Symposium: The left’s hatred of Bush
By Robert Jensen
Published in FrontPageMag.com · October, 2004
[This symposium was posted at FrontPageMagazine.com, October 15, 2004.]
President George W. Bush has created the most diverse administration in human history; he has passed and signed the largest education bill ever (which was, incidentally, written by Ted Kennedy); he has created the largest new social entitlement in 40 years; he has liberated 50 million Muslims from the grips of fundamentalist, fascist regimes. Yet the Left foams at the mouth and declares, “Anyone but Bush.” It doesn’t even like Kerry. It just wants “anyone but Bush”. Why? What lingers behind this hatred of the American President?
In this special edition of Frontpage Symposium, we have invited two members of the Left to duel with two members of the Right. Joining our distinguished panel today are, from the Left:
Joshua Frank, the author of the forthcoming book, Left Out: How Liberals Did Bush’s Work For Him. He is also a contributor to Counterpunch’s new book on the 2004 elections, Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils. He currently lives in Albany, New York;
Robert Jensen, an associate professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He styles himself a “critic of the U.S. empire” and is a member of the board of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center;
and from the Right:
Elinor Burkett, a former leftist whose travels throughout the Muslim world made her change her ideological views. She is the author of So Many Enemies, So Little Time. An American Woman in All the Wrong Places;
Daniel J. Flynn, the author of Why the Left Hates America and of the new book Intellectual Morons : How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas.
FP: Joshua Frank, Robert Jensen, Elinor Burkett and Dan Flynn, welcome to Frontpage Symposium. It is a pleasure to have you here.
Ms. Burkett, let me begin with you.
The Bush administration has liberated 50 human beings from two of the most barbarian, vicious and sadistic regimes of our modern time (Saddam and the Taliban). President Bush is leading the force of democracy and freedom against religious fanatics that persecute women, homosexuals and all other democratic rights that are at the core – supposedly — of leftist ideology. Yet the Left clearly sees Bush as a far greater evil than anything that Al Qeada and Islamic fundamentalism represent in the War on Terror and has taken the side of the enemy. What explains this bizarre phenomenon?
Burkett: Over the past year or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about the rhetoric of today’s Left and am haunted by the absence of the word freedom. I cut my leftist teeth on the rhetoric of the Spanish Civil War, on old songs that cried, “Freedom doesn’t come like a bird on the wing,” on the notion that struggling, even dying, for freedom is a noble pursuit. And the only way to answer your question is to talk about why that leftist vision has been replaced by language that sounds like Chamberlain’s.
First, the Left is fixated on Vietnam, seemingly incapable of using any other historical reference point by which to judge American foreign policy. If you adopt the Vietnam paradigm of the 1960s New Left as the ONLY possible paradigm for evaluating U.S.military action, you can’t help but denouncing all such action as imperialist, as an attempt at oppression and/or exploitation, and as the road to a quagmire. Indeed, if you had applied that paradigm to U.S. involvement in the war in Europe in the 1940s, you would have wound up in the same place.
Second, the Left has lost so much idealism that it now lacks the concept that some things are worth dying for. After all, one of the main reasons they give for opposing our presence in Iraq is the death of our troops. Gee, would they have opposed the actions of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain because some of those volunteers died?
FP: Mr. Flynn?
Flynn: For 70 or so years, the hard Left looked to the Soviet Union for their opinions. Their City Upon a Hill is gone. But they still have their Sodom and Gomorrah. The Left now defines itself by positioning itself opposite American policy–even when American policy promotes their stated aims of nation building and human rights.
This knee-jerk anti-Americanism often leads to a projection of leftist ideals upon the enemies of America–with some activists I’ve interviewed imagining that their fight for socialism, environmentalism, and peace is somehow shared by the terrorists. When protestors first started telling me that George W. Bush is the equivalent of Osama bin Laden, I was not at first sure whether they were trying to make Bush look worse or Osama look better. I’m still a bit confused what the intended effect of making such a statement is.
FP: Mr. Frank, why does the Left hate Bush so much? And what do you make of Elinor Burkett’s and Dan Flynn’s comments?
Frank: The Left hates Bush for many of the same reasons traditional conservatives also hate him. He’s run an outlandish deficit, which the Congressional Budget Office says may grow by $2.3 trillion over the next decade. That is a conservative estimate. He has presided over the loss of 2 million US jobs. Don’t forget, Bush like Clinton, is a free-trading neoliberal. He supports the expansion of NAFTA into CAFTA and the FTAA. He caved to the WTO, and relinquished U.S. sovereignty over steel imports. Not to mention his assault on civil liberties following the horrific attack on 9/11, by thrusting the Patriot Act through congress.
Of course, then there is Iraq. Congressional appropriations claim the occupation could cost tax-payers upwards of $166 billion dollars. The reason? Iraq was not even an imminent threat to their neighbors. No WMDs found. No connection whatsoever to the terrorist attacks in 2001. These are just some the reasons conservatives and the Left should hate Bush. However, to be fair, let’s not forget the complicity of the Democrats in virtually all of the aforementioned failures.
