The Cruise Missile Left, Part 2


cruise missile left (CML), sometimes self-designated “the patriotic
left” (Eric Alterman, “Straw Liberals and False Prophets,”


December 9, 2002), is a varied assortment of liberals who share
a deep attachment to the U.S. imperial state, from which flows a
visceral hostility toward those who condemn that state and fight
its actions and plans in no uncertain terms. These critics of the
imperial state are said to display a “reflexive” anti-Americanism
or anti-Westernism (Todd Gitlin, Alterman) that lacks “nuance”
and fails to recognize that the imperial state has a right to defend
itself and does good things as well as bad. These deficiencies on
the part of the “misguided” left are not only morally
wrong, but they also cause that left to be out of touch with the
people and explain its marginalization. (See Part 1,




CMLs by and large think that Clinton was a creditable foreign policy
president, responsible for the Oslo agreement and the ouster of
Milosevic, eventually supporting UN forces in East Timor, even if
a bit belatedly, with “free trade” accomplishments, and
an alleged greater willingness to do things multilaterally than
the Bush administration. But the CMLs also generally credit Bush
with a proper if perhaps inadequately focused pursuit of Al Qaeda
and “terrorism,” and they approved his attack on Afghanistan
as a reasonable case of self defense that got rid of a bad regime.
(International law and “collateral damage” don’t
interest the CML.) Bush is just going too far too fast in his rush
to war against Iraq, although at least one of them (Paul Berman)
is in full accord with Bush here also. 

CMLs accept the Bush premise that Saddam Hussein and his weapons
of mass destruction are a major threat and most of them believe
that the inspections regime is reasonable and should be allowed
to continue to seek out and remove those weapons. None of them attack
the “inspections-sanctions of mass destruction” package
as a U.S.-British vendetta that has made 24 million Iraqis hostages,
with deadly results. None of them express the view that the U.S.
weapons of mass destruction, or those of Israel, pose a major threat
that the international community should focus on (and none of them
ever mention that Security Council Resolution 687 called not only
for a removal of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, but
those elsewhere in the Middle East [i.e., Israel’s]). 

important feature of CML writings on foreign policy that displays
their apologetic role is their tendency to ignore major areas of
imperial violence and to object strenuously to alleged exaggerations
of the costs of U.S. attacks on target state civilians. They carefully
avoid East Timor and Turkey’s Kurds when patting Clinton on
the back for his foreign policy accomplishments, they downplay or
ignore the U.S. role in clearing the ground for “man of peace”
Sharon and his ethnic cleansing predecessors, and they pay zero
attention to the massive ethnic cleansing in NATO-occupied Kosovo
that has had major effects on thousands of Roma (and other ethnic
minorities) as well as Serbs. 

dramatic is their resentment at alleged inflated casualty numbers
inflicted by this country. Marc Cooper was indignant that William
Blum should have cited Marc Herold’s study of civilian casualties
in Afghanistan, which Cooper described as “unverified”
and probably “false,” and Michael Walzer was also upset
at Herold’s alleged attempt to inflate casualty numbers and
failure to recognize that they were not deliberate, only collateral.
Michael Berube also was exercised over the unpatriotic left’s
failure to distinguish deliberate killing and a mere “military
response” (for a discussion and refutation of this as a meaningful
moral distinction, see CML, Part 1). Cooper expressed not the slightest
indignation over the thousands of casualties of innocent Afghans,
only at an estimate he deemed too high, based on gut reaction alone.
Berube also was distressed at Noam Chomsky’s alleged hysteria
over the cut-off of food supplies to Afghanistan, but showed no
concern whatsoever over the effects of that cut-off—or the
war policy—on Afghan civilian casualties. It is well-known,
even acknowledged by the Pentagon, that it didn’t bother to
count Iraqi casualties in 1991 and doesn’t collect that information
in Afghanistan, but this didn’t upset Cooper or Berube or raise
any questions in their mind. 

