The Return Of The Anti-Antiwar Left

| Resist!

In her recently published memoir, Circle in the Darkness, the author and journalist Diana Johnstone recalls that only “a few decades ago, “the Left” was considered the center of opposition to imperialism, and champion of the right of peoples to self-determination.”

Johnstone is part of a distinguished line of American expatriate writers, who, perhaps because of an objectivity conferred by distance, saw their country more clearly than many of their stateside contemporaries. Members of the club include William Pfaff who for many years wrote from Paris and the longtime Asia correspondent Patrick Lawrence. The Paris based Johnstone brings a moral clarity to matters of war and peace that is, alas, too often absent from most contemporary foreign affairs writing. Its near-total absence on the Left during the Trump years should be cause for reflection, and concern.

As Johnstone recounts after the Cold War liberals became bewitched by the prospect of waging wars for humanitarian ends. A generation of journalists and foreign policy experts including Samantha Power, Christiane Amanpour, Jamie Rubin, and Christopher Hitchens, would make the Balkans a proving ground for their liberal theories of preventative war, in the process throwing the ancient and venerable tradition of St. Augustine’s Just War theory on the trash heap and paving the way for what was to follow in the coming decades, including Iraq II, Libya, Syria, and a global drone war and a “targeted” assassination program.

At the time, Johnstone was one of the few who saw through the ruse, but, as she recalled, she couldn’t get her articles published in the liberal press. According to Johnstone, Hitchens and Company saw to that. The wisdom of bombing Serbian civilians for 78 days in order to carve out a Muslim enclave in the middle of Europe (which in short order would be overrun by the Saudis, Albanian organized crime and human organ traffickers) was rarely questioned.

Indeed, among the bien-pensants, it was impermissible.

Today, skepticism of the mainstream narrative regarding both Russia and the war in Syria is likewise deemed out of bounds by the Left. It is fair to say that a 3-year non-scandal, Russiagate, ignited a cold war fever among liberals and self-styled progressives. Indeed, liberals who once took principled stands against the Iraq war, such as Tom Dispatch and Nation regular Bob Dreyfuss, transmogrified, after Trump’s election, into frothing-at-the-mouth conspiracy theorists.

By my count, during the course of the three-year Russiagate ordeal, Dreyfuss wrote at least 30 articles promoting the most ludicrous of the Russiagate conspiracies, among them that Russia was “hiding in your Facebook,” and that, variously, Paul Manafort, Felix Slater and/or General Michael Flynn would, somehow, bring down Trump. That Dreyfuss would prove so credulous in the face of what was so clearly an absurd distraction is perhaps not surprising given his past ties to Lyndon Larouche.

Others, even less discerning than Dreyfuss, but far, far hungrier for attention, have claimed that skeptics of the now-discredited collusion conspiracy theory were themselves guilty of indulging in, you guessed it, conspiracy theories of their own.

And so, if in the writings of Dreyfuss, The New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg, Mother Jones’ David Corn, The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer, New York magazine’s resident dolt Jonathan Chait, and many more besides, we can see the emergence of the anti-anti-Cold War Left, there has also reemerged alongside it the very vocal and ravenously unscrupulous anti-antiwar Left. And it is on the issue of the Syrian war on which the anti-antiwar Left has coalesced, inexplicably arguing for the wholesale takeover of a secular police state by the very same Islamist radicals who, if given the chance, would turn around and immediately kill them on the grounds of apostasy.

In Syria, the protests that began in 2011 were quickly overtaken by armed jihadists whose motto was “Christians to Beirut, Alawis to the grave.” Before he was murdered by Syrian rebels, the Jesuit missionary Father Frans vans der Lugt observed that “From the start the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”

But many prominent voices in mainstream liberal media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and VICE turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the Islamist opposition in their hunger for a US-led regime-change operation against Bashar al-Assad. And the war fever extended from the mainstream to the progressive Left.

On the pages and website of the New York Review of Books one searches for genuine antiwar voices in vain. Instead what you most likely will come across are screeds such as the one issued by Janine di Giovanni. In her rage for another US-led war in the Middle East, di Giovanni channelled the ghost of Joseph McCarthy and baselessly accused the antiwar journalist Max Blumenthal of, you guessed it, being in league with (who else?) the Russian government.

And then there is The Intercept, funded by a shadowy billionaire with ties to the US Agency for International Development, Pierre Omyidar. Under the editorship of former Nation managing editor Betsy Reed, The Intercept has given space to some of the most strident anti-antiwar voices including those of James Risen, Robert McKay and the British-born Mehdi Hasan. Hasan’s enthusiasm for a jihadi victory over the socialist, multi-confessional Syrian state is perhaps not surprising given his past views in which he compared non-believers to “animals.”

