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Friends of Democracy on C-SPAN

Friends of Democracy will broadcast a live post-election event from 2:00 to 4:00 pm Eastern Standard Time this Sunday on C-SPAN. We’re holding the event in Washington DC’s National Geographic studio, so hopefully the production values will be a little higher than that of C-SPAN’s usual fare.

Jim Hake, founder and CEO of Spirit of America, describes our event this way.

This unique conference from Washington DC will provide a consolidated picture of Iraq’s elections featuring prominent Iraqis, selected guests (Cliff May from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Christopher Hitchens), live call ins from the Friends of Democracy correspondents and bloggers, photos, video and stories.

If you don’t get C-SPAN where you live, you can catch us on our live Web cast.

Thanks, Jim, for bringing me on board this great project. Thanks, also, for flying me out to Washington so I can be a part of it all.

My New Gig — Iraqi Election Coverage

By Michael J. Totten

Jim Hake from Spirit of America brought me on to edit the Friends of Democracy site during the week before and the week after the January 30 election in Iraq.

We have more than a dozen local Iraqi correspondents, at least one in each province, filing daily reports. These reports include news, interviews, quotes, photos, whatever they can get in a day. They aren’t professional journalists. They are more or less ordinary Iraqis. Some of them you already know — Omar and Mohammed from Iraq the Model, for example. Others you don’t know because they don’t speak or write in English. Their reports are translated from Arabic before they are uploaded to the reports site.

My job isn’t to edit the reports, exactly (they are published raw here), but to run a blog on the main site which summarizes, excerpts, and links to the reports from the field. I’m also going to be excerpting and linking to essays and posts in the Iraqi blogosphere and – on occasion – stories in the mainstream and Middle Eastern media. The idea is to let Iraqis themselves tell their own story of their own first free election. What I do on the site has nothing to do with me. You won’t find me bloviating there as I do here. I am invisible. My name isn’t even on it.

The site is called Friends of Democracy: Ground level election news from the people of Iraq. To the best of my knowledge there is nothing else like it anywhere out there, at least not in English. (We also have a site in Arabic here.)

If you have the time, the inclination, and your own blog, please give us a link. This isn’t about me or my ego. This is for, about, and mostly by the Iraqi people themselves.

I feel honored that Jim asked me to do this. I’ve supported Spirit of America from the beginning, donated a bit of my money, and raised thousands of dollars from readers of this site just like you. Please, give us your support one more time. This time it’s free. All we need now is a link and some readers. Thanks kindly in advance.

The Unwinnable War

by Jeremy Brown

With that immensely important election coming this Sunday in Iraq, the optimist in me is feeling a strong urge to look back toward the frankly startling success of the recent election in Afghanistan.

I’m not pretending that Afghanistan’s problems are all fixed now, nor am I expecting Iraq’s election day to be anywhere near that peaceful (though genuine peace has not been on the table in Iraq for decades and won’t ever be, unless of course the country starts down the road to democratization this Sunday).

There’s at least one way, however, in which the war in Afghanistan tells us something that very much applies to Iraq. Let me bring you back a few years to a time when a great many people — many of them very reasonable and reasonably intelligent (I was very briefly one of them way back then) — predicted that a war in Afghanistan, whether justified or not, would result in a quagmire that would rival Viet Nam or, more to the point, Russia’s Afghan war. Remember that? Here, by way of random example, is the Christian Science Monitor in October 2001:

“Afghanistan is a quagmire that is easy to enter and very hard to leave,” says Irina Zvegelskaya, an Islamic expert and vice president of the independent Center for Strategic and Political Studies in Moscow. “If the US commits itself to changing things there, or propping up a particular government, it will be the beginning of a long, painful and very costly story – just like it was for us.”

[...]

Russian experts say that if the US is determined to engineer change in Afghanistan, it should make sure the United Nations is involved, and not commit American troops. “If the US acts unilaterally, it will look like a war on Islam, and all Afghans will unite behind the Taliban…

And that was just the well reasoned pessimism. Various fish in assorted barrels predicted far worse. Noam Chomsky, for example, would have had us believe that the U.S. was self evidently on the verge of a “silent genocide” that was going to kill several million afghan civilians.

