Notes from a splendid London New Year

I had the pleasure of bringing in 2007 in London, where I had the chance to catch up with some dear friends - and engage in some interesting political debate with the usual transatlantic biases.

The main issue concerned perceptions of the words right and left. In a discussion of the Iraq War, I argued that "bringing democracy to Iraq" was a leftist adventure on the part of George W. Bush. This view, however, was soundly rejected by my porteño and porteña pals, who considered it a territorial entreprise and therefore rightist. One of them, an accomplished journalist who often writes for La Nación and appears on Argentine TV, countered that state intervention only in internal affairs characterized leftist, to which I responded that America's ability to significantly affect developments in other nations means that exercising this capacity also reflects a leftist disposition.

I cited Bush's second inaugural address, the "Freedom speech", in which he (and by "he", I of course mean his neocon speechwriters) stated:
"The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world...America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause...to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way."
To me, that is ultra-left. To my Europeanized Latin American colleagues, it's far right. Interesting stuff.

Along with those friends, I joined a Romanian colleague for lunch the previous day - at which we reflected on the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It was a throwback to April of 2003, when the very same group of us watched the fall of Baghdad live on CNN from Stockholm, Sweden. I will never forget the reaction of my Romanian friend on that day nearly 4 years ago to the assertion of Donald Rumsfeld that:
"The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking. Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain...Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed, brutal dictators..."
No doubt recalling her own personal experience as part of the student movement in Bucharest, she yelled back at the TV that "it was we the Romanian people that overthrew Ceausescu - we didn't need American tanks rolling through Bucharest to do it for us!"

Comparing the Hussein execution with that of Ceausescu, she seemed regretful that the former Romanian leader was tried in "half an hour" and shot along with his wife on Christmas Day in 1989, the footage of which was shown on Romanian national TV. As controversial as Hussein's trial might have been, it was clearly a lot more fair than the one afforded Ceausescu.


TheLucidLibertarian said...

Spreading freedom and democracy through military means is clearly a Liberal value. The neocons who planned the Iraq War since the 1990s were the same individuals who conducted foreign policy for liberals JFK and LBJ in the 1960s, supported hawkish Democrat Scoop Jackson in 1972, and began backing Reagan and the Republicans in 1980 because Jimmy Carter was such a pathetic, weak leader who hadn't a clue how to handle world affairs.

Leftists and those on the political Right both oppose military intervention in other nations, but for different reasons.

Pat Buchanan, Tucker Carlson, and others on the Right understand history very well and did not want to see the U.S. bogged down in a long and costly struggle in Iraq. Their opposition, and the opposition of most on the Right to the Iraq War, is out of love for America and a fear for the sacrifices we would make, in blood and treasure, in a drawn out Iraq occupation. Regardless, they still believe that America is a great nation and that Saddam was a brutal, evil ruler.

Those on the Left (the Michael Moores and Rosie 'O Donells of the world, the MoveOn.org crowd, and most of the Democratic Party today) oppose the Iraq War because they blame America for all that they think is wrong in the world. To them, none of Saddam Hussein's crimes against humanity matter. All that matters to them is that, at one time in the early 1980s, we gave Saddam a few weapons to aid Iraq against Iran. Thier values are not American. They are socialists and conspiracy theorists who believe that insane dictators like Hussein, Chavez, Kim Jong-Il, and Ahmadinejad are less of a threat to world peace than Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. The Iraq War may have been unwise in many regards, but that in no way means President Bush is a Nazi as those on the left like to scream from time to time.

The idea of spreading freedom and democracy to other parts of the world has always been a liberal concept. It is neither Leftist or Rightist. Many conservative Republicans have adopted it, despite thier previous concerns over foreign military adventures. Liberal Sen. Joe Lieberman still supports it and, because the Democrats have moved so far left (Lieberman is one of the few moderates left in the party) he was forced to seek re-election as an independent after his party threw him overboard in the primary.

Anonymous said...

Sen. Lieberman was a mainstream Liberal whose views were in line with the majority of Connecticut's voters. He was supported by sensible Democrats, and many Republicans and Independents as well. Ned Lamont was a left-wing radical, the grandnephew of Corliss Lamont, a Leftist who lead the ACLU from 1932 to 1954.

TheLucidLibertarian is correct, there is a significant difference betweent the attitudes and values of liberals and leftists. The distinction is important. One of those is that liberals love freedom and democracy and support it fully. Leftists do not. They are usually anti-war but, unlike Rightists, Leftists want power in the hands of the state. Rightists want a limited government role in all aspects of life.

George Ajjan said...

