Editorial note: What follows is the transcript of a speech given in Danbury, Conn., and Boston, Mass., under the auspices of the Ridgefield Liberty Forum and the Boston chapter of ComeHomeAmerica.org, respectively.
We’ve just had an election in which no mention was made of the two wars we are now fighting. Now that may seem extremely odd to you, but when you think about it, it makes perfect “sense.”
After all, we only have two parties in this country, and one of them – the Democrats – is not too eager to remind voters that we’re waist deep in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s because their leader, our President, who rode into power on the basis of his alleged antiwar credentials, is invested in those wars: he’s embraced the War Party, and they’re going along for the ride. After all, who cares – it’s just a bunch of foreigners getting killed, and a few of our professional soldiers. Nothing to get too excited about.
As for the Republicans – well, what can we say about them? They’re the ones who got us into these wars in the first place, and they don’t want to remind voters of that. They don’t want to remind us that they’ve spent three trillion – that’s trillion, with a “T” – of our tax dollars on just one of these wars, the one in Iraq. They don’t want to remind voters what a horrible waste [.pdf] it all is, how it’s endangered us rather than made us safer, and how their friends and supporters have profited from the wars while the rest of us have paid in blood and treasure.
So of course they aren’t talking about the wars, they don’t want to bring up the subject, except for a lot of malarkey about how we should “support the troops.” And of course we don’t expect the Republicans to criticize the wars, because war is their favorite pastime. They worship at the altar of Ares, the war god, and their leaders are his high priests. But not all of them: some have a different view – but we’ll get to that later.
For now, let’s talk about the left, and the long loud silence that has been their response to Obama’s wars. Of course, we all remember the antiwar movement of the Bush years. George W. Bush – he was the perfect hate object, wasn’t he? Stupid, narrow, spoiled scion of aristocratic blue-bloods, surrounded by a coterie of rather sinister-looking advisers and retainers, and seemingly dominated by the most sinister of them all: Dick Cheney. It was all so easy! Easy to hate, easy to get the people into the streets, easy to bring out all the familiar slogans and run them up the flagpole.
Then, suddenly, it all – stopped. No more demonstrations. No more angry op-ed pieces in the New York Times. No more congressional resolutions put forward by the so-called antiwar caucus in the House of Representatives.
Why is that?
Well, let’s play detective and look at the evidence. If we go to the web site of United for Peace and Justice, the main peace organization, we can dig up an article hailing the election of Barack Obama as a great progressive victory, and I quote:
“What a moment! On November 4th, the voters of this country came out in massive numbers to cast their votes for change. The election of Barack Obama was the greatest repudiation of the Bush administration’s policies we have seen in these long years of struggle, and what a relief it was.”
The gushing doesn’t end there: the piece goes on for paragraphs praising the wisdom of the Great Leader, and concluding with a quote from his victory speech. They then say that the whole struggle for peace has to be adapted to this “new context.”
What that adaptation turned into was a complete capitulation. As Obama escalated the war, and inched into Pakistan, United for Justice and Peace issued a pamphlet devoted to what it called “solidarity with Afghanistan,” proposing a massive “reparations” program – billions in American “aid,” albeit “demilitarized,” subordinating the call for ending the occupation to this massive international welfare scheme. In effect, they endorsed the “nation-building” aspect of the Obama administration’s counterinsurgency strategy, knowing full well that it implied support for the military operation – the former being dependent on the success of the latter.
Less than a year after President Obama took office, United for Peace and Justice essentially dissolved, maintaining only an email list – no more conferences, no more marches, no more activism to end the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. After organizing for eight years against “Bush’s war,” putting on substantial demonstrations, holding several national conferences, and building up a network of local groups, United for Justice and Peace threw in the towel. After all, the Messiah had arrived, and Obama’s wars weren’t Bush’s wars. It was the quickest, most ignominious retreat in the history of political activism.
The left has made a bargain, with the Democratic Party, and the powers that be. They’ll shut up about the wars, if only they can get the domestic programs – the government spending, the regulations, the social programs – that they want. The public employee unions don’t care about someone being killed by a drone in far-off Pakistan – they just want their pensions guaranteed. The civil rights groups just want to push through their domestic agenda. The gay groups just want to be able to join the armed forces. So all these groups, which the left imagines are their natural constituency, don’t dare speak out against the war, they don’t bite the hand that feeds them – they go along to get along.
