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.
As for the Left’s position on the fight Israel is waging against Hamas, the Left sides with Hamas and views it as a victim of Israeli aggression and colonialism. One has to merely turn to the lead editorial in the current issue of The Nation, titled “Israel Must Stop Its Reign of Terror,” in which Katrina vanden Heuvel and her colleagues explain that it was a “brute incursion by Israel” into Gaza that started the current war and has resulted in a “bloodletting” in which Israel’s bombings “pummeled Gaza into a landscape of human despair.” The editorial accuses Israel of obliterating “entire families of twenty and thirty” and of leveling whole neighborhoods.
The Nation editorial then argues that “a flagrantly asymmetrical conflict between occupier and occupied” has been portrayed “as a fight between equals,” and hence the U.S., “a highly biased superpower,” is trying to pretend it is an honest broker. They even say that the U.S. has “lined up to affirm Israel’s ‘right to self-defense,’” a step they imply is unnecessary for Israel to take. They see some hope that John Kerry and the president have “expressed frustration with Israel’s shattering disregard for Palestinian lives.” They protest that after Kerry turned for help to Hamas’s sponsors, Qatar and Turkey, backing a peace proposal that would have met all of Hamas’ demands, Israel’s response to Kerry was to not “even contemplate lifting the seven-year siege of Gaza.”
The Nation offers its own proposal for what America should do: demand an “international arms embargo on Israel,” as well as ending “Israel’s collective punishment on Gaza.” They note that these demands are supported by 64 Nobel laureates and “public figures” such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Noam Chomsky as well as “legal experts” Noura Erakat (daughter of the PLO’s lead negotiator) and Peter Weiss, whom you can read about here. These measures, they conclude, are a blueprint, “at once necessary and aspirational, to end the crisis.”
That editorial was written before the 72 hour cease-fire was violated by Hamas, before the warfare started up, and before Israel responded with a forceful series of new air strikes in Gaza. The Nation’s first online response to the recent resumption of the Gaza war is an editorial by Zoe Carpenter. She accuses the hawks — all the regular suspects — of “angling” to get us into a new war. She predicts they will soon “call for escalating a conflict in the Middle East.” In Iraq, as she sees it, rescuing the Yazidis from the mountain in which they took refuge is simply “a defensive rationale” for military strikes. Humanitarian aid to the suffering Yazidis in her eyes is but “a moral gloss for military action.” Obama’s limited action in Iraq, she fears, will lead to an escalation of the war.
So whether the enemy is Hamas in Gaza or ISIS in Iraq, the Left has one position: The United States must stay out, and stop using its armed forces to advance the hidden agenda of the imperialist United States or the colonialist Israeli regime, which itself is illegitimate. The Left’s voice is that of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Pretending to be anti-fascist, they portray actual contemporary fascists — the Islamists in the Middle East (especially Hamas) — as fighters for liberation against Israel’s oppression. Carpenter worries that Obama’s limited action will have “undesirable, cascading consequences.”
In his book Antisemitism and the American Far Left, historian Stephen H. Norwood ends his tome by noting that since the 1960s, the American far left has echoed both extremist Palestinian propaganda as well as the old Communist anti-Zionist positions of the 1920s and ’30s, demonizing Zionism and “condemning Israel with increasing fervor…and calling for its destruction.” The Left think of themselves as secular democrats, while in reality they work to empower the forces of radical Islam that “would replace Israel with an Arab dictatorship unwilling to extend rights to minorities and women.”
That Left, he acknowledges, has “entered the mainstream.” We have seen it this past week, as CNN adopts the position of the far left. Appearing on the network, Lee Habeeb boldly pointed out “there is no moral equivalence between those who target civilians and use them as human shields and those who target the evil who do such a thing,” and that CNN has gone beyond that, in effect “becoming a public relations outfit for this evil.” I would also note that the network had hired Michael Oren as an analyst on the Middle East. They soon removed him from that position. When he now appears on CNN, which is not so often, they identify him as Israel’s former ambassador to the United States. In his place, the network has hired the opponent of Israel’s actions, Peter Beinart, the voice of left-leaning Jews who identify with or belong to J-Street.
One CNN reporter, Martin Savidge, even argued that the Hamas tunnels were legitimately used as a weapon of war by Hamas since it used them to hit soldiers, who are “legitimate targets.” He found Hamas’ argument that the tunnels are used to wage war and to not go after civilians “very compelling.” Any media outlet that treats Hamas propaganda as correct, and that views Hamas as an equal power deserving air time with supporters of Israel, or which adopts and echoes its positions, has adopted the strategy of the Left — that of legitimizing very real and dangerous enemies and portraying them as representatives of the oppressed.
Rest assured that if the administration responds to reality and, let us say, decides to send military arms to the Kurds so they can have the ability to fight ISIS and not be defeated, the Left’s chorus will howl. Already, Obama has said that the airstrikes in Iraq are a”long-term”project and could go on for months. How will the Left respond to this news? I think we know the answer. If you don’t, check next week’s issue of The Nation.
Recent polls already have shown that most Democrats have already turned against Israel, and only 31 percent think Israel’s war with Hamas is justified. Hence the Democrats fear not going along with the Left. Unless they appease the far left in their own ranks, previously mainstream Democrats will fear electoral defeat, and hence many will respond positively to far left appeals and protests. The Left’s marginality will not matter — what they think and call for has entered the mainstream.