As awful as any war inherently is, why didn’t the Afghan war of 2001 go the route of Russia’s atrocious war in that country?

I think the answer is clear: all those warnings about the impossibility of successfully invading and conquering Afghanistan presupposed an invading army attempting to defeat the will of the entire Afghan people. But the U.S. goal of toppling the Taliban regime, it should be perfectly obvious, was entirely in concert with the will of the majority of Afghans.

An important question to ask about the war in Iraq, then, is: which side, if any, is struggling to achieve an end that reflects the will of the majority of Iraqi people. Anyone who denies, however much many Iraqis may dislike being occupied by Coalition troops, that the majority of people in Iraq want democratization to succeed and the ‘insurgency’ to fail, is just not paying attention.

So it’s important to remember, in the face of the brutal bombings and kidnappings that will probably continue for some time, that the Coalition troops not only represent the superior military power in this war but more importantly, because they are advancing the interests of the Iraqi people, they are on the winning side. You are probably aware that 80 percent of the Iraqi people are planning to vote. Which side of that equation would you rather be on?

The Baathist and Islamist ‘insurgents’ know what hurts Iraqis and how, if it can be done, to spark a civil war. But the inescapable fact is that, because they are fighting against the majority of the Iraqi populace, they are struggling hopelessly on the losing side of this war.

Once Iraqis have had this first taste of their democratic future, it will be damned difficult for anyone to steal it back from them.

Though the struggle to stop the killing will continue, in other words, the ‘insurgency’ is screwed.

I can think of no better rallying cry for this Iraqi election than Zarqawi’s own words as reported just two days ago:

”We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology,” the speaker said in an audiotape posted Sunday on an Islamic Web site. ”Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it.”

Let me repeat that last line for emphasis:

“Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it.” That’s an offer the Iraqi people cannot afford to pass up.

New Blogging Gig

I have a new full-time blogging gig for the next two weeks, and I won’t have a whole lot of time to blog on this site. So I have a couple of guest-bloggers who are going to help me out: Jeremy Brown and Mary Madigan. I will probably post here, too, but not as often as I usually do.

Since there will be three of us here, or at least two and a half (the half would be me), there will be more fresh content here than usual, not less. So don’t go anywhere.

I’ll provide more info and links about what I’m doing and where I’m going once the project gets off the ground. In the meantime, stay tuned. And welcome Mary and Jeremy.

Stay Tuned

Very suddenly I went from not having enough work on my plate to having a lot of it. Such is the life of a freelance writer. Feast, then famine, then feast. Now is a time of feasting.

It’s late Monday night and I’m going to bed. Don’t go away. Your regularly scheduled opinionated blather will recommence shortly.

In the meantime, argue amongst yourselves in the comments about love, death, war, life, god, the universe, and everything. And be nice! Don’t make me come in there with the battle axe.

Losing Their Religion…

- by Mary Madigan

Many thanks to Michael for this opportunity to guest blog (and congratulations!)

As a female blogger, I guess I should discuss subjects that are interesting from a woman’s point of view. So I’ll talk about fighting.

[Fights are interesting from a woman's point of view if you're an Irishwoman]

In his New Republic* article, “A Fighting Faith” Peter Beinart suggested that Democrats should return to old-style liberalism; the liberalism which inspired the belief, held by Democrats like Arthur Schlesinger Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, and Eleanor Roosevelt that:

“[B]ecause the interests of the United States are the interests of free men everywhere,” America should support “democratic and freedom-loving peoples the world over.” That meant unceasing opposition to communism, an ideology “hostile to the principles of freedom and democracy on which the Republic has grown great.”

I’d always thought that the New Republic was a sort of liberal hawk voice, and I thought their readers would agree with Beinart. I was wrong.

In the letters to the editor section, TNR readers made it clear — they don’t agree with Beinart at all. They believe that:

A self-described “lower middle class rube” believes the Democrats’ enemy is Bush and big business

“Moore has been–and continues to be–a man fighting for economic justice. Fahrenheit 9/11 was sometimes puerile, but the film made convincing arguments that the 2000 election was stolen in Florida and that the Republicans’ wars are being fought primarily by those who are daunted by their economic prospects in this country. His point was not, however, that all wars are pointless, but rather that the reasons for war need to be true, not lies, and clearly in the national interest, rather than for personal gain or personal payback. Even though I may disagree with much of what Moore postulates, I admire his willingness to take on President Bush and big business.”

