Friday, June 26, 2009

Andrew Sullivan, Isolationist

Andrew Sullivan quotes a reader, and agrees:

A reader writes:
I just glanced at the clock and realized it's 5pm and I've done almost nothing related to my job today -- I've been clicking through link after link, reading and watching all I can from the reports trickling out of Iran. I am so overwhelmed with emotion I can't find the words to properly describe it. My heart reels for these people -- at the same time, I am almost dumbfounded by their courage and bravery and ideals. It's an incredible thing to watch history unfold in real time. I feel confident that one day my children will see these photos and read these accounts in their history books, and I take some solace in the fact that history is on the side of these protesters. But as the day winds down, I find that the emotion I feel most vividly is frustration.
I can't stop thinking about my visit to a concentration camp in Germany a few summers ago and the raw emotion I felt walking slowly down the hall in to the gas chambers. I have some German-Jewish heritage so the moment was especially poignant for me, but you didn't have to be a Jew to appreciate the significance of the surroundings. I remember asking myself over and over again how the world let something like this happen - how good people could stand by and watch as people were slaughtered. I know the comparison isn't fair -- and I know that it's oversimplifying the situation to say that good people are standing by doing nothing. Still, besides turning my twitter avatar green and donating money to (god, those sound even sillier writing them out) I don't know what I can do. I know the answer is nothing. It just doesn't seem like enough.

I understand the feeling. My own sense of helplessness is abated by blogging manically. It's all I know to do. But watching a boot come down on a human face in real time is ... well more than frustrating. But this is the fallen world we inhabit in which power always trumps freedom if it is ruthless enough in the short term. What we look for is the long term, the arc of history, and the rightness of the cause. Our job cannot be to end tyranny or evil, for that is impossible and the attempt can be counter-productive. But we can expose it, explain it, witness it and through the march of time chip way at it.

So that's what it has come to. The American Left, traumatized by the Bush years, has receded to the cynical and egotistical isolationism of the American Right in the 1930s. Yes, there's lots of evil out there, but no, there's nothing efective we can do about it, so we'll live our fine lives over here and pity the poor folks over there.

I'm not saying one should always set out to slay whatever dragons can be seen on the horizon. Yet it seems to me the story of American policy between 1939 and 2004 was an attempt to find the right balance between effectively promoting freedom and destructively not suceeding. No longer, if it depends on the people in Andrew's camp. They'll have compassion, yes, and green tweets, but don't expect much more from them.


Shalom, Cherry Hill said...

"... if it depends on the people in Andrew's camp. They'll have compassion, yes, and green tweets, but don't expect much more from them."

I never did. They're the people who were horrified when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an 'evil empire'.

Anonymous said...

"my" media this morning had all switched to the death of Michael Jackson -
I am too old for Jackson but if it had been Elvis or Mozart I hope I still would have been more interested in Iran than in their possible drug abuse.
But obviously the MSM have to sell and unless you have a young woman dying on camera Michael Jackson sells better.
sorry I feel pretty disgusted right now

aaron said...

Right. But yet, what the hell CAN we do?

A. Jay Adler said...

Yaacov, Andrew Sullivan frustrates me as much as he does you, and as I've followed him over the years I've learned that he has, at critical moments, very unreliable judgment (though you and I might disagree about when his judgment was poor). However, I think you are unfair to him here. What precisely, on this specific issue, would you have him advocate? What he expresses in this post is a classically (without any current political connotations) conservative and realistic perspective. Which brings me to my greater point - you really need to rethink your regular classification of him as "Left." He is not in the least. He may be independent and libertarian enough of mind - as in supporting Kerry and Obama, and, these days, lining up with the anti "Israeli lobby"ites - to alienate what passes for present day American conservatism, but genuine familiarity with his political philosophy reveals it to be classically and traditionally conservative. NO ONE on the American left - most of the social vision of which he has long opposed and continues to - considers him to be remotely liberal or left.

Anonymous said...

Disagree with the above claim about Andrew Sullivan. He advocates, at this point in time, a full endorsement of all of the issues that the American left stands for, including the litmus-test anti-Israel position, all while claiming to be a "conservative". He has no allies on the right. I would say his "conservatism" is so qualified and idiosyncratic as to be meaningless as a conventional identifier. The fact is that he is now a man of the left, though perhaps not fully identified with collectivism.

