Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 11, 2008

Obama wins over the ‘decent left’

Filed under: cruise missile left,imperialism/globalization,Obama — louisproyect @ 4:22 pm

When candidate Obama selected Samantha Power to be his foreign policy adviser, this was a clear signal that he endorsed the idea of liberal imperialist intervention that she embodied. In contrast to Bush’s “failed” interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Power stood for a more adroit application of imperial power. Like Obama, she thought that the invasion of Iraq was ill-advised but did little to offer resistance to it. Indeed, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy that she has long been associated with has collaborated with the Pentagon in figuring out how to deploy anthropologists and other academic experts into the battlefield in order to deal with restive native populations.

Among the first proponents of liberal imperialist intervention, best known as the ‘decent left’ in Great Britain, to get on the Obama bandwagon was Marc Cooper, an enemy of the Latin American revolution who has cheered on outfits like the National Endowment for Democracy bent on subverting genuine democracy in Venezuela and elsewhere.

(UPDATE: Just to avoid any confusion, I have replaced the words “labored mightily on behalf of” with “cheered on” in the sentence above. I have never accused Cooper of working for the NED, the CIA or any other such agency of the US government. I have only claimed that he shares their desire for regime change in Venezuela and Cuba.)

The British “decent left” has also shifted its allegiance from the Republican Party to Obama’s muscular liberalism. His more obnoxious supporters can be found at “Harry’s Place”, a blog infected with hatred for political Islam and the radical left. One of them, a Likudist who signs his posts David T., recently chided Alice Walker in an entry titled Nutters: “We’re Already Disappointed by Obama” for her temerity in stating:

Each time Mr Obama has said “we will kill” Osama bin Laden I have felt a testing of my confidence in his moral leadership. And I support him, and demonstrated that support, to the very limits of my finances and my strength. Could it be that, like millions of children around the globe, who are taught “Thou shalt not kill”, I am reacting with disappointment and shock to someone blatantly declaring their intention to kill a specific person?

One can understand why David T. would be upset by Alice Walker given his complaint on October 30th: “I’m sorry, but I have now completely lost faith in this Government’s ability to counter the Islamism in the United Kingdom.”

One of the earliest “Marxist” supporters of the invasion of Iraq was Norm Geras, who helped write the Euston Manifesto. He too is smitten with Obama and has also rebuffed Alice Walker in a November 6th entry. It appears that the “decent left” and the Republican right are both wedded to the methodology of “talking points”. Time after time, I have seen some salvo directed against Hugo Chavez repeated by Cooper, Geras, Harry’s Place and the like. Apparently, a dispatch from the Israeli press helped wean Geras away from Dubya into the “change” camp:

Here you can listen to some former generals of the IDF and Mossad officials getting behind Obama for the presidency. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, the video – made by the Jewish Council for Education and Research – is misleading, with some of those concerned now saying that their words have been taken out of context. But with the exception of the contribution of Uzi Dayan, quoted to that effect by the JP, it’s hard to see the context that would make what these men say anything but a warm endorsement of Obama’s candidacy.

Probably the highest-profile endorsement from the pro-war, pro-intervention “left” came from Christopher Hitchens. On October 13th, Hitchens advised his Slate readership to vote for Obama, stating:

I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that “issue” I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity. Obama is greatly overrated in my opinion, but the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience.

Perhaps the best way to understand Hitchens’s conversion is just as another sign of neoconservative disaffection from the McCain-Palin ticket. From that perspective, he might be grouped with David Brooks, Christopher Buckley and other Republican Party apostates who shared his view that Sarah Palin is “a deceiving and unscrupulous woman utterly unversed in any of the needful political discourses but easily trained to utter preposterous lies and to appeal to the basest element of her audience.” Given Hitchens’s performance over the past 7 years, this only confirms once again that it takes a thief to catch a thief.

But there is probably no better example of the politics behind all this than George Packer’s long article in the current New Yorker magazine titled “The New Liberalism“.  Like some other supporters of the war in Iraq, Packer has had a change of heart no doubt inspired by the failure of the intervention to produce the desired results.

