SPECIAL MID-MONTH EDITION
SECTION ONE 

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COLUMN EIGHTY-NINE, APRIL 15, 2003
(Copyright 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)

BLUE SKIES:
THE AMERICAN LEFT FADES AWAY

[We offer the following piece, lifted from The First of the Month, a print publication with a website at http://www.firstofthemonth.org/  ---we feature it here because of the power of author Charles O?Brien's argument. Here it is weeks after I first read this piece and this piece still has me thinking about it. To me, the Left always loses to the Right because whereas the Right marches in lockstep, the Left refuses to unify. The Left's weakness lies in the fact that it is infested with too many fringist fundamentalists. And, as everybody should know, fundamentalists are the scourge of humankind. A fundamentalist is nothing but a fanatic. Fanaticism, as philosopher George Santayna says, "consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim." A fanatic is someone so rooted in ideology that he can't budge even in the face of an onrushing tidal wave that will drown him. No matter! He is ready to die for his cause. His mind is so encased in the righteousness of his beliefs that his head may as well have been dipped in concrete. His ears are so stuffed with holier-than-thouism that he cannot hear what anyone else has to say. He can't be argued with. Not only is his mind made up but his feet are so welded to his doctrinaire soapbox that he couldn't budge an inch even if he wanted to.

And what is the aim of the Left? In my mind, the aim of the Left should be to oppose Evil. Nobody else but the Devil himself! Of course, nobody can really beat the Devil, but we've all got to keep him at bay. The trouble with the fundamentalists, who permeate the Left like holes in Swiss cheese, is that they are too concerned with trying to differentiate between greater and lesser evils even to recognize that leering red demon with the pointed tail. These maniacal fringists are too busy redoubling their efforts to remember their aim. And what should be their aim? To oppose the evil of  the power-crazed, fascistic, Hitlerite corporate crooks who have lied, cheated and swindled their way into control of our government---and who now plan to sacrifice our sons and daughters in the slaughter occasioned by perpetual wars of conquest while at the same time forcing our poorer classes pay for Amerika's monster wehrmacht? Or to oppose the evil of the maniacal Islamic extremists who also want to drag us to the Armageddon of a thermonuclear holocaust? Which is the greater or lesser evil?--Al Aronowitz]

The truth is, nobody knows what the 2002 election means.  If the Republicans won by about 53-47 (the alt parties not even an irritant), six points difference is not so great that it can't be imaginably recouped in some near future, nor is it itself evidence of a trend.  That said, the news is all bad for the Democratic Party.  This is not 1994, where victories by a hair after an extraordinarily low turnout were claimed as a mandate for a 'revolution."  Six points is different, and since the opposition should have won decisively'the Democrats had promised payback in 2002'six points isn't just six points.  Bob Dole, after losing by eight points to Bill Clinton, went on to tout Viagra.

Here's the Republicans.  They have the Presidency, both Houses of Congress, and most of the Federal judiciary.  The 5-4 Supreme Court vote that installed Bush can further institutionalize itself at its leisure.  The 3-card monte of two years ago is now solitaire.  Even New York has a Republican governor, and New York City a Republican mayor.  And unlike 1994, the triumphal note has been shrewdly muted.

Now here's the Democrats.  Some say it only needs a little tweaking.  No it doesn't.  Others say the message didn't get out.  What message?  The Party needs to stand for something.  True, provided that 'something? isn't just anything.  The Party needs to run to the center (We're just like the other guys, only not so much.)   The Party needs to run the left.  (Everything you hate us for.  No more skin-poppin?!)  And look what's on the runway.  Al Gore, who won the popular vote two years ago, now has a 42-19 unpopularity margin in one poll, and in another he loses to "no opinion? 18-13.  George McGovern is back (As Benedick said to Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, "Are you yet living??) with a featured article in Harper's (Monthly, not Bazaar) under the title, "A Defense of the Future Against the Past."  Surely, an appearance on Celebrity Boxing would have been smaller humiliation than writing for Lewis Lapham.  The most astonishing thing about the Paul Wellstone murder rumors is not that an ordinary plane crash is assumed to be an assassination, but the supposed motive: that Paul Wellstone stood between the cabal and its objectives.  There are even a few who find nothing jarring about the words "Kucinich? and "President? appearing in one sentence.  This week's Nation is a nice summation:  Nancy Pelosi is there; she's on the cover; her picture is on the cover; the picture is in color; next to the picture, in big letters, it says "Ready to Rumble."  Delusion, in layers.1

