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(DV) Street: The "Realistic" Pessimism of the Do-Nothing Liberal-Left Intelligentsia







The “Realistic” Pessimism of the Do-Nothing
Liberal-Left Intelligentsia

by Paul Street
March 24, 2006

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Who will save us from the pessimistic, do-nothing "realism" of the privileged and elitist "liberal left"? 


“Racism Will Not be Solved”


Did you know that the problem of racism in America "is not going to be solved?"  Efforts to address racial disparities in the United States are now "all to no avail," according to a brilliant leading liberal-left intellectual I recently met. 


His opinion seems widely shared across the liberal intellectual class, which goes to special lengths to cloak the deeply racialized nature of contemporary social disparities they prefer to discuss in misleadingly "color-blind" terms (for an especially graphic example, see Jeremy Travis, But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry [New York, NY: Urban Institute Press, 2005]).


“‘Troops Out Now’ is Sentimental Foolishness”


Did you know that the United States "has no choice" but to persist in maintaining an imperial military presence in Iraq for a long period of time? "Our" illegal occupation of that nation may be monumentally criminal and murderous (responsible for the death of more than 100,000 Iraqis according to responsible investigations) and expensive ("a trillion dollars and counting" according to left-liberal New York Times columnist Bob Herbert yesterday). It may, as widely predicted on the liberal left (and in radical and some conservative quarters), be richly fueling extremist Islamic terrorism within Iraq and the Middle East.


But "troops out now," liberal-left intellectuals lecture me, is an "unrealistic," "irresponsible" and "sentimental" position because "all Hell will break loose over there if we leave."  Yes, the withdrawal of U.S. troops "will lead to civil war." 


At the same time, the highbrow and left-liberal line I'm hearing runs, the U.S. has an obligation to "help clean up the mess it made over there" by "rebuilding Iraq," defeating the terrorists we helped spawn, and exporting a measure of benevolent Western "democracy" to Iraq. 


Furthermore, the "realist" left-liberal argument runs, there's no point in trying to rally the American people for withdrawal. Protesting the occupation and calling for the withdrawal of our troops won't work. We saw the utter futility of protest three years ago, when record-setting American and global demonstrations failed to (miraculously) prevent Washington's invasion of Mesopotamia.


And "given the right-wing's stranglehold on both the political process and public discourse," the Nation's nauseating radical-baiting liberal-left columnist Eric Alterman recently moaned, the poor "powerless Democrats cannot hope to address" the "Iraq quagmire" in a forceful, morally informed manner. They can't "even have their public proposals treated fairly." 


Why, Alterman asks, should the nation's supposed opposition party "make themselves vulnerable by offering up a target for Rove or O'Reilly to torture, twist, and otherwise pervert for the propose of political assassination but in 2006 and again in 2008?"


Way to fight back, Eric.


If his sorry Democratic Party Do-Nothings embraced an "out now" policy, Alterman adds,  "the effect would be to reinforce the 'disarray/these people can't be trusted to protect us' narrative that remains the Democrats Achilles heel." A Democratic demand for withdrawal "would be treated in the conservative punditocracy as the equivalent of a call to 'cut and run,' and hence would open the entire 'weak on defense' Pandora's Box that almost always dooms Democrats in national elections" (Eric Alterman, "Iraq: The Democrats' Dilemma," The Nation, April 3, 2006, p. 12).


Can you hear the violins in the background?


Such are the lame, rightist-enabling, and self-surrendering "oh well but GET REAL that's the WAY IT IS in right-wing America" arguments that are routinely made by know-it-all do-nothing liberal-left intellectuals, who chide me for speaking at demonstrations where people chant "silly" and "obsolete" slogans like "Stop this Racist Oil War," "Troops Out Now," and (horror) "Power to the People."  


You can even pick up much of this sad surrender line from activist liberal-left pressure groups like Moveon.org and other ostensibly progressive antiwar outfits opposed to immediate withdrawal.


Never Mind Democracy


Never mind that, as Anthony Arnove notes, in "The Logic of Withdrawal," (ZNET, March 20, 2006): 


* "The U.S. military has no right to be in Iraq in the first place"


* The U.S. has no intention of fostering democracy in the Middle East since Washington opposes "ordinary people control[ing] their region's energy resources."


