Upon waking this [Tuesday] morning, with some vague idea of what I’d be writing about today – the weakness of the antiwar movement, the utter uselessness of what passes for the “left,” the seeming impossibility of accomplishing anything meaningful in the current political atmosphere – I went directly to my computer. As is my wont, I first checked Twitter, and immediately came upon two tweets that crystallized, in 149 characters each, my thoughts.
The first was this tweet by Glenn Greenwald:
Eric Boehlert, who works for Media Matters, is your archetypal Boomer-progressive Clinton-worshipping Democratic party activist, the sort who shows up at a town hall meeting called by some hapless GOP congressman carrying a sign adorned with a hammer-and-sickle that says “Trump is a traitor!” Forgetting his liberal past – indeed, ditching the historical memory of an ideological tradition exemplified by such now-forgotten figures as Adlai Stevenson – Boehlert and his numerous clones have embraced the methodology and mindset of someone who was once their version of the Anti-Christ: Sen. Joseph McCarthy. And, in the process, they are transforming their party and its liberal periphery into the “left” wing of the War Party. Not that the party leadership hasn’t always been a sword in the hands of Ares, but today the difference is that even the “left” wing – yes, even the sainted Bernie Sanders – is jumping on the anti-Russian bandwagon.
The second tweet was by journalist Mike Tracey:
That day hundreds of thousands of Yemenis rallied against the vicious war being waged against them by Saudi Arabia and the United States – and look at the faces in that photo. These are children, their faces distorted by rage at what is happening to their country, and their lives. Their youth is no accident: most of the victims of this sickeningly immoral war are children, felled by US-supplied bombs dropped by US-manufactured war planes, the rest killed by starvation. The Saudis are committing war crimes in Yemen – one of the poorest nations on earth – with the aid and active assistance of the Pentagon, which is now contemplating an even deeper involvement by the US.
Yet this massive outpouring of protest received minimal coverage in the Western media compared to another protest that occurred on that same day in Russia, where the Russian bourgeoisie mobilized in the big cities, demonstrating against official corruption. This received front page attention in the Western media, while liberal commentators and their neoconservative allies demanded that President Trump make a statement of support (he did not). Naturally, the photographers from the Western media were swarming all over this manifestation of discontent with the hated Putin (hated, that is, by Western liberals), and, as per usual, they settled on one photo as the “iconic” image meant to convey the plight of the Russian people. Here it is:
There she is, a well-dressed and apparently well-fed young woman being ever-so-gently lifted by the police. There is no expression on her face except for a vague emptiness, an absence of anger, passion, or any of the other emotions one associates with a righteous cause. Contrast this with the faces of those Yemeni children, their visages reflecting the utter desperation of their condition, their little fists raised in expressions of outraged militance – a militance that will, not so far in the future, be aimed at those who killed their brothers, their sisters, their parents, their nation. Aimed, in short, at us.
I don’t mean to denigrate the legitimate grievances of the Russians who oppose Putin and his government. Yet I have to wonder what Western liberals think they can do about it: expressions of support for that well-dressed well-fed woman and her comrades are bound to have the opposite of their intended effect, much like Russian expressions of support for anti-Vietnam war protesters during the cold war era rebounded to the benefit of Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Nixon. Beyond that, what are our options? Shall we launch a regime change operation against the Kremlin, as we did in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, funding exile groups and eventually invading the country? That seems off the table to all but the crazies among us – although, let me tell you, the crazies are more numerous and powerful than one would hope.
On the other hand, there is something Americans can do to alleviate the situation in which the Yemenis find themselves. Our government is not only supporting the murderous assault on those children but is also contemplating even greater crimes on that blood-soaked soil. So where is the outrage? Where is the coverage? Where are the “liberals”?
I’ll tell you where they are: they’re too busy holding witch-hunts disguised as congressional hearings devoted to rooting out “Russian influence” and – yes! – even “treason” in the Trump administration. They have no time for those Yemeni children, no energy to protest their fate, because all their passion is exhausted in an anti-Russian crusade that they imagine will bring down the hated Trump. It’s easy for them and their cheerleaders in the media to identify with that Russian lady in the “iconic” photo: a photo that’s “iconic” because its subject is so much like those who took it and published it and spread it worldwide. Our Birkenstock-wearing Boomer liberals can imagine themselves in her expensive shoes, being carried (ever so gently!) by the police to the paddy-wagon, much like the anti-Trump protesters of “The Resistance” here in the US – except they aren’t being arrested here, are they? Oh well, one can always fantasize…
I thought about all this while reading a recent piece on The Nation – that flagship of the Old Left – on the future of the antiwar movement. It’s quite a depressing read: indeed, it’s infuriating. Not because they never mentioned Antiwar.com – I’m used to snubs from the left – but because there are hardly any references to specific countries where the US is currently militarily engaged: instead, we are told that these wars are “secret.” To which one can only respond with astonishment: how “secret” is the Afghan conflict, the fighting in Iraq and Syria, and US complicity in the Saudi invasion of Yemen? The answer is: not at all. And NATO’s provocations aimed at Russia are never mentioned, although The Nation has indeed run articles warning of the dangers of poking the Russian bear.
