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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: November 2008

Will Bush-bashing End?

November 29th, 2008 - 1:00 pm

There is a strange symmetry between the Bush hatred that emanated from the Left and what the writer John Avlon calls “irrational Obama exuberance.” Barack Obama has not spent one day as President, yet his admirers speak and write as if he has not and will not do anything wrong. I agree with Avlon that Obama’s centrist Cabinet choices have encouraged confidence in his ability to tackle our country’s problems.  But when President Obama steps into the oval office, like any other President who is a human being, he will call some shots incorrectly, and polls will reflect disillusionment among his followers.

If you consider Obama the closest man can get to God, you are probably among those who think that George W. Bush is the closest man can get to being the devil.  As Canadian journalist Robert Fulford writes in The National Post, “liberal Americans who see the Republicans as the party of the devil have enjoyed eight years of intense self-righteousness.” These are about to end, thankfully.  As Obama takes over our nation’s helm, hopefully more reasoned opinion will prevail on the question of George W. Bush’s legacy as President.

Speaking about this himself, the President told an interviewer that he would like to be known “as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace,” and as a person “who first and foremost, did not sell his soul to accommodate the political process.”  He would like to be known as a leader who “rallied people to help their neighbor, that led an effort to help relieve HIV/AIDS and malaria on places like the continent of Africa; that helped elderly people get their prescription drugs and Medicare as part of the basic package.”

Whether or not Bush’s hopes are fulfilled will only be told by future historians. Today’s academy has already reached its own judgment.  A year or so ago, the eminent historian Sean Wilentz wrote a cover story for Rolling Stone, in which he called Bush “the worst President in all American history.” Most of his colleagues readily agreed with his call.

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Everyone acknowledges that the situation in the Middle East will be one of the incoming Obama Administration’s major problems. If precedent is any indication, Obama will try to do what all the Presidents before him have tried to do and failed- resurrect the so-called “peace process.” Since the collapse of the Oslo meeting under the Clinton Administration, and despite the all out effort by Condi Rice during the second Bush Administration, nothing has worked.

The problem always boils down to the same thing: unless the Palestinian people and leadership agree that they will live side by side in peace with the nation of Israel, no amount of starting up negotiations will ever succeed. Indeed, had the Arab nations accepted the partition of Israel established by the United Nations in 1947, and not gone to war once Israel declared itself a nation in May of 1948, there would have been no Palestinian problem.

On the website of The New Republic today, two very important articles appear that address itself to the heart of the question.  Martin Kramer, whose words are published in full in Marty Peretz’s blog, offers readers a sobering assessment of the pitfalls of seeking “engagement.”  Kramer, whose article is must reading, challenges those who argue that all the obvious risks that will occur when our government starts talking to its enemies can be concealed. For example: ignore Ahmadinejad and the words he uses; stress that he has no real power, that the real Iran despises him, etc. etc. Therefore, we should have no fear of talking with him.  Deal with Hamas; they’re just a protest movement against corruption. Don’t fear Hezbollah; they just want a rightful place for Shiites in Lebanon.

All these arguments, Kramer says, are but “systematic downplaying of the risks posed by radical Islam.” Engage with the Islamists, the realists say, and the outcome will be a more peaceful Middle East. Our task should be to address their grievances, and the outcome will be good. But as Kramer warns us, the analysis rests on the assumption that the radical states are motivated by grievances, not by a radical Islamist ideology that seeks victory for new fundamentalist theocracies. As Kramer puts it, the Islamists favor putting “history in reverse” through restoring the power they held in ancient times, when Islam dominated the world.

Kramer thus warns us that once we understand their actual goal, then accommodation and concessions persuade them to press on, not to make compromises for peace. So accommodation in effect becomes the overused word, appeasement.  We are dealing not with rational secular movements, but with religious fundamentalists who are motivated by an understanding of what their Islamic faith demands.

I urge readers to go to Kramer’s article, and see his sharp analysis of what engagement means when it is applied to dealing with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. Engagement itself comprises serious risks, and could work to make our foreign policy goals even harder to achieve. As he writes, “there is harm in talking.”

At this point, readers should turn to the article by Eli Lake, formerly of the departed New York Sun, and now a contributing editor of TNR. Who is going to be in charge of policy in the Middle East, Lake asks? Is it going to be Hillary Clinton, or will it be James Jones, retired commandant of the Marine Corps, whom Condi Rice appointed special envoy for Middle East security?

Kramer argues that the only way towards success is to “show the resolve and grit to wear and grind down our adversaries, with soft power, hard power and will power.” The problem, as Eli Lake shows, is that only Hillary Clinton has shown that she understands this.

