How do I sleep?

by Michael Bérubé on March 26, 2007

Alexander Cockburn wants to know, and it’s sweet of him to ask. In his most recent essay, “Where are the Laptop Bombardiers Now,” he writes:


But today, amid Iraq’s dreadful death throes, where are the parlor warriors? Have those Iraqi exiles reconsidered their illusions, that all it would take was a brisk invasion and a new constitution, to put Iraq to rights? Have any of them, from Makiya through Hitchens to Berman and Berube had dark nights, asking themselves just how much responsibility they have for the heaps of dead in Iraq, for a plundered nation, for the American soldiers who died or were crippled in Iraq at their urging?


Cockburn’s essay is gradually making its way through the Intertubes, as I learned this weekend when I got an email from one of Cockburn’s more gullible readers, asking me to apologize to the children of Iraq. Well, I don’t know how Makiya and company feel about such things, but I can say that my position on Iraq four years ago hasn’t led me to wonder how much responsibility I have for the war. I opposed the war, and no, I’m not sorry about that.



Four years and six weeks ago, I had just gotten back from the antiwar rally in New York, and I wrote this:


Many of us fear what will happen to Iraqi civilians and American civil liberties; I fear this too, but as the impervious Bush imperium machine grinds on, I fear the aftermath of the war even more than the war itself.


A military governorship in Baghdad for at least two years? A Greater Turkey to contain the Kurds in the north? Osama at large and al-Qaeda regrouping in Afghanistan and Pakistan? NATO and the UN in shreds?


What a complete and terrible and deadly mess. Everyone with any damn sense at all knows that if President Gore were sitting in his rightful place in the Oval Office right now, we wouldn’t be on this obsessive and profoundly counterproductive path. Yes, President Gore would have taken out the Taliban and its terrorist training camps immediately after 9/11. And rightly so. But from that point on, there’s almost no point of contact between what Bush has done and what any sane or competent President would have done. That’s why these antiwar rallies are inevitably referenda on Bush. And that’s why it’s so important to keep the grounds of dissent as broad as possible, and the level of public outrage as high as possible, even during and after this war. We can’t call for votes of no confidence before 2004; we have to live with the guy the Supreme Court installed. So we have to contain him until we can remove him.


Now, perhaps you think this is just sloppy Alex Cockburn making a sloppy mistake, tossing me in with people who supported war in Iraq. But this kind of thing has been going on for almost five years now, and there’s no mistake about it. In the US, the Z/Counterpunch left didn’t care much for people who wanted the antiwar movement to be as broad as possible; they took it as their task to make sure that the political ground for the antiwar movement would be as narrow as possible, and to that end, they made a point of describing people like me and Michael Walzer and Todd Gitlin and Marc Cooper and David Corn (all of whom opposed war but favored UN inspections and/or no-fly zones and/or revised sanctions) as supporters of war in Iraq. I pointed this out in late 2002, in response to Ed Herman’s first Z essay on “The Cruise Missile Left”:


I will not take the bait Herman offers when he suggests that in the 1850’s, he and his friends would have been abolitionists whereas people like me, Marc Cooper, Todd Gitlin, and Michael Walzer would have made our accommodations with slaveowners and their sympathizers. Herman’s self-satisfaction on this score is all too common among those white Americans who insist that theirs was always the side of the angels on race matters, and I will not compete with him for the moral high ground of the 1850s. I will say only that I find his analogy between advocates of the overthrow of the Taliban and antebellum defenders of slavery to be every bit as convincing as his attempt to construe my opposition to war in Iraq—along with Cooper’s, Gitlin’s, and Walzer’s resolute opposition to war in Iraq—as a form of support for war in Iraq.


(There’s more—OK, much more—in this vein here, for those of you who feel like checking out my old haunt.)


The only correct form of opposition to the Iraq war, according to the Z/Counterpunch crowd, consisted of opposition to war in Afghanistan and Kosovo as well. The paramount principle at stake, for them, was the principle of national sovereignty: no international institution has the right to infringe on Milosevic’s, or the Taliban’s, or Saddam’s sovereignty. And sure enough, on those grounds, Ed Herman replied that “it is entirely reasonable to describe Berube as a supporter of the imminent war against Iraq.” Indeed, Herman went on to write a whole series of essays on his Cruise Missile Left, and in installment number two, he charged that “the CMLs accept the Bush premise that Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction are a major threat, and most of them believe that the inspections regime is reasonable and should be allowed to continue to seek out and remove those weapons.” “These views,” he explained, “are not ‘left’ at all, they are ‘moderate’ apologetics for imperial violence.” UN inspections, in other words, were a form of imperialism. We CMLs thought they were the best alternative to war and the best way of finding out whether the hawks’ claims about WMD had any merit; but then, being apologists for imperial inspections-violence, that’s just what we would say, now, isn’t it.


Having thus established that it was entirely reasonable to describe me as a supporter of war in Iraq, Herman went on, in his CML-2 essay, to endorse Cockburn’s entirely reasonable charge that I was working in concert with David Horowitz:


Berube has reacted strongly against the charge of being in league with Horowitz, but as Alexander Cockburn points out, “We find it pretty ripe that Berube should whine about guilt by association after he and Cooper and Corn have spent months smearing the peace movement because the Workers World Party and ANSWER have been organizing demonstrations.”


Actually, we spent months trying to argue that the antiwar movement was singularly ill-served by the neo-Stalinoids of the WWP, and we pointed out that an antiwar movement with ANSWER at its head looked like an antiwar movement designed by Horowitz, but no matter. As we knew at the time, the real problem wasn’t that we’d criticized ANSWER. The real problem was that we’d criticized Noam Chomsky, which, for some people, is even worse than supporting war in Iraq. Cockburn notes as much in “Where Are the Laptop Bombadiers Now,” in a passage that’s a minor marvel of disingenuousness:


The war party virtually monopolized television. AM radio poured out a filthy torrent of war bluster. The laptop bombardiers such as Salman Rushdie were in full war paint. Among the progressives the liberal interventionists thumped their tin drums, often by writing pompous pieces attacking the antiwar “hard left”. Mini-pundits Todd Gitlin and Michael Berube played this game eagerly. Berube lavished abuse on Noam Chomsky and other clear opponents of the war, mumbling about the therapeutic potential of great power interventionism, piously invoking the tradition of “left internationalism.”


Neither Gitlin nor I lavished abuse on Chomsky for his opposition to war in Iraq. But we did criticize him for things like this September 2001 interview with Radio B92 in Belgrade, for proclaiming on the afternoon of September 11 that the attacks paled in comparison to Clinton’s 1998 bombing of the al-Shifa plant in Khartoum (I wish I could have been half as eloquent as Leo Casey was at the time), and for announcing, in October 2001, “looks like what’s happening [in Afghanistan] is some sort of silent genocide.” (Two years later, of course, in response to the question, “where is the ‘silent genocide’ you predicted would happen in Afghanistan if the US intervened there in 2001?” Chomsky replied, “that is an interesting fabrication, which gives a good deal of insight into the prevailing moral and intellectual culture. First, the facts: I predicted nothing.” Since Chomsky neither predicted nor described a silent genocide, I’ve since concluded that in 2001 he actually invented a new kind of speech act for which he has yet to be credited.) And more recently, I’ve criticized Chomsky for going off about how poor Slobodan was horrified, horrified when he heard what happened at Srebenica – which, as Ed Herman has been arguing for many years now, never quite happened in the first place.


Familiar stuff, I know. But if Alexander Cockburn is going to wonder whether I’ve had any dark nights in the past few years, I suppose I can wonder in return if he’s had any moments of regret for inveighing against people like me and Gitlin as insufficiently anti-imperialist and unacceptably willing to consider violations of Saddam’s sovereignty. Because although the Sovereignty Left has achieved a remarkable consistency in defending Milosevic and the Taliban from international interventions, they also did their part to make the antiwar movement in the US smaller and less effective than it might have been when it came to Iraq.


The single most promising practical argument against war in Iraq, in 2002-03, was that it represented a disastrous diversion from the real battle, the battle against al-Qaeda and radical Islamism. Those of us who opposed the Iraq war on those grounds—as well as the moral grounds forbidding pre-emptive, unprovoked war—knew that Iraq would be a disaster, because the very idea of war in Iraq indicated that the hawks were going to screw up Afghanistan all over again. At the time, I believed that the people promoting war in Iraq were simply not serious about (or, in the case of our president and vice-president, not very interested in) the question of who’d really attacked us on September 11 and why. But, of course, you can’t make any of those arguments if you believe that the war in Afghanistan was not merely unjustified but actually, in Chomsky’s words (from a June 2006 interview), “one of the most grotesque acts of modern history.” Thus the Z/Counterpunch leadership of the antiwar movement in the US could not and would not make the argument that Iraq was a terrible diversion from Afghanistan, and it was less interested in keeping the grounds of dissent as broad as possible than in demanding that “clear” opposition to war in Iraq be predicated on opposition to war in Afghanistan.


Cockburn’s essay closes, appropriately, with a bit of self-congratulation for the achievements of the Sovereignty Left:


Post coldwar Liberal interventionism came of age with the onslaught on Serbia. Liberal support for the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq were the afterglows. Now that night has descended and illusions about the great crusade shattered for ever, let us tip our hats to those who opposed this war from the start—the real left, the libertarians and those without illusions about the “civilizing mission” of the great powers.


And, of course, Cockburn has a point. People like Michael Ignatieff and George Packer took Kosovo as a model for Iraq, and in so doing, traduced the very idea of international humanitarian intervention they were trying to promote. (Though, notably, Ken Roth wasn’t fooled, and neither was Samantha Power, and neither was Michael Walzer or Danny Postel or Ian Williams, and neither, for what little it’s worth, was I. Neither was most of the liberal and progressive blogosphere.) But on my reading—and if you want to hear more about this, just stay tuned for my next book, The Left At War—in the wake of Kosovo, the Sovereignty Left and the Liberal Hawks produced each other. In the US, the Z/Counterpunch crew have a symbiotic relation to Berman, Hitchens, et al., just as in the UK the Galloway/Respect crowd have a symbiotic relation to the Eustonites. To this day, each needs the other. And it is in both camps’ interest to pretend that Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq were all part of the same enterprise: all three wars were wars of liberation for the Hawks, and all three were exercises in imperialism for the Sovereignty Left. The Hawks wound up agreeing, in whole or in part, with Bush’s premise that Iraq was the next logical front in the War on Terror. And the Sovereignty Left has never quite explained what American empire was established in the Balkans, and they’ve never quite explained why they opposed the Taliban from 1996 to 2001 but opposed the Taliban’s removal after al-Qaeda’s strikes against the US. But both groups share the common goal of aligning supporters of war in Kosovo and Afghanistan with supporters of war in Iraq.


This is why, these days, you find such a willingness on the part of the Sovereignty Left to refer to the Euston Manifesto signers as members of the “Decent Left,” even though the author of “Can There Be a Decent Left?” opposed war in Iraq; it’s part of the necessary enterprise of blurring the distinctions. It’s also why the Sovereignty Left’s apologetics for Milosevic have gotten only more frenzied and hysterical with time: the debacle in Iraq, for them, has become grounds for delegitimating not only the US’ retaliatory strike against al-Qaeda, but the belated and badly-executed attempt to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Balkans as well. Actually, you don’t hear them speak of “ethnic cleansing and genocide in the Balkans”; they speak instead, as Cockburn does here, of NATO’s “onslaught on Serbia.” And then they tip their caps to the Thatcher/Major wing of the Tories, and the Pat Buchanan wing of the American right, who insisted that the proper response to Milosevic was to do nothing at all.


I don’t always sleep well, I admit. But over the past four years, since the beginning of this terrible war, I have not lost sleep over my position on Iraq. And while I don’t imagine that we in the US could have stopped the criminally insane Cheney Administration from launching war in Iraq, I do wonder whether the American opposition to this war could have been more popular and more widespread four years ago. And sometimes I even lie awake and wonder how best to deal with people as intellectually dishonest as Alexander Cockburn.

{ 5 trackbacks }

The sovereignty left at The Euston Manifesto Blog
03.27.07 at 1:00 am
Berube vs Cockburn « Politary
03.27.07 at 3:55 am
foggybottomline.com » Sovereignty and Terrorism
03.27.07 at 4:15 pm
Progressive Gold » Blog Archive » “Sovereignty left”
03.27.07 at 9:44 pm
Sovereignty, intervention, and self-interest « A Thinking Reed
03.28.07 at 4:04 pm

{ 296 comments }

1

ejh 03.26.07 at 4:16 pm

Possibly, it might help if you weren’t so intellectually dishonest yourself as to describe opponents of the attack on Yugoslavia as apolgists for Milosevic.

2

aaron 03.26.07 at 4:24 pm

5HTP Triptophane is pretty helpful. So’s valerian root.

3

aaron 03.26.07 at 4:25 pm

Maybe try reading instead of writing.

4

Chris Bertram 03.26.07 at 4:29 pm

I’m kind of with you there, most of the way Michael, since I’ve occupied a very similar position. But I have to quibble with your penultimate paragraph since I (an opponent of the “sovereignty left”) have happily called the Eustonites “the decent left” — as has Daniel, by the way.

That isn’t because we want to blur the distinctions, but rather because, among other things, it is a handy way of mocking their pretension and self-righteousness.

(Btw, before they all turn up correcting you on this point, I’ll get in first and point out that some of the Eustonites also opposed the Iraq war.)

5

Daragh McDowell 03.26.07 at 4:32 pm

Wow, that’s a storming essay Michael. Great to hear some real fire here at CT!

Interestingly, I found your depiction of the Sovereign Left echoes Vladimir Surkin (chief ideologist for Unified Russia, the powerbase of Vladimir Putin)and his ideology of ‘Sovereign Democracy.’ Simply put, his idea is the same: we’re a sovereign country and the West has no right to make any sort of judgement about us. Hell, we’ll even describe Putinism as ‘democratic.’ Its of course, a thinly veiled attempt at defending dictatorship (including the truly horrific ones of Russia’s Uzbek and Belarusian allies) and has been dismissed contemptuosly by most thinkers in the field.

Again great essay, and thanks for pointing out the Galloway/Hitchens symbiosis. I’d been looking for a way to despise both of them equally…

6

jason 03.26.07 at 4:40 pm

“since the beginning of this terrible war, I have not lost sleep over my position on Iraq.”

I doubt that an expressed disagreement with a particular U.S. war policy ends one’s complicity with the repugnant effects of that policy.

As long as each one of us, as American citizens, allows our individual tax dollars to be used for such inhumane purposes, may none of us sleep well at night.

7

Timothy Burke 03.26.07 at 4:49 pm

I think this ultimately identifies an interesting question: when and how did one faction of the Western left come to regard sovereignty as the singular inviolate principle that left politics is called upon to defend, and by which people who are truly “left” may be separated from riff-raff moderates and popular frontists of various kinds? Seen against the long history of the left in the West, this strikes me as a very late and in many ways markedly odd development.

8

Michael Bérubé 03.26.07 at 4:53 pm

That isn’t because we want to blur the distinctions, but rather because, among other things, it is a handy way of mocking their pretension and self-righteousness.

(Btw, before they all turn up correcting you on this point, I’ll get in first and point out that some of the Eustonites also opposed the Iraq war.)

Ah, point taken on both counts, Chris. And if memory serves, Michael Walzer was among the Euston signatories who’d opposed the Iraq war. I have to admit that when I wrote that passage I was thinking chiefly of Nick Cohen.

it might help if you weren’t so intellectually dishonest yourself as to describe opponents of the attack on Yugoslavia as apolgists for Milosevic.

Well, the phrase “attack on Yugoslavia” does sound a bit loaded to my ears, but no, I didn’t mean to give that impression; I don’t actually believe that most of the opponents of NATO strikes in Kosovo were Milosevic apologists. I’m concerned only with the people who are, and Ed Herman definitely is. Check out the Ian Williams essay I linked on the phrase “belated and badly-executed attempt,” because that’s pretty much where I am on this. I’m also fond of this review essay, for similar reasons.

9

Planeshift 03.26.07 at 4:54 pm

“I do wonder whether the American opposition to this war could have been more popular and more widespread four years ago.” [if it wasn't run by the Z/Answer sovereignty left]

I think that is a fair way of paraphrasing what you are saying.

There is an obvious comparison here with the British anti-war movement that was run by the SWP/Galloway/Sovereignty left. It was also more popular and widespread than the American anti-war movement.

So I’d suggest those running the movements actually had very little influence over the size of their movements (there are not 2 million Trotskyites in the UK). To think otherwise would be to suggest that somehow there was a great pool of anti-this-war-now sentiment that simply remained at home because they disliked the left more than the upcoming war.

10

Donald Johnson 03.26.07 at 4:55 pm

This is a disappointment, Michael. You did a much better job Chomsky-criticizing at your old blog. I don’t have the link, but I remember reading it and thinking it was quite good. This wasn’t. You’ve got every right to slam Herman and Cockburn for lying about your position, but I think your anger has led you to be less fair than you have been in the past.

Chomsky predicted a mass famine as a result of the bombing of Afghanistan and pointed out that the press in the US didn’t care, which would in his view have amounted to genocide. He based this prediction on the warnings of various NGO’s–he also cited a NYT article by John Burns which said that the US had cut off food aid. His claim that no one in mainstream US circles cared about the possibility of famine was basically correct–there were a number of foolish stories about the food drops from the air, which would have made up less than 1 percent of what was needed.

The Taliban collapsed by November and the famine didn’t occur (though there may have been some starvation deaths). So I think Chomsky (and his fans like myself) over-reacted. It wasn’t a black and white situation the way he portrayed it. But there was a real danger of famine and it was mostly downplayed or ignored in the US press, except to the extent we could make ourselves feel good by telling idiotic stories about useless food drops. I think the British press covered the issue well–it’s where I saw all the debates at the time. As for whether he did or did not predict a silent genocide–he warned that this would be the result of the policies followed, but because the Taliban lines collapsed before winter set in, there was no humanitarian catastrophe on the scale predicted by the NGO’s.

Regarding the Sudan, there really was a German ambassador who thought the bombing of that plant might have led to many thousands of deaths. Whether it did or not I don’t know.

As for Samantha Power, Herman’s got a point. Her writing seems to me to be in the usual tradition of so-called Wilsonian idealists vs. realists. The only sins we commit, in these debates, are those of omission. We don’t need to worry ourselves about our sins of commission, where we actively assist mass murderers. Was it the Herman article where I saw a picture of Power hanging out with Richard Holbrooke? Holbrooke has bloody hands with respect to East Timor and (if you read Ray Bonner’s book “Waltzing with a Dictator”) he was also anti-human rights in the Philippines.

I think the Hermanites would say that US established a humanitarian war precedent/justification in the Balkans, one which could be extended to other places when convenient. Not an empire, just a precedent. I don’t know enough about the issue to have my own opinion about that–what was the legal justification for our bombing of Serbia?

11

dsquared 03.26.07 at 4:58 pm

I think I would probably claim quite a lot of the credit for turning “Decent Left” into a political insult, but the reason for doing so was always that they adopted the name for themselves. I was always dimly aware that the inventor of the phrase didn’t really share a lot of the Eustonite views, but took the view that, hey, McDonalds aren’t too keen on the word “McJob” either and so what (also, that the political tendency currently trading under the brand “pro-Israel” aren’t all that popular in Israel).

In my view, Decentism is defined with reference to four core principles:

1. That a particular kind internationalism is constitutive of what it means to really be on the Left – that anyone who disagrees with this particular kind of internationalism has betrayed the true nature of The Left.

2. That this kind of internationalism supports liberal interventionism, which is a much stronger and more controversial position than humanitarian intervention. Or, more weakly, that a very expansive definition of humanitarian intervention should be taken (compared to the standard Human Rights Watch et al one).

3. That either the Nuremberg Principles have been substantially modified by the Genocide Convention and the concept of a “responsibility to protect”, or that all international law based on the UN institutions is corrupt and needs to be wholly redrafted (in other words, that the legal basis for liberal intervention either already exists or should be created by the destruction of much actually existing law).

4. That a suitable institutional arrangement for putting this philosophy into practice exists, and that it is, more or less, the United States of America (in other words, that any doubts one might have about either the general issue of whether it is appropriate for the USA to fill this role, or whether the Bush administration specifically were competent to fill it are motivated by blind anti-Americanism).

I think it can also be argued that Decency is a style of politics rather than a program; in comments on Aaronovitch Watch I’ve defended Michael against charges of Decency on the basis that nobody who believes in the normal maxim “no need to be an ass about it” can be a true member of the Decent Left. But if there’s a program, that’s it.

AFAICT, Michael believes 1) and a version of 3) (I would refer to myself not so much as the “Sovereignty Left” as the “Nuremberg Left”, as in, I believe that the authors of the founding international law on wars of aggression got it more or less right. This would support a position of “no aggressive wars, more or less ever, with very rare exceptions for overpowering humanitarian emergencies, when there is a practical and workable plan”, ie yes Afghanistan (not aggressive war) yes Sierra Leone (both criteria satisfied), no Kosovo (not a humanitarian emergency), no Darfur (no plan). This puts me pretty close to the “Sovereignty Left”, but I think Michael doesn’t really give we Westphalians enough credit here.)

I’ve never really understood Michael’s position on 2), probably out of laziness on my own part, but think he might be at least in principle in favour of it. The real sticking point is 4), and I think Michael is dead right in saying that the hardline Gallowayites and the Decentists have a shared interest in pretending that this is in some way a second-order question when in fact it’s the whole damn point.

I do think it’s really weird to boycott an anti-war demonstration because of qualms about the people organising it though; it is not as if the pro-war side were not making some very questionable alliances of their own at that time, and nobody ever seems to have called them on it (after all, if I joined a movement “effectively led” by George Galloway, Nick Cohen joined on “effectively led” by Donald Rumsfeld, which rather points out the ridiculousness of the original charge. I also agree with ejh above that it’s just not fair to equate opposition to the Kosovo intervention with apologism for Milosevic.

12

Michael Bérubé 03.26.07 at 5:01 pm

This is a disappointment, Michael. You did a much better job Chomsky-criticizing at your old blog.

Oh, well. But then, it was on my old blog that I went into Chomsky’s claims about Afghan starvation, not here. Here I’m remarking on Cockburn’s willingness to pretend that Gitlin and I criticized Chomsky’s opposition to war in Iraq. So with all due respect, Donald, I find your nostalgia for my better Chomsky-criticizin’ of yore a little hard to believe.

13

dsquared 03.26.07 at 5:03 pm

Timothy:

I think this ultimately identifies an interesting question: when and how did one faction of the Western left come to regard sovereignty as the singular inviolate principle that left politics is called upon to defend, and by which people who are truly “left” may be separated from riff-raff moderates and popular frontists of various kinds?

surely it’s the other way round; it’s (one version of) the internationalist faction that have gone around writing books like “What’s Left?” and accusing other people of betraying the leftist traditions. As I say above, the majority of opponents of “imperialism” IMO don’t oppose it out of some mystic reverence for the nationalist geist, but more obviously because imperialism has a really really shitty track record.

14

franck 03.26.07 at 5:14 pm

dsquared,

I don’t think it is weird at all to boycott anti-war demonstrations because you find the political positions of the people organizing it to be harmful. In fact, I think that is a rather common occurrence in history. In many cases, various leftist forces have refused to unite when they all opposed specific policies. That usually happens with voting, but demonstrations are also an expression of popular will, and if one is adamantly opposed to Stalinism, one clearly might not want to swell a protest organized by Stalinists. In fact, as far as I can tell, precisely this dynamic played out in the US in the run up to the Iraq war. So I think it is weird that you think it is weird.

You’re right that opposition to the Kosovo intervantion does not equal apologism for Milosevic, but all the apologists for Milosevic were against the Kosovo intervention. And the membership of Milosevic apologists was not zero.

15

novakant 03.26.07 at 5:16 pm

a pox on both their houses, bravo

Yet when you write about delegitimating not only the US’ retaliatory strike against al-Qaeda, it seems to me you’re presupposing that the actions taken by the US in Afghanistan warrant no further investigation as far as their morality is concerned, the US got attacked and had the right to retaliate, end of story. Many people share this view, but, without being part of the ‘sovereignity left’, I disagree that 9/11 gave the US carte blanche in Afghanistan.

In the same way that the justice system doesn’t legitimize its punitive authority (solely) with the idea of retribution, a state cannot justify a war solely based on retaliation. Since the US largely failed to eliminate the threat posed by Al Quaeda and failed to get Afghanistan on the road to long-term stability, I’m not so sure if the war in Afghanistan was legitimate after all.

The case is different when it comes to the interventions in the Balkans – as badly executed as they were, there was an ongoing genocide which simply necessitated action.

16

dsquared 03.26.07 at 5:16 pm

Franck, a war is more or less by definition an imminent humanitarian emergency. And a humanitarian emergency is the sort of situation which, IMO, morally requires us to set aside second-order differences.

17

Michael Bérubé 03.26.07 at 5:18 pm

surely it’s the other way round; it’s (one version of) the internationalist faction that have gone around writing books like “What’s Left?” and accusing other people of betraying the leftist traditions.

I don’t think so, dsquared. I think both the international left and the sovereignty left have been accusing each other of betrayal of the left’s traditions, and this constitutes part of the argument over the meaning of the question of “what’s left.”

AFAICT, Michael believes 1) and a version of 3) (I would refer to myself not so much as the “Sovereignty Left” as the “Nuremberg Left”, as in, I believe that the authors of the founding international law on wars of aggression got it more or less right. This would support a position of “no aggressive wars, more or less ever, with very rare exceptions for overpowering humanitarian emergencies, when there is a practical and workable plan”, ie yes Afghanistan (not aggressive war) yes Sierra Leone (both criteria satisfied), no Kosovo (not a humanitarian emergency), no Darfur (no plan). This puts me pretty close to the “Sovereignty Left”, but I think Michael doesn’t really give we Westphalians enough credit here.)

I don’t care for (1), because I don’t have any commitment to a concept of what the left truly is; I think its meaning and purpose changes, like everything else, over time. (This is why I have so little patience, for example, with people who point out, neener neener, that 19th-century liberals believed things that would be considered “conservative” today, or that the left once embraced eugenics.) But as for a version of (3), yeah, I believe in the responsibility to protect, and I believe, like Williams and Hastings, that the West sat on its hands when there were humanitarian emergencies in the Balkans. And I don’t want any part of (2) and (4).

18

franck 03.26.07 at 5:21 pm

dsquared,

You can say that all you want, but that isn’t what happens in history, over and over again. So I understand that you wish it didn’t happen, but it isn’t “weird”, or even unusual. It happens over and over again. Look what happened to POUM in the Spanish Civil War.

19

Michael Bérubé 03.26.07 at 5:23 pm

it seems to me you’re presupposing that the actions taken by the US in Afghanistan warrant no further investigation as far as their morality is concerned, the US got attacked and had the right to retaliate, end of story. Many people share this view, but, without being part of the ‘sovereignity left’, I disagree that 9/11 gave the US carte blanche in Afghanistan.

OK, fair point. For clarification’s sake: I would never argue that 9/11 gave the US carte blanche, and I have never believed that US actions in Afghanistan warrant no further investigation as far as their morality is concerned. (Back in 2002 I had no hesitation in calling the bombing of the wedding party in Kakrak an atrocity.) I actually don’t think that 9/11 gave the US the right to kill any innocent civilians anywhere in the world. The right to destroy al-Qaeda’s training camps, check the Taliban, and disrupt the alliance between al-Qaeda and Pakistan’s ISI, yes.

20

ejh 03.26.07 at 5:29 pm

I’ll get in first and point out that some of the Eustonites also opposed the Iraq war

This is scarcely a revelation: they opposed the war and then supported the occupation, which strikes me as somewhat inconsistent but sometimes people are, you know?

