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The Nationalist Left Rises

In a telling anecdote from President Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993, one attending Democrat looked up to watch the Air Force’s fighter jet fly-over and remarked: “Those are our F-15s now.” There was hardly a nationalist Left back then, as many liberals and those even further Left had spent the better part of two decades alienated from the institutions, symbols, and instruments of U.S. power and influence. Over the succeeding two decades, however, we have seen a muscular Left nationalism rise to set liberal foreign policy, and begin to set the Democratic agenda here at home.

Nationalism and patriotism were hard sells to a generation of the disenchanted Left, thanks to the Vietnam War and revelations of assassinations both attempted and successful, coups, and more nefarious activities carried out by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. There was “Cold War liberalism” for a time, but it rarely if ever made vulgar attempts at jingoism to sell its policies to the wider public. Cold War liberalism always argued to work in concert with the international system that it had helped create. Such jingoism was instead often used by the Right, especially after the Liberal crack-up of the late 1960s when the Cold War liberals became isolated in the halls of the liberal power elite, cut off and opposed to their party’s activists on the Vietnam War, the size of military budget, nuclear weapons, U.S involvement in Central and South America, direct military action in placed like Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the first Gulf War and other foreign policy issues.

What changed the American Left was power, pure and simple. The end of the Cold War in 1991 took foreign policy from being the main point of difference between the two parties and let questions of economics take center stage, making it possible for a scandal-tarred five-term Governor of Arkansas to become President of the United States. Out of power, it had been easy for the Left to dissent against the Cold War and U.S. foreign policy, just as it had been doing since the mid-1960s. Certainly the Clintons, both Hillary and Bill, did so as young political activists at the time. Once in power, though, they and others who came through that 20-year period as dissenters were now suddenly responsible for the defense of the nation. And at first things did not go very well for them. Without a Cold War to structure U.S. foreign policy, said policy found itself confused and directionless. Military and civilian personnel often clashed, especially over culture and protocol as some wanted a peace dividend, others wanted the use the military as place for social engineering (openly serving gays in the military, women in combat roles); still others saw the military as a global police force (“What’s the use of having this great military when you can’t use it?” as Madeline Albright put it.) The resulting confusion and conflict often led to disasters like the U.S. intervention in Somalia and led to speculation about a “shrinking Presidency,” as Time magazine put it.

Bill Clinton had no intention of shrinking in office, especially after the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The New Left’s non-interventionist, anti-jingoism mentality may have channeled dissent against the Cold War and the legacy of Vietnam, but it lost force without a Cold War to dissent from. Not intervening to stop Hutus from massacring Tutsis was seen as closer to what an older Left called “isolationism” than principled nonintervention, and it came under fevered assault from, among others, President Obama’s current pick for UN Ambassador Samantha Powers.

Thus was born the nationalist Left, willing to use force even while working with our allies and international institutions (to try and set itself apart from nationalist conservatives), but always prideful of the U.S.’s place as the “indispensable nation” that intervened across the globe to support its perceived “good guys”. It almost had to be born in such a vacuum if the Democratic Party wished to govern the world’s sole remaining super power. Albright eventually became Secretary of State, her allies filled  key diplomatic, intelligence, and defense positions within the government, and those not in step with the times were let go. Soon the U.S. was sending troops all over the globe again, intervening in far more places than under the Reagan and Bush I presidencies, and ultimately intervening in the Wars of the Yugoslavian Secession after refusing to get involved under Clinton’s first term.

Even as the Clintons departed from the White House, Left Nationalism in foreign policy was here to stay. Democrats backed U.S. retaliation for 9-11 in Afghanistan. Their votes in Congress (including from then-Sen. Hillary Clinton) sent the U.S. to war in Iraq. Then British Prime Minister Tony Blair played the same inspirational and intellectual role to U.S. liberals as Winston Churchill did for U.S. conservatives generations earlier. When current Secretary of State John Kerry became the Democratic nominee for President in 2004, he did so by playing up his military service as a lieutenant in Vietnam, not as a leader of the “Winter Soldiers” of 1971, who threw away their medals in opposition to the war. “Reporting for duty!” he said at his nominating convention, backed by a row of generals on stage. One of Kerry’s major rivals for the nomination was the very general who led U.S. forces in Yugoslavia, Wesley Clark, as the nationalist Left desperately sought to shed its image of noninterventionism by draping itself in military decoration.