As for Ms. Burkett’s comment that the Left cannot get past Vietman. We backed Saddam in the 1980s, Pinochet, Suharto, the death squad regimes of Latin America, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, Mobutu, the Nicaraguan contras, and more. We have also waged unilateral acts of aggression against Panama, Grenada, and many other nations throughout the 20th century. So we can, and indeed have, gotten past Vietnam in our fixation and disgust for U.S. foreign policy.
Jensen: First, this discussion is distorted by the claim that the Bush administration “liberated” the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. There’s no evidence that was a motivation for those invasions and occupations, and so far it isn’t even an unintended consequence of Bush’s illegal wars. This framing of the question also ignores the fact that the Bush administration lied to scare the public into supporting the invasion of Iraq, a minor point perhaps to the right-wing but something that should concern people committed to democracy.
Beyond that, the caricature of the left presented bears no resemblance to my political positions or the politics of anyone I know on the left. The ideals of solidarity and freedom that have long animated the left continue to be at the core of left politics.
The phrase “knee-jerk anti-Americanism” illustrates how fundamentally anti-democratic some segments of the right are these days. Claiming that people are anti-American because they oppose the policies of the existing leadership implies that there is some settled notion of what it means to be an American or what policies America should pursue, a rejection of even the most minimal criteria for democracy. It’s difficult to understand under what theory of democracy one could claim that dissent from the self-congratulatory pronouncements of the powerful is anti-American.
But to return to the central question: The term “hate” trivializes opposition to policies. I don’t hate George W. Bush, any more than I hated Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush when I spoke out against those administrations’ policies that I thought were illegal and immoral, especially in the realm of foreign policy and war.
Flynn: You can’t pick your enemies. But if you could, George W. Bush could hardly have done a better job selecting his opponents than the ones that have been assigned to him. Obnoxious Hollywood liberals, anti-war protestors comparing Bush to Hitler, the deceitful Michael Moore imagining that Bush invaded Afghanistan to build an oil pipeline–all of these folks have served to repulse average Americans from the Left and attract them to the President.
I found Mr. Frank’s comments particularly interesting. George W. Bush signed campaign finance reform. He launched the largest entitlement program in several generations with the prescription drug plan. He sought to grant amnesty to illegal aliens. Despite denouncing “nation building” in the 2000 debates, he is unmatched among his recent predecessors as a presidential nation builder. He has increased funding for AIDS, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other liberal pet budgetary items. On policy grounds, many liberals and some leftists have much in common with George W. Bush. Yet, Bush evokes “hate” from his liberals and the Left in a way that Ronald Reagan–a far more conservative politician–never did. Like Richard Nixon, George W. Bush has become a lightening rod for leftist outrage in spite of many of his policies.
Burkett: Wow! Should I start with the “death squads” of Israel and Turkey? Or with the assertion that the mere utterance of the phrase “knee-jerk anti-Americanism” is “fundamentally anti-democratic”?
I don’t believe for one second that anyone on the left hates Bush primarily because of the deficit. If he had run the country into deficit by funding a national health plan, I don’t expect that he’d be getting high-fives in Santa Monica and Madison.
I agree with Frank that U.S. foreign policy was an atrocious tangle of human rights violations, exploitation and oppression for most of the 20th century. And, certainly, neither by design nor by result did these policies liberate anyone.
But if it is true, as Jensen would have us believe, that the “ideals of solidarity and freedom” remain at the core of left politics,” how can he ignore the reality that the women of Afghanistan are no longer forced to wear burqas, that they are no longer being stoned to death in the old Olympic stadium? Is that caring about freedom?
There are dozens of things that make me angry with George Bush. But I find myself even angrier with those who profess to favor freedom yet refuse to acknowledge its advance simply because they can’t stand its architect. My female friends in Kabul don’t give a damn whether Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan in order to liberate them. They care that they have found a bit of space from which to build a future.
FP: Thanks Ms. Burkett. Let me intrude for a moment here, as I can’t remain silent if three members of this symposium base their commentary on the assumption that, as Ms. Burkett says, “U.S. foreign policy was an atrocious tangle of human rights violations, exploitation and oppression for most of the 20th century. And, certainly, neither by design nor by result did these policies liberate anyone.”
As a Russian émigré I can tell you: thank God for Ronald Reagan and the system that he represented for helping to liberate my people by design and by result. The Left can foam at the mouth at these words, but for the Russian people, aside from those masochists who crave the return of Stalinism and further abuse, Reagan’s aggressive anti-communism was a providential godsend because it helped fuel the collapse of a sadistic and vicious empire, and liberated millions of the suffering people under its yoke. I can speak for my whole family and for many of our relatives and friends in Russia, and say what a gift it was to have Reagan help push the Soviet tyranny toward collapse and allow a society to emerge, despite its many problems, where people are no longer terrified to say what is on their minds and do not have to fear the Gulag Archipelago for their views and beliefs.
