Saturday, January 7, 2012

Are liberals anti-war? (updated)

This is the question that keeps coming to my mind as I hear people on the left attempt to convince us that Ron Paul has something to add to the debate.

I must admit that this is a question that I struggle with - as I assume many other liberals do as well. Those of us who have been steeped in the traditions of Gandhi and King know that non-violent resistance is anything but passive (as some folks would like to claim) and that there is a power to be grappled with in that type of response.

And yet, I'm not the only one who has had to question the idea of how non-violent resistance would have been effective in stopping someone like Hitler. Or an even more recent example, was military intervention the only way to stop the massacre of thousands in Libya last year?

These are difficult questions for many of us. And for those, like Niebuhr and President Obama, who've settled on the idea of being against "dumb wars" but not all wars, it is nothing short of insulting to claim that that makes them no different from Republicans who's first response is to bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.

The chances that any of these issues will be debated in an Obama/Romney presidential contest are exactly zero...As National Journal‘s Michael Hirsh put it yesterday: “In truth, Obama and Romney are far closer in mindset and philosophy than anyone is willing to acknowledge just now.”

If folks like Greenwald want to promote Ron Paul as the spokesperson for anti-war, then my question is "what does he propose as an alternative?" If its simply that we mind our own business, I find that nothing short of naive.

There is pretty good consensus in this country that invading Iraq was a stupid and despicable act. But should we have just ignored al Qaeda after 9/11? That's where most of us - including me - would suggest naivete. Perhaps we didn't need to invade an entire country, but stopping people who had killed thousands (not just in this country, but the Middle East, Europe and Africa as well) and wanted to continue to do so is something that required a response.

I would gladly welcome anyone to the conversation who wanted to talk about these issues in a way that both recognized the realities in the world and offered pragmatic solutions that minimized the killing of innocent people. Neither Greenwald nor Paul have done so.

The truth is that this is a question that has plagued liberals for generations. I don't expect it to go away anytime soon. For the time being, I suspect that it is the fact that we struggle with it - and will continue to do so - that sets us apart.

UPDATE: If you've gotten this far, please take a few minutes to read the comments. Some regular readers have added profoundly to the discussion.


  1. Greenwald is a HYPOCRIT. He gladly supported BOTH WARS & wrote nicely about "Bush's Leadership" at the time. He's not antiwar unless Obama's President.

    He also bashed immigrants on his prior blog. I know he parted with Bush at some point, but that does NOT negate the Fact he supported both of the Wars & try to be an Adult for a change. He lies a lot & implies a lot. I've never read him. I like my Law Blogs straight; minus daily bashing of the prez.

    I know his racist rants on immigrants are certainly transferable & I wonder if that's not his Real Problem. Sorry, it's not you, it's all the resentment for what Greenwald's done to the prez all this time. He's a despicable person.

  2. cat

    There's a lot of what you say about Greenwald that I agree with. I just don't find it productive to simply bash back and forth with people like him.

    What I am interested in doing is taking the actual points he makes and refuting them. That was a big part of my goal in writing this.

  3. Excellent post, Smartypants. I consider myself a liberal. My ex-husband and I were in college in the mid-60's. Even though he had a very high number and wouldn't be drafted, he was a Quaker and obtained conscientious objector status. I was opposed to war at all and learned a lot from him as well as attended the meetings with officials where he talked about his beliefs. One thing I learned was that the Dutch resistance to the Nazi's was non-violent and I admired their strength and courage. I just looked in Wikipedia:

    "Dutch resistance to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II can be mainly characterized by its prominent non-violence, summitting in over 300,000 people in hiding in the autumn of 1944, tended to by some 60,000 to 200,000 illegal landlords and caretakers and tolerated knowingly by some 1 million people, including German occupiers and military."

    I remembered that the whole country joined together, but didn't remember that they helped so many people. It can be done.

    In college I didn't condemn anyone who went to war, I just wanted to make the world a place where people didn't see it as a choice anymore and worked problems out other ways. As I grew older I realized I wasn't going to change the world and accepted that wars happen. I certainly don't believe that atrocities are acceptable and I would say I've come to a place that closely matches President Obama's.

    I think the President's philosophy offers much that will lessen the chance of war. He builds coalitions with other nations such as the sanctions for Iran. He supports Democracies in countries that are just finding their feet from tyranny and recognizes that they are responsible for their own destiny.

    I don't see absolutes in anything at all, no purity. There are shades of gray and some are very, very light and some very, very dark. I look at every situation, weigh it, and make the best decision I can. I do that regarding war, too. I do think we can create a world where we don't see war as a choice, but I don't see Ron Paul's philosophy offering anything to build that world and I see President Obama who is actually doing it.

  4. Suzanne,

    WOW - THIS!!!!! => "I don't see Ron Paul's philosophy offering anything to build that world and I see President Obama who is actually doing it."

    What a huge statement that is. I'm going to be pondering that one for awhile.