This year, the Great Debate over tax cuts, or Social Security, or whatever-you-got didn't get lost.  It never existed.  And no one was nostalgic for the rival health-insurance pitches that constituted the 2000 campaign.  There was one issue, as there should have been:  war.  The Republicans may not have deserved to win, but the Democrats did deserve to lose, for they had continued to be wrong about the one thing that mattered.

It is not at all clear how the Republicans came to own the issue.  The events of September 11, 2001 were, in fact, the result of American actions and policies, actions and policies that belong to no particular party.  Let's look over our recent past.  While Richard Nixon was President, Arabs, with ties to the former Palestinian Mandate, launched a campaign of piracy against the world.  The United States offered no military response.  Also, during his administration, two American diplomats were kidnapped and shot dead in Sudan, on the direct orders of "General? Yassir Arafat.  Ever since, and to this day, Arafat's personal safety has been guaranteed by " and solely by " the United States.2  During Jimmy Carter's Presidency, it was established that Mohammedan theocrats could occupy American soil and subject American officials to war crimes; and in response, the United States would not only not retaliate, but offer concessions.  These concessions were further ratified and expanded upon by the Reagan administration.  That administration guaranteed safe passage out of Lebanon for the defeated "Palestinians."  In response to the killing of hundreds of Marines in Lebanon, an attack was launched on Grenada.  The American military withdrew from Lebanon.  In the years since, the American Embassy there has been destroyed, and numerous Americans, officials and private citizens, have been kidnapped and/or assassinated (e.g. a medical worker just last month).  The United States maintains relations with the wholly fictional government of Lebanon.  The Syrian annexation of the country goes uncontested.  The Iranian military presence there and the international activities of Hizbullah go unopposed.  The first Bush administration, pliant to the wishes of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, preserved Saddam in power.  Bill Clinton failed to kill Usaama bin Laadin; allowed the Wahhabite puppet regime in Afghanistan to consolidate its power; and permitted Iraq to expel arms inspectors and failed to invade.  His few attempts at military action were furiously opposed by the Republican Party.3  George W. Bush's record of inaction, as of September 10, 2001, was even more thorough.  And the current administration is even now vouching for the Saudis.4

When the World Islamic Front for Jihad (al-qaa?ida) was planning 9/11, they expected the response to be a lawsuit.  They weren't thinking of one party or politician.  They meant all of us.

But we're not really here to talk about the election, are we?

The business of the Democratic Party is supposed to be trafficking, however ineptly, in the plausible.  The left is supposed to test the limits of the possible.  Instead, the left " specifically, the anti-war left " has been content to settle:  to settle for less, to settle for anything.  Frank Costanza once said that he found tinsel?distracting.  That left should have paid him better heed.

Today, on a newsstand, you may find, next to Norman Mailer's denunciation of Empire (cover article on Patrick Buchanan's The American Conservative), the latest Tikkun, announcing this:

Bush's Rush to War

Now, George W. Bush has conspicuously not rushed.  Set aside the fact that any war not at least begun by Sept. 10, 2001 is already too late.  How is it possible to find any rush to war?

Here's one answer.  To accuse someone of rushing to war is not to object to war as such, only to claim that it is premature.  And it is premature because it first must be cleared by somebody or other " who, somewhere along the line is expected to say "no? and end the discussion.  First, it needed Congressional approval, or the Constitution would be shredded.  That approval was handily won.  (The objection was then raised that it was extorted, and so wasn't really approval, or it was intended some other way, and so on.)  Next, we couldn't go it alone; and however many countries are in alliance, some other country's approval is needed.  The U. N. must say yes; and the Security Council did, unanimously.  Unspoken in all this is:  We must approve and we never will.