For most of the 20th century, America confronted two despotic tyrannies, Nazism briefly and the Soviet Union over the long haul. And in confronting those barbarous systems, and precisely by design and by result, it liberated millions of the humans beings that suffered under them.
The U.S. supported the forces of freedom and democracy in the Cold War, facing an enemy whose ideology sacrificed 100 million human lives on the altar of ideas in the 20th century. Yes, there were instances in which America supported some undemocratic regimes in its confrontation with Soviet barbarity, but there are instances in war, politics and life where imperfect situations must exist and imperfect decisions and alliances made. But nowhere can one say that there was ever any moral equivalency in these conflicts. By the very existence of its IDEAS, both Nazi Germany and the Soviet empire necessitated aggressive expansion and domestic terror wherever their influences rested. This cannot be said of the American Idea, and it is precisely why in myriad places under American influence (i.e. Western Europe, Japan etc.) democratic and individual freedom reigned and material prosperity soared.
The Left supported the Soviet empire over the U.S. precisely because it favors despotism over individual freedom; it hates capitalism and free choice and desires the submission of the individual to a supreme totality. It despises individual success and fulfillment. And it therefore hates George Bush because he represents these values without apology, and he unequivocally does what Ronald Reagan did: label the totalitarian enemy that the Left admires for what it is: an Evil Empire. And he is ready to go to war with it to protect the lives and freedom of millions.
Islamism, like its cousins Fascism and Communism, is despotic totality seeking to submerge the individual and to sacrifice human life on the altar of utopian ideals. The Left is always instinctively charmed by this impulse, and it explains why it supported and/or made excuses for Stalin’s, Mao’s and Pol Pot’s killing fields in the 20th century, and why today it picks bin Laden over George Bush, because it will always give its support to the adversary of capitalism and democracy. President Bush represents, without apology, the support for individual freedom and the free market of economics and ideas – the anathema of the Left. He is willing to go to war with evil and call it by its name. That’s why the Left so furiously hates George Bush.
Well, I guess it’s hot in here now. Mr. Frank go ahead.
Jensen: It’s always hot in Texas, especially if one dares to challenge the right-wing orthodoxy.
The claim that the Left “hates capitalism and free choice and desires the submission of the individual to a supreme totality” is nonsensical. I don’t “hate” capitalism. Again, this constant talk of why the Left “hates” certain ideas implies that the Left can manage only irrational emotional responses rather than rational political analyses. I think capitalism is an unjust system that concentrates wealth and power in anti-democratic fashion, creates indefensible suffering, and undermines the solidarity that makes human life meaningful. Capitalism offers people choices in some realms, but blocks other choices. To suggest that anyone who is anti-capitalist desires submission to a supreme totality is, frankly, rather silly.
The claim that the United States liberated Afghanistan is asserted but unsupported. The United States has installed a puppet government that requires U.S. protection to survive. We can assume that any future government that might reject U.S. control will meet a predictable fate. This is the typical conception of democracy for U.S. policymakers. Yes, women are better off with the Taliban out of power (though in some parts of the country their situation is largely unchanged) but that hardly means their future is secure. There are lawful ways to try to help people in other countries that could lead to long-term stability. The United States did not pursue such a course. Instead, it cynically used the condition of women in Afghanistan for rhetorical cover to pursue a war to expand its dominance in that region.
But, more to the heart of the discussion of Bush and the U.S. empire: I always find it interesting that the millions of dead produced by U.S. interventions in the developing world after WWII can be brushed aside with such statements as “there were instances in which America supported some undemocratic regimes in its confrontation with Soviet barbarity.” This repeats the fiction that when the United States went about the business of undermining independent development in Latin America, southern Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia that it actually was confronting Soviet tyranny.
True, some of the regimes the United States attacked did receive aid of various kinds from the Soviet Union, but that hardly proves the central myth of the Cold War: That U.S. policymakers were fighting for freedom rather than simply acting as great powers tend to act — to extend and deepen their control over regions with strategic or economic value. The pattern is clear: Nations that attempt an independent course of development outside the U.S. system are targeted and, when possible, crushed, with little regard for the level of violence employed or the suffering caused. That was true both before and after the fall of the Soviet Union. In that project, there has always wide bipartisan support from both major political parties. One of the central tasks of the Left has been to counter the self-serving rhetoric of a benevolent empire and ask the U.S. public to hold our own government accountable to the law and minimal moral standards.
Frank: First I think it is repulsive to think the Left “supported and/or made excuses” for the crimes of Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot. I think this is unfounded and a broad based fantasy the Right would like to believe. Perhaps sections of the sectarian Left did, or continues to defend Stalin or Mao, however by and large this couldn’t be further from the truth on the whole. Nobody in their right mind (and certainly nobody on the Left I know), of any political stripe, would defend these criminals. Many, including your beloved Noam Chomsky, have chastised the U.S. for indirectly backing the racist Khmer Rouge. And before Pol Pot came to power in 1975, let’s not forget Kissinger’s orchestrated secret genocidal bombings of Cambodia. But I digress.
