The cruise missile left (CML), sometimes self-designated "the patriotic left" (Eric Alterman, "Straw Liberals and False Prophets," The Nation, Dec. 9, 2002), is a varied assortment of liberals who share a deep attachment to the U.S. imperial state, from which flows a visceral hostility toward those who condemn that state and fight its actions and plans in no uncertain terms. These critics of the imperial state are said to display a "reflexive" anti-Americanism or anti-Westernism (Gitlin, Alterman) that lacks " nuance" and fails to recognize that the imperial state has a right to defend itself and does good things as well as bad. These deficiencies on the part of the misguided left are not only morally wrong, but they also cause that left to be out of touch with the people and explain its marginalization. (For more details, see "The Cruise Missile Left," Part 1, Z Magazine, November 2002.)
The CMLs by and large think that Clinton was a creditable foreign policy president, responsible for the Oslo agreement and the ouster of Milosevic, eventually supporting UN forces in East Timor, even if a bit belatedly, with "free trade" accomplishments, and an alleged greater willingness to do things multilaterally than the Bush administration. But the CMLs also generally credit Bush with a proper if perhaps inadequately focused pursuit of Al Qaeda and " terrorism," and they approved his attack on Afghanistan as a reasonable case of self defense that got rid of a bad regime. (International law and "collateral damage" don't interest the CML.) Bush is just going too far too fast in his rush to war against Iraq, although at least one of them (Paul Berman) is in full accord with Bush here also.
The CMLs accept the Bush premise that Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction are a major threat, and most of them believe that the inspections regime is reasonable and should be allowed to continue to seek out and remove those weapons. None of them attack the inspections-"sanctions of mass destruction" package as a U.S.-British vendetta that has made 24 million Iraqis hostages, with deadly results. None of them express the view that the U.S. weapons of mass destruction, or those of Israel, pose a major threat that the international community should focus on (and none of them ever mention that Security Council Resolution 687 called not only for a removal of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, but those elsewhere in the Middle East [i.e., Israel's]).
These views are not "left" at all, they are "moderate" apologetics for imperial violence, and quite a few conservatives are at least as strongly opposed to the war on Iraq as the CMLs. Furthermore, much of CML opinion on these matters is based on a blind and ignorant acceptance of conventional wisdom. In his attacks on ANSWER [Act Now to Stop War and End Racism] David Corn regularly mentions that they have supported Milosevic, and he and his colleagues like Berube believe that this is prima facie evidence of extremism. But the conventional view that Milosevic was responsible for the ethnic cleansing wars of the 1990s and committed war crimes more serious than, say, Izetbegovic, Tudjman and Clinton is highly contestable, and the belief that the Tribunal is a strictly political instrument and that Milosevic's trial is a political show trial is very defensible. I have never seen a trace of evidence that Corn and Berube know anything about the Balkan wars, and I would wager that neither have ever read Robert Hayden, Michael Mandel and John Laughland on the work of the Tribunal, and that they believe they have obtained the truth from Madeleine Albright, the New York Times, David Rieff, their own Ian Williams, and (until recently) Christopher Hitchens (see my two part series on the Tribunal in Z Magazine, April-May 2002, and review of Diana Johnstone's Fools' Crusade [www.monthlyreview.org/comment.htm]).
An important feature of CML writings on foreign policy that displays their apologetic role is their tendency to ignore major areas of imperial violence and to object strenuously to alleged exaggerations of the costs of U.S. attacks on target state civilians. They carefully avoid East Timor and Turkey's Kurds when patting Clinton on the back for his foreign policy accomplishments, they downplay or ignore the U.S. role in clearing the ground for " man of peace" Sharon and his ethnic cleansing predecessors, and they all pay zero attention to the massive ethnic cleansing in NATO-occupied Kosovo, that has had major effects on thousands of Roma (and other ethnic minorities) as well as the Serbs. This is foreign policy concern and understanding that "follows the flag."