I’ve always felt there was something loathsome about people who cheered on the bombing in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan in precisely the same terms as those who cheered it on in Iraq and were prepared to mouth precisely the same smears about those who opposed them. They then want to insist that they are the Onlie True Opponents of the war in Iraq: rather than, of course, those who saw what was going on several years before they did.

Note that for these people, “keeping the grounds of dissent as broad as possible” means saying what they say rather than what “broad” would actually mean which is accepting that there are different reasons for opposing the war and not just the one that says “it’s a diversion from Afghanistan”. Curiously, such was the opinion of a recent piece I read on Counterpunch

Christ, it’s arrogant: people who turn up to a movement several years after everybody else and then insist that it all be done Their Way. It’s the sort of people who always expect to be first in line, who always expect to be the ones who make the decisions. And who expect to dish out abuse to those who opposed the previous couple of wars and are then outraged when they get some of it back.

21

ejh 03.26.07 at 5:33 pm

Well, the phrase “attack on Yugoslavia” does sound a bit loaded to my ears

Oh, does it? Well I’m devastated by your reaction.

I would have thought it an adequate description on the bombing of Belgrade and other Yugoslavian cities.

22

jason 03.26.07 at 6:00 pm

“I actually don’t think that 9/11 gave the US the right to kill any innocent civilians anywhere in the world. The right to destroy al-Qaeda’s training camps, check the Taliban, and disrupt the alliance between al-Qaeda and Pakistan’s ISI, yes.”

Well, I don’t see how any of these military operations could be carried out without killing innocent civilians (withstanding, perhaps, super-precision [ha!] bombing of empty training camps), so your support for ‘check[ing] the Taliban’, etc., is inherently a green light for civilian casualties — regardless of whether one desires that such casualties be limited.

In fact, the most pointed critique from the left on all three wars (Kos., Afgh., and Iraq) comes not from a defense of nationalism over imperialism, but from a recognition of the way that interventionist militarism, in each case, is devastating to those not purposefully involved (e.g., civilian lives).

23

ejh 03.26.07 at 6:07 pm

from a recognition of the way that interventionist militarism, in each case, is devastating to those not purposefully involved

Quite so. It might be added that saying “we’re the US, we’re the good guys, we’re well-motivated” tends to serve the purpose of obscuring this fact: because we (therefore) don’t mean to kill civilians, we in practice carry on doing just that, in industrial quantities. So to cast doubt on US bona fides for Yugoslavia or Afghanistan isn’t some monstrous act of anti-Americanism, or apologetics for the rulers of whatever cities are about to be devastated: it’s a necesary way of saying “stop, what is happening is not what you are saying is happening and because of this, it will end in disaster”.

Unless anybody thinks Afghanistan isn’t a disaster. The locals seem to think it is. And why would I think that if the USA hadn’t started bombing Iraq, Afghani civilians would somehow have been bombed less?

24

abb1 03.26.07 at 6:12 pm

I’m pretty sure that the principle of national sovereignty is paramount to these folks not because it’s some kind of fetish, but because they feel that making it paramount is the only way to prevent the imperialist wars.

So, this Sovereignty Left is, in fact, Anti-Imperialist Left. I certainly have no problem with a little mockery here and there, but this one seems to be the same kind as the “Pro-Abortion Liberals”.

25

novakant 03.26.07 at 6:13 pm

thanks for the clarification, Michael, and I do see your point, even though I myself have come to a different and probably slightly counterintuitive conclusion:

since any action against an enemy so ingrained in Afghanistan as the Taliban and (to a lesser extent) Al Quaeda would necessarily result in civilian deaths and violent disruption of society, the legitimacy depends on what kind of state the US would turn Afghanistan into – had the US been willing and able to establish a stable, humane and reasonably prosperous state there, the intervention could be justified – as it stands it was a waste of lives and money, because of the very limited goals Rumsfeld wanted to achieve there, while I’m inclined to argue that if you’re going to intervene, you better go the whole hog

it’s a tricky case though, anyways, welcome to CT

26

Rich Puchalsky 03.26.07 at 6:24 pm

The description I’d prefer is the “anti-American-exceptionalism left”. Actions do not become either automatically good when America does them or automatically bad. Instead there’s a universal conception of human rights which can be infringed by America or any other state. The intervention in the Balkans was plausibly better for its inhabitants as a whole than what going on without intervention; the intervention in Afghanistan might have been, had anyone attempted it seriously.

In any case, this view has to make its holder antiwar by default, since wars are such extreme gambles with the lives of people in the war area. It’s a lot better (in providing a consistent response to future situations) than either soverieignty or the view of American as exceptionally bad in ways that go beyond its unusual power and therefore its ability to misuse power.

27

Donald Johnson 03.26.07 at 6:40 pm

“So with all due respect, Donald, I find your nostalgia for my better Chomsky-criticizin’ of yore a little hard to believe.”

Not sure what that means, but it doesn’t matter.
Others are challenging your position in interesting ways, so I’ll revert to lurk mode.

28

Rich Puchalsky 03.26.07 at 6:40 pm

But I forgot to examine the rhetorical reasons why the named individuals like to lie about you being an Iraq War supporter. It’s clearly impossible for them to end the war by themselves. However, they can attempt to discredit those people just “to the right” of them (if that still means anything). As happened with the Bush administration itself, politics substitutes for policy, and anything that can be used would be a waste not to use, whether it’s appropriate to any kind of poorly conceived larger goal or not. The old cry of “no enemies to the left” can be counted on to insulate them from any backlash.

29

abb1 03.26.07 at 6:41 pm

@25. In fact, the Taliban wasn’t anyone’s enemy. Nor there was any liberal Afghanistan project that supposedly went terribly wrong at some point; this whole project is a pure illusion.

I remember in the middle of the Afghan war (that is: after a week or two of relentless bombings), Mr. Bush publicly stated that he has nothing against the Taliban and offered them to immediately stop “doing it to their country” as soon as they “cough up bin Laden and his lieutenants”. That’s all there is to it; so, your “enemy so ingrained in Afghanistan as the Taliban” doesn’t really make much sense.

30

Planeshift 03.26.07 at 6:54 pm

The whole doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” or humanitarian intervention is one of the biggest cases of missing the point in recent history. The whole discourse surrounding it is that humanitarian emergencies and human rights violations are things caused by other people that we are in a position to put right. Hence we see the outrage from decents directed far more towards the Serbs, Saddam, and Muagbe etc than the dictatorships that play along with us (Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia). The only time western governments come under criticisms is over failure to act, as in Rwanda (lets leave aside the fact that actually the west – France in particular – did intervene in Rwanda in support of those committing the atrocities).

The reason that this misses the point goes far beyond the “double standards” alluded to above. It is that to engage in the pretence that western powers are noble actors is foolish beyond belief. If one’s concern is human rights and dealing with humanitarian emergencies, then logically an obvious place to start would be the arms trade, debt, and the global trade rules – in particular the intellectual property laws on medicine (surely HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa counts as a humanitarian emergency?).

31

sidereal 03.26.07 at 6:58 pm

To think otherwise would be to suggest that somehow there was a great pool of anti-this-war-now sentiment that simply remained at home because they disliked the left more than the upcoming war.

I consider this a very reasonable characterization.

32

Xanthippas 03.26.07 at 7:33 pm

I’m fairly new to this issue, but with my limited knowledge and understanding, I would argue that the mistake of those like Berube was that in the run-up to the war, they spent far too much time and energy attacking those who were ostensibly on their side instead of attacking those who were trumpeting the war. Was the real problem in Fall of 2002 that the anti-war movement was “compromised” by the likes of Chomsky and ANSWER, or was it that the neo-cons had hijacked the “MSM” into selling a war to a frightened public? I was utterly opposed to the war, but I did not feel the need to criticize those who were opposed to it for different reasons than I. You did Mr. Berube, and you’ll forgive persons such as myself for not being altogether sympathetic that the anti-war far left are none too fond of you as a result.

For what it’s worth, I’d like to think I’m intellectually honest about this issue: I also do not believe that it’s a good idea for those of us who want to get out of Iraq now to spend and overly amount of time criticizing those who first supported the war, and only now are against it (except perhaps those who invite retaliation by consistently demeaning the “anti-war left” despite the fact that they themselves were utterly wrong about the war.)

33

mpowell 03.26.07 at 7:42 pm

I’d like to offer my personal experience here. I’m pretty young – born in 1980 – and I didn’t know much about politics in 2001. Sometime in the last few years I picked up surfing the web as a pastime at work and my political views have shifted a lot during that time.

Not to offer that as an excuse, but I did support the war in Iraq, mostly because I thought it was the best chance for democratic change in the middle east. And, in retrospect, I see all the reasons why that was a naive mistake.

Now, I’m not sure under what circumstances I would have had a different opinion at the time, but I can certainly say that I was never intellectually engaged by the argumentation that Michael Berube and others were offering. I did know who Chomsky was- he taught at my school- and I had seen him give political speeches. And let me say this about the man: you don’t always have to know much about politics to know a self-promoting, dishonest political charlatan when you see one. In person Chomsky was belligerent, belittled people he disagreed with, took advantage of his position to quiet opposing views and misused common terms to his advantage.

And as one of the most prominent anti-war leaders, I granted him no credibility whatsoever. I say this not to justify my position, but to say that I really do believe that Chomsky and his adherents did unduly discredit the anti-war movement. People didn’t stay home because they disliked the left; but they may not have considered anti-war arguments b/c the most prominent ones they were aware of didn’t make any sense to them.

Of course, if you really believe Chomsky’s general political views, I can’t blame you for voicing them. But occupying a political space fairly close to Berube now, I think those views are wrong and that sometimes their supporters do more harm than good even if we are in rough agreement on a particular issue. And that leads to a pretty dim view on my part of the whole, “we were here first” complaint.

34

a 03.26.07 at 7:45 pm

“Actions do not become either automatically good when America does them or automatically bad. Instead there’s a universal conception of human rights which can be infringed by America or any other state.”

Universal as in “held by everyone” ? There aren’t many if any such.

In any case the U.S. shouldn’t have intervened in the ex-Yugoslavia, and it shouldn’t have intervened in Iraq. It had reasonable cause to intervene in Afghanistan, but that doesn’t imply that it was prudent to do so.

35

Kriston Capps 03.26.07 at 7:48 pm

“Laptop bombardiers” lacks the ring of “101st Keyboarders”.

36

engels 03.26.07 at 7:51 pm

Sovereignty Left

This is a bit better than “apologist for Saddam/Milosevic” but it’s still pretty silly, to my mind. As someone who was against the Iraq War on principle, as an outrage against peace and international law, but who has absolutely no problems with the UN, the European Union, or the (UK) Human Rights Act, I find the implication that I must be motivated by some kind of sovereignty fetish rather odd. In fact, like many others on the left, including, in my limited knowledge of American politics, at least some of those at whom this harangue appears to be aimed, I’m quite okay with the continuing erosion of national sovereignty if this happens in the course of developing (or entrenching) a peaceable, law-governed international order.

37

Miracle Max 03.26.07 at 7:55 pm

It is not obvious that the ‘diversion’ argument is the most practical. It be the most popular in the short term. But if you have a fuzzy notion of the war on terror and remain sufficiently alarmed by the threat of terrorism, there is a case for striking out even though you lack the certitude that might be desired.

I think we all need a better appreciation of why the US Gov — not “we” — does what it does in the use of force around the world. Then the we as in we happy few are better situated to understand and react to actual military interventions.

I think I’m mostly with d-squared, but Westphalian sounds like ruffles and snuff, not my style.

38

Russell Arben Fox 03.26.07 at 8:00 pm

Tim,

[W]hen and how did one faction of the Western left come to regard sovereignty as the singular inviolate principle that left politics is called upon to defend, and by which people who are truly “left” may be separated from riff-raff moderates and popular frontists of various kinds? Seen against the long history of the left in the West, this strikes me as a very late and in many ways markedly odd development.

I’m not sure I agree with your claim here. Perhaps the problem is in regards to what concepts are being packed into the label “sovereignty.” Clearly, any position that is even remotely leftist is going to be unwilling to credit the historical construction of power and elites within state borders with normative authority; the willingness to dispute the claimed “naturalness” or “rightness” of capitalist/colonial hierarchies is pretty much fundamental. But that doesn’t necessarily exhaust all possible meanings of sovereignty; one might also be talking about populist/culturalist notions of power, in which case the defense of sovereignty is a way of defending the self-determination and democratic development of peoples. That is, one might argue that progress/the revolution/liberation has to happen solely through the organic efforts of the oppressed, and if that’s going to happen then some sort of space that is truly their own and not subject to intervention needs to be in principle defended. This is a way of thinking on the left that, far from being recent, has been with us for a while.

Now frankly, I think this is a terribly flawed position, a weird mix of Gransci and realpolitik. Your old essay on the inevitability of interventionism in today’s world makes a lot more sense than anything Cockburn has to say about it. However, I will give this to the “sovereignty left”: there’s a conceptual clarity to their anti-universalism, one which allows them (in the end wrongly, but not without some insight all the same) to see at least part of where liberal nationalists and communitarian social democrats from Christopher Hitchens to George Packer to Michael Walzer and everyone in between got their thinking confused (though obviously some of the above were far more confused than others, myself included!). There’s a reason, I suppose, why Cockburn et al, get so inflamed at certain leftists: because they expect them, demand of them really, a willingness to denounce any kind of interventionary liberalism–that is, universalism–both root and branch. Their antiliberal leftism is both silly and self-defeating given the actual world we live in. Still, I have to say that I find it bracing, and even a little bit salutary, on occasion.

39

Donald Johnson 03.26.07 at 8:01 pm

Changed my mind. I probably shouldn’t have said a word about Chomsky in my previous post, because, Michael, you missed my other points.

You list Samantha Power as one of the good guys, apparently. Ed Herman is right about her. She wrote a widely acclaimed book about the American response to genocide and it is widely acclaimed for precisely the reason Herman identifies–Samantha Power carefully selects only those examples where the US was guilty of inaction. Mainstream pundits love to debate whether or not we have the duty to intervene overseas–they don’t like it at all if you start talking about how the US actively sided with those who committed genocide. East Timor, as Herman says, gets one or two lines in her book (unless there are some others not listed in the index) and those two sentences are a lie. The US didn’t “look away”–we sided with Indonesia and gave them the support they needed. Samantha Power’s dishonesty is a small part of the reason why there is almost never an honest discussion of America’s human rights record in the mainstream press. She didn’t cause this phenomenon–rather, she’s popular because she plays the game. She could have written a chapter about East Timor and another about Guatemala and maybe one about Angola (technically not a genocide, but probably bloodier than Darfur to this point). She stuck to the safe examples, where we were guilty of inaction rather than active complicity in mass murder.

You’re mad at Herman because you’ve had this feud with him and he tells lies about you. But that doesn’t mean that everything he says is wrong and if we can step away from the personalities a moment, maybe none of the three factions you’ve identified have been right in every circumstance.

40

Dale 03.26.07 at 8:15 pm

Thanks for this post Michael. Count me as one who enjoyed and now misses your old blog. I have a question- a follow up to this statement of your’s:

“I actually don’t think that 9/11 gave the US the right to kill any innocent civilians anywhere in the world. The right to destroy al-Qaeda’s training camps, check the Taliban, and disrupt the alliance between al-Qaeda and Pakistan’s ISI, yes.”

I tend to agree with those sentiments. But I can’t help but wonder what rights have we given other nations and groups to respond to illegal and immoral US actions? That’s one of our dilemas. What’s appropriate for the goose must be appropriate for the gander. I, myself, am a wannabe pacifist. But I’ll settle for nations finding less and less lethal ways of dealing with conflict.

Humanitarian interventions- given the troubled history and nature of modern developed nation states- seems to be a most difficult nut to crack. Likewise with legitimate responses to attacks in one’s own country. It’s too bad we have to work our way through this difficult territory in an ad hominum manner. But however we do it- it needs to be done.

41

Michael Bérubé 03.26.07 at 8:26 pm

“So with all due respect, Donald, I find your nostalgia for my better Chomsky-criticizin’ of yore a little hard to believe.”

Not sure what that means, but it doesn’t matter.

I just mean, Donald, that you’re criticizing me chiefly for things I’ve said before and didn’t say here, while saying that you preferred the things I said before. It’s not a big thing — I know I’m not going to persuade you on this one.

Note that for these people, “keeping the grounds of dissent as broad as possible” means saying what they say rather than what “broad” would actually mean which is accepting that there are different reasons for opposing the war.

No, ejh, I won’t note this, because it is not true. I never expected that the antiwar-in-Iraq position would or should consist entirely of people who supported war in Afghanistan; that would have been bizarre beyond belief. And I never asked that ANSWER and the WWP be “banned” from the movement, as so many ANSWER apologists claimed; on the contrary, I said in so many words that “every mass movement is allowed to have its fringy wingnuts, and we are certainly entitled to ours.”

Was the real problem in Fall of 2002 that the anti-war movement was “compromised” by the likes of Chomsky and ANSWER, or was it that the neo-cons had hijacked the “MSM” into selling a war to a frightened public? I was utterly opposed to the war, but I did not feel the need to criticize those who were opposed to it for different reasons than I. You did Mr. Berube, and you’ll forgive persons such as myself for not being altogether sympathetic that the anti-war far left are none too fond of you as a result.

Who’s asking for their fondness, xanthippas? Their honesty would suffice. Besides, I wasn’t criticizing them because they opposed Iraq for different reasons than I did; I criticized them because I objected to their political litmus test on both substantive and practical grounds (I thought their arguments about Afghanistan and the Balkans were wrong, and I thought they would do damage to the left). And in early 2003, I objected to their willingness to defend ANSWER’s decision to prevent progressive rabbi Michael Lerner from speaking at the San Francisco rally on the grounds that he had criticized ANSWER in the past (their stated reason). I thought that was Stalinist, and I know it alienated many liberal and progressive Jews. For what that’s worth.

I do wish I’d done as much as Todd Gitlin did to protest the hijacking of the MSM, though. His essay on the hawkishness of the Washington Post was a nice piece of work, and I liked his pair of essays on the Cheney Administration’s National Security Strategy, too. I disagreed with his calls for liberal patriotism, because I thought they were a dead end, but I was aware that he spent more of his time criticizing Bush and the media than criticizing people to his “left,” and rightly so.

For what it’s worth, I’d like to think I’m intellectually honest about this issue: I also do not believe that it’s a good idea for those of us who want to get out of Iraq now to spend and overly amount of time criticizing those who first supported the war, and only now are against it.

Agreed, though I’m going to insist, doggedly, that that’s not what Cockburn is doing here. He’s not criticizing people who came around too late; he’s actually lying about people who opposed the war from the start.

42

christian h. 03.26.07 at 8:40 pm

Well, looks like the “liberal internationalists” are back. Am I the only one who is slightly disturbed to see the following two sentences in the same essay:

In the US, the Z/Counterpunch left didn’t care much for people who wanted the antiwar movement to be as broad as possible; they took it as their task to make sure that the political ground for the antiwar movement would be as narrow as possible, and to that end, they made a point of describing people like me and Michael Walzer and Todd Gitlin and Marc Cooper and David Corn (all of whom opposed war but favored UN inspections and/or no-fly zones and/or revised sanctions) as supporters of war in Iraq.

and:

Actually, we spent months trying to argue that the antiwar movement was singularly ill-served by the neo-Stalinoids of the WWP, and we pointed out that an antiwar movement with ANSWER at its head looked like an antiwar movement designed by Horowitz, but no matter.

I get it: make the anti-war movement as broad as possible by… writing whole issues of Dissent (should it be renamed Assent?) criticizing the real-existing anti-war movement.

I am sure once an attack on Iran comes, we’ll have Gitlin spending his time complaining of the lack of anti-Mullah signs at the rallies. Because, you know, it’s those damn radicals and Stalinists insisting on ideological purity.

43

Rich Puchalsky 03.26.07 at 8:46 pm

“a” at 34 disagrees with my mention of a universal conception of human rights by writing “Universal as in “held by everyone” ? There aren’t many if any such.”

No, I didn’t mean that they were held by everyone — no idea at all could meet that criterion — I meant that for the people who do hold them, they are intended to apply to everyone. There is also a fairly good agreement on what they are, given the various declarations and treaties involved. As such they provide a standard of judgement for when the U.S. goes wrong that is a bit more complex than either “the U.S. is the world’s policeman” or “the U.S. is an imperialist country”, even though both of those statements are in some sense true.

These are actually more important times for Cockburn and Hermann to be held to the truth about what people actually wrote than earlier. As the Iraq War collapses, there will be a brief period before the inevitable backlash when people will actually listen to anti-war voices that opposed the Iraq War from the start. Cockburn’s piece is an attempt to stake out that territory by ejecting other people from it.

44

Michael Bérubé 03.26.07 at 8:47 pm

But I can’t help but wonder what rights have we given other nations and groups to respond to illegal and immoral US actions?

That’s a great question, dale, and the mind boggles at the list of crimes that have been added to the rap sheet in the last five years alone. I’m open to suggestions, and I’ll say that I think the US would be getting off light with a hundred or two hundred years of parole and community service. And I promise I won’t invoke US sovereignty as a defense, either.

45

Timothy Burke 03.26.07 at 8:54 pm

Let me give you one form of where I see the “sovereignty left” and see what you think. It’s actually not about intervention, it’s about anti-colonial nationalism in Africa, and in particular the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. It seems to me that many people in the western left between 1960 and 1985 came to understand the primary objective of political struggle in Africa as the end of colonialism or apartheid and the achievement of national sovereignty.

At the same time, most of the bill of particulars levelled against imperialism or apartheid in Africa centered on liberalism. Yes, there was a small subset of structural Marxists whose critical attention to the interrelationship of capitalism and colonialism did not take a route through either dressed-up complaints about the illiberalism of imperialism or apartheid or take the form of a simple glorification of national independence. But most of what the Western left had to say about what was actually wrong with colonial rule and apartheid concerned the illiberalism of those systems: their lack of respect for individual rights, their instrumental use of race, their misuse of police powers, their lawlessness and arbitrariness, their systematic impoverishment of Africans.

Even the arguments that most scrupulously tried to avoid being “liberal”–say, for example, that “racial capitalism” as a form of capitalism in Southern Africa used race as a social category in order to create a labor reserve–ultimately lodged a moral complaint against that form of capitalism in liberal terms, that it was an illiberal constraint on the labor market for Africans, that it made them unfree laborers in various ways, etc. Yes, I know there was a lot of sophisticated attempts to think this problem through in the context of apartheid, and it’s also a major branch of marxist thought in general (e.g., the extent to which radical praxis ought to depend on or build on the achievement of bourgeois liberalism.)

But the point of all this for me is the oddness of assuming that national sovereignty (or the defeat of imperialism) is a meaningful goal in and of itself for addressing the illiberalisms that the anti-colonial left attacked. Why should we have ever expected that Zimbabwean independence, in and of itself, would do anything to address the complaints that the Western left made about Rhodesia, save for the racial identity of people inhabiting the upper hierarchies of state power? If the left was concerned with Rhodesian use of police power, with Rhodesian seizure or alienation of land from rural people, with constraints on the free movement, association and expression of Zimbabweans, with the monopolization of power and resources by a tiny elite, then national sovereignty is in the absolute best case scenario merely the first and most minor precondition of the redress of those circumstances. In fact, arguably some of those circumstances can be addressed in political frameworks that go outside the narrowly Westphalian; certainly Westphalian sovereignty is the least of the preconditions we could imagine.

This is what seems so odd to me, in retrospect: why did quite a few people delude themselves into believing that the achievement of national sovereignty in Africa was the alpha and omega of the left’s interest in African politics, save for preventing “outside forces” from abrogating or interfering with that sovereignty? So you could reliably get a bunch of people on the left to care about a multinational corporation’s illiberal conduct in a postcolonial African state, but it was pretty difficult to find people on the left concerned with the structural character of the postcolonial state in Africa until the mid-1990s. Given the things that the left professed to object to (that, as Daniel puts it, imperialism “screwed up”), the nature of the state in Africa should have been at the top of the list from the outset.

In 1998, I had a very serious, very erudite, very smart left scholar with a very long political engagement in southern Africa tell me, in all apparent seriousness, that solidarity demanded that we be patient with the Mugabe government, that in time they would “get it right”. That’s what I’m talking about: for this man, once Zimbabwe became independent, the problem was solved. And yet, in 1978, the problem of Rhodesia for him would have been, in its particulars, a laundry list of Rhodesian illiberalisms: the use of race to construct unequal personhoods and deprive rights, the misuse of state power, the lack of law, the lack of a framework for individual rights and expression. Sovereignty was and is a political mismatch to that list of complaints.

So, too, is military intervention. Don’t misunderstand me (or Michael): the “decents” are just as screwed up in another direction, in part because of their incoherently self-righteous overreaction to the mismatch between settling for sovereignty as a goal and the critique of colonial illiberalism.

46

dearieme 03.26.07 at 8:57 pm

You reasonably could lose sleep over weakening the anti-Iraq War argument by associating it with such drivel as “if President Gore were sitting in his rightful place in the Oval Office right now…”.

47

seth edenbaum 03.26.07 at 9:06 pm

Somewhere in my files I have an exchange with MB that began with me saying that he was doing little more in one op-ed than huffing and puffing about moral seriousness and moderation, and which ended with him accusing me of putting words in his mouth and me quoting his words back to him. Imagine Leiberman’s mannerisms and self-importance applied to debates three notches to the left (and I don’t say that as a great fan of Cockburn or an acolyte of Chomsky.)

I’m with DD on this, except on Afghanistan. The invasion was about revenge and little else. It might have done some good if we’d kept our promises, but it was not necessary and in fact weakened our position. It was neither planned nor carried out with the best intentions and only a small percentage of the world population ever thought otherwise. And unlike most Americans (and as a left-wing realist) I thought that the opinion of that forgotten majority was the most important issue.
Otherwise, pace Max, pass the [t]ruffles.

48

abb1 03.26.07 at 9:13 pm

@45. National sovereignty and the defeat of imperialism is not the goal in and of itself, but it’s the necessary first step. They will get it right eventually, and to start getting it the first thing they need is national sovereignty.

Every time they get under someone’s thumb (like Afghanistan and Iraq now), they have to start from square one again: find some common identity, consolidate power and fight for their independence. These are all illiberal moves, but there’s no way around it.

49

christian h. 03.26.07 at 9:20 pm

dale, your question cannot be addressed to Michael et al., because liberal democracies – conveniently, all allies of the US – are the only agents that are allowed to intervene, punish or act at all in their form of internationalism (pace Michael claiming that he would have been more than happy to see China intervene in Bosnia). Even resistance of the population being attacked by US or allied imperialism is out-of-bounds if they don’t conform to the desired ideological norms.

By the way, Michael, I am amused by your complaint about those who opposed both the Taliban and their removal by the US. That from the guy who claims to oppose both the occupation of Iraq and the resistance against it; both the Israeli attack on Lebanon and the resistance against it; both (I suppose) the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the fundamentalists resisting it.

50

wufnik 03.26.07 at 9:23 pm

There are lots of interesting dialogues going on here, but I just want to focus in on one comment that seems to me to encapsulate much about how we got to this point:

I would argue that the mistake of those like Berube was that in the run-up to the war, they spent far too much time and energy attacking those who were ostensibly on their side instead of attacking those who were trumpeting the war. Was the real problem in Fall of 2002 that the anti-war movement was “compromised” by the likes of Chomsky and ANSWER, or was it that the neo-cons had hijacked the “MSM” into selling a war to a frightened public? I was utterly opposed to the war, but I did not feel the need to criticize those who were opposed to it for different reasons than I. You did Mr. Berube, and you’ll forgive persons such as myself for not being altogether sympathetic that the anti-war far left are none too fond of you as a result.