* "Democracy cannot be 'installed' by outside power, at gunpoint."


* The U.S. is feeding, not preventing civil war in Iraq.  It is "deliberately pitting Kurds against Arabs, Shia against Sunni, and faction and against faction...following a classic [imperial] divide and rule strategy."


* The state-terrorist occupation (see Edward S. Herman, "The Preeminence of State Terrorism," Z Magazine, February 2006) is the principal source of such Islamic terrorist activity as now exists in Iraq.


* The U.S. and leading multinational corporations it represents (e.g. Halliburton and Bechtel) are looting, buying up, and strangling, not rebuilding, Iraq, consistent with the underlying corporate-neoliberal globalization project that lives on beneath the empire's open aggression.


* "The Iraqis are fully capable of rebuilding their own society."


* The U.S. can and should contribute to the Iraqis' self-directed rebuilding by paying reparations (covering U.S.-imposed damages going back long before the current invasion), canceling all Iraqi state debts from the Saddam era, and providing such external assistance as the Iraqis require.


And never mind that:


* More than half the U.S. population now supports immediate U.S. withdrawal (September 2005 CBS New York Times poll)


* Half of the U.S. populace now says that the war is NOT "morally justified," down from 75 percent in March 2003 (Susan Page, "Most Say War Has Hurt the USA But Will Help Iraqis," USA Today, 17 March 2006). 


* A record 60 percent of Americans say the war "hasn't been worth it" (Page, "Most Say War Has Hurt the USA")


* Seventy-two percent of the U.S. troops in Iraq say that the U.S. should get out of Iraq within a year and only 23 percent support Bush's "stay the course" line (see www.zogby.com/news/ReadNews.dbm?ID=1075)    


* Seventy-two percent of Americans surveyed by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in 2004 (the percentage is certainly higher today) say that the U.S. should remove its military from Iraq if that's what a clear majority of Iraqis want (Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, Global Views 2004: American Foreign Policy and Public Opinion, October 2004, p. 17).


* A poll commissioned by the British Ministry of Defense last year found that fully 82 percent of Iraqis were “strongly opposed” to the presence of foreign troops and less than 1 percent believed the troops were responsible for improvement in security" (Richard Norton Taylor, "British Forces Arrest Nine Iraqis As Poll Shows Hostility to Troops," The Guardian, October 24, 2005).


Oh Ye of Little Democratic Faith


One problem with liberal-left do-nothing intellectuals is that they lack the classic American liberal Thomas Jefferson's idealistic faith in the people and in "popular government's" democratic duty to act in line with "the people's" will, even when such action might lead to "unwise" policies.


As the radical-democratic left knows, there's nothing "unwise" about immediate withdrawal. But even if the rapid removal of the U.S. military from Iraq was a "bad" policy, Jefferson's concept of appropriate democratic governance points unambiguously to such removal -- negative consequences (real or imaginary) notwithstanding. 


Beneath all their snide, pseudo-populist Bush-bashing, liberal-left "realists'" refusal to advance policy in accord with the wishes of the citizenry places them closer to the aristocratic sentiments of Jefferson's authoritarian opponent Alexander Hamilton. For Hamilton, "the people" were a dangerous and ignorant "beast" -- a wretched rabble inherently unfit to rule. That "beast" needed above all to be contained and properly "represented" in the corridors of power and policy by more "expert" and worldly superiors from the privileged and propertied elite. 


Go to almost any supposedly "leftist" U.S. college or university today and you will learn that those more astute superiors include much of the liberal professoriat, whose bolder sorts like to lecture genuinely radical (and often therefore marginal) academicians and students on the sentimental silliness and childish naiveté of contemporary anti-war activism.   


Looking at the above opinion data suggesting that this is a moment of great opportunity to advance the just cause of withdrawal, I am struck by the self-satisfied cowardice of the fatalistic liberal-left know-it-all and do-nothing intellectuals. They seem more concerned with obeying venerably failed and hopelessly narrow electoral agendas and accommodating evil than with embracing the dangerous possibilities of morally engaged activism driven by democratic ideals.


Power to the people.

Paul Street is a Visiting Professor of American History at Northern Illinois University. His latest book is Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, October 2004). He can be reached at: pstreet@niu.edu.

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