A year into the Obama administration, American foreign policy has yet to experience the change for which many progressives—and some conservatives—hoped. Even as U.S. forces remain mired in Iraq, the president has committed more troops to Afghanistan and escalated incursions into Pakistan. He prosecutes the war on terror at home and abroad in much the same manner as his predecessor, and militarism continues to find support on both sides of the partisan divide.
Must effective opposition to war and empire also cross ideological lines? It often has. The Anti-Imperialist League, founded in 1898, brought progressives such as Jane Addams together with conservatives and classical liberals such as William Dean Howells and Oswald Garrison Villard. In the 1960s, libertarians Murray Rothbard and Leonard Liggio attempted a similarly ecumenical effort with their journal Left and Right, though opposition to the Vietnam War remained almost wholly left-wing.
Today, men of the Right such as Andrew Bacevich and Bill Kauffman publish volumes in the American Empire Project edited by progressives Tom Englehardt and Steve Fraser, while antiwar left-wingers such as Norman Mailer and Ralph Nader appear in the pages of TAC. A new Left-Right coalition called Come Home, America recently met in Washington, D.C. With memories of Bush’s militarism fresh in the minds of the Left and the reality of Obama’s warmongering spurring on the noninterventionist Right, is this the moment for all enemies of empire to come together?
We invited thinkers from across the spectrum to address that question and related ones such as: What obstacles stand in the way of cooperation between progressives and conservatives? Why have earlier antiwar attempts failed? And is it enough to oppose war and imperialism, or must a successful alliance have a positive vision as well?
William S. Lind Several years ago, I remarked over lunch to the Third Secretary of the Russian Embassy that America is now a one-party country. He replied, “Yes, it’s quite obvious.” Russians know what one-party states look like.
America’s one party is the Establishment Party, which is also the War Party. Why is it for war? In part, ideology—the third great totalizing ideology of the 20th century, “democratic capitalism.” In part, hubris. And in part, because war is a racket that pays well—if you are a member of the Establishment.
Its power is almost beyond challenge, at least until folly lays it low. That may be coming soon. In the meantime, one of the few things that gets its attention is a Left-Right anti-Establishment coalition. Left or Right alone is easy to deal with, but on the rare occasions when they team up, the problem becomes a bit tricky. The bogeyman caricatures that normally stop each are nullified by the presence of their opposites.
What if Left and Right teamed up to end wars of choice and the American Empire they seek to build, perhaps in time to prevent national bankruptcy? Alone, the Left’s opposition to war and the Right’s demands for fiscal prudence are going nowhere. Joining forces would seem to be worth a shot.
The obstacles are not trivial. The first is the Left’s ideology of cultural Marxism, aka political correctness. Its purpose is to poison Western culture, the preservation and restoration of which is conservatives’ primary goal. Yet from the Left’s perspective, anyone who defies the Frankfurt School’s spew is evil incarnate, another Hitler.
Both camps also face serious internal obstacles. President Obama is proving to be a better front man for the war and empire crowd than Bush, but how can the Left get its people to go after a Democrat and America’s First Black President? Conservatives could not convince their grassroots to break with Bush when he blew the budget, and he was just a Republican, not an icon.
On the Right, how do conservatives opposed to war, empire, and ruin get a hearing amidst the din of neocon howls? Far more conservatives listen to Rush and watch Fox than read The American Conservative. Ron Paul’s win in the CPAC straw poll suggests the neocons’ lock may be weakening; the conservative activists who voted for him had to accept his anti-empire position, even if it was not the motivation for their votes. But reaching the grassroots with the message is a challenge.
Assuming Left and Right attempt to form a coalition, language is likely to be a problem. Words that remind conservatives of the antiwar movement of the 1960s—“peace,” “anti-imperialism,” “anti-militarism”—are nonstarters.
All that said, neither Left nor Right has anything to lose by exploring a coalition because alone neither is having an impact. Afghanistan and tomorrow Iran, Yemen, and Somalia, etc. Eventually the combination of military and financial overextension will bring the roof down. It always has. But at that point, it will be helpful to have a thought-out alternative on the table, one that has activists, money, and votes behind it.
William S. Lind is author, with Paul Weyrich, of The Next Conservatism.
