05 April 2010

Prospects for a Peace Party

The American Conservative for May 2010 features a symposium of "thinkers from across the spectrum" on the prospects for antiwar elements on the Right (aka the "paleoconservatives") and Left can work together to advance a non-interventionist agenda in the current political climate. The magazine has been a particular advocate of such an approach, opening its pages since 2003 to a number of Left or left-leaning thinkers who joined the editors' critique of neoconservatism. I've seen relatively little reciprocity on the left. Andrew Bacevich is a token conservative with impeccable credentials (he lost a son in Iraq) who gets space in liberal and progressive journals for his anti-militarist opinions, but others are persona non grata for their domestic policy views or religious beliefs.

Most of the professed conservatives approached by the magazine seem more pessimistic than ever about the prospect of cross-ideological or counter-ideological coalition against an interventionist foreign policy now perpetuated by the Obama administration. William S. Lind, for instance, fears that leftists will reject anyone who doesn't share their "ideology of cultural Marxism, aka political correctness," the purpose of which, Lind claims, is to "poison Western culture." Paul Gottfried worries that most leftists are hypocritical when denouncing wars carried out by right-wingers, muting their criticism (he charges) now that Democrats control the war machine. He also suspects that leftists don't share the paleoconservative fear of executive power that fuels the latter group's opposition to the current wars. Justin Raimondo takes a different approach, arguing that there's no real Left in the U.S. anymore in the traditional anti-imperialist sense. He also admits to hurting the prospects for coalition when he explains that he can keep up flagging opposition to the war on terror among rightists by calling it "Obama's War." Donald Devine makes an odd demand that leftists recognize Ronald Reagan as an antiwar President, while Thomas E. Woods complains that leftists are happy to make common cause with neocons to slam his unorthodox interpretation of U.S. history. All of these writers also concede that their minority standing within the Republican party or conservative movement in general gives them little influence and little leverage. Gottfried, for instance, states bluntly that there's "no recognizable advantage for the Left to be allied to marginalized people on the Right."

The liberals and progressive participants in the symposium all express disappointment with Obama's failure to wrap up the wars quickly. They also recognize that many leftists remain Democratic partisans who are reluctant to risk compromising Obama's domestic agenda by pressuring him on foreign policy. Restating the obvious, they also note that the antiwar paleocons don't exactly bring much to the table in terms of numbers. Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos uses his space to denounce mainstream Republicans for using national security as a club to beat Democrats. "If Republicans quit trying to score political points by accusing Democrats of being weak on national security, then Democrats could quit being cowards," he writes -- forgetting that he's addressing exactly those Republicans (or plain conservatives) who aren't doing that. Robert Dreyfuss notes that the Tea Partiers have mostly come out in favor of war ("vociferously, if not intelligently") and predicts that "a two-winged bird is unlikely to take flight, if for no other reason than the fact that its left wing is many times heavier than its right wing."

Nevertheless, as someone closer to the left I have to say that the paleoconservatives have probably been the most principled opponents of the war on terror simply because it has forced them into conflict with their normal political home in the Republican party, while opposition imposed no such risk on Democrats until 2009. What the paleocons can contribute disproportionately to their numbers is a kind of moral authority, if only on this particular issue. They embody the fact that anti-interventionism is not strictly a "left" or "Democratic" stance. That's why they're needed in a broader movement no matter how few they are.

The writers in the symposium too often get trapped in lingering partisanship, criticizing left or right when they really mean Democrats or Republicans. A few transcendent moments shine through, however. Lind calls "democratic capitalism" the "third great totalizing ideology of the 20th century" (after communism and fascism, that is) and states that the U.S. is really a one-party state -- ruled by "the Establishment Party" for whom "war is a racket that pays well." John V. Walsh of CounterPunch notes that anti-imperialists and anti-interventionists have been "defeated because we have been divided," and "the deepest fissure is loyalty to the political parties of empire, Democrat or Republican, in place of a unifying commitment to the principle of nonintervention. As long as this crippling nightmare persists, we shall have empire and its necessary acolyte, war." A rightist and leftist agree that an Establishment that doesn't include them welcomes war. The question for the future is whether they can resist the impulse to war on each other in order to end the wars that imperil us all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have to agree to an extent. There has been far fewer anti-war demonstrations since Obama took office and yet there is still a mounting casualty count. I guess the American people have yet to have their blood lust sated.