This is a book about the political Left in America, its problematic allegiances with Islamic radicals, its influence on the Democratic Party, its opposition to the war in Iraq, and its impact on the war on terror.
Of the opposition to the war in Iraq, it can be said that never in American history has so formidable an opposition been mobilized against an American war so admirable in its aims; nor has there ever been such an opposition mobilized before the onset of a war itself.
Unlike the Vietnam conflict, which dragged on for years with mounting casualties and no result, the American military action in Iraq succeeded in toppling the Saddam regime in six weeks with minimal loss of human life. Unlike the Vietnam conflict, the war in Iraq was not waged to defend a dictatorial ally, but to overthrow an oppressive enemy regime.
“Operation Iraqi Freedom” was authorized by large majorities in both political parties. It destroyed a dictatorship universally regarded as one of the most tyrannical and lawless in modern times. When American forces entered Iraq on March 20, 2003, the Iraqi regime had invaded two sovereign states and was currently in violation of seventeen Security Council resolutions, including a unanimous ultimatum on November 8, 2002, to disarm in thirty days or face “serious consequences”—a diplomatic euphemism for the invasion that actually took place.
Opponents of the war in Iraq were unmoved by these compelling facts. Before the outset of hostilities their movement had grown to a size and scope comparable to the anti-Vietnam protests of the late 1960s, which occurred only after the Tet offensive had caused many Americans to lose faith that the war could be won. Moreover, resistance to America’s war in Iraq did not stop with the military victory over Saddam’s armies. Instead, it went on to oppose America’s efforts to consolidate the peace and to establish a sovereign and democratic government in Baghdad. Never before in American history has there been an American movement to oppose the establishment of a democratic government in another country.
Despite its radical agendas, the “anti-war” movement is not a fringe phenomenon. The anti-war Left has already exerted a critical influence on the politics of the Democratic Party, re-defining its presidential campaign in the 2004 election. The opposition to Operation Iraqi Freedom has affected the struggle for a postwar peace in Iraq and impacted the conduct of the war on terror.
There is a troubling wisdom in the linking of the conflicts in Vietnam and Iraq. One lesson of Vietnam on which all sides can agree is that when Americans are sufficiently divided, their government is significantly weakened in its ability to exert its will on international actors and events.
Opponents of American power will rejoice in this reality. But those who believe that the exercise of that power is a bulwark of security at home and a pillar of international order abroad will not be so sanguine. In the context of the war on terror, in which the enemy has access to chemical, biological, and possibly nuclear weapons, and has exhibited no restraint in the killing of civilians, these issues are far from academic.
The opposition to the war in Iraq has been largely—though not exclusively—a posture of the political Left. There is a paradox embedded in this reality since the political Left has traditionally opposed American power on the grounds that it is a conservative force, “constantly… interested in the maintenance of’order’ in every comer of the terrestrial globe,” as the Communist leader Leon Trotsky once remarked. Yet this claim is obviously at odds with recent events. America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were anything but conservative in nature and purpose. Their express intent was to overthrow reactionary regimes and replace them with democratic governments, guaranteeing human rights. In fact, it is precisely the nonconservative character of the war in Iraq and its agenda of “preemptive” regime change that has been the focus of its critics’ primary distress.
These critics are both radical and liberal. Following the liberation of Baghdad, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote, “President George W. Bush has made a fatal change in the foreign policy of the United States. He has repudiated the strategy that won the Cold War—the combination of containment and deterrence. The Bush Doctrine reverses all that. The essence of our new strategy is military: to strike a potential enemy, unilaterally if necessary, before he has a chance to strike us.”
Bush had already answered this criticism before Schlesinger articulated it. Deterrence, the president maintained, was meaningless when dealing with “shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend.” Containment was impossible “when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.” The Bush Doctrine was thus more than just a military strategy to preempt terrorist attacks. It was—as its critics protested—a political strategy of regime change that was designed to disarm terror-supporting states and create an international environment that would be inhospitable to terrorist agendas.
This was indeed a departure from past American policies in the Middle East, which had preferred “containment” to “liberation.” The United States had traditionally tolerated internal repression in these states and focused instead on their external policies. Ironically, during the Cold War this realpolitik had aroused the ire of the Left, which was perennially outraged by Washington’s engagement with despotic rulers who supported America’s anti-Communist agendas. Thus, Washington’s defense of its authoritarian ally the shah of Iran had earned the passionate contempt of radicals and liberals alike.
A further irony of these complaints was that the shah had been, in fact, a modernizer who promoted education and the equality of women. His social progressivism was the very cause of the Islamic revolution that overthrew him. President Jimmy Carter’s liberal aversion to the shah’s authoritarian rule helped to undermine his regime and pave the way for the reign of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic revolution. While American radicals welcomed the revolution of the ayatollahs, their regime was far more reactionary and repressive than the government of the shah, and it both created and inspired the Islamic radicals who confront America as enemies today.
Why has the American Left made alliances of convenience with Islamic radicals who have declared war on the democratic West and whose own values are reactionary and oppressive? Why have American radicals actively obstructed the War on Terror, thereby undermining the defense of the democracies of the West? Why have liberals opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom, whose goals are the overthrow of tyranny and the establishment of political democracy and human rights—agendas that coincide with their own? Why have Democrats turned against the policy of regime change, which they had supported during the Clinton administration in both Kosovo and Iraq? Why has the Democratic Party declared political war on the president’s war and thus made foreign policy a point of partisan conflict for the first time since the end of World War II? What does this fracture of the American consensus mean for the future of America’s War on Terror?
These are the questions the current inquiry seeks to address. In doing so, it necessarily must confront others: What is the nature of the American Left? How does it think about the world? How did it come to ally itself with Islamic jihad? How significant is the threat posed by its opposition to the War on Terror? How powerful is its presence in the Democratic Party? What is its role in shaping the American future?
Today the war abroad is the most pressing concern for Americans who care about the security of their nation. But America can win a war against any external foe. Consequently, it is the war at home that will ultimately decide America’s fate, which is the real subject of this text.
Before embarking on this inquiry, it should be said that this book is not about everyone who opposed the war in Iraq for whatever reason. Criticism of national policy and even of war policy is a basic American right, and the reasons for such criticism may be patriotic or not. Not all criticism is equal, however. There is a difference between healthy dissent and conducting a political war against a war while it is still in progress. This is not a book about war critics as such, but about the leaders of the organized anti-war movement and the practical support they are willing to give to America’s enemies and their agendas.