Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cowards and Doves

Before the Vietnam War, anti-war movements in Western countries were comprised mainly of men and women of principle: opponents of war in general or of wars of imperial conquest or of wars between imperialist powers. But by the mid-1960s, as the immorality and then the futility of America’s assault on Vietnam became increasingly apparent, and as the harm it was doing to American society became more palpable, a new species of anti-war militant emerged: the dove. At the level of policy, doves were not always distinguishable from anti-imperialist opponents of the war, and the term was often used to designate both. But there was a difference: doves and their pro-war counterparts, hawks, agreed on ends; they both wanted to keep south-east Asia in the American sphere of influence, they both wanted to limit Soviet and Chinese influence in the region, and they were both worried about the consequences of a military defeat (peace without honor). The difference was that once it became clear that the war was going poorly, the doves thought that more fighting would make a bad and unavoidable outcome worse, while the hawks believed that, with more fighting, disaster could somehow be avoided. Because the anti-war movement radicalized many of its participants, the ranks of anti-imperialists within it swelled as the “quagmire” dragged on. But from the time the anti-War movement became a significant force in public life, the principled opponents were outnumbered by unprincipled doves. This remained the case until the distinction became moot, thanks to the “Vietnamization” of the fighting and then, in short order, to the predictable defeat of America’s proxies in South Vietnam.

Thanks mainly to the party duopoly that has stifled our political culture since even before the First World War, the United States, unlike other “developed” countries, has not had to adjust to the loss of a politically significant Left; it had no Left to lose. Our political culture therefore suffers from a certain theoretical deficit – the inevitable consequence of ideological consensus. The situation is not helped by the fact that our media have always been more than usually subservient to the regime in place, though not always to the governments that administer it. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that support for and opposition to our country’s wars would be conceived in an ideologically non-divisive, dove versus hawk framework. But the phenomenon is hardly unique to the United States. Thus, a dove/hawk divide has become pronounced, for example, in Israel, despite a history of ideological contention in that country’s past. Before the founding of the state in 1948, and for many years thereafter, opponents of Israeli belligerency more often than not differed with mainstream Zionists on matters of principle, not strategy or tactics. To be sure, within the peace camp, there was general support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. But the idea of a Jewish state was controversial – even after the state was established, leading “cultural Zionists” and other advocates of Jewish-Arab peace to accept its existence faute de mieux. Thus, for a long time, ideological contention was the rule, not the exception. Some of the opposition to Israeli belligerency was religiously motivated. For many Reform Jews, it was a mistake to conflate religion and ethnicity, and therefore “un-Jewish” to promote an ethnic Jewish state; for orthodox Jews, the return to Zion was a theological, not a political, conception. But there were also many opponents of Israeli belligerency who were moved by secular concerns. As heirs of the Enlightenment and defenders of the achievements of the French Revolution (and its American predecessor), they opposed the idea of an ethnic state in principle. They also questioned the moral defensibility of imposing Jewish settlements on a land inhabited by others, and that could therefore only be instituted through ethnic cleansing and maintained by social and political arrangements incompatible with the ideal of equal citizenship. Religious opposition faded throughout the first two decades of the state’s existence; after the Six Day War, it all but disappeared except in some ultra-orthodox circles. Within Israel, principled political opposition faded too. Of course, there are still intrepid souls intent on implementing democratic values, not just for the Herrenvolk but for Arabs and Jews alike. But within the broad-tent Zionist camp, there is by now only support for an ethnic state. However, within that consensus, there developed a dove/hawk division as Palestinian resistance increased. Thus there are Israeli doves who believe that the goal of a secure and formally democratic ethnic state is best achieved by negotiating a “two state solution” to “the Palestinian crisis”; and hawks who believe that by military and other repressive means, Palestinians can be “persuaded” to leave their country of origin and/or to remain permanently subaltern within it. The split came to a head with the conquest in 1967 of the relatively small portion (about 28%) of mandate Palestine that Israel did not acquire in 1948, and with the occupation that ensued. Doves think the ideal of a Jewish state is best served by ending all (or most) of the occupation of Palestinian territory; hawks support the installation of an Apartheid regime in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Israel still has a genuine Left; and, from time to time, it has also had a sizeable peace movement. But most Israeli peaceniks, including those who belong to parties of the Left, are not really principled leftists (or, for that matter, principled democrats); they are only doves.

