Democrats Are Becoming the Party of Permanent War
This piece originally appeared on antiwar.com.
“People can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. … All you have to do is tell them they’re being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” ~Hermann Goering, Nazi field marshal and Hitler henchman
Somehow I’m always a “traitor.” At least according to my critics. It’s a rather odd thing, however. See, I’ve been penning antiwar screeds for over five years, much of it done while still on active duty. During just under three of those years, Barack Obama was president. Back then, when I criticized George W. Bush’s old wars and Obama’s new ones, my ubiquitous hate mail—“love it or leave it,” “you’re a communist,” “you’re a disgrace to the uniform”—came from the hawkish right. That much I expected.
Then my universe inverted. The moment Donald Trump was elected, if ever I dared cheer his anti-interventionist rhetoric (though rarely his deeds), my “friends” on the left attacked me with even more intensity than the neocons. But the language was mostly the same. I was still a “traitor,” still “anti-American,” only now I was also a “Trump apologist,” even a “Putin puppet.” Once purportedly antiwar liberals were horrified that I hoped, and sought to encourage, that Trump might end even a couple of the hopeless American conflicts. Born-again hawks, these folks now rose like a mythical phoenix to support the wars Trump theoretically opposed. As a tiny band played “The World Turned Upside Down” on repeat in my head, it occurred to me that this turn of events represented something profound: liberal thought policing, consensus disciplining and the limits of Democrats’ anti-war activism.
Look, I’m a lefty, for the most part. My academic specialty is in African American civil rights history. Eugene Debs is one of my heroes. The morning after the 2016 election, I said unspeakable, hateful things—the sort you can’t really take back—to my Trump-voting father. In my last year in the army, I was even under a serious, pension-threatening investigation according to the Uniform Code of Military Justice for the crime of publishing language “contemptuous” of President Trump.
The editors here at Antiwar.com accept my “progressive” sins because we’re in the end-the-endless-war trenches together. But of course, my libertarian friends enjoy treating me to a good ribbing. So you can understand why it seems so odd, so preposterous, this recent spate of attacks leveled against me as a “Trump apologist,” even a “Trump supporter.” I mean I’m not. Still, the fact that my ostensible compatriots—at least the mainstream liberals—are the ones directing these attacks is instructive. Their hysterical critiques define these alarmist times. Consider it “Red Scare 2.0: Russia Strikes Back.”
On some level, this is nothing new. The left has a long history of eating its own, especially in times of war. During America’s foolish crusade in World War I, most progressives—as they then (as now) styled themselves—promptly ditched their past dovish positions and jumped on the war, and hyper-patriotic, bandwagon. The minority that held true to anti-war sentiments were smeared with particular virulence, branded un-American, even treasonous. Careers and reputations were ruined; more radical peace activists were sometimes jailed. And why not? The “war president,” Woodrow Wilson, was a Democrat too (though there were then some progressives among Republicans), and the party faithful quickly fell in line with their commander in chief.
The cycle repeated when “Saint” Obama was president. Liberals who had loudly opposed Bush’s wars hardly blanched when their president promptly escalated wars in Afghanistan and West Africa, entered new ones in Libya and Syria, and exponentially increased region-wide drone strikes. We were treated to the sound of crickets for eight long years, as if anti-war Democrats had gone into hibernation.
However, today, these attacks on me—and many others—as neo-Trumpsters or “Russian assets,” has a flavor all its own. A Republican, at least in name, is president. Liberals hate him with even more ferocity than Baby Bush. Reflexive anti-Trumpism—though often warranted—is now so instinctual and unthinking that it borders on anti-intellectual hysteria. So yes, MSNBC liberals certainly hate Trump … but not his wars. This is curious, unique and unlike the Bush-era opposition. Why? I’d submit that the variable is Trump himself.
See, on the campaign trail, over the White House Twitter account, and in a few recent speeches, Trump has expressed—though rarely acted upon—some sensible, even profound, anti-war sentiments. He’s long said his “instincts” are to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and last month he made a show (really a reshuffling) of clumsily pulling the troops out of Syria. At least rhetorically, Trump opposes endless war in the Middle East. And, well, in these tribal times, if Trump’s against something, most Dems are for it! Even wars they once opposed, for years.
Take MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. She was wildly opposed to Bush’s wars—even wrote an excellent book decrying American military interventionism—then kept silent during Obama’s wars, and now cheerleads Trump’s wars. But they’re all the same wars! Maddow, intelligent as she undoubtedly is, thus exposed her intellectual dishonesty. And she’s taken much of the liberal establishment with her. It’s legitimately scary.
Silly me, I thought the “left” was supposed to be against endless war in the greater Middle East. We now know, once and for all, that they never really were. Rather than anti-war, they were ultimately just anti-Bush, and now anti-Trump. It’s about politics, not patriotism. Party first, country second. Need proof? Not a single Democrat in the House supported Trump’s gesture toward ending the Syria debacle. Not one. On the other hand, every voting Democrat had recently voted for ending U.S. support for the Saudi terror war in Yemen. Well sure, Trump likes that war, so the Dems hate it.
What of the populace at large? That’s an even stranger matter. In today’s upside-down world, Republicans are more opposed to endless conflict than Democrats. In a recent poll, 57% of Republicans favored ending the military mission in Syria; 76% of Democrats opposed it. Most combat veterans—not a traditionally progressive lot—are also against America’s ongoing wars, if anyone cares to know. Other polls are even more alarming and portend poorly for the future.
Large majorities of all Americans, but especially Democrats, seem eminently persuadable to support a new war, this time with Iran. Just as 42% of the public believed—even after the invasion of Iraq—that Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and 55% thought he directly supported al-Qaida (neither was even remotely true), so too are the citizens of today misinformed about Iran. In a poll conducted late last month, 84% of Americans said they were concerned that Iran was developing nuclear weapons (it is not), including 89% of Democrats. Say what?
Lastly, there’s the, perhaps even more dangerous, liberal establishment’s policing of foreign policy thought, which narrows the range of “acceptable” discourse and threatens (small d) democracy. That’s where the attacks on my writing, my character and my “Americanism” come in. But it isn’t just me. Hillary Clinton, the New York Times, and the CNN-MSNBC duo’s absurd slander that Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard—an anti-war long-shot presidential contender and serving major in the US Army—is a “Russian asset,” being “groomed,” perhaps by the Republicans, for a third-party run, personifies the current fit of national delirium. Gabbard’s combat tours (what branch did Clinton or Maddow serve in?) couldn’t save her from accusations of treason—a crime punishable by death for a serving soldier—and my 18 odd years in uniform won’t protect me from the new breed of Democratic neo-McCarthyism.
Mind you, the establishment liberal thought police have not, and will not, provide a shred of evidence that I, Tulsi and our like-minded brothers and sisters are “un-American” “traitors.” They don’t have to. Even muted praise for Trump’s few sensible pronouncements, or the use of “Putin talking points” like ending regime change wars, is today a sin punishable by libel, by professional and intellectual exile. Proof, evidence, truth—these concepts no longer matter. As a Bush official pronounced back in the Iraq War days, “We’re an empire now.” And as the Indian novelist Arundhati Roy so presciently wrote, “When it comes to Empire, facts don’t matter.”
Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com. His work has appeared in the L.A. Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Truthdig and TomDispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, “Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.” Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.
Copyright 2019 Danny SjursenWAIT, BEFORE YOU GO…
If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.
Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.