Cracked Icons: Why the Left has Lost Credibility

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

There is much talk of post-election reorganization and rethinking among demoralized liberals, especially in matters of foreign policy. They could start by accepting that the demise of many of their cherished beliefs and institutions was not the fault of others. More often, the problems are fundamental flaws in their own thinking — such as the ends of good intentions justifying the means of expediency and untruth, and forced equality being a higher moral good than individual liberty and freedom. Whether we call such notions “political correctness” or “progressivism,” the practice of privileging race, class, and gender over basic ethical considerations has earned the moralists of the Left not merely hypocrisy, but virtual incoherence.

Democratic leaders are never going to be trusted in matters of foreign policy unless they can convince Americans that they once more believe in American exceptionalism and are the proper co-custodians of values such as freedom and individual liberty. If in the 1950s rightists were criticized as cynical Cold Warriors who never met a right-wing thug they wouldn’t support, as long as he mouthed a few anti-Soviet platitudes, then in the last two decades almost any thug from Latin America to the Middle East who professed concern for “the people” — from Castro and the Ortega Brothers to Yasser Arafat and the Iranian mullahs — was likely to earn a pass from the American and European cultural elite and media. To regain credibility, the Left must start to apply the same standard of moral outrage to a number of its favorite causes that it does to the United States government, the corporations, and the Christian Right. Here are a few places to start.

1. There really isn’t a phenomenon like “Islamophobia” — at least no more than there was a “Germanophobia” in hating Hitler or “Russophobia” in detesting Stalinism. Any unfairness or rudeness that accrues from the “security profiling” of Middle Eastern young males is dwarfed by efforts of Islamic fascists themselves — here in the U.S., in the U.K., the Netherlands, France, Turkey, and Israel — to murder Westerners and blow up civilians. The real danger to thousands of innocents is not an occasional evangelical zealot or uncouth politician spouting off about Islam, but the deliberately orchestrated and very sick anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism that floods the airways worldwide, emanating from Iran, Lebanon, and Syria, to be sure, but also from our erstwhile “allies” in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

So both here and abroad, the Western public believes that there is a double standard in the moral judgment of our left-leaning media, universities, and politicians — that we are not supposed to ask how Christians are treated in Muslim societies, only how free Islamists in Western mosques are to damn their hosts; or that we are to think beheading, suicide murdering, and car bombing moral equivalents to the sexual humiliation and roguery of Abu Ghraib — apparently because the former involves post-colonial victims and the latter privileged, exploitive Americans. Most sane people, however, privately disagree, and distinguish between a civilian’s head rolling on the ground and a snap shot of an American guard pointing at the genitalia of her terrorist ward.

Moreover, few of any note in the Arab Middle East speak out against the racial hatred of Jews. Almost no major Islamic religious figure castigates extreme Muslim clerics for their Dark-age misogyny, anti-Semitism, and venom against the West; and no Arab government admonishes its citizenry to look to itself for solutions rather than falling prey to conspiracy theories and ago-old superstitions. It would be as if the state-subsidized Ku Klux Klan or the American Nazi party were to be tolerated for purportedly voicing the frustrations of poor working-class whites who “suffered” under a number of supposed grievances.

What is preached in the madrassas on the West Bank, in Pakistan, and throughout the Gulf is no different from the Nazi doctrine of racial hatred. What has changed, of course, is that unlike our grandfathers, we have lost the courage to speak out against it. In one of the strangest political transformations of our age, the fascist Islamic Right has grafted its cause onto that of the Left’s boutique “multiculturalism,” hoping to earn a pass for its hate by posing as the “other” and reaping the benefits of liberal guilt due to purported victimization. By any empirical standard, what various Palestinian cliques have done on the West Bank — suicide murdering, lynching without trial of their own people, teaching small children to hate and kill Jews — should have earned them all Hitlerian sobriquets rather than U.N. praise.