A history teacher says: JFK was not a good leader

“Beinart argues that the Democrats must take a strong line on terrorism, just as Democrats after 1945 did on communism. He cites John F. Kennedy, who, in 1960, ran a campaign tough on communism and, while in office, “dramatically increased military spending.” Kennedy also campaigned on the missile gap, which he used to frighten audiences…

..He increased the number of military advisers in Vietnam to 16,000, and he helped unseat Cheddi Jagan in Guyana. I am not sure that these are examples to be followed.”

A lady from Missouri believes the “morality of fighting communism in order to save the world was nonsense.”

“Beinart’s comparison of the present war on Islamic fundamentalists with the cold war doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. He claims that the postwar Democrats had to oppose communism in the Soviet Union, but he fails to mention that, when Richard Nixon went to China, the morality of fighting communism in order to save the world was revealed as just plain nonsense. We did not need to fight communism then, and we do not need to embark on a world conquest of Islamic fundamentalism now.”

Out of six published letters, only one agreed with Beinart.

“We did not need to fight communism”?? I hope these letters to the editor don’t express the opinions typical of centrist Democrats. But I wonder. After all, this is TNR, not The Nation.

*registration required for TNR

The Last Honest Progressive in America

I link to Marc Cooper’s blog a lot because I like him and I often like what he has to say. (He’s also a friend and the editor for my soon-to-be-published Libya piece in the LA Weekly.)

G.M. Roper discovered Marc’s blog via my blog and seems to have taken up residence in Cooper’s comments section. The two have become friends, and this makes me happy. Why? In part because I “introduced” them to each other, but also because G.M. is a conservative and Marc is an anti-war leftist. The blogosphere is often divisive, but it isn’t always. I wish this sort of thing happened more often, but I’m glad to see it happens sometimes.

G.M. wrote a flattering profile of Marc on his blog called The Last Honest Progressive in America. Marc isn’t really the last, but he is a progressive and he is honest. If you’re a conservative (or a centrist or a hawkish liberal or whatever else) and you’re looking for someone who thinks you’re wrong but can argue well and with integrity, bookmark him. He’s a worthwhile antidote to the echo-chamber.

Not Just For Neocons

One reason I’ve been pushed toward, but not all the way into, the right since 911 is because it sometimes seems like conservatives and Independents are the only ones I can relate to anymore. Nevermind that I don’t sign off onto all their opinions. No one agrees with me about everything, and I don’t expect anyone to. So it’s a nice treat to find Kerry-supporting Democrats like Tom Frank at The New Republic who really know where I’m coming from, not just intellectually, but on a gut level.

This band of socialists was the most effective recruiting tool for the Republican Party I’d ever encountered.

To begin with, there were the posters on the wall: MONEY FOR JOBS AND EDUCATION, NOT FOR WAR AND OCCUPATION. Let’s leave aside that the meter is somehow dissatisfying (nine syllables followed by eight–no flow at all). The main point is, if the shallowness of this statement bothers you, to what party do you look for comfort? To the Democrats, many of whom condemn building firehouses in Baghdad and closing firehouses at home? Or do you say to yourself, in that moment, “I don’t much care for Newt Gingrich–nor does anyone else–but I bet he hates that goddamn poster as much as I do”? I know where I was leaning.

Then there was the pooh-poohing of elections–any elections. Former soldier Stan Goff (supposedly of the Delta Force, Rangers, and Special Forces) spoke at length about the evils of capitalism and declared, “We ain’t never resolved nothing through an election.” This drew loud, sustained applause. Nothing to get worked up about, I thought; just a leftist speaker spouting lunacy. But today it seemed particularly bad. It wasn’t just that I was missing what might be lovely canapés (or perhaps spring rolls being brought about on trays with delectable dipping sauce); rather, it was the thought that the speaker was dismissing something that Afghanis of all ages had recently risked their lives to participate in, something Iraq’s insurgents view as so transformative that they are murdering scores of Iraqis to prevent it. No, what I needed to counter this speaker was not a Democrat like me who might argue that elections were, in fact, important. What I needed was a Republican like Arnold who would walk up to him and punch him in the face.