We had a similar situation here in the UK as well–there was entirely too much bending backwards to avoid being contaminated by the loud and vocal opponents of the Iraq mess. And this played into the hands of the neocons in the US, and the Blair supporters here, and moved the default position. We still do have this problem, in fact. We’re still enduring Nick Cohen and David Aaronovich’s blather about how we’re all deluded because we don’t understand how evil the world is, and therefore need to keep supporting the war. Or something. Well, it was the unwillingness of everyone, not just the dirty hippies, to challenge the Bush/neocon view of the world that has created the mess we’re in today. And to say, well, I couldn’t be bothered because I didn’t want to be identified with Herman and Chomsky–well, sorry, that doesn’t cut it. This ranks up there with Joe Klein telling us that he told John Kerry that he really did oppose the war–he just couldn’t say so publicly.

51

Timothy Burke 03.26.07 at 9:33 pm

I guess, abb1, it’s that position that I find really odd. If what was wrong about imperialism was what the imperial state did, why does the removal of outside overrule make that state potentially self-correcting, something that can “get it right”?

The United States was an internal empire; its extension of imperial rule over North America is arguably not been utterly contradictory to its (difficult, contentious, struggle-filled, imperfect, incomplete) movement towards certain kinds of freedom. E.g., the precondition of further emancipation within the territory of the United States today is not the reversal of its imperial expansion and the restoration of sovereignties its expansion overtook. I would find a claim that Scottish independence is a fundamental precondition to the initial achievement of liberal freedoms within its territory odd.

Moreover, if this is somehow different for portions of the world seized by European powers in the new imperialism of the late 19th Century (as opposed to older imperialisms), then why isn’t the international left still on the sovereignty case in Africa? Why isn’t the achievement of Zulu sovereignty important? Or Igbo sovereignty? Or Asante sovereignty? There have been meaningful social movements on the ground in those places asking for limited (or fully Westphalian) sovereignty with very little sympathy from the Western left (if indeed any recognition at all). At least in the case of the Igbo, international support from the European and American left for sovereignty might actually have made a difference during the Biafran war.

So if it’s a precondition for freedom, why is it a precondition only within the boundaries drawn by European powers?

52

franck 03.26.07 at 9:33 pm

wufnik,

Opposing ANSWER and Chomsky is a very popular position. You can’t require people to join your political movement, you have to persuade them. For whatever reason, ANSWER and Chomsky were not persuasive enough to many people who ostensibly agreed with them on the Iraq war. Saying it “doesn’t cut it” isn’t enough, or the anti-war movement will fail again and again at preventing wars.

53

Ben Alpers 03.26.07 at 9:34 pm

I do think that there’s something odd about calling for a broad antiwar movement while pointing fingers at people in the antiwar movement who disagree with you.

I completely agree with Michael that the problems with ANSWER are organizational and tactical. It’s an entirely fair position (and in fact, one I share) that ANSWER’s positions are tolerable, ANSWER’s organizational intolerance and hostility to movement democracy not so much.

But the constant harping on ANSWER, like Herman’s constant harping on the “cruise missile left” (which is, unlike the harping on ANSWER, built on lying about a number of things, including Michael’s position about Iraq….I’m not suggesting moral equivalence here) seems like an enormous distraction.

Take this passage in Michael’s post:

Because although the Sovereignty Left has achieved a remarkable consistency in defending Milosevic and the Taliban from international interventions, they also did their part to make the antiwar movement in the US smaller and less effective than it might have been when it came to Iraq.

The international pre-Iraq War antiwar movement was among the largest, if not the largest, antiwar movements in world history. Even in the U.S., and despite the often sectarian leadership of groups like ANSWER, the movement was huge. Ultimately, the movement was ineffective. But its ineffectiveness had nothing to do with its being too small. And its size spoke of its actual breadth, which was apparent to anyone at any of the large antiwar rallies, despite the attempts by many on the “right” and “left” extremes of the antiwar movement to point fingers at the other side for somehow narrowing it.

And such finger pointing was all too common. Michelle Goldberg’s coverage of the antiwar movement in Salon.com during the fall of 2002 was entirely concerned with criticizing its left fringe. See, for example, her October 16, 2002, article, “Peace Kooks,” in which Todd Gitlin worries that the then-upcoming October 26 demonstrations will be “a gigantic ruination for the antiwar movement.”

In fact, the October 26, 2002 demonstrations marked an important stage in the movement’s phenomenal growth. Tens of thousands showed up in DC for the main demo. And, despite the fact that ANSWER called for these demonstrations, United for Peace and Justice, the largest anti-war umbrella organization in the US, grew out of the planning for them.

So I guess I largely agree with xanthippe above. Intra-anti-war finger pointing was a tremendous waste of energy in the run-up to the war. And the continuation of this finger-pointing now stands in the war of our getting a clearer understanding of why the antiwar movement was so ineffective at stopping the war.

54

Michael Bérubé 03.26.07 at 9:44 pm

your question cannot be addressed to Michael et al., because liberal democracies – conveniently, all allies of the US – are the only agents that are allowed to intervene, punish or act at all in their form of internationalism

to say, well, I couldn’t be bothered because I didn’t want to be identified with Herman and Chomsky

Well, we’ve now reached a point in the thread at which people are just makin’ stuff up, so I’ll just remark that I did reply to dale and did attend the NYC rally four years ago and send a glowing account of it to OpenDemocracy, and that Cockburn really is lying about me, etc. I also had “analogy to Joe Lieberman” in the home office pool, so that’s twenty bucks right there. I think I’ll ask Hillary out for a drink.

55

dukej 03.26.07 at 9:44 pm

Chomsky predicted a mass famine as a result of the bombing of Afghanistan and pointed out that the press in the US didn’t care, which would in his view have amounted to genocide

Ironically, few recall that in the Summer of 2001 — just prior to “the-day-that -changed-everything” — the Taliban announced that the UN and NGO’s would no longer be allowed to distribute food outside the capital. Widespread famine was predicted for the approaching Winter, with as many as a million Afghans dead.

56

Anderson 03.26.07 at 9:45 pm

Wow, MB has kooky opponents on all sides.

To pick out just one mystery from many above, I am puzzled how invading Afghanistan, in an effort to eliminate al-Qaeda and their Taliban hosts, was anything other than an appropriate response, at least for anyone not devoted to applying the Sermon on the Mount to foreign policy.

We did a piss-poor job of it of course (Rumsfeld, Franks, etc.), but the right to do so appears inescapable, to where automatically distrusting anyone who argues to the contrary would seem to be a really good rule of thumb.

57

Neil Morrison 03.26.07 at 9:52 pm

I take issue with the argument that there is an equivalence between people like Herman and the Decents.

The Decents supported military action against Milosevic and the Taliban. Herman et al did not. Yes the Decents also supported military action against Saddam – because he was a dictator. That has proved too costly but it is hardly any sort of mirror to Herman’s views. The Decents would have also supported whatever action Al Gore would inevitably taken against Saddam. Unlike Herman.

“To this day, each needs the other.” No.

Had Gore been the one to finally deal with Saddam then I think that the differences between Michael Bérubé and Herman/Chomsky would remain but those with the Decents would be negligible. That’s a significant difference if this secrtarianism is going to be an on-going open wound.

58

Donald Johnson 03.26.07 at 9:55 pm

“We did a piss-poor job of it of course (Rumsfeld, Franks, etc.), but the right to do so appears inescapable”

Inescapable until you wonder if countries which have been afflicted by America’s interventions have the right to invade us.

I came around to the pro-Afghanistan invasion position in November 2001, when I read the reports of Kabul residents rejoicing over their liberation by some of the same groups that had helped trash the place years earlier. But of course none of the rhetoric about finally making up for our abandonment of Afghanistan was meant seriously. So, on the whole, I think I was wrong to oppose the Afghan invasion, but not terribly wrong.

59

christian h. 03.26.07 at 10:01 pm

anderson’s intellectual predecessor in 1917 Voienna might have written:

To pick out just one mystery from many above, I am puzzled how invading Serbia, in an effort to eliminate the Black Hand and their Serb nationalist hosts, was anything other than an appropriate response, at least for anyone not devoted to applying the Sermon on the Mount to foreign policy.

We did a piss-poor job of it of course (insert name of any K.u.K. commander here), but the right to do so appears inescapable, to where automatically distrusting anyone who argues to the contrary would seem to be a really good rule of thumb.

60

Timothy Burke 03.26.07 at 10:02 pm

On the other question, whether folks unhappy with what we’re here calling the sovereignty left spent too much time attacking their local enemies and not enough time opposing the war itself, let me make a couple of observations.

1) In a limited way, I’ll cop to this. 9/11, like a lot of disjunctive moments in history, did have the effect of crystallizing long, slow antagonisms between groups of people who might have politically cooperated under previous circumstances. This isn’t just on the left: conservative pragmatists and realists, who had a long-standing presence within US policy-making circules, were thrown into the wilderness by 9/11 and forced to either quietly carry water for the neocons or to consider alliances leftward that they had previously scorned. Or to just shut up.

So I know that in my own political history and in my own academic speciality, I had been growing very frustrated with what Michael is calling the Z/Counterpunch crowd. It was 1998 when I had that conversation about Zimbabwe, not 2001. But 9/11 brought it all tumbling out of me more forcefully than it had before, because I saw some of the same problems in the reactions of some people to 9/11. Critiquing that was probably a misapplication of my time and energies, and certainly once the Iraq War started to take shape, that became my preoccupying target. I, and maybe others, should not have been so easily distracted from that goal by older and less important intramural squabbles.

2) On the other hand. So I thought that puppets and the usual tactics, coupled with the usual discourses, were counter-productive, unlikely to achieve any meaningful political objectives. I still do in this particular case, within the context of American mass politics. Moreover, I had by 2001 more than a few experiences with Sparticist-like seizures of larger political coalitions or groups, and not only do I object that ethically, I object to it as a matter of practical interest–it tends to make potentially large political coalitions fall apart. (E.g., SDS to Weather Underground). It is not a side issue at the beginning of a political effort to debate, strenuously, about tactics, and if you think that a given set of tactics are likely to rebound negatively on achieving a political objective, to argue against those tactics.

You know what? I think those of us arguing against the puppets were basically right, that the only opposition that was going to make a difference was going to grow organically from the inevitable failure and disaster of the war. That may sound cold, but that’s the way I see it. I saw no possibility of stopping the war. What I also saw was that the war was a guaranteed disaster of epic proportions. So the important thing was to clear the space between the people planning the war and the inevitable anger that would spring up once it became clear that it had always been a bad idea. Puppets and Bushitler signs and dogmatic leftist anti-imperialism struck me as a lot of useless noise in that space, giving the people who planned the war needless opportunities for Reichstag fires.

3) What I find annoying in these conversations is the left version of a “Who lost China?” mythology that people like Cockburn are trying to build. E.g., “Oh my god, we could have stopped the war but you other leftist/liberals prevented us!” It’s like Doctor McCoy yelling at Captain Kirk in that episode where they go back in time and Kirk keeps McCoy from saving Edith Keeler.

I don’t remember the people on the left who wanted to roll out the puppets and the rigorous anti-imperialism agreeing to shut up and follow the liberal line for a period of time. I don’t recall them listening carefully and being in a respectful conversation about ANSWER or tactics. The contempt coming from people like Herman towards people like Gitlin and Berube was immediate and unconditional. It was the old hostility between the left and the liberals, just remapped onto new issues. Cockburn doesn’t need to sit around and wait for results: call something liberal, and he’s willing to hate on it regardless of what it is or what it does.

So given that, seriously, why the fuck didn’t the radical anti-imperialist anti-war movement successfully stop the war? You were always free to roll out the puppets and the Bushitler signs. Are you saying that if only Berube and Gitlin had also gone out with the puppets and been indifferent to ANSWER and had screamed through megaphones about American imperialism in Kosovo, that would have done it? That one anti-war left was oh so close to political success but it was held back by the few treasonous liberals who were opposed to the war too, but in the wrong ways?

This goes back to my second observation. Anti-war politics in the US is successful now precisely BECAUSE it’s not Bushitler signs and ANSWER-led rallies. It’s successful because it’s becoming part of mass sentiment in the United States. In order to do that, it has to come with certain kind of patriotic bona fides intact. It’s hard for one lineage of anti-war, anti-imperial struggle to get this, but if anti-war had been successfully equated at the level of mass consciousness as being anti-American, a betrayal of American soldiers, or any of the other things that the right-wing desperately has been striving to make it, it would have been a lot longer and lot harder to get to the political moment we are at now.

But by all means, continue to believe that if only there had been huger and stronger protests from the outset, it would never have happened at all. Just tell me why on earth you have such high regard for Michael Berube and Todd Gitlin and a few others like them that you single-handedly credit them for preventing a much vaster mass response. If on the other hand you think it wasn’t the size, but the lack of militant tactics, you have nobody to blame but yourself. Nobody stopped you from chaining yourself to tanks: if you didn’t, don’t blame me.

61

Anderson 03.26.07 at 10:10 pm

To take the bait, Austria-Hungary had a colorable case for war with Serbia, whose covert sponsorship of terrorism is not, I think, seriously disputed today.

There were two problems, of course: (1) A-H had a record that strongly suggested a desire to gobble up Serbia anyway, which left her motives in question; and (2) regardless of justification, war with Serbia was going to trigger war with Russia, which simply wasn’t worth provoking — even if it was unforeseeable by A-H that Russia would mobilize against her *and* Germany, which is debatable.

Had it not been for the Russia factor, a limited war b/t A-H and Serbia would’ve been a blip that nobody but specialists would have heard of today, rather like the First and Second Balkan Wars.

62

anomalous 03.26.07 at 10:13 pm

“The international pre-Iraq War antiwar movement was among the largest, if not the largest, antiwar movements in world history. Even in the U.S., and despite the often sectarian leadership of groups like ANSWER, the movement was huge.”

But in the US, not big enough. And as it is, in the US Darfur gets billboards (a bizarre Freudian display) 3000 US troops are memorialized and The Iraqi dead at 3/4 of a million or more including the period covered by the sanctions are ignored.

The most important factor in this as in the war itself is the ability of the American people, their leaders and their nominal dissidents to ignore the ideas and opinions of outsiders. Tony Judt put it well in Bush’s Useful Idiots.

Even America’s dissidents are american exceptionalists. Is it any wonder that those few who aren’t can sometimes allow their rhetoric to get out of hand? It’s frustrating.

63

Anderson 03.26.07 at 10:13 pm

Inescapable until you wonder if countries which have been afflicted by America’s interventions have the right to invade us.

Well, for better or worse, “right” isn’t determinative on such questions. America’s abuse of her position has & will come around to bite her in the ass, but the position itself is simply a fact on the ground.

Regardless, I don’t recall any serious objection by other powers to our attack on the Taliban; it was pretty well conceded, by many of the same countries which wisely opposed our Iraq adventure, that a regime that would host al-Qaeda was a legitimate target after 9/11.

64

John Quiggin 03.26.07 at 10:15 pm

Just a minor correction: while Major insisted that the proper response to Milosevic was to do nothing at all, and was backed up by most of those who might be called the Thatcher-Major wing of the Tories, Thatcher herself came out for action against Milosevic pretty early on, as I recall.

65

Donald Johnson 03.26.07 at 10:17 pm

The list of people I’ve seen on the list of “decent leftists” leaves me confused. Do all these people take the same morally consistent stance on human rights on all issues? I’d bet not.

I’ve got my own moral consistency test I’d like them to take–here’s a list of issues–

True or false

1. Numerous high-ranking American officials, Democrat and Republican, have been responsible for supporting terrorists, mass murderers and occasionally even genocidal regimes.

2. When America is justified in intervening, it still has the duty to keep civilian casualties from its own actions as low as possible. It did not do so in the Kosovo War.

3. It was hypocritical of the US to denounce Serbia’s actions in Kosovo while supplying F-16’s to Turkey to use in bombing Kurdish villages. (Chomsky makes this Turkey/Kurd Serbia/Kosovo comparison a lot, and it’s a fair point, even if it doesn’t demonstrate that we shouldn’t have intervened in Kosovo.)

4. Israel is practicing something close to or nearly as bad as apartheid on the West Bank.

Someone could have supported the Kosovo War and the Afghanistan invasion and if they also said “true” to all the above, I’d have to say they are genuinely decent lefties. It’s not clear to me how many of the “Decent Leftists” are decent leftists in my definition.

66

Ben Alpers 03.26.07 at 10:24 pm

I’m not sure if you think you’re disagreeing with me, timothy burke, but I don’t entirely disagree with you.

My problem with the finger-pointing is not that I think that, absent the finger-pointing, there would have been larger demonstrations, and larger demonstrations would have stopped the war.

My view is that, despite the leadership of ANSWER and despite the non-participation of Gitlin, the antiwar movement in the run-up to the war was huge. But it didn’t make much of a difference.

Where I may differ with timothy burke is that I think its ineffectiveness also had little to do with the presence of puppets or Bushitler signs. Despite those things, there was considerable mass sentiment against the war. And the policy elites ignored it. That mass sentiment has grown, of course, and its growth, and a shuffling of elites, might account for the slightly greater traction that the movement has today.

But that traction is only slightly greater today. Three quarters of the American public wants us out of Iraq, the Democrats control both houses of Congress, yet the best Congress may be willing to do (we have yet to hear from the Senate) is write Bush another $100m+ check and ask him to leave in a year and a half.

67

Timothy Burke 03.26.07 at 10:30 pm

I think that’s right, Ben. Opposition was huge anyway. That was my reason for thinking the war was going to happen anyway: it was clear to me that whatever we did, it wasn’t going to matter, so chaining yourself to shit was largely about indulging your own theatricality, not about political results.

If opposition to the war is going to end up having an actual political consequence now or soon, it is only going to do so well because the kind of political differences we’re talking about here are going to be irrelevant in the face of overwhelming popular consensus against not just the war but the kind of political elites that prosecuted it.

68

seth edenbaum 03.26.07 at 10:37 pm

“I am puzzled how invading Afghanistan, in an effort to eliminate al-Qaeda and their Taliban hosts, was anything other than an appropriate response,”

It’s the logic of realism. After 9-11 as a wise king or any good PR man could tell you, we were golden: we were getting mash notes from the entire planet and Bin Laden and Al Qaeda could be seen as having peaked. What was their next move? They were trapped. The bravest and most mature response, even or especially if done cynically[!] would have driven their international numbers into the dirt. We were the giant and giants can afford to be forgiving. And we could have used that forgiveness to apply all sorts of pressure. But Instead we have the shit we’re in now.
The invasion of Afghanistan was mindnumbingly stupid.

69

John Quiggin 03.26.07 at 11:45 pm

Donald, I don’t aspire to the label “Decent Left”, but I also don’t have many problems with your list.

1. I doubt that anyone here disagrees that high US officials of both parties have supported terrorists and dictators, including on occasion, genocidal regimes (most obviously, Saddam’s)

2. On Kosovo, I agree

3. All governments are hypocritical, but my preferred route to consistency here is to stop helping Turkey’s campaign against the Kurds, not to quote this precedent in support of Milosevic.

4. I don’t think fights over terminology are helpful, but I deplore Israel’s policies in the West Bank as both unjustified and counterproductive.

With marginal differences, I think similar views are held by most people at CT. That didn’t stop nearly all of us concluding that both in Kosovo and Afghanistan, armed intervention was justified.

70

novakant 03.26.07 at 11:47 pm

Donald, yes this decency thing is tricky, at the end of the day, we’re all hypocrites:

3.8 million people died in Congo between 1998-2003 and nobody gave a flying f@ck.

71

minneapolitan 03.26.07 at 11:55 pm

From what I read above, with the exception of Chomsky, virtually everyone described falls into a very narrow spectrum of opinion which goes from slightly right of the center of US political discourse to ever so slightly to the left of it. Of course, attacking the proximate is often the formula for maximizing gains and minimizing effort, but it shouldn’t be confused with an actual moral or intellectual debate. Rather, it’s the same kind of jockeying for status and position that everyone besides its practitioners among the petit bourgeoisie finds uniformly repugnant.

Here’s how I see it: If you don’t oppose capitalism, you’re not of the left. If you don’t oppose oppression based on race, class, gender, etc., you’re not of the left. If you don’t oppose fake reformist tendencies, you’re not of the left. And most of the people discussed above simply don’t oppose those things, not with any vigor or authenticity.

I’ve gone to plenty of protests organized by groups I have serious political differences with, because on the whole, we belong to a similar philosophical tradition, and on the issues in question, our differences are inconsequential compared to the possibilities for solidarity and real social change that our joining forces represents. That’s what it means to be a principled leftist.

As a principled leftist, of the anarchist communist variety, I can’t find it in myself to rush to the defense of people who, as soon as an opportunity for feel-good jingoism presented itself with the Sept. 11th attacks and the subsequent hyper-immiseration of Afghanistan, jumped in headfirst, only to emerge a few months later, with the viscous oily discharge of mass murder stinging their privileged eyes a bit. Save your crocodile tears about how “Cheney screwed up Afghanistan”, after a couple of hundred years of absolutely inhumane imperialism in that region, those tears simply aren’t enough to matter.

Perhaps “puppets” and “dirty hippies” with “Bushitler signs” aren’t enough to stop a war, but the blame for that rests not with Stalinists, but rather with the over-refined mass of apathetic “liberals” who can’t bear to think about a future where their place and position is not secured by force of arms.

72

soru 03.27.07 at 12:39 am

Unless anybody thinks Afghanistan isn’t a disaster. The locals seem to think it is.

That doesn’t seem to be the case, for any reasonable definition of disaster. For example:

http://www.asiafoundation.org/pdf/AG-survey06.pdf

http://65.109.167.118/pipa/articles/home_page/155.php?nid=&id=&pnt=155&lb=hmpg1

I’ve noticed a few people here saying that Afghanistan really should have had the same root-and-branch, rewire-the-society-from-zero, long term formal military occupation that worked so well in Iraq.

I guess people are wierd.

73

Timothy Burke 03.27.07 at 1:01 am

Good job, Minneapolitan. So go ahead and be victorious in the struggle without any of those filthy apathetic liberals. You don’t need them. I await your plan for victory.

74

novakant 03.27.07 at 1:10 am

unfortunately it’s not the ordinary people who’ll decide the fate of Afghanistan, but the warlords and drug barons – the country is at the tipping point of becoming a failed state yet again, several UK commanders have said that repeatedly, and the mission that could prevent this is spectacularly underfunded and undermanned

this guy:

http://bloggingheads.tv/video.php?id=195&cid=967

is really worth listening to

I think there’s a moral obligation to get things right, an aspect which tends to be ignored in these kind of discussions.

75

Walt 03.27.07 at 1:20 am

minneapolitan: You have lost the argument with history. Liberals have made their peace with capitalism because capitalism has done more to end human history than every system behind. Capitalism is not perfect, and is not the end-state of history, and liberals would support any number of reforms to it, but if the litmus test of leftism is inflexible opposition to capitalism, then the left has no future.

76

christian h. 03.27.07 at 1:21 am

Yes, or you could acknowledge that the only people who can “get Afghanistan right” are the people of Afghanistan. And that bombing and invading the country, paying off the same warlords that misruled the country into supporting the Taliban in the first place to do your dirty work and now keeping it occupied and killing its people (sorry, I meant “terrorists”) won’t help. But I guess that would make you a “Sovereignty Leftist”.

77

grackel 03.27.07 at 1:44 am

I remain amazed at the number of clubs that humans can form. I find it dizzying to try to evaluate where I might fit in the spectrum so well enunciated by several commenters above. So many lefts! Defining myself, subvocally, only as a human among others of my kind, it is a bewildering exercise to try to contemplate what is correct, what is forbidden, in the range of opinions I might hold about the actions of one society or another in relation to the greater world. Could one only posit a desire for some harmony? Is that not enough? How do I marshall my own puny forces for good? For what am I responsible, by which actor(s)?, in what particular proximity of time? How can I prepare for my own death when I live in fear of responsibilities of which I may very well be unaware? Oh, to just join a club of like minded individuals — those who can define things such that I too can rest assured that I remain above the frey. But which club is being proposed here? Is something wrong with all of them? I cannot decide easily. In the end I ahve to say that, as embarrassing as it is to admit, I am swayed by Michael’s sincerity and marvelous writing, and I have to say, you go, girl! (to use a phrase of the day, not to insinuate anything else.)

78

cvcobb01 03.27.07 at 1:44 am

Good points and nice corrective. One major flaw in your argument. You quote yourself saying:

“Yes, President Gore would have taken out the Taliban and its terrorist training camps immediately after 9/11. And rightly so.”

That means 9/11 happened, but surely it was not predestined to happen. Had President Gore faced the intel community running around with its hair on fire, and had he followed the same steps he and President Clinton followed to defend the Olympics, or to catch bad guys leading up to Y2K, then 9/11 may well have been thwarted.

Because, while OBL is responsible for attacking us on 9/11, President Bush was responsible for making sure he didn’t succeed.

Hostory records that Bush failed, but that does not mean another president would have.

79

sniflheim 03.27.07 at 2:01 am

Scattered gripes–Does anyone still think the 2001 AUMF, as written, could ever have been a good idea? Even under [your fantasy president's] administration? As for Kosovo, I never can get why we could cut a deal with Serbia in Dayton but then they became these unappeasable monsters at Rambouillet. And you know, I’ve never seen Berube issue anything like Quiggin’s reservation in the post he links to above–“I also think (and thought at the time) that the bombing of Belgrade crossed the line from striking military targets to terrorisation….”

80

roger 03.27.07 at 2:06 am

There is an interesting question about Afghanistan that has been eluded by the supporters of that war – and I supported that war at the time, too. Looking back, is this the war we supported? After five years, what we see is: the U.S. has essentially decided to pay tribute to the one other government besides the Taliban that supported Al Qaeda, Pakistan; made either an unwittingly or wittingly incompetent attempt to crush the people who planned the 9/11 attack, and in effect moved them into Pakistan in really the same way they were moved from Sudan to Afghanistan; cherry picked a list of Al Qaeda leaders, which were picked up, but didn’t even get to the top level; allowed the military dictator of Pakistan to re-finance the Taliban, watched as Al Qaeda’s confederate Islamis parties gained more and more power in Pakistan (due, partly, to the corruption of said dictator, financed and flattered by the Americans); and are now averting their eyes as the tremors of a revolt that will be most probably lead to an even more Islamicist government make themselves felt. So, in other words: the war moved Al Qaeda closer to power over nuclear arms. Really, that wasn’t the war I supported. Was it the war Berube supported? People who speak of the criminal incompetence of Bush in Iraq seem to have given the administration a pass in Afghanistan, as though the incompetence magically started in 2003. Well, the same logic is playing out in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and I’d guess that is going to not be so good. Looking back, given this outcome: we definitely should have negotiated with the Taliban. It would have been cheaper, and Al Qaeda would have less dangerous potential now. Surely the same problems apply to the war in Afghanistan as apply to the war in Iraq – if the war is planned badly, enacted with maximum corruption, and ends up creating a worse situation over an expanded area – it was a bad war.

81

novakant 03.27.07 at 2:16 am

christian, as you might have noticed upthread, I’m a severe critic of the way the intervention in Afghanistan was handled, but your faith in “the people” figuring things out is either naive or cynical; “the people” didn’t figure things out in Rwanda, the Balkans or Kongo, while they were left alone – instead they created hell on earth; “the people” as a homogenous entity doesn’t exist in these states; “the people” are are powerless and helpless and made pawns in the cynical powergames of a few rulers.

