Rebuttal to Raymond Kraft's "The Death of Liberalism"

By image - October 28, 2004

This piece is in response to The Death of Liberalism. Please read Mr. Kraft's article before proceeding.

Note: The title of this article was changed to "Why are we in Iraq", and it is no longer hosted by its original publishers. 

Wow, where to begin with this? There is actually one major point in this piece that I agree with, which is that "liberals" should not be supporting or sympathizing with Islamic fundamentalists, and that liberals should be the ones encouraging American sacrifice in order to help improve the lives of people in the Middle East. There are, in fact, some liberals who do take multiculturalism too far, to the point of supporting oppressive practices of other cultures. That, however, is about as far as the agreements go.

The only other point on which I agree with Mr. Kraft is this comment: "Remember, perspective is everything, and America's schools teach too little history."

That's certainly true, however I have a feeling that he isn't thinking of the same history that I am thinking of, and this gets to the point, because it is Mr. Kraft's lack of historical accuracy and historical framework that contributes to his, and many American's, misperceptions about not only our past, but also our present and how we address situations like the problem we face in Iraq today.

Mr. Kraft starts with a stirring account of the events leading up to and surrounding World War II, telling of the rise of Nazism and Japanese Imperialism and the all too sad reluctance of "Americans" to engage these threats in their infancy.

What this "conservative" fails to address, however, is that there was, in fact, a major group of Americans who did want to get into the war sooner, who did want America to become involved militarily. Who were these people? Were they right-wing war hawks, ever watchful of the need for America to protect freedom around the globe? No, not at all. The Americans who protested Nazi and Japanese imperialism and called for American intervention were none other than the most liberal and Leftist of Americans. They were members of the American Anti-Fascist League, members of the Abe Lincoln Brigade (a Communist and Anarchist organization that fought in the Spanish Civil War against Francisco Franco), members of the Communist Party USA,  and members of student organizations. 

That's who did support going to war against Germany and Japan. Not only that, but America's president at the time, Franklin Roosevelt, who is known as the most liberal president in American history, was also pressing for war, perusing actions that were likely to get America involved, and giving aid to Britain and the Soviet Union. (Notice how Mr. Kraft calls it Russia. The name of the country was not Russia, it was the Soviet Union, and they were our ally at the time and they by far made the largest contribution to the war effort and played the biggest role in defeating the fascists)

At the same time, conservative Americans attacked FDR and others for seeking to get involved in the war. Yes it is true that the American military was under funded in those days, however  this was not the case because of liberals, but rather it was the conservatives and Republicans who refused to provide the funding to the military.

Famous right-wing Americans like Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, and media mogul William Randolph Hearst actively promoted US isolation, while at the same time collaborating with and aiding the fascist parties of Europe.

American supporters of the European Fascists

image image

Banners from Charles Lindbergh's America First campaign

American companies were falling all over themselves to do business with the 3rd Reich, Japan, and Italy during the 1930s.

When Pearl Harbor was finally attacked Senator Aurthur Vandenberg, a conservative Republican, wrote that the United States would have had to yield "relatively little" to pacify Japan. Of Japan he said that, "we may have driven her needlessly into hostilities through our dogmatic diplomatic attitudes." "We asked for it, and we got it."

Many on the American Right saw the religious fanaticism of the German and Japanese imperialists as better than the godless Communists of the Soviet Union and China, and that's exactly why Americans stood by while Imperial Japan invaded China and killed millions of members of the Communist Red Army, and why Americans stood by while Germany invaded Western Europe, rounded up Communists and Jews, and then invaded the officially atheist Soviet Union.

American conservatives now hold out the killings of people in Iraq, whom at the time they endorsed killing, as a moral justification for their own actions. This is the same when looking back today at both World War II and Saddam Hussein. In both cases the people being killed were primarily Communists. The killing of these people was supported by the American Right. Now, after it's over, the American Right holds these killings out as examples of tyranny and asks us all to be horrified at them. The Right never says who the people being killed were though, or that they endorsed the killings when they first took place. The political killings that took place in Iraq, that conservatives now condemn, were killings of Iraqi Leftists. The largest number of people killed in China by the Japanese were also Communists, and the same is true of the Nazis, who targeted primarily Communists and Jews. The Kurdish people have been the vanguard of the Communist movement in Iraq for the past 50 years, this is why they have been targets of the Saddam regime. This is why America stood by and let them be killed initially. Now when they tell us that Saddam is a monster for killing "Kurds", they don't say that they were also Communists.

