Accusing Obama critics of "standing with the terrorists"

Is there a patriotic duty to join a "national celebration" over Obama?

Published October 10, 2009 1:11PM (EDT)

President Barack Obama makes remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 9, 2009, about him being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (AP)
President Barack Obama makes remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 9, 2009, about him being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (AP)

Yesterday, I noted that the DNC accused the GOP of having "thrown in its lot with the terrorists" and putting "politics above patriotism" because -- just like the Taliban and Hamas -- some Republicans objected to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama.  Salon's Alex Koppleman described how some progressive groups, including Media Matters and some blogs, embraced the same theme, even producing videos "suggesting that the right has aligned itself with terrorists."  Media Matters' Chris Harris wrote a piece entitled "RNC agrees with the Taliban," and actually labelled the mere act of questioning whether Obama's Prize was warranted to be "unseemly and downright unpatriotic."

I'm all in favor of applying disgusting political rhetoric and twisted political arguments to the purveyors of such tactics in order to demonstrate their hypocrisy and/or to neutralize those tactics.  If that's all that were going on here -- if it were made clear that these tactics are unacceptable and dumb but that the Rovians on the Right who have spent the last eight years wielding them should be hoisted on their own petard -- I wouldn't have any objections to it.  But, plainly, that's not all that is going on.  Instead, the DNC and these groups are clearly arguing that it's improper and unpatriotic to object to or even question Obama's award.  After comparing the Taliban's statements to the RNC's statement (which was actually quite innocuous and tame), this is what Harris argued:

That the domestic political opposition party would echo the sentiments of one of our nation's fiercest enemies is truly striking. The global community honoring the American President with one of the world's top awards should be a cause for national celebration, not cheap political games.

One could expect this reaction from our nation's enemies, but it is unseemly and downright unpatriotic coming from American political leaders.

Leave aside the fact that the "global community" didn't honor the American President; five Norwegians did.  Also leave aside the fact that many people from many different parts of the world -- not just scary Terrorists and Arab Enemies -- questioned whether Obama's Prize was appropriate; the "global community" happens to encompass more than "Western Europeans," and many parts of the world beyond Europe don't swoon for Obama.  Also leave aside the painfully simplistic and Fox-News-mimicking characterization of the Taliban as "one of our nation's fiercest enemies"; a central prong of our current strategy in Afghanistan happens to be grounded in the recognition that the Taliban are quite diverse, with many factions of it nothing more than nationalists defending their homeland -- far from "terrorists."  And finally leave aside the fact that Fidel Castro yesterday praised Obama's Prize; by the prevailing Democratic "logic," this means that Obama supporters yesterday were casting their lot with Communist dictators.

What's particularly bothersome about yesterday's attacks is the premise that it's improper, unpatriotic and even Terrorist-mimicking to do anything but cheer -- have a "national celebration" -- when Obama is awarded the Nobel Prize.  Whether Obama is actually pursuing policies of peace happens to be an extremely legitimate topic of debate.  The same is true for whether he's done anything meaningful yet to merit the award.  Numerous liberals in good standing objected to Obama's award -- from Ezra Klein ("It is undeserved. It is a bit ridiculous") to The Nation's Richard Kim ("I woke up, read the New York Times website and thought I had come to the Onion instead . . . Obama doesn't deserve the prize, yet") to Naomi Klein ("disappointing, cheapening of the Nobel Prize").  While there are arguments to make in his favor -- I even made some myself yesterday in the first two paragraphs of what I wrote  -- there is something unquestionably bizarre about awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to a leader who did not merely "inherit," but is advocating, actively prosecuting and escalating, a major war that is killing large numbers of civilians with no plans to stop, while at the same time building prisons to house people who will have no due process. 

Unquestionably, those are and must be legitimate topics of debate.  Some smart people yesterday made some reasonable arguments for Obama's Prize.  But to insist that it's the patriotic obligation of every American to stand and cheer -- and that those who don't are "casting their lot with the Terrorists" -- is creepy and repugnant.  It's also a very dangerous game to play.