Whatever one may think about the invasion of Afghanistan, if we just leave it to “the people” it will be left to ISI, the Taliban, drug barons and medieval warlords – there’s a good reason to trust multinational entitities and NGOs more than “the people” when it comes to crisis managmenent, often they are the only hope.

The interventions of the Bush administration were badly botched, but that’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater – in a both regionalized and globalized world multinational action and frameworks will become more and more important, while the nation state of “the people” will become less and less useful as a category.

82

Jon H 03.27.07 at 2:47 am

seth edenbaum writes: “And we could have used that forgiveness to apply all sorts of pressure.”

Lots of handwaving there. What sorts? Ponies?

Sorry, but that’s a fantasy you’ve got there.

83

r4d20 03.27.07 at 2:50 am

As a former war-supporter I can honestly say that the influence of the “radical left” DID effect my stance on the war in 2003. I spent so much time focusing on the anti-war arguments which were stupid that I missed the many anti-war arguments that were intelligent.

On a practical level, I do think that they make it easier for their opponents to distract potential allies away from the movement by painting a distorted picture of their influence (cherry-pick the whackos).

On a moral level, though, it was still MY mistake. I don’t “blame” them for it any more than I “blame” any other distraction that I really ought to be able to overcome.

84

minneapolitan 03.27.07 at 2:54 am

“Capitalism works” “Capitalism delivers the goods” “Nobody can come up with anything better than capitalism”

I hate to break it to you, Timothy and walt, but it’s you who’ve lost the argument with history. Yes, for the people in the top tiers of society, capitalism has certainly provided a degree of material wealth that was undreamed of in the past. But at what price? Constant war, continuing oppression of any number of racial and ethnic groups, not to mention women (had anyone else noticed that the gender balance here is pretty messed up?), an environment that reels under the pressure of an ever-more destructive mode of production, social atomization, escalating incidences of environmental physical and mental illness (even among the elites), the commodification of human life — right down to our very emotions, a tremendous waste of cultural knowledge and folklife, and, finally, the impovershment and virtual enslavement of billions of human beings in order to provide the luxuries that those few at the top enjoy.

To be liberal is not to have “made peace with” capitalism, it is to be utterly and completely compromised by one’s support of capitalism. That was the case in 1807 just as much as it is today.

Every war is a rich man’s war.

85

Jon H 03.27.07 at 2:58 am

“Every war is a rich man’s war.”

China vs. Vietnam?

86

stivo 03.27.07 at 3:16 am

“I am puzzled how invading Afghanistan, in an effort to eliminate al-Qaeda and their Taliban hosts, was anything other than an appropriate response,”

Here was my take at the time. It was obviously a wholly unrealistic take, one completely outside the flow of history. So weird was it that I can’t remember anyone even taking the time to disagree with it. And yet I’ve always liked it, and I haven’t lost any of my fondness for it over time. It has the advantage I think of splitting the difference between the “decent” and “indecent” lefts – regardless of whether that would have made any short term difference – which I suspect it wouldn’t.

My position at the time was that I would have supported the invasion of Afghanistan had it been preceded by the passage in Congress of an old-fashioned Declaration of War laying out the bill of particulars against Afghanistan (harboring bin Laden, primarily) and the objectives for starting that war and the conditions for ending it. Since that was not the route taken into war with Afghanistan, I opposed that war.

It was perfectly obvious on 9/11/2001 what the Bush administration was going to do. They would use the wave of patriotism to crush all dissent and to plow under whatever “left” impulses remained on every issue. I still remember the sense of forboding I felt that evening.

And it all came to pass. Within days we had Wolfowitz howling about “ending states” and the rest of the neocon nonsense. And we (and by “we” I mean the whole Left, “decent” and “indecent”) never got a handle on it.

Opponents of the Bush Administration needed to find a way of restraining him. Instead of signing on to all the “War on Terror” formulations, they should have striven to channel legitimate American desires for revenge as narrowly as possible against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks without falling into the Cockburn/Chomsky/Herman trap of “always blaming America”. (I should say that I don’t agree with that characterization, and find them bracing at times, but they haven’t found a way out of their little box yet and probably won’t ever.)

Most, but not all, of the talk of the “decent Left” totally ignored this aspect. The “War on Terror” concept was the key idea that needed to be opposed.

Insisting on the republican form of government and the republican form of entry into war (“outdated” as those concepts evidently are) could have been a way of doing that without falling into the far left’s rhetorical blind alleys.

In retrospect, Robert Byrd looks better and better.

87

Jon H 03.27.07 at 3:23 am

“My position at the time was that I would have supported the invasion of Afghanistan had it been preceded by the passage in Congress of an old-fashioned Declaration of War laying out the bill of particulars against Afghanistan (harboring bin Laden, primarily) and the objectives for starting that war and the conditions for ending it.”

Actually, though, it seems to me the conditions for ending it would have looked very much like the situation in 2002: an apparent victory which could only have been held by a sizeable long-term deployment.

ie, the apparent victory which allowed Bush to move focus to Iraq would have instead resulted in pulling out of Afghanistan.

The end result for the Afghans would have been the same – a resurgence.

88

Anderson 03.27.07 at 3:26 am

And we could have used that forgiveness to apply all sorts of pressure.

Jon H beat me to it, but yeah — *what* pressure would have worked on the Taliban? We had, what? The Saudis? Their regime isn’t strong enough to keep Aunt Fatima from writing checks to that nice boy Osama and his holy friends. Pakistan? Yeah, we’re doing wonders with our pressure there.

As Roger notes, the war we got was a minor disaster, but the justification for the war itself is a separate issue.

old-fashioned Declaration of War laying out the bill of particulars against Afghanistan (harboring bin Laden, primarily) and the objectives for starting that war and the conditions for ending it

Interesting, but what is “old-fashioned” about that? Do we normally declare war with a check-off list?

It was perfectly obvious on 9/11/2001 what the Bush administration was going to do.

Unfortunately, yes, but there were close to 3,000 dead Americans, and having an asshole for President was not a reason to tell Osama “naughty boy, don’t do that again or we’ll get angry!” You go to war with the President you have ….

89

Scott Ahlf 03.27.07 at 4:36 am

Anyone associating himself with Marc Cooper needs to be reprimanded after that Pacifica and Christopher H episode—
He should be writing westside reviews for the LA Weekly.
The “Hard Left” just doesn’t believe in reform like you do Michael—
I mean, the evidence is so clear that the world is getting better with the reformist left calling the shots–
Those mean Answer people might mention socialism–

90

Michael Bérubé 03.27.07 at 4:38 am

Had President Gore faced the intel community running around with its hair on fire, and had he followed the same steps he and President Clinton followed to defend the Olympics, or to catch bad guys leading up to Y2K, then 9/11 may well have been thwarted.

Good point, cvcobb01, and I prefer it to dearieme’s dismissal of Gore in 46. Though I also have to admit that in 2002 I never stopped to consider the possibility that a Vice-President Lieberman would bolt from the Gore Administration, lead a coup, and form a “Unity Government” with Dick Cheney, dedicated to prosecuting war in Iraq. Because, if we’re gonna write alternative histories around here, that one’s at least as likely as Seth Edenbaum’s suggestion that al-Qaeda would be impressed by our forbearance.

Which leads me back to Afghanistan, and Roger’s smart comment in 81.

Looking back, is this the war we supported?

Absolutely not. Nor do I believe the Bush incompetence began in 2003; actually, I thought my post was fairly clear about that. But though I agree with Roger’s account of the war in Afghanistan, I don’t agree with his conclusion:

Looking back, given this outcome: we definitely should have negotiated with the Taliban. It would have been cheaper, and Al Qaeda would have less dangerous potential now.

That’s OK, though, because his conclusion doesn’t follow from his account. What should follow from his account is support for an international military campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda that delivers the failed state of Afghanistan from a vicious rogue government and creates greater distance between the region’s radical Islamists and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

Now back to the Balkans.

As for Kosovo, I never can get why we could cut a deal with Serbia in Dayton but then they became these unappeasable monsters at Rambouillet.

Fair enough, sniflheim. But surely it’s worth considering the possibility that Dayton was a terrible mistake on the part of the West. At least, that’s the conclusion I drew, though it took me about four or five years to do it.

As for Donald’s Moral Consistency Test in 65: I agree substantially with John in 69, and I thank him for his graciousness in describing his comment in 64 as a “minor” correction. I should have been much more careful in my description of the Thatcher-Major wing, not only in fairness to Mrs. Thatcher herself (!) but also in recognition that the Balkans produced a confusion of “left” and “right” that, as Timothy Burke points out in wonderful detail, we still have not worked through today.

91

seth edenbaum 03.27.07 at 4:42 am

Anderson, you miss the point. Al Qaeda is a tiny organization with a large and amorphous, sympathetic but not fully committed base. Don’t try to kill the plant directly, just starve it.
We did the opposite.
You imagine I’m making an argument for or from pacifism. I’m not.
I’m giving the practical cynical logic for ignoring the misery of Afghan women under the Taliban. If I put it that way will you take me more seriously?

92

ejh 03.27.07 at 7:46 am

No, ejh, I won’t note this, because it is not true. I never expected that the antiwar-in-Iraq position would or should consist entirely of people who supported war in Afghanistan; that would have been bizarre beyond belief. And I never asked that ANSWER and the WWP be “banned” from the movement, as so many ANSWER apologists claimed; on the contrary, I said in so many words that “every mass movement is allowed to have its fringy wingnuts, and we are certainly entitled to ours.”

Note how this is a straw man argument. Nobody here, least of all myself, has accused Berubé of trying to exclude anybody.

Berubé raised the question of a broad movement in this context:

Thus the Z/Counterpunch leadership of the antiwar movement in the US could not and would not make the argument that Iraq was a terrible diversion from Afghanistan, and it was less interested in keeping the grounds of dissent as broad as possible than in demanding that “clear” opposition to war in Iraq be predicated on opposition to war in Afghanistan.

Of which, several questions.

1. Why should the Z/Counterpunch people make that argument when they do not believe it?

2. In what sense does it make the movement less broad if they do not, since it is perfectly open to others to make it? Isn’t that what “broad” actually means?

3. Isn’t Berubé insisting that the “leadership” make an argument they do not believe in and that they make an argument that he believes in instead? That’s about making the movement less borad, is it not? Because the idea is that the argument that Iraq is a continuation of Afghanistan should not be aired?

4. In what sense are Z/Counterpunch ther leadership anyway? Isn’t much of the movement run by people who are actually very close to the Democrats and have been very happy to try to ensure that what the movement says is what the Democrats would like it to say?

5. Doesn’t “broad” really mean something like “a movement that serves the interests of the Democrats”?

While being a straw man argument though, it is extremely pompous and arrogant: and has the normal tone of the Democratic blowhard, which involves abusing the left as much as possible while insisting that that same left fall into line behind their abusers. Do these people ever listen to themselves, or are they too busy insisting that everybody should listen to them and only them?

I’m with DD on this, except on Afghanistan. The invasion was about revenge and little else. It might have done some good if we’d kept our promises, but it was not necessary and in fact weakened our position. It was neither planned nor carried out with the best intentions and only a small percentage of the world population ever thought otherwise.

Absolutely, Seth. (Also “absolutely”, Ben Alpers at #53.)

I don’t remember the people on the left who wanted to roll out the puppets and the rigorous anti-imperialism agreeing to shut up and follow the liberal line for a period of time.

This is a remarkable comment because:

1. Doesn’t this demonstrate my point, that what the centrists insist on is that the left shut up and do what they say? Isn’t this enormously arrogant? Doesn’t the fact that they expect it and see it as reasonable tell you a lot about them?

2. Was some sort of deal on offer? Did I miss it? Did the centrists say “tell you what, play it our way for x amount of time and if we don’t end the war by then, the floor is yours”?

I also think (and thought at the time) that the bombing of Belgrade crossed the line from striking military targets to terrorisation

Indeed.

You know, when East Timor was the subject of a quite justified humanitarian intervention, did anybody notice that they didn’t spend two and half months bombing Djakarta?

93

abb1 03.27.07 at 7:48 am

This whole ‘decent left’ thing is such a perfect replay of the Stalinist-fellow-travelers phenomenon – it’s just frightening.

No, Afghanistan wasn’t screwed up. No, the West Bank policies are not counterproductive, they are extremely productive. No, Serbia wasn’t bombed to protect a bunch of dirty peasants. Iraq got screwed up only in the sense that a pro-American strongman failed to hold on to power.

C’mon guys, snap out of it, I know you can.

94

marc page 03.27.07 at 8:24 am

“… capitalism has done more to end human history than every system behind.”

Is there really anything more to say ? Does that not sum it up ?

Well, that, and the comment that it’s hard to see a difference among left, right, and center when all agree on the ultimately religious notion of ‘American Exeptionalism.’

At any rate, don’t kid yourselves. You feel much better tapping on your keyboards in “the greatest nation on God’s green earth” than you would wondering if you’ll make it through the day without starving to death or being violently murdered by your liberators.

95

dsquared 03.27.07 at 8:37 am

This goes back to my second observation. Anti-war politics in the US is successful now precisely BECAUSE it’s not Bushitler signs and ANSWER-led rallies. It’s successful because it’s becoming part of mass sentiment in the United States. In order to do that, it has to come with certain kind of patriotic bona fides intact. It’s hard for one lineage of anti-war, anti-imperial struggle to get this, but if anti-war had been successfully equated at the level of mass consciousness as being anti-American, a betrayal of American soldiers, or any of the other things that the right-wing desperately has been striving to make it, it would have been a lot longer and lot harder to get to the political moment we are at now.

So in many ways, it was you, not the people who actually protested it, who was protesting the war, not through the tired and ineffective method of actually protesting it, but through the sensible and far more effective method of pouring a bucket of shit over the people who did?

I think you’re being very, very, very easy on yourself here, Timothy. The idea of being against the war didn’t just happen to get associated with Stalinisses! and anti-Americanisses! by accident. You don’t catch red-baiting like a cold. It got associated with a lunatic fringe because it suited a lot of people to try and distance the Democratic Party from a cause that they thought would be unpopular.

So you chucked out the “lunatic fringe” and what happened? Well then Howard Dean became the lunatic fringe. And you said to yourselves “well we can’t afford to be associated with this anti-American loon!” and so you managed to find a Vietnam war veteran who had voted for the Iraq war and cover him in about a million flags. How well did that work out?

In fact, this consensus against the war could have arrived about two years earlier if mainstream liberals had been thinking about what was going on in front of their faces, rather than thinking about how it might position the Democrats. Banging on about the “sovereignty left” (which looks like more of a strawman the more I think about it) achieved nothing other than providing intellectual cover for the War Party. In particular, it provided the conditions in which the British Decent Left flourished, and I do think they bear a lot of responsibility for our involvement in the war, because they provided the excuses that a lot of potential Labour rebels clung to.

It’s like all the people who have suddenly decided that global warming is an important issue because Al Gore said so, rather than a bunch of dirty hippies, and are now happy to take the credit. It’s bollocks.

96

dsquared 03.27.07 at 8:44 am

I’m in the unusual position of having been against Kosovo and in favour of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, I agree that it was mainly about revenge, but the right to retaliate is in Nuremberg for a reason; revenge is a good way of preserving the international norm against aggressive war.

I don’t understand why so many people are in favour of Kosovo; in my mind it fails nearly every criterion you might assess it on. There wasn’t an imminent humanitarian catastrophe on anything like the scale which would justify aggressive war, the way the war was conducted involved numerous war crimes and the end result hasn’t been a success by any reasonable criterion. I think it is standing proxy in people’s minds for an imaginary operation in Bosnia, just as I rather suspect that Darfur is appearing in a lot of people’s minds as imaginary Rwanda.

97

ejh 03.27.07 at 9:03 am

I think many people were in favour of Kosovo because

(a) they felt there was an genocidal act about to occur ;

(b) they felt the perpetrators in Belgrade had been getting away it with for too long.

I think they’re wrong about the first and right about the second, though I also think they generally choose to ignore the people in Zagreb whose conduct was no better. I also think the aftermath in Kosovo has been very widely ignored, often by people who claim that Afghanistan things would have gone much better if only Washington hadn’t (supposedly) lost interest.

It’s as if once the decision has been taken to show Will and accept that Doing Nothing Is Not An Option, small things like consequences can be neglected.

98

SG 03.27.07 at 9:04 am

There is no way the Australian anti-war movement was affected by the “radicalism” of the “fringy radicals” described here. There is also no way that its being any bigger would have made any difference to the Australian government’s decision to invade Iraq. Similarly in the UK, and I would guess everywhere else. Australia had the largest anti-war demonstration in its history before the war even started, but the war went ahead. Similarly the tens of thousands who turned out to demand intervention in East Timor weren’t particularly fussed by the fact that the demo’s organisers were a commie youth group. I think this mean’s Mr. Berube’s opinion of the role of the so-called sovereignty left in restricting the “broad base” of the movement is overblown.

99

ejh 03.27.07 at 9:13 am

I think most people who actually organise movements and demonstrations are aware that it is possible to put people off if individuals or groups do or say silly things: there’s a permanent debate about the trade-off between doing what seems effective (and what lets loose the energy and anger of a movement) and not doing what more passive but sympathetic people may find unattractive.

This debate, however, is not especially illuminated by the idea that the more radical side to a movement should stay silent (as opposed to occasionally holding its peace). Such a movement would never exist in the first place nor have any organisers to make it grow.

100

Z 03.27.07 at 9:49 am

Without trying to assess the moral or legal situation, I would like to repeat the very mundane point that being in favour of a military intervention means (realistically) being in favour of this intervention as conducted through the current military doctrine of use of force. A consistent proponent of military intervention should therefore know what this doctrine is and what are its recognised military consequences. There is no dispute among military experts on that subject. The doctrine being what it is (or was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the time frame considered to evaluate Kosovo and Afghanistan)-that is to say, intense air strikes from a very high altitude and the current targeting process of the NATO air forces-those interventions were bound to lead to intense human sufferings (civilian deaths, destruction of vital infrastructures…). A realistic proponent of Kosovo and Afghanistan has to take this into consideration. Being in favour of intervention in Afghanistan (at some abstract level) and deploring Kakrak is slightly intellectually lazy.

101

Hidari 03.27.07 at 10:04 am

I know this makes me sound like a complete ‘patches on my elbow of my jacket’ died in the wool middle class liberal, but is anyone going to mention what to me is the most salient aspect of all these ‘interventions': the position of international law? Now you may like international law, or hate it, or half like it or whatever, but the fact is that international law has evolved over the last 60 years for very good reasons: i.e. because it was felt that WW2 (and the Holocaust, which almost certainly would not have happened if not for the War) were very very very very very bad things indeed, and that we should try and put together an international framework to avoid them happening again.

Now: the facts are (and these are indeed the facts: it’s not just my opinion) that the Kosova War and Iraq War certainly, and Afghanistan probably, violated international law. This is NOT a case of ‘sovereignty fetishism': you can only play that card if you don’t mind your own sovereignty being violated (would a French invasion of the United States in the 19th century to prevent the genocide of the native American population have been justified? Would an invasion of Britain to prevent the ‘Late Victorian Holocausts’ have been justified?).

Nor is it about ‘human rights’. As is constantly pointed out, and constantly ignored, Hitler took over Austria to prevent people from being ‘persecuted and incarcerated merely because of their (ethnic) origin’. And as for democracy! ‘There are no electoral lists. There are no voters’ cards. There is no scrutiny of the eligibility to vote. There is no obligation to preserve secret ballot. There is no guarantee that the voting will be conducted with impartiality. There is no method of ensuring fair counting of the votes, and so on.’ (Hitler too pains, in the same speech, to point out that he came to power via the democratic process).

Now my position here is NOT to compare Bush to Hitler etc. My point, just to make absolutely clear is this: almost all arguments about Kosova, Afghanistan etc. presuppose that Bush and Blair were telling the truth about their war aims, and so forth. Indeed, all moral arguments for these invasions fall apart if this is not assumed.

But this is ridiculous. It’s like assuming that the (democratically elected, let’s not forget) Slobodan Milošević was genuinely motivated by a concern for human rights when he engaged in his military actions…although of course he said he was. Or that Putin is genuine about fighting terrorism in Chechnya. Or, for that matter, that Hitler was greatly concerned with the lack of democratic accountability in Austria. But of course we can see the hypocrisy when it comes to official enemies. It’s only when it comes to ‘us’ that we are asked to believe that Bill ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman’ Clinton or Tony ‘we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction’ Blair or George ‘Iraq is harboring a terrorist network, headed by a senior Al Qaeda terrorist planner’ Bush are actually telling the truth when it comes to their humanitarian aims. Politicians are paid to lie ,people, deal with it.

So it is precisely because international lawyers knew that leaders invariably use ‘human rights’ and ‘the fight against terrorism’ and ‘democracy’ as reasons to invade other countries, that strictures against such actions were set in place. There is no ‘ah but i get to break the rules as I’m such a nice guy’ ‘get out clause’ in International Law: the laws apply to everyone, nice guy or nasty guy, or else the whole framework falls down.

Few if anyone amongst the ‘decents’ takes these points seriously (or deals with them at all): it is presupposed that the Americans and British are so…well….’decent’ that given absolute freedom they will never misuse this power, or pursue their own ends. (And, to repeat, of course, it is only the US and the UK who are now ‘above’ international law. Everyone else still has to stick by the rules).

Count me ‘unconvinced’.

102

Francis 03.27.07 at 10:05 am

To pick out just one mystery from many above, I am puzzled how invading Afghanistan, in an effort to eliminate al-Qaeda and their Taliban hosts, was anything other than an appropriate response, at least for anyone not devoted to applying the Sermon on the Mount to foreign policy.

We did a piss-poor job of it of course (Rumsfeld, Franks, etc.), but the right to do so appears inescapable, to where automatically distrusting anyone who argues to the contrary would seem to be a really good rule of thumb.

You’ve already answered your question. I could tell even as a relatively a-political undergraduate back in 2001 that you were going to do a piss-poor job of it because the motivation was revenge (and because your president couldn’t pour piss out of a boot with the instructions printed on the heel). I opposed it because I could then already see where it was leading (although I regret I wasn’t cynical enough). I wasn’t too disappointed when we failed that round – I didn’t think too much harm could be done to Afghanistan from the invasion – but thought that the opposition would be useful to wake people up for the important battle ahead. (Which to my regret we lost – and I don’t know why M.B. doesn’t lose sleep over things that are being done in his name even when he opposed them). And were I to have the benefit of hindsight, I would have opposed the war in Afghanistan much more strongly and effectively to try and deflect both Britain and particularly the US from the path they went down.

And minneapolitan, pray tell me a system that has been as effective at improving the world as Capitalism progressing into free-market (Scandinavian style) socialism. Until you can present one, I’ll start thinking about Five Year Plans every time you make your complaints.

103

john c. halasz 03.27.07 at 10:11 am

Just to go back to the “beginning” of this sort of argument over “humanitarian” interventionism underwritten by a doctrine of universal human rights overriding claims to sovereign national independence/self-determination, does anyone remember that Yugoslavia was the first East European nation to be subjected to IMF economic “shock therary” prescriptions, back in 1990? (I did a quick google, and chose the first reasonably balanced account that came up, the fourth overall: http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/62/329.html). Did anyone even take notice of that fact at the time or in the following years? I’m pointing this out not to make any crude base/superstructure sort of argument, nor to claim some sort of retrospective virtue on my behalf, (since I myself did not know the fact at that time), but because I think it might serve to bring out the difference between left-of-center liberals, in the American sense, and those who identify as left rather than liberal. I think it has to due with what I’d call “bitter realism”, (which shouldn’t at all be confused with realpolitik), about how the world and the power-relations organizing actually operate, which refuses to grant primacy to normative claims over against an estimate of the real and situated conditions by which they are liable to be applied and their consequences: in other words, rejection of idealistic “justifications”. (Perhaps no phrase is more inadvertently telling in its sheer academicism than the Rawlsian “veil of ignorance). It’s a matter of making the effort to analyse and impute real interests, based on historical precedents and patterns, operating behind proposed policies/actions and their ostensible “justifications”, while giving weight to those most directly and differentially affected, rather than assuming that outsiders, through their self-referential claims to unmediated “universality”, are thereby in a position to best understand the stakes of a conflict and its resolution. That’s not to say that one shouldn’t maintain, as a thinking reed, a sliver of moral sensibility and judgment, as necessary to one’s sanity, but that one shouldn’t allow oneself to be blinded to the harsh reality of power-relations by one’s own need to “put oneself into the right”. That, at any rate, would be my diagnosis of the besetting sin of the “decent left” and why any leftism worth its salt must be “indecent”: it’s a matter of distinguishing between a cynical master-morality and a kynical slave-morality, without assuming that any morality can trump the overwhelming reality of politico-economic power-relations.

Wars are absolutely terrible catastrophes and always the very last resort. Any one who doesn’t understand that as a “first principle” is a moron. Wars reign down on the just and unjust alike and are never “justified”, (pace Walzer, who seems to want to revive medieval RC theories of “natural law” for the sake of Zionist exceptionalism), but only more or less “necessary”. I myself am not in the habit of supporting any war: there are wars that I oppose and some that I don’t bother to. (Hey, I’m just a no account civilian of no appreciable importance!) I didn’t oppose the 1st Gulf War, though I thought it was being rushed into and it was clear in the aftermath that the endgame had scarcely been thought through. Ex-Yugoslavia was a farrago of terrible indifference/bad faith all round. Shock therapy in Russia was a terrible catastrophe, in the place of a long awaited historical opening/opportunity, such that one can’t help but suspect the malignancy of the continuing motives underlying such policy. When I heard about 9/11 that evening,- ( I was outside doing a house painting job all day)-, after five minutes reflection to take it all in, I said, “well, it looks like we’re going to war. “But where?!?”. “Afghanistan.” I didn’t have any idea how they would go about it, with the approach of winter looming, but I thought maybe they’d put 100,000 boots on the ground in the relevant area and tighten the circle. Shows how little I know. And anyone who doesn’t grasp the role of the M-I complex, with its accumulation of a sheer excrescence of means, which trumps both motive and opportunity, should just STFU. Unilateral “preventative” war and “full spectrum dominance” were already being openly vetted as official doctrine well before 9/11. And the war drums for Iraq 2 were already being beaten in early 2002 with an ever-shifting hodge-podge of incoherent “arguments” that left one scatching one’s head for the “real” strategic rationale, such that no one in their right mind, who paid any attention to the actually available facts, could possibly be confused or fooled in the matter. And, yes, those were the largest anti-war demonstrations world-wide ever, and even impressively large in the U.S., which Bush dismissed as a mere “focus group”.

The upshot is that anyone who bought into this horrific mess in the name of moralizing pretentions about universal “human rights” and ignored the contradiction of embracing the violence (and fraud, to compete the classical couplet,) of its means of implementation, is hoisted by their own petard, and, not though to argue for any “ruse of reason” here, Bushevik unilateralism has effectively destroyed any multilateral framework for advancing claims to enforcing/influencing “universal” standards of rights/the exercize of political power for a long time to come. (Certainly, the U.S. and U.K. can scarcely claim any international credibility on the matter: until last summer, they actually made the Israelis look like models of restraint). “Rights”, after all, are a legal institution, and as such, imply the means of their coercive enforcement, since there is no such thing as an autonomously self-regulating and apolitical legal system. The bearers of “rights” are always invested by and in a system of political power: to put it bluntly, they take away your freedom and give you your rights,- (and, no, I’m in no wise a libertarian). Which, to my mind, at least, means that any regime of “rights” can only be developed from the balance of “forces” and elements within a civil society, and can not be violently imposed from without, which notion is more than just conceptually self-defeating. It may well be the case that there arise emergencies in which intervention could be claimed as “necessary”. But, then, one should be suspicious of those “states of emergency” that that powerful states are always want to declare to maintain their hold on power. The armed mission to spread and enforce “universal rights” emerged from the French Revolution and has established ample historical precedents and patterns since. Anyone who would claim to be concerned for the “rights” of others beyond the charmed circle of entitled elites would be best advised to pay attention to the real conditions by which power-relations are generated and take account of the limited means of any intervention, mediation, or containment aimed at the resolution of internecine conflicts.