But there are things this "we? will approve.  Start with the United Nations Organization, which is mistaken for a world government or an embodiment of the world's opinion.  It is neither. The U.N. is a place where differences may be aired, not where they must be resolved.  It is ineffective by design.  Any body where one vote out of five may block action is deeply committed to stasis.  Its record in the field is unsurprising.  Massacres in Africa, in East Timor, in Srebenica have been carried out under the noses of armed U.N. representatives.  The anti-war left of today aspires to be an update of the movement against the Vietnam war.  But that movement owed exactly nothing to the U.N.  And the U.N.'s pet cause, the "Palestinian people," is the product of the 1967 war, which was the product of the withdrawal of U.N. troops from the Sinai, which was, in turn, the product of nothing more than a simple request from Jamaal "abd-al-Nasr.

It would be easy to cite instances of moral squalor at the U.N., but the point lies elsewhere.  Just as the U.N. is not designed to be effective, it is not designed to be good.  It is an assemblage of the world's governments, and not even on their best behavior.  It is l?homme moyen tyrannique.  It is The World As Is, alibis included.

The anti-war left's appeal to "international law? is baseless.  International law is a kind of law.  But just as a Dutch uncle is not your mother's brother, or a French letter doesn't belong in a mailbox, international law won't get a car towed from your driveway.  It is either purely consensual (countries agreeing to mediation), impurely consensual (smaller countries yielding to larger countries or to consortia of the more powerful), or not consensual at all, but with some semblance of benignity (e.g. The Nuremburg trials, which acquitted a few defendants, and hanged the clearly deserving).  It is a law without a sovereign.  And, in present circumstances, it is no impediment at all to, say, a nuclear war.

Here at home, the anti-war left has found more reasons to be cheerful.  They may fairly wiggle out of the embrace of a David Duke (although their discomfort is entirely deserved).5  But if they only seem to be saying the same things as Duke, they really are saying the same thing as Brent Scowcroft, as Colin Powell (and the State Department generally), and if he would have them, as Henry Kissinger.  Their main voice in the press is not, say, a contemporary I. F. Stone's Weekly, but The New York Times.


Two
special
cases:


The CIA has struck a dovish pose.  Well, okay, but what should their opinion count for?  9/11, after all, calls their performance into question.  They may or may not have been grossly at fault.  If they were, their opinion isn't worth much (and even less, if they have to make excuses, without seeming to, for their failures)

If they weren't, it's for one of two reasons.  Either they caved under pressure from the left, as the right claims (the culture of Allen Dulles yielded to the culture of Frank Church), or nobody could reasonably have been expected to prevent 9/11.  Neither seems entirely true, nor entirely false.  But whether the CIA is in disarray, or just out of its depth, it can't speak too authoritatively.  A few years back, it was asked, What's left of the left?  Today, it should be, what's left to the left?

The military, bless "em, is pro-war, and, bless "em, good at it.  The anti-war left, though, has latched on to a few retired generals.  These guys, who oppose war, need to be heard.  Now, a few opinions are possible about the American military.  Here are two: First, it is the most efficient human rights organization on earth.  Second, it is an organization that specializes in atrocity. Among those who make up the anti-war left, almost no-one believes the first, while the second is almost an Article of Faith.  It's worth asking:  if war on Iraq has everything to do with human rights, and the military is antithetical to human rights, are old soldiers even competent to talk about this stuff?  A retired military officer's arguments (like anybody else's) deserve consideration, but it is not a uniform that speaks.  The members of the anti-war left, so long so hostile to the military, are now telling the rest of us, 'they're baby-killers, yes, but they're wise men."