Again, what makes a dove, in the sense in question here, is not just the adoption of dovish policies. Dovish policies can also be adopted for any of a variety of principled reasons. A dove is dovish for strategic or tactical reasons; reasons of the sort that make hawks hawkish. This is not necessarily a bad thing: the dove/hawk consensus on ends may be perfectly defensible. Whether it is or not can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. In the case of the dove/hawk consensus on Vietnam, the consensus view was patently indefensible. The reasons why are well-known, despite a concerted effort over the past several decades to render them obscure. I will not rehearse them here.

In that case too, the doves were plainly more right than the hawks -- one need only reflect on the harm done by the United States in Southeast Asia as the Vietnam War grinded on. The lesson has not exactly sunk in within our political class, though it is significant that hardly anyone today, this side of John McCain, bothers to insist otherwise. I suspect that this assessment holds in most other cases too; it certainly does in the Israeli dove/hawk divide. Usually, though not necessarily, when there is a dove/hawk split, the doves are more right than the hawks – within the parameters of their consensus on ends.

History shows that peace movements comprised mainly of doves shrink almost to oblivion when hawks are on the march. When hawk policies fail (on their own terms) – when they lead to “quagmires” – then the doves come back. Thus, in 2003, there was a dearth of doves in the United States; in 2007, there is an abundance.

Thanks to the stupendous incompetence of the Cheney/Bush government, a vast majority (perhaps more than 75%) of Americans now oppose the Iraq War. As was also the case in the waning days of the Vietnam War, much of this opposition is apolitical. By 1969, even as the peace movement grew, most opponents of the Vietnam War were not, in any recognizable sense, part of it. This is even truer in today’s anti-Iraq War consensus – largely, but not entirely, because, without conscription, American universities have been comparatively quiescent and non-oppositional, not just politically but also culturally. Thus the proportion of principled opponents to doves within the anti-war movement is probably greater now than was the case in the anti-war movement of a generation ago. But now, as then, most war opponents are neither principled anti-imperialists nor doves who differ from hawks on means, not ends; they are just good people who want the killing and maiming to stop, who want to “give peace a chance.”

As the Iraq War grinds on, many prominent Democrats, having been unenthusiastic hawks, have turned into doves. They agree with their hawk counterparts on the essential soundness of the foreign policy framework that emerged, in the guise of the first Bush’s New World Order, after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, and that was finally consolidated in the (Bill) Clinton years. Its basic contours are clear: the United States must remain overwhelmingly dominant militarily, it must project its power throughout the world, and it must use its power to maintain and, if need be, install neo-liberal economic regimes everywhere. To this end, the United States must control the world’s strategic assets, especially oil; and its core economic institutions, the financial ones especially, must remain dominant over potential European and Asian competitors.

On these broad objectives, along with more particular ones -- such as the need to suppress troublesome peoples, like Arabs and Serbs and uppity Latin Americans in Cuba, Venezuela and elsewhere -- Clintonized Democrats and neo-conservatives agree. There are strategic and tactical differences between them: for example, the neo-cons are more intent on remaking the political order of the Middle East and Central Asia – both to secure direct control over petroleum rich areas and also to make the region safer for Israel, their favorite country and, not incidentally, America’s regional proxy. But neither Clintonites nor neo-cons would think for a moment of demilitarizing the region or, notwithstanding their professed economic ideology, letting genuinely “free markets” determine trade.

Under the “leadership” of Cheney and Bush, the consensus view has taken a decidedly militaristic turn. This has given rise to a dove/hawk division within the framework of the consensus view. It is revealing, though, that today’s doves, unlike the ones a generation ago, are not very dovish. Few, if any, of them oppose Bill Clinton’s military and quasi-military interventions, even in retrospect. Few, if any, oppose Bush’s Afghanistan War. Some of them – Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, for example – claim that they would put even more troops into Afghanastan than Bush has. Today’s doves are dovish on Iraq, but not much else.

Even on Iraq, though, they insult their constituents’ intelligence by claiming that they oppose the war while funding it (as many of them still vote to do) or that they’re “supporting the troops” – the current shibboleth – by putting them in harm’s way and turning them into purveyors of murder and mayhem. [They insult their constituents’ intelligence even more egregiously when, while voicing opposition to the Cheney/Bush war on freedom in their so-called War on Terror, they support the Protect America Act.] Democrats today have become Pelosiites – talking the talk their constituents demand, but doing the opposite. Is it because they are cowards? Or are they just doves who ultimately agree with Cheney and Bush?

