1953 - 2002 - 2016: Syria and the Reemergence of McCarthyism

Deboer, Fredrik
Date Written:  2016-11-03
Publisher:  Current Affairs
Year Published:  2016
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20294

A history of McCarthyism, or red-baiting, in US politics to justify or bolster foreign war efforts, and how the recent Syrian involvement has brought about a revival of McCarthyist discourse and tactics in the political and social realms.



The phenomenon I'm describing is less apparent in leftist journals, though, than in the political spaces of social media, which have taken over an outsize portion of the leftist conversation in the past decade. Anyone on the broad left who engages on the question of Syria online can hardly have avoided them: a small army of angry tweeters, Facebookers, and internet commenters who loudly insist that supporting American military intervention in Syria is the only moral path. These voices are aggressive, unrelenting, and fixated on Syria to the exclusion of all else. And they tend to embrace classically McCarthyist behavior, accusing those who disagree with them of being pro-Assad, unconcerned with the suffering of the Syrian people, even agents of the Kremlin. To such people, the Syrian question is the only question, and there is no such thing as a principled opponent of the use of US force to save Syria. They are brutal, to the targets they’ve chosen, as they represent such people as complicit in the Syrian horror.


The need to constantly denounce Assad when discussing a potential Syrian intervention is the type of reflexive deference to political demand on which McCarthyism is made. Yes, I think Assad is a war criminal, one I'd love to see sitting in the Hague. But the constant calls to establish one's purity on this question echo the ugliest history of loyalty oaths and purity tests, a history that I'm sorry to say has dogged the radical left throughout history. These days, when I see some soi-disant radical demanding people denounce the Assad regime, I get the distinct feeling of being asked for my papers. Do not ask me to take your loyalty oaths and do not ask me to submit to your ideological interrogations. If you tell me I'm either with you or against you, then I'll be against you, every time. It's a rule that’s never let me down.

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