A. Jay Adler said...

That Sullivan is idiosyncratic in his views I will not deny. So am I. That means he is an independent thinker and doesn’t analyze in ideological lockstep. Probably the main reason I still read him. But we’re being loose with terminology here. American liberals, among whom I number, are generally still strongly supportive of Israel. It’s as you travel farther to the left – among people who might actually disdain the “liberal” classification – that you begin to encounter the anti-Israeli position. Here, that position is an outgrowth of Marxist and postcolonial theorizing that uncritically ennobles and champions any people perceived as oppressed and suffering. This is not the direction Sullivan is now coming from. American anti-Semitism was born on the right and is still found there, along with the anti-Israel position, among various kinds of libertarians and nativists, Pat Buchanan among the latter. Sullivan is mostly hung up on the influence of the “Israeli lobby,” on American foreign policy, a theme now shared with some on the left, e.g. Walt & Mearsheimer, but not the essence of the left position, while very expressive of nativist concerns. Sullivan is a true Burkean conservative who has few allies on the right because post Rove and the rise of evangelical influence American conservatism bears no relation to what it was prior. Other than on Israel, Anonymous – and who knows, maybe you’ll come up with another issue or two (as we agree, he’s idiosyncratic) – what are all the positions that make up this full alignment with the left?

Anonymous said...

Mostly agree with that. Sullivan is not a Marxist/anti-colonialist at heart. But I would say that he's in the mainstream of the liberal wing the Democratic party (though not at its extreme left). Consider his tireless advocacy of Obama during the campaign and afterward; gay marriage and gay rights in general; marijuana legalization; his promotion of the concept of Christianism (as an equivalent to Islamism); etc. On Israel, his positions are Democratic liberal, not far-left (advocating for Israel's destruction, calling it an apartheid state, etc.). Still, his objections to Israel are broader and deeper than the "Jews control US foreign policy" concept. He was an advocate of Charles Freeman as an antidote to the Israeli fifth column; he views the Gaza conflict as a massacre of innocents; he thinks Israeli settlements, defined as anything over the 1949 armistice lines, including east Jerusalem, are "illegal" and the primary obstacle to peace, etc.

On a related note, the far-right hatred of Jews and Israel in the US is now a much smaller threat than its equivalent on the far left, and it's high time that (liberal) American Jews come to see this. The center and the right in the US are for the most part supportive of Israel (with the exception of people like Buchanan). And it's not just because evangelicals see Israel as a prerequisite for the apocalypse, as US liberals sometimes assert. That claim is not borne out by the evidence, but it allows liberal American Jews to maintain their narrative that the right remains the threat to Jews.

A. Jay Adler said...

This liberal American Jew quite agrees that far left anti-Semitism is the much greater presence and threat in the West than that on the right. However, regarding Sullivan, most of your examples relate to Israel, and his support of Freeman as antidote to an Israeli fifth column is the same issue, I believe, as “Jews control US. Foreign policy.” Otherwise, you’ve come up with those couple of other issues I anticipated. But, like the tendency to support gay rights when one has a gay in the family, Sullivan’s support of marijuana legalization is a function to a degree, I believe, of his being a smoker. It is also derives from his libertarian streak (which had him very enamored of Ron Paul) not liberalism. Likewise, on gay marriage – he’s gay, and now married. But he parts ways on typical liberal positions here too, such as in his opposition to hate crime laws, even for gays. Similarly, he has long opposed a government role in universal health care, been a skeptic on global warming, promoted school vouchers and opposed affirmative action, been unsympathetic to labor unions and advocated the end of progressive taxation. He supported the invasion of Iraq, which most on the left did not, and turned against Bush on it because it was handled so badly and he felt lied to. I could go on. I carry no water for Sullivan. I just know he’s not one of me, and I know of no other liberal who considers him one. Though he has come to admire Obama’s political skills, he advocated for Obama originally because he felt the alternative was so unacceptable. (I do believe if God had intervened and given Ron Paul the Republican nomination, Sullivan would have supported him – that poor judgment to which I earlier referred.) On the pernicious influence (while hardly equivalent to Islamsim) of Christianism, it seems we may be bound to permanently disagree. You can have the last word if you like.

Victor said...

Ron Paul is a nut.

Sullivan lost me when he endorsed Kerry in 2004. It was a betrayal of his readership and of his own, longstanding positions. He tried to soften the blow by claiming that the Left were disenfranchised on the war, and that with Kerry in office, assuming responsibility for Iraq, the country could be healed.

Of course, had Kerry been elected, we would have been out of Iraq by 2006 at the latest. It was pure Bush bullheaded persistence, in the face of near unanimous opposition from the public and the Congress, that salvaged Iraq. If not for Bush, today Iraq would be known for the greatest genocide in the 21st century, along with a housing an ever more powerful and emboldened al Qaeda.

As he showed by grossly mismanaging his campaign, Kerry was an incompetent administrator, and certainly no leader.

That said, I don't have much respect for Obama's natural gifts, but his greatest asset is knowing when to listen to people smarter than him.

Yaacov said...

Well, folks, this has been quite interesting, and I thnak you for your input. It wasn't my intention to do a fundamental critique of the American Left, a task for which I'm not qualified anyway.

Yaacov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.