It seems that there are many on the left who want Bush to lose in Iraq. “The United States needs to lose the war in Iraq as soon as possible,” Gwyne Dyer writes in a recent book. Michael Moore claims that “the Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘the enemy.’ They are the Revolution, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow—and they will win.”
Moore may be right, but what’s striking is that he appears to be cheering them on. He is not unique in his sentiments. “I have a confession,” Gary Kamiya wrote on salon.com after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “I have at times secretly wished for things to go wrong, wished for the Iraqis to resist longer. Wished for the Arab world to rise up in rage.”
Indeed there are many on the left who seem to hope and work for the war in Iraq to end in dismal failure. Susan Watkins, editor of the New Left Review, affirms that “U.S.-led forces have no business in Iraq” and “the Iraqi people have every right to drive them out.” Political scientist Robert Jensen argues that the U.S. is losing the war in Iraq “and that’s a good thing. I welcome the U.S. defeat.” Sentiments such as this have been expressed by leftists like Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and Markos Moulitsas.
If you assume that these people want the war on terror to succeed, their rhetoric and actions become incomprehensible. If you assume they’re on the side of Bin Laden and the insurgents, their actions make perfect sense. And while the left was at one time far removed from the corridors of power, its activists are now whispering daily into the ears of Pelosi, Murtha, Rangel and Kennedy. And since the left has the activists and the money, it is influential enough to force the Democratic presidential hopefuls into a competition to see who can do the most to block Bush’s war on terror and engineer the most rapid retreat from Iraq.
But in a deeper sense, the behavior of the left and its political allies is a mystery. After all, the Islamic radicals are the most illiberal forces in the world. At least the socialists and the communists claimed to speak for liberal values, such as sexual and economic egalitarianism. It’s understandable why misguided college students might go around sporting Che Guevara T-shirts. But even American leftists don’t go around with Bin Laden or Khomeini T-shirts. Leftists know how the Bin Laden and Khomeini types feel about Hillary Clinton and Barney Frank. So why doesn’t the left want to fight the broadest and most aggressive campaign possible against a sworn enemy of liberal values?
To answer this question we have to notice the “indignation gap” that is apparent in the writings and speeches of leading leftist commentators and elected officials. They seem far more outraged at Bush than at the Islamic radicals. They might rebuke Bin Laden and his radical allies, but their language reaches a new decibel of indignation when they excoriate Bush and his conservative backers. Somehow Bush frightens these people more than the Islamic radicals.
Consequently the left in its political strategy seems to be applying the doctrine of the lesser evil. The left is allying with the bad guys in order to defeat the worse guys. Obviously leftists have no wish to live in the kind of society that Bin Laden seeks to establish. But the left also knows that Bin Laden wants to establish sharia in Baghdad, not Boston. Some elements on the left are willing to risk an Islamic fundamentalist state in Iraq in order to improve its prospects of defeating conservative government here in America.
Another way to put it is that some on the left are more than willing to partner with foreign enemies they don’t like in order to vanquish a domestic enemy they rabidly hate and fear. Columnist Ellen Willis warns that “what used to be the right-wing lunatic fringe is now the Republican mainstream…The radical right feels entitled to dominate not only government but all social institutions.” Bill Moyers fumes that Bush and the right are causing nothing less than the “intentional destruction of the United States of America.”
From this point of view, an Iraq ruled by Bin Laden and his successors is troubling, but an America ruled by Bush and the conservatives is abominable. It is Bush, not Bin Laden, who threatens with one more Supreme Court appointment to jeopardize Roe v. Wade. It is Bush and his supporters, not Bin Laden, who are blocking the advance of gay marriage. The greatest threat to civil liberties from the left’s point of view? Once again, Bush.
So leading figures on the left fear Bush more than Bin Laden, and viewed from their perspective, they are right to feel that way. The entire social agenda of the left, which was advancing without serious opposition, has been existentially jeopardized by Bush and his supporters. It is Bush, not Bin Laden, who threatens the most cherished values of the cultural left on its home turf. Thus the left is quite willing to work with the far enemy in order to defeat the near enemy.