Equally dramatic is their resentment at alleged inflated casualty numbers inflicted by this country. Marc Cooper was indignant that William Blum should have cited Marc Herold's study of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, which Cooper described as "unverified" and probably "false," and Michael Walzer was also upset at Herold's alleged attempt to inflate casualty numbers and failure to recognize that they were not deliberate, only collateral. Michael Berube also was exercised over the unpatriotic left's failure to distinguish deliberate killing and a mere "military response" (for a discussion and refutation of this as a meaningful moral distinction, see CML, Part 1). Cooper expressed not the slightest indignation over the thousands of casualties of innocent Afghans, only at an estimate he deemed too high, based on gut reaction alone. Berube also was distressed at Noam Chomsky's alleged hysteria over the cut-off of food supplies to Afghanistan, but showed no concern whatsoever over the effects of that cut-off--or the war policy itself--on Afghan civilian casualties. It is well-known, even acknowledged by the Pentagon, that it didn't bother to count Iraqi casualties in 1991 and doesn't collect that information in Afghanistan, but this didn't upset Cooper or Berube or raise any questions in their mind.
For Serbia, Cooper says that there were 500 dead from U.S. bombing, which happens to be the lowest estimate on offer (provided by Human Rights Watch). Michael Massing also criticized Herold in The Nation for possibly overstating casualties ("Grief Without Portraits," Feb. 4, 2002), studying only a single incident and confining his investigation to sources in the mainstream corporate press. Herold was able to show that Massing had no case ("Truth [about Afghan civilian casualties] Comes Only Through an American Lens," in Peter Phillips and Project Censored, eds., Censored 2003 [Seven Stories: 2003]), but the question is: why do The Nation and its contributing editors and other members of the CML so frequently go to such pains to deflate critical estimates of U.S.-inflicted casualties?
Corn-Cooper-Berube Versus the Antiwar Protests
For months David Corn and Marc Cooper have been taking multiple shots at ANSWER, the principal organizer of the major January and February antiwar protests, and they have been joined in this by others like Michael Berube amd Eric Alterman. Their claim is that ANSWER is very sectarian, shapes protests and chooses speakers on an ideological basis, allows speakers on Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier (among others presumably diversionary or illicit), and therefore discredits and weakens protests. However, they give minimal evidence that ANSWER controls everything, fails to recognize significant groups among the protestors, or that this damages the protests. It is widely recognized that ANSWER and its allies work hard and do a good job of getting out large numbers among many constituencies. Most of the protesters I have talked to or whose views have been reported in the mainstream media have not been upset by the leadership of the protests and have felt that the protests were a great success.
Alterman perhaps gives the game away when he explains that the " radical denouncing [of] America and everything it stands for--which I heard from the ANSWER-chosen speakers in D.C. over the weekend [earlier he said he heard only 15 minutes worth of speeches]--does more harm than good. They harden the other side's resolve..." His research has also convinced him that the Vietnam War protests had negative effects [MSNBC, Jan. 20, 2003]. What was needed was more "nuancing" that would include mention of what America has done right--to give the demonstration a balance that would perhaps soften the Bush administration and its supporters! However, it is possible that large crowds would not turn out for the protests if the CMLs were in charge, providing that desired balance with Gitlin, Berman, Alterman, Walzer and maybe Madeleine Albright or Richard Holbrooke on the podium.
It is significant that the mainstream media have welcomed Corn, Cooper, Alterman, Berube and company, and that these CM Leftists have been pleased to trash ANSWER and the protest movement in these mass circulation vehicles (Corn, on Fox with Bill O'Reilly). The mass media today are serving the war machine and have not welcomed serious critics of the imminent attack on Iraq-- and they been largely hostile to the growing protest movement (obligated to cover it on January 18 and February 15-16 because of the sheer mass involved, but returning to full-time war service the next day). It is clear that Corn, Berube, Cooper et al. are performing in a manner that has geared well into media demands.
The gearing was highlighted by the New York Times Magazine piece by George Packer on "The Liberal Quandry Over Iraq" (Dec. 8, 2002), which sounded just like Corn or Cooper, featuring the "unnuanced" protest signs like "No Blood for Oil," the control "by the furthest reaches of the American left," its "narrow ideology," and the absence therefore of a "constructive liberal antiwar movement." There was even the obligatory smear of Noam Chomsky, who allegedly reflected the view that any U.S. action was imperialistic, causing him "to leap to the defense of Slobodan Milosevic." (This was a double lie, as Chomsky's reasons for opposition to the Kosovo war were not based on the view that any U.S. action was imperialistic, but on a close consideration of motives and probable effects; and Chomsky never defended Milosevic, any more than he "leapt to the defense of Ho Chi Minh" or any other leader of a state subjected to U.S. attack. Chomsky doesn't like aggression, whether by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan or the United States in Vietnam or now organizing its assault on Iraq. Packer mimics Alterman, Berube, Berman et al. in their invariable use of hit-and-run tactics in dealing with Chomsky, preferring the smear to addressing a substantive issue.)