In March, 2005, Joe Klein wrote an article in Time with this headline:  "Look Who Has a Shot at the Nobel Peace Prize."  He meant President Bush:

But that is where the democratic idealism of the Bush Doctrine has led us. If the President turns out to be right -- and let's hope he is -- a century's worth of woolly-headed liberal dreamers will be vindicated. And he will surely deserve that woolliest of all peace prizes, the Nobel.

If George W. Bush had won the Nobel Peace Prize as Klein suggested he might deserve, would it have been the solemn obligation of every American -- including liberals -- to stand up and cheer, to hold a "national celebration," to congratulate and express support, happiness and patriotic pride?  Or would it have been appropriate even for Americans to make arguments about why that Prize was wrongly awarded?  If Bush had won, surely the Taliban and Hamas would have objected, just like they did yesterday with Obama.  Would Bush critics have been guilty of "casting their lot with the terrorists" if they echoed those objections?  Karl Rove and Fox News would have done so, but would Media Matters have condemned liberals who questioned Bush's Nobel Peace Prize as "unseemly and downright unpatriotic."  Please.

More than any single policy issue, what led me to begin writing politically -- what spurred my view that the political culture had gone radically and dangerously off track -- was the climate in this country that equated criticism of the President with some sort of bad and improper act.  It was Joe Lieberman's 2005 vile warning to Democratic war opponents "that in matters of war we undermine Presidential credibility at our nation’s peril."  It was the unhinged lynch mob fury provoked by Natalie Maines' innocuous statement that she was "ashamed" that George W. Bush was from her home state.  It was Chris Matthews' angry outburst on April 9, 2003 -- the day the Saddam statue was pulled down -- demanding that there be no criticism of the President on his Special Day:

Why don't the damn Democrats give the president his day? He won today. He did well today.

And it was the constant McCarthyite attempt to depict criticisms of the President -- or even insufficient praise for him -- as evidence that one was aligned with the Terrorists.

Liberals should be the last people eager to rejuvenate and legitimize those tactics, regardless of whatever short-term political benefit they think they can exploit (and I strongly doubt these tactics work, as both the 2006 and 2008 elections compellingly demonstrated).  If the formula embraced yesterday by the DNC, Media Matters and some liberal blogs is valid, then here's what else is true:

Obama sides with Hamas on Israeli settlements:

Hamas Leader Khaled Meshal, September 17, 2009:  "The [U.S.] should simply uphold international law - the occupation is illegal, the annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal, the settlements are illegal . . .

ABC, September 5, 2009:  "The United States has issued a rare public rebuke to Israel for its plans to approve new settlements in the West Bank. . . .In a statement, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop."

Washington Post, May 29, 2009:  "President Obama yesterday continued to press his administration's tough stance on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, telling reporters after a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas that Israel must halt all settlement activity to build momentum for peace."

Obama sides with the Castros and Chavez on Honduras:

Raul Castro, July 30, 2009:  "As President Chávez rightly said last night, this is the moment to act according to one’s beliefs. . . In Honduras, there is and can only be one president. José Manuel Zelaya must return immediately and unconditionally to the performance of his duties."

Bloomberg, July 28, 2009:  "U.S. officials said they continue to regard ousted Manuel Zelaya as the legitimate president of Honduras and are working with other countries in the region to restore him to power peacefully."

NYT, July 30, 2009:   "President Obama on Monday strongly condemned the ouster of Honduras’s president as an illegal coup that set a 'terrible precedent' for the region..."

Reuters, June 29, 2009:  "Cuba condemned Sunday's military coup in Honduras as 'criminal, brutal' and demanded the immediate return to office of deposed leftist President Manuel Zelaya. Former Cuban president Fidel Castro called the coup 'a suicidal error'. . . "

Liberals (including Obama) side with Hezbollah and Syria in opposing the Iraq War:

NYT, August 20, 2003:  "Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, told a crowd of 150,000 in a March religious observance that the United States was trying to create a 'tragedy for humanity and to spread chaos in the world' and predicted that the people of Iraq and the region would 'welcome American troops with rifles, blood, arms, martyrdom.'  The occupation has given disparate groups from various countries a common battlefield on which to fight a common enemy."

