The Liberals’ Grand Bargain

In the age of Obama, we’re going to have to get used to the new zeitgeist in Washington, and in the media: the perpetual high moral dudgeon of contemporary liberalism. While the Bush administration had its own style of moralizing – the rhetoric of “liberation,” the idea that we were doing the people of Iraq a favor by invading and occupying their country – the Obama crowd is much more sophisticated than that, and, simultaneously, more vulgar. On the one hand, they are all up in arms about torture, and the lawless treatment of the Guantanamo inmates, and on the other hand the prospect of a much wider “war on terrorism” – extending not only into Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the ring of ‘stans that encircle the new battlefield, – doesn’t seem to bother them in the least.

Amid hosannas from liberals, Obama declared an end to torture, and promised to close the Guantanamo facility within a year. This has been the signature issue of the left-blogosphere, and the estimable Glenn Greenwald led the way, with his relentless exposure of the pro-torture would-be appointees to top positions in Obama’s CIA. It’s too bad, however, that Glenn’s fellow progressives haven’t followed his lead on other issues, such as the war crimes engaged in by Israel in the Gaza Strip.

Guantanamo is a symbol of the Bush years that has to go, for a number of reasons – one of which is that we don’t want to have to lock up captives from the Afghan front in that infamous penitentiary. This would give the war we’re planning to fight in Pakistan the moral taint of the Bush years, and implicitly acknowledge that Obama’s Afghan “surge” is merely an escalation of Bush’s war.

In his remarks to the U.S. State Department on Thursday, President Obama made it clear that our policy of relentless military aggression in the region, far from being over, has barely begun:

“Another urgent threat to global security is the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism. There, as in the Middle East, we must understand that we cannot deal with our problems in isolation.

“There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the Al Qaida and Taliban bases along the border, and there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is truly an international challenge of the highest order.”

Ah yes, the “central front” in our eternal war against a shadowy and chameleon-like enemy – even the phraseology of the Bush years is intact!

For the most part, we hear nothing about this from pro-Obama liberals: the Huffington Post, naturally enough, has nothing to say on the topic. And we don’t hear any complaints, even more naturally enough, from The New Republic, which practically invented liberal interventionism. There are, however, bastions of dissent on the left, notably the Nation magazine, and, surprisingly, from Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC commentator.

Actually, I shouldn’t say I’m all that surprised: after all, I’m a Maddow fan, I watch the show practically every week night, and I wouldn’t bother criticizing her if I didn’t expect more of her. And now, it seems, she’s come through. Take a gander at the transcript of Wednesday’s show, specifically her lead in to introducing Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, and a big wheel on the Armed Services Committee. Rachel starts off by describing the participants at a key meeting called by the President to discuss the future of the Iraq occupation:

“Among the brain trust, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, U.S. Ambassador in Iraq Ryan Crocker and Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno.

“If you are thinking that that is remarkably similar to President Bush’s military brain trust, you are correct. The same brain trust whose most recent timetable withdrawal from Iraq was longer than President Obama’s 16-month target.”

While not definitive, this augurs ill for those who expect the President to make good on his campaign promise to get us out of Iraq. Well, the Obama-ites aver, he is getting ready for a “drawdown” in Iraq. The only problem is that we’re simply redeploying many of those same forces to Afghanistan, while sending some home for a much-needed break. The antiwar movement’s demand to bring our troops home is not being met – far from it.

What’s happening is the inauguration of a new phase in the “war on terrorism” – a new front, or, rather, series of proliferating fronts, spread out all across the region, albeit centered in Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan. Rachel is very much aware of all this, and she’s speaking out in public – the only honest voice (aside from Pat Buchanan‘s) on MSNBC. She went on to break the Big Taboo, and point out Obama’s capitulation to the Israel lobby:

“Also, not particularly change-like, then President Bush made a deal in his final day in office with Israel about the terms of Israel’s relationship with Gaza. I’m sorry – it wasn’t his last day in office. It was within his last few days in office – my mistake.

“The U.S. under President Obama is bound by that last-minute agreement between the U.S. and Israel. And a statement from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today says that President Obama supports the agreement fully.”