Paul Buhle & Dave Wagner
The separation between Right and Left is so long-standing and appears so vast that only contemporary crises on the scale of the last century’s two world wars could prepare the conditions for a new coalescence.
We’ve arrived at that moment for the first time in generations, now compelled by the failure of the long war to establish control of south Asian resources. Recent reports that General Petraeus has asked the Joint Chiefs to declare the West Bank and Gaza part of his area of operations because the occupation threatens to pull down his entire enterprise is the symbolic capstone on the long process of militarizing all U.S. foreign policy. We are at the point when victory will be defined as the British did after World War II, with an empire in decline and soldiers returning to an economy hollowed out by a financial sector that pockets 40 cents of every dollar of profit. Nor is there any prospect for improvement.
Meanwhile, antiwar activists on the Right as well as the Left are isolated by their respective national parties, as ideology itself has been marginalized. Yet the irony may be that this marginalization will open an opportunity for dialogue between Right and Left and even for common action against the war.
If it helps thaw the frozen language of protest, long discounted by the official organs of opinion and contained by a militarized constabulary, it’s a worthwhile risk. There are few other hopes for confronting the war-drunk leadership of Republicans and Democrats alike.
Paul Buhle is a retired former senior lecturer at Brown University, author or editor of 35 books, and founding editor of Radical America. Dave Wagner is a retired journalist for the Arizona Republic, among other newspapers.
Paul Gottfried I have no hope for any alliance between the antiwar Right and any significant leftist force. Individual liberals may establish informal relations with self-identified conservatives, but one should avoid generalizing from this observation. Individual libertarians, like Bill Kauffman and Justin Raimondo, may get on well with maverick leftists Alexander Cockburn and Gore Vidal. But this does not foreshadow larger trends. During the Bush administration, the antiwar Right struggled to connect with leftist opponents of the war, and they received hardly any attention from their would-be partners in organizing antiwar activity.
The reasons for this non-recognition seem self-evident. First, the Left has no interest in being allied to social reactionaries by becoming identified with the antiwar Right. The Left is happier to deal with “conservatives” like David Frum and David Brooks, with whom they agree on most social issues, even if they remain apart on foreign policy. For those who consider gay marriage, unrestricted abortion, and special rights for minorities to be paramount issues, having Catholic traditionalists or paleolibertarians as allies is not a genuine strategic option.
Second, there is no recognizable advantage for the Left to be allied to marginalized people on the Right. As long as neoconservatives control the media and financial resources of the conservative movement, no one, except for hopelessly deluded antiwar rightists, would consider an alliance with our side to be a political coup. Unless the antiwar Right can push itself into public attention and counteract the neoconservative-fashioned image of “conservatives,” the Left can have no practical interest in reaching across the ideological chasm.
Finally, unlike the antiwar Right, which has suffered grievously for its principled stand, most of the Left’s opposition to the war against terror was mere posturing. It was a means to get a Democrat elected president and to be able to advance a leftist social agenda. The noisy opposition to Bush’s war on terror turned into a whisper as soon as a black leftist president was put in charge of it. Liberals are much less concerned than the antiwar Right about how executive power is exercised. They have no problem with left-wing dictatorships that engage in massive social reform. What they object to is having politicians whom they don’t regard as leftists exercising power. Once Obama and his crew took over the ship of state, for most of the Left, opposition to the war ceased to matter.
Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author ofConservatism in America, among other works.
Stephen Walt The election of Barack Obama did not produce a significant change in American foreign policy or grand strategy. Obama’s style and tone are different, and he deserves credit for halting immoral excesses like waterboarding. But he has continued most of the Bush administration’s other counterterrorism policies, will keep thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011, and has escalated U.S. involvement in Central Asia. He’s beaten a hasty retreat from his attempt to get Israel to stop building settlements, and his policy toward Iran looks more like Bush’s every week. Despite a sluggish economy, soaring deficits, deep fiscal problems at the state and local level, and the need to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure, military spending continues to rise. Instead of “change we can believe in,” Obama has thus far given us more of the same.
One reason for this consistency is America’s continued global primacy. The U.S. is still the world’s foremost economic and military power. And when you’re the 800-pound gorilla, it’s hard to imagine that there are things you can’t do.