Yes, there was an anti-war reaction to Iraq from the Left. It staged massive marches against the war across the country, it fueled the 2004 Presidential campaign of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean (even if he wasn’t especially liberal himself), it was personified by people like Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq. And it ultimately helped a man named Barack Hussein Obama become President.

With that action, though, the fate of the non-nationalistic Left was pretty much sealed. It was much easier to organize other Leftists against a Republican, a conservative administration populated with caricature-like warmongers, but a harder sell when it’s a black, liberal President who just allowed gays in the military. Obama himself, as he repeatedly noted, never opposed intervention or war in principle, just “stupid wars” like the one in Iraq. And with the rapidity with which he withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq, and by next year will have withdrawn them from Afghanistan combined with lingering concerns about terrorism and security, it has become almost impossible to get ordinary people to dissent from U.S. foreign policy or the national security state. Under Obama, U.S. drones drop bombs which slaughter whole villages in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan, the Administration spies on reporters, the IRS investigates the political activities of public groups, the NSA collects vast swaths of American phone records, TSA agents continue to harass at the airport, the Patriot Act and other noxious, related laws still are in place, Gitmo is still a prison, and Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army PFC who leaked thousands of classified documents and diplomatic cables to the website Wikileaks, is still in prison, the government unrelenting in its efforts to prosecute him. The public’s reaction to all this? Anywhere from indifference to active cheering.


In another day and in another time, Bradley Manning would have been the perfect person to be chosen as an honorific Grand Marshal of the annual San Francisco Pride Parade. Manning’s ordeals in prison and the overzealous manner in which the federal government prosecuted him have earned him support from many all over the world. Juxtaposing his gay orientation alongside that of the military’s former prohibition against gays serving openly in its ranks would have made Manning the perfect symbol of a citizen struggling against oppression at home and militarism abroad. Certainly no one organizing such a parade would have objected to it.

Almost as soon as Manning was tabbed to be this year’s parade grand marshal by the organizing committee, though, the offer was rescinded by that committee’s leadership for a variety of reasons seen by local activists to be utterly convoluted and downright deceptive. Antiwar.com editor Justin Raimondo wrote that the parade committee is run by partisan hacks of the city’s Democratic Party machine, unwilling to embarrass the Obama Administration while it’s throwing the book at Manning, and Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald argued that the corporate backers of the parade want things to be respectable, and they put pressure on the leadership to make it so. Both may be the case, but it has also since come out that the objections to Manning headlining the parade came not just from interested institutions, but from the gays and lesbians now openly serving in the nation’s armed forces. They have a different point of view than those on the social democratic, antiwar Left about Manning’s actions, and they resent others “speaking in their name” just because Manning is gay. Thus the rise of Left nationalism has even swept one of the most stalwart counter-cultural communities of the New Left into a mainstreamed comfort with institutionalized power and militarism.

What started as a patriotic, nationalistic foreign policy has created a nationalist Left domestically as well, one that, as it has grown accustomed to wielding power, has started looking for ever more places to crusade employ it. Indeed when it comes to social questions like health care or gay marriage, the nationalist Left speaks like the old Whigs and Republicans of the 19th century. Salon writer Andrew O’Hehir unfurled the nationalist Left’s banner at the beginning of this year:

Today’s fights over abortion and gays and God and guns have a profound moral dimension, but don’t quite have the world-historical weight of the slavery question. As with slavery, however, it’s tough to imagine any viable long-term middle ground. At the moment, two women who get married in Iowa will have no legal relationship if they move to Kansas, and a teenage girl in Seattle can easily get a safe and legal abortion while her cousin in Dallas faces mandatory counseling, a 24-hour waiting period and a parental consent law. (If they have another cousin in rural Mississippi, she probably won’t find legal abortion services under any terms.) Regardless of how you feel about those issues, that’s nuts. No nation-state can function indefinitely on that kind of patchwork-quilt basis.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” as Lincoln said. As the nationalist Left flocked to watch the film Lincoln this past winter, they did not fill the theaters to see government and the Congress “working”, but to see themselves as Lincoln’s heirs, or even better Thaddeus Stevens disciples, ready to finish the job of the Reconstructing the “reactionary” South and its fellow rural red states. The communitarianism, populism, and localism of the now old New Left is pretty much gone and with it the healthy skepticism of large institutions that defined many post-1960s liberals. Today, so long as one state bans gay marriage, or tries to thwart Obamacare, or puts onerous restrictions on abortion or immigration, national solutions are needed to keep this diverse, multicultural country together. To the nationalist Left of the present day, the liberals of the 70s, 80s and even early 90s, were weak, whiney, out of touch and at times self-destructive. Their alienation was nothing more than mere posturing.  The new breed want to be Johnson, Kennedy, Truman, Roosevelt, Wilson all in one with Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Stevens rolled in for good measure.

