Civil Liberties And Ongoing Wars: The Left Reacts

Andrew Sullivan —  May 2 2011 @ 6:29pm


The Dish has grouped liberals and civil liberties libertarians together because reactions from both groups overlap significantly. Charli Carpenter's immediate take:

[T]hey’ve done a masterful job at playing the media and making a huge story and enormous nationalistic success out of a single operation in a vast and endless war, that apparently will have no impact on our foreign policy.

Glenn Greenwald:

Whenever America uses violence in a way that makes its citizens cheer, beam with nationalistic pride, and rally around their leader, more violence is typically guaranteed. Futile decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may temporarily dampen the nationalistic enthusiasm for war, but two shots to the head of Osama bin Laden — and the We are Great and Good proclamations it engenders — can easily rejuvenate that war love. One can already detect the stench of that in how Pakistan is being talked about: did they harbor bin Laden as it seems and, if so, what price should they pay?

Amanda Marcotte:

I understand the urge to silence and shame people for being ecstatic that we finally got Bin Laden.  The fear that jubiliation could turn into nationalism and then to bloodlust has real world evidence to back it up.  But I would argue that liberals do ourselves no favors by shushing and shaming people's joy.  There's another option that is both more humanistic and more productive in the long run: grappling with this celebratory mood and channeling it toward policy goals such as shutting down Gitmo and getting out of Afghanistan.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

It is time to end the “global war on terror” we have lived with for this last decade. It is time to stop defining the post 9/11 struggle against stateless terrorists a “war.” And it is time to bring an end to the senseless war in Afghanistan that has cost this nation so much in lives and money. … [W]hat we are engaged in is not primarily a military operation. It’s an intelligence-gathering operation, a law-enforcement, public-diplomacy effort.

Radley Balko outlines how Osama "won":

Yes, bin Laden the man is dead. But he achieved all he set out to achieve, and a hell of a lot more. He forever changed who we are as a country, and for the worse. Mostly because we let him. That isn’t something a special ops team can fix.

Jeralyn Merritt:

Justice is done when someone is apprehended and brought to trial, and convicted or acquitted. Murdering a suspect is not bringing him to justice. What changes Osama's death will bring: Heightened security measures, retributive attacks, and years more of the Government's war on terror and war in Afghanistan and elsewhere. I can understand that people are relieved Osama bin Laden is dead. I cannot understand cheering his murder. Murder is not a cause for jubilation.

Adam Serwer:

Just as al-Qaeda could never defeat the United States militarily, the biggest threat to its ideology was never just American force but Muslims' own desire for self-determination. It is fitting that bin Laden's end should come now, while the Arab Spring brings the reign of less imagined despots to a close. As they usher in their new democracies, we should consider what we've done with ours.

Matt Yglesias tries to kill the "safe haven myth":

On the one hand, no location on earth is actually safe from a United States military capable of deploying special operations troops and a wide array of deadly airborne munitions. On the other hand, people can hide out in all kinds of places. It didn’t take a remote cave or a super-villain lair, it just took discipline. Trying to physical conquer and occupy territory in order to prevent it from being used by terrorists is extremely difficult, oftentimes counterproductive, unnecessary, and offers no guarantee of success.

?Mike Flannigan:

It goes without saying that the world is a better place without Osama bin Laden but that would be to also suggest that the world would be an even better place without a United States that creates monsters the rest of the world has to slay. Osama bin Laden, as stated here earlier, is the ultimate blowback, a perennially unlearned object lesson delineating what happens when we rashly choose, train and finance allies based not on common, noble interests but simply on having common enemies.


The US is under threat, to be sure. But it's the threat of a bunch of paranoid opportunists convincing an entire generation that a handful of suicidal religious fanatics are so dangerous that the most powerful nation on the planet must immediately jettison its fundamental values. If killing bin Laden could change that, I'd be celebrating too.

Will Wilkinson:

That America failed for so long to find and kill the devil who led us so successfully into temptation, who delivered us so fully to evil, has left an exceedingly proud people with a suppurating psychic wound. Shooting Mr bin Laden and dumping him in the sea may or may not make Americans safer. Maybe it marks the welcome end of an ugly era. Maybe it marks the start of a fresh cycle of vengeance and destruction. Who knows? Either way, Mr bin Laden's demise makes most Americans feel bettter. It seems to balance the moral scales, which is inherently cathartic. But it also helps us feel strong again. And, perhaps most importantly, it helps us convince ourselves that, in the end, we won the war against al Qaeda. That's something we seem to need to believe, whether or not it's really true. Here's hoping believing it helps. Here's hoping we finally call it a day.


If ever there was a time that Obama could be persuaded to pursue even a moderately liberal agenda – as opposed to a (roughly) centrist/right one – that time is now. It is likely he will never be more popular. If progressive politicians haven't anticipated this moment, and if they're not prepared to make a full court press for those policies that matter to us, they will have failed us and there should be hell to pay. Opportunities this good are very, very rare, and very, very fleeting.

Barney Frank:

Look, part of the argument against this reduction is that it was reputational, for staying in Afghanistan. ‘We can’t look like America was driven out.’ ‘We can’t go away with our tail between our legs.’ All of those metaphors. Well, we just killed Osama bin Laden, and I think that takes a lot of the pressure away — a lot of the punch away from the argument that ‘oh, it will look like we walked away.’”

Charles Lemos:

As he has so often been in the past, Dick "they will welcome us as liberators" and "last throes" Cheney was wrong. We may not see what's going on in the battle against terrorism but this success suggests a diligence and a laser-like focus by the Administration. It again speaks to the competence of the President himself. It is a moment to savor for Barack Obama, and for the nation, though I am sure that for him and his national security team, their focus remains on what is yet to be done, not what has been accomplished.

Oliver Willis:

Democrats have a very strong tradition of being the party that gets things done on national security. Including FDR and Truman in World War 2, or Clinton in Kosovo. When Obama was elected, we were told time and again that he was too weak, that he would be the worst of liberal pacifism, that he was too “other”, too liberal to really take the fight to those who threaten us. Those of us who prioritize national security on the progressive side knew those arguments were bunk. We knew Democrats have what it takes to be commander-in-chief. We know Democrats can take the 3AM call without a second thought.

D. Aristophanes skewers Pam Geller and Paul Waldman critiques Michele Bachmann's fear of "Sharia-compliant terrorism".

The right's reaction to the news is here.

(Image of Fox's homepage via Pensito Review)