Let us all be clear: On the issue of World War II it was the American Left who was supporting American involvement in the war. It was the American Right who was promoting isolationism and leading the anti-war effort, and indeed some of them were in fact aiding the fascists. America was led in World War II by the most liberal Commander in Chief in American history, a man whose domestic legacy the Bush administration is now seeking to completely overturn. The American involvement in helping to rebuild Europe and Japan after World War II was successful because it was a liberal undertaking. 

Then Mr. Kraft simply gets his facts wrong when he states: "Russia lost something like 24 million people in the sieges of Stalingrad and Moscow, 90% of them from cold and starvation, mostly civilians, but also more than a million soldiers.  More than a million."

It's pretty easy to look up these statistics, and if he had done so perhaps he would have found the accurate numbers. The Soviet Union did not lose 24 million people during these sieges. The Soviet Union is not recognized to have lost more that 8 million civilians in the entire war, much less over 20 million people in two sieges, his numbers are just plain incorrect.

Nevertheless his point is valid. Yes the Soviets paid a huge price and made enormous sacrifices during World War II, however, getting back to Mr. Kraft's point about American history, hardly any Americans are aware of this fact and many Americans, especially younger Americans, are completely unaware of the Soviet contributions to winning World War II. American soldiers made up only about 1.7% of the Allied soldiers killed during World War II. The inflated self-image that Americans have about American military history has led to a false sense of American ability to go-it-alone.

Mr. Kraft then segways into the present day, presenting to us the threat of Islamic terrorists. Well, what he says is true, though it's an extremely limited view. The threat of terrorist attacks using Weapons of Mass Destruction is not simply an Islamic issue, it is more accurately described as a religious fundamentalist issue.

What Mr. Kraft fails to point out is that the most persistent threat that we face here in America is not terrorist activity from Islamic fundamentalists, but in fact from Christian fundamentalists, white supremacist, and other ultra right-wing organizations. This isn't a shallow jab or a means to redirect the conversation, this is a solid fact. The biggest terrorist threat in America today comes not from the Middle East, but from the American homeland.

In 1995 Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people.

Immediately following 9/11 there were the Anthrax letter bombings, strongly suspected of being perpetrated by a domestic American, though no arrests have been made yet.

In May 2003 federal agents arrested a white racist couple dealing in weapons of mass destruction in a small town near Tyler, Texas. The feds seized a cyanide bomb capable of unleashing a deadly poison cloud, chemicals and components for additional WMDs, gas masks, 100 conventional bombs, an arsenal of automatic weapons, silencers and half a million rounds of ammunition.

In February 2004 a letter containing the toxic poison ricin was mailed to the White House threatening to use weapons of mass destruction to turn Washington DC into a "ghost town" if new trucking regulations were put into effect. The letter was from Chattanooga, Tennessee and a similar one came from South Carolina.

Over 8,000 acts of violence have been committed against abortion clinics and doctors since 1977. In the past 10 years over a dozen doctors have been assassinated by Christian fundamentalists.

These are just a small sampling of the most prominent real terrorist threats that we face in America, and virtually all of this terrorist activity in America is associated with militant right-wing groups, often religious.

Map of Hate Groups in America

image U.S. Map of Hate Groups

So yes, there are Islamic militants that seek to use weapons of mass destruction against the "civilized world", but this by no means describes the entire threat, and in fact the most accurate way to describe the threat is not to describe it as Islamic, but rather to describe it as fundamentalist in general and recognize that this threat exists in America as well as the Middle East, and in fact a large base of President Bush's support comes from a body of people who make up this threat. 

Mr. Kraft then describes how Islamic fundamentalists want to spread their system all over the entire world, even killing non-believers in some cases, but this of course is no different than the desires of some Christian fundamentalists as well.