In an April 2018 column for The Intercept, Hasan penned a hysterical open letter to those he deemed “al-Assad apologists” for the crime of expressing skepticism regarding the latest round of accusations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime. “To those of you on the anti-war far left who have a soft spot for the dictator in Damascus: Have you lost your minds? Or have you no shame?,” cried Hasan. What followed was a lengthy iteration of Assad’s crimes and then, oddly, reassurances from Hasan that he too stands against no fly zones, arming the rebels and regime change wars.

So what, we might be forgiven to ask, was the point? It was simply a tedious exercise in moral preening. A speciality of the anti-antiwar Left.

Hasan’s, example is instructive because, in his obvious opportunism and sly fanaticism, he exemplifies everything that a writer like Diana Johnstone is not and, by extension, much that is seriously wrong with the anti-antiwar Left.

Worryingly, the anti-antiwar Left is not going away. Indeed, it has some powerful allies-in-waiting should Joseph R. Biden win in November. In a recent interview with CBS, Biden protege and former deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken bemoaned the fact that the Obama administration’s regime change efforts in Syria didn’t go nearly far enough.

Indeed, Biden’s foreign policy team is stacked from one end to the other with regime change and new cold war enthusiasts who, alas, will find plenty of support from the growing ranks of the anti-antiwar Left. Those who find this development more than mildly depressing might do worse than to take refuge in the work of genuine antiwar voices such as Diana Johnstone’s.

James W. Carden writes about foreign affairs from Washington, DC. His work has appeared in The American Conservative, American Affairs, The National Interest, and The Nation where he is a contributing writer.

  • NoNameSoSueMe

    It’s going to be an interesting “election,” with both sides piling up more and more reasons not to vote for either one. Not like I’ve voted for any candidate from either major party for decades now. But for anybody in the terrible habit of voting for Dems or Rethugs, please consider voting for some third party.

  • eight.of.wands

    i still say Trump’s natural inclinations are far less hardwired for militarism than Biden’s, given the reprehensible full frontal embrace of regime-change imperialism by the current (non)Democratic Party under Clinton and Obama chokeholds….sure, the so-called best and brightest among us are ALL prognosticating a breezy victory in November for decrepit Uncle Joe….who am i to disagree, when all of them confidently prebooked $1500/nght hotel rooms for Hillary’s inauguration, because absolutely no one (if you don’t count me) figured she’d crash n burn…
    the incumbent President, tween now and Nov, can easily and unforeseeably grant a variety of economic relief measures to assist millions of working/voting Americans who’ve been financially devastated by this pandemic…..his numbers skyrocket, Biden stumbles home to kick the trash can, and January hotel rooms in Washington DC go from prebooked to rebooked overnight!

  • SupernaturalCat

    Are these types actually “anti-anti-war Left,” or are they typically propagandized, rightward leaning peoples whose conditioned views skew rightward due to the bent of ALL mainstream media aka average Americans?

    “Anti-anti-war Left” seems like a lot of semantical gymnastics used to avoid the ugly truth: all of the agenda-setting, mainline corporate/state media in the US are quite hostile towards left-wingers, are pro-corporate power and by extension, pro-war. Independent media are the only sources where you will find objective critique of the fact that America’s true enemies are internal, not external …and yet even for many of those there remain several BIG topics re corp/state criminal collusion and conspiracy that they refuse to address.

  • floyd gardner

    The corporate, security state media is hysterically anti-Trump, not because he is a giant fecal excretion, but because he has [at least so far] refused to start any new wars, and even cut back on Obama/Biden/Clinton wars.

  • Nylene13

    Is that $1.500 a night or $1500.00 a night hotel rooms?

    Just wondering. Not that it makes any difference to THEM.

  • Nylene13

    Except they probably divide up most of the 3rd Party votes between the R’s and D’s when the counting starts.

    Does anyone seriously think Bernie LOST all those states after winning Nevada???

  • eight.of.wands

    but that implies fraud….this is America!….we set an example for the entire WORLD!
    ….granted, a catastrophically horrible example, but still…

  • mwildfire

    He enthusiastically does plenty of bombing and drone strikes and sanctions. I don’t think his occasional antiwar utterances are the big problem. I think they hate the frequency with which he utters the quiet part out loud, what an oaf he is…and I also think they don’t hate him nearly as much as they pretend to.