104

ejh 03.27.07 at 10:20 am

I think hidari the exceptionalism is because the countries which are encouraged to carry out these interventions are liberal democracies (except when they’re Israel) and their targets are not.

Which is true as far as it goes, but it always seems to me to fail to ask some obvious questions:

1. does international law not apply to liberal democracies?

2. because a country is a liberal democracy does that mean that it pursues liberal democratic aims in its foreign policy?

3. because a country is a liberal democracy does that not mean that it is many other things besides – a country perhaps riven by inequalities of class and race and other factors besides? Is liberal democracy necessarily the defining point about it and is it the element that is most important when it goes to war?

4. Is not, historically, the relationship between powerful (and colonising) countries and weak (and colonised) countries one in which the former are domestically more politically and socially advanced than the latter?

105

SG 03.27.07 at 10:28 am

ejh, inasmuch as being a “liberal democracy” means obeying the rule of law, the US is not. It therefore does not get to play any special exceptionalist cards when demanding international law should apply specially to it as “global policeman” or whatever other fantasy-of-the-moment fogs the “brains” of its leaders. Which is all the more reason to question any “decent” left tendency which supports even limited special interventionist rights for a powerful abuser of human rights.

106

Katherine 03.27.07 at 10:31 am

You’re all splitters! Me, I’ll sign up for the Ant-Internationalist-Decent-KingsCrossesque-Liberation Front, if it’s all the same to you.

Joking aside, it might be helpful to the commenters here to remember that anyone around the age of, say, 30-ish or less, was probably in their early twenties when Kosovo was happening, and a good deal younger than that when the break up of Yugoslavia was starting.

I say this not to trumpet my own ignorance (I am indeed 30), but to make the point that for most people my age, the debate on Iraq and Afghanistan doesn’t occur in the same breath as debate on Kosovo and Yugoslavia in the same way it clearly does for many people posting here.

Just a thought.

107

Alex 03.27.07 at 10:34 am

“Fake reformist tendencies” s/b “anyone who disagrees with me about anything at all, ever

108

lurker 03.27.07 at 10:39 am

‘If what was wrong about imperialism was what the imperial state did, why does the removal of outside overrule make that state potentially self-correcting, something that can “get it right”? [...] the precondition of further emancipation within the territory of the United States today is not the reversal of its imperial expansion and the restoration of sovereignties its expansion overtook’ (timothy burke, post 51)
Of course not, the Indians are dead or scattered and no longer nations. Genocide solves most problems. Territory cannot be emancipated, only people can. Sometimes I wish the Martians would land and teach you jammy bastards a lesson on realpolitik and sovereignty. In the meantime, do the problems afflicting the Palestinian have anything at all to do with their lack of sovereignty, pre- and post-1948? Or is it just a coincidence? Bad things just happen for no reason at all to people who have no control over their country?

109

ejh 03.27.07 at 10:49 am

I’m 41. This is apparently too old to know what s/b means.

110

dsquared 03.27.07 at 10:59 am

I know this makes me sound like a complete ‘patches on my elbow of my jacket’ died in the wool middle class liberal, but is anyone going to mention what to me is the most salient aspect of all these ‘interventions’: the position of international law?

I think this is an incredibly important point (I even mentioned it myself a little bit in passing!), and marks the real disagreement here, which is why I find myself wanting to say that there is a big and important fault line which has me on one side of it and Michael, Michael Walzer and the Decents on the other.

This is exactly the question of whether the post-1945 drafters of the international law on wars of aggression got it more or less right. I think they did. This doesn’t make me some kind of fetishist of sovereignty, and I would appreciate it if people like Tim Burke would put a sock in it saying otherwise. What it means is that the law on wars of aggression against foreign countries (precis: not allowed) is there for a reason and that reason is that wars have a really bad track record.

A subset of the above is that wars aimed at spreading liberal values have a bad track record, wars aimed at liberating people from tyrants have a bad track record, wars carried out with the best of motives have a bad track record and even wars aimed at the prevention of specific humanitarian disasters have a surprisingly bad track record. Therefore, the best international law is “no wars ever”, just as the statute on murder does not have an exception for pushing fat men in front of railway trolleys and the statute preventing torture does not contain an exception for cases of ticking time bombs.

That’s the basis of my anti-war stance; just a general assessment of the evidence that those guys at Nuremberg knew what they were doing. I also, however, regard as intellectually respectable the proposition that the fighting of wars is inherently a corrupting process and that imperialism is an inevitable consequence. And even the proposition that the UK and USA have such unclean hands that we, particularly, should be opposed on nearly every count when we try to intervene outside our borders. I don’t agree with either of these propositions in any unqualified sense, but I don’t think they’re ridiculous.

But the big fault line is international law. AFAICS, Michael and Timothy think that the blanket prohibition on aggressive war needs to have lots of exceptions, and (presumably) they think that our existing political institutions mean that these exceptions will be used well and wisely. That’s why I can’t understand that Michael in #17 agrees with my proposition 3 (that international law needs to be redrafted to bring in responsibilities to protect) but “wants no part” of my proposition 4 (that the USA can be trusted to be the main organ of foreign intervention) – I mean, it surely cannot have escaped his notice that this is what the USA in fact does and has been doing for some time.

But to summarise, yes, I agree with Hidari that international law is absolutely key to this. It is not “irrelevant”, it is not based on “an outdated Westphalian state” and it does not require “wholesale reform”, or any reform at all, before it ought to be enforced.

111

John Quiggin 03.27.07 at 11:00 am

DD, while there’s something in what you say, I think the situation in Kosovo was much more analogous to the Danzig corridor. Once Milosevic started operations there, it seemed pretty clear that the West had bungled by treating him as a legitimate actor in Bosnia. And whether or not the perception of an immediate threat of genocide in Kosovo was justified in retrospect, the judgement that, unless stopped he’d go on to do worse there, and in due course in Montenegro, as well as potentially dragging in Macedonia and Albania still seems pretty reasonable to me.

112

Chris Bertram 03.27.07 at 11:08 am

Daniel:

I don’t understand why so many people are in favour of Kosovo; in my mind it fails nearly every criterion you might assess it on. There wasn’t an imminent humanitarian catastrophe on anything like the scale which would justify aggressive war, the way the war was conducted involved numerous war crimes and the end result hasn’t been a success by any reasonable criterion. I think it is standing proxy in people’s minds for an imaginary operation in Bosnia, just as I rather suspect that Darfur is appearing in a lot of people’s minds as imaginary Rwanda.

Many of us who supported the intervention in Kosovo did so because we believed mass killings similar to those carried out in Bosnia were imminent and had, to a limited extent, already begun. We don’t, of course, know exactly what would have happened without the NATO intervention. But in many of our minds there was, I suspect, the thought “this is episode 3, we’ve seen this before, we know how this is going to go.”

Your “standing proxy” argument isn’t very strong here. Darfur may be standing proxy for Rwanda in the minds of some, but in Kosovo many of the _very same people_ were involved as in Bosnia so it was reasonable to invoke the precedent and their track record. In thise sense nvading Kosovo would be far more like invading Burundi after the Rwanda experience in the case where Hutu militias had already broadcast appeals to get the Tutsi (or vice versa).

As for the end result in Kosovo not being a success. Well the situation _in Kosovo_ isn’t great, but the the ongoing wars in Yugoslavia are over, Milosevic is gone, his cronies are in hiding and much of the former Yugoslavia has democratic government of sorts.

113

stivo 03.27.07 at 11:20 am

jon h (#88)

You miss my point, I think. Bush wins a war against Afghanistan, entered by declaration, defined precisely as catching bin Laden, you no longer have a reason to “do Iraq”. Sure, they could still gin up bullshit about WMD, and how he gassed his own people 20 years before – but you no longer have any reason that’s going to resonate with the American people.

By forcing them to DEFINE their war aims you cut down on their ability to bully other countries, and the other party.

In other words, NEVER GIVE THE PRESIDENT A “BLANK CHECK.”

Not so easy to do, but something to think about!

114

stivo 03.27.07 at 11:21 am

s/b means “should be”.

115

Timothy Burke 03.27.07 at 11:38 am

Daniel, in your first response above, let me cut to the key point for me: that the “consensus on the war could have been reached two years earlier”. You might potentially be right in the context of the Labour Party in the UK. I can’t really judge that.

But when it comes to US politics, this is basically Michael’s major point in this post. Michael was against the war. Todd Gitlin was against the war. I was against the war. And not mildly, politely against the war. So you want to make fine distinctions of various kinds, make that one. The consensus you’re looking for existed two years ago, three years ago, four years ago. The only people who have been added to it since are the mainstream of the elected Democratic Party (and we were just as critical of their hesitant pace on the war as anyone, just as critical of the vote to authorize), a small handful of people on the right who were cheerleaders for the war, and most importantly, a constituency of voters who were previously showing up in the “support” column. It’s that last that is most key, and about whom we’re really arguing. What moved them there? It’s not a consensus among public intellectuals in the US: that already existed at the outset. But it’s also not some kind of increased militancy of protest. It’s not that Democratic politicians and for that matter Republican politicians started speaking out more forcefully on the war: the movement among voters happened before that.

I think it’s pretty simple: the forseeable and foreseen disasters of the war in Iraq have fully come to pass just as they were described by people like Michael and myself AND by people like Daniel or for that matter Chomsky. It’s not our politics, any of us, that has moved the popular consensus. It’s history’s unfolding. So all of this sniping is, in this sense, profoundly irrelevant.

On the sovereignty left, I made the shift of intellectual venue above for a very precise reason, precisely because I think the Kosovo-and-onward discussion of intervention is NOT where I discern the issues and debates that made me think such a thing existed. I saw instead in a set of claims about sovereignty, nationhood, and political transformation that in my own experience have been mostly closely associated with anti-colonial struggles in Africa, but I think have also arisen in debates about globalization. I’m not saying the debate about intervention from Kosovo to Iraq didn’t involve these other conversations about what it is that we’re most called upon to defend, but it’s not the first thing I think of. If Daniel doesn’t see himself as named within this critique, I wouldn’t insist that he is. But I do think there were and are people who in my view criss-crossed the content of their political critique with a defense of sovereignty as the singular achievement necessary for the rectification of injustice.

But if you want a way in which there is something of a distinction from the way I’d come at it and making international law the central principle in a discussion of interventions, my first reaction to interventions of various kind is, “they largely don’t work, particularly not if the goal is as ambitious as ‘liberalism’ or ‘socialism’ or any other ‘ism'”. International law comes second, and it comes first through a concern about the building of real, sustainable coalitions in support of international action. The reason for my ordering of priorities is not because I’m an ends justifies the means guy, it’s a specific concern I have with the nature of the interstate system that has created international law as an artifact since 1945. As I presume your concern would be if a government you were dealing with was in your eyes suspect in its legitimacy. You wouldn’t turn Inspector Javert and insist that the law is the law is the law regardless of the government which created it. I’m all for a government of laws, not people, but only when that government is created for the people and by the people in the first place. Something of the same proviso goes for the interstate system or the world as a whole. International law may be the best thing we’ve got, just as the United Nations may be the closest thing to a representative global institution that we have, but it’s pretty far from what I would consider to be a truly representative entity. Human rights are guaranteed by international law only insofar as the representatives of autocratic governments are willing to permit them to be enforced.

In political practice on Iraq, I think Daniel’s position and mine on international law in relationship to intervention is the same. I even think you’re right, by and large, that the guys at Nuremberg “got it right” in general–I guess I would just claim them for my argument (interventions generally don’t work) than for an argument that international law is the properly constituted artifact for representing that insight.

116

a 03.27.07 at 11:57 am

“My position at the time was that I would have supported the invasion of Afghanistan had it been preceded by the passage in Congress of an old-fashioned Declaration of War…”

No war without a Declaration of War by Congress. Great idea! Does anyone really disagree with that? The antis should agree, because it would make conducting war harder. The pros should agree, because it would mean any war embarked on would have more popular support and oversight, and presumable be better executed.

Obviously, when I say “no war,” I don’t mean wars where the Declaration is difficult or infeasible, like a reply to a nuclear strike…

117

minneapolitan 03.27.07 at 11:59 am

I have to say that this talk of a “Sovreignty Left” catches me by surprise. I’ve been to plenty of anti-war demos (going back to 1990-1991) and I can’t remember a single speaker or banner or puppet that was encouraging resistance to war based on Iraq’s sovreignty or Serbia’s sovreignty or what have you. Quite the contrary, most of the leftists whom I consider to have a solid track record on opposing war have very little sympathy for claims that a nation’s sovreignty, whether it’s South Africa or Iraq or Colombia or Switzerland has anything to do with whether or not it should be invaded, its people slaughtered, its environment and infrastructure destroyed and its government replaced with shills for some other power. This tempest seems to be occuring solely within the teacup of well-known middle or upper-class, middle-of-the-road intellectuals who have newspaper or magazine columns, or frequently appear on the opinion page. It doesn’t penetrate into the actual leftwing demi-monde except as a passing annoyance.

118

Michael Bérubé 03.27.07 at 12:09 pm

Nobody here, least of all myself, has accused Berubé of trying to exclude anybody. . . . Isn’t Berubé insisting that the “leadership” make an argument they do not believe in and that they make an argument that he believes in instead? That’s about making the movement less borad, is it not? Because the idea is that the argument that Iraq is a continuation of Afghanistan should not be aired? . . . While being a straw man argument though, it is extremely pompous and arrogant: and has the normal tone of the Democratic blowhard, which involves abusing the left as much as possible while insisting that that same left fall into line behind their abusers.

It seems that long comments do not serve ejh well. The answer to his first question here is no, I’m not insisting that the leadership should have made an argument they don’t believe in; I’m pointing out that their argument set a litmus test for “real” opposition to war in Iraq (anti-Afghanistan and anti-inspections), one that 90-95 percent of Americans didn’t pass at the time, and one that Cockburn’s column (if you remember Cockburn’s column) is trying to reinforce. The answer to his third question is thanks for making my point for me so nicely, and imputing to me the belief that “the argument that Iraq is a continuation of Afghanistan should not be aired,” despite my comment in 41. (See, I really am trying to exclude people!) He then works himself into quite a righteous lather about how the belief he’s imputed to me is abusive and pompous and arrogant. He also says things about “straw man arguments,” which are really kinda funny in this context.

I can’t understand that Michael in #17 agrees with my proposition 3 (that international law needs to be redrafted to bring in responsibilities to protect) but “wants no part” of my proposition 4 (that the USA can be trusted to be the main organ of foreign intervention)

You can’t understand why I would believe in a “responsibility to protect” but refuse to believe that the US can be trusted to be the main organ of intervention? OK, dsquared, that explains a lot. Would you be all right with a “responsibility to protect” if Sweden were the main organ of intervention?

119

Marko Attila Hoare 03.27.07 at 1:02 pm

A very interesting article, Michael, but it seems to me you dodge the principal issue, and I’d be very interested to hear your elaboration. The point about the people you call the ‘Sovereignty Left’ is that they oppose all forms of ‘Western military intervention’ in principle (except when they ignore it, as with the Bosnian arms-embargo). By contrast, nobody in the ‘Decent Left’, and indeed nobody at all, supports Western military intervention in every case.

If you supported Western military intervention for progressive reasons in Kosovo and Afghanistan, but not in Iraq, how does that make you different from, for example, someone who supported intervention in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, but not in Iran ? Of from someone who supports it in Iraq and Iran, but won’t do in a future conflict with Russia or China ?

You may feel that the Iraq war was ‘reactionary’ in a way that the Kosovo and Afghanistan wars were not. But members of the ‘Decent Left’ who supported the Iraq war did so for motives that resemble yours over Kosovo and Afghanistan – the need to end oppression and persecution and halt a humanitarian tragedy (in this case, the starving to death of tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians under the sanctions regime).

So is your disagreement with left-wing supporters of the Iraq war simply one of analysis and tactics ? Or is there some deeper difference in principle involved that I’ve failed to comprehend from your article ?

120

martin Wisse 03.27.07 at 1:12 pm

Were “many of the very same people” involved in Kosovo as there were in the Croatian and Bosnian wars? Or was that only the case if you think there’s such a monolithic thing as “The Serbs”?

The tensions in Kosovo have only been frozen, not treated and worse, there’s no real solution for them that does not upset either the Albanian or the Serbian population of Kosovo. In essence, the NATO interference has done little or nothing to change the situation, but at a great cost to the civilian population of Serbia during the bombings.

Chris seems to claim in #114 that Milosevic losing power was a consequence of the Kosovo war, but in fact he didn’t lose power until long after the war, as a direct consequence of mass strikes after (iirc) dodgy elections.

Even taking Kosovo at face value, it should’ve been a warning to all that any humanitarian intervention is very likely to cause more harm than do good.

121

christian h. 03.27.07 at 1:20 pm

OK, dsquared, that explains a lot. Would you be all right with a “responsibility to protect” if Sweden were the main organ of intervention?

Michael, come on, could you stop using this argument? We happen to live in the real world. This is on par with your support for the war in Afghanistan while opposing the (entirely predictable, and predicted) effects of high-altitude bombing in that war. And I’m happy to see that you adopt the same kind of sneering tone that Chomsky affects. Congrats.

122

Michael Bérubé 03.27.07 at 1:21 pm

Oh, and Daniel, I meant “Would you be all right with a ‘responsibility to protect’ if Sweden were the main organ of intervention?” as a real question, not a snarky rhetorical one. Had I finished my coffee before commenting, I would have added that there seems to be an is/ought slippage going on between us, so that you didn’t understand my saying that I agree there should be a right to protect (for more or less the reasons Timothy spells out in the fifth paragraph of comment 117) and am profoundly uneasy — to the point of losing sleep! — at the idea of the US as the primary enforcer of that right.

123

Michael Bérubé 03.27.07 at 1:23 pm

a real question, not a snarky rhetorical one . . . and certainly not a “sneering” rhetorical one, either. Nice snarky try, though, Christian.

124

martin Wisse 03.27.07 at 1:25 pm

The thing that is missed in this discussion is that, apart perhaps from in the US, everybody was always against the War on Iraq and a very sizable minority at the very least also opposed the war on Afghanistan.

Two million people marched in London against the war, some 100,000 or so in Amsterdam at the same time, millions all over America did as well, not to mention millions elsewhere in the world.

Yet the war went ahead anyway, because the political and media elites in the UK and the US, as well as elsewhere largely supported the war.

In that context, while everybody you speak one to one is opposed to the war, be they conservative, liberal or socialist, yet the media keeps telling you the war will happen, that there are good reasons to go to war, that everybody agrees the antiwar protesters are silly, it is very disheartening to see that those few people who say they’re opposed to the war and who do have access to the mainstream media, chose to attack their fellows in the antiwar movement rather than make their case against the war. That’s the problem I have with people like Gitlin.

Now in retrospect, even had these people spoken out the war would’ve still gone ahead and I dobut anything other than mass revolution, strikes and insurrection could’ve stopped it, but their stance didn’t help matters.

A more united antiwar movement with representatives in the mainstream media could’ve put more pressure on those sections of the political elites like the Democratic Party who stood to gain the least in the war and hence could’ve made it more difficult for Bush and Blair to get their war. That this unified movement didn’t arise in the states is one of the great missed opportunities.

It could’ve been done, as it was here in the Netherlands, where those more centrist forces opposed to the war didn’t spent much of their time sniping at “the loony left” and it at least kept us out of the military war, if not the occupation later.

125

Grubert 03.27.07 at 1:28 pm

My goodness, an entire website of erudite, irrational Chomsky haters.

Whenever I run across Chomsky criticism, regardless of the apparent sophistication of the anti-Chomsky argument it always turns out that Chomsky didn’t say anything like what his critics say he said.

Your links don’t support your Chomsky paraphrases, but Chomsky haters references never verify the words or ideas they claim he expresses. Rather then paraphrasing Chomsky, perhaps you could raise your standards by providing actual quotes.

The mark of a genuine Chomsky hater is having the intelligence to understand Chomsky’s ideas but not enough wisdom to avoid overlaying deep-seated emotional reactions to the realities Chomsky describes.

And to dismiss Chomsky as a self-promoting opportunist is nothing more then resentful whining. It’s a non distinguishable slur applicable to anyone with a public presence.

What undue opportunity has Chomsky seized ?
What unseemly reward has he received?

It’s a ridiculous thing to say.

Chomsky’s is long-winded and circuitous, not nearly as direct or focused as he should be. He tends to blur analysis with critical judgment too often, and most of all he doesn’t hide his hatred of atrocity very well. Perhaps Chomsky haters also don’t have a handle on their own emotions either.

126

Rich Puchalsky 03.27.07 at 1:28 pm

Timothy Burke: “I think it’s pretty simple: the forseeable and foreseen disasters of the war in Iraq have fully come to pass just as they were described by people like Michael and myself AND by people like Daniel or for that matter Chomsky. It’s not our politics, any of us, that has moved the popular consensus. It’s history’s unfolding. So all of this sniping is, in this sense, profoundly irrelevant.”

I agree with all of this paragraph except the last sentence. The sniping is quite relevant, because there’s going to be a brief moment around failure in Iraq when it becomes possible for the American media and general populace to hear anti-war voices. The sniping is about jockeying for position to be the one(s) heard — there can’t be many people heard, given the way the media works. I’d rather it not be Cockburn, in part because I really do think that he’s lied about what Berube said and because I’d rather the anti-war movement wasn’t represented by an easily detected liar.

127

vanya 03.27.07 at 1:32 pm

Constant war, continuing oppression of any number of racial and ethnic groups, not to mention women (had anyone else noticed that the gender balance here is pretty messed up?), an environment that reels under the pressure of an ever-more destructive mode of production, social atomization, escalating incidences of environmental physical and mental illness (even among the elites), the commodification of human life—right down to our very emotions, a tremendous waste of cultural knowledge and folklife, and, finally, the impovershment and virtual enslavement of billions of human beings in order to provide the luxuries that those few at the top enjoy. Why that describes the Roman Empire to a T, as well as the Qing dynasty, the USSR and any number of societies not usually considered “capitalist.” This kind of ahistorical ranting is why most people don’t take the fringe left seriously.

128

christian h. 03.27.07 at 1:36 pm

Michael, I apologize for going all Leninist on you, but if Sweden was in a position to be “the main organ of intervention”, it wouldn’t be Sweden. It would be the US by a different name.

129

Frowner 03.27.07 at 1:37 pm

Ah, I’m late to the party! Huzzah!

Just as a point of clarification, there is indeed a “Sovereignty Left”–in fact, during Kosovo and the Iraq sanctions, they put on most of the demonstrations here in Minneapolis. (Freedom Road, for those of you who keep track of that sort of thing–Maoists who have no interest in actually existing Chinese history, but very hard working and quick off the mark with a demo.)

The thing is, they represent about 1% of actual left activists round here. Most people find their rhetoric really disturbing.

It’s worth remembering that when some figurehead says something really stupid at a demo, most of the activists around you aren’t internally cheering; no, they’re thinking “Jesus Christ, why do I come to these things? These people are like a cartoon!”

But the problems are several: first, most left organizing around here is really issue-based (in the wake of the collapse of the USSR, the weakening of unions, etc), so that the Maoists are often the only umbrella organization to take any action on big issues. Second, seriously, the Maoists work much harder than most people. I’ve met some of them, and they’re crazy for the boring routine work. You’d think they were being paid stunning quantities of Moscow gold, except that’s impossible.

Until the non-Maoist left steps up–and I don’t mean the “decent left”, just people who understand that the US’s enemies aren’t neccessarily the left’s friends–we can’t expect any better. The problem is that the really hard-working leftists around town (who aren’t in a frenzy of child-care or paying work, of course) are already swamped. Or else they’re behind-the-scenes types, the people who do accounting for organizations, or support web pages.

The left round here really needs some more structure.

It’s funny, though–if I say “Oh, I can’t stand liberal yattering about the free market because I know a lot of people who work and work and still aren’t making it” I’m being too pure and unrealistic, but if a liberal says “Well, I just feel tainted by going to a demonstration put on by puppet-wielding hippies, even though people are being killed or having their lives destroyed” that has standing.

130

Timothy Burke 03.27.07 at 1:46 pm

One small point, Frowner. It’s not about the taintedness. It’s that some of us have done work in organizations or movements and had to watch while the 1% you describe hijacked the whole thing in some completely opposite direction, usually one that pretty much destroys anything accomplished in an issue-oriented manner. I think that’s a concern that goes way beyond personal purity.

131

Frowner 03.27.07 at 1:58 pm

129: Well, I suppose that’s about the same reasoning as I have about most liberal reform projects–that they’ll be so compromised by the wealthiest and most oblivious liberals as not to be worth the candle–so I guess I can see your point.

(Although I’m a bit skeptical about some of the “issue-oriented” things that get proposed.)

What to do, what to do? Wait for a better historical moment? Give all you have to the poor?

132

ejh 03.27.07 at 2:03 pm

He then works himself into quite a righteous lather about how the belief he’s imputed to me is abusive and pompous and arrogant.

No he doesn’t. (It seems reading long comments is not something Mr Berubé does well.) Nor is it helpful to refer to comments made at #41, since it was precisely those comments which defended you only against an accusation that had been not been made.

Let’s try again. This was the initial passage:

Thus the Z/Counterpunch leadership of the antiwar movement in the US could not and would not make the argument that Iraq was a terrible diversion from Afghanistan, and it was less interested in keeping the grounds of dissent as broad as possible than in demanding that ‘clear’ opposition to war in Iraq be predicated on opposition to war in Afghanistan.

Now is this, or is it not, a claim that the leadership* should in fact have made ‘the argument that Iraq was a terrible diversion from Afghanistan’? It is, isn’t it? You are saying this argument should have been made: you are blaming the Z/Counterpunch people for not making it.

[* = if they are indeed the leadership, a claim which I disputed above and which seems to me to ignore that much of the antiwar leadership had done precisely the things Mr Berubé wishes.]

My objection to you is that you’re prepared to describe antiwar activists in abusive terms and then complain that they did not follow the policies you require. This sort of one-sided bargain seems to me to be typical of how the US centre approaches the left, and I think ‘arrogant’ a reasonable description and not an unnecessarily pejorative one.

133

ejh 03.27.07 at 2:04 pm

had to watch while the 1% you describe hijacked the whole thing in some completely opposite direction

Well yes, Timothy, some people do behave like that. But didn’t you say above that the left should agree to shut up and follow the liberal line for a period of time? That’s not really all that tolerant of a broad movement, is it?

134

dsquared 03.27.07 at 2:05 pm

Would you be all right with a “responsibility to protect” if Sweden were the main organ of intervention?

I would settle for one in which the UN Security Council was, with each permanent member having a veto. If only those smart guys at Nuremberg had … but wait!

135

engels 03.27.07 at 2:07 pm

From where I stand, and having looked through the comments so far, it seems that Michael’s coinage, “sovereignty left”, was a rather silly straw man, which need not detain anyone any further. Is that right? I don’t see anybody defending it.