Another explanation for America’s continued global activism is the imbalance of power between organized interests that constantly push for greater involvement and the far weaker groups who favor restraint. American liberal internationalism didn’t just arise spontaneously as U.S. power grew; it was nurtured by groups like the Council on Foreign Relations, which was created to overcome isolationist sentiments. There are also civic action groups like the Foreign Policy Association, the World Affairs Councils, or the United Nations Association, as well as influential think tanks like the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Center for a New American Security.
Washington is also home to numerous special interests with their own international agendas. Whether the issue is Cuba, Darfur, the Middle East, Armenia, arms control, trade, human rights, or climate policy, there is bound to be some well-funded group pressing Washington to focus more energy and attention on its particular pet issue.
Add it all up, and we have a foreign-policy establishment that constantly looks for problems to solve, even when U.S. vital interests are not concerned and when we have no idea how to fix the problems at hand. Nor does it matter which party is in power; when it comes to foreign policy, we increasingly have a one-party system of in-and-outers, endlessly circulating between government and these various supporting institutions.
America’s persistent over-engagement in the world is due to two imbalances of power, not just one. The first is the gap between U.S. capabilities and everyone else’s, which encourages the United States to do too much and allows others to do too little. The second imbalance is between organized interests whose core mission is pushing the U.S. to do more in more places and the less influential groups who think we might be better off doing less.
Stephen Walt is professor of international affairs at Harvard University and author, with John Mearsheimer, of The Israel Lobby.
Matthew Yglesias Advocates of a more restrained American foreign policy have not had a good couple of decades. On the Right, the neoconservative faction appears more dominant than ever, notwithstanding the terrible consequences of their approach during the Bush years. On the Left, the Barack Obama of the primary campaign who said, “I don’t want to just end the war, I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place” has transformed into a president who offers mostly incremental change—a more prudently managed version of the same hegemonic aspirations that have governed the United States since the end of the Cold War. But in the nation’s looming budgetary crisis, critics of this mindset will soon find an opportunity.
Integral to the dominant approach of recent decades has been the firm principle that nobody should have to pay any price for the upkeep of our military posture. Taxpayers are insulated from costs by the bipartisan consensus that military spending should be exempt from both formal budgetary constraint and the kind of political scrutiny given to other kinds of spending.
In normal times, such conduct might have been expected to produce a debt crisis. But the People’s Republic of China has decided that it serves China’s interests to engage in massive purchases of foreign currencies in order to keep its currency cheap and its volume of exports high. This is a shaky basis for global military hegemony, and all signs are that it won’t last long.
Soon enough, interest rates will begin to rise and the retirement of the Baby Boomers will begin to weigh heavily on the budget. At that point, the political basis of America’s national security posture will become untenable. It’s not so much that we won’t be able to afford the kind of defense spending we have today as that it won’t be possible for the military-industrial complex to avoid having its funding priorities put into direct competition with other claims on tax dollars. And here is where advocates of a new approach must make our mark felt—by insisting that reformulating our “defense” policy more narrowly around the goal of defending the country is far and away the most appealing avenue available for closing the gap between revenues and expenditures.
Matthew Yglesias is a fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Justin Raimondo I see little chance of a Left-Right alliance against anything at the moment, much less against our foreign policy of global intervention.
The presidency of Barack Obama has polarized the country to a degree we haven’t seen since the Sixties. In the age of empire, the presidential persona so defines our politics that it overwhelms virtually all other factors. With the electorate and the elites divided between pro-Obama and anti-Obama camps, the issue of war and peace is viewed through a distorting prism, one that tends to fracture any Left-Right unity.
The Left is devoted to Obama for all sorts of political and cultural reasons and refuses to confront his administration on its conduct of foreign affairs. Never mind that their hero has out-Bushed Bush, escalating the war on terror and following through on Obama’s campaign pledge to invade Pakistan. We hear not a whisper of protest from the formerly “antiwar” Democrats in Congress nor from the official peace movement of former Stalinists and wild-eyed Trotskyites. Indeed, United for Peace and Justice, the major lefty “united front against war,” hailed Obama’s election and since then seems to have dropped the “peace” aspect of its activities altogether.
