Skip to comments.ANDREW SULLIVAN: Hitler? He’s not half as bad as Bush
Posted on 04/05/2003 3:14:19 PM PST by MadIvan
Last week two rival opinions leapt out from the crowd of the American media. The first was from Nicholas De Genova, a Columbia University professor. He was addressing an anti-war teach-in at the Ivy League college, and felt comfortable in the anti-war consensus of Americas hyper-left-wing academy. So comfortable, in fact, that he blurted out what he really believes.
Surveying the war, De Genova said what others only privately believe and what a third of the French now apparently hold dear. He longed for a million Mogadishus for American soldiers in Iraq a million incidents in which soldiers are captured, murdered, mutilated and paraded through the streets.
The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the US military, De Genova elaborated. And to sporadic applause he thundered: If we really (believe) that this war is criminal . . . then we have to believe in the victory of the Iraqi people and the defeat of the US war machine.
There you have a core belief of some in the left-wing anti-war movement. Such sentiments help explain why at almost every anti-war rally President Bush is portrayed as Hitler on posters but Saddam is almost completely absent. The rhetoric of the left has consistently argued that this is a criminal war, conducted by an illegal president for nefarious ends oil contracts, the Jews, world domination, etc. When you have used rhetoric of that sort, why shouldnt you, when push comes to shove, support the enemy? But this is not the only face of liberalism at this time. As military success begins to become apparent, the other liberalism is beginning to assert itself. The Village Voice last week ran a column by Nat Hentoff, an old leftie, civil liberties enthusiast and journalistic lion of the campaign against the Vietnam war. He recounted his feelings about our current predicament:
I participated in many demonstrations against the Vietnam war, including some civil disobedience . . . but I could not participate in the demonstrations against the war on Iraq. As I told The New York Sun in its roundup of New Yorkers for and against the war: There was the disclosure . . . when the prisons were briefly opened of the gouging of eyes of prisoners and the raping of women in front of their husbands, from whom the torturers wanted to extract information . . . So if people want to talk about containing (Saddam Hussein) and dont want to go in forcefully and remove him, how do they propose doing something about the horrors he is inflicting on his people who live in such fear of him? But Hentoff saw something else. He saw that any liberal who does not rejoice at the destruction of Saddams despicable regime is no real liberal. He saw that whatever reservations one might have about the military power of the United States, or even its foreign policy, there is not any moral equivalence between the vile despotism clinging on in Baghdad and the American republic.
He also saw that the liberal fig leaf the way in which leftists could absolve themselves of responsibility for the Iraqi horror was just a fig leaf. I refer to the United Nations, a body that sat by and watched as genocide cut through hundreds of thousands in Bosnia and Kosovo and Rwanda and did nothing, a body that has Libya chair its commission on human rights.
As Hentoff put it: The UN is crucial for feeding people and trying to deal with such plagues as Aids; but if you had been in a Hussein torture chamber, would you, even in a state of delirium, hope for rescue from the UN Security Council? Hentoff is increasingly not alone. In France, beleaguered liberals like Bernard Kouchner, former Socialist minister and co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, supported the Anglo-Saxon liberation of Iraq from tyranny, and was horrified at how anti-Americanism had so infected the French left that it had led his comrades to support a vicious dictator.
A US magazine for which I write, The New Republic, has coupled intense hostility to the domestic policies of the Bush administration with full-throated support for the war. And in Britain, voices of conscience, such as Ann Clwyds or Michael Ignatieffs, have risen above the chatter of resentment, excuses and appeasement to articulate moral clarity.
And now a new book by a leading American intellectual, Paul Berman, may lead to a deeper rethink on the American left. Berman has impeccable liberal credentials; he has written lovingly of the new left and even won the coveted Genius Award given by the MacArthur Foundation, an award mainly reserved for left-wing intellectuals and activists. But Bermans latest book, Terror and Liberalism, is a minor masterpiece of moral seriousness and scholarly research.