And so the war goes on.
Oh, of course, they don’t say that: they don’t acknowledge that they’ve made a deal with the devil. After all, people have to live with themselves. They have to believe that they’re moral, they aren’t monsters, they’re not selfish: so they come up with a rationale, a way to mask their indifference and their servitude to the status quo. Let me give you an example.
In the wake of the collapse of United for Peace and Justice, there has been one attempt to fill the gap. A “united national antiwar conference” was held a couple of months ago in Albany, New York, initiated by a group calling itself the “National Assembly to End Wars and Occupations,” a group identified with Socialist Action, a small Trotskyist organization. The speakers line-up reads like a who’s who of the far left: Noam Chomsky was one of the keynote speakers, and he gave his usual analysis of war as a capitalist plot, and he also made a point of linking the antiwar perspective to the Palestine issue, a proposal that has proved remarkably divisive in the past. The other keynoter was South Carolina AFL-CIO President Donna DeWitt, who made the dubious case for tying in the antiwar issue to every left-wing cause under the sun, and then some. She ended her spiel with a plug for the October 25th Democratic Party get out the vote mobilization in Washington, D.C.
Among the 700-plus who registered for this conference, not a single conservative or even a moderate could be found. It was yet another case of the left talking to itself, and earnestly passing all sorts of resolutions and declarations of “solidarity” that won’t have the slightest effect on external reality. There were also numerous workshops and lectures, and one very interesting debate, entitled: “The Rise of Right Wing Populism and the Tea Party: Do We Need a Right-Left Coalition?”
Right then and there, from the very title of the “debate,” we see the arrogance and sectarianism coming right out in the open, utterly unashamed. Do we really need to debate whether the antiwar movement needs more allies? Why is this even an issue? The antiwar movement, down in the doldrums as it is, needs all the allies it can get – and anyone who questions this elementary proposition is no friend of the anti-interventionist cause.
In any case, arguing in the affirmative was Kevin Zeese, the director of Voters for Peace, who gave a clear and cogent case for opening up the antiwar movement to anyone who agrees with its basic precepts – US out of Iraq and Afghanistan. He pointed out the divisions among conservatives on the foreign policy question, and asked why not take advantage of these divisions to foster the growth and development of the movement for peace? A good question, which the left-sectarians at the conference didn’t bother answering.
Instead, the speakers opposed to the proposition of an alliance with libertarians went out their way to insult and smear anti-interventionists, such as myself, who aren’t socialists, or so-called progressives. The most offensive was Glen Ford, of the “Black Agenda,” who launched into a frothy-mouthed tirade against the tea partiers and indeed anyone to the right of the Democratic Party as being a “white nationalist.” He gave no evidence for this serious charge: he simply assumed its truth, and seemed to be making the argument from authority. You really ought to go on YouTube and look up his talk: it’s remarkable for its profound ignorance, and offensiveness. If we ally with libertarians, he argued, no black person will join us. The tea partiers, he said, are just a bunch of old white racists. That he said this to an audience that was almost exclusively white, and mainly over the age of 50, didn’t phase him one bit.
The other speaker in opposition was Chris Gauvreau, a member of Socialist Action and a prominent figure in the National Assembly Against Wars and Occupations, which is basically a Socialist Action front group. Her spiel was a classic example of left-sectarianism in the service of blatant opportunism. She explicitly attacked libertarian Ron Paul, saying he “only wants to end war abroad to make war on working people at home,” a phrase that conjures visions of Ron Paul stormtroopers marauding through the country, cutting down everyone in their path. And this is what she honestly believes, because in her speech she went on to say that Europe, too, is experiencing a right-wing populist upheaval, and she went on to mention explicitly racist and fascist groups, like the British National Party – as if these groups had anything to do with Ron Paul or libertarianism. Indeed, the British National Party, a sorry amalgam of skinheads and old style neo-Nazis, is as much opposed to capitalism as any Trotskyite. Ms. Gauvreau then went on to state that “these people” – meaning people like me – “ are an existential threat to our ability to organize working people in this country.” You know, just like the Nazis.