On the Right, the neocons are still doing a bang-up business at the same old stand, unhurt by having been totally discredited by the Iraq War. Although facing an insurgency by Ron Paul’s legions, the neocons are far from being finished as a political force. While gains have been made by anti-interventionist conservatives who can play the Obama card—I often call the current phase of our eternal war on terror “Obama’s war” to prod right-wingers in an anti-interventionist direction—there is still much work to be done.
So what we have is the complete absence of a real leftist movement in this country, in the sense of the old-line hard-Left anti-imperialism that animated the antiwar movement of the 1960s, and a neocon-dominated Right that is fanatically devoted to militarism as a matter of high principle. This leaves us with a void in terms of political leadership.
But while the subjective conditions for a mass Left-Right movement against our crazed foreign policy are not good, the objective conditions—popular disgust with and rising opposition to endless wars—have never been better. A recent Pew poll showed that Americans would prefer a foreign policy described as “minding our own business.” The same poll shows our elites have quite the opposite opinion. This divergence is the linchpin of any movement against interventionism: the brewing populist revolt against our corrupt, hapless elites can be turned against the War Party quite easily. Once we get political leaders on both sides of the spectrum who see this as an opportunity and move to take advantage of it, a Left-Right alliance against the empire will develop naturally.
Justin Raimondo is editorial director of Antiwar.com.
Robert Dreyfuss Except in the unlikely event that things in Afghanistan go horribly awry—for instance, were the Taliban to launch a Tet-style countrywide assault that threatens to seize Kabul—it’s almost impossible to imagine a significant antiwar movement emerging in the United States. Neither the mainstream media nor the political elite have challenged the dominant narrative that the war is a defensive crusade against the people behind 9/11. U.S. casualties have been confined to a tolerable level for the body politic. And so far, at least, the public seems to believe that the Obama administration can succeed.
Despite all that, a significant percentage of Americans, the polls tell us, no longer supports the war in Afghanistan. Yet incipient opposition to the war has not produced a vibrant antiwar movement.
In fact, opposition to the war in Afghanistan has been confined to a boisterous, usual-suspects coalition of activists, including such organizations as Code Pink that have little resonance with a broader constituency. That’s unlikely to change, as long as the public at large—along with many progressive and left-leaning activists—believes that Obama can deliver the goods in areas such as job creation, financial regulation, and healthcare reform. Even during the Bush administration, when anti-Cheney, anti-neoconservative animus spurred leftist opposition to the war in Iraq, the antiwar movement was relatively small and ineffective.
Recently, some activists have tried to broaden the idea of an antiwar movement by imagining a Left-Right coalition, bringing together progressives, anti-military activists, and the peace movement on the Left with realist-minded, traditional conservatives and libertarians who oppose U.S. interventionism on the Right. Unfortunately, such a two-winged bird is unlikely to take flight, if for no other reason than the fact that its left wing is many times heavier than its right wing.
On the Right, few organized Republicans and libertarians will risk being exiled by challenging the party’s lockstep embrace of the military and its counterinsurgency cult. With the exception of outliers such as Rep. Walter Jones—and, of course, the quixotic and weirdly off-kilter Ron Paul—there is no measurable opposition to the war among Republicans. Indeed, when Obama launched his escalation of the Afghan war last fall, the hyperpartisan Republicans abandoned partisanship and gleefully supported it. In that atmosphere, it’s hard to imagine that antiwar sentiment can gain traction among the Republican base. Even the raucous, irrepressible Tea Party movement backs the war vociferously, if not intelligently.
On the Left, a band of progressive members of Congress—led by Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Jim McGovern and Sen. Russ Feingold—has pressed the Obama administration for an exit strategy. The antiwar caucus draws support from and energizes the antiwar movement, such as it is, including peace groups, church-based antiwar groups, and the organized Left. In contrast to the mindlessly pro-war GOP, there are scores of members of Congress who support their efforts, but just as their inability to block Bush’s war efforts faltered, they’ve been undermined by the Democratic caucus’s unwillingness to challenge Obama.
