Remember the Cold War?
We sure do, and given what lessons can be learned from both how it was fought and how it was won, we're not at all surprised that liberals by and large do not.
By the time of the end of the Cold War, the American Left and Right both had their narratives on the war pretty much worked out. There were variations, of course, sub-currents and dissenters, but, basically, their were two solid schools of thought readily identifiable to any political observer. To the Right, the United States was leading a coalition of freedom-loving democracies and allies of convenience in an all-important opposition to the expansionist and dangerous Soviet Union. In this battle, the U.S. would "bear any burden, pay any cost" to check Soviet power. To the Left, however, the Cold War looked very, very different.The Left's Central Thesis Regarding the Cold War
The United States talks a big game when it comes to freedom, democracy and human rights, but as we all know the U.S. supports some of the most oppressive authoritarian regimes in the world today. From Somoza's Nicaragua to Suharto's Indonesia to Kim's Korea to Marcos' Philippines, the U.S. provides the bullets for the guns of the world's worst dictator's death squads.
The reason for this is clear: the U.S. isn't interested in winning liberty for the world's people. Nor is it even very worried about the so-called Soviet threat. It's all about profits, power and control. We prop up dictators in Central America because major companies and Republican-campaign contributors rely on the profits of United Fruit, Dole and other major American conglomerates. We have military bases in the Philippines because they are instruments of neo-colonial control. We dominate Korea because it provides a ready market and an endless supply of cheap labor.
Concern over the Soviet Union is nothing more than cheap cover (and threadbare cover at that) for a program of world domination, the hallmark of which is the exercise of raw, deadly power whenever it feels threatened. Labor organizers in El Salvador, human rights campaigners in South Africa, dissenters in Saudi Arabia die in their dozens as a result.
If we can only reduce our view of the Soviet Union to that which reality should lead it (i.e. an impoverished nation actually incapable of inflicting much harm), and strip away the hypocritical lies of the Right, the United States could get back on the right side of history and support the worlds' peoples' rightful struggles for self-determination, justice and equality. Until then, the U.S. is only going to suffer more Vietnams and more embarrassments. We must work for a people's democracy, one that speaks to our real values and conduct ourselves in accordance with those needs and wants and not those of General Motors.The Right's Retort
To this central thesis, the right had two main ripostes. First, the Right charged that the Left made a fetish of hypocrisy and, in so doing, showed just how shallow and immature it was as a political movement. The U.S. was engaged in a life-and-death existential struggle with a leviathan of monstrous proportion and strength. We didn't choose our allies; we took what friends were available.
Listen, the Right explained, in war one doesn't always have good choices. Think about World War II: we allied ourselves with the Soviet Union to rid the world of the immediate threat National Socialist Germany represented. We supplied it guns, planes and tanks. Our diplomats shook hands and shared vodka with Communist Party functionaries and gave speeches in honor of Stalin. Does any of this mean that the U.S. was and is complicit in the Gulag or Russia's tyranny in Eastern Europe? No, of course not. What it means is that war makes strange bedfellows. As Churchill--a real statesman--explained at the height of WWII, if Germany invaded Hell, we should immediately sign a pact with the Devil to defeat it.
Second, the Left, as usual, both under- and over-estimates the power of private enterprise in the U.S. system. It under-estimates it in the sense that it doesn't realize that our economy, our companies, our system of private enterprise are
we the people. We couldn't and shouldn't ignore the most successful and productive sectors of our economy simply on some loon theory that success equals corruption. Under the Left's guidelines, the USG should apparently only be lobbied by unemployed fathers of four children and not doctors, architects, businessmen and labor unions.
It over-estimates it in the sense that it affords companies totemic power they simply don't possess. The conflicts in Asia, Central America and Africa are complex, each with their own circumstances. To say, in effect, that what the board of directors of 30 large companies say controls what U.S. foreign policy is is a gross oversimplification the facts do not remotely justify. The fact is, even in the case of allies who are dictatorial, the U.S. is always pushing for more liberty, more respect for human rights and a more expansive definition of democracy.Look Back in Anger
With the fall of the Soviet Union, this debate was quickly dropped and became yesterday's news with unseeming speed. But what is really interesting about the post-Cold War period is that it allowed a reality-based test for the validity of the two sides' theses. (This is why the Left seized upon the 1990's "demonization" of Iraq and terrorism; it seemed the new Cold War, the new ideology that would allow business-as-usual to continue unchecked.) If, as the Left had argued, the Cold War was a mere pretext for global domination and profit-seeking, one would expect the same behavior to continue as before under a different justification. If, as the Right argued, "our dictators" were bastards we were forced to do business with, one would expect a sharp, abrupt change in U.S. foreign policy.