Comparing Bush to bin Laden is disingenuous. Bush, even if some of the Left says so, is not Hitler. As Paul O’Neill said of Bush; he is blind, apathetic, and mute. “Just a hearing aid shy of being our political version of the Who’s Tommy, minus the power chords,” says my friend Jeffrey St. Clair. I totally agree. Bush is easy to dislike. He admits to never thumbing through the daily newspapers. He comes across as a prosaic toddler when unable to read from a tele-prompted script. Many simply don’t like a president that comes across as dumb.
This is greater than Dubya’s mental capacity however. This is about America’s role in the world. I am with Jensen when he says he doesn’t hate Bush anymore than he hated Clinton or Bush Sr. for their crimes against humanity. Where was the Right when the Left was denouncing Clinton’s UN supported sanctions on Iraq? Save the Republicans now questioning Bush on Iraq, or Pat Buchanan — why aren’t more conservatives against Bush for lying about WMDs?
As per Flynn’s reflection of Bush’s token gestures to some liberals – that is hardly a reason to admire his administration.
What about the illegally detained at Guantánamo? Cheney’s secret energy meetings? Bush’s ties to the corrupt Enron? Halliburton’s gouging of the US taxpayer and the company’s ties to Cheney? What about the reports, even in the mainstream press, that women in Afghanistan are running back to the Taliban for protection? What about the fact that opium production is again in full swing in the country? This is not to say the Taliban was virtuous, but can we really call this liberation? Where was Bush when feminists were trying to draw attention to the atrocities there? Have we only escalated the violence in Iraq? Why hasn’t Bush or a representative of his administration attended every funeral of dead US soldiers? Is Iraq secure? Was there an exit strategy? Why is it costing more than Bush said it would? Has he hidden information on the harmful effects of the debris from Ground Zero?
These are just some of the important questions that must be answered. This has nothing to do with Bush being a conservative. It has everything to do with freedom. The freedom to ask serious questions of those whom we pay to represent us. It is our duty as Americans. I’d be doing the same under any administration.
Flynn: 1. Noam Chomsky never “supported and/or made excuses” for the Khmer Rouge, but actually “chastised” the folks who did so? Mr. Frank, are you lying or just ignorant?
Chomsky served as an apologist for the Khmer Rouge. Want proof? Read Chomsky’s infamous June, 1977 review in The Nation of three books on Cambodia. He begins by discussing the “rewriting of history” in the West to invent “tales of Communist atrocities.” He then tells the reader that reports of killing fields in Cambodia should be looked at in that light. He notes that supposed experts “concluded that executions have numbered at most in the thousands; that these were localized in areas of limited Khmer Rouge influence and of unusual peasant discontent, where brutal revenge killings were aggravated by the threat of starvation resulting from the American destruction and killing.” Translation: The Khmer Rouge is not engaged in mass-killings and the U.S. is responsible for them. That’s typical of Chomsky’s bad logic. “The ‘slaughter’ by the Khmer Rouge,” Chomsky and co-author declare, “is a [Robert] Moss–New York Times creation.” It’s nice to see that Mr. Chomsky now professes the truth that Pol Pot engaged in a slaughter and not merely a “slaughter.” It would have been nicer had he professed the truth when it really mattered.
2. Burkett writes: “As per Flynn’s reflection of Bush’s token gestures to some liberals–that is hardly a reason to admire his administration.” I’m glad we agree that Bush’s pursuit of liberal policies is not a good reason to admire his administration. But “token” gestures toward liberalism? The prescription drug plan is going to cost more than $500 billion over ten years. That’s a pretty big token.
3. Mr. Jensen mocks the notion that he hates capitalism, and then goes on to describe it as “an unjust system” and “anti-democratic”; that it “creates indefensible suffering” and “undermines the solidarity that makes human life meaningful.” Mr. Jensen: if you really believe all that nonsense and you don’t hate capitalism, then maybe you should.
4. Mr. Jensen contends that the Bush administration “cynically used the condition of women in Afghanistan for rhetorical cover to pursue a war to expand its dominance in that region.” No “rhetorical cover” was needed to invade Afghanistan. A terrorist network based in that country carried out attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. Americans were nearly unanimous in supporting the invasion. Stop falsely rewriting history. Leaving Mr. Burkett’s bizarre fixation on “the harmful effects of the debris from Ground Zero” aside, the significance of 9/11 was the lives that it stole from us. I’d love for Afghanistan to become a stable democracy, but that’s not the reason we invaded. We invaded to bring the conspirators behind 9/11, and their network, to justice, and to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a staging ground for future attacks. This is a noble goal in itself.
5. Ms. Burkett and Mr. Frank’s belief that the recent history of U.S. foreign policy is one of oppression, human rights violations, and explotation is a projection of the attributes of our enemies upon us. After we defeated Hitler and Hirohito, who specifically has stood in the way of our supposed military campaigns to impose oppression and violate human rights? Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Maurice Bishop, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, and Osama bin Laden.
