The "Netroots Nation" conference held last weekend in Pittsburgh attracted some attention, at least in the circles I move in, on account of Bill Clinton putting another uppity gay in his place: challenged by an audience member over the gays-in-the-military issue, Clinton went off on the guy by demanding to know when progressives were going to start backing up their ideology with action. "You didn’t back us up!" he whined, to general approval. And indeed the big question at this year’s annual progressive powwow was, as Slate put it,
"How do we hold Obama to his campaign promises? There was plenty of concern about Obama’s dedication to closing Guantanamo, abolishing indefinite detentions, shoring up gay rights, and implementing immigration reform. (Of course, between health care and climate change and fixing the economy, there are plenty of commitments the administration hasn’t backed away from.) So the fundamental disagreement among attendees was: Should we of the Netroots be fundamentally supportive of Obama or should we oppose him from the left?"
A panel dubbed "Transformation? Or Shock" gives us a clue as to the "progressive" answer: "There," reports Slate, "an audience member argued that the Netroots has to back the president. She was sick of people on the left yelling at Obama, claiming that he didn’t share their interests. A panelist, Digby, writer of Hullabaloo, said it’s possible to be respectful but firm. She compared it to the story about Franklin Delano Roosevelt telling Democratic Party activists, ‘I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.’"
It’s interesting that Digby should pick FDR, a president who led us into war – after piously claiming that he wouldn’t. As Clare Booth Luce famously pointed out, he lied us into war – but war was the farthest subject from the collective mind of the left-blogosphere, as a poll by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg made all too clear. Writing in the Washington Examiner, Byron York avers:
"What’s truly striking in Greenberg’s poll is the degree to which the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fallen off the progressive radar. I attended the first YearlyKos convention, in 2006, and have kept up with later ones, and it’s safe to say that while people who attended those gatherings couldn’t stand George W. Bush in general, their feelings were particularly intense when it came to opposing the war in Iraq. It animated their activism; they hated the war, and they hated Bush for starting it. They weren’t that fond of the fighting in Afghanistan, either.
"Now, with Obama in the White House, all that has changed. Greenberg presented respondents with a list of policy priorities and asked, ‘Please indicate which two you think progressive activists should be focusing their attention and efforts on the most.’ The winner was passing comprehensive health care reform, with 60 percent, and number two was passing ‘green energy policies that address environmental concerns,’ with 22 percent. Tied for eighth place, named by just eight percent of respondents, was ‘working to end our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.’"
It gets worse: when Greenberg queried attendees as to which issues "you personally spend the most time advancing," "working to end our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan" came in eleventh place – dead last, with a mere 1%.
York, a conservative who writes regularly for National Review, is mystified: he thinks these "progressives" are dedicated to anti-interventionism in principle. If only it were so. The answer to his bafflement is that it’s their war now, and they’ll fight it, defend it, and support it because their man is in the White House. It’s as simple as that.
York probably realizes this, but since it doesn’t fit in with the typical neoconservative view of the left he can’t come right out and say what is glaringly apparent to all: that the ostensible "left" is no different than the neoconservative "right" when it comes to foreign policy. Politics really does stop at the water’s edge, where both wings of the War Party unite to fight the foreign "enemy."
"Many observers," avers York, "have remarked that Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, and also to escalate the campaign of targeted assassinations using drone aircraft, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, will cause him trouble on the political left. … But if the Netroots Nation results are any indication, Obama may have more room than previously thought on the war. Not too long ago, with a different president in the White House, the left was obsessed with America’s wars. Now, they’re not even watching."
York is giving the Netrootsters too much credit: to whatever degree they opposed Bush’s foreign policy, they heard Obama pledge to escalate the Afghan war during the campaign, and still they supported him. Indeed, they thought it was awfully clever of him to out-hawk the Republicans on the Afghanistan question: they believe it inoculated him against criticism from the right. Aside from that, they agreed with him. Most of them are very far from having any firm principles when it comes to foreign policy. They know they support health care "reform" – but they aren’t so sure when it comes to the question of whether or not to kill large numbers of dark-skinned foreigners. Maybe, maybe not …
This is hardly shocking, at least to me. After all, the "progressive" vision is steeped in a kind of mystical reverence for the US government and its essential beneficence: Washington, we are told, is taking the lead in solving the nation’s problems, and that’s a wonderful thing – and so it makes perfect sense that a good progressive would transfer that panacea to the realm of foreign affairs.
If the government can fix problems here at home, then why not overseas, too? The victims of foreclosure, and the victims of the Taliban – all will be lifted up out of the mire and into a state of grace by the blessed Obama!
So who remains to oppose our foreign policy of unbridled hubris, which is taking us to the edge of ruination, both fiscal and moral?
Not the conservatives, who are, today, not conservative at all, but – in foreign policy terms – Jacobin revolutionaries who want to "transform" the Middle East, and, indeed, the world, by force of arms and constant bullying. Stylistically, the "progressives" would go about it a bit differently, but, in the end, both neocons and the "new progressives" are quite willing to sign on the so-called Long War, a struggle that will last for at least a generation or two and require the expenditure of lives and tax dollars on a grand scale. This is nothing less than a war of revenge, a reflexive reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks that has yet to play itself out – even though Osama bin Laden and his cohorts are long gone from Afghanistan, and we really don’t know where they are, or where they’ll strike next.
Yet still an American President invokes the danger posed by al-Qaeda as the justification for the Afghan war, just as his predecessor did – and the "progressives" are swallowing it, hook, line, and sinker. We are told that Afghanistan would be a "safe haven" for those who are "plotting to attack America," and yet where did the real plotting for the 9/11 terrorist attacks take place? In Hamburg, Germany – and the Atlantic coast of Florida.
The desertion of the "progressives" from the antiwar movement explains, at least to some degree, the extreme difficulty Antiwar.com is having with the current fundraising effort – an effort, by the way, which is absolutely essential to our continued survival. Those fair-weather friends have fled the field – but who will step forward to take their place? Please – we need reinforcements! We need thinking conservatives and moderates, as well as libertarians, to fill the gap – or else Antiwar.com is history, along with any principled opposition to our war-crazed foreign policy.
"I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it" – Digby’s advice to her progressive confreres applies to domestic policy, but is null and void when it comes to the vital issue of war and peace. That’s what progressives are afraid to discover, or acknowledge: when it comes to the wars in Afghanistan and beyond, he doesn’t agree with them, he doesn’t want to disengage, and nothing short of harrying him as Lyndon Baines Johnson was harried out of office, will make him cut short our futile Afghan crusade, or nix the coming confrontation with Iran. Or, I should say: he doesn’t agree with their former selves, as they were back in the Bush era. However, now that Obama has inherited – and expanded – his predecessor’s wars, they embrace the War Party as if they were old friends. As they are, indeed ….