Packer frames his discussion in terms of two different perceptions of what an Obama administration might hold in store. The first comes from Cass Sunstein, the Harvard law professor and author who was Obama’s long-time colleague at the University of Chicago Law School. Looking into the Obama ink-blot, Sunstein sees a “visionary minimalist”:

Sunstein’s Obama is the post-partisan one. He calls Obama a “visionary minimalist,” meaning someone who wants to pursue large goals in a way that offends the deepest values of as few people as possible. Governing in this way would make him distinctly un-Rooseveltian. F.D.R. entered office with broad good will and a platform that offered almost all things to all people, but by the time he ran for reelection in 1936 his Presidency had become aggressively partisan: he attacked “economic royalists” and said of them, “They are unanimous in their hate for me-and I welcome their hatred.” In 2007, Paul Krugman, the Times columnist who recently won the Nobel Prize in Economics, commended these remarks to Obama, advising him to sharpen his ideological edge, and warning that his search for common ground with Republicans would be his undoing. But Sunstein said of Obama, “I think he believes-and this is his big split from Krugman-that if you take on board people’s deepest commitments, or bracket them, show respect for them, then you make possible larger steps than would otherwise be imagined.” It would not be Obama’s way to trumpet the arrival of a new era of liberalism-a word, Sunstein said, that is too laden with baggage, and too much of a fighting word, for Obama’s taste.

Sunstein had a debate with Robert Kuttner at Harvard University in September. Probably more than any other Democrat, Kuttner is associated with the idea that Obama should carry out a new New Deal. Packer reports:

“Sunstein’s minimalism is exactly what’s not called for,” Kuttner told me, and he later added, “We’re on the verge of Great Depression Two. All bets are off. The people who talk about post-liberal, post-ideological, they have been completely overtaken by events. It’s the same abuses, the same scenario, that led to the crash of ’29. It’s the same dynamics of the financial economy dragging down the real economy-these are enduring lessons. Everybody who was talking about being in a kind of post-liberal world, they’re the ones who don’t have much purchase on what’s going on. The question is whether Obama will come to this.” The answer will depend in part on the advisers he chooses. In Kuttner’s mind, the deficit hawks and deregulators of the Clinton Administration-Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers-have been discredited by the financial crisis, and he thinks that it would be a big mistake for Obama to give them powerful roles in his Administration. (Summers is considered a likely candidate for Treasury Secretary, and his top economic advisers are connected with the Hamilton Project, a center-left affiliate of the Brookings Institution.) But, beyond macroeconomics, Kuttner, who plans to hold a conference in Washington called “Thinking Big,” shortly before Obama’s Inauguration, thinks that the Democrats have a clear political agenda: “the reclamation of an ideology.”

Oddly enough, Packer has little to say about the foreign policy imperatives that Obama is expected to obey. The words Iraq and Afghanistan are not mentioned once. Given his tarnished reputation about such matters, one supposes that the less said the better.

Leaving aside Obama’s “change” mantra, the foreign policy of the new administration will most certainly hew closely to that of the Clinton administration. If you keep in mind that much of the “decent left” emerged out of the pro-war fervor during the Clinton years among Western journalists and intellectuals who convinced themselves that Milosevic was the new Adolph Hitler, it is not that surprising that the same people are coming home like the Prodigal Son. After all, in the final analysis, it has been the blood-drenched Wilsonian idealism of the WWI era that has united hawk and dove alike in its determination to police the world in the interests of multinational corporations under the banner of human rights.


  1. I’m equally concerned that Obama’s administration will be characterized by a Clintonian willingness to use cruise missle diplomacy, and on that we’ll have to wait and see. I don’t like the “if we see him, we’ll kill ’em” lines he used on the campaign trail. But I’m not convinced that Samantha Power is herself representative of the Hitchens decent left type; if he appointed *him* to her policy team, I’d be worried, but being endorsed by him doesn’t imply endorsing his views.