So what’s the answer? Obama has declared that U.S. troops will begin leaving Afghanistan in July 2011. Between now and then, it’s possible to imagine the small antiwar movement joining forces with liberal and centrist Democrats to press Obama to explain exactly what steps he plans to take to ensure that the deadline is a real one. Will the Afghan National Army be ready? Does the U.S. have a strategy to engage the Taliban and its allies in credible talks? Is Obama launching a diplomatic surge among interested countries, including Afghanistan’s neighbors, to underwrite a new coalition government? That’s a strategy that could energize the peace movement, motivate the Democratic leadership in Congress and, perhaps, dovetail with what the administration may be thinking anyway.
Robert Dreyfuss is an investigative journalist whose work has appeared in The Nation, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, and The American Prospect.
Markos Moulitsas On war and civil-liberty issues, the problem is simple: Republicans are too eager to demagogue and Democrats are too quick to cave. Fear pervades both parties—the former is afraid of scary brown people, the latter afraid of electoral losses.
If Republicans quit trying to score political points by accusing Democrats of being weak on national security, then Democrats could quit being cowards. But of course, that will never happen. The modern GOP is built on a solid neocon foundation, and its war on terror rhetoric gave it control of the Senate in the ’00s (counting among Democrats’ casualties Sen. Max Cleland, a triple amputee Vietnam War hero) and saved George W. Bush’s hide in 2004.
The public may have since soured on the neocons, but subsequent electoral defeats have only radicalized Republicans. Indeed, neocons like Daniel Pipes have doubled down on the strategy, even demanding that President Obama attack Iran as a way to “salvage his tottering administration.” While Sarah Palin quickly endorsed the idea, Obama didn’t seem eager to use our troops as political pawns. Thankfully.
Yet Obama is often politically isolated when he tries to do the right thing, such as closing Guantanamo and trying terrorist suspects in civilian courts. Republicans, with little else in their electoral arsenal, have desperately tried to whip the public into a frenzy of fear. The Christmas Crotch Bomber failed spectacularly in his amateurish attempt to bring down an airliner, yet that didn’t stop Bill Kristol from saying on “Fox News Sunday,” “This last week has been a victory for al-Qaeda.” Fox anchor Brit Hume agreed, “If I were the al-Qaeda people, I think Bill’s right. They could look at this as a success. This was an attack that didn’t succeed on the scale it was expected to, but did succeed.” Lurita Doan, a Bush administration bureaucrat, wrote at the conservative Big Government site, “Everyone keeps saying how lucky we are that the ‘crotch’ bomber on Flight 253 was unable to ignite the explosives hidden in his underwear, but I am sorry to report that the attack was actually a huge success.” Conservatives need a strong al-Qaeda to scare the American people, so they’ve become al-Qaeda’s biggest cheerleaders.
So where exactly are these anti-interventionist conservatives, willing to partner with progressives on rolling back the most ridiculous tenets of the absurd war on terror? Unfortunately, they don’t exist in any appreciable numbers.
Markos Moulitsas is the founder of Daily Kos. His third book, American Taliban: How Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists With the Radical Right, will be out in September.
Donald Devine Peace movements generally do not work in the U.S. because it is so easy to characterize them as unpatriotic. Only two have been successful for a prolonged period and only one, America First before World War II, was a true coalition between Left and Right. The other, against the war in Vietnam, could not solve the problem that the Left was opposed ideologically to war itself (or to this one because the enemy was leftist), and the Right was only opposed pragmatically, especially regarding the means that should be utilized.
The same is pretty much true today. The ideological divide is immense. Could the Left and Right agree that Ronald Reagan committed fewer U.S. forces to foreign military engagements than any post-World War II president other than Jimmy Carter? Could they agree that was an antiwar policy?
Was President Reagan’s statement of policy in his first Inaugural Address sufficiently noninterventionist? “As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for it, now or ever. Our forbearance should never be misunderstood. Our reluctance for conflict should not be misjudged as a failure of will. When action is required to preserve our national security, we will act. We will maintain sufficient strength to prevail if need be, knowing that if we do so we have the best chance of never having to use that strength.”
Could Left and Right agree that his policy, culminating in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, produced the most significant movement toward peace in modern times? By the treaty’s deadline of June 1, 1991, a total of 2,692 nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with intermediate ranges had been destroyed.
If something so simple cannot be agreed upon, there are great obstacles to overcome before any Left-Right discussion could be fruitful.