Clinton, Lake notes, has been a persistent critic of Palestinian media and schooling, an area that the State Department has previously preferred to ignore, and has “described the teaching of anti-Israel views in Palestinian textbooks as ‘child abuse.’” Indeed, Lake writes that Clinton “has in a way made common cause with Bush administration hawks.” Her counterpart, James Jones, has to the contrary sought to “empower Abbas and his Fatah party to take over a Palestinian state,” without asking them to take necessary steps to educate their own people in the politics of peace.

Clinton stresses that young minds on the West Bank (not to speak of Hamas controlled Gaza) are being indoctrinated in anti-Semitism, which will make it even harder to achieve peace and stability. She is against negotiation with Hamas, supports Israel’s security fence, and  backed the Kyl-Lieberman resolution declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

Jones, on the other hand emphasizes his criticism of Israeli policy and the IDF, Israel’s military. He also backs sending a NATO force to keep the peace between a Palestinian state and Israel, a plan that all Israeli governments reject.

Lake is not certain that there will be a collision course over policy towards Israel, spearheaded by a confrontation between Clinton and Jones. He worries that when Obama turns to the Middle East, tension between these two advisors could reprise the Powell-Cheney fights of the Bush years. For the sake of sound policy and success, let us hope that it is Secretary of State Clinton to whom Barack Obama will listen.

The Truth about China Today

November 25th, 2008 - 4:24 pm

We are reminded today that in some places in the world, systemic torture of political and criminal detainees is the norm, not the exception. The United Nations Committee on Torture today released its report documenting that in China, convictions in court are often obtained as a result of forced confessions.

China, as thousands of American tourists know, has come a long way from the days of Chairman Mao. Visitors encounter a thriving economy, a population far more prosperous and upwardly mobile than was the case a mere twenty years ago, and cities comparable in energy and size to the greatest in our own country.

Yet, in the ways of law and legality, China is apparently still operating according to the norms established decades ago in the Maoist realm. The current regime still practices “reeducation” through labor; an Orwellian term for harsh punishment for one’s ideas until repentance and cessation of dissident ideas is accepted.

The current generation of young Chinese, responding to the regime’s nationalist tilt, has largely abandoned the brief democratic renaissance that broke out in the days of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. If you travel to China and speak to college students, as I did, you will most often find a chorus of uniform rants against Taiwan, and various expressions of strong nationalist feelings about China taking its rightful place in the world against old imperialist exploiters. Rarely do you find anyone talking about the need for democracy or political reform. It will come, some will tell you, but in many decades.

So the reality, as The New York Times reports, is that repression of human rights advocates before the Olympic games has continued unabated.  The few who do speak out are indeed brave.  People who dared sign a petition simply saying “We Want Human Rights, Not Olympics” were tortured, imprisoned and sent to the labor reeducation centers. Evidently, the government fears that allowing any expression of opinion is so dangerous that it might open the floodgates. One professor, the paper reports, was arrested for “inciting subversion of state power” for trying to establish a new independent political party. Another man was arrested for “slandering” the Communist Party.

All this reminds one of the old Soviet era jokes in Russia. As Brezhnev was speaking, one man in the audience yelled out “shut up, you stupid idiot.” He was immediately arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison- 5 for slandering the nation’s leader and 15 for revealing state secrets.

To China’s victims, it is not funny at all. Chen Daojun was convicted because as an environmentalist, he was disturbed about a new petrochemical plant being built in Chengdu. His wife was distraught. She did not understand what he had done wrong. “He was only describing the way society is,” she said.  And that is the awful reality: in China today, telling the truth is still a criminal activity.

The Left and Obama’s Foreign Policy

November 24th, 2008 - 11:45 am

The Left, expecting nirvana with  Barack Obama’s victory, is quickly discovering that the President-elect intends to govern from the center and apparently give them very little.  The Democratic leadership, the left asserts, has not moved to end the war, stop the bailout or end what they see as the destruction of our civil liberties. And, much to their dismay, Barack Obama successfully admonished them not to take retribution on Senator Joe Lieberman for his great heresy- support to the campaign of John McCain. As James Kirchik writes, “the leadership of the Democratic Party isn’t as petty, vindictive and small as its left-wing supporters.”

Let us look at the critical area of foreign policy and national security. The appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is an indication that Obama has chosen a person supportive of our national security interests. Clinton campaigned as a fervent hawk, a defender of America’s interests and a leader committed to Israel’s security.  It was Senator Clinton during the campaign who called for being tough on Iran, even to the extent of suggesting that if Iran moved against Israel with its coming nuclear arsenal, we would obliterate it.