CBS News, February 15, 2003:  "Millions of protesters - from London to New York to Canberra - demonstrated Saturday against a possible U.S. attack on Iraq. . . CBS News correspondent Jim Acosta says organizers claim the rally drew five hundred thousand people. There were certainly several hundred thousand, Acosta reports, carrying signs that read "no blood for oil" and "get the warheads out of D.C". . . .

In Damascus, the capital of neighboring Syria, an estimated 200,000 protesters chanted anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli slogans while marching to the People's Assembly. Najjah Attar, a former Syrian cabinet minister, accused Washington of attempting to change the region's map. "The U.S. wants to encroach upon our own norms, concepts and principles," she said in Damascus.

The Left sides with Osama bin Laden on Bush and Halliburton:

ABC News, April 16, 2004: "The voice believed to be Osama bin Laden's went through a list of familiar enemies in the audiotape released to Arab television this week: President George W. Bush, Spain, Israel.  But though bin Laden decried the fact that 'this is a war that is benefiting major companies with billions of dollars,' he only mentioned one company by name: Halliburton Company, the Houston-based oil and gas services company.

Michael Moore, April 14, 2004:  "Halliburton is not a "company" doing business in Iraq. It is a WAR PROFITEER, bilking millions from the pockets of average Americans. In past wars they would have been arrested -- or worse."

The Nation Editors, April 24, 2003:  War profiteering.  Even before US troops arrived in Baghdad, looting broke out--in Washington. . . . Bechtel's contract, worth up to $680 million, to rebuild Iraqi roads, schools, sewers and hospitals drew a lot of media attention, but it was chump change compared with the deal greased through by Vice President Cheney's old oil-services firm, Halliburton. . . . Congress dozes while the treasury is raided.

Those who argued yesterday that critics of Obama's Prize had "stood with the Terrorists" -- merely because they both happened to be on the same side of an issue -- have no ground for objecting to any of the above.  And that's what makes reliance on these tactics as stupid as it is wrong:  those who do it forfeit the ability to object when it is used against them.  You don't think anyone is going to remember that Democrats and some progressives made arguments like this the next time either they "side with the Terrorists" or object to "Rovian tactics" or complain about "questioning one's patriotism"?  Here's what The New York Times' Tobin Harshaw wrote yesterday about the attacks from the DNC and Media Matters:

Ahhh, takes one back to the debates over (and since) the invasion of Iraq in 2003, with conservatives accusing those who were against an invasion of Iraq of "siding with Saddam." At the time, liberal critics found such guilt by association pretty despicable. . . .

We are born and raised to believe that dissent is, or at least can be, patriotic. Over the last six years, liberals and conservatives have each accused the other of breaking that link in the social contract. And in the vortex of this week’s Nobel debate, the lines between patriotism, anti-Americanism, dissent and nationalism have blurred into triviality -- Irving Kristol’s neoconservativism has mutated into some meaningless form of postmodernism. Obama’s Nobel will soon be yesterday’s news, but the argument over what it means to love America will be alive and well.

The difference between 2003 and now, of course, is that Democrats are in power and thus benefit from the rule that it's unpatriotic and Terrorist-embracing to do anything but praise the President like some sort of college cheerleader.  But that isn't always going to be true.  And there are many times when it is progressives who are making arguments similar to The Terrorists and Other Bad People; after all, there are only so many sides of an issue, and that is inevitable.  Calling people unpatriotic and comparing them to Terrorists for failing to fulfill their solemn duty to praise the President on his Special Day and mindlessly support his accolades isn't clever or tough politics.  It's weak, counter-productive, unprincipled, dumb and dangerous.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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Barack Obama Democratic Party Nobel Peace Prize Terrorism Washington