"When we introduced into the State organism the poison of Liberalism its whole political complexion underwent a change. States have been seized with a mortal illness - blood poisoning. All that remains is to await the end of their death agony."
Should President Barack Obama continue his escalation of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it will be the liberal thing to do.
What too few Americans realize—especially the president’s anti-war supporters, who accuse him of betraying liberal or "progressive" values—is that if he accedes to General Stanley McChrystal's request for more troops in Afghanistan and intensifies the drone attacks in Pakistan, he will follow squarely in the footsteps of the great liberal statesmen he has cited as his role models. Though opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cheered loudly when Obama spoke reverentially in his campaign speeches of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy, those heroes of the president promoted and oversaw U.S. involvement in wars that killed, by great magnitudes, more Americans and foreign civilians than all the modern Republican military operations combined.
Though liberals are routinely chastised for their “secular relativism,” as Bill O’Reilly puts it, American statesmen who waged the largest wars were driven by the Christian doctrine of “good works,” often enunciated in Obama’s speeches as the duty to be “our brother’s keeper.”
What should be even more troubling to those who call themselves progressives but oppose the current wars: Obama's motivations for pursuing them are rooted in the central tenet of progressivism, enunciated by his idols, that the American national government is responsible for the reform and uplift of those "we" deem to be living below "our" standards, and that "they" must be protected from their oppressors. Obama's role models followed the logic of that moral calling to the ends of the earth.
And though liberals are routinely chastised for their "secular relativism," as Bill O'Reilly puts it, liberal statesmen who waged the largest wars were driven by the Christian doctrine of "good works," often enunciated in Obama's speeches as the duty to be "our brother's keeper." Whereas the traditional conservative notion of Christian communal obligation is limited to one’s family or nation, Obama’s political ancestors extended it to the world.
Both Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson declared that God had given American leaders—"Christ's Army," according to Wilson—the divine duty to "improve" the backward peoples of America and the world.
Roosevelt and Wilson used that rationale to establish modern progressivism and American imperialism, both of which were part of what Roosevelt called "the long struggle for the uplift of humanity." They argued that greater government intervention, through social welfare and regulatory programs at home and military incursions abroad, would remake American slums and all the countries of the world into the Puritan ideal of a "city on a hill."
To fulfill this mission, Roosevelt championed many social-welfare measures, including pure-food and worker-safety regulations, but he also pushed the United States to attack Spain and occupy Cuba and the Philippines—the so-called Spanish-American War, which historians characterize as America's "first imperial war.” The assault and subsequent occupations resulted in the deaths of more than 10,000 Cubans, several hundred thousand Filipino civilians, and 4,541 American soldiers.
Wilson believed that to "Christianize the world" required the radical expansion of government power. Along with fellow progressives in Congress, Wilson established three classic progressive institutions: the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, and the federal income tax. But Wilson's self-appointed obligation to rescue and “redeem” all the world's people compelled him, beginning in 1916, to push the country toward intervention in Europe with what many historians call a "missionary zeal." The United States, he said, "must assume the messianic mantle" and had "the right and duty to intervene whenever and wherever" its leaders thought necessary. Some 116,000 U.S. servicemen were killed and more than 200,000 wounded in World War I, which ended in a virtual stalemate.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the next president to take up the liberal mission. According to Robert Dallek's award-winning biography, the origin of FDR's commitment to social-welfare programs and international interventionism was "the Christian gentleman's ideal of service to the less fortunate: the conviction that privileged Americans should take a part in relieving national and international ills."
Long before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt urged intervention against Japan's expansion in the Pacific. And there is considerable evidence and substantial agreement among scholars that Roosevelt did everything in his power to force Japan into a conflict with the United States. Though Japan wished to avoid confrontation with its principal trading partner, in 1937 Roosevelt suggested that military action was needed to “quarantine the aggressor.” And beginning in 1940, he imposed a series of embargoes on the island nation, which was almost entirely dependent on U.S. imports for its industrial production. After Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt promised both victory against Japan and "the establishment of an international order in which the spirit of Christ shall rule the hearts of men and nations."
Roosevelt's successor, Harry Truman, whose Baptist evangelical upbringing informed his pledge “to win the world back to peace and Christianity,” made immense incursions across the globe.
