Former ‘Antiwar’ Leader Shills for Obama

The last person we need to hear from on the state of the antiwar movement is surely Todd Gitlin, the has-been "New" Left leader now a college professor of something-or-other. After all, it was none other than Gitlin, in the run up to the invasion of Iraq – and the biggest antiwar demonstrations since his own heyday – who took to the pages of Mother Jones magazine and criticized the antiwar movement for not "rebuking" Saddam Hussein. He was appalled at the signs at antiwar rallies calling for "No Sanctions" and "No Bombing." Sure, the sanctions were "a humanitarian disaster for the country’s civilians," wrote Gitlin, but –echoing the claims made by Washington – he averred that the Iraqi government "bears some responsibility for that disaster." This was nonsensical back then, and it is even more so now that we know there never were any "weapons of mass destruction," as the US government claimed, and therefore no justification for the sanctions.  

And what, pray tell, would an "antiwar" movement that refused to oppose bombing amount to, exactly? What universe is Gitlin living in? The same universe he’s living in today – one in which a former antiwar "leader" has turned into a cheerleader for "liberal" imperialism of the sort practiced by his hero, Barack Obama. This is clear from the content of his latest screed, a tract purporting to explain why the antiwar movement is in the doldrums.  

Here is Gitlin’s explanation for why the antiwar marches stopped: 

"They stopped partly because the antiwar leadership was barely cobbled together, with some conspicuous quarters reluctant to speak harshly of the multi-murderous Saddam Hussein. The movement’s drawing power was limited from the start, and then, once the war was on in earnest, it felt — realistically — that it had run smack against the brick wall of George Bush’s manic pigheadedness. Demonstrators are unlikely to invest their energies in what look from the start like very lost causes. And the demonstrations also tailed off because the mainstream media didn’t pay attention — refused to pay attention. The story line they were promoting was: America kicks ass, new era begins!" 

Oddly – or, maybe not so oddly – the President is not even mentioned in his piece. That would be a strange omission for someone sincerely interested in opposing the imperialist designs of the present White House occupant: however, coming from Gitlin – a declared supporter of this administration – that’s hardly a surprise. 

"The military attacks now underway, in Libya and elsewhere, will mainly be fought by elite units — Special Forces, Navy SEALs, drone commanders — operating from far-flung American bases, without any civilian call-up. Any revulsion by well-informed citizens against what they do is counterbalanced by popular satisfaction at their successes, by their virtual invisibility, and the unpleasantness of their intended targets. These are not recipes for popular commotion — let alone opposition." 

All this was true under George W. Bush: and yet Gitlin and the Obama cultists were massing in the streets, back then, and frothing at the mouth. Somehow, however, these same frothing masses are imbued with "popular satisfaction" by the "successes" of our present commander-in-chief.  

Gitlin lists all the reasons the antiwar movement might be losing fuel – a volunteer army, the "unpleasantness" of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the economic downturn – except the primary one: a Democrat is in the White House. Not just any Democrat, mind you, but one elected with the enthusiastic support of the party’s "progressive" base, whose inauguration was hailed even by the far-left Workers World Party (WWP) as "historic." 

I mention Workers World because Gitlin has been pursuing a vendetta against them since the Bush era, when they led some of the biggest antiwar demonstrations in this country. These were the "left-wing sectarians" he attacked in his Mother Jones piece – and yet he and the Workers Worlders have much more in common than either is capable of imagining. Gitlin hailed Obama’s election triumph — as did Workers World newspaper: "The election victory of Barack Obama will go down in history as a triumphant step forward in the struggle against racism and national oppression in the U.S." WWP honcho Larry Holmes exulted in the "elation" and "feeling of liberation" evoked by Obama’s victory: "The feeling on the streets of cities large and small across the U.S. on election night was that now, anything is possible, and it is." 

Both the "left-wing sectarians" and the oh-so-reasonable "moderate" Gitlin wound up promoting the same story line: Obama kicks ass, new era begins! 

After a year of Obama-ism, while Gitlin was over his "sorely needed moments of exulting and exhaling," and somewhat disappointed on a few minor points, he was still largely satisfied with his hero’s performance. No mention was made, in this piece for the "Progressive Book Club," of the President’s steady escalation of the twin wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which were well underway.  

Now he pops up in Salon, the online repository of limousine liberalism, full of unsolicited advice, basically blaming conditions outside anyone’s control for the complete self-dissolution of the former "antiwar" movement. A more self-interested, self-exculpatory and utterly dishonest screed was never written: 

"It was hard to summon the will, the clarity, the intensity, the downright buoyancy of a street movement when one harbored a fear — sometimes acknowledged, sometimes not — that the victors in the case of an American defeat would be foul. In Afghanistan, they would be the burqa-enforcing Taliban committed to barring girls from school. As for ‘Iraqi Freedom,’ Iraq with a zeroed-out American presence looked more like civil war between Shia fanatics and Ba’athist holdovers, garnished with torture." 

He compares this to the outcome of the war in Vietnam, which, he avers, was inevitably going to end in a Communist victory: 

"During the Vietnam War, when the antiwar movement was challenged with the question — meant to be rhetorical — How can we leave? our common reply was, On ships. In the case of Vietnam, that was the right and sufficient answer. The aftermath of that hideous war was always going to be awful — and it was going to be the same kind of awfulness whether the United States accepted elections to unify the country in 1956, as the Geneva Accord required; or the U. S. had withdrawn in 1963, when Kennedy flirted with the idea; or not until 1975, as it came to pass. The Vietnamese Communists were always going to win, were going to reunify the country, were going to install a Communist government in the South, were going to set up so-called reeducation camps and the whole apparatus of dictatorship." 

Note, first of all, that there’s no attribution of "foulness" to the prospect of a Communist victory. Although Gitlin acknowledges the Vietnamese Communist regime as a dictatorship, it gets less of a rhetorical lashing than the "foul" and "burqa-enforcing" Taliban, and there is none of the nuanced ambiguity, the on-the-other-hand faux-"thoughtfulness" on exhibition in his treatment of the current wars. Hanoi’s horrific repression is written off to the inevitable March of Progress History, and duly dispensed with.  

Yet one could credibly rewrite the last sentence of the above cited paragraph as follows: 

The Afghan Taliban were always going to win: they’re going to take back their country, install an Islamic government, enforce Sharia law and set up the whole apparatus of dictatorship.  

In short, the victory of the Taliban seems no less inevitable than that of the Vietnamese commies: in the long run, we’ll be out and the country will revert back to its historic condition of brutal authoritarianism, and poverty-stricken backwardness. Yet Gitlin implies that withdrawal from Afghanistan – called for by those "who lack a tragic sense" – is not a moral option:  

"How can we leave? our common reply was, On ships. In the case of Vietnam, that was the right and sufficient answer." 

In the case of Vietnam, but not in the cases of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia – because these are Obama’s wars, and nothing must get in the way of the President’s domestic agenda. "Progressives" of Gitlin’s ilk have made their bargain with Beelzebub. Why won’t they just admit it?  

As for Gitlin: this washed up has-been’s decline into ideological senility isn’t a pretty picture. He should spare us the spectacle of watching a 60s "radical" turn into a cheerleader for the 21st century equivalent of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Do us – and yourself – a favor, Todd, and take a vow of silence.

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].