  • mwildfire

    Like what? Well I can think of one–the likelihood that the Republicans won many elections–and probably, centrist Dems in primaries–through simple rigging of the vote count. There is plenty of evidence for this, yet even alternative media won’t whisper about it. Other than that, it seems to me they touch plenty of tender topics.
    But I also object to this article talking about these warmongers as “the Left” just because they’re Democrats or liberals. Liberals were once kind of left, but not anymore. Some Democrats are left, some are centrist, and those who get the kind of platforms discussed in this piece are all centrists. Calling them centrist is like calling the ecomodernists environmentalists (they use real or fake green credentials from the past to justify pushing anti-green agenda).

  • Bill Rood

    I could not vote for Trump in 2016 because of three red lines he crossed, 1) that war is OK if you “take their oil,” 2) that torture was OK with him and that 3) the families of terrorists should be punished for the terrorist’s crimes. In the past 3-1/2 years, he has never recanted those positions and has in fact 1) stolen Syrian oil, 2) appointed Gina Haspell and 3) approved an illegal SpOps raid that killed 8 year old Nora al-Awlaki. I’m pretty sure I won’t be voting for him in 2020. He’d have to take some pretty fantastic or bigly pro-peace actions.

    That said, the Democrats frighten me even more than Trump. Their concerted effort since late November of 2016 to undermine the US Constitution with the railroading of Flynn and the fake Russiagate investigation followed by the non-impeaching impeachment process was bad, but their concerted (if not coordinated or conspiratorial) actions during 2020 in implementing the lockdown script, including the murder of thousands of care home residents, followed by obviously well funded and organized violence co-opting peaceful public indignation over George Floyd’s death, have us on a steep road into the depths of totalitarianism.

  • Bill Rood

    Depends whether you sit in the UK or US, divided by a common language.

  • Bill Rood

    there remain several BIG topics re corp/state criminal collusion and conspiracy that they to address.

    Like the utter corruption of every public health bureaucracy within HHH, as though scientists and doctors are incapable of lying when there’s a financial reward for doing so, just like Samantha Power, Susan Rice et al.

  • SupernaturalCat

    One key issue that been avoided – or only touched upon briefly – by most sources for nearly twenty yrs running is the actual status of the US constitution and state operating under “emergency” circumstances i.e. war powers …within the “post 911 world,” and to what extent this is occurring, and what this means exactly in terms of dictatorial actions targeting US citizens from ’01 to present. As this began under Bush/Cheney, it was easy for the average person to falsely assume it was an issue that was only pertinent to that admin, when the fact is, C.O.G. (continuity of govt, and source of the Patriot Act) after being enacted on Sept 14th 2001 (as cited twice by the 911 Commission) had subsequently been re-signed into effect every yr since (or at least up to 2012?) via presidential authority within NDAA legislation. As the details of the matter is encrypted with “state secrets” it’s been impossible for even our various representatives to get info about …this is based on the research of Peter Dale Scott who’d been working with a handful of congressmen and attempting to appeal to Obama to shed light on the matter …but then he signed the notorious NDAA that yr containing the provisions to categorize US citizens as being game for indefinite detention …this subsequently triggered the lawsuit filed by Chomsky, Hedges, Ellsberg, et al.

    So, if the US has indeed been operating under war powers for the last twenty yrs, that certainly should strike everyone as more than a tad peculiar, and speaks to long-range war planning.

  • Nylene13

    Fraud? Look what they are doing to Assange.

  • John Kelly

    Is this author so ignorant that he thinks feckin’ liberals are of the left? Yes, he is. Hard to believe anyone outside of FOX viewers would believe such idiocy, but here we are. “Anti-antiwar left’ is an oxymoron.

  • floyd gardner

    With the multi-billions the rich and ultra rich have gained from this administration, Trump has served his betters well. Butt, like tp, he can be used only once, then flushed away.

  • chetdude

    Indeed, it’s too bad that there wasn’t a candidate for pResident this year who might have been persuaded to end the Forever Wars and take action against neoliberal economic policies…

    Oh, wait…there were two of them but the establishment/corporate-dem machine and corporate media took care of them.

  • mwildfire

    I see no reason he can’t be used more than once.


    Sure, the left has many faults. Many are people posing as leftists in order to bring them down. I think it is a mistake to criticize the left without focusing on the ruling class and how they knowingly and deliberately sabotage left movements and thinking. Samantha Powers on the left ?????are you f kidding me?

  • I concur. There is no such thing as the anti-anti-war left. Any more than there is such a thing as the anti-anti-racism left.

    I won’t even give them the term liberal. The actors whom the author of this piece points to are not liberals or of the Left–though they may be in the Democratic Party, which is the conservative arm of the Republicratic Party–at all, but rather deeply recidivist, conservative Right-wingers.