What really upsets the Left, however, is what they see as Obama’s great betrayal on Iraq. Writing in The Nation, national security correspondent Robert Dreyfuss argues that Obama was seen as “the anti-war candidate,” and yet he fears that he now will claim he has no mandate to end the war and withdraw our forces quickly. Instead, Dreyfuss worries that his circle of advisers will pressure him to abandon his antiwar pledges, and are mainly “hawkish Democrats” who regard such campaign promises as bad policy. Dreyfuss sees Obama consorting with the likes of Richard Holbrooke, hawks close to Joe Biden, and assorted neoconservatives whose counsel he seeks.  Seeing a potential showdown with his military advisers, whom Dreyfuss sees as supporters of General David Petraeus, he has a solution. Order them to pullout our troops as promised, or fire Petraeus and the Joint Chiefs just as Harry Truman fired Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War.

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Twenty-five to thirty years ago, the United States was embroiled in the bitter warfare in Central America.  El Salvador was in the midst of a bitter civil war, with a moderate government fighting for its survival against death squads on the Right and Communist led guerrillas on the Left. The Left in the United States condemned the Reagan Administration’s policy as one that would produce another Vietnam close to home, and that was supposedly guilty of smashing a left-wing that deserved to rule since it supported the “people.”

In Nicaragua, the FSLN, commonly known as the Sandinistas, came to power when they overthrew the authoritarian and brutal Somoza regime in 1979. They pledged to create a democratic and united country, freed from the rule of a tyrant that had been backed by the United States. I was among those in the American Left who thought that their victory presaged a new democratic beginning for Central America, in which a truly democratic Left would be created that would combine democracy with necessary social reform.

It was only a short time that I began to see the reality that lay behind the Sandinista rhetoric. I had traveled to Nicaragua twice for The New Republic,  in 1983 and 1987, and was able to observe for myself the growing drift towards a Cuban and Soviet style totalitarianism. Later I accompanied Nina Shea of the Puebla Institute, a Catholic human rights group, to investigate Sandinista encroachments on human rights.

Finally, in 1989, Mayor  Ed Koch of New York City made me one of his group of New York citizens who went with him to the entire Central American region, to investigate what could be done to end civil war and institute democracy. One of the things we personally observed was the calling out by the Sandinistas of government organized mobs, called turbas, or “divine mobs,” to terrorize, rough up, and throttle any would-be emerging  opposition. We witnessed these mobs brought in trucks to surround the offices of Violetta Chamorro’s opposition newspaper, La Prensa, which the regime had shut down and which announced they would reopen their presses anyway.

Now, Nicaragua is all but forgotten. But today, it once again hit the pages of The New York Times. Today’s story recounts how the country’s President, Daniel Ortega, resorted to the kind of tactics he used in the 80′s when he sought to use force to control opponents. Once again, the turbas were called out to keep the contested mayoralty to go to the FSLN’s opponent, Eduardo Montealegre of the Constitutional Liberal Party.  Ortega  needs to use such force. He won the 2006 Presidential race with only 38 per cent of the vote, using a system of proportional representation as well as bribery and corruption to take over the country. Once in power, as the report notes, he “has moved to impose his Sandinista stamp on all aspects of society.”

In 1989, Ortega was forced to give up power when scores of international observers, including Jimmy Carter, said he had lost the country’s first truly free elections, and that he had no other recourse. Ortega had agreed to let the observers in, believing his own propaganda that he would win overwhelmingly. Now, he has learned his lesson. No more observers, he declared. “From that moment,” he announced, “I lost faith” in the OAS and other groups that monitored that election. No wonder. Ballots favoring the opposition candidate were found in the municipal dump near Managua.

Will these events lead finally to the end of the  international Left’s old support of the tyrant Daniel Ortega? Stephen Kinzer, who headed the New York Times Central American bureau in the 1980′s, is one reporter who thinks so. Writing in the L.A. Times about Ortega’s prosecution of the 83 year old poet Ernesto Cardenal, Kinzer says that Ortega rules Nicaragua like his “private fiefdom,” and holds power “like an old-fashioned Latin American caudillo.” Despite this, Ortega’s constant denunciation of American imperialism, the International Monetary Fund and the like has made him beloved in many quarters of the world’s Left.

