The Crisis In The Left

Andrew Sullivan points to a fascinating article by Adam Shatz in The Nation concerning the Left’s reaction to the events of September 11. He takes the issue and examines it with a depth and honesty that makes this piece one of the better ones I’ve ever seen from The Nation. An example:

Since then, the fog of war has grown thicker and thicker. On some days, I’m sympathetic to Noam Chomsky’s critique of the war on terrorism as an arrogant war of empire. On other days, I remember the view from Flatbush Avenue on September 11, and I’m gripped by the sense that anti-imperialism is a woefully incomplete guide to today’s situation. I never saw the Soviets, the Cubans, the Sandinistas, the ANC or the PLO as enemies. Al Qaeda is another matter altogether.

It’s refreshing for a member of the Left to back down, however slowly, from the radical anti-Americanism of Chomsky, Fisk, and the others of the "evil American Empire" crowd. He’s correct – if ever there was a just cause for America, removing al-Qaeda would be it. While Shatz may be a liberal, it’s clear that he’s at least a thoughful one.

Reading the left press, however, you wouldn’t necessarily know this. Since September 11, the debate on the left has been framed by the extremes of pro- and antiwar opinion–that is, if you can call it a debate. It’s more like a shouting match, with accusations of treason of one kind or another being flung by both sides.

This is a valid critique that deserves attention. Certainly the Right can agree that there is room and a need for criticism of American action, and the Left needs to stop assuming that America’s motives in every action are suspect or somehow related towards creating some kind of American Empire. There is room for reasoned and principled debate on both sides, but that isn’t what we’re seeing. Stepping out of my biases for a moment, Shatz is correct to point out that the Left has not been the kind of loyal opposition they would like to be. Rather than making arguments, many members of the Left are resorting to the kind of simple-minded "war is bad" protest methods of the Sixties.

The difference being that this is not the Sixties, and we’re not fighting in Vietnam. There’s a smoking hole in Manhattan and nearly 3000 empty seats at the dinner table. The old charges of imperialism simply fall flat when faced with that terrible reality.

The article is simply too long to extensively quote from it as I might, but it is well worth reading, especially for those on the left of the political spectrum.

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