But the worst came with the final speaker, a woman by the name of Sherry Wolf, who is supposedly on the “editorial board of International Socialist Review.” She talked, and talked, and talked; terms like “architects of the slaughter,” “war criminal,” and “Noam Chomsky” wafted about the room; and my eyes grew so bleary that I ceased taking notes. But then she brought up the insurgents in Iraq. Sure they were bad, she admitted: “No one cheers the beheading of journalists.” But, she continued, they had a “right” to rebel against occupation. Then she read from a speech by the activist Arundhati Roy: “Of course, [the Iraqi resistance] is riddled with opportunism, local rivalry, demagoguery, and criminality. But if we were to only support pristine movements, then no resistance will be worthy of our purity.” In sum, Wolf said, the choice boiled down to supporting occupation or resistance, and we had to support resistance.

So there it was. I even forgot about the Constitution Ball for a minute. Apparently, we were to view the people who set off bombs killing over 150 peaceful Shia worshippers in Baghdad and Karbala as “resistance” fighters. And the audience seemed entirely fine with this. These weren’t harmless lefties. I didn’t want Nancy Pelosi talking sense to them; I wanted John Ashcroft to come busting through the wall with a submachine gun to round everyone up for an immediate trip to Gitmo, with Charles Graner on hand for interrogation.

Very good, comrade. Welcome to the non-partisan, equal-opportunity, big-tent Militant Middle.

Propaganda

Zed has links to active radical Islamist Web sites, including video and multi-media presentations, for anyone who is interested in poking around such places. He made the links inactive so he won’t get any unwanted attention from the owners of those sites. You will have to cut and paste the links into your browser if you want to follow them.

A Plea for Iraqi Unity

In the comments box for the post below this one Dougf pointed out that the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has an archive of video clips from Middle East TV. I didn’t know this until now. (Thanks, Doug.)

While watching TV in my Tripoli hotel room back in November I saw something I never would have expected to see in Libya: a touching ad pleading for Iraqi unity. It’s cheesy, but I don’t mean to complain. Iraq needs cheesiness now. (Note: This is not the same ad Doug links to in the comments. This one is better, I think.)

Here’s a link to the video. Watch it. And imagine how I felt when I saw this in Libya while I was otherwise surrounded by hysterical totalitarian propaganda. It was an amazing moment.

A Short, Sharp Shove

A great swath of the blogosphere has already linked to the shockingly unprofessional hit piece in the New York Times about the Iraqis who blog at Iraq the Model. Their brother Ali, who now blogs at Free Iraqi, has posted a classy dignified response. He is much more polite to the so-called reporter Sarah Boxer than I would have been if she had done the same thing to me.

The article was, despite Ms Boxer’s kindness, a bad piece of journalism. I had around 45 minutes long phone call with the reporter about my journey with Iraq the Model, my new site, the elections, the general situation here in Baghdad but she (or the paper) seems to have a certain agenda and managed to change the whole issue into a very silly gossip (going as far as quoting trolls!) that is way beneath any respectable paper and certainly beneath me so I won’t give it more attention but lesson learned and I won’t make the mistake of talking to anyone from the NY times again. It’s important to note though that my feelings of respect, gratitude and love for the American people have never and will never change.

UPDATE: Jeffrey at Iraqi Bloggers Central wonders what would have happened to Sarah Boxer if she were a blogger, not a reporter.

Mullah Watch

Callimachus doesn’t get enough attention. So today I’m going to give him some.

He has a thoroughly brilliant post up on his blog about Iran and nuclear weapons. I’m going to excerpt the first part because it’s fun.

Does anybody think any U.S. administration isn’t spying on Iranian nukes? Does anybody hope we’re not? And did anybody read Seymour Hersh’s recent article and say, “Gee, I had no idea the U.S. would have a contingency plan for taking out Iranian nuclear weapons. I never would have dreamed that the U.S. simply wouldn’t allow Iran to get all the radiation bombs it wants, and use them as it pleases. How awful!”

Well, if there is such a “somebody,” he probably lives in Europe.

Now go read the rest of it. Seriously. Go read it right now.