My porteño colleague wrote me the following:

"about your blog, I can tell you that not only I checked it, but I have already recomended it to a couple of friends of mine via MSN, and both of them took their heads with both hands and shouted to themselves: 'Bush far left?????'. It was a very funny reaction, but I would like to see the reaction of some of the American visitors of your blog... I am beginning to think that the perception in America about politics is so much different than I had imagined until we had this discussion..."

Bedouina said...

Well this liberal from California says: now that Bush II has been shown up for the incompetent, authoritarian, anti-Constitutional failure that he is, Republicans are trying to separate themselves from him.

It's true that Bushism doesn't look like Republican values to me - how Republican is it to abrogate the Constitution, sign in the "Patriot Act" granting the President powers to suspend habeus corpus and open citizen mail (see the latest Bush action this week), run up a deficit never seen before, and oh yes, by the way, go out on an imperialist adventure with not enough troops and no plan?

I am a Democrat but I have enough respect for traditional Republican party principles to know this ain't very Republican.

However. Y'all voted for him. Y'all cheered him on. We marched in the streets against the Iraq war. We criticized him up down left and right. And now you're trying to say that leftists (and/or liberals, I'm not quite following the argument) are responsible for George Bush?

Please. He will go down in history as one of our biggest failures, and he is a Republican. If you all threw away your principles to cheer him on just because he stuck the name Republican on his lapel, then how is it the leftists' fault?

By the way, the longer I live, the more I realize that I am an unreconstructed, militantly moderate liberal. I had been calling myself a leftist lately but the truth is that American politics had moved so far to the right that I started feeling like a far out leftie. I like the definition of liberal versus leftist posted by anonymous above.

I am willing to accept that the idea of intervening in foreign affairs is "leftist", as in extremist left manipulation of people and countries in order to create change. They say the neo-conservatives are just soured lefties anyway.

But this liberal laughs at the thought of George Bush, leftist. Republicans know he's going to be toxic to your party for at least a generation so you just want to push him away with your foot.

I actually feel sorry for George H. W. Bush (41). He knows what history will make of his son. And furthermore, with hindsight and 6 years of Bush II, Bush I's policies and leadership look better and better to me.

I'm sure I'll piss you all off (except George, who is clearly a "mensch") - oh well. Happy New Year!

George Ajjan said...

In their February issue, the paleo-conservative magazine Chronicles will publish an article written by me that touches upon the themes mentioned by Bedouina above - contrasting the foreign policy of HW, Clinton (a disaster as well), and W.

TheLucidLibertarian said...

George, congrads. on your soon to be published piece in Chronicles.

In response to some of the posts here, it is important to note that many commentators have touched upon the fact that George W. Bush can not easily be evaluated as either conservative or liberal. I happen to agree.

He has done some things that are solidly conservative - namely his economic agenda of cutting taxes and growing the economy, his appointment of judges to the Federal bench (and Alito and Roberts to the SCOTUS) who adhere to the mandates of our Constutution, not foreign law, his support for school choice, and the like.

However, much of his agenda has reflected a willingness to adopt positions of a big government liberal. The No Child Left Behind Act and the Medicare Bill are probably the two most obvious examples of this. He, like many in the GOP, has also turned his back on conservatives by supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants. Also, with his alleged belief in the goodness and ability of faith-based organizations, I find it surprising that he has maintained such steadfast support for the failed Drug War agenda, wasting countless American taxpayer dollars on something that will never go away, and supporting incarceration for non-violent drug users instead of rehabilitation. Likewise, his foreign policy agenda transformed from one of conservative non-intervention in 2000 to a liberal, Wilsonian/Truman-like internationalism several years later.

HaledonHound said...

I read recently that only after 9/11 did Bush adopt neo-conservative viewpoints on foreign policy. This makes sense considering Bush had done little foreign travelling and no international experience before 2000. Hence had no foreign policy and simply took the one of Cheney-Rumsfeld and even some of the recycled and dispicable leftist Perle.

Course we had already suffered the policy embarassments of Bill Clinton throughout the 1990's. The invasions in Yugoslavia were totally counter to US interests (especially in Kosovo). It was Clinton who also failed to get UN inspectors back into Iraq in 1998, something Bush actually did accomplish. After at least four short bombing campaigns, Clinton left Iraq less stable in 2001 than in 1993. The debacle in Somalia was also a foreign policy Hindenburg for Bill Clinton.

Finally, let us remember why conservatives like myself who had reservations against the war had trouble getting on the antiwar bandwagon. The movement was seized upon by agents of the ultra-left like the ghoulish America-hater Ramsey Clark rather than credible people on the center and right. These Marxists, as Lucid said, simply hate the USA and did not really care whether the campaign in the Gulf was right or wrong. Do not think all the spin was positive from Bush/Rumsfeld, the loony left drove many to the President's side.