Corn, Cooper, Berube and Alterman are surely sincere in their denunciations of ANSWER, but what is the public meaning of their outbursts in the mainstream media? By public meaning I refer to their effects rather than formal claims of intention. Are these effects helpful to the antiwar movement? Do they help sell antiwar messages to the public? Do they bring about useful reforms in the movement itself that will give it greater strength? I think the answer very clearly is that their almost exclusive effect is to discredit the movement in the eyes of the public, distracting attention from the numbers and beliefs of movement members to an alleged sinister control by "commies" (Corn). This is why the mainstream media, which have taken on the function of propaganda agents for the war party, welcome Cooper and Corn and allow and encourage them to attack ANSWER, which is a proxy for the protest movement itself.
Corn, Berube, Lerner and the Antisemitism Gambit
Another CML opportunity to attack ANSWER presented itself when Rabbi Michael Lerner claimed to have been denied the opportunity to speak at an antiwar rally in San Francisco on February 16th, allegedly because he was "pro-Israel." This made it possible to denigrate ANSWER--and by implication, whether intended or not, the protest movement--as both hostile to free speech and antisemitic to boot. The Corn-Cooper-Berube-Lerner axis pushed this line aggressively, and got considerable mainstream publicity.
Significantly, the far-right, pro-Sharon, and prowar Wall Street Journal editorial page gave space to Lerner under the title "The Antiwar Anti-Semites" (February 12). Lerner claimed that this was all very positive because he said in his article that he was still going to demonstrate with the antisemites! But this was hypocritical: the Wall Street Journal wasn't gulled into supporting the antiwar protest--they, if not Lerner, knew that this was a blow to the movement.
The Corn-Cooper-Berube phalanx posted a column on The Nation's web site reiterating Lerner's charges, and got up an Internet petition doing the same. This petition was quickly featured on David Horowitz's web site, and Berube participated in a debate on Horowitz's site on the crimes of ANSWER. As Horowitz is a far-right fanatic, doing business with him doesn't seem like a means of constructive discussion of the problems of the protest movement, although the same may be said of Corn's exchanges on the subject with Bill O'Reilly on Fox. Berube has reacted strongly against the charge of being in league with Horowitz, but as Alexander Cockburn points out, "We find it pretty ripe that Berube should whine about guilt by association after he and Cooper and Corn have spent months smearing the peace movement because the Workers World Party and ANSWER have been organizing demonstrations."
Corn, Cooper, Berube and company also succeeded in getting dozens of liberals and leftists to sign on to their Internet petition denouncing ANSWER's alleged denial of free speech and asserting that it should be barred from any leadership role. The claim that a genuine free speech issue was at stake here is fraudulent, as I shall describe below, but it was also hypocritical of Corn and associates to push it on this basis. Cooper in particular was deeply implicated in the massive censorship operation under the now-deposed Pacifica management, according to which nobody (except the management) was permitted to discuss the Pacifica crisis on any Pacifica program. This tactic, vigorously enforced by Cooper's ally Mark Schubb in Los Angeles, was used to provide the basis for firing numerous Pacifica dissidents who refused to be bound by this censorship rule. Cooper supported it without question, and Corn raised no objections. Their devotion to the principle of free speech is suspect.
But it is a fraud in the present case, and many who signed the Corn petition might not have done so if in possession of all the relevant facts.