In this they have the perfect foil for their opposition, the Tea Party Right. Born amidst the ruins of “Big Government” or “Compassionate” conservatism, Tea Partiers have tried to meld their conservative identity to a visceral libertarian view of statism, even if they can’t always agree or are fuzzy on what it would entail; that the most popular Republican amongst the young is the libertarian-influenced Ron Paul shows a sense, at least, of knowing who their opponents really are and what they represent. Such political divisions may last, and supersede the current Left-Right arguments, even perhaps realigning the parties to a degree if nationalist conservatives decide they’re willing to live with a liberal social policy in exchange for an keeping military bases open and an interventionist foreign policy.

After all, the nationalist Left dominates the Administration’s foreign policy and the organs of liberal opinion, especially amongst its younger blogger crowd. Unless events alter course, whoever succeeds Obama among the Democrats, whether it be Biden, Clinton, O’Malley or Cuomo, will largely follow the policies of the current Administration and employ the same people implementing them. Only one real liberal of any stature, former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, would offer a dissenting critique to the nationalist Left, and no one talks of an impending Feingold campaign for 2016. Even if he did run, and win, there’s no guarantee he would not act follow in the footsteps of Obama, adopting the rhetoric of the antiwar Left only to succumb to the national security apparatus that surrounds any President, along with the nationalist spell that has taken over the party. They’re at the front of the parade now, leading it where they want, and choosing the grand marshal as well.

Sean Scallon is journalist and author living in Arkansaw, Wisconsin.

73 Comments (Open | Close)

73 Comments To "The Nationalist Left Rises"

#1 Comment By Ed O On August 22, 2013 @ 11:42 am


Are you saying that the measure of left and right is public opinion on specific policies? I think that begs the question. Policy isn’t left or right in and of itself; what makes it left or right is the thinking behind it. Right and left can support the same policy positions for different reasons, and thinking on many issues doesn’t really fit a left-right model at all.

In your examples, is the “conservative” argument really that those positions are themselves far left, or is it that people on the left are foisting those positions on the public? That a position is taken by people who identify with the left doesn’t make that position left, except to the extent that it’s supported by the leftish thinking.

(And not to go off on a tangent, but I think the poll analysis is associating some positions with the Democrats that are considerably more moderate than what the party actually advocates. For instance, the DNC’s platform position is effectively that abortion should be legal in all cases, and that the public should pay for it. So, folks who said “abortion should be legal in most cases” aren’t necessarily closer to the Democrat’s position. With four substantive response options, “most” represent the middle ground between the Dems and GOP positions. I don’t know how useful that question is when it doesn’t allow a response like “abortion should be legal in some cases.”)

Now, all that said, I do agree that the public is closer to the Democrats overall, but to me that means that public opinion is drifting leftward, not that the Dems have moved to the center.

I disagree that Republicans discredited the term “liberal”. The Dems did that themselves with two decades of bad policy, just as Republicans have tarnished “conservative” in more recent years. I partially agree on the popular association of “conservative” with virtue, but I think it’s natural for one group to rhetorically take the side of virtue when the opposition wears the mantle of non-judgmentalism and values neutrality. Anyway, the Dems are still better at the either/or rhetoric: “Either you want to increase government spending and the scope of federal power as much as we do, or you want to people to suffer and die!”

#2 Comment By Ed On August 22, 2013 @ 11:46 am

Is nationalism really what your talking about here? Or its opposite (whatever that may be)? Cosmopolitanism or United World Federalism on the one hand and localism, devolutionism, and separatism on the other really weren’t part of the liberal mainstream, were they?

Apart from static on the fringes, I mean. And how real were such ideas on whatever late 20th century American left endured? I suspect TAC circles see devolutionist, “small is beautiful,” localist or secessionist thinking as more prevalent (across the political spectrum) than such ideas really are in actual political life.