  5. There was an interesting article in the Monthly Review a while back:

    The most important thing to me is to see how many ostensibly liberal people were gung-ho for war in 2001 and 2003, and then, for example, beating interventionist drums for all kinds of invasions--how can we not do anything about this?--from everything from Darfur to Iran.

    This isn't to suggest that bad things weren't and arent happening in places like Darfur, but that war--the real thing, as in armies and invasions--is a very particular instrument and a blunt one at that. The example of the Second World War is referenced whenever someone thinks it's a good idea to start an invasion for "humanitarian" reasons.

    The thing is, it's difficult given the techniques of modern warfare to meet even the least stringent criteria of a just war, let alone Augustine's. Modern warfare claims a high-tech ability to minimize civilian casualties, but data shows quite the contrary. The bulk of those killed in wars since WWII have been civilians, and this is true in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

    The question then is, what do we do? The choice is not between war proper and nothing. Take, for example, the killing of Bin Laden. Police work: good, successful police work. No invasions. We can regret that the President is pursuing strikes with drone aircraft, but the truth is that the closest he has come to starting a war was in Libya, and that model was a far cry from 2001 or 2003. Whatever one says, it was not an invasion.

    The problem is neocons' view of warfare is conditioned by the Peloponnesian War, conservatives of the Civil War, and liberals of WWII. The best model for how our wars today operate would be either Vietnam or, possibly more to the point, Algeria. Neither delivers what was initially promised.

    The President certainly is not winning any wars for the US. He is doing a fairly good job salvaging whatever possible from a clusterf*&k.

  6. Bill,

    Like Suzanne, you've added so much to the discussion with that comment that I think it should be a diary on its own.

    As I was writing this, I once again had a thought that has come to mind many times before...what might have been different if Gore was president on 9/11? We'll never be able to answer that one. But if I had my druthers, I'd have wanted to see what you suggested...a more surgical attempt to go after Bin Laden and al Qaeda. In a sense, that's what Obama is doing now in both Pakistan and Afghanistan (along with trying to ensure a secure government in the later).

    And this is a wonderful summary:

    "The problem is neocons' view of warfare is conditioned by the Peloponnesian War, conservatives of the Civil War, and liberals of WWII. The best model for how our wars today operate would be either Vietnam or, possibly more to the point, Algeria. Neither delivers what was initially promised."

  7. You're very kind to me. My sense of neocons derives from the brilliant War Nerd takedown of Victor Davis Hanson:

    My sense of conservatives from an anecdote I read somewhere about an exchange between Powell and Cheney during the first Iraq war. It dawned on Powell as things progressed that Cheney derived all of his strategic thinking from pop histories of the Civil War.

    About liberals, it's that anytime something goes wrong in the world, we get a Nazi reference. Conservatives and Neocons do that too, of course.

    Read the War Nerd column. It's a classic.


    I've written about this before. This is why we never trust Progressives. Neither Conservatives nor Progressives are our allies, and both are willing to profit from our deaths.

    It's all just about scoring points.

  9. You should check out Chris Hedges latest article, he mentions Niebuhr too: "Cone’s chapter on Reinhold Niebuhr, the most important Christian social ethicist of the 20th century and a theologian whose work Cone teaches, exposes Niebuhr’s blindness to and tacit complicity in white oppression. Slavery, segregation and the terror of lynching have little or no place in the theological reflections of Niebuhr or any other white theologian. Niebuhr, as Cone points out, had little empathy for those subjugated by white colonialists. Niebuhr claimed that North America was a “virgin continent when the Anglo-Saxons came, with a few Indians in a primitive state of culture.” He saw America as being elected by God for the expansion of empire, and, as Cone points out, “he wrote about Arabs of Palestine and people of color in the Third World in a similar manner, offering moral justification for colonialism.” Doesn't sound so liberal, SP... please give it a read:


  11. Forthewin

    Interesting then that Neibuhr was one of the people who greatly influenced Martin Luther King, Jr.

    In his final year at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania (where he obtained a bachelor's degree in divinity), King studied Reinhold Niebuhr, a Protestant theologian who impressed him profoundly...King was intrigued by the key ideas in Niebuhr's theological book, The Nature and Destiny of Man (1941). He later recalled having been excited by Niebuhr's concept of man representing both a child of nature and a spirit who stood outside it. He felt that Niebuhr led him to a fuller understanding of group behavior, human motives, and the connection between power and morality. In King's own words: "Niebuhr helped me to recognize the complexity of man's social involvement and the glowing reality of collective evil."

    I suspect that Rev. King was a bit more adept than some of our current day leftist puritans at being aware that no human being is perfect, but there is still the potential to learn from our imperfect brothers and sisters.

  12. Chris Hedges has little or no sympathy for Libyans slaughtered by weapons of war made by European (White) manufacturers, paid for by European oil sales.

    It's spectator sport and justification for his own "Moral" Superiority. He may donate to a memorial later, make money writing about it, and then if the Libyans were brave, maybe make them a mascot, or name an SUV after them.