Serbia, Cooper says that there were 500 dead from U.S. bombing,
which happens to be the lowest estimate on offer (provided by Human
Rights Watch). Michael Massing also criticized Herold in the


for possibly overstating casualties (“Grief Without Portraits,”
February 4, 2002), studying only a single incident and confining
his investigation to sources in the mainstream corporate press.
Herold was able to show that Massing had no case (“Truth [about
Afghan civilian casualties] Comes Only Through an American Lens,”
in Peter Phillips and Project Censored, eds.,

Censored 2003

[Seven Stories: 2003]), but the question is: why do the


and its contributing editors and other members of the CML so frequently
go to such pains to deflate critical estimates of U.S.-inflicted

Corn-Cooper-Berube V. Antiwar 


months David Corn and Marc Cooper have been taking multiple shots
at ANSWER, the principal organizer of the major January and February
antiwar protests, and they have been joined in this by others like
Michael Berube and Eric Alterman. Their claim is that ANSWER is
very sectarian, shapes protests, and chooses speakers on an ideological
basis, allows speakers on Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier (among
others presumably diversionary or illicit), and therefore discredits
and weakens protests. However, they give minimal evidence that ANSWER
controls everything, fails to recognize significant groups among
the protestors, or that this damages the protests. It is widely
recognized that ANSWER and its allies work hard and do a good job
of getting out large numbers among many constituencies. Most of
the protesters I have talked to or whose views have been reported
in the mainstream media have not been upset by the leadership of
the protests and have felt that the protests were a great success. 

perhaps gives the game away when he explains that the “radical
denouncing [of] America and everything it stands for—which
I heard from the ANSWER-chosen speakers in DC over the weekend [earlier
he said he heard only 15 minutes worth of speeches]—does more
harm than good. They harden the other side’s resolve…”
His research has also convinced him that the Vietnam War protests
had negative effects [MSNBC, January 20, 2003]. What was needed
was more “nuancing” that would include mention of what
America has done right—to give the demonstration a balance
that would perhaps soften the Bush administration and its supporters.
However, it is possible that large crowds would not turn out for
the protests if the CMLs were in charge, providing that desired
balance with Gitlin, Berman, Alterman, Walzer, and maybe Madeleine
Albright or Richard Holbrooke on the podium. 

is significant that the mainstream media have welcomed Corn, Cooper,
Alterman, Berube, and company, and that these CM Leftists have been
pleased to trash ANSWER and the protest movement in these mass circulation
vehicles (Corn, on Fox with Bill O’Reilly). The mass media
today are serving the war machine and have not welcomed serious
critics of the imminent attack on Iraq—and they been largely
hostile to the growing protest movement (obligated to cover it on
January 18 and February 15-16 because of the sheer mass involved,
but returning to full-time war service the next day). It is clear
that Corn, Berube, Cooper et al. are performing in a manner that
has geared well into media demands. 

gearing was highlighted by the

New York Times Magazi

ne piece
by George Packer on “The Liberal Quandry Over Iraq” (December
8, 2002), which sounded just like Corn or Cooper, featuring the
“unnuanced” protest signs like “No Blood for Oil,”
the control “by the furthest reaches of the American left,”
its “narrow ideology,” and the absence therefore of a
“constructive liberal antiwar movement.” There was even
the obligatory smear of Noam Chomsky, who allegedly reflected the
view that any U.S. action was imperialistic, causing him “to
leap to the defense of Slobodan Milosevic.” (This was a double
lie, as Chomsky’s reasons for opposition to the Kosovo war
were not based on the view that any U.S. action was imperialistic,
but on a close consideration of motives and probable effects; and
Chomsky never defended Milosevic, any more than he “leapt to
the defense of Ho Chi Minh” or any other leader of a state
subjected to U.S. attack. Chomsky doesn’t like aggression,
whether by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan or the United States
in Vietnam or now organizing its assault on Iraq. Packer mimics
Alterman, Berube, Berman et al. in their invariable use of hit-and-run
tactics in dealing with Chomsky, preferring the smear to addressing
a substantive issue.) 