One can argue about whether embarking upon some of these wars were in America’s national interest. It’s ludicrous to suggest that they were fought to crush human rights or support oppression. If that were really our goal, we could have achieved it by simply leaving these contemptible men to their own devices.
Burkett: So much to respond to, so little time. . .
I think that Jensen’s final statement about a central task of the Left being “to counter the self-serving rhetoric of a benevolent empire” is the right place to begin because it strikes to the heart of what so many believe is the Left’s “knee-jerk anti-Americanism.” It often feels as if this has become the Left’s PRIMARY task. What of its others? What about the task of thinking internationally, of criticizing fascist regimes in the Muslim world – and not just those who are allies of Bush? What about holding other governments accountable? Are the only “crimes against humanity” the Left worries about those committed by Bush?
It certainly feels that way given the amount of Leftist ink devoted to Bush versus the ink devoted to the Sudanese, for example.
The Left concentrates so much energy on berating the U.S. government that it winds up sounding like apologists for governments that are, by every measure, far worse. I’m certainly not asking that the Left cease and desist in attacking Bush on specific policy grounds. But these days that’s not what happens. He is WIDELY compared him to bin Laden. He is painted to be the worst, most dangerous force on the planet. That’s not simply disingenuous. It’s simply not true.
One parenthetical note: Yes, my statement about Afghanistan was asserted, not supported. I’m simply reporting what I saw in that country both before and after the U.S. invasion. And your support for an opposing view is what?
FP: Earlier, Mr. Frank denied that the Left ever supported the vicious communist regimes in the last century, and that only “sectarian” elements did. These denials are interesting. The truth of the matter is that the Left always held, at the least, that there was moral equivalency between the U.S. and its enemies, and deep down, it always sided with the Soviet bloc over the United States and believed that something better (than American capitalism and democracy) would grow out of it.
I never met one leftist in my life, and I have known gazillions of them, believe me, that could ever say to me: “Yes Jamie, America is a much more humane society and power than the Soviet regime and I hope that it wins the Cold War.”
As a matter of fact, I don’t know one person who considers himself a leftist that could say to me, even today, after the historical record has irrefutably confirmed that the U.S. was the good guy in the Cold War: “Yes Jamie, the U.S. was much more humane than Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot and the rest of the communist regimes and it is a great thing that it won the Cold War.” Or better yet: “Yes Jamie, the U.S. is a much better and humane system than what Osama bin Laden represents, I hope it wins the war against militant Islam.”
In any case, Prof. Jensen, my eyes glazed over in terms of your reference to “the millions of dead produced by U.S. interventions in the developing world after WWII.” Sorry, I did a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in 20th century American political history and foreign policy and, well, um . . . . I must have missed this part. Are you referring to the U.S. as in to the United States of America? What on earth are you talking about?
Jensen: What would folks suggest I do if my child attacked a playmate and broke the other kid’s arm, and then attempted to excuse his behavior by saying, “But look at Joey over there — he broke a kid’s arm and leg. Why don’t you criticize him? He’s worse than me.” I would, of course, point out to my son that his indefensible violent behavior was not made noble by the existence of an even more violent person down the block. That seems to me to be a rather simple principle, applicable at the personal and national level.
I often describe the former Soviet Union as a dungeon. Do you want me to condemn Stalin? No problem. Since 9/11, in every talk I have given on the subject I have explicitly rejected the values and tactics of al Qaeda. Let me quote from a piece I wrote a month after 9/11 with Rahul Mahajan, a colleague on the Left, in which we said this about the people who perpetrated the attacks: “Their vision for their own societies is grotesque.”
I have never apologized for a brutal government. The apologists for brutality tend to come from those walking halls of power, and those in their ideological support system, who excuse the crimes of the United States and of U.S. allies as an unfortunate necessity in running the world. Those apologies for atrocities matter because they help obscure the fact that the United States could stop the atrocities.
I talk often about this contradiction in the United States: Internally, there has been considerable progress toward creating a more humane society, though the project is flawed and incomplete. At the same time, the United States has murdered and destroyed around the world. A friend of mine who grew up outside the United States said that she and her political allies abroad always assumed that, given the brutality of U.S. conduct in foreign policy, that the United States must be an incredibly repressive society internally. She was surprised to discover that it was a fairly free and open place. It was hard to reconcile, she said, that domestic reality with the ugliness of U.S. foreign policy. That’s one of the paradoxes of this country.
As for my remark about the millions of dead as a result of that foreign policy, I assumed it was a fairly obvious point. We could start with the 3 to 4 million dead in the U.S. attack on Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. We could take note of the hundreds of thousands of dead in Central America as a result of U.S. support for military regimes, dictators, and proxy armies. To have to point out these things in this kind of forum says something not too pretty about the state of the intellectual culture of the United States.
Frank: Chomsky has argued that the number of deaths under Pol Pot was inflated by US officials and others in order to hide and/or dismiss atrocities Americans were committing in Cambodia and elsewhere. He wrote in a Z Magazine symposium, “[T]he Pol Pot atrocities were explicitly used to justify US intervention in Central America in the ’80s, leaving hundreds of thousands of corpses and endless destruction.”