Spongebob Squarepants: Gay Tool!

I sometimes bristle at the haughty sneers in Red America’s direction from the coasts. I used to live in a red state — Iowa. It was still barely a blue state then, and it’s barely a red state now. Blowing it off as “Jesusland” not only denies the state’s complexity and diversity (yes, I am talking about Iowa here), it’s also a snot-nosed condescending attitude unbecoming of grown-ups.

Still. Some people on the more crimson end of the spectrum don’t do Red America’s image any favors. Look no further than the latest hysterical outburst by the brainless, bigoted blowhard James Dobson.

The Totalitarian Impulse

Apropos of yesterday’s screedy post about binary-thinking activists and the bovine mentality that enshrines a party-line, there’s this from “Annette” on the Feedback page for my most recent Tech Central Station article about Hotel Rwanda.

Ill bet mr totten is a down the line liberal. how do i know this? he never mentions the name of the president of the united states at the time. guess who? bill clinton.

I probably spend more time than necessary studying totalitarian regimes, but I can’t quite help myself. I find them morbidly fascinating, in part because it’s sometimes hard for me to believe such places really exist. Even while walking around inside Libya and seeing the real-world results of contemporary totalitarianism all around me, it was hard to imagine just how much raw totalizing power was behind it.

Anyway, when I read comments like Annette’s above the first thing that often comes to my mind is this: how would such a person behave if he or she were in a position of power inside Stalin’s Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler’s Germany, or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? It takes a special kind of person to pour over someone’s work looking for the most trivial details and omissions and using such meaningless data to jump to sweeping conclusions, usually followed by denunciations. It gives me the creeps, whether I’m the target or not. Who can adhere to such rigid party-line orthodoxy? A lot of people — millions of people — are dead because others who think this way have seized the levers of power. Thank God our political system prevents people like Annette from turning into anything more sinister than mere harmless cranks.

I do see this sort of behavior more on the left these days than the right. But it’s not a left-wing thing, not really. People on the right do it, too, and people on the right do it to me.

UPDATE: On a related note (well, related to yesterday’s post, which is sort of related to this one), please see the always-brilliant Norman Geras.

“We Can’t Get Bogged Down in Analysis”

Back in the day when I still thought of myself as a dissident liberal instead of a swing-voting Independent with rightish tendencies at the top of my list, I was surprised at how many of my old comrades on the left thought that because I favored regime-change in Iraq (something I supported long before I even knew George W. Bush existed) I was somehow, all of a sudden, a Republican. What the hell? I was genuinely baffled. Why couldn’t I just be a liberal hawk? I understood perfectly well that anti-war liberals thought the liberal hawk position was a noxious one. But I couldn’t understand why others couldn’t grasp that liberal hawks even existed. A liberal hawk is no more a “conservative” than a pro-choice Republican is a “liberal.”

“Conservative Democrat” and “Liberal Republican” are, perhaps, fair designations for party members who wander off the reservation. But no one ever thought to lob “conservative Democrat” in my direction instead of something along the lines of “Republican shill,” “Republican hack,” “fascist neocon,” or what have you. I might have accepted “conservative Democrat,” even though actual conservative Democrats like Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman make me cringe with their sanctimonious moralizing and bombast. I’ll take the liberal blue-state Republicanism of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani any day over the so-called liberalism of those two.

I finally figured out that the war in Iraq had nothing to do with anything, really. It was a lightning rod for something else. I should have known all along what it was. I had experienced it in the past.

Back in 2000 I watched the election results in Portland’s fanciest hotel, The Benson, where the president of the United States (whoever he happens to be at the time) stays when he rolls into town. I was there with my friend Sean LaFreniere. We were Democrats and this was where the Democratic Party had its election night headquarters. So we felt right at home, even though both Sean and I voted for Ralph Nader as a protest vote against the mind-bogglingly irritating Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. (Since then Gore turns me off even more, if such a thing is possible, and I’ve come to have some margin of respect for Joe Lieberman, who still generally raises my hackles for many of the usual reasons.)

Anyway, as the election results came in Sean made an utterly innocuous comment about Ralph Nader: “It looks like he’s doing pretty good in Madison (Wisconsin).” This was overheard by a woman sitting next to us who exploded with instant and frightening volcanic rage. Spittle flew. Her face became red. She actually raised her fists. She screamed. God, she must have screamed herself hoarse.