Perhaps his most important contribution is to uncover the real roots of todays political ideologies in the Middle East. There is nothing in Arab culture or history that should lead political or religious leaders to embrace totalitarian terror, as in Saddams Iraq, or fundamentalist suicide bombing and mass murder. This fusion of totalitarian politics and the methods of terror were imports from the West, Berman shows, from the nihilists of the late 19th century, and the fascists and Stalinists of the 20th.
Who is Saddam, after all, but another Mussolini or Hitler, reborn in Islamic guise? Look at the personality cult, the secret police, the mass murders, the purges, the vast and inhuman wars, the scapegoating of the Jews, the vicious genocide against the Kurds (whose only crime was not to be Arabs). This kind of regime was invented not in Mesopotamia but in Europe.
Likewise, the roots of Islamism in the early years of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood are also directly linked to the fascist movements in 20th century Europe. A man like Bin Laden is a classic western figure, educated in the West, with a vast fortune built on western oil trade, and methods that have far more to do with Stalin than with Islamic tradition.
Berman argues that the notion that Arab societies and cultures are somehow indigenously incapable of liberal democracy is a form of racist condescension. Iraq is no less capable of becoming an open, free society than Germany or Japan in 1945, or even post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s. And what did the defeat of each of those tyrannies have in common? British resilience and American military might. The scenario we are seeing unfold today, in other words, is a starkly familiar one.
When Berman looks at the 1980s and 1990s, when Arab fascism grew in power, took over cultures, killed millions in wars, and threatened many more with terrorist violence, he wonders what went wrong in the West. Why did we not see the danger? Was it because exhausted from defeating Soviet totalitarianism, beguiled by the notion that history had ended, we couldnt bring ourselves to face a new and perhaps even more dangerous threat?
For Europeans, that question still reverberates. For Americans, 9/11 answered the question. What have we needed for these terrorists to prosper? Berman asks. We have needed immense failures of political courage and imagination within the Muslim world. We have needed an almost wilful lack of curiosity about those failures by people in other parts of the world the lack of curiosity that allowed us to suppose that totalitarianism had been defeated, even when totalitarianism was reaching a new zenith . . . We have needed a political left that, in its anti-imperialist fervours, has lost the ability to stand up to fascism and has sometimes gone a little further down the slippery slope. We have needed a cynical application of realist or Nixonian doctrines over the decades the doctrines that governed the Gulf war of 1991, the doctrines that even now lead to friendly ties with the most reactionary of feudal systems. We have needed an inability to cling to our own liberal and democratic principles, an inability even to articulate those principles.
I quote at length to show the passion and power of those words. One of Tony Blairs greatest achievements, which the British left has still not appreciated, has been to find the courage to articulate those liberal principles again. One of those principles is that the Islamist movement in the Arab and Muslim world is a real threat to the free West. It is also a real threat to the security, freedom and happiness of all Muslims and Arabs.
Good liberals, as they did in the 1930s, should not shy away from confronting this new fascism. In fact, given their political legacy, they should feel doubly responsible for confronting it. Liberalism cannot co-exist with terror or totalitarianism. One must vanquish the other. And when you look at what we are learning about Saddams Iraq its horrifying brutality, its deep alliance with terrorism, its genocidal core, its fanatical anti-semitism, its contempt for human freedom and human life you see what, at the deepest level, this war has been about.
We can only hope that this anti-Islamist liberalism will grow and prosper. We need it now more than ever. In the war on terror, Iraq is but a first stop, but a critical one. If we can rebuild Iraqi society on liberal grounds, create a fairer, more democratic culture, rescue Islam from its abusers, and show that the liberal West is prepared to sacrifice and invest to make Iraq a new model for that part of the world, then we will have made a critical start towards a new world.
Will most western liberals see this as Berman has and move away from their reactionary anti-Americanism towards the true liberal faith? We cannot know. But we can surely hope.
Death to mindless partisanship.
Even before that in Cambodia.
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