136

The Constructivist 03.27.07 at 2:13 pm

I was loving The Daily Show in the early Bush years, but even then what annoyed me about Stewart’s take on both the anti-WTO protests and the anti-Iraq-invasion protests was his going along with the corporate media’s delegitimization strategies in their representations of the protesters. Stewart had a chance to mock the red herring techniques but chose to play along with them. So as often as I tend to agree with Michael and Tim, I respectfully suggest they henceforth be known as “Jon Stewart liberals” on the ANSWER issue. I wonder if we all had tried the “Stephen Colbert conservatives” shtick back then the whole stopping the invasion thing would have worked out better. Or if the Colbert thing could only have worked the way it has when the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld imperviousness to reality was proven by experience rather than foresight.

Ah, but spilt milk, broken eggs, perfect world, etc. I think the real issue–which Tim’s #60 brings out nicely and others have been running with since–is the limits of U.S. nationalism and sovereignty, then and now. Because there’s a U.S. Sovereignty Liberalism with a bad record of supporting human rights only when they support U.S interests, of encouraging the citizenry to equate U.S. interests with humanity’s, and more–and they’re the lesser of two evils (don’t get me started on the U.S. Dominion Conservatives!). Berube has a long history of opposing the latter and critiquing the former, so it seems either disingenuous or nasty to lump him in with them, here or elsewhere. How to get the U.S. public where Berube is is the question I’d like to see The Left take more seriously.

On the international law issue, I’d suggest learning from the problems with the Tokyo trials is as important as trying to realize the Nuremberg principles. Because we’re living with the effects of the Tokyo legacy as much as the falure of the Nuremberg one.

137

Daragh McDowell 03.27.07 at 2:18 pm

Uh-oh, Andrew Sullivan just picked up on this whole debate, and is throwing his weight behind Berube… In the interest of resolving what he is describing as a ‘Circular Firing Squad’ can we all agree that his position, (that is arguing passionately in favour of the war and accussing its opponents of being traitorous fifth columnists, before belatedly switching sides when the whole thing became disastrously unpopular and declaring turncoats like himself as the only ‘serious’ and ‘moral’ war critics) is hypocritical and grossly self-serving, and that he and Joe Klein should fuck off and work for the Lieberman ’08 campaign or some similarly irrelevant organisation such as the sclerotic New Republic?

138

ejh 03.27.07 at 2:34 pm

Does Joe Klein actually need to work?

139

Luc 03.27.07 at 2:40 pm

“The main organ of intervention”.

That wouldn’t be international law, the UN, and associated stuff would it? Must be a single country with lots of bombs and a willingness to drop them on people?

The largest splitter of them all, Michael Walzer, (whom I never considered really anti war) was part and parcel of the moralism about human intervention and non-responsibility for the consequences.

Whatever is wrong with Counterpunch, Respect et al., they were organizing anti-war demos at which everyone was welcome, while Walzer et al. were whining how the French were appeasers, the left wasn’t decent, the Afghan war was a success despite all the deaths etc. and as a result didn’t oppose the US/UK governments in a meaningful way. That’s one of the reasons why the lot of them are put down as not being anti war.

Or to quote Walzer: “The right thing to do, right now, is to re-create the conditions that existed in the mid-’90s for fighting a just war.”

He thought that we should create the conditions for a just war and that that would possibly prevent war. And we were just the indecent leftists masses who didn’t think coherently.

140

Daragh McDowell 03.27.07 at 2:45 pm

ejh: it would be nice to think he did. Matt Taibbi did a great column on him a little while ago that seems relevant to this debate. Not trying to lump MB in with swine like Joe Klein of course.

141

Mitchell Freedman 03.27.07 at 2:46 pm

I am very late to this party, too! And welcome back, Michael! I missed you!!

Cockburn’s attack on Michael Berube is obviously ridiculous and proves once again Cockburn’s own blind spots. In 2002 and 2003, Cockburn thought it was wrong to blast ANSWER when there was a need for anti-war rallies to attempt to stop the Iraq War II, with the assumption that it is good to build movements and coalitions, even with folks with whom one may strongly disagree.

Yet, Cockburn is now wrongfully attacking Berube and putting him in a camp with folks like Paul Berman, who supported the Iraq War II–not because of Berube’s position on Iraq, but because Berube supported the Kosovo intervention which Cockburn opposed.

If Cockburn thought Marc Cooper and David Corn, who were loud in denouncing the ANSWER sponsored anti-war rallies in late 2002 and early 2003, were using Red Scare methods of guilt by association to tar those who went to those anti-war rallies, then Cockburn is at least as bad, if not worse. At least Corn and Cooper were correct about ANSWER’s horrid positions on various other matters, including Milosevic. Here, Cockburn is absolutely wrong in describing Berube as being in favor of the Iraq War II at any time.

I also hate to break it to Cockburn, but arguing over disagreements regarding Kosovo at this point is worse than academic; it’s pointless and counterproductive. And to compound that with a wrongful and pathetic attack on Michael Berube merely gives more ammunition to Eric Alterman to say Cockburn is a hopeless Stalinist.

142

alf 03.27.07 at 2:53 pm

d-squared I think you’re being very, very, very easy on yourself here, Timothy. The idea of being against the war didn’t just happen to get associated with Stalinisses! and anti-Americanisses! by accident. You don’t catch red-baiting like a cold. It got associated with a lunatic fringe because it suited a lot of people to try and distance the Democratic Party from a cause that they thought would be unpopular.

I don’t think you comprehend the hatred in the US toward groups such as ANSWER, the WWP and basically any one who protests anything with puppets, and though the moderate left is not without blame, this attitude is much more deeply ingrained to be solely their fault. Rightly or wrongly the majority of Americans hates “hippies”. From a moral or philosophical standpoint it is nice to be on the right side, but as far as the practical and political goes these were the wrong groups to lead the anti-war movement in the States, and like a poster above admitted their leadership actually drove some people into supporting the war.

This is the same with all this talk of “American Exceptionalism”. It is nice to think that in a perfect world Americans would be completely unselfish and only think about the good of all of earth’s creatures, but that is never going to happen in the US or in any other country. While I sympathise with many of the positions of the “hard left”, in terms of stopping the Iraq war they are at the best useless and at the worst destructive to that cause.

143

engels 03.27.07 at 3:05 pm

Basically I’m with ejh and Daniel. Shame on Michael Berube and Timothy Burke for coming out with this concern trollish – and as far as I can see, completely speculative – crap, that if only Cockburn, Herman, Chomsky et al had renounced their convictions and toed the sensible, patriotic American liberal party line – that Iraq was a “diversion” from the War on Terra – it might never have happened. Do either of you actually have a shred of evidence for this? And can’t you see how badly it sits with your pious calls for pluralism in the anti-war movement?

144

ejh 03.27.07 at 3:06 pm

their leadership actually drove some people into supporting the war

Really? Some people actually started supporting a war because they didn’t like some of its opponents? Why aren’t we catering for these people?

as far as the practical and political goes these were the wrong groups to lead the anti-war movement in the States

Well why didn’t somebody else do it then? It’s not like they had the magic password or something. If the organising was done by people on the left might that not be because other people didn’t actually do it or want to do it? But they did however, want to lay into the people who did the work?

145

christian h. 03.27.07 at 3:06 pm

It is amazing to me that anyone would actually admit to having supported a war he really opposed because he disagreed with those who organized the anti-war rallies. Anyone outside the Beltway cocktail circuit, that is, where hippies have long been considered a much bigger threat than war. It’s really the most childish of reactions. Given that, I find it offensive – though not surprising – to see liberal intellectuals impune this behavior to “the masses”.

146

Hidari 03.27.07 at 3:10 pm

With the exception of Dsquared, I notice that, yet again, the question of legality has been more or less ignored, although it is crucial. Marko Attila Hoare for example, doesn’t even mention international law, although it is completely integral to the issue, and I think it’s safe to say that anyone who doesn’t base their opinions on the relevant law (and the opinion of legal experts thererof) is essentially contributing nothing to the discussion.

I always feel a bit embarassed at these discussions, as if I was talking to a child. Nevertheless it’s obvious that a whole generation of Western educated intellectuals (such as Hoare, for example) really have no idea as to why laws are written and what they are for.

So: to make this as clear as possible: the ‘philosophy’ of law (I am arguing from my own point of view here) is a sort of pragmatic behaviourism. In other words, it is assumed that ‘motives’ ‘wishes’ ‘beliefs’ etc. and so forth, either don’t exist or else they are unverifiable ‘inner states’ which should be disregarded as irrelevant.

‘Motives’ don’t matter. Only actions matter. And there is a very good reason for this, which is this:

Everybody always claims their motives are good.

As I’ve demonstrated this includes Hitler, but I could include the USSR’s noble crusade to fight fascism in Hungary in ’56, its fight against ‘Islamo-fascism’ in Afghanistan, the British Empire’s desire to eliminate slavery in the 1880s and 1890s in Africa, Mussolini’s desire to prevent slavery and other human rights abuses in Ethiopia, the Chinese attempts to liberate the Tibetans from theocratic tyranny and so forth.

The ‘decents’ of course have an answer to this: whereas all those other people were lying, ‘they’ are telling the truth. Hoare for example tells us that he supported various invasions ‘to end oppression and persecution and halt a humanitarian tragedy’. To which one can only append: well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?

The problem is, that if one discusses motives and beliefs and wishes then the debate goes on forever, because how could I possibly know whether Hoare is telling the ‘truth’ or not? Or, even if he is: so what? We all know that terrible things have been done by ‘good people’ in the past and are being done by ‘good people’ even as we speak. ‘it’s for the Greater good’, ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’, ‘the ends justify the means': these are the aphorisms by which the ‘good men’ have always justified their own atrocities.

So these discussions lead nowhere.

But there is a solution to this endless maze!

And that solution is the objective facts of international law: created by human beings, yes, but through a process of democratic debate and discussion, which creates a framework for action.

And then we are left with the question, NOT ‘do I support x y and z for ‘good’ reasons’ but instead: ‘does this or that action break the relevant laws?’.

It is also clear, incidentally, that all arguments that presuppose ‘Western supremacy’ or ‘American exceptionalism’ are, and must always be, antithetical to the idea of ‘law': if there is a law, it must apply to everyone, equally: the reason that invading another country (which poses no threat) is just as illegal for Burundi as for the US (and the ‘motives’ of these countries are irrelevant), is the same reason that murder and theft are just as illegal for George Bush and Tony Blair (at least in theory) as for me and you.

Like I say, I find these points embarassing, but they have to be made, as Marko Attila Hoare and other Western intellectuals seem to think that the world would be a better place if we just got rid of all laws (or at least, didn’t bother applying them to the United States), and let everyone do what they wanted (as long as the United States approved).

Theres a good article about the attitude which underlies this contempt for legality here (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19879)
although of course Hoare etc. will never come out and state openly their real beliefs: sheltering behind euphemisms such as ‘the West’ and ‘liberal democracies’.

147

engels 03.27.07 at 3:14 pm

like a poster above admitted their leadership actually drove some people into supporting the war

If you are referring to r4d20’s post above: right. What we know from that is that there is at least one person in the US who is (i) a complete idiot and (ii) doesn’t appear to feel that slightest embarrassment in admitting that he let his irrational hatred of people like Noam Chomsky defeat his ability and moral responsibility to reach a reasoned judgment about a serious political issue. The utility of this anecdote for the purposes of flinging yet more food at the “ZMag/Counterpunch” crowd appears to be unclear.

148

Frowner 03.27.07 at 3:14 pm

143: But who else is going to lead? I mean, I run around with both hippies and filthy reformist liberals, and I didn’t see any impulse to get out and protest the war, even on the “and I’ll write a very strongly-worded letter, too” level, impulse coming from anyone. Where were the churches? Where were the unions? Where the hell were this apparently-existing silent majority of good and proper moderate liberals who support free trade and market incentives but not bombing runs?

Frankly, a good solid coalition of people who were actually willing to spend the time on organizing demos could have taken the whole project away from the hippies. (I’ve worked at the local level to take several projects away from the Maoists, and I know it can be done if you put in the hours and speak clearly; so I assume that similar tactics would work to take things away from the hippies.) But we don’t have the social infrastructure here to make that easy, and the people who could perhaps have done it (being both educated and often sensible) decided it was easier to blame the the puppet-wielders–or else (and this is in some ways a bit more creditable) misguidedly believed that the war wouldn’t be a crashing disaster.

If you–the good folks who like market incentives and working across partisan lines–want to build an activist movement and an activist culture, there’s no damn use at all blaming the hippies. If the hippies are so marginal and ludicrous, surely you can appeal to the masses of regular people out there, and the regular people will be glad to have you.

149

abb1 03.27.07 at 3:16 pm

…the hatred in the US toward groups such as ANSWER, the WWP and basically any one who protests anything with puppets…

Whoa, this is probably the most condescending statement I’ve ever seen here. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

150

Jaybird 03.27.07 at 3:19 pm

One thing that I noticed was the whole dynamic where people decided which side to support based on not “who is most right?” but “who do I find more irritating personally?”

Since the puppet-carrying hippies who were blocking traffic on the interstate were more irritating to more people, support tended to lean towards “not saying anything” if not “Bush is better than these guys”.

Yes, of course, those who made the decisions based on such silly considerations should not be taken seriously, and they’re just as bad as those killing children from 30,000 feet, and probably would have supported Hitler in 1939, and so on and so forth.

But this does seem to be the way that a great many people made their decisions on which side to pick. I’d also point out that support for the Vietnam War had a similar dynamic.

If one sees protesting as a form of therapy, I suppose that carrying a puppet and a sign comparing Bush to Hitler would be very cleansing on a spiritual level… plus there’s the joy that comes from freaking the normals.

If, however, one wishes to have an impact on public policy, asking “how can we direct opinion on the war in the direction we claim to want?” might lead one to say “maybe a drum circle followed by a speech from the wobblies isn’t the best plan.”

Then again, Hitler was a pragmatist too.

151

ejh 03.27.07 at 3:20 pm

#150 Frowner: indeed.

152

stivo 03.27.07 at 3:25 pm

hidari -
I resemble your remarks.

Seriously, I think you are onto something here and would just like to point out that my remarks (#87, 115), while lacking the intellectual rigor of yours, lean strongly in the same direction.

Requiring that wars be conducted within legal norms (declaration, formal statement of aims, etc.) seems like a good idea, unfortunately abandoned.

153

Marc 03.27.07 at 3:25 pm

We’re seeing a series of different issues being tossed into a blender here. The intervention in Kosovo did not occur in a vacuum. We’d seen a litany of massacres in Croatia and Bosnia, and Rwanda was still fresh. Sovereign nations really can commit genocide. Libertarians have simple rules to guide behavior too, but simple rules can yield manifestly absurb or monstrous outcomes.

I also think that people in this thread are badly missing the consequences of the “conservatism” of the antiwar left here in the USA. Rejection of Bush and the entire conservative package has become broad-based and deeply ingrained. We are now seeing sustained critiques of globalization, privatization, tax cuts for the rich, and the like. All of these items were sacred cows in the USA for much recent history. The GOP radicals have thoroughly discredited themselves – and their opponents have succeeding in appearing reasonable.
The “distancing” from apparent extremists was an important part of the puzzle; establishing left credibility is the necessary counterpart to the self-demolition of the right. Another ingredient was the vivid demonstration of the futility of accomodation with the radical right. The left is vocal, partisan, and growing in strength; the right is shrinking. withdrawing into a self-referential shell and becoming more extreme and marginal. Embracing the hard left would not have strengthened this process.

154

abb1 03.27.07 at 3:29 pm

Since the puppet-carrying hippies who were blocking traffic on the interstate were more irritating to more people, support tended to lean towards “not saying anything” if not “Bush is better than these guys”.

Whoa, this is yet more condescending. If this is indeed how the much admired ‘liberal democracy’ operates, then I want a king. Now.

155

helmling 03.27.07 at 3:37 pm

Interesting, the Z/Counterpunch claim of the abolitionist “high ground of the 1850s,” given that back then the abolitionists were the ones beating the drums for war (think John Brown) and moralizing against moderates looking for a peaceful, negotiated end to slavery. The result was the bloodiest war in US history (more Americans died in it than in the runner-up, WW2). Maybe someone can check me on this, but I *think* the US was the only place in the Americas where it took a war to end slavery. Everywhere else they found compromises. Not here.

156

martin Wisse 03.27.07 at 3:39 pm

The puppet-carrying hippies crowd is an invention of the mainstream media and the war supporters.

In reality, there were 1.5 million or so people marching in New York back on 15-02-2003, there were another two million people marching in London, plus millions of others in countries less directly involved with the war.

The ordinary people, the people outside the Beltway for the most part knew the war for the crock of shit it was.

157

Daragh McDowell 03.27.07 at 3:47 pm

148 – What you say is technically true, but ignores the fact that however many times one says there is something called ‘International Law’ it still isn’t true. There may be laws in the sense of the UNDHR, or even the Nuremberg principles, but there is no uniform legal system. The first line of defence of every dictator hauled before the ICC has been to not recognise the court. The US has made an official policy of not doing so. And even if there was, there is no system of equal enforcement of the law, no independent policeman. Given the vastly unequal power relations between states in the international arena, and the willingness of precisely none of the most powerful ones to level the playing field (see how quickly nuclear disarmament is proceeding) the notion of international legality, that is a uniform system of justice based on the treatment of states as equal legal entities is laughable.

And don’t bring up the Security Council. Is it really just that Five major powers, two of which are immensely corrupt dictatorships, decide the fate of all?

158

Daragh McDowell 03.27.07 at 3:48 pm

Sorry, should have started with ‘what you say is technically right’

159

ejh 03.27.07 at 3:55 pm

Rejection of Bush and the entire conservative package has become broad-based and deeply ingrained

Really? Among whom? Among the Democratic leadership?

160

Jaybird 03.27.07 at 3:57 pm

Condescending? I’m just calling them like I sees them. After the big marches in Seattle, support for the war did not decrease. ANSWER acted like a divider, not a uniter.

Hell, you can see it with Cockburn’s post that inspired the thread.

161

Hidari 03.27.07 at 4:02 pm

Daragh McDowell

Well that’s a different (and better) argument. I’m completely aware of all the flaws of the UN, and bodies who interpret international law (although you overstate the case: of course none of the ‘interventions’ being discussed here were referred to the ICC before hand).

So obviously the UN needs reform and so forth and etc. But I still stand by my basic point that all serious discussions have to begin with the presupposition that international law

a: exists

b: is, broadly speaking, a good thing and that

c: the legality of an action is a necessary (although not sufficient) pre-requisite for deciding upon its morality.

Therefore, since Iraq and Kosova were without doubt illegal, they simply could not possibly have been moral, and the discussion ends there.

162

ejh 03.27.07 at 4:04 pm

How exactly do the anti-hippy crowd propose to organise their marches?

With a big advert saying “STRICTLY NO PUPPETS”?

Are they going to have stewards taking down anything that attacks Bush in terms they don’t like?

Can people really not see that this is silly?

Can people really not see that this is intolerant?

Or do they think “we’re the tolerant liberal people so we can’t be intolerant”?

163

Marc 03.27.07 at 4:06 pm

EJH: one of the problems of being on the fringe is that you can’t tell the difference between most of the political factions. A consistent and growing majority – in fact, a large one – wants the Iraq war stopped, disapproves of Bush, and so on. The people who dislike Bush dislike him intensely. Go down the line, and on every issue that the GOP has owned public sentiment is either trending away or is already in opposition (see the linked article, for heaven’s sake).

Along with Michael, I disagree with Cockburn on both 1) Kosovo and 2) Afghanistan on the merits and would support both today. I oppposed 3) Iraq from the start and would do so today. Cockburn is simply lying about Berube, and no amount of Stalinist word play will change that. You may have an all-encompassing ideology where one must oppose 1) and 2) to oppose 3), but I don’t. Why is this difficult to understand?

164

engels 03.27.07 at 4:06 pm

ignores the fact that however many times one says there is something called ‘International Law’ it still isn’t true

Whaaa? There are certainly many serious difficulties with international law, in theory and in practice, which have yet to be resolved, but, with respect, denying its existence is just loopy.

165

dsquared 03.27.07 at 4:07 pm

And don’t bring up the Security Council. Is it really just that Five major powers, two of which are immensely corrupt dictatorships, decide the fate of all?

1) That would be one communist republic which is not particularly corrupt and one highly corrupt flawed democracy. It is a minor irritation of mine the way that people chuck the word “dictatorship” around as if it didn’t mean anything. And of course, since this is a minor irritation of mine about American liberals, I am off to join the Nazi party (cf, several comments above).

2) Are you sure that “justice” was on the menu? I am a big fan of Galbraith’s quip that politics is the business of choosing between the unpalatable and the disastrous. There is no way of organising the Security Council which doesn’t give the major powers a veto. I might be amenable to arguments about chucking Britain and France off and replacing them with a general EU representation plus India or something, but until Michael’s dreams of Swedish hegemony come true, you go to diplomacy with the major powers you have.

166

Michael Bérubé 03.27.07 at 4:10 pm

Michael, I apologize for going all Leninist on you, but if Sweden was in a position to be “the main organ of intervention”, it wouldn’t be Sweden.

No problem, Christian — the tone of my question to Daniel really wasn’t clear. And “Sweden” is too telegraphic, as well. For the record, it’s my handy little reference to a telling conversation between Tom Lantos and George Bush a few years back. Lantos, remarking that the US is not viewed as an honest broker on I/P issues, and for good reason, suggested that Sweden would be willing to take the lead in enforcing a cease-fire. Bush replied that Sweden has no army. Lantos gently corrected him, but Bush, being Bush, blustered on. None of the advisors in the room corrected him, which tells you a good deal about the Bush White House.

And now here’s Engels:

Shame on Michael Berube and Timothy Burke for coming out with this concern trollish – and as far as I can see, completely speculative – crap, that if only Cockburn, Herman, Chomsky et al had renounced their convictions and toed the sensible, patriotic American liberal party line – that Iraq was a “diversion” from the War on Terra – it might never have happened.

And now here’s me, from my very own post:

I don’t imagine that we in the US could have stopped the criminally insane Cheney Administration from launching war in Iraq

I hope that’s clear. On a happier note, Helmling takes me back to the land of Dixie:

Interesting, the Z/Counterpunch claim of the abolitionist “high ground of the 1850s,” given that back then the abolitionists were the ones beating the drums for war (think John Brown) and moralizing against moderates looking for a peaceful, negotiated end to slavery.

Interesting indeed. On my own blog, back in August, I wrote, “As for Herman’s little fantasy that he would have been fightin’ for black folk in 1852 while I was writing campaign biographies for Franklin Pierce, well, you never know about those things. It’s just as likely that I would have been campaigning for Lincoln in 1860 while Ed Herman lectured us all on how the fight to save the Union was really just a campaign to expand federal power and prepare the way for the U.S.’ entry into the Global Imperialist Sweepstakes.”

167

Marc 03.27.07 at 4:11 pm

EJH: I won’t attend demonstrations where people on the podium spend all of their time spouting irrational junk that I passionately disagree with. That isn’t being intolerant – it’s choosing not to endorse nuttiness with my implied support.

168

Jaybird 03.27.07 at 4:18 pm

Another can of worms (and feel free to delete this if it threatens to derail) was the whole Israel/Palestine thing going on at the time of 9/11.

A huge chunk of people had the insight “wow, this is what Israel goes through every day” in the month or two following 9/11. Israel got a *LOT* of strong supporters where, before, it only had wishy-washy ones.

One of the things one could not help but notice on the fringes was support for Our Palestinian Brethren Against The Forces Of Zionist Apartheid.

This turned off a lot of people from the anti-war crowd. (This is not to say that they were right or wrong in being turned off, this is not to say whether Palestinian Support is representative of “the Left”, this is not to say whether such support is wrong on its face. I’m just trying to describe a perceived phenomenon here.)

169

john c. halasz 03.27.07 at 4:20 pm

148 hidari:

But that’s just the point, that “international law” is the weakest form of law possible and has been ever thus, since law is never a matter of sheer abstract normativity, but always develops out of actual social relations/precedents and requires/implies enforcement power. Of course, just about everyone here recognizes- (and recognized at the time)- the terrible and utterly “counterproductive” violence of what was being proposed/instigated, and, at the same time, variously tracing out through various precedents, attributed a quasi-inevitability to what would unfold. That, (i.e. the hundreds of thousands of deaths with more to come), can not be undone retrospectively through citing the normative violations of an at least partly imaginary “international law”. That just re-states the conundrum of the absence of any multi-lateral/international order to put in check the sovereign violence upon which the normative existence of “law” depends, with all the grotesque inequalities and national mythologies that it calls forth.

170

Daragh McDowell 03.27.07 at 4:23 pm

Dsquared:

I’m a student of Russian and East European Politics. Russia isn’t a ‘flawed democracy,’ it isn’t a democracy period. Putinism (which I must honestly say hasn’t been entirely bad for Russian social and economic development) is authoritarian. So is the Communist Party of the PRC. ‘Dictatorship’ may be, admitedly a strong term, but its generally accurate. As for your second point, my point exactly. ‘Diplomacy’ is entirely different from ‘Legality.’ To talk about the UNSC as some form of legal arbiter, rather than a diplomatic one is in my mind to engage in sophistry.

Engels:

Yes, again I’m guilty of overstatement, but only just. My point is that there is no working international legal system. By this I mean not only an impartial judiciary with a universal jurisdiction that treats all states as equals, but also an independent mechanism for compelling states and individuals to abide by its decisions. There is no Command and Conquer-esque GDI to bring international ‘bad guys’ to justice. As Mladic, Karadzic and their Serbian hosts have shown, even a weak state can successfully flip off the ICJ with little in the way of meaningful consequences.

Hidari at 163:

I’m entirely sympathetic to this view, but I don’t see it working for the reasons outlined above, namely ‘diplomacy’ is entirely different to ‘legality’ and to talk of ‘legality’ without an actually working legal system is irrelevant.

171

Donald Johnson 03.27.07 at 4:30 pm

“Interesting, the Z/Counterpunch claim of the abolitionist “high ground of the 1850s,” given that back then the abolitionists were the ones beating the drums for war (think John Brown) and moralizing against moderates looking for a peaceful, negotiated end to slavery. The result was the bloodiest war in US history (more Americans died in it than in the runner-up, WW2). Maybe someone can check me on this, but I think the US was the only place in the Americas where it took a war to end slavery. Everywhere else they found compromises. Not here.”

Ever hear of a place called Haiti? As for the abolitionists, Garrison was a pacifist and one of the leaders of the movement–it’s true that when John Brown was “martyred” there were the inevitable comparisons to Christ. As for extremism and compromise, Garrison was about the most extreme white person in America in the 1850’s-he really believed in complete equality and favored interracial marriage. But the compromise of which you speak took hold after Reconstruction–it’s called the Jim Crow era.

Marc wrote–

The “distancing” from apparent extremists was an important part of the puzzle; establishing left credibility is the necessary counterpart to the self-demolition of the right. Another ingredient was the vivid demonstration of the futility of accomodation with the radical right. The left is vocal, partisan, and growing in strength; the right is shrinking. withdrawing into a self-referential shell and becoming more extreme and marginal. Embracing the hard left would not have strengthened this process.”

Let me be the first to distance myself from the tactic that Cockburn and Herman employ when they lie about MB’s Iraq war stance. But I don’t really want to distance myself from a serious moral critique of America’s foreign policy and so far, the foreign policy elites have, not suprisingly, shown no appetite for listening to a critique that holds them responsible for numerous atrocities. It didn’t start with Bush and any claim that it did is just a lie. I don’t know how ordinary people would react to hearing this–some would listen and some would feel offended, perhaps feeling that they don’t want to listen to a bunch of crazy talk. I don’t expect a Presidential candidate to be overly honest about such things for precisely that reason, but there is no reason why lefties in general should be so solicitious of the patriotic sensitivities of jingoists.