    For example, in an Atlantic article( http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200109/power-genocide) , Samantha Power wrote this about the Rwanda genocide:

    “In reality the United States did much more than fail to send troops. It led a successful effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers who were already in Rwanda. It aggressively worked to block the subsequent authorization of UN reinforcements. It refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide. And even as, on average, 8,000 Rwandans were being butchered each day, U.S. officials shunned the term “genocide,” for fear of being obliged to act. The United States in fact did virtually nothing “to try to limit what occurred.” Indeed, staying out of Rwanda was an explicit U.S. policy objective.”

    I don’t bring this up just to note that she was critical of Clinton foreign policy years before she started working with Obama — since that may not signify much — but just to note that her polemic for intervention in Rwanda starts by looking at all the ways “soft” power gets used and misused. And while you point out (rightly, I think) the ways “blood-drenched Wilsonianism” unites hawks and doves, the concrete successor to Wilson’s League of Nations is the UN, a body which sharply divides hawks and doves. I think these nuances are worth addressing; I don’t expect Obama to be anything like what I’d like him to be on foreign policy matters, but it’s not hard to imagine he’d be a significant improvement on Clinton, if only because the work of his administration will be to clean up the messes of his predecessor (whereas Clinton looked for targets of opportunity because he seemed to want to live up to his predecessor’s example). But we’ll see.

    Comment by zunguzungu — November 11, 2008 @ 5:53 pm

  2. While nothing about Marc Cooper would surprise, have you got some specific documentation to back up your assertion that:

    “Marc Cooper, an enemy of the Latin American revolution who has labored mightily on behalf of outfits like the National Endowment for Democracy”?


    Comment by Walter Lippmann — November 11, 2008 @ 6:02 pm

  3. The biggest irony is that almost all of the anti-war liberal left is united behind Obama alongside of the pro-war “left” you so eloquently described in your article. Gee, I wonder who will get the ear of Obama.

    Reminds me of when the ADA liberals and the Norman Thomas-Michael Harrington-Max Schactman “socialists” found themselves trying to “realign” the Democratic party in the late fifties and early sixties…the same thing that their arch-enemies, the Stalinist CP, had been doing in Pop Front days. And what Carl Davidson, Tom Hayden and Co. have been doing ever since.

    Comment by MN Roy — November 11, 2008 @ 11:06 pm

  4. “the anti-war liberal left”

    How long before they show up from the other Obama posts with their robotic mantra that this time the lesser evil candidate really, really, really means to effect meaningful change and no wonder you marxists are unpopular because you can’t see this.

    Comment by belgish — November 12, 2008 @ 12:42 am

  5. Not long at all. Indeed, they’ve been there from the get go. As for not being able to see the meaningful change that the Democrats mean to effect, we hardly need a crystal ball to figure out what an Obama administration will do. Just look at what Clinton and Gore actually did when they were in office or what the Democrats in Congress, including Obama, did during the Bush years. They all supported Bush’s wars from the get-go, they all gave him a blank check to wage them and they all helped him shred the Bill of Rights to make sure that no-one got of line opposing them. Everything that Bush did, Clinton began just like everything that Reagan did was started by Carter. Indeed, the Cold War and the domestic witch hunt that accompanied it began under Truman. And while Obama long ago made clear his intentions to be the new hope for the empire, the lesser-evil liberal left remains in thrall. As a bunch of sixties burn-outs who’ve joined forces with what-ever’s left of the 1930s Pop-Front CP, they embody the worst aspects of both…lesser evilism, identity politics and single-issueism. They all have found a home in the Democratic party, the Roach Motel of the left, where radicals go in and “progressives” come out. It’s no surprise, then, that the last really radical movement of our generation, the “global justice movement” that came out of the Battle of Seattle, had nothing to do with them, as it challenged the capitalist system as a whole, including the Democratic party which was at the forefront of “globalization.” We need to build something like that again against the war, the recession and the system that created both, only with a political party and program that knows what to replace capitalism with and how to do so. Only to do so, we need to politically settle scores with the “progressive” milleau, its intellectual apologists, movement bureaucrats and coalition king-pins, once and for all, since, like they used to say in the 60s, “they’re not part of the solution, they’re part of the problem.”

