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Where have all the liberals gone?

October 19, 2001 | Page 3

WAR PUTS political principles to the test. And sadly, many of the country's best-known liberal figures have failed.

Take Molly Ivins, for example, once one of George W. Bush's sharpest critics. She's in favor of Washington's war on Afghanistan--and even Bush's overall approach.

"So far, so good," Ivins wrote. "Way to go, military. It has turned out, in previous campaigns of oxymoronic 'surgical bombing,' that initial reports exaggerated both the effectiveness and the accuracy of our efforts. But as of the bombing of Yugoslavia (with the exception of the unfortunate 'ooops' over the Chinese Embassy), we seem to be getting better at the ghastly art."

Never mind that it took years before the Pentagon revealed that more than half of its laser-guided "smart" weapons missed their targets during the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. And never mind that hundreds--perhaps thousands--of Afghan civilians have already been killed by U.S. bombs.

Marc Cooper, a writer for the Nation magazine, did Ivins one better. In a diatribe in the Los Angeles Times, Cooper lashed out at antiwar demonstrators for their supposed "self-hatred."

"What a warning signal when you cannot tolerate the sight of your own flag," he wrote. "For those who are squeamish about taking out Osama bin Laden's network and its Taliban defenders, let them reflect on just how much further American politics will slide to the right if there are a half-dozen more major terror attacks here at home."

Never mind the fact that the right is already on the offensive. And never mind that even Attorney General John Ashcroft admits that U.S. military strikes will provoke more attacks, making people in the U.S. less, not more, secure.

Why would two liberal critics of the political establishment be full of praise for the precision of the U.S. military and the flag?

The best way to understand the liberals' retreat is that it's not exactly a retreat. It's a political weakness that flows from their acceptance of the general political framework of the U.S. establishment.

During times of peace, there may be space to disagree with this or that policy. But the pressure of war reveals just how much liberals agree with the overall framework that they criticize from within.

Ivins and Cooper--among others--accept the idea that U.S. military action can be used to pursue justice and security in the face of "religious fascism." But this view--that the U.S. can be a force for democracy--is an echo of Bush's idea that the U.S. was attacked because it's a "beacon of democracy."

In truth, the U.S. is targeted for the opposite reason--because it stands in the way of justice and freedom, from Palestine to Iraq to Guatemala. And liberals like Ivins and Cooper are standing in the way of building a movement that can stop the U.S. war machine--and the death and destruction it wreaks around the world.

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