Cooper, Berube, and Alterman are surely sincere in their denunciations
of ANSWER, but what is the public meaning of their outbursts in
the mainstream media? By public meaning I refer to their effects
rather than formal claims of intention. Are these effects helpful
to the antiwar movement? Do they help sell antiwar messages to the
public? Do they bring about useful reforms in the movement itself
that will give it greater strength? I think the answer very clearly
is that their almost exclusive effect is to discredit the movement
in the eyes of the public, distracting attention from the numbers
and beliefs of movement members to an alleged sinister control by
“commies” (Corn). This is why the mainstream media, which
have taken on the function of propaganda agents for the war party,
welcome Cooper and Corn and allow and encourage them to attack ANSWER,
which is a proxy for the protest movement. 

The Anti-Semitism Gambit 


CML opportunity to attack ANSWER presented itself when Rabbi Michael
Lerner claimed to have been denied the opportunity to speak at an
antiwar rally in San Francisco on February 16, allegedly because
he was “pro-Israel.” This made it possible to denigrate
ANSWER—and by implication, whether intended or not, the protest
movement—as both hostile to free speech and anti-Semitic to
boot. The Corn-Cooper-Berube-Lerner axis pushed this line aggressively
and got considerable mainstream publicity. 

the far-right, pro-Sharon, and pro-war

Wall Street Journal

editorial page gave space to Lerner under the title “The Antiwar
Anti-Semites” (February 12). Lerner claimed that this was all
very positive because he said in his article that he was still going
to demonstrate with the anti-Semites. But this was hypocritical:

Wall Street Journal

wasn’t gulled into supporting
the antiwar protest—they, if not Lerner, knew that this was
a blow to the movement. 

Corn-Cooper-Berube phalanx posted a column on the


website reiterating Lerner’s charges and got up an Internet
petition doing the same. This petition was quickly featured on David
Horowitz’s website, and Berube participated in a debate on
Horowitz’s site on the crimes of ANSWER. As Horowitz is a far-right
fanatic, doing business with him doesn’t seem like a means
of constructive discussion of the problems of the protest movement,
although the same may be said of Corn’s exchanges on the subject
with Bill O’Reilly on Fox. Berube has reacted strongly against
the charge of being in league with Horowitz, but as Alexander Cockburn
points out, “We find it pretty ripe that Berube should whine
about guilt by association after he and Cooper and Corn have spent
months smearing the peace movement because the Workers World Party
and ANSWER have been organizing demonstrations.”  

Cooper, Berube, and company also succeeded in getting dozens of
liberals and leftists to sign on to their Internet petition denouncing
ANSWER’s alleged denial of free speech and asserting that it
should be barred from any leadership role. The claim that a genuine
free speech issue was at stake here is fraudulent, as I shall describe
below, but it was also hypocritical of Corn and associates to push
it on this basis. Cooper in particular was deeply implicated in
the massive censorship operation under the now-deposed Pacifica
management, according to which nobody (except the management) was
permitted to discuss the Pacifica crisis on any Pacifica program.
This tactic, vigorously enforced by Cooper’s ally Mark Schubb
in Los Angeles, was used to provide the basis for firing numerous
Pacifica dissidents who refused to be bound by this censorship rule.
Cooper supported it without question and Corn raised no objections.
Their devotion to the principle of free speech is suspect. 

it is a fraud in the present case and many who signed the Corn petition
might not have done so if in possession of all the relevant facts. 

fact is that Lerner didn’t even ask to speak at the February
16 gathering (a point made by ANSWER organizer Richard Becker, but
acknowledged by Lerner in an interview with

LA Weekly

). He
would have been denied speaking time if he had, but he didn’t
ask. He would have been barred by an agreement among the four protest
organizing groups to deny the floor to anyone who had publicly denounced
any of the groups. This was a debatable principle to establish,
but it was not entirely indefensible as such an individual might
well use the podium to continue denouncing the organizers, arguably
a dubious allocation of scarce time (the applicants for speaking
time were five times as numerous as the slots). Would denying David
Horowitz speaking time be a violation of the principle of free speech?
(ANSWER would not have barred Lerner from the earlier January 18
rally which occurred before the new rule was in place—in that
case, Lerner fell by the wayside because he insisted on 15 minutes,
rather than the 3 minutes given other speakers.)  A second
relevant consideration is that at a planning meeting at which speakers
were being chosen on February 4, the fact that Lerner was ineligible
was discussed with a representative of