172

dsquared 03.27.07 at 4:31 pm

I’m a student of Russian and East European Politics

Well you don’t talk like a student; you talk like someone who was recently let into the exact truth on the subject by God Himself. There are a number of views on the subject.

To talk about the UNSC as some form of legal arbiter, rather than a diplomatic one is in my mind to engage in sophistry.

I am not aware of having done this and renounce it if I did accidentally. My point has always been that we don’t need any other criterion for asking “should this intervention be opposed on general principles by everyone, be they liberals, socialists, anarchists, or whoever?” because we have international law, and the international law we have at present is really rather good by any comparison, including comparison to the “plus a not very well defined duty to protect, with a special role for anyone calling themself a liberal democracy” regime that is all too often proposed in general but never specific terms.

173

Frowner 03.27.07 at 4:35 pm

169: But the trouble is, someone has to. That is, if I spend my time on liberal causes (which I do, not so infrequently) I have to listen to a lot of (to put it mildly) idiocy about economics, how the poor live and (usually) race.

It’s not enough to say that we-the-leftermost should always be the ones listening to the idiocy while you the liberals should never have to.

And I add–organize your own demonstrations. Those things aren’t spontaneous, you know. Put out a call. Get your friends in academia, non-profit administration, medicine or whatever to come out. Then you can have whoever you like on the podium. Or you could even get involved with organizing the existing demonstrations–it’s not a secret who does it or where they meet–and you could easily get people on the podium.

What I’m saying here is that movement-building is work, and it’s often boring work. Thinking and writing about policy for like-minded people is fun in a quiety way; working on isolated radical projects is also fun. Movement-building is dull and slow to bear fruit. If you don’t like such movement as currently exists, it’s not reasonable to grouse about how the hippies won’t just hand over their projects lock-stock-and-barrel–you’ve got to create your own.

The abrogation of on-the-ground activist responsbility by the policy-minded actually is a large part of the problem in the US left.

174

Donald Johnson 03.27.07 at 4:42 pm

” huge chunk of people had the insight “wow, this is what Israel goes through every day” in the month or two following 9/11. Israel got a LOT of strong supporters where, before, it only had wishy-washy ones.

One of the things one could not help but notice on the fringes was support for Our Palestinian Brethren Against The Forces Of Zionist Apartheid.

This turned off a lot of people from the anti-war crowd. (This is not to say that they were right or wrong in being turned off, this is not to say whether Palestinian Support is representative of “the Left”, this is not to say whether such support is wrong on its face. I’m just trying to describe a perceived phenomenon here”

Charming. I suppose, then, that what the Palestinians have been going through has no meaning for you. Wouldn’t it be awful if the Left as a whole were identified with, say, the positions of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem? We might scare off the anti-Arab racists and the crackpot Christian Zionists if we ever let on that both sides in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have done terrible things. Can’t have that.

175

Hidari 03.27.07 at 4:42 pm

I think here the problem is that a lot of the radical left do not understand that when one gets rid of laws one does not get freedom, one does not even get anarchy, one gets a new order where the rich and powerful take everything and the poor and powerless get nothing (this is the fundamental problem with anarchism). It’s all very well to criticise the current framework of international law (which anyone can do), or argue, (perfectly correctly) that in the absence of an ‘enforcer’ the rich flout the law but the poor cannot….. but when it begins to be argued that international law is not necessary or that it may not even be desirable (until some hypothetical ‘revolutionary’ situation occurs after which all the inequalities in the current situation are ‘dealt with’) then you’ve lost me.

Without a commonly agreed upon framework to regulate actions then you are lost in a world of subjectivity, in which the ‘decents’ say ‘I think the war was great’ and their opponents say ‘I think it was terrible’ and there is no possible way to come to any form of decision as to who is right. And, of course, both sides are equally convinced of their moral rectitude.

176

Daragh McDowell 03.27.07 at 4:43 pm

Dsquared – My profoundest apologies for failing to preface everything I state with ‘in my opinion’ in order to specify that what I write here is in fact, an opinion which you are perfectly inclined to disagree with. Lets have another stab:

In my opinion, Putinism is autocratic and authoritarian, and not democratic in any sense flawed or otherwise. In my opinion the systematic exclusion of anti-Kremlin parties from qualification for the latest round of elections is indicative of this. In my opinion Unified Russia and Just Russia are two transparently artificial parties that have been created by the Kremlin solely for enhancing its control, and in my opinion their dominance in the latest regional elections is indicative of concerted and systemic manipulation of the electoral contest in their favour. In my opinion the total subjugation of the Duma as a serious policy actor under Putin due to Unified Russia domination is indicative of a super-Presidential dictatorship. In my opinion, anyone who doesn’t accept this is an apologist for a regime that has grown increasingly violent towards its internal dissidents (to whit, Politikovskaya) and should cringe with shame before attempting to defend ‘legality’ ever again.

177

Jaybird 03.27.07 at 4:46 pm

Don, I am not arguing that Israel is right or that Palestine is right. I see I should have put “insight” in quotes in my original post and I apologize for not doing so.

I don’t want to argue about Israel/Palestine. I’m, instead, trying to argue about whether the whole Palestine thing turned off more people to the anti-war cause than it turned on.

Perhaps a follow-up question: at the end of the day, is half a loaf better than none?

178

Donald Johnson 03.27.07 at 4:48 pm

Okay, Jaybird, no problem. I don’t know if the I/P thing would have helped or harmed at an antiwar rally. Depends on how it was done, perhaps.

179

ejh 03.27.07 at 4:55 pm

You may have an all-encompassing ideology where one must oppose 1) and 2) to oppose 3), but I don’t. Why is this difficult to understand

To whom is this question put, and why?

180

abb1 03.27.07 at 4:57 pm

Trying to please everybody that’s what the politicians do. At an anti-war rally people speak their minds, and thank god for that, more power to them.

181

ejh 03.27.07 at 4:59 pm

In my opinion, anyone who doesn’t accept this is an apologist

Hey ho

182

Daragh McDowell 03.27.07 at 5:01 pm

ejh your meaning is lost on me. Is it off to work we go?

183

engels 03.27.07 at 5:01 pm

Michael – Unfortunately, it’s not really a knock down argument, and in fact it seems rather glib, to point me to one sentence you have written, when the whole point is that it isn’t clear to me how your argument hangs together. If the war was, as you apparently really do believe, entirely inevitable, and nobody in the US could have done anything to prevent it – an odd, fatalistic and highly irresponsible view, in my opinion – then I don’t see why you think that Cockburn should be “losing sleep” over the political effects of his actions. Surely he, like you, can sleep soundly in the knowledge that que sera sera?

You’ve also completely ignored the thrust of my point, that it’s hypocritical to effectively tell people like Cockburn that they should have kept their mouths shut, while lecturing everyone about the need for a broad-based coalition against the war. And that it is quite unreasonable for you to demand that they suppress their own views in favour of a party line which you have chosen and for whose political effectiveness you have not provided any evidence.

184

ejh 03.27.07 at 5:02 pm

Perhaps a follow-up question: at the end of the day, is half a loaf better than none?

But a better question might be the one I put above. How are you going to go about it? Are you going to say “no speakers shall raise the question of Palestine”? If you do, what are you then going to do when your edict causes enormous controversy and loses you a large chuck of your support?

185

jason 03.27.07 at 5:02 pm

#178: one gets a new order where the rich and powerful take everything and the poor and powerless get nothing (this is the fundamental problem with anarchism)

Actually, this is the fundamental problem of the common misunderstanding of anarchism. Once the rich and powerful take everything, you no longer have anarchy — you have hierarchy. The fundamental problem for anarchism, therefore, is not how to create anarchy, but how to sustain it.

186

ejh 03.27.07 at 5:04 pm

ejh your meaning is lost on me. Is it off to work we go?

My meaning is “well, what a surprise, people are calling those who disagree with them ‘apologists’ again”.

187

Timothy Burke 03.27.07 at 5:05 pm

It appears that asking people to think about what actually works in political struggle is deemed a silencing or anti-pluralistic move on its face. I don’t see myself as having said anything different than what Stuart Hall said about opposing Thatcherism a bit earlier, that progressives have to ask why popular consciousness takes the forms and structures that it does in a given historical situation, and to not rely on the thumb-sucking security blanket that it’s all the evil hegemonic media that has implanted false ideas into that consciousness, that everyone would agree with progressives otherwise. Another piece of that is being willing to think about the cultural specificity of left-wing or progressive activism. It’s not that we get up and slash our wrists if we’re forced to admit that it has an association with urban, cosmopolitan, educated elites, or perform acts of Maoist self-criticism in public places, but it is that we should understand, with a certain kind of humility, the limited reach of our social and historical backdrop.

All of that is why it seemed appropriate to me from the outset to not flaunt the transgressive, outsider, blue-state character of some forms of protest and activism in attacking the war. But that’s just a TACTICAL argument. It’s got no power, any more than someone who approaches queer politics with a notion that it has to aim for respectability so as to not scare off Ma and Pa Kettle is suppressing actually-existing pluralism within queer communities. If you don’t agree, do whatever you want instead. I still haven’t heard why people think that the opinion of Michael Berube actually had any effect on any progressive anti-war protest. In fact, quite the opposite: folks are properly observing that from the outset there were many protests, they were large and pluralistic and had both puppet-carrying folks and button-down liberals within their fold.

Like Michael, I have said very clearly that in my view, the war was going to happen no matter what ANY of us did, so Engels’ misreading above is just that, a colossal misreading. My eyes were always fixed on the moment that I think we’re entering now: how soon could it come, and what kind of political price could we make those who planned the war pay? To my mind, the size and intensity of the political consequences we can visit upon the people who planned the war is dependent on the size and intensity of mass feeling against the war. The broader and wider the better. This is, in my view, where opposition to the war in Vietnam ultimately failed precisely because it became captive to the ideological and tactical convictions of a smaller and more extreme group of activists. To become wider, a movement has to settle on lowest common denominator sensibilities and political views rather than becoming more and more vanguardist in some respect.

You can disagree with either that contention, or with my inference that certain forms of radicalism in the United States are vanguardist or distant from popular consciousness. But if it is wrong to talk about tactical choices in politics altogether, to just be indifferent about who leads rallies, what political struggle looks and sounds like, then honestly, it’s not politics that we’re talking about. Political struggle is nothing if *not* tactical.

188

roger 03.27.07 at 5:05 pm

Daragh, I think this is so right: “And even if there was, there is no system of equal enforcement of the law, no independent policeman. Given the vastly unequal power relations between states in the international arena, and the willingness of precisely none of the most powerful ones to level the playing field (see how quickly nuclear disarmament is proceeding) the notion of international legality, that is a uniform system of justice based on the treatment of states as equal legal entities is laughable.”

This gets to the heart of the huge problem with liberal interventionism, which is its tendency to maximize the executive branch of the largest powers and its blindness towards any system of checks and balances. Law, even law under a monarchy, does presuppose some kind of equality. The monarch who simply continually violates the law was punished in one way or another even in supposedly absolutist empires. A good, esoteric example is the Wan-li emperor in the Ming period in China, who went against protocol, trying to elevate his third born son as his successor, and failed – the courtiers at the court wouldn’t allow it.

But in the current world system, there is no player who can make the U.S. obey any rule it doesn’t want to obey. If the U.S. unilaterally abrogates the anti-ABM treaty, the U.N. is not going to treat it like the UN is treating Iran. If – as the Bushies say – the U.S. starts stupidly underground testing of nuclear bombs again, who is going to sanction it?

A legal system is only as good as its ability to rein in the power of its strongest member. Otherwise, it is an anarchy disguised in codicils. And I’m not even talking, here, about the numerous legitimacy problems entailed by the lack of any kind of real democracy (that is, any kind of forum for people to intervene) in the international system – that is a separate problem that has spawned systematic apathy about foreign affairs except among a very narrow specialist class. A lot of this discussion about the pros and cons of the political coloring of the anti-war movement seems to me characteristic of what happens when a part of governance is taken over, ever since the beginning of the cold war, essentially by a small elite. What was striking about the pro-war segment of the population in 2003 is how abyssmally ignorant they were not only of Iraq, but of all of the middle east. This ignorance has been well nourished. And that is where someone like Chomsky is heroic, insofar as he has found a way to break through the barrier of official speak.

That seems so elementary, to me, that if his critics on the “left” (I really dislike the term the left – it has become a bogus brand name) don’t acknowledge it, it detracts in a major way from their criticism.

189

ejh 03.27.07 at 5:07 pm

If you don’t agree, do whatever you want instead.

A fine sentiment and not remotely compatible with this one:

I don’t remember the people on the left who wanted to roll out the puppets and the rigorous anti-imperialism agreeing to shut up and follow the liberal line for a period of time.

190

seth edenbaum 03.27.07 at 5:07 pm

I think here the problem is that a lot of the radical left do not understand that when one gets rid of laws one does not get freedom, one does not even get anarchy, one gets a new order where the rich and powerful take everything and the poor and powerless get nothing (this is the fundamental problem with anarchism).

In this context it would seem that the radical left and some realist moderates (moderates in the best sense of the term) are the ones arguing this point, while it’s the Liberals who are arguing against it. The choice is between the rule of law, which includes bad or partially corrupted law, and the rule of the righteous. I prefer law. The rule of the righteous sets bad precedents.

191

alf 03.27.07 at 5:08 pm

Really? Some people actually started supporting a war because they didn’t like some of its opponents? Why aren’t we catering for these people?

Yeah, did you see this comment?

I spent so much time focusing on the anti-war arguments which were stupid that I missed the many anti-war arguments that were intelligent.If you are referring to r4d20’s post above: right. What we know from that is that there is at least one person in the US who is (i) a complete idiot and (ii) doesn’t appear to feel that slightest embarrassment in admitting that he let his irrational hatred of people like Noam Chomsky defeat his ability and moral responsibility to reach a reasoned judgment about a serious political issue.

With an administration as criminally bad as this one, the most pressing concern is in drumming up immediate opposition to them. To this end, demeaning people who are on the fence as as “idiots” is not the best way forward. In the same vein, the standard protests techniques of the “far” left in the US (puppets, bushitler signs, etc.) serve to alienate the general public instead of bringing them onto our side.

Where are the leaders that will bring this wonderland of populist leftism? Hell, I have no idea. I left the US to live abroad largely because I was disgusted by the political climate. However, just because there is no strong mainstream leftist movement in the US does not mean that the effects of far left protest have been counterproductive.

192

Daragh McDowell 03.27.07 at 5:09 pm

I’m saying that the evidence is so overwhelmingly in favour of the erosion of democratic freedoms in Russia that yes, any description of it as ‘democratic’ flawed or otherwise is essentially an apologia.

193

ejh 03.27.07 at 5:12 pm

I’m saying that the evidence is so overwhelmingly in favour of the erosion of democratic freedoms in Russia that yes, any description of it as ‘democratic’ flawed or otherwise is essentially an apologia.

Well how enormously unpleasant of you to treat differing opinions in such a way.

194

Mitchell Freedman 03.27.07 at 5:19 pm

#150:

I believe you have misunderstood my comment in #143 to mean I was with Marc Cooper and David Corn on the ANSWER sponsorship of anti-war rallies. I was not. At the time, and through today, I was with Max Sawicky that David Corn and Marc Cooper had no business attacking the anti-war rallies sponsored by ANSWER because it was the best we had at the time. Indeed, as you say, where were the unions, anti-trade groups and MoveOn, who failed to organize anti-war rallies that would have increased the possibility of a larger anti-war coalition?

Most people knew they were not endorsing ANSWER by appearing at or supporting the anti-war rallies ANSWER had organized. That is why I believe Cooper and Corn were wrong to try and tell people to stay away.

This entire discussion is poisonous however because there is no reason to have these intellectual “wars of words.” I respect David Corn and Marc Cooper for example. I am a Chomsky fan, but am also devoted to Berube’s insight and wisdom.

As for Alex Cockburn, I have become disenchanted with Cockburn in recent years, but still find him interesting to read in most instances (this attack on “sovereignty liberals”, however, being a dreadfully painful read). As for Ed Herman, let’s just say I have strong negative feelings about his ridiculous attacks on Berube and others over the years.

195

Chris Bertram 03.27.07 at 5:22 pm

The choice is between the rule of law, which includes bad or partially corrupted law, and the rule of the righteous. I prefer law. The rule of the righteous sets bad precedents.

No. That isn’t “the choice”. The choice is sometimes, indeed often, about whether one should breach the law in pursuit of a good or just aim with the side-effect that norms of legal compliance are weakened or whether one should comply with the law and thereby forgo the opportunity to achieve good or to prevent harm or injustice. Sometimes breaking the law is the right thing to do – and it would be a strange “leftist” who declared otherwise.

The Kosovo intervention, for all its faults, achieved some good and prevented some great harms. (Or so I think.) Clearly, it also weakened the norms of international law, since it was a breach of that law. Maybe some of those commenting in this thread think that Kosovo’s very weakening of international law made the crucial difference in enabling the Iraq war.

I doubt it – I think Bush would have found a way of waging war in Iraq anyway. But those who think that the Kosovo intervention shouldn’t have happened because of that weakening effect have a position that I respect – but that I don’t share.

196

Daragh McDowell 03.27.07 at 5:28 pm

ejh: Just my natural charm I guess.

197

engels 03.27.07 at 5:29 pm

Timothy: I did read that comment in fact, but I assumed that you weren’t being serious. I really could not believe that anyone could be so self-absorbed and fatalistic as to believe that the Iraq war was destined to happen, no matter what anybody in the US thought or did. My bad.

198

Jaybird 03.27.07 at 5:35 pm

“what are you then going to do when your edict causes enormous controversy and loses you a large chuck of your support?”

If the demonstration is in opposition to the war, then let it be in opposition to the war.

If saying “Leave your FREE MUMIA signs at home” means that a chunk of people won’t show up, but that means that a larger chunk of people will actually listen to your issues, then that’s a good thing.

The Palestinian thing turned off a *LOT* of people. Seriously. If you can’t go to an anti-Iraq War demonstration without explaining that Islamic Jihad and Hamas are logical consequences of Israel’s reign of terror, you should not be surprised when people support the Iraq War as a “logical consequence” of opposition to the war’s opposition.

If we’re talking about getting a bunch of people to oppose something odious, not presenting as offensive is important… lest people oppose you because they find you more offensive than, say, the Iraq War.

I’m not sure that saying “we don’t need those people anyway” will have the results you want.

199

Hidari 03.27.07 at 5:50 pm

‘one should breach the law in pursuit of a good or just aim’.

This of course should be read ‘one should breach the law in pursuit of an aim which I, Chris Bertram, perceive to be good and just.’ Or to be even more precise ‘I should breach the law in pursuit of an aim which I, Chris Bertram, will tell you that I believe to be good and just, and you just have to take my word for that.’

And of course there will be plenty of people who also believe that one should NOT breach the same law, for precisely the same reasons.

And then, without a basic commitment to the rule of law we arrive at an impasse, which is invariably solved by the fact that the strongest and richest power gets their way. (in the original
I misprinted that as ‘gets their war’, which actually is usually the same thing).

If you want to change the law then fine: lobby for it and go about the dull task of attempting to create a consensus about that. But don’t pretend that picking and choosing which laws you choose to obey is an ethical decision.

There are plenty of situations in which, I, personally, think I could achieve a ‘good and just’ aim by breaking fundamental laws (and in fact, I could). For example right now I could go and hold up a supermarket with a sawn off shotgun and distribute the food to the poor and needy. The aim is good and just, and (assuming people go along with the ‘nobody moves and nobody gets hurt’ maxim) there would be no negative consequences, yes? So why shouldn’t I do it?

Because it’s against the law!!!!!

I’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: motives don’t matter, and I don’t care why you’re breaking the law: the fact is, you’re breaking the law.

200

Chris Bertram 03.27.07 at 5:58 pm

Hidari:

(1) You obviously need to look the word “invariably” up in a dictionary.

(2) You’ve obviously never heard of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and a host of other people who broke the law in a just cause. If you want to tell me that the cause was only just “in their opinion” or some such, then go ahead. Further dialogue with you will be pointless.

201

martin Wisse 03.27.07 at 5:59 pm

Actually, I would agree with Chris Bertram that the law is an ass sometimes and needs to be broken: stealing bread is wrong, stealing bread to feed your family is starving ehhh not so much.

However, where I would part way with him is where he supports the high and mighty to break the laws at their whim, which is what he does when he says he supports the illegal unsanctioned war in Kosovo.

202

dsquared 03.27.07 at 6:02 pm

No I agree with Chris on this one; there can certainly be cases in which it is appropriate to break even the Nuremberg Conventions. I’d put Sierra Leone in this category – imminent humanitarian emergency and credible plan with a good chance of success. But I’m glad that people like Hidari are about, because as he says, everyone’s an exception, in their own minds. I’d much rather have a strong law like Nuremberg, occasionally broken, than the weak version that Timothy and Michael want even with 100% compliance (which one of course would not get).

203

Jaybird 03.27.07 at 6:04 pm

There’s another dynamic that I’m surprised hasn’t been brought up:

The Republicans opposed Kosovo. The Republicans hated Clinton with a passion and if Clinton sneezed into a Kleenex, they would talk about how “Decent Americans Use Puffs”.

Clinton going into Kosovo was something they opposed with as much virulence as they opposed anything Clinton did.

To oppose Kosovo back then was to make allies with the Republicans trying to tear down Clinton.

And, let’s face it, some people have reps to protect.

204

seth edenbaum 03.27.07 at 6:05 pm

Chris Bertram,
You repeated what I wrote, with an added tone of moral seriousness. Perhaps I should have added italics: “I prefer the rule of law.”
The case for action has the benefit of sounding christian and of giving people an opportunity to feel good about themselves; the case for inaction a responsibility to feel like shit. I was opposed to the overthrow of the Taliban by the American Government; not more, and not less.
I am not saying that laws should never be broken, I am simply describing the issue as bluntly as possible.
As usual I’m left saying that the defense of the rule of law in academic circles in not what it should be.
Too much idealism. Too much science.

205

Timothy Burke 03.27.07 at 6:06 pm

Engels: Then tell me what, in your view, plausibly could have derailed the determination of the Bush Administration to go to war. After all, they relentless marginalized significant fractions of their own government, all external critics (liberals, conservative realists, leftists, Europeans, you name it), all other governments, and any actual evidence from reality during the process of planning the war. Fuck, by all accounts, the president’s *own father* told him it was a bad idea, to no effect.

Plausibly, please. So no interventions by space aliens or no sudden Grinch-like changes of heart simply because W. and Cheney look out their window one day in 2002 and see a couple of million people on the Mall.

ejh: I thought those two statements were saying the same thing. E.g., that people were free to take a different tactical line than I was advising in 2002, and in fact, that some of them did (e.g., “I don’t recall people shutting up and following the liberal line”). If the tactical argument was in fact persuasive to some anti-war activists about muting more radical forms of protest, then I think on balance that was good and proper because I happen to think I was right then about tactics. I think that the proof of that tactical argument is coming now, and that the payoff will be if the political price to be paid for the war in 2008 is overwhelming in size and extent and widely distributed across the US.

206

Michael Bérubé 03.27.07 at 6:14 pm

You’ve also completely ignored the thrust of my point, that it’s hypocritical to effectively tell people like Cockburn that they should have kept their mouths shut, while lecturing everyone about the need for a broad-based coalition against the war. And that it is quite unreasonable for you to demand that they suppress their own views in favour of a party line which you have chosen and for whose political effectiveness you have not provided any evidence.

No, Engels, I got the thrust of that point. I just think it is a point not worth making, because it distorts what I’ve said beyond recognition. And in the future, when I say “Cockburn lies about my position” and you hear a call for censorship to my left, you should stop pretending you’re responding responsibly to me. I am, however, impressed by the sheer variety of Strawbérubés you’ve managed to concoct in a pair of comments: according to you, I claimed that Cockburn et al. prevented liberals from stopping the Iraq War and I demanded that Cockburn keep quiet and I didn’t think any of this debate mattered anyway. Once more with feeling: the demand that opponents of war in Iraq also be opponents of war in Kosovo and Afghanistan, a demand that Cockburn renews here, was a tactical move taken by people more interested in ideological purity than in appealing to the American populace at large. As Timothy says:

It appears that asking people to think about what actually works in political struggle is deemed a silencing or anti-pluralistic move on its face. I don’t see myself as having said anything different than what Stuart Hall said about opposing Thatcherism a bit earlier, that progressives have to ask why popular consciousness takes the forms and structures that it does in a given historical situation, and to not rely on the thumb-sucking security blanket that it’s all the evil hegemonic media that has implanted false ideas into that consciousness, that everyone would agree with progressives otherwise.

But dammit to hell, Tim, that’s the other half of my book. Maybe I should just quote your bit above and make the Stuart Hall chapter a whole lot shorter.

207

seth edenbaum 03.27.07 at 6:21 pm

DD says: “I’d much rather have a strong law like Nuremberg, occasionally broken… But I’m glad that people like Hidari are about…”

That’s about it.

But before I jumped on for my “science” comment:
I’d also much rather have a strong law against torture, occasionally broken and with mandatory penalties, than a weak law. That means in the ticking bomb scenario the officer/torturer is subject to penalties even though he performed what could be called a necessary act. Sometimes there are no right answers, and formal systems are all we have to maintain stability. That’s something that gets overlooked too often in the search for “truth.”

208

abb1 03.27.07 at 6:30 pm

Sometimes breaking the law is the right thing to do – and it would be a strange “leftist” who declared otherwise.

How is this different from rationalizing the actions you guys seriously hate; things like stalinism or suicide bombings? For example, Sartre said “terrorism is a terrible weapon but the oppressed poor have no others”, and he said this about the Munich 1972 massacre – so, did he have a point, then?

I’m just curious how you manage to maintain consistency here.

209

Mitchell Freedman 03.27.07 at 6:32 pm

Michael,

There comes a point where you don’t have to argue with the folks on this thread anymore–and that time is now.

You were right to tell off Cockburn and you have been right to at least engage those who wish to defend Cockburn’s screed against liberal/left folks who opposed the Iraq War II, but supported the invasion of Afghanistan, for example.

Your points have been well made and the virulence from the Cockburn defenders is indicative of your points being well made.

In short, can we talk about something else now?

210

roger 03.27.07 at 6:37 pm

Chris, when you write, “You’ve obviously never heard of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and a host of other people who broke the law in a just cause,” you are naming people who actually can suffer from breaking the law. The moral gesture is meaningless otherwise. The Marquis de Sade broke the law in what he regarded as a just cause – his own pleasure – and got away with it for a time because the system was fixed. In the same way, the U.S. can break the law by, say, giving India support in building thermonuclear weapons, but what is going to happen to the U.S. because of it? Is the U.N. going to pay the same scrupulous attention to the U.S. actions as they are doing to Iran?

In the real world, no. Those who break the law with confidence that they will never have to pay a price might do it for something morally good. Or, tomorrow, they can do it for something morally bad. They don’t, however, share the same kind of moral status as Gandhi, or even Robin Hood.

211

Michael Bérubé 03.27.07 at 6:43 pm

In short, can we talk about something else now?

Sure, Mitchell! I’ll be back on Thursday with a little thing about academic freedom.

212

ejh 03.27.07 at 6:43 pm

As for Alex Cockburn, I have become disenchanted with Cockburn in recent years, but still find him interesting to read in most instances

I think Cockburn, like a lot of leftists, has been very affected by the sheer amount of abuse that has been directed his way (and the way of the left in general) in recent years and I think that may in some ways help explain the intemperate nature of the piece which was the subject of the original posting. The people who have been dishing it out have often acted as if everybody to their left should answer to them, while they themselves should answer to nobody: and now that the War Against Terrorism project has drowned itself and everybody else in blood, there’s an understandable desire to call for answers from the people who provided its moral justifications while really laying into the people who opposed it.