He is now trying to throw his old ally Cardenal in prison. Once a minister of culture for his regime who won support for Ortega in the 80′s, Cardneal now acknowledges that Ortega is a “thief” who runs the country as “a monarchy made up of a few families in alliance with the old Somoza interests.”  Now Latin American writers are petitioning in Cardenal’s favor, much as they came to the support of writer Herberto Padilla when Fidel Castro punished him in the 1970′s.  Kinzer judges that “this episode has probably removed the last aura of romance surrounding the Sandinista Front.”

I certainly hope so. But the Left in America has a long history of believing the rhetoric and the promises of left-wing tyrants, from Lenin and Stalin to Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and yes, Daniel Ortega. Stephen Kinzer is an honest liberal, a man with whom I have had disagreements in the past, but who writes it as he sees it. He is subject to confusing his own willingness to accept the truth about the Sandinistas with that of the international Left. They are, finally, not the same thing.

Holder for Attorney-General: Left v. Right

November 19th, 2008 - 12:21 pm

It is beginning to appear that President-elect Barack Obama’s nomination of Eric Holder as Attorney General is going to become a classic conservative-liberal split, with conservatives opposing him and liberals offering their support. In what is now appearing to be the staffing of the third Clinton Administration, Holder’s nomination is likely to be the most controversial.

On these pages, Roger Kimball has already linked to NRO’s important editorial citing the evidence indicating that Holder is “a conventional, check-the-boxes creature of the Left.” Holder, they point out, supported hate crime legislation, affirmative action and the interference with prosecutions by charging police departments with making arrests by racial profiling. Most important of all was his work in the last minute pardon of Marc Rich by Bill Clinton, made right before he left office as President.

Not only did Holder carry out an end-run around the standard pardon process, he did the same when it came to advising Clinton to pardon terrorists. Clinton commuted the sentence of 16 Puerto Rican members of the FALN, including those who had tried to kill President Harry S. Truman at Blair House. As the National Review editors note, these pardons were meant to help Hillary Clinton in her Senate race in New York City, because it would cement her ability to get the Puerto Rican vote.

But Clinton also pardoned two members of the Weather Underground, Susan Rosenberg and Linda Evans, who were serving long terms for bombings of American government facilities. Had Bill Ayers been in jail too, and not managed to avoid prosecution, he undoubtedly would also have received a pardon.

Now, on the website of The New Republic,  their legal editor and prominent law school professor, Jeffrey Rosen, endorses Holden as a first-rate choice who “has impeccable credentials as a tough-on-crime prosecutor and superior court judge appointed  by Ronald Reagan.” The information that he was a Reagan appointment is meant to show Holder’s bi-partisanship. Rosen does not comment in his web posting on any of the issues discussed by NRO’s editors. Instead, he cites his support of Clinton’s program to hire 100,000 more police officers, and his support of “community prosecution and community outreach programs” to connect prosecutors with the citizens they serve.  And he notes that Holder will also question “the racially discriminatory impact of some sentencing policies;”  which could mean if read correctly that valid sentences could be reduced or thrown out on dubious grounds.

Is Holder really, as Rosen argues, the man who will resurrect Justice “as an institution above politics?” Rosen has a point when he talks about Alberto Gonzales having wrecked impartiality at the Department and a need to restore “the professionalism of prosecutors.” But is the man who helped pardon Marc Rich and members of the FALN and the Weather Underground the man to accomplish these aims? Somehow, I do not share Rosen’s confidence that under Holder, decisions will be made “on the merits rather than for partisan reasons.”

In his never-ending publicity tour, Bill Ayers is transforming himself into a contemporary “hero” of the  “progressive” movement. Just look at the transcript of the interview he and Bernardine Dohrn gave to Amy Goodman on her Democracy Now television program. First Ayers claimed  ”I was not a terrorist. I was never a terrorist.” And later in the interview, Dohrn too says “Nothing the Weather Underground did was terrorist.” They only engaged in what Dohrn says were “direct actions that were symbolic, that were recognizable and understandable to the American people.” They made sure they acted with “restraint.”

Should we respond to such claims with gales of laughter or with sadness about how these brazen lies are being spread by today’s gullible media? A more correct picture of what the Weather Underground was all about can be found in a rather unknown but brilliant book by Nigel Young, An Infantile Disorder? The Crisis and Decline of the New Left, published in 1977 by Westview Press.  Young writes that the Weathermen organized as a “conspicuously para-military” organization that justified their ideology with the following argument:

“America was violent; SDS apparently had to become increasingly violent to defeat it. America was racist; so [the Weathermen] prepared to support racism in reverse…America was imperialist, and this fact could consistently be used to justify, apologize for or ignore other imperialisms, including Chinese, Russian or Vietnamese expansionism, or the invasion of Czechoslovakia [by the Soviet Union.] America’s legendary militarism became mirrored and echoed in [their] own armed mythology, rhetoric and posture; in its final year, New Left Notes literally portrayed guns on every page.”