Fortunately for us, the results of this test are there for all to see.
In Central America, Cold War level support for dictatorial regimes for all-out war against communist and communist-inspired insurgencies was withdrawn. Instead, the U.S. pressed for civil compromise and a peace process that brought El Salvador's FMLN and Nicaragua's FSLN to the democratic political process, where they remain today. In Guatemala, support for the government against indigenous movements was removed, forcing the government to come to the bargaining table. Most astonishingly, the U.S. actively pressed for democratic reforms in the "perfect dictatorship" of Mexico, supporting a small, northern-based party in what then appeared to be a Quixotic campaign against the all-powerful PRI.
In South America, the U.S. withdrew support for military governments and pressed for the return of civilian control. From Argentina to Chile to tiny Paraguay, the U.S. used its muscle to support a burgeoning civil society and an emergent middle class. And, most revealingly, when a neo-Castroite named Chavez won power in Venezuela, a nation that supplies a large amount of oil to the U.S., a nation that, as such, is critical to the U.S. economy, the U.S. limited its opposition solely to the political sphere. The fact that the U.S. would choose not to intervene in that context is clear evidence that U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War world underwent a momentous change. No one could imagine U.S. reaction to Chavez as it is today would have been the same had a Chavez taken power in the 1960's.
In Europe, the U.S. pushed for the unification of Germany, something not necessarily to its commercial advantage. In the newly-liberated Eastern Europe, the U.S. deployed immense resources to strengthen young democracies by helping to train judges, by bringing new parliamentarians to study in the U.S., by showering them with economic aid.
In Asia, support for Suharto was withdrawn; Indonesia was encouraged to democratize, which it has done. Korea was urged to protect labor and human rights, real elections were sought and had. The opposition took power for the first time and was congratulated by the United States.
And when the newly democratic government of the Philippines asked for the keys to Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base, we shrugged, handed them over and said our good-byes. Hardly the act of "neo-colonialists."The Conservative Wave
We think many of these lessons are well understood by most of the American people, even if, in some cases merely intuitively. The post-Cold War world allowed people to judge the analysis of the United States by liberals and conservatives and, more and more, people began to come to the conclusion that the conservative narrative simply made more sense. At the same time, a rising conservative movement has come to dominate the U.S. political scene, even if the cultural and educational heights are still controlled by old-school liberalism.
We don't think these two phenomena are unrelated. On the contrary, people are mostly rational and, with the facts being what they are on the ground, most people have begun to give credence to a philosophy that simply has done a better job of explaining the world around us.
We see this all the time. We may laugh when the New York Times runs one its famous "Crime Rate Continues to Fall Even as Jail Population Booms" we-can't-buy-a-clue story, but the fact is--from things small to grand--liberalism as a theory simply fails to either explain past behavior or successfully predict future. People notice this.
The Right isn't convincing people--its arguments simply don't have the same exposure--so much as the Left is convincing people that the Left isn't right.
In this vein, Iraq's recent elections are merely more of the same. One side said that it was a useless puppet exercise resented by the Iraqi people. The other said the people of Iraq wanted freedom and their voice as much as any other people would. Which side better anticipated what occurred on January 30?
As the Left's central theses continue to fail, its followers continue to bail. Some, such as the admirable Christopher Hitchens, cannot complete the journey to the right and continue to identify themselves with the "Left" even if their "Left" exists in reality about as much as the anarchism of Emma Goldman did. Others, like the "neo-cons," drew the conclusions all the way to the end and adjusted their thinking accordingly.
Make no mistake, the end of the Soviet Union unmasked more than just the empty promise of Communism. Day by day, news story by news story, more and more eyes are opening.
A new majority for liberty and reason is thus born.