Are national sovereigntism or national self-glorification (if those are some aspects of political nationalism) strong in liberal thinking and action now? There probably is more unilateralism (a legacy of the Bush era) than there once was, but I’m thinking it’s more a matter of having control of a government that’s already involved in foreign entanglements.

The next question is how this control of a government that intervenes on its own around the world relates to efforts to submit domestic matters to international organizations and treaties. Do liberals really have the globalist, “one world” agenda that the sovereigntist right ascribes to them? And how is that reconciled to heading up a very powerful government that has become used to throwing its own weight around in the world?

#3 Comment By Clint On August 22, 2013 @ 1:23 pm


“Some aren’t seeking reelection when their current Senate term is up and can run free of the AIPAC leash, among them Max Baucus, Tom Coburn, Jay Rockefeller and Carl Levin.”

Three retiring Democrats & One retiring Republican running free of the AIPAC leash, as well as who wins their opening Senate seats is interesting.

#4 Comment By Lee On August 22, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

“Foundations” by Rene Wormser will explain how and why. Voting out the 17th Amendment will help. Funny it was instituted the same year as the Federal Reserve. Humm…

#5 Comment By Vernon On August 23, 2013 @ 12:20 am

I agree with the gist of the article, though I agree with Ed that Nationalist might be the wrong word. “Comfortable with the exercise of American power military power” is probably closer to the truth. I think Vietnam created a sort of a bubble which has finally popped. There were a lot more people willing to condemn the military-industrial complex than willing to come up with alternatives.

If you believe killing animals is wrong, you have to give up eating meat. If you believe War is wrong, you have to accept other limitations, such as not being able to exercise certain power over foreign governments. Hanging out on the left/liberal side, I notice that many people who protest against War, also sign petitions saying the US should pressure foreign governments to do this or that, especially when issues like women’s rights or gay rights are involved. I never understood how the effectiveness of speaking softly could be considered separately from the fact that the US is carrying a big stick. I worked with a few activist groups in Latin America, with many people who were vegetarians and anti-war. And I think most people fresh out of college had thought a lot more deeply about the issues and tradeoffs involved in renouncing killing animals for food than even the people who had been activists for years had about the tradeoffs involved in in renouncing killing people for foreign policy. Of course almost everyone had had to engage on at least some level with the diversity of ideas about diet, whereas it is a little easier to ensconce yourself in a political echo chamber.

Based on those experiences, I think many people who identify as antiwar can be fairly easily corralled into concentrating on other issues when they vote. Their parents laughed at jokes about “military intelligence,” they condemn drones and Guantanamo, but they would never, ever vote for a Republican. One story would be that access to power changed the politicians, but another would be that it has become clearer and clearer that there is no need for democrats to kowtow to anti-war arguments in order to win elections.

Obama’s attempt to identify with Just War theory and distance himself from Iraq because it didn’t meet that standard strikes me as both more responsible and more intellectually satisfying than most anti-war organizations I encountered. Sometimes individuals at the margins would make a comment which stayed with me, but the facilitators kept the conversation focused on privilege and sexism. The other thing you notice in anti war groups is how much consciousness raising has centered around sexual violence in war zones, and one key advantage drones have over human soldiers is that they are significantly less likely to be accused of rape.

#6 Comment By Timely Renewed On August 23, 2013 @ 1:26 am

Since both the traditional Left and Right, and all of the branches of the federal government, Congress and the Supreme Court as well as the President, have colluded in this massive expansion of the power of the national government, the only peaceful resort left to us to amend the Constitution to restore its original meaning. This approach has received some attention with the publication of Mark Levin’s latest book. However, the problem is how you achieve such amendments when Congress has a de facto monopoly on initiating amendments.

Levin and others point to the unused other half of Article V allowing the states to directly initiate amendments though a convention. However, there are many problems with using an Article V convention. The Constitution provides no
procedural rules for such a convention, not even on as basic an issue as
how it will vote. At the 1787 convention Madison warned that the lack
of procedural rules made a convention a bad idea as a means of allowing
the States to initiate constitutional amendments.

However, there is a solution to leaving the amendment power in the hands of Congress, which has abused the Constitution to centralize all power in Washington. This is to first reform the amendment process to allow states to initiate amendments directly without having to go through the archaic and untried mechanism of a convention. Levin has such a proposal in his
book, but does not give it the priority it should have. Another proposal for direct state initiation of amendments which could actually be enacted in today’s political environment can be found at

#7 Comment By JohnnyX On August 23, 2013 @ 9:40 am

History contains another nationalist-socialist party. They called themselves Nazis for short.