Yes, not very change-y, as Rachel would put it. To my knowledge, she is the only pundit who has dragged this last-minute agreement into the light of day. You wouldn’t hear anyone on CNN say this, and certainly not on Fox. As for MSNBC, the belligerent David Shuster, who acts as if he’s auditioning for the job of the next Israeli Prime Minister’s press secretary, he would sooner see his own head explode than utter a critical word directed at the Israeli government. When it comes to Gaza, and U.S.-Israeli collaboration in keeping the Palestinians down, the long loud silence of much of the “progressive” rad-lib left is deafening – which is why Rachel’s brave dissent is all the more heroic.

And here’s another little-noted aspect of Obama’s “war on terrorism” that has little troubled the hearts of the nation’s liberals,” trenchantly critiqued by Rachel:

“Also today regarding Afghanistan or Taliban-istan, depending on what part you are talking about, the main supply route for our troops goes through Pakistan’s Khyber Pass.

“It is in constant peril. It had to be closed a few weeks ago.

“It has been announced that the United States expects to have the use of new supply routes for our troops in Afghanistan. They are sort of Russian via Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, also known in my head as Soviet-demise-istan.

“Not only are these the same routes that the Soviet Union used to supply its troops during its tenure occupation of Afghanistan, not only do Afghans remember and loathe the 10-year Soviet occupation, but the 10-year occupation of Afghanistan, arguably sort of sank the Soviet Union. And we are going to do it like they did it?

“Also 30,000 more troops? Where is the Obama military policy going to go exactly, and what are the big debates going to be about?

“Joining us now is Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. She serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator McCaskill, so nice to see you in person.”

The Senator’s good-natured guffaw and display of raised eyebrows was all the real commentary she could muster in direct response, except a bemused “Thank you.”

Ah, but good old Rachel – you go, girl! – was relentless:

“So the U.S. is going to start transporting supplies to our troops in Afghanistan through the same places that Russia used to supply its troops with the help of Russia.

“Even if this were fiction, this would be foreshadowing of something bad about to happen in the third act of the book. Are you concerned in us following in the same tracts that the Soviet Union did in their long-term occupation of that country?”

Proceeding to ignore each and every one of Rachel’s points, McCaskill averred: “Well, I think what this really represents, Rachel, is a pragmatic problem that we’ve got to solve, and that’s, how do we get supplies to support the NATO forces that are there?” After all, we have to “protect the troops,” don’t we? They need supplies. To which a deflated Rachel could only resignedly answer: “Sure.” As to whether the supplies ought to get there, and whether we ought to be there, this is unquestionable, and beyond debate, as the Senator made all too clear:

“In fact, all of these military leaders you just referenced, even when President Bush was here, they admitted that it wasn’t Iraq that was a danger to the United States. It was what is going on in Afghanistan.”

No, not very change-y – but, then again, you were warned.

Obama, in his remarks to the assembled diplomats, referred to our “global leadership,” yet Hillary Clinton, in her brief introduction, spoke of the need to “restore our standing,” a task she opined would be “hard work.” Bankruptcy makes it all the harder, but don’t worry: the “pragmatists” in charge of reasserting our “global leadership” will find a way.

Being against torture is so … easy. After all, is anyone really for it? Even its advocates and defenders argue it’s a last resort, a desperate measure supposedly taken to avert a much greater evil: no one contends it’s a positive good. The anti-torture crusade has given liberals a good dose of moral dudgeon, and a way to exert pressure on the administration, to make Obama demonstrate his liberal bona fides. On the other hand, being against the radical escalation of the “war on terrorism” proposed by Obama and his generals is a much less glamorous – and far riskier – proposition. And the opportunities to flaunt one’s superior moral sentiments are almost nil.

The liberals have, in large part, made a grand bargain with the Obama administration: close Guantanamo, end torture, and we’ll close our eyes to the widening of the Afghan war and the extension of American military assets throughout Central Asia. Of course, there are already a number of American bases in the ‘stans: expect these to be ramped up and multiplied – along with the problems this will cause with the Russians. There’s another villain we can add in the mix – one ready made to appeal to the liberal sensibility, which is, these days, reflexively anti-Russian.

On the other hand, one positive aspect of this disastrous turn of events is that a lot of liberals and Obama supporters are going to start asking questions – and, like Rachel, they aren’t going to get satisfactory answers from the Claire McCaskills of this world.

The seeds of the coming rebellion are already sown, and Spring is just around the corner! In the meantime, however, we’ll just have to turn our collars up and brave the winter storms.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].