Later Young writes that “there were undeniably terroristic elements in the Weatherman approach- with a definite tendency to endorse violence against others.”  For Ayers, Dorhn and their comrades, armed violence and bombing took the place of political analysis and organizing- the exact opposite of what they claim to have believed today. The violence engaged in under the auspices  or inspiration of their faction of SDS, Young writes, “ranged from killing police and taking hostages to arson; during a phenomenal fifteen months of bombings, there was a rapidly escalating violence on campus…and trashing…in the community; there were sharply violent direct responses to the [1968  Chicago] Conspiracy Trial convictions.”  This is the brutal truth, not the claim by Ayers that they were only “fighting against war and against injustice and for peace.”  There are many examples by Dohrn of what they called for in the 1960′s. Dohrn thus instructed her comrades in 1969: “Revolutionary violence is the only way. Now we are adopting … classic guerilla strategy…in the technically most advanced country in the world.”

What is most instructive is how different the Weather Underground’s nearest affinity group in Germany- the Baader-Meinhof gang, is treated today. Undeniably, the violent West German New Left group, led by Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof,  was much more successful in its use of violence and murder than their American counterpart. But there were similarities in the two organizations.  They called their group The Red Army Faction (RAF), and you can read about them in Jeffrey Herf’s insightful article in the new issue of Telos. Called “An Age of Murder: Ideology and Terror in Germany,” historian Herf gives us an inkling of what The Weather Underground had in mind for their own country had they been able to continue.

In Germany, the many victims of the RAF have told their stories and Herf notes how their airing is a  ”welcome change from a media obsession” and of the “embarrassing radical chic among intellectuals-about the RAF members.” In our country, however, a romanticization of the Weathermen is just picking up steam, as the media willingly lends itself to Ayers’ and Dohrn’s obscene attempt to rewrite the history of their past.

A new German film,  The Baader-Meinhof Complex, which is having its first American screening this weekend, shows the German’s ability to candidly appraise their own New Left terrorists. Here’s one review from the British press. Reviewer Philip French calls it a “powerful movie” because of the “factual exposition.”  No glamorization in this movie of the German New Left. Is it too much to ask that American journalists and someone out there in the film world try to show people like Ayers and Dohrn as they really were, and not the sugar coated image that they are now pedaling to the American public?

Addendum: Today, on “Fresh Air,” Terry Gross confirmed my argument by giving Bill Ayers an entire 45 minute segment. You can listen to it here.

Obama’s Choice in Iraq

November 17th, 2008 - 5:38 pm

The current issue of The New York Review of Books has an interesting discussion of two new books on Iraq by Joshua Hammer, a former Newsweek bureau chief in Africa and the Middle East. Since the economic crisis, many have tended to forget about the situation facing our country in Iraq, and the critical issue of how the new administration will deal with it.

Whenever Iraq came up during the campaign, Obama’s supporters stressed the need for the United States to pull out as quickly as possible. The issue of the surge and its success was ignored or said to be irrelevant. After all, they argued, the need for a surge would not have been an issue had we not gone there in the first place.

How refreshing, therefore, to finally read in a major liberal publication Hammer’s observations   while discussing Bing West’s book The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq. “The Iraq of November 2008, Hammer writes, “is a far safer place than it was one year ago.” He attributes the change to two factors. First was the decision of General George Casey to institute a new policy in December 2006, when American troops were sent to live in actual combat outposts, where they would live with Iraqis and regularly patrol violent areas.

Second was the decision of Casey’s replacement, General David Petraeus, to institute the policy of the surge. This counterinsurgency strategy, Hammer writes, “made protection of Iraqi civilians paramount. His effective management of the 30,000-man ‘surge’ cut down the activities of Shia deaths quads, stopped infiltrations by Sunni suicide bombers, and dramatically reduced the violence.”  This policy was especially effective when combined with working with local Sunnis tribes to seek out and destroy al-Qaeda cells in the country.   This progress, however, could be threatened by the al-Maliki government’s hesitation to welcome the Sunnis  and their Sons of Iraq armed force into a united Iraqi army, and to give up Shia dominance in order to form a truly compromise government. So the peace is indeed, as Petraeus has said, rather fragile.

