The Right Must Admit It Was Wrong About Democracy in the Mideast

Listen.  Do you hear the “Obama lied/People died” chants?  Look.  Can you see the throngs gathering on the National Mall to protest, “No Blood for Oil”?

No?  You can’t?  Well, neither can I.  But lefties will protest a Democratic President’s war as they did a Republican President’s war, right?

The Nobel Peace Prize winner-in-chief’s “kinetic military action” in Libya has unmoored liberals from their loudly professed convictions.  He has sent conservatives back to—or at least rethinking—theirs.  Specifically, the Right has reconsidered George W. Bush-era delusions regarding the universality of Western principles, their easy transplantation through nation-building democracy as an antidote to Muslim fanaticism, and America as a superhero state righting the world’s wrongs.

David Horowitz, a onetime proponent of hawkish democracy-building wars in the Islamic world, has professed regret, if not for the launch of the wars, then for the pretensions they ultimately embraced.  “I allowed myself to get swept up in the Bush-led enthusiasm for a democratic revolution in the Middle East,” Horowitz admits.  He concedes that the nation-building exercises in Iraq and Afghanistan have drained America and that pushing democracy in the Middle East is more likely to empower Islamists than bring about freedom.

“Neoconservatives are now cheering on the Obama administration’s reckless intervention in Libya, as though the past 10 years have taught them nothing,” Horowitz laments.  He argues that “neoconservatives need to admit they were wrong, and return to the drawing board.  They should give up the ‘neo’ and become conservatives again.”

This isn’t Horowitz’s first time expressing second thoughts.  A red-diaper baby who became an editor of the flagship New Left publication Ramparts, Horowitz famously broke with the Left in the 1980s over its infatuation with totalitarians, its collective dodge of personal misbehavior bearing any responsibility for AIDS, and its romanticizing of criminal thugs disguised as political activists such as the Black Panthers.  Less famously, before his defection, he pleaded with radicals to rectify the wrongs within their movement.

When Students for a Democratic Society morphed into Adults for a Totalitarian Prison-State, i.e., the Weathermen, Horowitz heretically observed in Ramparts that the radicals’ “hand-me-down Marxism and overseas mecca-watching” satiated egos but did little to build a domestic Left.  A decade later, in 1979, Horowitz, still a man of the Left, took to the pages of The Nation to castigate the Left for “the failure of its ideas in practice,” “moral inconsistency,” and the “inability to formulate—and fight for—realistic programs.”  He wrote:

“The Left’s indignation seems exclusively reserved for outrages that confirm the Marxist diagnosis of the sickness of capitalist society.  Thus, there is protest against murder and repression in Nicaragua but not Cambodia, Chile but not Tibet, South Africa but not Uganda, Israel but not Libya or Iraq.  Political support is mustered for oppressed minorities in Western countries but not in Russia or the People’s Republic of China, while a Third World country that declares itself ‘Marxist’ puts itself—by that very act—beyond reproach.”

Radicals obstinately ignored Horowitz’s advice as they had ignored the crimes of comrades.  They subsequently bankrupted their moral authority on foreign policy.  Today, some on the Right envision military action in Syria after Libya, Iran after Syria, and so on.  They risk bankrupting their moral authority, and their country to boot.  

Stubbornness is a mask of strength covering insecurity.  The Big Idea is a security blanket to cling to when reality sets in.  The coward closes his eyes, grabs hold tightly, and doesn’t let go.  There is a word that, in more ways than one, describes this condition: petrified.

It takes courage to walk away from the comforting idea.  In contrast to the rigor mortis of rigidity, flexibility indicates vitality.  Admitting a mistake is paradoxically a sign of strength.  And it allows one to progress intellectually.  The point isn’t to proclaim, “I’m right.”  It is to find truth.  The pursuit of truth requires accepting the possibility that you’ve been seduced by falsehood.

It may appear that David Horowitz has been wrong more than most.  More accurately, he has laid out his mistakes the way others have hidden theirs.  From the Left’s blind eye toward socialist repression to the Right’s recent delusion that it can remake the Middle East in America’s image, Horowitz, by hearing the truth above the din of ideological abstractions, has risked abandonment by comrades.

The Left would have been wise to listen to Horowitz way back then.  Conservatives today ignore his friendly advice at their own peril.