One fact is that Lerner didn't even ask to speak at the February 16th gathering (a point made by ANSWER organizer Richard Becker, but acknowledged by Lerner in an interview with LA Weekly). He would have been denied speaking time if he had, but he didn't ask. He would have been barred by an agreement among the four protest organizing groups to deny the floor to anyone who had publicly denounced any of the groups. This was a debatable principle to establish, but it was not entirely indefensible as such an individual might well use the podium to continue denouncing the organizers, arguably a dubious allocation of scarce time (the applicants for speaking time were five times as numerous as the slots). Would denying David Horowitz speaking time be a violation of the principle of free speech? (ANSWER would not have barred Lerner from the earlier January 18th rally which occurred before the new rule was in place--in that case, Lerner fell by the wayside because he insisted on 15 minutes, rather than the three minutes given other speakers.)
A second relevant consideration is that at a planning meeting at which speakers were being chosen on February 4, the fact that Lerner was ineligible was discussed with a representative of Tikkun, who raised no objections. This, plus the fact that Lerner didn't even apply for speaking time on February 16, suggests that his later outcry about being barred was either pre-planned or, more likely, a belated recognition that with a little massaging of evidence he could make himself into a free speech victim of antisemitism.
A third relevant consideration is that, according to The Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) newsletter, replying to the phalanx: "We have found close and staunch allies in the anti-war coalition. We have found that our opinion is sought time and again and that our stance in support of a truly just peace between Israelis and Palestinians and respect for Israeli human rights as well as Palestinians' has been respected and represented in the speakers that have been chosen. At the upcoming demonstration, Mitchell Plitnick [of JVP] will speak, along with Israeli refusnik Ofer Shorr, and Kate Raphael from San Francisco Women in Black, Rabbi Steven Pierce, Rabbi Pam Frydman-Baugh, and Rabbi David Cooper. This represents a broad spectrum of Jewish antiwar views." This JVP statement goes on to say that Lerner's views are welcomed and that "he is an important spokesperson" for the peace and justice movement--that he was ruled as ineligible at a planning meeting, attended by a Tikkun representative, at which it was decided "that we were capable of finding another speaker with views similar to his who did not openly attack a coalition partner." In short, the claim that he was excluded because of a bias against his views by the organizers of the protest is false.
A fourth consideration is that Lerner's charge that he was barred because of antisemitism among the organizers, and that his voice was needed to contest protest-movement antisemitism, is another ugly and politically regressive misrepresentation and misapplication of the word antisemitism. Lerner has often used antisemitism as a political tool to denigrate opposition to Iraeli policies. He has even called it antisemitic to link Israel to the drive for an Iraq invasion ("Singling Out Israel in the Context of a War Rally Is Racist," Tikkun website, Feb. 17, 2003). In the current controversy Lerner has used the word antisemitism to apply, not to people who hate Jews, but to those who assert that Israel today is a racist, ethnic cleansing, and dangerously out-of-control state that is committing serious war crimes on a daily basis and urgently needs to be stopped by the international community. These people believe that Israel right now constitutes a far more serious menace and problem than Iraq, and that the United States does as well given its "projection of power" and underwriting of Sharon and his policies.
I agree with these people, but Lerner doesn't and the CML people don't either. Alterman refers to "the disgusting views of Irish poet Tom Paulin, who termed Jewish settlers on the West Bank 'Nazis,'" but Alterman never uses the word disgusting to describe Israeli policies, which now include the deliberate imposition of mass famine and a health crisis of catastrophic proportions, a civilian death toll of several dozen or more a week, "hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians unable to work, study or move about as curfews and 300 or more barricades impede their daily lives, with houses blown up and bulldozed on a mass basis." Alterman likes the word "retaliation," and he focuses not on the victims of retaliation but on the "heartbreaking catastrophe that lovers of Zion the world over must suffer...to see Israel in the hands of such a blindly, self-destructive [sic] leadership."
So another public meaning of the CML-Lerner alliance, and the Lerner gambit, is that it serves to contest and denigrate the protest movement's valid linking of the Bush aggression against Iraq and the intensifying ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Ariel Sharon. Given what Sharon's IDF is doing to the Palestinians on a daily basis, its aggressive push of new settlements and expropriations of Palestinian land, its openly discussed "transfer" policy options, and its enthusiastic backing of an attack on Iraq that will provide a cover for intensified state terror, this is apologetics for something truly evil and "disgusting," under the guise of protecting free speech.
First published in Z Magazine
Edward S. Herman is Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
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