I never thought I’d find myself in agreement with anything in Dissent magazine, but this brilliant piece by Paul Berman exposes the foolishness of the accusations made against President Bush by the anti-war crowd. There’s almost too many brilliant arguments in the piece to quote, but here are a few especially notable gems nevertheless:
"The old-fashioned left used to be universalist-used to think that everyone, all over the world, would some day want to live according to the same fundamental values, and ought to be helped to do so. They thought this was especially true for people in reasonably modern societies with universities, industries, and a sophisticated bureaucracy-societies like the one in Iraq. But no more! Today, people say, out of a spirit of egalitarian tolerance: Social democracy for Swedes! Tyranny for Arabs! And this is supposed to be a left-wing attitude? By the way, you don’t hear much from the left about the non-Arabs in countries like Iraq, do you? The left, the real left, used to be the champion of minority populations-of people like the Kurds. No more! The left, my friend, has abandoned the values of the left-except for a few of us, of course."
Thump! "Another reason: A lot of people honestly believe that Israel’s problems with the Palestinians represent something more than a miserable dispute over borders and recognition-that Israel’s problems represent something huger, a uniquely diabolical aspect of Zionism, which explains the rage and humiliation felt by Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia. Which is to say, a lot of people have succumbed to anti-Semitic fantasies about the cosmic quality of Jewish crime and cannot get their minds to think about anything else."
Berman hits something exceptionally important here. While the left often exists as a criticism of the classical liberal order, certainly “liberals” in the United States descend from that tradition. The liberal tradition does not and could not accept a system in which fascism is tolerated so long as that fascism doesn’t bother us. The Declaration of Independence, the mission statement of this nation reads “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…” That is as important a statement of purpose as any in history.
Yet those who would wrap themselves in the flag and use the rhetoric of universal human rights would at the same time deny the right of the Iraqi peopel to live freely. They would argue that it’s perfectly acceptable for the Palestinians to engage in the deliberate mass murder of civilians, and that the Arab world is fundamentally incompatible with democracy.
Yet that is not only a provincial attitude, it is deeply racist. To argue that the Arabs are somehow unable to meet the most basic standards of human rights it to argue that the Arabs are somehow less than human. Either human rights are universal or they are not, and if they are not the term conveys no meaning. Either we say that it is never acceptable to deliberately target civilians and commit genocide or we accept that the very foundation of human rights and international law mean absolutely nothing.
That is the moral and intellectual crisis the left faces, and many of them are finding themselves on the wrong side. The leftist faces the problem of being strong enough to admit that while they find the Bush Administration repugnant on many issues, they should not allow their criticisms to become an apologia for fascism and genocide. Yet far too many of them already have.
My friend said, "I’m for the UN and international law, and I think you’ve become a traitor to the left. A neocon!"
I said, "I’m for overthrowing tyrants, and since when did overthrowing fascism become treason to the left?"
"But isn’t George Bush himself a fascist, more or less? I mean-admit it!"
My own eyes widened. "You haven’t the foggiest idea what fascism is," I said. "I always figured that a keen awareness of extreme oppression was the deepest trait of a left-wing heart. Mass graves, three hundred thousand missing Iraqis, a population crushed by thirty-five years of Baathist boots stomping on their faces-that is what fascism means! And you think that a few corrupt insider contracts with Bush’s cronies at Halliburton and a bit of retrograde Bible-thumping and Bush’s ridiculous tax cuts and his bonanzas for the super-rich are indistinguishable from that?-indistinguishable from fascism? From a politics of slaughter? Leftism is supposed to be a reality principle. Leftism is supposed to embody an ability to take in the big picture. The traitor to the left is you, my friend…"
While I don’t agree with many of these points, I agree with the argument being made here as a whole. The left has lost all sense of perspective in their criticisms of Bush. From a leftist perspective, it is perfectly acceptable to make the same criticisms of Bush that Berman does but still argue that the removal of a genuine fascist is an prima facie good. Yet the left cannot muster the strength to do so.
The left has always had a weakness for brushing aside the unpleasant realities of fascism and totalitarianism. Walter Duranty won the Pulitzer Prize for ignoring the deliberate mass starvation of millions of Ukranians and kulaks under the bloody Stalin regime in the former Soviet Union. Leftists still praise the totalitarian police state in Cuba for its lip service to the cause of socialist utopia. And today the left, including many who should know better, argue that Iraq under Saddam was better than a free Iraq.
There is no amount of rationalization that can ever justify such arguments. Fascism is inherently against the principles of human rights and justice. Yet the left worldwide have embraced the bloody principles of shari’a in an attack against the Western civilization that ended slavery, gave women full and equal participation in society, and promoted the values of free enterprise and secular humanism. Either these values are universal or they are not, and the left must either be willing to stand with those they may otherwise disagree with and defend those values or they must admit that they have abandoned them in exchange for their temporal political agenda.