    Comment by MN Roy — November 12, 2008 @ 2:36 am

  6. I think it’s more accurate to say that he alienated, split off or otherwise kept the wacko left in their cul-de-sacs.

    Comment by Carl Davidson — November 12, 2008 @ 2:44 am

  7. Interesting post and blog. Relevantly, many prominent experts and publications have pointed out that Obama is part of Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and GenXers.
    This link takes you to a page you may find interesting: it has, among other things, excerpts from publications like Newsweek and the New York Times, and videos with over 25 top pundits, all talking specifically about Obama’s identity as a GenJoneser:

    Comment by CulturalTrendsWatcher — November 12, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

  8. […] some of the predictable bile from a so-called “unrepentant Marxist.”  He’s very upset that Barack Obama has been elected and […]

    Pingback by Marc Cooper » Blog Archive » Attack of the Cretins — November 12, 2008 @ 6:27 pm

  9. See if you modify this article slightly to call Obama an “Uncle Tom”, because Harry’s Place has a thread collecting usages and you’ll get even more hits from there with a bit of luck.

    Comment by HP Sauce — November 12, 2008 @ 7:32 pm

  10. I have about as much interest in getting hits from Harry’s Place as I do in bedbugs.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 12, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

  11. Louis,

    This is daft. This wholly apriori approach to the Obama presidency prevents a proper intervention. Criticism without alternative programme or action plan is destructive. If you are offering an alternative programme it is seriously hidden. You need to find a way to connect and this ain’t it. You are pissing off the people you should be trying to reach.

    Comment by David Ellis — November 13, 2008 @ 8:45 pm

  12. Actually, the tide is starting to turn against Obama as we speak–a full 2 months before his inauguration. This afternoon I heard Ron Kuby, an Air America radio host, complaining about Obama’s refusal to make a statement about the growing bailout debacle. And there has been nobody more of an Obama groupie than Kuby.

    In terms of an “alternative program”, I voted for Nader. I support what he supported even if it got less than a million votes. As an unrepentant Marxist, I have no problem being in the minority.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 13, 2008 @ 8:51 pm

  13. That is sect talk. As a marxist I have a hell of a problem being in the minority.

    Comment by David Ellis — November 13, 2008 @ 9:45 pm

  14. Sect talk? Not really. It is more like this:

    Mr. Emerson visited Thoreau at the jail, and the meeting between the two philosophers must have been interesting and somewhat dramatic. The account of the meeting was told me by Miss Maria Thoreau [Henry Thoreaus aunt]Henry, why are you here? Waldo, why are you not here?

    Comment by louisproyect — November 13, 2008 @ 9:51 pm

  15. If the tide is turning on what basis is it turning? If it is turning on the basis of cynicism then that is no help, if it is turning on programme well that would be something. But where is the programme? Nader must have just about pissed everybody off by now apart from the anarchists.

    Comment by David Ellis — November 13, 2008 @ 10:07 pm

  16. Mr. louisproyect

    No offense but I read with an open mind and you sir are a pip!

    No reason to be unreasonable. You piece is worthless.

    Thanks for the effort!


    Comment by capt — November 13, 2008 @ 11:51 pm

  17. I read Kuby’s expressed dismay as an effort to set the boundaries of acceptable criticism. It complements the ankle nipping of the Democratic netizens, who take rejection and disgust with their program as signs of mental illness. The middle ground they leave is tepid dissatisfaction and worried, but committed, obedience. That’s usually enough to lose the elections for them. Unless the Republicans manage to thoroughly screw the pooch.

    Comment by Arkady — November 14, 2008 @ 12:42 am

  18. Thanks Louis for this and other essential items on Obama, I suspect liberal imperialism rather than the more hamfisted variety from Bush…hope to be proved wrong by Obama.

    Comment by Derek Wall — November 15, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

  19. Amusingly, the founder of Harry’s Place is a former hard-line British Stalinist, who now works as a journalist in the USA.


    Comment by resistor — November 15, 2008 @ 9:53 pm

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