This is the kind of “argument” made by those who really have no argument to make: it is a smear, pure and simple. The idea that libertarians are the vanguard of some new fascist movement is simply too absurd to even refute. Ron Paul has been up there in Washington voting against the PATRIOT Act, the war budgets, and all the rest, far more consistently than anyone – and has certainly been more of a voice against our foreign policy of global intervention than any single member of Congress. For this he gets smeared as a fascist? Listening to Chris Gauvreau and Glen Ford, one may as well be reading the Weekly Standard and The New Republic – both of which have been eager participants in the campaign to smear Ron Paul.
It’s almost comical, if you like your humor on the dark side. Chris Gauvreau derided the tea partiers as being a small minority of no possible consequence. Well, we’ve had an election in which the tea partiers showed that this is very far from the case: after toppling the Republican establishment, they went on to win elections across the country.
These people, many of them, are ordinary working class folks: they aren’t rich. They aren’t plutocrats. Nor is their movement the pawn of powerful billionaires working behind the scenes, as the mainstream media would have us believe. They are people who are quite simply fed up with government, and all its works, and one of those works is war.
Now I don’t believe the majority of tea partiers are aware of the connections between big government and the empire. Outside of Ron Paul’s sizable contingent of admirers, most of the tea partiers are completely focused on domestic spending, and foreign policy is something they know very little about so it is outside of their purview. But why not reach out to these people with the antiwar message? Why not make the argument that if you want smaller government, you can’t be invested in maintaining an empire? Why not point out to them that we spend more on the military than all other nations of the world combined?
The aim of the antiwar movement should be to reach out to and convince the American people in their majority, and after our recent elections I don’t think there’s any question that Americans in their majority are quite conservative. To not try to convince them, in their own terms, that our current foreign policy is dangerous and counterproductive would be, in my estimation, a crime. A moral crime. Because it is all well and good to get up on a soapbox and spew left-sounding rhetoric, but to know that people are actually dying – innocent people – in a faraway land even as you speak – that should give pause to the most uncompromising Trotskyite ideologue. That should give pause to anyone who wants to narrow the focus of the antiwar movement any more than it is already narrowed. That should make one think twice before rejecting any possible allies in an effort to stop the killing.
It’s interesting that the sectarianism of groups like Socialist Action and others is really just opportunism standing in fear of itself. Because if you look at what their actual concrete proposals for action consist of, it’s clear that they just want to be water boys for the Democratic Party.
After all the grandstanding, the left-sounding speeches, and the self-righteous denunciations of any to the right of Jesse Jackson, the Albany conference decided that their next big strategic move would be to build the September Washington DC demonstration called by the unions and fulsomely supported by the Democratic Party bigwigs. The event was organized for and by the Democrats, as an answer to the Glenn Beck rally, and designed to energize people to get out and vote for Democratic Party candidates. The rally featured no antiwar speakers, and the so-called antiwar contingent was practically invisible. And that’s how the union leaders and the Democratic Party politicians behind the rally wanted it: after all, they weren’t going to go up against a war that is being fought by a Democratic commander-in-chief.
Now that Bush’s wars are Obama’s wars, the antiwar left is silent. Oh, they still maintain they oppose the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, but that’s only in theory. In practice, they seek to subordinate the antiwar issue to the long litany of progressive causes. Their so-called “strategy” is to channel antiwar activism into building whatever rally or candidate the union bosses are sponsoring that day.
What galls me most of all is the lack of urgency, the complacency with which these self-proclaimed leaders of the antiwar movement approach the question of how to stop the US war machine. I find it galling that people who are so quick to accuse others of racism would be so focused on the trials and tribulations of an American auto worker who makes fifty bucks an hour over that of a dirt-poor Pakistani villager whose family has just been decimated by a US drone attack.
The great downfall of the US antiwar movement has been its dogged insistence on a multi-issue approach. It’s gotten to the point where these rallies all have the same character and tone: the whole litany of grievances is laid out, and every victim group gets to lodge its particular complaint. Opposition to our foreign policy of global intervention is just a single note in a symphony of protest. No wonder there are no more antiwar protests coming from the left – they’ve bored themselves to death!
And us, too, I might add.
Part Two will appear in this space on Monday.