#8 Comment By Colm J On August 23, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

The explanation for left liberals’ change of heart over militarism is much simpler than this article makes out. Vietnam was ostensibly a fight against communism (although the way the war was conducted ended up aiding communism). On the other hand all the subsequent liberal interventionist wars have been to further the agenda of the liberal left, including gay marriage, feminism, abortion, contraception – as well as corporate rule around the globe. Contrary to the rose tinted view of the left endemic among conservatives, liberals have always been very fond of aggressive militarism, provided it furthers the interest of the New World Order and provided of course someone else does the fighting. Right there is another reason Vietnam was so unpopular among such folk – the draft.

#9 Comment By Ken S On August 23, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

The writer states that the only “real liberal of any stature” who would “offer a dissenting critique of the nationalist Left” is former Senator Russ Feingold. Offhand I can think of two others, both of whom are arguably better known – Senator Bernie Sanders and former Rep. Dennis Kuchinich (who has run twice himself). Neither of them, I think, would “follow in the footsteps of Obama, as the writer says that Feingold might. Of course, neither has any chance of winning either.

#10 Comment By edding On August 23, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

I would not call them the Nationalist Left, unless you are also alluding to the National Socialist Party of Germany in the 1930’s.

Notwithstanding their rhetoric of “democracy”, “human rights”, “humanitarian intervention”, “right to protect” and “soft power”, these people do not have a progressive or leftist agenda and are certainly not respectful of international law or norms. They are imbedded in the complex of the military industrial system itself and just as ready as their conservative colleagues to prostitute themselves to make money and expand their power at the expense of others. Instead, I would refer to them as neo-liberal, the Democratic Party equivalent of neoconservative, the only difference being the hyphen. They are from a generation that values the diploma and resume but lacks the education, context, cultural understanding, vision, experience, judgment, rectitude and fortitude to recognize the national interest, speak truth to power, make wise decisions and stick with them (or sometimes change them as the circumstance demands).

#11 Comment By edding On August 23, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

There are others that are beginning to make their voices heard now that the NSA is under scrutiny and the public is beginning to understand and appreciate better the value of those whistleblowers who speak truth to power and feel compelled to reveal criminality or wrongdoing. The system has been infected so pervasively, that reform will only happen when more and more people on the inside everywhere disclose what is happening, and greater and greater numbers of people on the outside support them, challenge the system and offer viable alternatives, until the system is either reformed or replaced entirely.

#12 Comment By REMant On August 24, 2013 @ 12:08 am

Politically it started with FDR, if not Wilson, and the combination of southern Democrats with northeastern Whigs against big business. American foreign policy tho has long been Anglophile, and rather neocolonial, despite a lot of noise about free trade, especially when it is working for us. I would say Kennedy is responsible for the anticommunist streak, and I am not sure just how abolitionist we are really.

#13 Comment By Gilbert Jacobi On August 24, 2013 @ 12:31 pm

It’s hard enough trying to grasp the fact that a parade celebrating the homosexual lifestyle has corporate backers, but when you add in that they somehow think they can make this outrage “respectable” by banning Manning, it edges on the surreal.

#14 Comment By John Collins On August 24, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

We have yet to see a nationalist party in America. One that puts Americans first, above the interests of the very wealthy, corporations, foreign fifth columnists, and immigrants.

As others pointed out, what we have is militarism. It serves the purposes of our internal enemies, and distracts us from the real issues we have to address within America.

Sean Scallon, if the Democrats are nationalists, then you must think that everybody wearing an American flag on their lapel is a patriot.

#15 Comment By Thomas Sm On August 24, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

Hey, don’t confuse militarism and nationalism. I know you lean libertarian and might not like nationalism, but it is still a false comparison. By the way, if you look into 19th century European history, libertarian nationalism was common, in opposition to emerging Marxism and receding international papalism and related monarchisms.

There is nothing nationalist about people who argue for “humanitarian” wars while supporting open borders and “free trade”.

#16 Comment By Victor Tiffany On August 24, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

When it comes to nationalism, there is one main party, The Republicratic Party. Interventionist and corporatist, the genuine left has few options left. Both parties support the neo-liberal, corporate international order from a state that used to be a Republic, but can not best be described as a neo-feudal empire.


