- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

One of the more ironic facets of contemporary politics in Europe and America is the left’s rejection of liberation.

It’s not entirely unexpected. The arch-left’s concept of liberation always included government-enforced shackles on social and economic liberty. Still, the language of liberation and revolt against despots was a constant monologue from mouths like Gore Vidal and magazines like the Nation.

“Monologue” is the appropriate word. The arch-left’s “lib talk” exhibited a high degree of self-absorption, to include moral grandstanding and absolutist demands that smacked of the same narrow certitude hobbling all religious fundamentalists.

It’s a form of self-inflation, which helps explain the American left’s continuing fascination with Bill Clinton. Recall Mr. Clinton said after September 11 he wished the tragedy had occurred on his watch so he could have demonstrated his great leadership. (The tragedy was about him, see?)

Never mind that Osama bin Laden attacked the United States and its facilities while Mr. Clinton was president. History will deal harshly with the critical three years from 1998 to 2001, when the U.S. government failed to treat bin Laden’s February 1998 declaration of war with the gravity it deserved. Clinton hagiographers may spin in their graves, but the truth will be told.

The Bush administration won’t escape hard knocks, either. Donald Rumsfeld’s remarks during his Senate confirmation hearings in January 2001 will cut for and against. Mr. Rumsfeld specifically named intelligence failures as the biggest worry confronting America’s defenders.

However, the left’s post-September 11 return to excusing dictators while damning the West’s defenders will deservedly earn an enduring contempt.

Author Ian Buruma, in Britain’s Financial Times on Sept. 13, offered a trenchant analysis of Western leftist fecklessness. Mr. Buruma asked “what to do, as citizens of the richest and most powerful nations on Earth, about dictators who commit mass murder or happily starve millions to death. Why are our left-liberal intellectuals so hopeless at answering this vital question?” The leftists “profess to care about oppressed peoples in faraway countries. That is why they set themselves morally above the right. So why do they appear to be so much keener to denounce the United States than to find ways to liberate Iraqis and others from their murderous Fuehrers?”

Mr. Buruma demonstrates how today’s left carries the heinous baggage of the “old right.” “Anti-Americanism, by which I don’t mean criticism of U.S. policies, but a visceral loathing, has a rich history, more often associated with the right than with the left. To prewar cultural conservatives … America was vulgar … a threat to high European civilization.”

For the radical right, “the combination of capitalism, democracy and lack of ethnic homogeneity was anathema to everything they stood for: racial purity, military discipline and obedience to authority.” Leftist dislike of capitalism “goes back at least as far as Karl Marx. But the leap from right-wing … anti-Americanism to the left-wing variety really came only after the Second World War.”

The left supported liberation movements in the Third World so long as they were Marxist. But the Soviet Union lost the Cold War. “The socialist debacle,” Mr. Buruma notes, ” … contributed to the resentment of American triumphs. … Left and right began to change places. The expansion of global capitalism … turned leftists into champions of cultural and political nationalism. … So the old left has turned conservative.”

Reactionary is a more apt description.

Though Mr. Buruma focuses primarily on Europe’s lefties, the essay echoes au courant voices in American domestic politics. Howard Dean’s presidential campaign plays to the same loopy resentment of American success Buruma fingers. Mr. Dean criticizes the Bush administration’s War on Terror but stutters with choleric rage when asked to articulate a rational alternative strategy. Recall Mr. Dean “supposed” getting rid of Saddam was a good thing.

Tony Blair — a classic liberal and a man Harry Truman would back — said it well. We can’t eliminate all the dictators instantly — but when we can, we should.

In Iraq, the true liberators offed a fascist dictator. The Iraqi people face a difficult struggle for freedom, but instead of supporting them with muscle and money, the snide and reactionary frumps on the hard left sip chardonnay and nip brie then viscerally loathe that vulgar cowboy liberator, George Bush.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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