Truman rejected the doctrine of defensive "containment" of the Soviets in favor of a "rollback" policy, elaborated by the CIA in 1950, to aggressively" foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish."
In September 1950, Truman turned the Korean War into an all-out offensive mission by launching a military assault that pushed North Korean communists deep into their own territory. A large portion of the 37,000 American casualties in the war came during the offensive.
John F. Kennedy devoted his political career to realizing America's "mission" to seize "direct control of world destiny."
John F. Kennedy campaigned for the presidency in 1960 on the charges that Eisenhower had left the poor to languish and allowed Communists to continue their subjugation of the world’s innocents. In his inaugural address, Kennedy vowed to uplift "those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery."
To heed his calling for humankind meant making U.S. intervention in Vietnam into a war. Kennedy increased the number of U.S. military personnel there from a few hundred when he took office to 15,000 by the time he was assassinated, and shipped massive amounts of military equipment to the Vietnamese war zone.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama mentioned Lyndon Baines Johnson only once and only in passing. Perhaps this was because Johnson's continued escalation of both the Vietnam War—which resulted in the deaths of more than 58,000 Americans and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians—and programs to help the poor caused the left to oppose aggressive foreign policies and the right to turn militantly against social-welfare initiatives. This halted, for three decades, the grand liberal project of the 20th century.
The trinity of evangelism, large government intervention, and global transformative aspirations was revived, ironically, in the Republican administration of George W. Bush. It is well-documented that the so-called neoconservatives in and around the Bush administration identify with the very same presidents Obama admires. Indeed, their No Child Left Behind program mandating standardized testing in public schools, use of enhanced executive powers, and "regime-change" foreign policy were anathema to traditional, "paleo" conservatives.
During his campaign, Obama echoed neoconservatives and channeled his Democratic role models by declaring that the United States "must lead the world, by deed and by example." Thus far the president and his cabinet have pledged to expand and further centralize No Child Left Behind and initiate New Deal-style public works projects, refused to reduce the new powers of the presidency, expanded the military, and called for "state-building" and interventions on behalf of "victims" in Somalia, Congo, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Burma, Pakistan, and, most immediately, in Afghanistan.
Those who call themselves liberals or progressives but are reluctant to project American military force are now confronted with the question of whether they wish to continue the renewal of the project that Obama champions.
Thaddeus Russell has taught history, philosophy, and American Studies at Columbia University, Barnard College, Eugene Lang College, and the New School for Social Research. http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-10-17/why-liberals-kill/full/
The liberal Jewish challenge
Can the liberal Jewish lobby group J Street become as effective a political force as the hardline Zionist right?
President Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, may be shuttling back and forth, but right now there is no Middle East peace process. The blame for its demise can, if you like, be spread around, but arguing over who is principally responsible is irrelevant. What matters is that the stalemate benefits the Israeli government, which believes that stasis serves its interests and is a form of victory. And in what appears to be an unwanted holy alliance, the impasse also suits Hamas, which has been strengthening its hold on power and has no wish to be drawn in to "peace" discussions.
In this situation, the last thing Israel is ready to accept is a "friendly" invitation to its ambassador in Washington to attend the annual meeting of J Street, the liberal lobby group, which was set up in 2008 to seek change in the direction of American Middle East policy. While stressing its commitment to Israel's security and welfare, and describing itself as "pro-Israel, pro-peace", J Street aims to challenge the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), which wholeheartedly supports Israeli government policy. J Street by contrast welcomed Obama's call for a complete freeze on settlement building and gave qualified approval to the Goldstone report on war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead.
Although J Street is, as yet, no match for Aipac in terms of its influence on Capitol Hill, it has many thousands of supporters, is very close to the Obama administration and by working in the mainstream of US politics has certainly shaken up the image of the American Jewish community as universally at one with Israel's policies. Jews voted for Obama 4-1, despite attempts to paint him as an Islamist terrorist, and 70% of American Jews support exerting pressure on both Israelis and Palestinians. Nevertheless, given the personnel running the organisation and the makeup of its 120-member advisory board, any neutral observer would be hard-pressed to see J Street as anything other than a collection of people who fundamentally love Israel.
