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Jewish World Review April 14, 1999 /28 Nissan 5759

David Corn

David Corn
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No Left Churn

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WHERE HAVE ALL the liberals gone?

As bombs fell on Yugoslavia, commentators listened for the sound of antiwar protest from the left and discerned mostly silence. In the middle of last week, CNN’s William Schneider pronounced: "There are no antiwar protests on the left; liberals can rally behind a war for human rights."

He wasn’t far wrong.

All the rock-’em/sock-’em, in-the-media action had been on the right.

Sen. John McCain (representing the go-get-’em position) squared off against Pat Buchanan (championing the nativistic, isolationist, who-cares-what-goes-on-over-there view). And within the opinion-spinning conservative crowd, pundit/editor William Kristol, a pro-NATO interventionist, dueled with pundit Bob Novak, a spend-more-do-less Pentagonist. After Kristol accused GOP critics of Clinton’s Kosovo policy of being blinded by their hatred of the Miscalculator-in-Chief, Novak feistily took umbrage and declared Kristol a scoundrel running from an honest debate.

There’s been precious little high-profile discourse of this sort within the Democratic Party. Could it be that all those left of center have fallen into line for Madeleine Albright’s brilliant mistake?

(Pre-bombing stats: 45,000 refugees and 2000 dead Kosovars. After two weeks of bombing: 500,000 refugees, presumably many more dead Kosovars.)

For a fortnight, no Democrats were challenging the Clinton policy that assumed no-cost NATO bombing could bring peace and stability to this conflict-ridden area. When Clinton pushed the button, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley issued an unforceful, four-sentence statement noting he had "serious questions" and worried that "we run the risk of becoming bogged down in a quagmire."

After the United States and NATO expanded the bombing campaign, Sen. Paul Wellstone, the highest-ranking progressive in the federal government, expressed "alarm" that the target-pickers were selecting sites in downtown Belgrade while still supporting the bomb-the-Serbs strategy. And Jesse Jackson, once the putative head of whatever might be called the left in the United States, issued a statement a week into the bombing endorsing U.S. intervention in Kosovo and implicitly okaying the bombing. He couldn’t even bring himself to call for an Easter halt to the assault, noting only that "during this high holy season, it may be the moment...[to] end the bombing." May? That doesn’t sound like the old Jackson. Then a week later, Jackson reversed course, calling the bombing a "monumental miscalculation" and proclaiming, "we must work harder to seek a peace than we do to expand the war."

It wasn’t until last Thursday that an elected Democrat broke ranks. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a fiery populist from Cleveland, sent Clinton a letter urging him to accept Slobodan Milosevic’s Orthodox Easter ceasefire offer as an opportunity to reopen peace talks. But in the letter, Kucinich didn’t criticize the Clinton-Albright policy. The following day, Kucinich, whose family hails from Croatia, went a step further, promoting his polite disagreement with Clinton in a New York Times op-ed piece: "What has this bombing accomplished?" he asked. "It has not stopped the ethnic cleansing or the grim procession of hundreds of thousands of refugees." And he added, "I must challenge NATO’s justification for its military campaign against civilians... NATO’s actions will destabilize the region for decades to come."

In leftie circles, there’ve been plenty of people who think this illegal war—there has been no congressional declaration of war, or an invocation of the War Powers Act or a UN resolution authorizing this use of force—is a bad move. It’s just they’re mostly wonks and scribblers—not the sorts to register much on CNN’s radar. Days after Clinton ordered the bombing, The Nation, my home base, ran a marvelous critique of the strikes by Benjamin Schwarz, the former executive editor of The World Policy Journal, and Christopher Layne, a MacArthur Fellow in Peace and International Security Studies. Barbara Ehrenreich, one of the best essayists on the left, has produced eloquent opposition to the strikes.

But CNN’s Schneider was correct in a limited sense. Until Kucinich, no official Democrat had spoken against the latest of Clinton’s mini-wars. That’s not because all on the left are hot for "a war for human rights."

But since little opposition arose from Democrats and Washington liberals, Clinton, in CNN-land, could be portrayed as getting a pass from the left. If only Milosevic had rolled over so easily.

JWR contributor David Corn is the "Loyal Opposition" columnist at New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


04/12/99: Clinton’s Policy Bombs
04/09/99: A Cuban Frost
04/05/99: Coups and Fibbers
03/31/99: The Flynt Fizzle
03/24/99: Liddy and St. Steve
03/19/99: Hope in Hollywood
03/12/99: Clinton: The Novel
03/08/99: A Tale of Two Clintons
03/04/99: ..and Dumber
03/01/99: Post-Mortem Ad Nauseam
02/25/99: What’s Next?

©1999, NY Press