Sunday, March 4, 2012

Am I just really, really sheltered?

I don't think so. I live in a pretty liberal community and I went to a pretty liberal school.

This post from David Friedman just took me by surprise:

"My guess is that Americans who consider themselves left wing tend to approve of Hugo Chavez, as they have, traditionally, tended to approve of Fidel Castro. I would also guess that, like most other people, they tend to disapprove of Bashar Al-Assad and his violent suppression of opposition in Syria.

Chavez, however, is one of the few national leaders to support Assad. Assuming my guesses are correct, how do American (or, for that matter, European) leftists deal with the situation?"

Where are these pro-Chavez and pro-Castro Americans he's talking about? I mean, I'm sure there are some really left-wing socialists types that might veer into what Friedman might be thinking of as "pro-Chavez" territory, but a lot of them are of the anti-Stalinist/anti-totalitarian style socialists, so I'm not sure they're genuinely "pro-Chavez". I think what's more common is that people say "Chavez and Castro have popular support, despite their heavy-handedness, and they're no threat to us - so we really shouldn't be acting so belicose toward them". But I wouldn't call that "pro-Chavez", and I would think that would be something David Friedman could agree with.

But maybe I'm just sheltered - I just feel like I've never come across anyone who is "pro-Chavez". Perhaps less anti-Chavez than anti-Assad. But pro-Chavez? That just seems strange to me. Whoever Friedman is thinking of seems like it's a very small minority. And maybe he is thinking of just a very small minority of hard-core leftists. But he doesn't seem to be treating the group that specifically.

This is of the same character as that old Arnold Kling post where he talked about how the Soviet Union was a good real-world test of what liberals want. WTF?!? was my response at the time, and it's my response here too.

Then again, I've never thought of myself as a leftist or even really a liberal, so perhaps I'm projecting on "liberals". But I can't think of any genuine liberals I know who've really been pro-Chavez.


  1. Sean Penn:

  2. I would guess a quarter of my friends would say they are pro-Chavez/Castro (yes, actually pro). That being said, the distribution of my friends is very heavily weighted progressive or further left. I attended a talk given by Nora Casteneda, the Chavez appointed head of the Women's Development Bank, that was well attended by people well beyond the fringe and they would certainly describe themselves as pro-Chavez/Castro/socialist.

    1. by beyond I mean it was not full of dirty hippies and extreme types

  3. Well, there's a ton of liberals who wear the Che Guevara shirts, but I doubt they really know much about his politics. It's just a trendy shirt.

  4. I put it this way when it comes to things like support for Chavez and how some people find it inexplicable. Think about other inexplicable things that large minorities of the population believe in, like, hmm, UFO abductions or ghosts.

  5. I guess I never was in a conversation where someone said, "Chavez is awesome!" but I'm quite sure that a lot of NYU students would have said they "supported Chavez" when he was visiting the UN and saying there was sulfur on the spot because George W. Bush had just been there, etc.

  6. I'm not sure how I feel about Chavez, but I'm not sure "pro-chavez liberals" are any more obligated to disown him because of his stance on a single issue like Syria anymore than they would be obligated to vote for Ron Paul because he's right on a single issue (i assume pro-chavez liberals are the same as anti-war liberals or whatever the generalization was).

  7. Mark Weisbrot wrote a pro-Chavez documentary for Oliver Stone who previously made a pro-Castro documentary. (This doesn't mean Weisbrot supports Castro.)

    To the extent you believe Chavez to be elected in free and fair elections supporting him is somewhat different than supporting Castro. (Oliver Stone seems to blame the US for Castro's "need" to not hold elections.)

    But of course being pro-Chavez does not generally mean supporting everything Chavez says and does. (Some people might, but I doubt most do.) Could you vote for Obama or Bush without agreeing with their position on Saudi Arabia? Which has more impact: Chavez supporting Assad or the United States support of Saudi Arabia?

  8. It's perfectly acceptable for Chavez or pro-Chavez people to be - at least - not anti-Assad. There are no double standards here.


    1) Bashar al Assad, while being a leader of a police state, is not the military leader of Syria. He may well be complicit or quietly approving of the crackdown, but it is well established that he has no authority in his government to tell the army or air force what to do. Chavez may well be against sanctions, because he doesn't want the civilian government punished for the actions of the military govenrment.

    2) The crackdown in Syria, while often hitting civilians and unarmed dissidents without remorse, was motivated by a primarily Al Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood sponsored uprising. The spiritual leader of the rebels, Adnan Al Arour, has said that the Alawi are to be "chopped into pieces and fed to the dogs". What al Assad's regime has done in response to terror attacks on Syrian government officials is simply what George Bush's government did to the Taliban, even though the Taliban never attacked America but only sheltered the Al Qaeda. Both cases involved heavy collateral damage, death of civilians, and indiscriminate killing of un-involved people alongside the involved ones. Who has the moral high ground? Perhaps no one? Then why bother?

    3) Ask any well informed black American or native American what happens when anyone provides armed challenge to a government. Whether it is justified or un-justified, it tends to be not dissimilar to the al Assad regime crackdown. Indeed, when a religious cult refused to be allowed to be investigated for child abuse in Waco, Texas, Clinton's federal troops flamethrowered their church with all the children and women inside. All of them were killed. If there are to be no sanctions on America for this act, then why so on Syria for something similar?

    4) In other words, what al Assad has done in Syria is not dissimilar to what other governments in other parts of the world do in response to acts of terror.

    When has the Left ever disapproved of an ultraviolent response to terrorists? UK had a Labour government which went to war after the London bombings. No double standards at all.

  9. Some of my lefty friends were pro-Chavez about three years ago, I haven't seen much said about him recently though. Occasionally the Guardian run a pro-Chavez article, but I don't think that's taken very seriously in moderate left-wing circles.

    I agree with Prateek that the rebels in Syria are not clearly a force for good. That said I think we can safely condemn Assad's government who have over-reacted, just as we can Clinton's and Bush's for those other cases.

    Of course there have been many times when the left has disapproved on ultraviolent responses to terrorists. Take Northern Ireland for example where they were opposed to many actions which were quite moderate given the situation.

  10. Foreign policy for most people is deeply connected to their own domestic priorities, partisan politics, etc., so Chavez was something of a flag to wave for a number of people back during the Bush administration because he said ugly things about Bush.

    "What al Assad's regime has done in response to terror attacks on Syrian government officials is simply what George Bush's government did to the Taliban..."


    Yes Prateek, that explains the martial regime that has existed in Syria since 1963. Syria is a military dictatorship with an extremely poor human rights record going back long before the current uprising. And the violence came first from the Syrian government side; this included killing soldiers who refused to fire on protesters.

  11. Gary, one really can not know nor should one care who started it.

    A long time ago, Hafez al Assad flattened Homs to the ground. But what triggered it?

    Various people of Homs, especially Muslim Brotherhood members, slaughtered Alawite soldiers and recruits.

    All I know is that we don't live in a world where governments respond kindly to justified or unjustified violent dissent. Did the American government treat native American insurgencies with soft gloves? Or did it brutally suppress them?

    At least in the case of early Americans and the Commanches, or Mexicans and the Apaches, we know better than to pontificate on who started it. It was in the nature of Apaches to violently teach a lesson to those encroaching on their lands, and it was in the nature of Mexicans to expand with military force when existing land could not sustain them.

    You think the human rights record then was better than that of modern day Syria?


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