MIA: History: ETOL: Newspapers & Periodicals: International Socialist Review: Issue 7

International Socialist Review, Spring 1999

Notes of the Quarter

The Liberals’ war: How Liberals
Learned to Love the Bombers

From International Socialist Review, Issue 7, Spring 1999.
Downloaded with thanks as a PDF from the ISR Archive.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

Once upon a time, Bill Clinton protested against the U.S. war in Vietnam. Then, he resisted the draft, but worried about how his decision would affect his future “political viability.” He’s still worrying about his political viability, except now he’s Commander in Chief of the U.S. military.

When the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens ousted Germany’s conservatives last November, the business press fretted about Green Joschka Fischer’s appointment as foreign minister. How could Germany trust its foreign policy to a man who once campaigned for unilateral disarmament and the dissolution of NATO? Now Fischer is sending the Luftwaffe on its first bombing missions in Europe since Hitler ruled Germany.

Javier Solana, the Spanish front man for NATO, spent the early 1980s as a minister in Spain’s Socialist Party government. Then he opposed his country’s entry into NATO. British Foreign Minister Robin Cook used to endorse the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s calls for unilateral disarmament.

Down the line, the people leading the war in Kosovo represent the liberal or social democratic parties of their countries. The traditional right-wing “warmongers” like Bush, Reagan, Thatcher and Kohl are in retirement – with Clinton, Britain’s Tony Blair, Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder and France’s Lionel Jospin filling their shoes. The war in Kosovo is the liberals’ war to win or lose.

For them, leading NATO’s war represents their final step from the left side of the political spectrum to the “center” of capitalist politics. They have built their careers on playing to the aspirations of ordinary people, while working hard to convince big business that they are respectable custodians of the status quo. Blair and Clinton have shown business that they’re willing to cut social welfare programs. Now all of the liberal warmakers are trying to show the military establishment that they can win a major war.

If they succeed in Kosovo, they will have helped imperialism to rehabilitate itself after the Vietnam debacle discredited it. For years, the U.S. has tried to regain its ability to intervene at will around the world. Invasions of Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Haiti and Somalia aimed to overcome the public’s unwillingness to dispatch U.S. troops abroad. If Clinton and his allies can win public support for a major invasion and occupation of Kosovo, they will have buried the “Vietnam Syndrome.”

In times like these, the liberal wing of imperialism earns it stripes from the ruling class. No member of the international fan club for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet – like Margaret Thatcher or Henry Kissinger – could generate support for the war on grounds of humanitarian concern for the rights of oppressed people. But Clinton, Blair and Schroeder, who act as if they “feel the pain” of Kosovar refugees, get the benefit of the doubt when they contend that this is a just war.

Even worse are the political hangers-on who periodically criticize the government and march in demonstrations to maintain their “street cred” with activists. Appearing on MSNBC’s “Equal Time,” Jesse Jackson solemnly intoned that Martin Luther King would have supported NATO action to save Kosovars. German Green politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the leader of the May 1968 student movement in France, called for a “humanitarian” ground invasion of Kosovo. “Danny the Red” (as he was known in 1968) has given new meaning to the slogan of 1968’s French radicals: “Be ’realistic,’ demand the impossible.”

If this was simply a case of politicians promoting their careers, it would hardly merit comment. But when liberal or activist figures line up behind a war, it sows confusion and doubt among large numbers who would otherwise oppose the war. The April 26 Nation magazine ran two major articles on the war – Bogdan Denitch’s and Ian Williams’ brief for the war and Kai Bird’s essay opposing the war. The Nation commented that “American progressives are of many minds on where to go from here.” No wonder.

Amid the pro-war chorus, there are some opposition voices that stand out. Noam Chomsky and Edward Said, for example, have posted statements condemning the bombing on Z-Magazine’s anti-war website. Anti-war activists can use these voices to help build anti-war sentiment – through teach-ins and speakouts on campuses and towns across the country.

As the Kosovo quagmire deepens, the liberal warmongers will face trouble from two sources. First, hopes for a quick and decisive victory over Serbia could be dashed. Those who want to lead the Democratic Party back to its “glory days” as the party of the First and Second World Wars may find instead that they’ve led the U.S. into another Vietnam.

Second, the longer the war lasts – and especially if ground troops are introduced – the liberals won’t be able to hold the initial support for the war they’ve managed to build. Like the liberals who led the Vietnam War, today’s mad bombers will find it increasingly difficult to convince ordinary people why they should sacrifice their lives in Kosovo. And a new left which emerges from an anti-war movement will relearn the lesson its 1960s predecessors learned – a genuine left opposes imperialist wars, while the liberals carry them out.

Top of page

ISR (ISO) Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 30 August 2021