It was quite a scene, let me tell you. I thought for sure that others in the room would come to Sean’s and my defense. But I was still pretty naïve about politics then. We faced a hostile mob. These were well-dressed professionals in the swankiest hotel in the entire state of Oregon, trembling with rage and shouting “Fuck You,” “Get Out,” and threatening physical violence if we didn’t comply. A photographer from The Oregonian was there (and he was on the clock, too) and he came to our defense. I thought it was a bit brave and rather interventionist for a man who was supposed to be a neutral journalistic observer. But that’s how bad it was.

Sean and I were successfully driven out. We were both shaken, and neither of us have had any affection for the Democrats since. Both of us at that time would have described ourselves as farther to the left than 90 percent of Americans. Yet we agreed that the Democratic Party, at least its active core, reeked with a palpable Stalinism. We were “traitors,” “objectively pro-Bush” since our votes for the leftist candidate were actually “votes for” the right-wing. I’m still shocked five years later at how much we were hated by total strangers in a place where people were expected to behave at their absolute best.

I am aware that it was Sean and I who were dabbling in the fringe politics of the left, rather than the so-called liberal mob at the hotel. And so perhaps it was slightly silly for us to think of those people as reeking of Stalinism. Their opinions were in all liklihood far more moderate than ours. But that’s how it felt at the time. They didn’t act remotely like moderates. We were infinitely more tolerant of our own differences with them than the other way round. Otherwise we would not have joined them with what started out as good cheer. If Sean and I had expressed some sort of nasty communistic International ANSWER-like opinions in public, maybe I could have understood their fierce denunciations. But we weren’t lunatic crackpots or freaks. We were just unhappy liberals who didn’t think much of either Al or George W.

It didn’t make any difference that Sean and I said we were registered Democrats, that we agreed with the core principles of the Democratic Party, that our vote for Nader was a protest against a pathetic gasbag of a candidate rather than an endorsement of his opponent or anything “right-wing.” What we believed and cared about was irrelevant. Only our actions mattered. This makes sense on some level, since action and results really do matter more than thoughts and intentions. Still, these people could not accept us as a part of their group in good standing because we had behaved incorrectly and gave “aid and comfort” to “the enemy.”

The same sort of thing happened in the runup to the war in Iraq. My support for the war may have been made on liberal grounds, but it gave “aid and comfort” to the Republican Party. Hysterical denunciations commenced. (I wasn’t kind to anti-war lefties then, and to this day I still don’t go easy on those who can’t show a little integrity, unlike Matthew Yglesias, Todd Gitlin, and Matt Welch who do have some integrity. I accept that I was asking for it at least to an extent. If I send out bad vibes to a group of people, I shouldn’t expect hugs in return – and I don’t.)

Anyway, it finally clicked, what separated me from the left-wing herd for many years even before 911. So many of them are activists. I’m not — not in any way shape or form whatsoever. I’m a book-reader, an intellectual, and a writer. I’m interested in history and ideas. They are interested in activism and power. You can’t tell an activist that Al Gore is a blowhard and a phony, or that Saddam Hussein ran a filthy regime that had no right to exist. These ideas are important to intellectuals, yet they are obstacles to activists. These ideas, whether they’re true or not, help the Republican Party. Therefore, to an activist, anyone who points them out must want to help the Republican Party. Otherwise, why do it? They certainly wouldn’t. It flies in the face of their job description.

My friend and editor (at the LA Weekly) Marc Cooper is a leftist intellectual. He likewise isn’t an activist, at least in part because he has many years of bad experiences with them under his belt. He links to an essay in Lip Magazine by Doug Henwood, Lisa Featherstone, and Christian Parenti, also left intellectuals, who butt heads with the same (literally) mindless beast.

“WE CAN’T GET BOGGED DOWN IN ANALYSIS,” one activist told us at an antiwar rally in New York a while back, spitting out that last word like a hairball. He could have relaxed his vigilance. This event deftly avoided such bogs, loudly opposing the US bombing in Afghanistan without offering any credible ideas about it (we’re not counting the notion that the entire escapade was driven by Unocal and Lockheed Martin). But the moment called for doing something more than brandishing the exact same signs—Stop the Bombing and No War for Oil—that activists poked skyward during the first Gulf War. This latest war called for some thinking, and few were doing much of that.