The anti-war left has come to adore deterrence.  They, for real (or as for real as they get), have learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.  There used to be talk of the overwhelming psychic burden that the very existence of nuclear weapons brought.  Martin Amis, for one, claimed the thought of the Bomb made him literally nauseous. Turns out, according to the peace movement, it's not so bad.  M.A.D. did work " but it almost didn't, and it probably won't in changed historical circumstances. Its very success is dangerously lulling.  It was more bearable to think that M.A.D. made us invulnerable. It did not, and present strategies (airport security, etc.) that pretend to make us invulnerable are useful but insufficient.  Enemies like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, etc. must have their vulnerability brought home to them, just as ours has irreversibly been brought home to us.  The World Islamic Front " and its admirers " never doubted that we could incinerate them, only that we would.  That confidence needs to be erased:  if less bloodily, better, but erased certainly, and erased forever.

Containment has found some new admirers.  It worked, supposedly, with the USSR, and it could with, for example, Iraq.  But in the Cold War, it worked uncertainly, and only by default; and it ended with a kind of rollback.  In the case of Iraq, containment has already failed.  And Iraq is only a special instance of a larger problem.  At the heart of almost all Arab politics " all successful6 Arab politics " is a genocidal racism.  That racism will not be kept behind lines on a map.  And even if containment did work, there's a moral issue.  Direct, all-out military confrontation with the USSR could not have been won.  The term "captive nation? used to enjoy some currency.  Iraq is clearly such a nation, and its captors can be killed.  To urge containment is to consent to quite a lot.  It's easy to live next door to a torture chamber.  When it gets loud, just shut your windows.

The case for inspections is a version of the fondness for containment.  It begins, of course, by jettisoning the whole question of human rights.  But by what right do you impose an inspections regime on this state, if not that it is illegitimate?  Why then tolerate it at all?  You may (probably foolishly) think it's easier for you, but there are other people in the world.  What recommends inspections?  The latest Dissent, online, features an article by Michael Walzer, "Inspections Yes, War No."  Inspections, in other words, don't have to work; they only have to be anything-but.  Hans Blix is hardly likely to report a material breach.  Kofi Annan still finds Saddam someone "I can work with."  Ineffectual, world-without-end inspections become their own objective.  Further, if inspections are advisable, it is because they are indispensable; and they did not become indispensable suddenly.  How many of those now so resolute for inspections have been pressing the point only in recent years?  Inspections are better than no inspections.  But only the prospect of massive American violence has produced the current round.  Clearly, better than the drole de paix has been the threat of force; and better than the threat of force, it will prove, will be the use of force.

The Arabs, generically, have been cast as the latest example, a particularly unsuitable one, of what used to be known as a substitute proletariat.  They, and particularly the "Palestinians," are imagined to be victimized.  Ramsey Clark talked Lynne Stewart into representing the first crop of World Trade Center bombers with the argument that the "Arab world? should not feel abandoned by the American left.  Shouldn't an American left be "Abd-al Rahman's worst enemy?

Arab political aspirations didn't used to rate very high on the left.  When " infrequently " an argument was made for some military dictator, it was not because he was "progressive? exactly, but because he opposed the most reactionary types imaginable " precisely the "Abd-al Rahmans.  The mustaches were deemed preferable to the beards; but today's anti-war left is happy to lie for the beards, to chercher l?infame.  The Arab side " and particularly the "Palestinians? " admired Mussolini, backed Hitler, allied with the USSR, will now support both Saddam and Usaama. That the anti-war movement is embracing al-watan-al-?arabi is not good news for either side.

The left has, for some time, been very needy.  Two examples:  one Trotskyist group in the "80's liked to paint this on walls:  SUPPORT SOVIET AID TO AFGHANISTAN.  There spoke


'Invading Iraq
is so
10 years ago'


conviction, though its appeal was not broad.  The second example is the freeze movement.  That movement was generally in sympathy with Soviet positions.  This was not because the freeze movement was a Communist operation, but because of what the Situationists had called, in a related context, an absence of imagination.  The USSR was not cherished as a heroic myth of October, but acceded to as part of the world as given. The world was not alterable, and the left wasn't going to try.  The freeze movement sprang from exhaustion.  It failed in its immediate objectives, and it was disappointed in its larger expectations.  It left nothing behind but candidates for the next bad idea.