And here is where Barack Obama will face a major problem as soon as he takes office. Will he honor his many campaign promises to withdraw from Iraq and pull the United States out of the area, at whatever cost? Such a course of action is a given as far as Obama’s original anti-war base is concerned. The netroots, the MoveOn.org members and the Left in general always saw the U.S. action to overturn Saddam as unnecessary, and caused only by the Bush administration’s “lying us into war.” Their great hope was that Barack Obama evidently agreed with them, and once President, would do as they wished. And here is the nub of the issue, as Joshua Hammer puts it:

“While maintaining that Iraq is ‘on the road to stability’, West “writes that a rapid pullout of US troops ‘may shatter’ the country, deepen the sectarian rift, and lead to renewed war. Yet West offers no insights into how to consolidate the security gains made up to this point. He supports the continued training of Iraqi security forces—who have made great progress over the past year and a half—and the gradual drawdown of US forces, while insisting that ‘some American forces will be needed for years, in steadily decreasing numbers.’”

It is no wonder that Hammer tells us that “many of the American troops I met expressed anxiety about the future. Should the Shia majority not agree to integrate the Sunnis and the former Sons of Iraq fighting force into a new Iraqi force, Hammer fears that the sectarian tensions in Iraq “seem powerful enough to pull Iraq apart again.” And one problem is the status-of-forces agreement  negotiated between the U.S. and Iraq that was finalized today.  That calls for a hard and fast agreement for withdrawal of all American troops by the end of 2011. And President-elect Obama has also promised a sixteen month time frame for such a withdrawal.

The question thus remains: how will Barack Obama respond? Will he pay attention to the situation on the ground, modify his original promises and call for renegotiation of the status -of -forces contract, or stay loyal to ideological campaign promises? We must hope for the best.

Ayers on Good Morning America – a response

November 15th, 2008 - 3:02 pm

This morning Bill Ayers appeared on ABC TV’s “Good Morning America.” Newsman Chris Cuomo did a respectable job in questioning him. But, although he was tough by TV news standards, he did not know enough about the specifics of the events of the 60’s or the actual role played by the Weather Underground to challenge Ayers effectively on key issues.

Even if he had, the very nature of TV news gave Ayers a major victory. Speaking in a soft and calm voice, viewers could not help but wonder how this seemingly rational, calm and soft-spoken man could have been accused of terrorism. Indeed, Ayers painted himself as a valiant and militant anti-war activist who joined thousands of other Americans in protesting an unjust war. When asked about his own group’s terrorism, he tried to turn the tables by reiterating that the United States had been engaged in a war of terror against the citizens of Vietnam, killing thousands of innocent civilians in the process of waging the fight. Thus, without answering the question of whether he had indeed engaged in terrorism, Ayers laid the moral culpability for terror on the United States, which he obviously believes has still not answered for its own war crimes.

Aside from claiming that during the Vietnam War “any “despicable,” acts were those “being done by our government,”  he added, “I never hurt anyone.” Cuomo did not raise the issue of the violent attacks on people that took place after the group’s October 1969 “Days of Rage,” in which a Chicago city official, Richard Elrod, was beaten up and paralyzed. Their own attacks were not terrorist, Ayers argued, since he never killed or injured anyone. I guess he has a rather selective memory. As for ABC, they might have had their researchers dig a bit deeper before Cuomo did his interview.

The truth is that since the organization, and not its individual members took credit for violent acts that did in fact hurt people, we do not know whether Ayers in particular set off some of the bombs that caused severe injuries to many. We do know that he was one of the Weather Underground’s leaders, and his orders and leadership led to these serious acts of terror.

Cuomo lost an opportunity to challenge Ayers on terrorism when he failed to bring up the accidental bombing of a Greenwich Village townhouse that killed some of his own comrades, including his former girl friend Diana Oughton.  That bomb was meant to be exploded at a dance to be held for new GI’s and their dates at Fort Dix in New Jersey. Cuomo should have asked  Ayers: “What if your comrades had not crossed some wires, and the bomb went off as scheduled in Fort Dix? The force of the explosion shows that hundreds if not more would have been killed. How do you justify such a plan, which you and others in the group sanctioned?

Cuomo also brought up Ayers relationship with Barack Obama. Here, Ayers challenged what he called a “dishonest” narrative “meant to demonize me.” When Cuomo read from Ayers own new afterword to the new paperback edition of Fugitive Days, in which Ayers writes that Obama was a  “neighbor and family friend,” Ayers downplayed that Obama was a “family friend,” and tried to say that he knew him only from serving on the Woods Foundation board with Obama. Cuomo lost another opportunity by not following up on Obama’s agreement to fund Ayers’ own radical education projects; nor did he note that the office Obama had while at the Foundation was literally next door to Ayers office for the project that Woods was funding. Clearly, Ayers was lying when he told Cuomo that he only knew Obama in “a professional way on the same level of…thousands of other people.” The evidence indicates the opposite.