So what is the ideology of the activist left (and by that we mean the global justice, peace, media democracy, community organizing, financial populist and green movements)? Is the activist left just an inchoate “post-ideological” mass of do-gooders, pragmatists and puppeteers? No. The young troublemakers of today do have an ideology and it is as deeply felt and intellectually totalizing as any of the great belief systems of yore. The cadres who populate those endless meetings, who bang the drum, who lead the “trainings” and paint the puppets, do indeed have a creed. They are activistists.

That’s right, activistists. This brave new ideology combines the political illiteracy of hypermediated American culture with all the moral zeal of a 19th-century temperance crusade. In this worldview, all roads lead to more activism and more activists. And the one who acts is righteous. The activistists seem to borrow their philosophy from the factory boss in a Heinrich Böll short story who greets his employees each morning with the exhortation “Let’s have some action.” To which the workers obediently reply: “Action will be taken!”…

How does activist anti-intellectualism manifest on the ground? One instance is the reduction of strategy to mere tactics, to horrible effect. Take for example the largely failed San Francisco protest against the National Association of Broadcasters, an action that ended up costing tens of thousands of dollars, gained almost no attention, had no impact on the NAB and nearly ruined one of the sponsoring organizations. During a postmortem discussion of this debacle one of the organizers reminded her audience that: “We had 3,000 people marching through [the shopping district] Union Square protesting the media. That’s amazing. It had never happened before.” Never mind the utter non-impact of this aimless march. The point was clear: We marched for ourselves. We were our own targets. Activism made us good.

Such people may not wish to get “bogged down in analysis.” But that only means they’ll get bogged down in something else, something worse: a reactionary anti-intellectual quagmire. If dissidents are democracy’s anti-toxins, deliberately brainless reactionaries are its toxins. They’re also thugs, and about as much fun to hang out with as fundamentalist religious fanatics and book-burners.

Marc Cooper writes in his own comments section in defense of yet another disgruntled leftist who posts there named Josh:

I personally find Josh’s postings to be quite authentic and heartfelt. Do they reflect a certain amount of resentment and disillusionment? Yes. So what? He’s entitled to feel that. It’s extremely difficult to maintain normal personal relationships with hyper-activsists— the atmosphere leaves little room for doubt or nuance. Perhaps someone should ask Josh what it was in his personal experience that generated so much hostiltity toward the Lefties he once worked with. And then after you ask, you might actually listen. Personally, I can’t think of anything worse than spending a Friday night in a dreary meeting with preachy self-righteous activists. About 20 years ago I ceased that practice. And then about 8 years ago I found it was TOO painful to even attend those meetings as the invited speaker (I would always regret having pissed away a perfectly good evening). And for the last 5 years I try to avoid those functions even as a reporter… I can only watch people twinkle with their fingers so many times before full nausea sets in.

I dunno..my wife is a Chilean Socialist and feels pretty much the same way about those sort of meetings. And my daughther, the infamous union organizer, was probably turned off for life by the BS she experienced as a member of small campus-based “Progressive Student Alliance” during the run-up to the Iraq War. Indeed, that’s one reason she went into the unions– to escape into the real world and flee from the sectarian grupuscle wanking off that dominates activist politics.

A healthy democracy really does need its dissidents. And dissidents need to be active. It’s not always enough to write books, articles, and blog posts.

Perhaps my endorsement of the invasion of Iraq really was a stupid idea. Believe me, I wonder sometimes. I’ve been wrong about foreign policy before, and I’m bound to be wrong again. I like and need to have smart people who think I’m wrong tell me where I’ve gone off the rails. That’s why I read the likes of Marc Cooper and Matthew Yglesias. An echo chamber is an invisible mind prison. I’ll pass on that, thanks. I wish more people felt the same way.

UPDATE: See also Bravo Romeo Delta at Anticipatory Retaliation: “I wish, I do wish, that the Democratic Party would expel this particular kidney stone – I prefer living in a two party system. Not a system of one party and one rabble of the outraged.”

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