And just to add, Chomsky took a lot of heat for raising this issue on the Left when he did it at the time. He doesn’t deny that Pol Pot committed atrocities (it seems like Flynn can’t admit the US has ever done any wrong), when “it mattered” as you say. But is this an accurate portrayal of the Left in general anyway? Again a highly unsubstantiated claim, based on wishful thinking.
I wouldn’t defend Bush’s prescription drug bill, ever. It was a bill tailored by and for the pharmaceutical industry along with managed care lobbyists, who shelled out over $141 million to get the legislation they craved. To say it was a liberal bill is nonsense. It was big business all the way rubber-stamped by a corporate president. But it is nice to hear you don’t like everything Bush has done either.
I would also never say that all US interventions in foreign countries were done to “crush human rights” or “support oppression.” The US government isn’t always that clever. But it is hard to ignore the fact that the result of many of our violent interventions have inflicted more damage, and resulted in human rights violations then existed before we entered. I’ve listed in my first response clear examples of this.
I find it interesting that a discussion of why the Left hates Bush has somehow turned into a debate of the Left’s supposed “anti-Americanism.” It is a circular argument. You say, our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan our protecting our freedoms. Then I use said freedoms, and I am anti-American. What a paradox. There has been little debate on why Bush is bad for this country. Whether it is exporting jobs or driving our deficit deeper into the ground, raping our natural environment, attempting to ban gay marriage, or waging a war based on false pretences.
It is easy for the Right to say that our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan at this time are “noble”. There is currently, as Jensen points out, a puppet regime in Afghanistan. With no sign of an end to the bloody Iraq situation. Are we a safer country because of all this? Has Bush’s wars decreased global terrorism, or simply perpetuated it? Have our actions fed right into bin Laden’s hands, by enraging more fundamentalists to hate America? Is there a military draft on the way? It sure looks like it. I do support our troops if you are wondering. I’d like to see them brought home alive.
Burkett: Jensen alleges that the apologists for brutal regimes come from the “halls of power.” Oh, please. Have you been to an anti-war demonstration lately? Or any time over the past 30 years? In my lifetime (I’m 58), I’ve heard plenty of apologies – for Stalin, Pol Pot, Fidel, the Iranian Ayatollahs, the Taliban and Saddam, to mention just a few. So it is simply inaccurate and disingenuous to pretend that there are not plenty of leftists who apologize for fascist regimes and gloss over their atrocities (or did you miss Michael Moore’s pictures of the happy Iraqi children?)
Leftist anti-Americanism is connected to the question by something more than circular logic. The hatred of Bush is, in some measure, reflection of a more generalized tendency by the Left to bash the United States, a tendency to hold the U.S. to a standard of behavior never applied to other countries, a refusal to concede that EVERYTHING the U.S. government, including the one led by Bush, is not wrong. There’s something hysterical in that.
The comment about the friend who grew up outside the U.S. and her allies is extremely revealing in its narrowness. If that perception were widely shared, how would you explain the fact that millions of people from all over the planet come to the United States expecting to find freedom rather than repression?
Flynn: Mr. Frank is in a fantasyland if he thinks Noam Chomsky didn’t deny the mass- killings committed by the Pol Pot led Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. He did. It’s as plain as day in an article co-authored by Chomsky in The Nation in June of 1977. What he says now does not erase what he said then. Chomsky has also claimed that the standard of living in Cuba is equal or greater to the standard of living in the United States, he recently stated that religious fundamentalism in the United States is comparable to religious fundamentalism in Iran, and believes–as is clear in the opening pages of What Uncle Sam Really Wants–that a conspiracy undertaken by ex-Nazis and U.S. State Department officials ordered the post-World War II world. In other words, Noam Chomsky is a crackpot who is taken seriously only by other crackpots.
Mr. Frank further ignorantly accuses me of failing to “admit the U.S. has ever done any wrong.” Later he imagines the entire political Right marching lockstep behind the war in Iraq. I have criticized the war in Iraq in my book Intellectual Morons, on talk radio, in dozens of speeches on college campuses, and on multiple appearances on national television. Major figures on the political Right, including William F. Buckley, Pat Buchanan, Robert Novak, George Will, Rep. Ron Paul, Tucker Carlson, and Richard Viguerie, have criticized the war as well. Some have opposed the war from the outset as not in America’s interests. Others have grown troubled by faulty intelligence and faulty readings of intelligence which portrayed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and relied, partly, on forged documents to make the case that Hussein recently pursued uranium from Niger.
Still others see what is currently going on in Iraq as the type of “nation building” that candidate Bush denounced in the 2000 campaign. You further question the motivation of the Bush administration on this war. Be clear. What do you think is ignoble about it? We are spending tens of billions of dollars and hundreds of lives to dethrone a tyrant and build a freer, more democratic government. As an American, I don’t see all this as being done in my nation’s interests so I oppose it. I also thought before the war that we were more apt to create America’s West Bank than a mini-America in the Middle East. This has sadly come to pass. But if I were an Iraqi, on the other hand, I would certainly be thrilled by what America is attempting to do. Saddam Hussein is rotting in a jail cell. Bush is risking his presidency with this war. If he were as Machiavellian as you make him out to be, why would he have embarked on the Iraq campaign. What, exactly, does he get out of Iraq other than possibly losing his job over it?