Ayers also disingenuously made an oblique reference to McCarthyism, without using the word. When asked about whether or not Obama might have been influenced in any way by Ayers, he answered by saying that “I don’t buy the idea that guilt by association should have any part of our politics.” The classic definition of McCarthyism- and Ayers uttered an aside about how it so often has damaged America in the past- was that innocent people were victimized because of associations they  may have had with others. The real question that was raised during the campaign, however, was again regarding Obama’s funding of Ayers own projects, which were extremist radical projects meant to indoctrinate American young people in left wing ideas.  If Obama did not agree with this project, why did he pass on funding them? Or, did he misunderstand Ayers’ intent? Obama has not answered these questions to date.

On that front, Ayers tried to argue that all his work and books in the past years have been on childhood education. But as has been shown by his appearance alongside Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and by his statements that Ayers’ intent was to duplicate in the US what Chavez has attempted in his country—to produce a group of young people who work to overthrow capitalism and introduce a revolutionary socialist system at home.

At one point, Cuomo asked Ayers how a serious academic could have no real regrets about his violent past. Aside from misjudging Ayers as just a serious academic, the question brings to mind the well known  quote from George Orwell, that some ideas are so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them. Bill Ayers is just the kind of person Orwell was talking about.

Note: I originally wrote this one hour after Ayers’ interview was broadcast on Friday. The blog was not posted until Saturday night or early Sunday because of technical problems. Keep that in mind when reading it. Thanks. Ron

The Chutzpah of Bill Ayers

November 12th, 2008 - 10:18 am

I did not intend to write about Bill Ayers again. The man has already had far more than his allotted 15 minutes of fame, and he didn’t even deserve that. But Michael Moynihan of Reason magazine alerted me to his latest travesty.  Today is the publication date of the new edition of his book Fugitive Days, and now that the election is over, Ayers has chosen to speak out in his own defense in the pages of a democratic socialist newsweekly, In These Times.

By choosing this vehicle, Ayers is skillfully engaging in his own sanitized rewriting of history. His effort is to paint himself as just another honest dissenter, a man whose valiant socialist principles have caused the media to unfairly demonize him as a terrorist. All he did in his memoir, he writes, is to go back to those “exhilarating and difficult years of resistance against the American war in Vietnam.”

I have already on this site linked to my review of Ayers memoir. But anyone who actually reads it knows immediately that what he is defending is not opposition to the Vietnam War, but his own and his comrade’s record of terrorism. There were thousands of patriotic Americans who opposed that war — a miniscule minority supported or endorsed the actions of the Weatherman faction of SDS and the bombing campaign they undertook when they went underground. Indeed, most of the mainstream cadre of the organization viewed Ayers and his group as a force that undermined their own credibility and helped to isolate what they hoped was a genuine peace movement.

Ayers new apologia is, as one reads it, completely amazing in his disingenuous argument. He was active, he writes, at “a time when the world was in flames, revolution was in the air, and the serial assassinations of black leaders disrupted our utopian dreams.” Let us look at the last claim. Was he alluding to Martin Luther King, Jr. as one of those black leaders? If so, all one has to do is recall that Ayers and company, who supported “black power” and not non-violent resistance to segregation, considered King an Uncle Tom, and regularly blasted him as a sell-out. As for the assassination of blacks, one of the offshoots of his own group killed a black policeman in the Brinks robbery, and another killed a black school superintendent in Oakland, California. And of course, the Weather Underground saw Huey Newton’s gang of thugs, The Black Panther Party, as the vanguard of the revolution, and declared their own support for their activities. Newton killed plenty of blacks who opposed him, as well as others in gang wars over drugs.

Now, as a would-be good plain democrat, he has the chutzpah to complain of how the media has unfairly tried to paint him as “un-American, alien, linked to radical ideas, a closet terrorist….”
You get the idea. Perhaps it had something to do with the photo he posed for tramping an American flag underfoot, his open espousal of the glories of bombing in his memoir, and his espousing revolutionary socialism as his goal in his two year old interview. The late Irving Howe once said that Tom Hayden “gave opportunism a bad name.” I would revise that estimate, and give that award to Ayers.