Instead of concrete analysis of what the US is actually doing abroad, and how to oppose it, author Daniel May writes about how to “merge social justice and antiwar activism,” i.e. how to turn what’s left of the antiwar movement into a playground for “social justice warriors” who are more concerned with “intersectionality” than international action to stop the slaughter. And of course there is the requisite Trump-bashing, which nevertheless underscores the complete lack of any understanding of either Trumpism or what’s really going on in this country on the part of the left:
“ [T]hough he was a loathsome vehicle for the message, when Trump asked whether the United States should provide defense services for Germany, Japan, and South Korea, when he questioned whether we should remain in NATO, and when he lamented the disaster of the Iraq War, he raised issues familiar to critics of American empire.”
Well, yes, and millions of Americans voted for him precisely because of that: the sort of Americans who the antiwar movement has never had the slightest hope of convincing, and has made no effort to reach out to. And of course they couldn’t even bring themselves to make such an effort because, after all, those people are “loathsome.”
?The left, today, is worse than useless – they’re an obstacle, perhaps the greatest obstacle, to peace. The “liberals” who are the mass base of the Democratic party have been rapidly transformed into left-neocons, whose virulent ranting against Russia has made them into NATO’s most loyal foot-soldiers. This also goes for those “leftist” hustlers who exist on the Democratic party periphery, like Bernie Sanders and his supporters, who exist solely to raise the flag of the “left”-wing – and then hurriedly haul it down once they’ve been gypped out of making any gains by the party leadership.
It’s true that there are people on the left, like Glenn Greenwald and the folks over at Consortium News, for example, who are sincere in their opposition to the neocon-ization of American liberalism, but their isolation and small numbers only highlight the fact that they are lone voices in the wilderness, drowned out by the Eric Boehlerts and Adam Schiffs.
So – where are we? What does the current political landscape look like for those of us who are fighting for a rational foreign policy?
On the left, as I’ve said, there is nothing – zero, zilch, nada. The remnants of the old Marxist left have been absorbed by the “social justice warriors,” and their agenda is simply to subordinate ending imperialism to their various identity politics hobbyhorses.
On the right, we have a mixed bag: the old-style Republicans, of course, are hopeless. However, as even May pointed out, the Trump people are another matter altogether: millions of them voted for Trump on the basis, at least in part, of his anti-interventionist rhetoric. Of course, as any student of American history knows, “America first’ was the rallying cry of the biggest antiwar movement on record, even bigger than the anti-Vietnam war movement. (By the way, that war, World War II, was supported by the left, and the old America First Committee is today demonized by liberals and leftists alike.)
Standing apart from both left and right are the libertarians, who, today, are more confused and disorganized than ever. And in the Beltway, their representatives are – like the left – viscerally hostile to Trump’s supporters, and, in the case of the Cato Institute, show every sign of going along with the anti-Russian hysteria that’s has Washington, D.C. in its grip. As for the Libertarian Party, the record of the Gary Johnson-Bill Weld ticket is hardly encouraging: in the end, the campaign degenerated into a joke, with Weld advocating a “global” military presence, and, in the end, all but endorsing Hillary Clinton. On the plus side of the ledger, there are the old-style Rothbardians, who understand the possibilities of right-wing populism: alas, they are few in number.
To summarize: we’re in pretty bad shape. But there is a silver lining: the Trump voters may soon recognize the huge disconnect between what Trump said and promised on the campaign trail –no more regime change, no unnecessary foreign wars, no more “globalism,” anti-NATO – and what he’s actually doing in office. By highlighting this disconnect at every opportunity, and screaming bloody murder (literally!), we can win them to our cause.
Of course, readers of The Nation would be horrified by this strategy: for them, these people are not only “loathsome,” they’re also “deplorable,” as their heroine Hillary infamously put it. And there’s more than a few libertarians – many of whom are simply liberals with a thin “free maket” veneer – who would react similarly. The Trumpkins are too crude for their delicate sensibilities.
Well, isn’t that just too bad. As the great Camille Paglia would put it, my message to them is: “Go take a hike!” Let the liberals, the lefties, the “liberal-tarians” virtue-signal to their hearts’ content, while the children of Yemen are sacrificed on the war god’s bloody altar. The rest of us have work to do.
We’ll work with what we have, and do our job – which is to address the majority of the American people, who have long suffered under the War Party’s reign and are finally beginning to rebel in their own uninformed, inconsistent, and inchoate way. Our job is to inform them, point out the inconsistencies of those they’ve placed their trust in, and show them the way forward. We don’t shrink from it: indeed, we embrace our task — because there is no alternative.
I, for one, am optimistic: we may have lost a great deal of the politically conscious types, but we have an opportunity – for the first time in many years – to win over the Great American Middle. And therein lies hope for a new generation of anti-interventionist activists to take shape and rise to the occasion. Can this country be saved from falling into the abyss of endless wars and inevitable bankruptcy? I don’t know – but I have the feeling I’m going to spend the rest of my life finding out.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.