The American Left used to be patriotic. In its heyday, Eugene V. Debs never attacked America, and the socialist vision he advocated was in his eyes a way to realize the promise of America. As for the American Communist Party, in reality the tool of Stalin’s USSR, it pretended in the 1940s to be pro-American, and its chairman, Earl Browder, coined the slogan “Communism is 20th century Americanism.” This pretense came to an end during the Cold War, when the Left supported the Soviet bloc and all of its policies, and argued that America was in the process of becoming a nascent fascist state.
The remnants of the ’60s New Left identified with America’s new enemies, especially North Vietnam, Communist Cuba, the PLO, and, in the ’80s, Sandinista Nicaragua. After 9/11, many of its adherents took the position that the United States had the terror attack coming to it, since the perpetrators had taken 3000 lives in protest against America’s imperial ambitions and control.
This led Michael Walzer, the social-democratic intellectual, to pen an article called “Can There Be a Decent Left?” Walzer courageously took on many of those on his side of the spectrum, hitting them for accepting the “blame America first” doctrine to explain foreign policy defeats; for not criticizing any peoples or nations in the Third World; for believing in what he called “rag-tag Marxism”; for failing to oppose dangerous jihadists and Islamist states; and for refusing to blame anyone else for the world’s wrong except the United States.
I wonder what Walzer would write today if he examined his article anew. If one looks around at the Left’s response to Hamas’ actions in Gaza and its attacks on Israel, and its view of Islamist fascism in countries like Iran, Syria and among the ISIS forces seeking to take over Iraq, it is clearer than ever that the Left has one function — to support the enemies of democracy. Operating in the United States, Britain and France, the Western Left takes the opportunity to speak freely in the democracies in which they live, to openly support and express their solidarity with democracy’s most fervent enemies.
Some would question why this Left, perhaps numerically small in terms of the entire population of the Western nations, is so important. Aren’t they really marginal? The answer is that in the United States, as well as in Great Britain, the positions of the far left have now become mainstream, and influence those in political power. So it is with the Democratic Party.
On these questions, the answer of the left-liberal wing of the Democratic Party, and the even further far left-wing base, makes the Democrats as an entire group unable to take any steps that endanger their electoral chances, unless the party’s leaders continually kowtow to the leftist base. They fear that if they took tough interventionist positions that would offend them, it might lead the Left to opt out of voting in the coming November elections, as well as not rallying behind whomever the Democrats pick as their candidate for the 2016 presidential race. There are, of course, some exceptions. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey is one Democrat who has continually called for tough measures against Iran, much to the consternation of others in his own party.
Obama, as the New York Times’ Peter Baker explains, has spent his entire time as president doing everything to end any military action by the U.S. in Iraq, not even leaving a residual force that could be used should it become necessary. And yet, the force of events has led him to intervene with air strikes against the ISIS (or ISIL) in the very country he thought he’d never have to use the American military in any capacity. Now he has to contend with the possibility that should ISIS manage to move to take over Irbil and move closer to Baghdad, he very well might have to consider extending the range of his current action.
The left-wing of the Democratic Party is not happy. Baker interviewed Phyllis Bennis, who works at the far-left Institute for Policy Studies (not, as Baker describes it,“a research organization for peace activists”). The NYT does not let its readers know that Bennis herself is a person who believes that Israel’s very creation was illegitimate, and who supports “the right of return” and has previously criticized moves taken by Israel against Hamas. As for the IPS, as one can find at Discover the Networks, during the Cold War it was a major group disseminating Soviet disinformation and working to push the United States to the far left.
It is not surprising to find that Bennis told Baker that Obama’s action “is a slippery slope if I ever saw one,” and that “whatever else we may have learned from the President’s ‘dumb war,’ it should be entirely clear that we cannot bomb Islamist extremists into submission or disappearance.” Bennis does not suggest what course she thinks the U.S. should take to deal with its dangerous enemies, perhaps because what worries her is not their goals, but America responding to the danger at all.