, who raised
no objections. This, plus the fact that Lerner didn’t apply
for speaking time on February 16, suggests that his later outcry
about being barred was either pre-planned or, more likely, a belated
recognition that with a little massaging of evidence he could make
himself into a free speech victim of anti-Semitism. 

third relevant consideration is that, according to the

Voice for P



(JVP) newsletter, replying to
the phalanx: “We have found close and staunch allies in the
anti-war coalition. We have found that our opinion is sought time
and again and that our stance in support of a truly just peace between
Israelis and Palestinians and respect for Israeli human rights as
well as Palestinians’ has been respected and represented in
the speakers that have been chosen. At the upcoming demonstration,
Mitchell Plitnick [of JVP] will speak, along with Israeli refusnik
Ofer Shorr, and Kate Raphael from San Francisco Women in Black,
Rabbi Steven Pierce, Rabbi Pam Frydman-Baugh, and Rabbi David Cooper.
This represents a broad spectrum of Jewish antiwar views.”
This JVP statement goes on to say that Lerner’s views are welcomed
and, “he is an important spokesperson” for the peace and
justice movement—that he was ruled as ineligible at a planning
meeting, attended by a



representative, at which
it was decided “that we were capable of finding another speaker
with views similar to his who did not openly attack a coalition
partner.” In short, the claim that he was excluded because
of a bias against his views by the organizers of the protest is

fourth consideration is that Lerner’s charge that he was barred
because of anti-Semitism among the organizers, and that his voice
was needed to contest protest-movement anti-Semitism, is another
ugly and politically regressive misrepresentation and misapplication
of the word anti-Semitism. Lerner has often used anti-Semitism as
a political tool to denigrate opposition to Iraeli policies. He
has even called it anti-Semitic to link Israel to the drive for
an Iraq invasion (“Singling Out Israel in the Context of a
War Rally Is Racist,”


website, February 17, 2003).
In the current controversy Lerner has used the word anti-Semitism
to apply, not to people who hate Jews, but to those who assert that
Israel today is a racist, ethnic cleansing, and dangerously out-of-control
state that is committing serious war crimes on a daily basis and
urgently needs to be stopped by the international community. These
people believe that Israel right now constitutes a far more serious
menace and problem than Iraq and that the United States does as
well given its “projection of power” and underwriting
of Sharon and his policies. 

agree with these people, but Lerner doesn’t and the CML people
don’t either. Alterman refers to “the disgusting views
of Irish poet Tom Paulin, who termed Jewish settlers on the West
Bank ‘Nazis,’” but Alterman never uses the word disgusting
to describe Israeli policies, which now include the deliberate imposition
of mass famine and a health crisis of catastrophic proportions,
a civilian death toll of several dozen or more a week, “hundreds
of thousands of innocent civilians unable to work, study or move
about as curfews and 300 or more barricades impede their daily lives,
with houses blown up and bulldozed on a mass basis.” Alterman
likes the word “retaliation” and he focuses not on the
victims of retaliation, but on the “heartbreaking catastrophe
that lovers of Zion the world over must suffer…to see Israel in
the hands of such a blindly, self-destructive [sic] leadership.” 

another public meaning of the CML-Lerner alliance, and the Lerner
gambit, is that it serves to contest and denigrate the protest movement’s
valid linking of the Bush aggression against Iraq and the intensifying
ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Ariel Sharon. Given what Sharon’s
IDF is doing to the Palestinians on a daily basis, its aggressive
push of new settlements and expropriations of Palestinian land,
its openly discussed “transfer” policy options, and its
enthusiastic backing of an attack on Iraq that will provide a cover
for intensified state terror, this is apologetics for something
truly evil and “disgusting,” under the guise of protecting
free speech. 

S. Herman is an economist, author, media analyst, and a regular
contributor to Z since 1988.