But this seems inconsequential to Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador, who has turned down the invitation to attend the annual meeting. Never mind that Obama's national security adviser James Jones will be there, together with the Senate foreign relations committee chairman John Kerry and up to 150 other US senators and members of Congress. The Israeli embassy issued a statement saying it has "been privately communicating its concerns over certain policies of the organisation that may impair the interests of Israel" and will therefore only send an observer.
This may sound polite, but it's a mask trying, unsuccessfully, to disguise an ugly campaign of vilification and demonisation of J Street and anyone perceived as critical of Israel and supportive of Obama's approach, which is being waged by rightwing bloggers and columnists. Eric Alterman in the New York Times quotes some of them as calling J Street "contemptible, dishonest and anti-Israel", "the Surrender Lobby" and "obsequious to terrorists and hostile to Israel".
This matches extreme attacks emanating from Israel and epitomised in Isi Leibler's article Marginalise the renegades, in which he writes of "the enemy within", "odious Jews" who should be excommunicated like "Jewish apostates in the Middle Ages" who "fabricated blood libels". J Street, in urging Israel to make "further unilateral concessions to neighbours pledged to its annihilation", is just like these self-hating Jews as they "stand at the vanguard of global efforts to demonise and delegitimise the Jewish state". Support comes too from Melanie Phillips who back in April wrote, falsely, of "J Street's appalling core premise: that Israel is to blame for Arab terror – the age-old calumny of blaming the Jews for their own destruction" and recently referred to Judge Richard Goldstone's report as "the Goldstone blood libel" which is "part of the UNHRC's strategy of delegitimising Israel to soften up the world for its eventual destruction".
We can dismiss this ranting, but it brings only momentary relief and misses the political dot-to-dot that is being joined up here. Obama appears to be a much weakened figure. Even if he wanted to take a tougher line on settlements, domestic difficulties – declining popularity and congressional elections – restrict his freedom of manoeuvre on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Sympathetic Israelis such as Yossi Alpher, joint editor of bitterlemons.org, plausibly argue that Obama has made fundamental mistakes. These circumstances paved the way for the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to seemingly emerge the victor in his encounter with Obama and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in September: it was Obama who needed the Israeli-Palestinian handshake; Netanyahu sounded like a peacemaker but gave no quarter. His UN speech in which he dwelt on the Holocaust was regarded back home as a triumph. This gave Oren licence not only to argue publicly against restrictions on settlement building but unashamedly to endorse a maximalist, rightwing Zionist agenda by saying that for Jews not to live in the land of their forefathers was problematic. This kind of language gave carte blanche to the detractors of J Street, not just to question its fundamental legitimacy but also to pressure the political celebrities to back out of attending the annual meeting. And it appears that, with the help of Aipac, in some cases they have succeeded.
J Street's director, Jeremy Ben Ami, draws comfort from these attacks. "We are at the centre of debate and controversy after only 18 months, and this is a real impact and a success," he said. "We are winning." Such optimism is admirable and J Street's recent polling that shows US Jews support a two-state solution by 76% to 24% suggest that there is a constituency that can be mobilised to secure J Street's aim to rival Aipac. But right now no one has discovered the formula for turning dissent and deepening disquiet among many Jews, not just in America but worldwide, into an effective political force. This, at least for the moment, is what the hardline Zionist right has become, proving that the toxic mix of ideological intransigence, unrestrained offensive rhetoric and the politics of fear is hard to beat.
More on the J Street dinner
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U.S.: IDF defense drill helping craft Europe missile shield
America, born July 4th 1776, died Nov 4th 2008
Professor Joseph Olson of Hemline University School of Law, St. Paul , Minnesota, points out some interesting facts concerning the Presidential election:
* Number of States won
by: Democrats: 19 Republicans: 29
* Square miles of land won
by: Democrats: 580,000 Republicans: 2,427,000
* Population of counties won
by: Democrats: 127 million Republicans: 143 million
* Murder rate per 100,000 residents in counties won
by: Democrats: 13.2 Republicans: 2.1
Professor Olson adds: "In aggregate, the map of the territory Republican won was mostly the land owned by the taxpaying citizens of the country. Democrat territory mostly encompassed those citizens living in government-owned tenements and living off various forms of government welfare..." More
Labels: The left