Mr. Jensen projects the crimes of foreign governments upon America by stating that their deplorable behavior is “a result of U.S. support for military regimes, dictators, and proxy armies.” It’s always America’s fault in Jensen’s mind. Even after 9/11, he blamed America. He stated that his “primary anger is directed at the leaders of this country.” He further responded with a tu quoque, claiming that America was “just as guilty.” Jensen’s take on world affairs is more paternalistic than the most fervent jingo in Victorian England.
The Third-World people committing the atrocities–both real and imagined–that he refers to are never responsible for their own actions. It’s always Uncle Sam the puppeteer who’s pulling the strings. Because we give aid to more than one-hundred countries around the world, people like Jensen crudely attempt to tie any cruel act by these governments back to the United States, as if the aid were conditional upon the cruel acts. He invokes Vietnam, omitting that the civil war in that country predated our military involvement, that the Communists we fought against committed atrocities both before and after we were involved, and that the victors did exactly as the U.S. suspected–they imposed a tyrannical regime that had nothing to do with democracy or agrarian reform and everything to do with Communism. As for Cambodia, the Communists killed more than a million people there. Are you actually trying to pin that one on America too?
FP: All I would add here is that there was a reason why the Khmer Rouge’s mass murder designers have been called “Sartre’s children.”
In any case, we are running out of time ladies and gentlemen. This is our final round, one last turn for each panelist. Prof. Jensen go ahead.
Jensen: I have always held to the belief that (1) principles of justice should be applied uniformly, including to oneself and one’s own nation, and (2) we are responsible for our own actions, individually and collectively as a nation-state. That leads me to the conclusion that as a U.S. citizen, I should be part of movements to hold accountable powerful institutions (in this society, that means primarily the state and corporations) for abuses of power, while at the same time struggling to create a society in which such illegitimate concentrations of power eventually are abolished. Historically, such movements (labor, civil rights, feminist, anti-war) have been the primary force for progressive social change. They remain the hope for the future, even in a time of naïve triumphalism about the dominance of the American empire.
Frank: I am a bit perplexed as to Flynn’s obsession with Noam Chomsky’s 1977 article in The Nation. What Chomsky says now doesn’t erase what he said then, true, it only clarifies. But leave it to the Right to be the Chomsky scholars, fully inflated by their own egos.
However, Mr. Flynn, I am glad you have admitted in this discussion your view on the Iraq War. You had not previously said as much here. I think what you say resonates with much of the Left and qualifies as “ignoble”. Bush’s “faulty intelligence and faulty readings of intelligence” may lead one, conservative or not, to believe that Bush is not fit for the highest military post in the land. I second that.
Further, I think it is clear that the current path the US is taking in Iraq will not yield any sort of true democracy in the region. There are no signs that Iraq has been “liberated”. I do not think democracy, as Americans typically perceive it (as if we in fact live in a real democracy, look at the Democrat’s vile attempts to keep Ralph Nader off ballots this year, or (R) Tom Delay’s redistricting in Texas) will ever manifest itself in Iraq. The current situation is not one of either Sadr or a pure secular state, as your darling Fox News may contend, but rather as journalist Naomi Klein points out, “[The future is] between open elections – which risk handing power to fundamentalists but would also allow secular and moderate religious forces to organize – and rigged elections designed to leave the country in the hands of Iyad Allawi and the rest of his CIA/Mukhabarat-trained thugs, fully dependent on Washington for both money and might.”
Do you really think the US would allow a government to form in Iraq that was more anti-American than Saddam’s? Or let a regime rise to power that was anti-Israel — even if it came about democratically? Not a chance. This was never about democracy anyway, let alone WMDs. Surely this was also not in America’s best interest, as Flynn admits. It was clearly not in Iraq’s best interest either. These facts alone prove Bush deserve the boot.
If folks aren’t upset about Bush’s failing report card on Iraq and US foreign policy, why not consider the following. Unemployment in the US is at an eight-year peak, and it is still rising. Ten million unemployed workers are looking for jobs, but can’t find one. This is the worst case of unemployment in the US since the Great Depression.
Meanwhile, workers who still have health insurance have seen a rise in their program’s costs. Workers’ premium payments rose 27 percent for single coverage and 16 percent for family coverage in 2002 alone. And it is still going up. The US Census Bureau also reports that the number of uninsured has risen to over 43.6 million in 2001. But Bush still can’t muster together a job’s program plan for his new budget. Of course the folks lucky enough to have received Bush’s lavish tax-cuts haven’t felt the brunt of these failures. For them it has been a sort of detached drive-by shooting.