Now, Ayers seeks police protection against those who threaten him regularly. He’s lucky they are only threats. He and his associates went way beyond verbal harassment, and planted and planned to bomb targets that would have killed thousands of Americans. Now, like any other good citizen, he turns for protection to those he regularly used to call “pigs,” and whose supporters in Grant Park in 1968 attacked fiercely, even paralyzing one cop for life, and then bragging about it in a song written to a Dylan tune. Now, as he says, he is “pals” with one cop in particular whom he has turned to before.

And this man then has the nerve to personally attack John McCain. Most Americans, even those who did not vote for him, know of his commitment to this nation and to his honor and his bravery in defense of his country. Not Bill Ayers. In his eyes, John McCain is nothing but a war criminal. As he sees it, McCain “built his political career on being a prisoner of war in Vietnam.” As most everyone knows, McCain has regularly refused to talk about his time as a POW, making an exception for his convention speech after receiving the GOP nomination. McCain’s career is based on his record in the Senate, his willingness to cross the aisle and reach compromise with the Democrats, much to the dismay of the conservative base of his own party.

And while Ayers says the 60s are over, he  goes on to prove that for him, they are not. Bringing up Vietnam, he writes as if he is back in that decade, condemning the war as “an illegal invasion and occupation…conducted as a war of terror against the civilian population.”  Millions were killed in air raids, he writes, “like the one conducted by McCain.” The evildoer was not the Vietnamese Communists who were seeking to create a Communist tyranny and destroy any independent civil society in South Vietnam- including the Buddhists and the organized trade union movement-but the Americans who were helping to keep the South out of Ho Chi Minh’s hands. As Ayers puts it, McCain and the other airmen were engaging in “an immoral enterprise.”  Which, of course, justifies his own “enterprise” at the time with the Weather Underground as a moral response to American terror.

So for Ayers the 60s are not over; they are a guide to acting in the present. It  was, he says, “a time of rejecting obedience and conformity in favor of initiative and courage.” I guess that was what he and Bernardine Dohrn were doing in those days, showing their bravery and heroism by seeking to create a revolutionary situation in Amerikka – as they spelled our nation-in order to “bring the mother…… down.”

And finally, one can only laugh at Ayers’ paean to democracy, where we should know “the importance of talking to as many people as possible in this complicated and wildly diverse society, of listening with the possibility of learning something new, and of speaking with the possibility of persuading or influencing others.”  We live in a “robust and sophisticated democracy,” where “political leaders-and all of us-ought to seek ways to talk with many people who hold dissenting, or even radical, ideas.”  This from a man who supports Hugo Chavez’s pathetic attempt to create a Fidelista style tyranny in Venezuela, and who loves Fidel Castro and his prison camp.

Mr. Ayers says we should “press harder for human rights.” Amen, I am all for them. Will he begin by joining me in an open letter to Fidel Castro condemning him for his torture and imprisonment of scores of political prisoners, for his failure to allow petitions for free elections to be circulated by the brave dissenters in Cuba? Will he condemn Chavez for silencing journalists and closing down opposition TV stations? Will he condemn Iran for their constant threats to eliminate Israel? I don’t think we have to spend much time waiting to hear his answers.


My friend, the historian Jeffrey Herf, has just e mailed me this important correction:

In his excellent blog about Billy Ayers, Ronald Radosh refers to Ayer’s
“supporters in Grant Park in 1968″ who “attacked fiercely, even
paralyzing one cop for life, and then bragging about it in a song
written to a Dylan tune.” This is only partly correct. Actually, Ayers
and about 600 Weatherpeople engaged in the “Days of Rage” in Chicago on
October 8-10, 1969. They attacked policeman and smashed store windows.
In their book /Destructive Generation/, David Horowitz and Peter Collier
wrote the following: “One city official, Richard Elrod, was paralyzed
form the neck down when he attempted to tackle a demonstrator and struck
his head on a curb. This inspired Ted Gold [who was one of the
Weathermen killed when the bombs they were building blew up in a
townhouse on 11th Street in Greenwich Village in New York in December
1969, JH] who became the Weatherman songwriter, to write the lyrics to
be sung to Dylans ‘Lay, Lady, Lay” The lyrics were the following:

“Lay Elrod, lay
Lay in the street for a while
Stay, Elrod stay
Stay in your bed a while
You thought you could stop Weatherman
But up-front people put you on your can
Stay Elrod, stay
Stay in your iron lung
Play, Elrod, play
Play with your toes for a while…”

Few things convey the viciousness and fanaticism of the Weather
organization Ayers was leading better that Gold’s sick song lyrics.

Jeffrey Herf