As hard as it is to imagine, genuine progressives (not DINOs) and libertarian oriented Tea Party types are going to have to work together to take power and reign in the militarism that now dominates both parties.

#17 Comment By Richard A. Wagner II On August 25, 2013 @ 11:47 pm

Regarding your point near the end, that “nationalist conservatives” might compromise on social issues with the “nationalist left” in order to maintain their militaristic policies. They are actually going quite a bit further than that. McCain, and Rubio, for example, have been painting themselves as “moderates” lately, while portraying the Tea Party as “staunchly conservative” when their being kind, or “wacko birds” when their being more derogatory. I think that the nationalist-militarist right (and yes, Thomas SM down below, I know there’s a distinction) is going to try to define the new centrism. As a centrist with defensive-realist views on foreign policy (with a preference for non-intervention) I find this particularly troubling.

#18 Comment By Marc B On August 26, 2013 @ 10:33 am

A policy is not nationalistic just because it is similar to that of a former republican administration. The policies of the Reagan and two Bush administrations were largely internationalist in nature despite the America First rhetoric coming from Ronald Reagan during his 1980 presidential campaign.

#19 Comment By philadelphialawyer On August 27, 2013 @ 12:13 am

Isn’t at least a part of the “left’s” (which in this article actually means the mainstream Democratic party as represented by Presidents Clinton and Obama) pro military, pro intervention stance a creation of the right?

The right staged a “stab in the back” campaign starting just as Saigon fell, ramped it up in the Rambo/Reagan decade, and never stopped shouting about it. The left was anti military, the left spit in the face of returning Vietnam veterans, the left made movies and TV shows which portrayed vets as dangerous and the military as evil. The left wanted a weak America. The left was as ill prepared to face down the Soviets as it was to face down men who raped their wives (see Dukakis). And so on.

Well, many in the Democratic Party, particularly the Democratic Leadership Council moderates, such as Clinton, finally got the message. Tired of being called anti American, tired of Rambo asking them if “we get to win this time,” and tired of losing presidential elections, they started to repudiate the non interventionist, pro reform (if not revolution) in the third world, human rights above cold war loyalty program.

The end of the cold war provided these Democrats with a whole new ballgame. As the author says, for the first time since 1941 foreign affairs were not front and center. And, for the first time since 1947, being tough on communism was no longer necessary. GHW Bush was the consummate cold war president. He had been trained in every facet of the conflict, held every position in Washington relevant to it. Then, one day, it ended. Still, Bush found a foreign policy issue–the first Gulf War. But with not only Europe and NATO and Israel but even the UN, the Russians, the Chinese and many Arab countries on board, the Democrats had no problem supporting him. Indeed, from one perspective, the Gulf War seemed the perfect antidote not only to Vietnam, but to Grenada, Lebanon, the wars in Central America, Panama, etc., which had divided Democrats and kept the GOP drumbeat of “soft on defense” alive. Although the Gulf War was not declared, otherwise all the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed. Put simply, one country had invaded and occupied another. Both were UN members. This was not a murky case of civil war or competing governments, or peasant revolutionaries or “contras.” Rather, it could be argued, you had a clear cut case of international “aggression,” such as was specifically provided against in the UN Charter and which seemed to match the 1930s, anti fascist paradigm that liberal intervention was built on. So, the Democrats, including all the credible 1992 candidates (such as Clinton) were on board. Well, the US and its allies won, and GHW Bush did NOT listen to the crazies and accepted a negotiated peace (which, at that point, no one knew would morph into the deranged sanctions/no fly zone catastrophe of the late nineties, early oughts), which ended the issue. No serious Dems opposed the war, and it did not divide or otherwise hurt the party.

Bush was conceded his foreign policy expertise, both the now irrelevant cold war variety and his masterful use of the UN international law paradigm against Saddam. If anything, Bush succeeded too easily. Foreign policy looked like it would be simple in the future. No more tricky cold war to fight. Tin pot dictators like Saddam could easily be put back in their boxes if they crossed the line. The US would do most of the heavy lifting when it came to the fighting, with it and its allies more or less invincible as long as the enemy was not China or Russia and the war was of the conventional kind. FP and defense policy consensus at last, which both parties signed on for. And everyone thought a “peace dividend” was coming.

