Suddenly, the liberals are the tough guys

Mona Charen

August 12, 1992|By Mona Charen

THE sudden display of muscular interventionism by leading liberals and Democrats is intriguing. They are rattling swords at the Serbs, while loudly announcing to the president of the United States that to do nothing in the face of possible Serbian war crimes would amount to a moral outrage.

First things first. The Serbs are committing naked aggression. In keeping with the sorry practice of 20th-century war-making, they are purposely targeting civilians, including children and the sick and elderly. The pictures broadcast around the world last week of suffering babies are wrenching and heartbreaking.

And yet, it need hardly be said that Bosnia is not the first human rights outrage to stain the history of the late 20th century. Why have liberals, like Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, Rep. Peter Kostmayer, D-Pa., and Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine, found their voices on this crisis and so casually averted their gaze on others?

One understands that the image of camps is powerful and horrifying in a way that mere scenes of war are not. Those pictures of emaciated ribs and gaunt faces staring out from behind barbed wire awaken terrible memories of the Holocaust. Most of us grew up wondering, "How could the world have looked the other way while Hitler carried out the Final Solution?" Against that historical background, the urge to intervene is understandable.

But not from the Democrats. Liberals and Democrats have been able, without any difficulty, to ignore and sometimes even justify human rights atrocities far worse than anything alleged in Bosnia today.

During the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge, the communists in Cambodia, carried out a program of systematic starvation and slaughter of political enemies (defined sometimes as anyone who knew a foreign language or wore glasses) that dwarfs the crimes of the Serbs. And yes, those killings took place in camps, behind barbed wire. Two million Cambodians were massacred.

Where were the bellicose liberals then? Anthony Lewis, today so burdened with the suffering of innocents, was a booster of the Khmer Rouge. He wrote flattering columns about their plans for reform. Later, when the slaughter was brought to a close by the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, liberals like Mr. Lewis managed to argue that the Cambodian holocaust was actually America's fault.

During the 1980s, the communist government of Ethiopia engaged in a genocidal war against the Tigreans and Eritreans. Man-made famine, a trick learned from Stalin, was the principal weapon, but Ethiopia also engaged in forced resettlement of whole populations and bulldozed feeding centers set up by Western relief organizations.

Where were the liberals then? They were singing "We Are the World" and slyly blaming the famine on Western, but most specifically American, indifference. This, despite the fact that the United States was, by far, the largest contributor of food aid to Ethiopia.

More? Liberals sat silent through China's cultural revolution, an orgy of repression and persecution that caused the deaths of 400,000 people, just as they had been able to tolerate the massive Chinese famine of the early 1960s (caused by Mao), which killed millions of peasants.

When the United States does act, liberals can be counted on to regard the action as wrong. The Vietnamese communists were guilty of their share of atrocities (remember the massacre at Hue?), and yet liberal conventional wisdom is that the U.S. role there was "immoral."

Most recently, liberal opinion was opposed to U.S. liberation of Kuwait, despite massive human rights violations by the invading and conquering Iraqis. In fact, liberals dismiss that effort as a mere war "for oil." USA Today writer Barbara Reynolds says she's sure we'd be more interested in Bosnia if it had oil.

Is that the liberal line -- that it's immoral to intervene where our national interests are at stake but moral to ask our sons to die in a war where our interests are not affected?

Bosnia is an open wound. But it's strange that liberals feel the tug of conscience now, when they've so comfortably disregarded epidemics in the recent past.

Mona Charen writes a syndicated column.

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