Donald Devine is editor of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s ConservativeBattleline On Line.
David Rieff I see no reason conservatives and progressives can’t join forces in opposing the war on terror. If they want to stand a chance of reining it in, they’d better. (I’m extremely pessimistic about the chances of stopping it entirely.) Like William Pfaff, who I don’t think could comfortably be pigeon-holed as being Left or Right, I have a terrible fear that only a disaster will make a substantial number of Americans think differently about our descent into militarism since at least the end of World War II.
For now, the hold of the National Security State seems as impregnable as our two-party system. We may grumble about both from time to time, and look hopefully toward third-party candidacies, but from William Jennings Bryan and Eugene Debs to Ross Perot and Ralph Nader, they have never managed to realize their supporters’ hopes. I see no unsentimental reason why a Ron Paul candidacy will do any better.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the two-party duopoly that rules this country through the self-reinforcing mechanisms of money, gerrymandering, and incumbency has been to convince the public that this rigged game is in its own interest. Similarly, 50 years of propaganda—from liberals as much if not more than from conservatives—has persuaded the American public that the U.S. having roughly 1,000 foreign military bases is something we dare not change for the good of the world as much as for our own national interests.
This is not patriotism but narcissism. But try telling that to the propagandists at the liberal foreign-policy blog “Democracy Arsenal”—the name tells you everything you need to know—or the conservative ones at National Review’s “The Corner.” Castro once infamously said, “Inside the Revolution anything, outside it nothing.” Replace revolution with Pax Americana or, if you prefer the soft-power liberal variant, American leadership and “moral authority,” and the imperial consensus in contemporary Washington takes pretty much the same line.
Breaking this consensus is the great task of anyone who believes the continuation of the American empire will lead to disaster. For the antiwar Left and Right to come together to do so seems like common sense. Having said that, as readers of The American Conservative know far better than I, the vast majority of the American Right is still firmly committed to the Republican Party, and the Republican Party—as speeches of all the major contenders for the Republican nomination in 2012 make depressingly clear—is unbending in its support of the National Security State.
The Left of the Democratic Party isn’t anti-imperialist enough for me, but it is anti-imperialist by tradition and inclination. Still, I have a difficult time seeing leftists within the party turning on President Obama. What they find intolerable is less that he is behaving like Bush 2.0 in Afghanistan than that this hawkish foreign policy has not been accompanied by a strong push for the social-democratic domestic-policy agenda candidate Obama promised. Much like the attitude of the Bush administration to social conservatives, the Obama administration counts on the fact that the Left feels it has nowhere else to go.
Changing those two dynamics is the work of a generation, if it is even possible at all. But if we, on the anti-imperial Right and the anti-imperial Left, believe what we say, we had damned well better try.
David Rieff is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and the author of eight books.
Thomas E. Woods Jr. I am skeptical about the prospects for a Left-Right alliance against war even though I would very much like to see one. My skepticism derives from personal experience: important progressive websites, seeking to damage my good name, have supported their case against me by pointing to Max Boot’s criticism of my work. One of the world’s shortest books might discuss the U.S. military interventions that Boot has not supported with macabre gusto. His impatience with me is due in part to my strong disapproval of Woodrow Wilson’s decision to intervene in World War I.
If progressives prefer Max Boot to an antiwar libertarian like me, and in fact have a soft spot for the unspeakable Wilson, I am unable to see how a proposed alliance is going to work.
Yet there’s no reason in theory that it can’t, and in practice we do have a helpful model: the Anti-Imperialist League, established in the waning years of the 19th century. There Andrew Carnegie, Samuel Gompers, William James, Edward Atkinson, and a wide variety of other figures of Left and Right worked in happy concord against the War Party of their day.
One potential difficulty, some have suggested, is that such a coalition would lack a positive program, united only in its opposition to war. I disagree. Peace more than suffices as a positive program. War, after all, has managed to hold together the Lieberman/Limbaugh alliance pretty well.
I suspect Right and Left have much to learn from each other. Several years ago, I wrote a lengthy paper on the work of Seymour Melman, a leftist whose analysis of the military state struck me as valuable and original. I wrote the paper in order to alert libertarians to his important work, which I suspect had been neglected either because of Melman’s (largely irrelevant) ideological commitments or simply because our side had never come across it before.