He then asserts that if the Islamic moderates "win" in the Middle East then everything will be okay and the Middle East will become prosperous. He also calls the Saudis rational and well-educated, warning of what might happen if OPEC falls into the hands of Jihadists. Well, first of all, Saudi Arabia is a theocratic monarchy ruled by Islamic law. Now sure the Saudis do things that are beneficial for America in terms of oil production, but the fact is that the West has embraced this theocratic monarchy because they have used religious fundamentalism, Wahhabsim in fact, to keep their people oppressed and thereby keep themselves in power, preventing the Saudi people from having a democracy and thereby ensuring that they can distribute as much oil to the West as possible for which the West helps to keep them in power.

The very nature of our relationship with the Saudi royal family promotes the religious fundamentalism and anti-democratic theocracy that Mr. Kraft is now urging "liberals" to back this war in opposition to.

The real fact of the matter is that the West has greatly contributed to the problems that we now face with fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East. The Saudi, Kuwaiti and other theocratic monarchies have been kept in power with aid from the West.

Conservatives champion Ronald Reagan for "winning the Cold War", despite the fact that the Soviets folded from the inside and would likely have done so even sooner if not for the fuel that Reagan gave the Communist hardliners, but what these same conservatives completely fail to do is to understand the connection between Reagan era policies, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the rise of Islamic terrorism.

First - American support for Osama Bin Laden and Islamic terrorists:

In April 1978, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) took power in Afghanistan. The PDPA was committed to land reform that favored peasants, trade union rights, an expansion of education and social services, equality for women, and the separation of church and state. The PDPA also supported strengthening Afghanistan's relationship with the Soviet Union.

Not only this, but the PDPA began an extensive anti-drug program and began eradicating the vast opium fields and combating the opium trade in the region. The opium trade was a major source of revenue for many Islamic tribal leaders.

Taken from a 1999 Congressional Report on CIA involvement in drug trafficking:

Soviet-backed coup in Afghanistan sets stage for explosive growth in Southwest Asian heroin trade. New Marxist regime undertakes vigorous anti-narcotics campaign aimed at suppressing poppy production, triggering a revolt by semi-autonomous tribal groups that traditionally raised opium for export. The CIA-supported rebel Mujahedeen begins expanding production to finance their insurgency. Between 1982 and 1989, during which time the CIA ships billions of dollars in weapons and other aid to guerrilla forces, annual opium production in Afghanistan increases to about 800 tons from 250 tons. By 1986, the State Department admits that Afghanistan is "probably the world's largest producer of opium for export" and "the poppy source for a majority of the Southwest Asian heroin found in the United States." U.S. officials, however, fail to take action to curb production. Their silence not only serves to maintain public support for the Mujahedeen, it also smooths relations with Pakistan, whose leaders, deeply implicated in the heroin trade, help channel CIA support to the Afghan rebels. 

After the PDPA took power, the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan to support the regime. At that point a jihad against the PDPA coalesced.

Between 1978 and 1992, largely through Ronald Reagan's presidency, the US contributed somewhere between $6 billion and $20 billion worth of arms to the Islamic fundamentalist resistance, who were fighting against the secular PDPA and the Soviet Union.

Now, you can call this Soviet imperialism if you wish, or assume that there was an ulterior Soviet agenda, but the fact is, right or wrong, that the US single handedly did more to develop and foster radical armed Islamic fundamentalist terrorism with this action than any other event that has happened in the past 50 years.

Maktab al-Khidamar (MAK), the Taliban, Al-Queda, and dozens of other terrorist organizations have come out of the fighters who fought on the side of the CIA during this conflict.

Osama Bin Laden formed Al-Queda in 1987, while receiving aid from the United States. The United States embraced Islamic jihad and Islamic fundamentalism and helped to catapult the radical Islamic terrorist movement to heights never before imagined, and it was done in opposition to a secular regime.

This brought the terroristic Islamic fundamentalist movement against secularism to a new high across the Middle East.

Secondly, in part due to the American approach to dealing with the Soviet Union, Mikael Gorbachev was taken out of power in 1991 and the Soviet Union was dissolved, practically overnight, by Boris Yeltsin. The world would very likely be a safer place today if Mikael Gorbachev had stayed in power and brought the USSR through more measured reforms.

