My Christmas Manifesto at New Year's
Hello again. Sorry I’ve been away so long: the usual holiday stuff, plus what now appears to be the usual once-every-two-weeks chore of re-installing windows on my stupid computer (aaaarrggh!!!!) has conspired to keep me away from blogging for a while.
I received quite a bit of commentary on my last piece
, including a pretty long and well thought out comment by Eric Martin, who runs the very fine Total Information Awareness
blog. His comments are quite lengthy, as he is a self-described “wordy bloke.” Readers can peruse them here
if they are so inclined. I’d like to use his comments as a touchstone to further refine my position on this issue. Readers should note that Eric discusses a great many things in his comment that I won’t address here, not because I agree or disagree, but because I want to use this as an exercise in expounding upon the stance I took in the previous post.
First, he writes:
While you are right to point out that there are elements on the Left that are dogmatically anti-war, it is incorrect to characterize this as a mainstream belief, especially when you are discussing the "political" left. The political left almost unanimously supported military actions in Afghanistan, and many, in fact, wanted to see a more robust and prolonged commitment to insure the creation of a more stable and democratic nation.
The point I wanted to make in my piece has less to do with how much of the left is out and out anti-war; it was to highlight that a large (and perhaps growing) number of individuals and groups on the left seem to have given up what I always assumed to be their greater principles in favor of blaming George Bush, Karl Rove, corporations and evil neocons for all of the nation’s problems. This is precisely the position of MoveOn.org, which opposed both the war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq and boasts a membership of 1.5 million people. While MoveOn may not be fully mainstream, a membership that large (and the ability to raise $40 million in the most recent election) hardly puts it on the fringe.
Similarly, many on the left seem to subscribe to the intellectually lazy view that scratching beneath the surface in any trouble spot in the world will reveal the insidious involvement of the United States. To be sure, this is hardly an American phenomenon: I live in one of the most anti-American countries in the world, and you wouldn’t believe what they blame us for. I’m certainly not saying that the US is infallible, nor that it should be free from criticism, but blaming America for every problem in the world is just plain ignorant. Furthermore, it tends to put a chilling effect on debate and discussion of the way forward: many a politician has made his name by triangulating his ineptitude and his people’s woes against the United States. I dislike that in the same way that I dislike it when people like Zell Miller use France as a whipping boy in the American political arena.
Eric goes on to note:
You are also wrong to conflate any and all objection to the invasion of Iraq with support for Hussein or despotism in general and a racist belief that Arabs are incapable of democracy in the abstract.
Conflating all objection to the Iraq war and the belief that Arabs aren’t capable of democracy is far from my intent. There is plenty of room for opposition to the Iraq war, and Eric makes good points regarding opposition towards the war in his comments. For example, he says:
I for one continue to offer constructive criticisms and suggestions for how we can make Iraq a success story, even though I thought it to be an unwise gambit. Success now is in everyone's interest, and the stakes are high.
If more of the left could find within themselves the maturity to say this, then I wouldn’t have a need to write this post, nor would I find myself disillusioned from what has been my party for most of my life. I consider opposition to the Iraq war on the grounds that Arabs can’t handle democracy (and there are quite a few people in my organization who believe just that – check out the letters column in the Foreign Service Journal sometime) equally as myopic and destructive as people who blame Halliburton, neocons, Big Oil, or what-have-you for the war.
In the conclusion of his comment, Eric states:
One last thought: while you note the racism of some on the Left who suggest that Arabs are incapable of democracy, what about the racism on the Right by politician and pundit who claim that Arabs only understand the use of force, not reasoning, and others who suggest we should annihilate them or a major city in the Muslim world (like Glenn Reynolds who I see is in your blogroll)?
I have, indeed, not brought up any of the failures of the right, and I do acknowledge that the right has its share of flaws. But I’m naturally harder on the left and the Democrats because I come from that side of the political spectrum. I expect better than mere rote recitation of a perceived litany of abuses meted out by George Bush: I expect thoughtful criticism and proposals that will move the cause of democracy and freedom forward in accordance with the lofty principles liberals have traditionally claimed as theirs. While there are such voices out there, they are outshone by the shrill cries of dimwits who prefer to define themselves by what they stand against, rather than elucidate what they stand for. Sadly, that rhetoric seems much more common on the right these days.
A postscript: if readers really want to get a better idea of what I believe, they should head here (registration required) and read A Fighting Faith, Peter Beinart’s excellent essay on the subject.