How about poverty? We know it is increasing, but the numbers can be telling. The Department of Agriculture estimates that some 34.9 million Americans as well as 13 million children, experience “food insecurity”. Overall, households with children reported food insecurity at more than double the rate of households without children, 16.5% versus 8.1%. Ship our tax-dollars overseas to maintain an unwinnable war, and ignore the impoverished children here at home. There is your Bush Agenda. Vote wisely.
FP: America is always held up to a higher moral accountability than anyone else, especially its enemies. Look at how the media went on and on about women’s underwear being wrapped around some prisoner’s head at Abu Ghraib. I know some people who you couldn’t even convince that this is torture. . . .and who live their lives hoping this will happen to them. . . .but I’ll spare our readers the details here.
If only our mainstream media gave 1% of its obsession with America’s Abu Ghraib to showing pics of what was happening in Abu Ghraib during Saddam’s regime — and those images exist. Why isn’t the liberal media as outraged and indignant about those images, which depict humans being incinerated in tanks of acid, and eyes being gauged out, and limbs being cut off?
Because the leftist mindset, which moulds the parameters of dialogue in our society, always holds up America to an ideal and then finds it wanting, while our enemies’ mass crimes are always “put into context” and explained away.
In any case, there is a lot of arguing in this symposium, but it really is quite simple: President George W. Bush has liberated 50 million Muslims from the tyranny of two vicious, sadistic and fascist regimes. Yet the Left hates him. That remains the great paradox of our time.
Mr. Flynn, go ahead.
Flynn: Hatred is an emotion and therefore not always rational. It shouldn’t surprise us that people who hate George W. Bush aren’t always rational in what motivates them.
For both Intellectual Morons and Why the Left Hates America, I interviewed several hundred activists at anti-war, anti-globalization, and other protests. These events are like Woodstock for Bush haters. When I asked protestors what historical figure came to mind when thinking about George W. Bush, by far the most common answer was Adolf Hitler. “I think what Bush is doing currently is becoming a fascist dictator,” protestor Melissa Orr told me on the eve of the Iraq war. “I think Bush is the new Hitler,” explained a man at a large Manhattan demonstration in February of 2003. “He’s almost like a Hitler,” activist Reesa Rosenberg said at a DC anti-war march in January 2003. “He wants the whole country to be white and Christian. He’s scary.”
That perception of Bush, which is widespread, is based on caricature and not reality. In other words, it is irrational. There are no facts that would lead anyone to suspect that the president desires a racially homogeneous country, or is using his office to convert non-Christians to his particular faith. Comparing Bush to Hitler bespeaks an ignorance of the past, or the present, or both.
If the Bush hatred were merely about policy, than the Bush haters would have expressed similar vehemence in opposing bombing campaigns by Clinton. They didn’t. If the Bush hatred were merely about policy, presidents and other leaders far more conservative than Bush would have elicited far more venom. They didn’t. It’s true that we’re in the midst of a war, and the circumstances of Bush’s election (the Florida controversy), are events that contribute to the hatred of Bush. But there’s more to it than just the program Bush pursues. I do think it’s at least equal part personality to that of policy.
Bush is a born-again Christian, an oilman, and a child of privilege. For a leftist, what’s not to hate? Add to this the president’s occasional cockiness and his certainty of purpose, and you have a formula for a leftist boogeyman. The Left wants shades of grey. But the times demand, and the president supplies, black-and-white responses. For many leftists, any non-nuanced answer is an anti-intellectual answer. The Left wants an intellectual-in-chief. America wants a commander-in-chief.
FP: Last word goes to you Ms. Burkett.
Burkett: Funny, but I agree, in the main, with Jensen as to what I think my political responsibilities are: that principles of justice should be applied uniformly and that we’re responsible for our own actions, individually and collectively. And that is precisely my point: When did the Left stop holding ITSELF to those principles?
If it did – and did so on the basis of information rather than the blatherings of the ill-informed – the Left would have been demanding U.S. government action to overthrow Saddam years ago. It would have been screaming up a storm about the Sudan and applauding the Bush administration for its strong stand against trafficking of women and children.
I certainly don’t agree with Bush on many things. However, the demonizing of Bush and his administration, with its attendant refusal to acknowledge that he has, in some cases, struck blows for justice, suggests to me either that the Left doesn’t care much about justice and freedom or that it is more interested in promoting John Kerry than in those principles.
As one who grew up on the Left, that death of principle makes me extremely sad.
The personality of Bush only provides part of the explanation for the passion from the president’s opponents. The Bush haters themselves treat politics as a substitute religion. Politics provides them with membership in a community, easy-to-understand explanations, secular saints and devils, and fervor. Heretics, of course, are treated accordingly.
Should Bush win, and win clearly, in November, the Left is going to have to come to grips with the fact that their fellow citizens chose this man as their leader. If they still believe Bush to be Hitler, will that make the majority of American voters Nazi supporters?
FP: Prof. Jensen, Mr. Frank, Mr. Flynn and Elinor Burkett, it was a pleasure to have you here. We hope to see you again soon.