So, the 1992 election was won on domestic policy, with the winner actually conceding that his opponent was better at foreign affairs. Since then, the “left” (again, meaning the core Democratic party national politicians who either are, were or aspire or aspired to be President) has pretty much played the same game, over and over again. Having tasted power, they were not going to be out jingoed by the Republicans ever again. Of course, with their personal and domestic policy baggage, it is not as if they were ever going to be accepted by the hard core foreign policy right wingers. And no matter what they did, those folks would still try to revert to using the old “liberal anti American soft on defense” line. But Clinton did enough (whether just enough or way more than enough doesn’t matter much) to blunt that charge. The US did intervene in the Balkans, the administration kept the sanctions on Iraq in place, etc. Basically, without a single US service man getting killed anywhere (outside of Somalia, very early in his first term), Clinton managed to be “tough” in his foreign policy to the extent necessary to fend off those charges, now that the environment had changed so much and that those charges were much less central. Indeed, Clinton reveled in the military, as the author notes. He loved taking and giving (even though the latter is actually improper) salutes. He loved being photographed with “his” F 15s, praising “the troops,” and so on.

Gore lost by a hairsbreath, but being weak on defense probably had nothing to do with it. Hillary went on to the Senate, where she continued to fawn on the military. Nine eleven called for an even closer embrace between the MIC and the national Democrats, as now there really did seem to be an important military/national security threat in play. All got on board for the war in Afghanistan, the creation of the DHS, the Patriot Act, and the War on Terror generally. Still, the old anti interventionist tradition remained alive (as it had, sub rosa, under Clinton) and Bush II (Rove, really) was able to split the Congressional Democrats clean in half with his second Gulf War. Which doomed Kerry, who was left with a weak “me too’ stance, which half of his party rejected, in 2004.

When the second Iraq war went sideways during Bush II’s second term, Hillary was left standing on the wrong side and Obama (just barely…on the basis of one obscure speech given when he was running for State office in a liberal district) on the right side. Anti interventionists Dems almost universally supported Obama. But, once in office, Obama acted much like Clinton…he kept Gates as SOD, he appointed Hillary (the “warmonger,” according to his hard core primary supporters) as SOS, and he appointed a coterie of new liberal internationalist interventionist women to other important FP positions. He doubled down on Afghanistan, as Hillary and the generals wanted, against the advice of old school liberal Veep Biden. He stepped up the drone war. He kept up the Patriot Act spying, he reneged on his pledge to close Guantanamo. And he “got” Bin Laden. Come re election time, the Repubs had nothing. The best they could come up with was Benghazi. Otherwise, the charge that Obama was soft on defense and FP had no resonance whatsoever. Alsi like Clinton, Obama likes to be seen with the military, taking and giving salutes, posing with the hardware, praising “the troops” to the sky, etc, etc.

And the anti interventionist left mainly shuts up about it (much as the anti interventionist right shut up under Bush II). FP and defense aren’t everything. Even with nine eleven and its aftermath, they are not as front and center as they were during the thirties, WWII and the cold war. And, as with Clinton, the left figures it is getting way more on domestic issues from Obama than it would from a GOP president, and that that GOP president would have most likely been even worse on FP/defense issues than Obama has been.

So, to review, it is really all about expediency. Liberals, culturally and personally, still have no regard for the military. They despise its hierarchical nature, as well as its gung ho flag waving. And its macho values. Most liberals, and almost all actual “leftists,” are anti intervention. But they have been marginalized by a Dem party leadership that knows it can more or less take them for granted. Being hard (even if just hard enough) on defense/FP deprives the GOP nationally of its best issue. The electorate actually favors Dem positions on social and economic issues more than GOP positions. Flag waving, waving the bloody shirt, “patriotism,” “stab in the back,” etc, these were the best issues for a Repub in a presidential race. But not anymore.