2. “Imperialism” and “hegemony” explain nothing about recent American intervention abroad — not when dictators such as Noriega, Milosevic, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein were taken out by the U.S. military. There are no shahs and Your Excellencies in their places, but rather consensual governments whose only sin was that they came on the heels of American arms rather than U.N. collective snoozing. There really was no secret Afghan pipeline behind toppling the Taliban, nor a French-like oil concession to be had for the United States from the new Iraqi interim government. Many of Michael Moore’s heroic “Minutemen” of the Sunni Triangle are hired killers — hooded fascists in the pay of ex-Baathists and Saddamites, along with Islamic terrorists and jihadists who hate the very idea of democracy in the heart of the Arab world. The collective cursus honorum of these Saddamite holdovers during the last two decades — gassing the Kurds, committing atrocities against the Iranians, looting and pillaging in Kuwait, launching missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia, slaughtering Shiites and again Kurds, and assassinating Western and U.N. aid workers — rank right up there with the work of the SS and KGB.

Reformers like Allawi and Yawar of Iraq are not “puppets” but far better advocates of democratic reform than anyone else in the Arab world. Nor does “no blood for oil” mean anything when an increasingly small percentage of American-imported petroleum comes from the Gulf, and when an oil-hungry China — without much deference to liberal sensibilities — is driving up the world price, eyeing every well it can for future exploitation without regard for political or environmental niceties.

3. It won’t do any longer to attribute American outrage over the U.N. to a vast right-wing conspiracy led by red-state senators and Fox News. All the standing ovations for Kofi Annan cannot hide the truth that the Oil-for-Food scandal exceeds Enron. Indeed, Ken Lay’s malfeasance never involved the deaths of thousands, while cronies siphoned off food and supplies from a starving populace. The U.S. military does not tolerate mass rape and plunder among its troops, as is true of the U.N. peacekeepers throughout Africa. There can be no serious U.N. moral sense as long as illiberal regimes — a Syria, Iran, or Cuba — vote in the General Assembly and the Security Council stymies solutions out of concern for an autocratic China that swallowed Tibet. Millions were slaughtered in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Darfur while New York bureaucrats either condemned Israel or damned anyone who censured their own inaction and corruption. Rather than faulting those who fault the U.N., leftists should lament the betrayal of the spirit of the liberal U.N. Charter by regimes that are neither democratic nor liberal but who seek legitimacy solely on their ability to win concessions and sympathy from guilt-ridden Westerners.

4. So it is also time to take a hard look at the heroes and villains of Hollywood, liberal Democrats, and the Euro elites. Many are as obsessed with damning the senile dictator of Chile as they are with excusing the unelected President for Life Fidel Castro. But let us be frank. A murderous Pinochet probably killed fewer of his own than did a mass-murdering Castro, and left Chile in better shape than contemporary Cuba is in. And the former is long gone, while the latter is still long in power.

Similarly, Nobel Prizes increasingly go to either unsavory or unhinged characters. Yasser Arafat was a known killer and terrorist, not a global peacemaker. Wangari Maathai’s public statements about AIDS are puerile and ipso facto would have eliminated any Westerner from consideration for anything. Rigoberta Menchu Tum herself was a half-truth, her story mostly a creation of a westernized academic publishing elite. Jimmy Carter’s 2002 award was not predicated on his past work on housing for the poor, but his critically timed and calculated opposition to George W. Bush’s effort to topple Saddam Hussein — as was confirmed by the receptive Nobel Committee itself. Recent winners Kofi Annan and Kim Dae-jung are now better known for having their own sons involved in influence-peddling and bribery while they oversaw bureaucrats who trafficked in millions with unsavory murderers like Kim Jong-Il and Saddam Hussein. In short, such an august prize has come a long way from Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. — and precisely because it has privileged leftist rhetoric over real morality.

If the moralizing Left wants to be taken seriously, it is going to have to become serious about its own moral issues, since that is the professed currency of contemporary liberalism. Otherwise, the spiritual leaders who lecture us all on social justice, poverty, and truth will remain the money-speculator George Soros, the Reverend Jesse Jackson of dubious personal and professional ethics, and the mythographer Michael Moore. And we all know where that leads…

©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

Share This