The breakup and rapid "privatization" of the Soviet Union, while hailed as a victory by conservatives, was actually a tragic event that had a direct impact on the rise of global terrorism and the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

The rapid dismantling of the Soviet system, and the corrupt means by which privatization took place, led to a major proliferation of weapons, weapons materials, and weapons scientists around the world.

When the Soviet system was privatized it was done so in a very corrupt manner, resulting in a major economic depression in Russia, where GDP has still not come back up to match GDP from 1990. Russians lost their retirement plans and multi-billion dollar industries were privatized and sold off for a small fraction of what they were worth. The buyers were often KGB or other people who had secretly built up stores of money through illegal activity, or people who were financed by foreign investors who funneled money in quickly to buy up major factories and plants at a fraction of their value.

Under the Soviet system, however, industry was public property and contributed to providing for public needs (although poorly). All of the Soviet people had certainly sacrificed a lot to build their industry, but with the privatization they had nothing to show for it, which is why poverty has dramatically increased in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.

That is not to say that privatization was a bad idea, only that it was very poorly done.

This led to a major economic crisis in the country that led to many Russians looking for the fastest way to make a buck, and that has resulted in Russia becoming a major source of not only conventional arms, but some extremely deadly weaponry as well, including weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems for these weapons, including things such as submarines, rockets, and jet fighters, all of which are known to have been sold on the Russian black market after the fall of the USSR.

The American approach to the Cold War has definitely contributed to the growing terrorist movements around the world. Not only did America back Islamic fundamentalists against the Soviets in Afghanistan, but the US also supported the Ba'ath party of Saddam Hussein in the 1963 Iraqi coup because the Ba'ath Party was anti-Communist, and continued to support him during the 1980s, supplying him with his weapons of mass destruction programs and other weapons.

The United States covertly funded and utilized terrorist organizations around the world during the Cold War as a means to indirectly attack the Soviet Union. The focus of these organizations was the destruction of superpowers. Now that the Soviet superpower is gone, these organizations are targeting the only remaining superpower that is left - America. 

Mr. Kraft points out that France, Germany, and Russia were selling weapons to Iraq, but fails to mention that the US also sold weapons to Iraq. He also fails to mention that Halliburton, under Dick Cheney, was the largest American contractor doing business with Iraq.

He fails to mention that it was Republican Senators Bob Dole and Alan Simpson who were Saddam Hussein's biggest American supporters during the 1980s.

Mr. Kraft then goes on to state that, "[w]e have to help the Reformation win, and to do that we have to fight the Inquisition, i.e., the Wahhabi movement, the Jihad, Al Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist movements."

"We have created a focal point for the battle now at the time and place of our choosing, in Iraq."

Yes, and that's certainly a big part of the problem, because we took a country that didn't have a problem with an Islamic fundamentalist insurgency and then brought Islamic fundamentalism to it.

By attacking Iraq, one of the most secular countries in the Middle East, we have managed to unify the Islamic world, create an increase of Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq, and validate all of the things that fundamentalists and terrorists have been saying about America for the past 30 years.

The fact is that Islamic fundamentalism hasn't been an issue in Iraq in a very long time. Even before World War II Iraq was one of the more secular regions of the Middle East, and it remained so after World War II.

If the objective, as Mr. Kraft states, is to combat the forces of Islamic fundamentalism, then why on earth did we pick the least fundamentalist country in the region to invade?

Because it was an easy target? Yes, and because that was not the real reasoning behind the invasion of Iraq in the first place, it is now just a new justification for occupation because every other justification for this war has fallen apart. The truth is, however, that we do need to win this war now, but the Bush administration is incapable of doing so.

