Taking issue with Ramzy Baroud on the character of the U.S. “left”

Ramzy Baroud, the important Palestinian political writer, recently published a broadside criticism of “self-tailored ‘leftist’ western intellectuals.” That’s an amorphous description making it hard to tell who he’s going after. From his article, they appear to be academic writers without any relationship to activism, not just from somewhere in the northern hemisphere, but–based on examples he cites–from the US. And boy that sounds a lot like the leftists who fry a lot of other leftists in both hemispheres–the type who campaign for Bernie Sanders so he can “lead the political revolution against capitalism.” We wish we knew who he was referring to so we could chime with our own insights since we have our own disputes with this lot. He’s not the only one to take issue with their presumptions.

But the “left,” even in the US, is at least at diverse as protestantism–with a lot of different political perspectives, from elitism to outright kooky. Lots of them talk a language no one else understands–or wants to. Lots of them only talk to themselves. And many of them are making important contributions to politics through activism & theoretical work. They don’t get published in prestigious media since their theoretics aren’t banal & they’re not all credentialed. But they continue as the backbone of political opposition to US neoliberal capitalism.

If he’s talking about the Sanders revolutionaries, he really nails them for their lack of international commitment. But what troubles in Baroud’s article is his discussion of what he calls “the left’s insistence on the ‘client regime’ theory.” As he defines it, this is a belittling & racist view pawning itself off as solidarity “where only the ‘white man’ determines the flow of history & outcomes of conflicts. Everyone else is either a helpless bystander or a ‘client regime’ that receive a ‘cut’ from the colonial spoils once the bad deed is done.”

In this regard, he singles out the “left’s” indifference to conflicts in African countries because “there is no palpable link to western governments or corporations.” He might want to take a closer look at those conflicts. Because they’re all there, including Israel.

To dispute the ‘client regime’ theory, he also cites the debate between those who claim AIPAC controls the US Congress & those who claim the US manipulates & bankrolls Israel for its own purpose. That’s an important debate having nothing to to with supremacy. Understanding the power relations in international politics is of the essence. The US Pentagon has a lot more weight to throw around than AIPAC lobbyists hustling votes in Congress. And there’s another issue: suggesting AIPAC runs the US Congress is just a few steps away from claiming Jews control the media & banks. That is certainly not what Baroud is suggesting but that is where that claim often leads.

The broader issue in the ‘client regime’ debate is understanding the power relationship between the US Pentagon & those states like Israel, Egypt, Bahrain, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, & others, which receive billions in US military aid. It is a debate socialist theoreticians have made fundamental contributions to–most notably Trotsky. There is no supremacist point of honor to acknowledge that the political relationship is often weighted heaviest toward those with the big guns & bombers.

Antiwar activists take no pride in the role the US military plays internationally. For most it means a lifetime committed to building opposition through thick & thin, through the ups & downs of political life–a lifetime they might have spent gardening. These should not be swept up in a broadside criticism of phoniness on the US “left.”

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