical Islamic organization, which has been the chief ally of the Saddam regime, embraces terror as a political weapon and in 2000 rejected the offer of a Palestinian state and 97% of the West Bank and Gaza in favor of an Islamic war of martyrdom against the infidel presence. The Second Intifada was led by the al-Aqsa, Martyrs’ Brigade (created specifically by Arafat for the occasion). Its agenda, like that of Hamas, now the most important party in the Palestinian territories, is an Islamic republic stretching from the Jordan to the sea.
In supporting the genocidal program of the Palestinian cause, including the “Right of Return” which would effectively obliterate the Jewish state, American radicals are quite comfortable acting in solidarity with an Islamic terror movement, notwithstanding the the apparent “contradiction” between their secularist progressive agendas and the Islamo-fascist realities of the Arafat regime and its heirs apparent (viz., Hamas). The Protestant churches in America, now deeply in thrall to the political left are busily embracing the Islamic terrorists of Hizbollah and divesting from what they preposterously describe as the “apartheid Israeli state.” The fact that Arabs in Israel enjoy more rights than Arabs in any Arab country, and that every Arab country without exception bans Jews from their soil and has done so for fifty years, counts for nothing for the Jew-despising left. Their hatred for democratic Israel and its American patron is that great.
Misunderstanding the agendas of the left is half the story. Misunderstanding their influence is the other. The problem presented by Moveon.org, for example, is that it is an integral part of a Shadow Party (described on DiscoverTheNetworks.org) which includes the principal funding sources and get-out-the-vote organizations of the Democratic Party. The Shadow Party integrates the radical left into the heart of the Democrats’ political apparatus, and has recently elected Howard Dean its Party Chair. It controls the machinery that nominates and elects Democratic presidential candidates. The leftists of my generation who are integrated into the leadership of this Shadow Party – among them Andrew Stern (head of the SEIU), Wade Rathke (head of ACORN and Gina Glantz (co-founder of America Coming Together) to name three – may have stock portfolios, but they are even more intently focused on power than they ever were in the Sixties, and their agendas are precisely those I described above.
The fact that the Democrats don’t have a “sustained coherent foreign policy alternative to Bush” is a direct consequence of the influence of a left whose agendas, as I have already explained, are negative. Put in the mildest terms, they are unsupportive of American purposes as defined by the system of free market capitalism and the philosophy of individual rights.
The claim that there is “little opposition” to Bush and that “the universities are not filled with protests and Iraq has stirred little controversy” is incomprehensible to me. Never in American history has the opposition to a good war that liberated 30 million people, established an ally on the borders of two enemy countries (Syrian and Iran), and has been ratified by 70% of the population it was intended to liberate -- been so vicious and so popular. Never in American history have the leaders of one America’s two great national parties attacked a sitting commander-in-chief as a liar, a traitor, and a mental misfit. Never in the midst of a war.
As for the universities, far from being free of leftist politics, they are the principal base of support for Islamic radicalism and Islamic terrorism in this country. (See Campus Support for Terrorism at DiscoverTheNetworks.org) The recent presidents of the Middle Eastern Studies Association which speaks for academic specialists in the Middle East have been a series of Marxists and apologists for Islamic terror. Hundreds of so-called “Peace Studies” programs indoctrinate American students in the view that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” and that America is a racist, militarist, imperialist and terrorist state itself. The reality is just the opposite of the claim that the left in America barely exists. The hardened leftist culture that has existed in Europe for more than a hundred years, has established a firm foothold in the American mainstream, and in particular in the university culture for the first time in history. (And for the first time, these facts are available for all to see at DiscoverTheNetworks.org)
In the first part of this dialogue I showed how one book I wrote as a 25-year old leftist and a complete novice in the field of foreign policy affected a crucial White House decision. This decision allowed the Sandinista communists to seize power in Nicaragua and set off a chain of Communist guerilla offensives in Central America that occupied American foreign policy for the entire decade and may be said to be the precursors of a trend of anti-American, Marxist regimes in the hemisphere (Brazil and Venezuela are the two largest) whose potential threat to American security is already so great they collectively are referred to as “the Southern Front.” This does not support the view that American leftists, even obscure ones as I was when I wrote The Free World Colossus are “irrelevant.”
As I tried to explain in part one of this dialogue, even the fact that Eric Hobsbawm an unregenerate Communist is one of the most revered figures in the American historical profession pales into insignificance beside the fact that the general view of 20th Century history that Hobsbawm represents is the absolutely dominant view the curricula of American universities, the view in which America’s next elite generation is being trained. How can this be inconsequential? (BTW Hobsbawm is a reactionary, but so are all leftists, still operating on the basis of long-discredited 19th Century doctrines and 18th Century agendas. Being reactionary does not make one irrelevant or “ridiculous” politically. Hitler and Saddam were intellectually ridiculous. What difference did that make to their political fortunes?)
The left is not “reeling” or insignificant as you describe it. (I suggest you take a long look at the sections of DiscoverTheNetworks.org called “Groups,” The Shadow Party and Academia before writing again about the left. The left came within 120,000 votes in the state of Ohio of winning the presidency, unless you think John Kerry’s claim that America’s campaign to liberate Iraq was “the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time,” or that a Kerry presidency would not have a negative impact on America’s ability to fight the war on terror. I do not think America is taking a beating in the war on terror as you suggest. But that is only thanks to the aggressive policies against the war on terror architected by George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice. It will, on the other hand, if the Democratic Party and its Shadow Party leftists manage to win the next election.
P.S. I’m uncomfortable with labels myself. I am a liberal – a free market, individualist, politically tolerant, even ecumenical, and progressive. But my reactionary political enemies who dominate the cultural institutions that are the arbiters of public language – the universities and the media – label me a right-wing conservative (and worse). There’s not much I can do to redefine the political landscape, but I have given it a try by creating DiscoverTheNetworks.org.
P.P.S: My daughter is a Green, but understands the threat of Islamo-fascism to Israel and America, and we get along just fine.