Chris Floyd has argued recently that, appearance to the contrary, the Democrats are not cowardly; that their actions bespeak their convictions. He’s right, of course; most Congressional Democrats and most Democratic Presidential contenders, doves though they be, are proponents of the consensus view. They are certainly not principled anti-imperialists. A lead article by Jeff Zeleny and Marc Santora in the Aug. 12 New York Times makes this point painfully clear by recounting how each of the Democratic contenders for the Presidential nomination, while “opposing” the Iraq War, has plans for leaving (some) American troops in or near Iraq for a long time to come.

[Zeleny and Santora cite one exception – Bill Richardson – suggesting that he’s na├»ve about the technical feasibility of executing a swift and immediate withdrawal. It is yet another shameful mark against the Times that Zeleny and Santora fail even to acknowledge the existence of the two most principled anti-War candidates – Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich. These two are very much in the race; they even appear in “debates,” much to the consternation of the “serious” candidates. But, except when one or the other makes a colorful or otherwise memorable remark in one of those joint appearances, the paper of record regards them as non-persons. Thus they remain non-contenders.]

In short, Floyd is right about what Democrats want. And because the consensus view is dangerously unsound – to cite just one of many reasons why, because it invites blowback and breeds terrorism – Floyd is right to fault Democrats for their convictions. But he is wrong about their lack of cowardice. It is not one or the other; one can be both a dove and a coward; that’s what most Democrats are.

The so-called Progressive Caucus is a case in point. There are a handful, certainly fewer than a dozen, genuine “progressives” among its many members. But while these brave souls will, on occasion, take good stands, they won’t act in strategically in a way that would leverage their power – as, for example, Newt Gingrich and his cohorts did in their Contract ON America days. They are too afraid of losing their place as “players.” A similar point could be made for the handful of progressives in the Black Caucus; witness John Conyers’ refusal to launch impeachment proceedings against Dick Cheney. But cowardice is not limited to the party’s left fringe. Quite the contrary. How else explain the reluctance of so many Democrats even to consider censuring George Bush, something they were more than willing to do with Bill Clinton during Monicagate? How else explain the abject servility of Democrats before the might of the Israel lobby? Even holders of secure seats who have many Arab-American and other historically Muslim constituents steadfastly refuse even the palest hint of evenhandedness. How else account for the reluctance of nearly all Democrats even to rise to the level of Pelosiism – on Bush wars, on gay rights, on civil liberties, and so much more – waiting until their constituents are so far ahead of them that they have political cover to burn? The Democratic Party is indeed the Party of Pusillanimity (POP). But it is also, even more plainly, a party of the New World Order consensus – in bed with its “rival,” the GOP. It is a party of cowards AND doves.

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Of course, the POP is also still the lesser evil party. This is important. With so much in play, even small differences can have powerful effects on peoples’ lives. But a lesser evil is still an evil; and cowardly dovish Democrats are a very great evil indeed. This is why we must do our best to force them do what principled anti-imperialists would do because their political survival depends on it. Three cheers therefore for Cindy Sheehan, running against Nancy Pelosi! Three cheers for anyone who runs, from the left, against any of the cowardly doves! But too bad for us. Too bad that, in our very undemocratic system, control of the Presidency matters as much as it does, and that the office must be pursued in the way that it is. In consequence, the two “front-runners,” Clinton and Obama, are in a race to outdo one another as national security, New World Order Democrats. John Edwards deserves for making poverty an issue, as it has not been since the 1960s. But, in foreign policy, he shows no sign of breaking away from the consensus. The others are worse still – Joe Biden, especially. Bill Richardson should indeed be praised for claiming that he’d bring all the troops home; but he too is not yet even a dove on Bill Clinton’s wars or on Afghanistan. There are, of course, the Times’ non-persons, Kucinich and Gravel. But those two do not even exist, according to the de facto arbiter of what is and is not marginal. No, it isn’t just Fox News that’s the problem. Our vaunted “liberal” media too are gearing up to force a choice that will insure that, in November 2008, we will have no choice but to have to trudge off to the polls to vote for a Clintonite Restoration.

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