The most dangerous extremists in our society are to be found in that continuum from Mitt Romney to Hillary Clinton that we grotesquely describe as the “mainstream.” It thinks nothing of lying to the American public in the service of its foreign ambitions. (These are mere “mistakes” to be mildly regretted after the fact.) It cheers military campaigns that create widows and orphans in unimaginable numbers, all dissenters from this policy being, of course, America haters. Do I want to see an alliance against this horror show? More than anything in the world.
Thomas E. Woods Jr. is the author of nine books and co-editor of We Who Dared to Say No to War: American Antiwar Writing from 1812 to Now.
John V. Walsh For too long we have all been Sunni and Shia. We in opposition to war and empire have been defeated because we have been divided. The deepest fissure is loyalty to the political parties of empire, Democrat or Republican, in place of a unifying commitment to the principle of nonintervention. As long as this crippling rupture persists, we shall have empire and its necessary acolyte, war, with all the death and destruction the latter entails.
When Bush II was in charge, the progressive wing of the Democrat Party properly railed against him for his war on Iraq. But with the Obama regime, these same critics have fallen silent or have muffled their criticism, turning it into an impotent, reverential plea to do the right thing.
There is an urgency to forge a unified antiwar program for at least two reasons. First, the march of technology is such that war in the future may well threaten the human species and perhaps all of life, a truth to which Einstein long ago called our attention. Certainly it can bring suffering of untold magnitude, greater by far than that of World War II. Second, the main target of the empire’s activities now and a large part of the rationale for its depredations in Central Asia is China. America’s policy is to allow no other country to approach it as the world’s number one economic and military power. But if China is to emerge from poverty, given its huge population, it will necessarily stand on an equal footing with the U.S. or even eclipse it in output and wealth. Conflict with China, especially using India as a U.S. proxy, would mean untold death and destruction, and no one knows where such a conflict would lead. It must not happen.
What then does it take to bring Left and Right together? First, a maturity that allows one to form alliances based on certain goals without regard to others. This is, after all, politics not theology. Second, confidence. If one feels that one’s views will not stand up to contact with those of differing philosophies, then nothing is possible. The third requirement is mutual respect instead of stereotypes. If these can be achieved, there is no reason for failure.
John V. Walsh writes for CounterPunch.com and Antiwar.com.
John Lukacs When the Soviet empire collapsed in 1989, the reactions of most Americans were commendable. They did not gloat over the troubles of their adversary. The few exceptions to this overall benevolence were the nationalist “conservatives” and so-called neoconservatives. The former kept shouting, “We won!”—meaning, of course, the Republican Party. The latter, on the ascendant, declared that the time had come for many things, including the rubbing of Russia’s nose in the dust. Yet the great majority of the American people were indifferent to those sentiments. Even the first Bush’s victory in the Gulf War left them largely unmoved. So in 1992, most voted for a Democrat to become their president.
Throughout the 40 or more years of the Cold War, the Democrats had seldom, or perhaps never, proposed a foreign policy markedly different from the Republicans. The main reason was their fear of not seeming nationalist enough. Meanwhile, the Republicans completed their transformation into a nationalist and populist party. As early as 1956, their platform called for “the establishment of American air and naval bases all around the Soviet Union.” (This was the party that liberals still called “isolationist.”)
Then in 1992, this country acquired a president who was almost entirely uninterested in foreign affairs. He appointed Madeleine Albright as secretary of state, and she committed what was probably the gravest mistake in the foreign policy of the Republic in more than 200 years—the extension of the American military alliance system after 1997 to a dozen countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, and Lithuania, many of them abutting the very frontiers of Russia.
This was part of a foreign policy that has by now established more than 700 bases across the globe and that an entire American generation—liberals and conservatives alike—has come to take for granted. This mental condition constrains even the current president.
So my melancholy answer to the question of whether Left and Right together can change our foreign policy is no. But I conclude with one of Rochefoucauld’s great maxims—things are never quite as bad, or as good, as they seem. In other words, history remains unpredictable. Not much comfort that, but there it is.
John Lukacs is the author of 30 books, including the recent Legacy of the Second World War.
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