Day By Day

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Paranoid Style of Left Wing Politics

Also in the CSM -- Brendan O'Neill has a terrific observation on the left's dysfunctional obsessions.
Memo to those who opposed the war in Iraq: Please stop talking about the Downing Street memos! And I say that not as a defender of the war, but as one who was implacably set against it.

The antiwar lobby's obsession with secretive things - whether it's these latest memos, earlier dodgy dossiers, or rumors about who said what to whom in the backrooms of the White House and Whitehall - degrades the debate about war.

Instead of mounting a serious opposition to the invasion of Iraq, antiwar activists have spent the last two years searching endlessly for proof that they and their fellow citizens were lied to. They've seemed more intrigued by the decisionmaking processes that led to the war than outraged by the war itself.

That's nowhere more evident than in the antiwar movement's approach of challenging the war more on the basis of legalistic nitpicking than on the grounds that it was politically and morally the wrong thing to do. Political principles such as national sovereignty have barely been raised.

In the US, activists have speculated ad infinitum that the decision to invade Iraq was taken by Donald Rumsfeld or Paul Wolfowitz or maybe even President Bush at a high-level, top-secret meeting immediately after 9/11.

In Britain, there's been running commentary on whether Tony Blair's legal adviser warned him prior to the war that invading Iraq would be illegal, with various communiqués leaked and salivated over. There have also been two dossier controversies, stoked by antiwar elements, and of course the Hutton Inquiry into the prewar processes, during which 9,000 pages of documents submitted by the authorities to the inquiry - including everyday e-mails and memos from the highest echelons of government - were posted on the inquiry's website. Antiwar journalists had a field day.

The Downing Street Memos are but another chapter in - or perhaps even the climax of - this ongoing saga.

Read it here.

This "paranoid style" is nothing new. It has been a recurrent phenomenon in American politics. And it would be a mistake to see it, as many on the left have been wont to do, as evidence of the profound irrationality of the common man. It is simply a recognition that human agency is involved in the conduct of political affairs, that people to organize to achieve results, and that powerful people and organizations seek to control political institutions. What is irrational, however, is the tendency, quite pronounced on the part of the left, to see one's opponents as mental incompetents or ruthless zealots.

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