And NO WAR ON IRAQ is one such bad idea.  A couple of months ago, I saw a sticker on a lamppost that said, "Invading Iraq is so 10 years ago."  It's a sentiment that's not true, and it lacks a certain intellectual heft.  But it does have charm, wit, style.  It popped into someone's head.  Naturally, the anti-war left has preferred the supercilious "NOT IN OUR NAME," the prissy (and unearned) "Our grief is not a cry for war," the beating-worthy "Move On."  "No Blood for Oil," weary then, has aged particularly badly.  People who are really going to war for access to oil do not first insist on sanctions.  One would expect them to act like a CEO of Haliburton in the "90s, not like the Vice President of the United States in 2002.  One would expect them to cozy up to the Saudis " who call Saddam "brother."  Nineteenth Century models of imperialism don't fit the modern petroleum market.  Middle Eastern oil, discovered by Western geologists, dug by Western engineers, maintained by Western technology, funded by Western capital, valuable because of Western industry, transported by pipelines of Western design, manufacture, and maintenance, or by Western tankers in seas protected by American warships " that oil is simply theirs.  Licensing agreements have been torn up.   Marketing practices that would have resulted in long prison sentences here have been routine.  A country like Libya could expropriate the assets of a Western oil company with no fear of retaliation.  The OPEC members most eager to jack up prices in the "70s were those staunch pro-Americans " the Pahlavi and the ibn Sa?ud families.  War in Iraq is no more about oil than the war in Vietnam was.

But, the further objection is raised, Saddam may not be the very worst the world has to offer.  What difference does it make?  He's past due, and if he goes before, say Hassan Nasrallah, that's a matter not of ethics or strategy, but simply tactics.  Democratic sensibilities should not be squeamish.  The anti-war movement would rather go on about Bush's war. When Bush appeared at Ground Zero, he was not selling war to those present on 9/11.  The people of New York had known what must follow, while George Bush was still sailing among the clouds.  The left looks at Bush and says, "We're not him."  The truth is, Not even him.  The anti-war movement would rather parade its blamelessness and purity of intention than acknowledge a harsh but not irremediable world.  Their loss.  Wo ich war, soll es werden.

Leftists fancy themselves as those who dare to dream.  Rather, they're the party with the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door.

12 " 6 " 02

* * *

Notes

1  Neighbor, how stands The Nation"  Week after week it serves up its three unreadable stylists, John Leonard, Alexander Cockburn, and the now departed Christopher Hitchens; big articles?like Jonathan Schell?on nuclear weapons?(con); Katha Pollitt's 'subject to Debate? (Her and who else?  As Beatrice says to Benedick: "Nobody marks you."); the humor column " the humor column is a must! " by Calvin Trillin; and in the back of the book a lot of dancing about architecture:  musical criticism, Edward Said on treble, Gene Santoro on bass, and if you still haven't had enough, Stuart Klawans on movies.

There's a reason The Nation can be found in dentists? waiting rooms.  After, needles, hooks, drills, and pliers will all seem sweet relief.

2  Arafat's own security forces are tasked with the killing of the unarmed, Arabs, Jews, and others.

3  Commentators on the right gleefully resurrected warlike remarks, from 1998, by Tom Daschle.  But who backed him up then?  There's enough hypocrisy for everybody.

4  In the (U.K.) Guardian, dated December 5, there is a short article strongly suggesting that the recent attempted mass murder in a Moscow theater was a job contracted out from Saudi Arabia.

5  When Laurent Murawiec gave a presentation before the Defense Policy Board where he offered some " actually " pretty penetrating observations on Saudi Arabia, he was denounced by the peace movement.  But he was not answered with argument.  Rather, it was noted that, some years back, Murawiec had an association with Lyndon La Rouche.  Murawiec was therefore discredited.  Richard Perle, who had attended the presentation was discredited.  Paul Wolfowitz by extension was discredited.  The war party was discredited.  The peace movement embodies reason. Q.E.D.

Lyndon La Rouche himself is firmly in the peace camp.

6        'successful? here is a relative term.

* * *

Charles O?Brien's articles on the war " and other subjects " are online at http://www.firstofthemonth.org . ##


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