The Legacy of 'Nam
I have been turning over the Iraq War issue in my head for a long time now. I never supported the Iraq War per se, and I still think its a giant mess. I never bought the WMD argument and always believed it to be a pile of manure. (I grew up not too far from Pennsylvania Dutch farm country, so I know what manure smells like.) The Bush Administration's WMD "evidence" and arguments always seemed too shrill and too anxious - like they knew they were on thin ice and really couldn't close the sale. My problem is that my fellow liberals can't seem to find a coherent set of beliefs and ideals around which to provide an alternative. Instead, the left is pre-occupied with the WMD lies, with the daily body count, with the failures, as if pointing out what went wrong is the same thing as charting a path to move forward. If we just pull out completely, then what? Its easy to look back and say I told you so. What is hard is taking the plunge forward to declare, "Follow me."
The source of this inability to lead forward, I fear, comes from the legacy of Vietnam. Vietnam scarred liberalism from the use of force as an instrument of foreign policy. As a result, the peace movement that grew from Vietnam composes much of the activist and intellectual core of contemporary liberalism.
By having an anti-war position as the automatic fallback position for any question of foreign policy, liberalism no longer is identified with fighting totalitarianism. Which is a shame. For every mistake out there like Vietnam or Iraq, there have been equally correct (and successful) uses of force such as Kosovo, Bosnia and Gulf War I, as well as shameful situations crying out for force that were not addressed such as Rwanda.
For me, part of being a progressive means taking a stand against totalitarianism, even if that means going to war. Let's not forget it was the people on the left that were the ones who went abroad to join foreign armies to fight Franco in the Spanish Civil War, it was the left that had an internationalist outlook that was pushing for the U.S. to get involved in Europe to fight Hitler. New Dealers were the ones who put together the United Nations and who helped to put together the European coalition to fight the Soviets during the Cold War. Truman, Kennedy, LBJ - liberals who were also fierce anti-Communists. (It wasn't the Eisenhower Doctrine or the Nixon Doctrine or the Reagan Doctrine, it was the TRUMAN Doctrine that drew the line in the sand to stop Soviet aggression in Europe and elsewhere.) Liberals were the ones with a wrench in one hand (Union made, of course) and a rifle in the other. Republicans were the ones who wanted to bury their heads in the sand and pretend the Fascists weren't all that bad. WE were the internationalists. THEY were the isolationists.
Then we made the stupid mistake of supporting the French in their bid to hold onto the remnants of their colony in Indochina (thus choosing a colonial power over a Communist insurgency, when we should have figured out a third way that opposed the Communists on the one hand while at the same time supporting the rights of self-determination of indigenous peoples on the other.) And we all know what happened next. An unmitigated disaster, a road that led from propping up a French colony straight to the massacres of My Lai and the fall of Saigon.
And since that little adventure abroad, liberalism, and the Democractic Party by extension, has found itself a bit afraid of the shadow of Vietnam. Which has allowed the Republicans to move into the vaccuum and sieze the national security mantle all for themselves. And what are we left with? A party torn between an anti-war peace movement on one side and a wishy-washy "internationalist" wing that wants to leave everything in the hands of an increasingly bureaucratic and intertial U.N.? These are not solutions, but the absence of them.
We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to the sufferings of the world. Care packages and development aid fail to end to the reign of petty despots and tyrants. Parts of a complex solution, yes. The solution in itself, no. A dictator cares not a whit if we feed his oppressed subjects - if anything, it makes them less likely to fight back as they are no longer hungry. The Cold War wrought many uncomfortable and downright immoral alleigances in a singular fight of democracy against Communism. But today, we live in a post Cold War world where the fallout from those alleigances increasingly rains down on us. We need a new, muscular strategy to pick up where we began under FDR and the New Dealers, fighting totalitarianism in order to bring the rights of self-determination to ALL peoples of the world. The dead in Rwanda and Sudan, the prisoners of gulags in North Korea and Uzebikistan cry out - Free us, free us.
The question is, where do we start?