December 26, 2003

Remembering Michael Kelly

I wish that Michael Kelly could have seen a liberated Iraq this Christmas. He was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2003, five days before the statue of Saddam fell. As 2003 winds down, it seemed appropriate to revisit one of my favorite Kelly columns at Christmastime. It's a light piece about his family, in which he wrestles with the old "white-lights vs. colored-lights" debate. For the record, I'm a "colored-lights" guy too.

I admired Kelly because he was a man of principle. As a Democrat and a Washington Post columnist, he made enemies in his own party during the 90's because he refused to ignore the corruption of the Clinton presidency. After 9/11, he was appalled at how many on the left made common cause with the America-haters, ignoring longstanding liberal principles simply to oppose George Bush. Here's an excerpt from his 1/22/03 column, "Marching With Stalinists" :

The left in America has for a long time now resembled not so much a political movement as a contest to see how many schismatics could dance on the head of a pin, a conversation that has gone from being national to factional to simply eccentric. At some point, progressive politics reached a state where freeing Mumia was considered critical and electing a Democratic president was considered optional.

Then came Sept. 11, and the left found itself plunged into a debate on a subject of fundamental importance. And this was a debate in which to be of the left was to be, by definition, involved: In al Qaeda and in the Taliban and in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, liberal civilization faced an enemy that represented nearly every evil that liberalism has ever stood against.

What was the left going to do? A pretty straightforward call, you might say. America has its flaws. But war involves choosing sides, and the American side -- which was, after all, the side of liberalism, of progressivism, of democracy, of freedom, of not chucking gays off rooftops and not stoning adulterers and not whipping women in the town square, and not gassing minority populations and not torturing advocates of free speech -- was surely preferable to the side of the "Islamofascists," to borrow a word from the essayist and former man of the left, Christopher Hitchens.

Which is the point: Hitchens is a former man of the left. In the left's debate, Hitchens insisted that progressives must not in their disdain for America allow themselves to effectively support the perpetuation of despotism, must not betray the left's own values. Others -- notably the political philosopher Michael Walzer, the independent essayist Andrew Sullivan, New Republic writer Jonathan Chait and New York Observer columnist Ron Rosenbaum -- also made this argument with great force and clarity.

The debate is over. The left has hardened itself around the core value of a furious, permanent, reactionary opposition to the devil-state America, which stands as the paramount evil of the world and the paramount threat to the world, and whose aims must be thwarted even at the cost of supporting fascists and tyrants. Those who could not stomach this have left the left -- a few publicly, as did Hitchens and Rosenbaum, and many more, I am sure, in the privacy of their consciences.

Last weekend, the left held large antiwar marches in Washington, San Francisco and elsewhere. Major media coverage of these marches was highly respectful. This was "A Stirring in the Nation," in the words of an approving New York Times editorial, "impressive for the obvious mainstream roots of the marchers."

There is, increasingly, much that happens in the world that the Times feels its readers should be sheltered from knowing. The marches in Washington and San Francisco were chiefly sponsored, as was last October's antiwar march in Washington, by a group the Times chose to call in its only passing reference "the activist group International Answer."

International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) is a front group for the communist Workers World Party. The Workers World Party is, literally, a Stalinist organization. It rose out of a split within the old Socialist Workers Party over the Soviet Union's 1956 invasion of Hungary -- the breakaway Workers World Party was all for the invasion. International ANSWER today unquestioningly supports any despotic regime that lays any claim to socialism, or simply to anti-Americanism. It supported the butchers of Beijing after the slaughter of Tiananmen Square. It supports Saddam Hussein and his Baathist torture-state. It supports the last official Stalinist state, North Korea, in the mass starvation of its citizens. It supported Slobodan Milosevic after the massacre at Srebrenica. It supports the mullahs of Iran, and the narco-gangsters of Colombia and the bus-bombers of Hamas.

This is whom the left now marches with. The left marches with the Stalinists. The left marches with those who would maintain in power the leading oppressors of humanity in the world. It marches with, stands with and cheers on people like the speaker at the Washington rally who declared that "the real terrorists have always been the United Snakes of America." It marches with people like the former Black Panther Charles Baron, who said in Washington, "if you're looking for an axis of evil then look in the belly of this beast."

The Times' "mainstream" Americans marched last weekend with people who held signs comparing the president and vice president of their country to Hitler, and declaring, "The difference between Bush and Saddam is that Saddam was elected," and this one: "I want you to die for Israel. Israel sings Onward Christian Soldiers."

March on.

Actually, that's less an excerpt than the full text of the piece. I couldn't decide what to leave out.

At this time last year, I argued with family members and others until I was blue in the face that the case for Iraq's liberation by force was the moral choice, the best hope for 25 million people long denied freedom by years of diplomatic failure and treachery by Saddam. They took a principled antiwar, pacifist stance, but it was one that seemed to me to ignore the consequences to the Iraqi people of a failure to remove the Saddam regime.

Michael Kelly gave voice to what I was feeling. Here is a segment of his 2/19/03 column, "Immorality on the March":

The situation with Iraq may be considered in three primary contexts, and in each, the true moral case is for war.

The first context considers the people of Iraq. There are 24 million of them, and they have been living (those who have not been slaughtered or forced into exile) for decades under one of the cruelest and bloodiest tyrannies on earth. It must be assumed that, being human, they would prefer to be rescued from a hell where more than a million lives have been sacrificed to the dreams of a megalomaniac, where rape is a sanctioned instrument of state policy, and where the removal of the tongue is the prescribed punishment for uttering an offense against the Great Leader.

These people could be liberated from this horror -- relatively easily and quickly. There is every reason to think that a U.S. invasion would swiftly vanquish the few elite units that can be counted on to defend the detested Saddam Hussein; and that the victory would come at the cost of few -- likely hundreds, not thousands -- Iraqi and American lives. There is risk; and if things go terribly wrong it is a risk that could result in terrible suffering. But that is an equation that is present in any just war, and in this case any rational expectation has to consider the probable cost to humanity to be low and the probable benefit to be tremendous. To choose perpetuation of tyranny over rescue from tyranny, where rescue may be achieved, is immoral.

The second context considers the security of America, and indeed of the world, and here too morality is on the side of war. The great lesson of Sept. 11, 2001, is not that terrorism must be stopped -- an impossible dream -- but that state-sanctioned terrorism must be stopped. The support of a state -- even a weak and poor state -- offers the otherwise vulnerable enemies of the established order the protection they need in their attempts to destroy that order -- through the terrorists' only weapon, murder. To tolerate the perpetuation of state-sanctioned terror, such as Hussein's regime exemplifies, is to invite the next Sept. 11, and the next, and the next. Again, immoral.

The third context concerns the idea of order itself. The United Nations is a mightily flawed construct, but it exists; and it exists on the side (more or less) of law and humanity. Directly and unavoidably arising from the crisis with Iraq, the United Nations today stands on the precipice of permanent irrelevancy. If Iraq is allowed to defy the law, the United Nations will never recover, and the oppressed and weak of the world will lose even the limited protection of the myth of collective security. Immoral.

To march against the war is not to give peace a chance. It is to give tyranny a chance. It is to give the Iraqi nuke a chance. It is to give the next terrorist mass murder a chance. It is to march for the furtherance of evil instead of the vanquishing of evil.

This cannot be the moral position.

Michael Kelly was right. We did the right thing. It's a shame he didn't live to see it. R.I.P.

Posted by dan at December 26, 2003 11:05 PM