As for the rest of the article, sufficed to say that despite the brief Sixties/early Seventies flirtation with small is beautiful, local control, decentralization, etc, the “left” has, since the Civil War, always more or less supported a national, as opposed to a federal, polity. The left sees problems globally and universally, and thinks the solutions should likewise be global and universal. The left’s paradigm of oppression is the small minded, small town, provincialism of local elites, not the one size fits all solution promoting national bureaucrat, academic or journalist. If anything, the left would rather the solutions come from the UN or an EU type body, rather than from DC, much less from the State capitol or the town hall. It is basically a straight line from the Civil War, to Reconstruction, to the Progressive Era, to the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Great Society and Obamacare, as far as the left is concerned when it comes to favoring national solutions. And they do so “from the heart,” as opposed to merely tolerating their leaders’ neo military/intervention infatuation, for expediency sakes. Since, at the latest, after the cold war went sour in Vietnam, the left has been against that, and it still is, but will let it slide to get the other stuff it wants.

#20 Comment By JP On August 27, 2013 @ 1:30 pm

I think Vietnam hangs over the heads of too many Boomers for us to worry about Progressive Nationalism – at least for now. Jonah Goldberg wrote an entire book about Liberal Fascism. The only thing missing from his definition is an outward, aggressive, and “patriotic” foreign policy by Progressives. That might take another decade or two when the last of the Boomers was safely retired to their gated communities and nursing homes.

#21 Comment By David Naas On August 28, 2013 @ 8:36 pm

I took a while to remember this article.
A blast from the past.

#22 Comment By philadelphialawyer On August 30, 2013 @ 3:33 am

Colm J and Vernon have a point. At least some liberals and leftists have bought into military interventions supposedly in favor of progressive policies….thus you see the emphasis on woman’s rights (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran). Gay rights are now being used in this way too, in the case of Russia, for one. And much the same in the so called cases of “genocide,” whether real, as in Rwanda, or mostly made up, as in the Balkans and the Sudan. A “dictator” “killing his own people,” especially if he is doing so with “chemical weapons,” is the next best thing to genocide. See Iraq, Libya, and now Syria. That these values are not really advanced by military intervention and that these rationales are mostly BS anyway seems to be lost on them.

The left was suspicious of anti communist interventions, as one of the above posters mentioned. Historically, the only US wars liberals really liked were the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and WWII. The first because it was against monarchy, the second because it was against slavery, and the last because it was against fascism/Nazism (or,at least, that’s how the liberal left characterizes those wars). Besides the wars against communism (Korea, Vietnam, Central America), the left also did not like the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish American War, all seen, just as the anti communist wars, as imperialist aggrandizements, as were most of the Indian “wars.” WWI was perhaps a close case, with liberals supporting it at the time, but over the years repudiating it as still another imperialist exercise merely cloaked in the liberalism of Wilson’s fourteen points.

The new liberal/left militarism is based on fighting wars against bad things, just as the retrospective liberal embrace of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars was so based. The subtleties of those conflicts, the fact that there was more to them than fights against monarchy and slavery, that, arguably at least, there were other, not so progressive and maybe even anti progressive agendas being served was glossed over. Same with WWII, with the emphasis almost wholly on the Nazis, with their unspeakable crimes against humanity, and the uncontested and uncontestable need to stop them from world domination, but little or no thought given to, for instance, the anti war notion that a clash between competing, perhaps equally bad imperialisms (US, UK, Dutch, and French versus Japanese), was the real nature of the Asian/Pacific side of the war.

Similarly, now we see many of those on the left completely buying into the advertised, progressive rationales for today’s wars.

This, combined with avoiding the soft on defense, stab in the back, etc label that I discussed in my last post, has made military intervention by Democratic presidents much more feasible. The right, for the most part, can always be counted on to support war (and I’m sorry if that offends all the anti war conservatives here at TAC, but y’all are even more clearly the minority in your ideological group than are anti war liberals/leftists), and now, so can at least the more gullible part of the left. With that being the case, a Dem president need not worry about the anti war left, even if it still constitutes the majority of the left. Buy them off with domestic programs, to the extent possible, and then take them for granted in the general election, as the major party alternative, from their perspective, will always be worse not only domestically but probably in FP and defense policy terms too. Meanwhile, the right/GOP will be deprived of its best issue and many of the left/Dem actually agree with you.

#23 Comment By HeartRight On August 31, 2013 @ 4:36 am

To my mind, there is something slightly ludicrous about criticising a Statesman, regardless of his ideology, of succumbing to the national security apparatus.

National Security is the core the business of the Nation State, its reason for existence.

You might as well expect the manager of a MacDonalds not to succumb to the business of baking, selling and serving Big Macs.

Indeed, if he has problem with succumbing to serving Big Macs, he should find himslf a different line of work.