The facts are that the Bush approach is not fruitful. We have already seen that:

  • The Bush administration was dishonest, manipulative, and misrepresented the facts in order to sell the invasion of Iraq. The recent excuses about bad intelligence are just scapegoating, as the rest of my website is testament to.
  • Tons of weapons and explosives have been lost, not secured, since the invasion. This is material that was out of the hands of terrorists prior to the invasion and under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency. - Tons of Iraq explosives missing
  • Saddam had been neutralized by the sanctions and inspections, proven by the fact that there are no WMDs to be found in Iraq. 
  • Islamic fundamentalism has risen in Iraq since the invasion, not gone down. Secular Iraq Women Take Up the Head Scarf
  • Iraq wasn't involved in 9/11 and had no links to Al-Queda any more than George Bush himself does. (afterall his family does business with the Bin Ladens, which is about as concrete a link as Saddam's ties to Al-Queda, which is to say, very weak)
  • The Administration has been shown to have endorsed, or at the very least turned a blind eye to, systematic torture and humiliation of thousands of Iraqi prisoners, many of whom are now known to have been not only completely innocent of any wrong doing, but in fact children. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal is one of the worst bruises to the American image in our country's history. Abuse Panel Says Rules on Inmates Need Overhaul

And this is where Mr. Kraft fails to understand the nature of "liberal" opposition to this war and why "the Left" fails to fully get behind it.

The problem is not that we shouldn't be engaged in an effort to combat Islamic fundamentalism and help the people of the Middle East secure peace, democracy and human rights. The problem is that this approach is not a fruitful way to achieve these goals.

Not only is the Bush administration's approach not fruitful, but it is impossible that the ideologues who have helped to create the problems in the Middle East over the past 30 years, who have mishandled the Cold War, many of whom themselves are fundamentalists or pander to religious fundamentalists, can be expected to address these problems and solve them.

How on earth can American liberals believe that this is a war to build a peaceful, tolerant, secular democracy in Iraq, when the war effort is led by an arrogant, secretive, religious fundamentalist, war mongering, self-serving, deceptive administration?

This administration has stood on national television in front of the entire nation, and the world, and straight out lied through their teeth, repeatedly, and not just about this war, but about a wide variety of issues. There is zero trust here.

The biggest irony of this whole thing is that we all know damned well that if any leaders, Democrat, Republican or otherwise, had gotten up in front of America and said that we needed to invade Iraq in order to help the Iraqi people and to overthrow Saddam in order to establish peace and justice and rebuild the country for humanitarian reasons, that most of the citizens who have supported this war would have opposed it, and many of the people who have opposed this war would have supported it. The reality is that we probably would never have gone to war, because there would have been way too much "conservative" opposition against a purely "nation building" mission.

Popular support for this war was built through fear mongering and hate rhetoric and we all know it. The case for war was not made on humanitarian principles, it was made on fear, intimidation and threats.

There has also been no show of good faith in the execution of this war either. We've had Halliburton no-bid contract scandals, billions of dollars unaccounted for, contractors making outrageous sums of money, mismanagement, conflicts of interest left and right such as James Baker of the Carlyle Corporation negotiating debt repayment deals with Kuwait and defending the Saudi royal family against a lawsuit brought by victims of 9/11. We have Christian extremist generals who have been kept in office and then been involved in prisoner abuse scandals. The list goes on and on. There are so many ways that this administration has failed to win the confidence of liberals, or for that matter even moderates and conservatives.

The fact of the matter is that our civilization is not facing a threat from Islam, our civilization is facing a threat from religious fundamentalism. Yes it is true that Americans need to support the secular forces in the Middle East and support any efforts that give aid to these elements.

It is completely inconceivable, however, that religious fundamentalists are going to be able to face this threat and resolve this problem. This is why liberals cannot support George W. Bush, a fundamentalist, in a war against fundamentalism, because George W. Bush is incapable of resolving the real problem. He is a part of the problem.

Information and resources on secularism in the Middle East:

Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society

Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)

Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan

Liberal Democratic Party of Afghanistan

Iraqi Women's Rights Coalition

Workers Communist Party of Iraq

The Iraqi Communist Party

Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation (IDAO)

Kurdistan Communist Party

Worker-communist Party of Iran

Iranian Secular Society

Socialist Party of Iran

Secular Kuwait

US Labor Against the War- Statement of Iraq-Worker communist Party

Left and Right out of step in Iraq

In Iraq, long a secular Muslim country, religious power is making inroads

MSNBC - Iraqi schools turn away from secular teachings

Iraq- we want democracy, secularism and workers' rights, not occupation! | Workers' Liberty


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