by Austin Bay
September 17, 2003
One of the more ironic facets of contemporary politics in Europe
and America is the left's rejection of liberation.
It's not entirely unexpected. The arch-left's concept of
liberation always included government-enforced shackles on social and
economic liberty. Still, the language of liberation and revolt against
despots was a constant monolog from mouths like Gore Vidal and magazines
like The Nation.
"Monolog" is the appropriate word. The arch-Left's "lib talk"
exhibited a high degree of self-absorption, to include moral grandstanding
and absolutist demands that smacked of the same narrow certitude hobbling
all religious fundamentalists.
It's a form of self-inflation, which helps explain the American
left's continuing fascination with Bill Clinton. Recall Clinton said after
9-11 he wished the tragedy had occurred on his watch so he could have
demonstrated his great leadership. (The tragedy was about him,
see?) Never mind that Osama bin Laden attacked the United States
and its facilities while Clinton was president. History will deal harshly
with the critical three years from 1998 to 2001, when the U.S. government
failed to take bin Laden's February 1998 declaration of war with the gravity
it deserved. Clinton hagiographers may spin in their graves, but the truth
will be told.
The Bush administration won't escape hard knocks, either. Donald
Rumsfeld's remarks during his Senate confirmation hearings in January 2001
will cut for and against. Rumsfeld specifically named intelligence failures
as the biggest worry confronting America's defenders.
However, the Left's post-9-11 return to excusing dictators while
damning the West's defenders will deservedly earn an enduring contempt.
Author Ian Buruma, in Britain's Financial Times (Sept. 13, see
www.ft.com) offers a trenchant analysis of Western leftist fecklessness.
Buruma asks "what to do, as citizens of the richest and most powerful
nations on earth, about dictators who commit mass murder or happily starve
millions to death. Why are our left-liberal intellectuals so hopeless at
answering this vital question?" The leftists "profess to care about
oppressed peoples in faraway countries. That is why they set themselves
morally above the right. So why do they appear to be so much keener to
denounce the United States than to find ways to liberate Iraqis and others
from their murderous Fuhrers?"
Buruma demonstrates how today's left carries the heinous baggage
of the "old right." "Anti-Americanism, by which I don't mean criticism of
U.S. policies, but a visceral loathing, has a rich history, more often
associated with the right than with the left. To prewar cultural
conservatives ... America was vulgar ... a threat to high European
For the radical right, "the combination of capitalism, democracy
and lack of ethnic homogeneity was anathema to everything they stood for:
racial purity, military discipline and obedience to authority." Leftist
dislike of capitalism "goes back at least as far as Karl Marx. But the leap
from right-wing ... anti-Americanism to the left-wing variety really came
only after the second world war."
The left supported liberation movements in the Third World as
long as they were Marxist. But the Soviet Union lost the Cold War. "The
socialist debacle," Buruma notes,"... contributed to the resentment of
American triumphs. ... Left and right began to change places. The expansion
of global capitalism ... turned leftists into champions of cultural and
political nationalism. ... So the old left has turned conservative."
Reactionary is a more apt description.
Though Buruma focuses primarily on Europe's lefties, the essay
echoes au courant voices in American domestic
politics. Howard Dean's presidential campaign plays to the same loopy
resentment of American success Buruma fingers. Dean criticizes the Bush
administration's War on Terror but stutters with choleric rage when asked to
articulate a rational alternative strategy. Recall Dean "supposed" getting
rid of Saddam was a good thing.
Tony Blair -- a classic liberal and a man Harry Truman would
back -- said it well. We can't eliminate all the dictators instantly, but
when we can, we should.
In Iraq, the true liberators offed a fascist dictator. The Iraqi
people face a difficult struggle for freedom, but instead of supporting them
with muscle and money, the snide and reactionary frumps on the hard left sip
chardonnay and nip brie then viscerally loath that vulgar cowboy liberator,