The settling of scores is rarely, of course, the origin of fair and reasonable polemic. Or of good writing.

213

Chris Bertram 03.27.07 at 6:45 pm

They don’t, however, share the same kind of moral status as Gandhi, or even Robin Hood.

I didn’t say they did, did I? And if you want to me to say that on some occasions, people who face no adverse consequences from doing so can also be right to break the law, I’ll say that too. In fact, it seems to be to be a proposition so obviously true that it stands in no need of further argument. (I’m certain that everyone taking part in this thread believes it – whatever they say here, even Hidari and abb1!)

214

abb1 03.27.07 at 6:49 pm

I certainly do believe it, I’m just saying that this line of argument opens a whole new can of worms.

215

Timothy Burke 03.27.07 at 6:51 pm

I’m not sure why you think I prefer a weak version of anti-intervention, Daniel. I pretty much agree with your judgement about the few circumstances where it pays off, e.g., Sierra Leone. I just think that the reason to be anti-intervention almost all the time in practice is not because international law is in its present form the thing which we most centrally defend, but because intervention doesn’t work. I think there’s a big difference between making that judgement primarily on pragmatic and historic grounds, however, and taking sovereignty or international law as principles in and of themselves.

216

christian h. 03.27.07 at 6:55 pm

Michael, I apparently was the one being telegraphic. When I mentioned Leninism and “Sweden as main agent of intervention”, I meant to point to what I see as the fundamental flaw in your position: that is, the idea that imperialism is some kind of foreign policy choice for a hegemonic advanced capitalist state like the US, and we could just as well choose to use that shiny army of ours to do “good” (insert M. Albright quote here). I think that’s just rubbish. This leads me to believe that support for US “humanitarian intervention” is in effect always support for US imperialism.
The plain fact is that large numbers of liberals were swayed by the argument that invading Iraq could be justified as humanitarian intervention – even liberals who I trust wouldn’t just argue for any war they see (see, I’m not Herman).

217

ejh 03.27.07 at 6:55 pm

It appears that asking people to think about what actually works in political struggle is deemed a silencing or anti-pluralistic move on its face.

No, it’s not, though it’s not atypical that such a claim should be made.

It’s that suggesting that people should actually shut up and not say what they think is deemed a silencing move.

Some people want things both ways, don’t they?

They want to say they want a broad movement, but a broad movement that’s based on a singularity of opinion (that opinions being their own, of course). They want pthose eople in a movement whose ideas are different to theirs to “think about what actually works in political struggle” – which means that they should think it politic to refrain from voicing their opinions.

Having done that, they don’t want to be accused of silencing anyone.

218

Daragh McDowell 03.27.07 at 6:56 pm

Unfortunately its just become terribly relevant again. On the Guardian its being reported that Blair is pushing for a No-Fly zone in Darfur, and proposing overcoming the technical problems of enforcing it (Darfur is apparently the side of France) destroying Sudanese air bases if Khartoum violates it. Full Text here.

Initial thoughts? Its a damn good proposal in principle. Targetted strikes against Sudanese military assets (not civilian centres) in order to restrict their ability to carry out ethnic cleansing in the region. As its a Bush/Blair initiative however, my initial gut reaction is real apprehension, especially since they’re considering doing it outside the UNSC since China probably won’t bite. And I’m sure Cockburn will immediately condemn it, and the ‘Decent Left’ or whatever it is will have serious doubts about supporting it not due to the validity of the proposal itself, but rather the sad history of this pair’s style of interventionism.

219

occam 03.27.07 at 6:58 pm

Amazing to see that so much of the condescension towards activists that tarred the antiwar movement in 2002-2003 persists into 2007. Hippies with puppets! Bushitler! My lord, have the liberals internalized right-wing talking points, or what?

I was a college activist at the time, working my ass off to try to wrest the antiwar movement away from ANSWER, the RCP, and the rest of the acronymists. Make no mistake: we felt that Corn & Cooper were attacking us by condemning the whole antiwar movement, which you may recall was pretty damn beleaguered at the time.

Those who filled the streets — from Seattle in ’99, through New York on 2/15 — were right about more than all the editorial pages across the land combined.

Aw, screw this. I’ll take a puppet over an ego-driven, academic flamewar any day.

http://www.breadandpuppet.org/

220

ejh 03.27.07 at 6:59 pm

taking sovereignty or international law as principles in and of themselves.

Surely they are? They’re just not absolute, any more than anything else is.

221

Timothy Burke 03.27.07 at 7:04 pm

Cuts both ways, ejh, because you could be read as saying, “Shut up about the shutting up”, if in fact it is intrinsically silencing to suggest that there is a tactical discipline required at a given political conjuncture. So am I not supposed to say or have said how *I* read the tactical situation, if my reading includes a thought that some ideological positions and activist tactics would be counterproductive?

222

seth edenbaum 03.27.07 at 7:07 pm

“You’ve obviously never heard of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and a host of other people who broke the law in a just cause. If you want to tell me that the cause was only just “in their opinion” or some such, then go ahead.”

There is a difference between a legal conflict between two citizens and between a citizen and that state. Countries are subjects of international law. Conflicts between states requires states to be treated as citizens within the larger whole.
Gandhi’s or King’s illegal behavior is not in the same category as the illegal behavior of a foreign state that comes to their aid.

223

Jaybird 03.27.07 at 7:08 pm

Any anti-war movement that is unwilling to look at the issue of the ongoing oppression of Aboriginal Peoples in Australia is not an anti-war movement that I can participate in.

224

Hidari 03.27.07 at 7:12 pm

‘(2) You’ve obviously never heard of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and a host of other people who broke the law in a just cause. If you want to tell me that the cause was only just “in their opinion” or some such, then go ahead. Further dialogue with you will be pointless.’

NO!!!!!!

And very obviously no. Nelson Mandela and others broke the law because they believed the law to be unjust. And they wanted the law (i.e. the law that forbade ‘inter-racial marriage’) to be repealed .

Your position is not just different it is the opposite. You believe that the law is fundamentally just (i.e. it is and should be the case that countries should not invade other countries), you just believe that you, personally, should be allowed to break it. Perhaps you believe that others should also be allowed to break it, but who these people are will be decided upon by you.

Your interpretations of this is not a recipe for civil disobedience (which I support, if you want to do it) it is a recipe for vigilanteism.

And if you think I have never heard of Gandhi, you have obviously never heard of Peter Sutcliffe, who believed that God had told him it was the right and good thing to do to walk the streets and kill prostitutes ‘for the greater good’. Hey it was against the law, but, apparently, we all get to choose which laws to obey nowadays, as long as we can come up with some fairy story about how we believed it to be ‘the just and good thing to do’.

(The main difference between Bush, Blair and Sutcliffe of course is that Bush and Blair have killed more people but the basic thought processes are the same. Also, they lack Sutcliffe’s people skills).

225

roger 03.27.07 at 7:26 pm

Chris, fair enough – except that Gandhi and Martin Luther King seem on your own account to have no place in the argument at all, since they are irrelevant to your point.

The larger point is that the liberal interventionist case seemed to be: isn’t it a good thing the Cold War is over. Now the powerful democracies can go around righting wrongs. But that liberalism has lost its roots entirely, which were in what Benjamin Constant called the “respect for forms.” As a practical matter, it is a very bad thing that there is one nation on the planet that spends something like 20 times more than all the rest of the nations combined on its military. It was one good thing about the Cold War that American power and Soviet power balanced – although the bad things were, among others, the arms race and the infinite proxy wars. It is hard to see a country as overstretched and endebted as the U.S. not continuing some kind of Bushist militarism, since the application of sheer force has now become the means for both the right and left to avoid the U.S.’s major internal problems, and avoiding the U.S.’s major internal problems has become the driver behind U.S. foreign policy – indeed, I’d say as important as any other factor in 2002 in the rush to war was electing Republicans, which meant more and more extreme rhetoric. That rhetoric created the kind of blindness that allowed the occupation to become by many degrees more disastrous than it needed to be.

The dynamic of untrammeled power feeds into the whimsical lawlessness of American power, and I don’t see the bright side here being, hey, we can direct that whimsical lawlessness to a few good objects if we elect the right people. Why don’t the liberal interventionist ever go for some non-military interventions that ‘go beyond the law.’ For instance, the U.S. could do a lot to insure the viability of a Palestinian state simply by setting up a multi-billion dollar reparation fund for Palestinians who claim to have been kicked off their land, or be descended from dispossessed families, that would give the Palestinians much needed cash and solve the right to return, or at least elevate it to another level?

I’ll answer my own question: the U.S. wouldn’t do that because the governing class would see no return on that money. Beyond the politics of Israel and Palestine, the U.S. simply has opted out of the grand foreign aid schemes of the fifties and sixties, and they have never returned to the table. However, the symbolic value of military intervention does pay a solid return – if, in nothing else, the reminder to banks that take U.S. T notes that the notes are backed by awesome power. Liberal interventionism feeds that system. It is bad for the U.S., ultimately, and bad for the world.

226

Chris Bertram 03.27.07 at 7:28 pm

Hidari: of course you’re right to say that they broke the law because they believed it to be unjust. I’m unclear how that helps your absurd position, though, since you placed a great deal of weight on the fact that this or that is right or wrong (according to you) only _in the opinion_ of the person carrying out the action. Either you are now allowing that some judgments about justice and injustice are correct (I hope so!) or you must condemn MLK and the others on the same grounds as you did before.

In any case I also believe that there are occasions when it is right to break a basically just law that I would not want to see repealed. I’m prepared to run any number of red lights to get my injured child to hospital, and, for that matter, to steal money for the petrol if I need to. If I’m ever unfortunate enough to have to do such a thing, I won’t be doing so in a spirit of seeking a repeal of traffic regulations or the laws on theft.

227

seth edenbaum 03.27.07 at 7:35 pm

A crime as protest against the state of which you are a citizen is not the same as a crime against a fellow citizen.

That’s why laws are concerned with categories and not intentions.

228

ejh 03.27.07 at 7:58 pm

So am I not supposed to say or have said how I read the tactical situation

No, obviously you’re not. You’re supposed to think about how objectionable it is to tell other people that they should remain silent in order for your views to go unopposed. You’re supposed to have a little think about the ethics of that and what other people are going to think about it.

229

Russell Arben Fox 03.27.07 at 8:02 pm

For anyone who cares: an expansion on my comments in #38 from yesterday, and some thoughts about how I got Timothy Burke wrong, here.

230

ejh 03.27.07 at 8:07 pm

I’m prepared to run any number of red lights to get my injured child to hospital, and, for that matter, to steal money for the petrol if I need to. If I’m ever unfortunate enough to have to do such a thing, I won’t be doing so in a spirit of seeking a repeal of traffic regulations or the laws on theft.

But these would be extraordinary exceptions where not only would you have no choice, but you could reasonably expect that nobody else would have any fundamental objection to your actions.

Can this be said of any of the breaches of international law which we have discussed? don’t thye, in fact, fall into a wholly different category, of actions that are actually very controversial and to which many actors have very serious objections? (Indeed, is that not precisely the reason why the Security Council is not resorted to?)

You or I may consider those obections ill-founded, but the situation is nevertheless very different from the one you descirbe.

231

abb1 03.27.07 at 8:11 pm

Actually, the law often is concerned with intentions, for example: murder 1 vs. murder 2 vs. manslaughter.

Liberal interventionists fully qualify for murder 1, I think.

232

Hidari 03.27.07 at 8:14 pm

Chris Bertram
well actually, insofar as I understand it, not only is my position not ‘absurd’ it is the basic position of almost all international lawyers (and domestic ones for that matter).

In any case, people make a distinction between ‘victimless’ crimes (i.e. running a red light) and non-victimless crimes (robbing other people, invading other countries).

In any case, the ‘breaking the law’ thing only works if you are prepared to accept it as a universal principle. Personally I have absolutely no problems with you going through a red light to get to hospital quickly, and I would be happy to do it myself. It’s a universal thing.

On the other hand there are other actions that I would not be happy to see anybody do under any circumstances. Rape, for example. I don’t care to what extent somebody thinks that it’s ‘for the greater good’, I would never accept it under any circumstances.

‘Invading and occupying somebody’s country’ is very much closer to ‘rape’ in my book than ‘running a red light when you are in a hurry’. It necessitates killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
MLK and Gandhi were very careful to morally justify their actions in that their actions were victimless (the ANC didn’t but, luckily for us, they were rubbish at terrorism).

So there are two related points here: harm caused by actions in terms of breaking a law and the universality issue. ‘Not invading another country’ is not like ‘don’t litter’. It’s closer to ‘don’t kill’ or ‘don’t rape’. It is the absolute basis of international law. In fact it’s difficult to see how you could have international law if it was widely flouted.

Finally, the Universality issue. As I said, I would be happy to have the ‘red light’ law flouted by anybody who was genuinely in a hurry. So: the ‘invading other countries’ law can only be broken by people who would be perfectly happy to have the same strictures applied to them.

So, Chris, if you are genuinely and honestly telling me you would be perfectly happy to see Britain invaded by some foreign power because they didn’t like some aspect of British domestic policy (i.e. they thought it was ‘right and good’) then fair enough. But note: not even MLK and Mandela were not prepared to grant THIS much power to the international community (let alone the ‘West’ an entity both of them distrusted, and with reason). Even despite all the horrors of apartheid, and so forth, Mandela never actually called for the law of sovereignty to be overthrown: he never actually called for South Africa to be invaded (let alone by the United States, who were responsible for a great deal of the problem in the first place).

In short: if you accept the laws are there to be broken, you can’t come and complain when other people break those same laws and act against YOU.

(Almost every proponent of the ‘laws are there to be broken’ viewpoint in actual fact smuggles in an argument about ‘Western’ or ‘British’ or ‘American’ exceptionalism to their position without stating it. Very very very few people are prepared to follow the logic of their own argument and accept that if the US can decide what laws it wants to follow then logically, so can Canada, or Turkey, or China, or Iran. Still fewer are prepared to follow the logic to its conclusions, which is that any of those countries should be able to take military action against ‘us’ if they see it as being ‘in our best interests’ or ‘for the greater good’ or whatever. It tends to be presupposed that Western politicians are basically well meaning decent chaps, not like Johnny Foreigner).

233

Hidari 03.27.07 at 8:16 pm

‘Can this be said of any of the breaches of international law which we have discussed? don’t they, in fact, fall into a wholly different category, of actions that are actually very controversial and to which many actors have very serious objections? (Indeed, is that not precisely the reason why the Security Council is not resorted to?)’

Yes that’s another good point, very close to the one that I stated.

234

seth edenbaum 03.27.07 at 8:22 pm

“Actually, the law often is concerned with intentions…”

For the question of whether a law was broken, intention, like ignorance, counts for little. But after that, yes.
Once the act has been put in the category “crime” debate opens up.

235

DRR 03.27.07 at 8:49 pm

I don’t think people who opposed the Kosovo war should neccessarily be construed as apologists for Milosevic. To believe that adherence to International norms of law, even if it results in the preventable deaths of thousands is understandable. But then there’s the question of why the majority of people still hand-wringing over Kosovo are the exact same faction still waving the bloody flag of Milosevic and bemoaning the rough deal such a great man got at the hands of the imperialist dogs of NATO.

Actually I think Berube is mistaken with the term “sovereignity left” of which only people like Daniel Davies seem applicable. A simple fetishization of the concept of sovereignty doesen’t explain the Zmag/Counterpunch dual phenomenon of sophistic apologetics & denial of the crimes committed by Milosevic & Serbian Nationalists combined with exaggeration & preoccupation with the less than kosher aspects of the NATO campaign, both real & imagined.

(really) Hate to say it, and in fact I won’t explicitly, but my hunch is that in this instance (maybe the only one) Horowitz et al. are probably closer to identifying the pedigree of this phenomenon than Berube.

I don’t understand why so many people are in favour of Kosovo;…the end result hasn’t been a success by any reasonable criterion.

So, the Albanian Kosovors are still being ethnically cleansed?

236

Donald Johnson 03.27.07 at 8:53 pm

“Why don’t the liberal interventionist ever go for some non-military interventions that ‘go beyond the law.’ For instance, the U.S. could do a lot to insure the viability of a Palestinian state simply by setting up a multi-billion dollar reparation fund for Palestinians who claim to have been kicked off their land, or be descended from dispossessed families, that would give the Palestinians much needed cash and solve the right to return, or at least elevate it to another level?

I’ll answer my own question: the U.S. wouldn’t do that because the governing class would see no return on that money. Beyond the politics of Israel and Palestine, the U.S. simply has opted out of the grand foreign aid schemes of the fifties and sixties, and they have never returned to the table. However, the symbolic value of military intervention does pay a solid return – if, in nothing else, the reminder to banks that take U.S. T notes that the notes are backed by awesome power. Liberal interventionism feeds that system. It is bad for the U.S., ultimately, and bad for the world.”

That was Roger, in post 229. I think that adequately answers the question of what empire the US was protecting in Kosovo–whether or not the war was justified in itself, it’s obvious that if the US government were interested in saving lives and helping people, there are vastly more cost-efficient ways of doing so besides bombing the alleged villains of the month.

Mitchell Freedman–if you are bored, go to another thread. There’s a little too much vitriol here and there in this thread, but IMHO hidari/dsquared/ejh/roger (and others)are doing a pretty good job pointing out holes in the liberal interventionist position

237

Planeshift 03.27.07 at 8:53 pm

no, the serbs are instead – albeit slowly and over the long term.

238

Donald Johnson 03.27.07 at 8:57 pm

“apologetics & denial of the crimes committed by Milosevic & Serbian Nationalists combined with exaggeration & preoccupation with the less than kosher aspects of the NATO campaign, both real & imagined.”

One man’s crime is another man’s less than kosher aspect. We are talking about actual deaths of actual innocent civilians on both sides of the conflict. Yes, the Serbs killed more than NATO bombs. But take a look at your own rhetoric before you start flinging charges of bad faith around.

239

Chris Bertram 03.27.07 at 10:00 pm

Hidari – I think we’ve reached the “whatever, dude” point in the dialectic.

240

engels 03.27.07 at 10:13 pm

Michael – Perhaps you can point me to the part where I take issue with your claim that Cockburn lied about your position? Pace Mitchell Freedman, I am not a “Cockburn defender” (nor does that seem to be an accurate description of your other critics on this thread) and I don’t feel qualified to pass judgment on your ongoing squabble with him.

What I do care about, as might have been clear to you had you read what I wrote instead of indulging your desire to find a substitute Cockburn to beat up on, is your silly and presumptious suggestion that the American left should have toed your party line in the run up to the war – by criticising the policy only as a “diversion” from the “War on Terror” – despite the fact that this would have meant abandoning their own principles, and despite the fact that you have produced not a shred of evidence that this strategy would have been effective.

But if Alexander Cockburn is going to wonder whether I’ve had any dark nights in the past few years, I suppose I can wonder in return if he’s had any moments of regret… Because although the Sovereignty Left has achieved a remarkable consistency in defending Milosevic and the Taliban from international interventions, they also did their part to make the antiwar movement in the US smaller and less effective than it might have been when it came to Iraq.

The single most promising practical argument against war in Iraq, in 2002-03, was that it represented a disastrous diversion from the real battle, the battle against al-Qaeda and radical Islamism. … the Z/Counterpunch leadership of the antiwar movement in the US could not and would not make the argument that Iraq was a terrible diversion from Afghanistan

(You seem mightily vexed that I referred to this suggestion of yours as “demanding that Cockburn shut up”. Well, fine. It would certainly have been more accurate to have said: suggesting that Cockburn and others like him should be losing sleep years later because they had the temerity to open their mouths and voice an argument which you believe, on the basis of very little evidence it seems, to have been politically counterproductive. That’s a lot longer, but I don’t think that it is any better for you.)

Now you can either engage this objection on substance, on you can carry on fuming about how I have allegedly misunderstood some incidental aspects of your position.

(And I have to say that for someone who writes a post whose main point seems to be to make up yet another silly name for people to the left of you, which distorts their substantive views and motivations, you seem to have a remarkably short temper with people who you believe have misunderstood your own position.)

241

engels 03.27.07 at 10:21 pm

Oh, and skimming back through the thread, it seems I didn’t accuse you of “demanding Cockburn shut up”. I said that

it’s hypocritical to effectively tell people like Cockburn that they should have kept their mouths shut, while lecturing everyone about the need for a broad-based coalition against the war

so that one appears to have been another little “strawberube” of your own making.

242

grassroot 03.27.07 at 10:24 pm

Actually, we spent months trying to argue that the antiwar movement was singularly ill-served by the neo-Stalinoids of the WWP, and we pointed out that an antiwar movement with ANSWER at its head looked like an antiwar movement designed by Horowitz…

This brings to mind all the liberal hand-wringing in 2002 and 2003 about the big antiwar protests being organized by ANSWER.

I remember thinking, sure, ANSWER’s messaging is tedious at best, divisive and inflammatory at worst but, hey, why don’t you critics get off your fat butts and do the hard work of organizing events of your own? I’ll be happy to march in them, too.

Fast-forward to the present argument, I think the key question, as raised by dsquared and others, is how do we all feel about imperialism? Not “soveriegnty Left”, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean, but imperialism, and the agressive wars that always accompany it?

I have opposed my country’s imperialist interventions consistently, in Vietnam, Chile, Central America, Panama, Grenada, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq. No dancing, no hair-splitting. I believe Chomsky, Cockburn, and others you belittle, Mr. Berube, have done the same. I think that’s a consistent and honorable (not to mention “left”) position that deserves respect and careful consideration.

243

minneapolitan 03.27.07 at 11:26 pm

Hidari: Please consider doing some research into anarchist thought and history. Read some Berkman, Goldman, Kropotkin, Parsons, Purchase, Malatesta. Also, think about the how closely the situation you’ve described as “anarchy” (i.e. a bellum omnium contra omnes) so closely resembles the mechanisms by which imperial capital functions today.


Regarding the protests in the run-up to our current wars:
I think a broad-based campaign of direct action, constant protest and civil disobedience could have made a meaningful difference, despite the intransigence of the regime. Such a campaign was never really likely, mainly because most of the people who could really disrupt society by their resistance feel themselves to be too beholden to the current power structure to even speak out, let alone take any physical action against the status quo. And moreover, I knew that at the time. However, as someone who supports radical social change, I felt it was necessary to engage with whatever germ of resistance there was waiting to sprout. It saddens but does not surprise me that so many people who might have added their voices to the chorus of protest were either cowed into silence by middle-class mores, or wasted precious time and energy on factionalism and infighting. (The preceding is not intended as a reflection on the tenured moderates who fancy themselves “left.”)

244

robotslave 03.27.07 at 11:32 pm

I do agree that Westphalian international law got it mostly right with regard to wars of aggression. And that the various follow-ups seem to have gotten it right with regard to humanitarian crises.

Unfortunately, those laws don’t do a very good job of addressing the question of whether or not intervention in Kosovo was legal. Or in Afghanistan. International Law *does* do a good job of addressing the question of whether or not the *conduct* of the intervening parties was legal, but I think the main argument in this thread is over justification rather than conduct (or it is for all parties willing to concede the distinction, at any rate).

International law is not well-developed with regard to civil war, particularly due to the problem of deciding when a given pattern of violence stops being an internal criminal matter and starts being a Civil War subject to International Law. In the case of Kosovo, one could make the case that a) there was, in fact, a civil war underway, and that b) Milosevich’s conduct in that civil war was in violation of International Law. One could of course also make the argument that c) the conduct of every other party in that civil war was also in violation of Article 3, or contest any of propositions a, b, or c, and naturally any such claims ought to be heard by the security council and a judgment rendered prior to intervention to make everything nice and tidy, but I think we’re rather a long way from demonstrating that NATO had no possible legal justification for intervening, as asserted by dsquared and others.

DD also asserts in passing that intervention in Afghanistan was legal under International Law, implicitly on the basis that an act of aggression had been launched against the United States, but this is of course problematic in that the action was not undertaken by Afghanistan’s military, or indeed by any part of that state at all. There has been some talk since about amending International Law to address the problem of inter-state aggression on the part of non-state actors, but at the time, International Law was indeed “too old-fashioned” to address the particular immoral act that had taken place.

I’m not entirely convinced by those who claim that future war-like conflicts will tend to be more and more of the “fourth generation” variety, featuring non-state parties and/or conflicts that are characterized as “civil war” or “resistance” by one party and “insurgency” or “terrorism” by the other, but I do think it’s clear that existing International Law does not address such conflicts adequately.

245

frostbite 03.27.07 at 11:37 pm

When Berube shows as much concern about the Democrats’ unwillingness to do squat about the disastrous war in Iraq today as the intellectual dishonesty of third-rate pundits like Cockburn, I’ll be ready to take his ‘sovereignty left’ spiel semi-seriously.

It’s really quite simple. Alex Cockburn, Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky, whatever their faults, are not the pressing issue of the day. The bloodbaths and occupations around the world carried out by our troops and/or funded by our taxes (and China’s central bank) are. Let’s get our priorities straight, okay?

(And no, I’m not saying Berube supports the Iraq war. I am saying he seems to be much more critical of its marginal opponents than of its supporters and enablers).

246

Iain Coleman 03.28.07 at 12:11 am

Hey, you guys who didn’t join in antiwar protest because you didn’t like the organisers or the puppeteers! Here’s a girl who would like to express her appreciation for your finely tuned moral sensibilities!

247

dsquared 03.28.07 at 12:17 am

Unfortunately its just become terribly relevant again. On the Guardian its being reported that Blair is pushing for a No-Fly zone in Darfur, and proposing overcoming the technical problems of enforcing it (Darfur is apparently the side of France) destroying Sudanese air bases if Khartoum violates it. Full Text here.

Initial thoughts? Its a damn good proposal in principle.

Daragh, it’s a terrible idea. It’s Joe Biden’s plan from 2004, warmed up. It had some merits at the time, but reviving it now ignores the fact that there is a peace process going on. It is obviously inconsistent with any NGOs remaining in Darfur at all, and the plan doesn’t seem to include a plan for replacing them. Alex de Waal’s article in the LRB refers – the solution to this political problem has to be political.

The only merit it has would be that al-Bashir would actually be reasonably content to agree with it, since his air force is not very useful to him at all since the JEM got their shoulder-launched missiles from “somewhere in the Middle East”; note that the UN report does not mention Antonov bombings still being used as a tactic, though the ICG and Blair do. The rebels have effectively imposed their own no fly zone for the last six months.

This has to be set against the decided disadvantage that we are now effectively telling the Darfurian rebels that we’re on their side, while not actually making plans to provide the support we’re promising. Maybe Blair is playing some kind of diplomatic game (one which he has apparently not told his soldiers about) but I doubt it; he is also really badly briefed about Darfur if he is serious about what he says about “ethnic cleansing”.

248

Hattie 03.28.07 at 12:51 am

I’m real tired of Cockburn. He wants to be the conscience of the American left, and he loves to stomp around, rhetorically speaking, about a war that disgusts not just him but millions of others.
I like Berube’s fire. He represents a new generation of leftists who are solid on theory but deeply into praxis. Cockburn is more fastidious and mandarin than Berube,in the old style of moralistic leftism.
Berube’s in the midst of things. Berube teaches at a public university. He has a family and a kid with Down syndrome that he and his wife have loved and heroically cared for. I’ve read his books,*Life as We Knew It: a Father, a Family and an Exceptional Child,* and *What’s Liberal about the Liberal Arts,* both excellent and enlivened by his unique voice as a writer.
Cockburn’s voice is similar to that other Brit’s, Hitchens: strident and self-righteous. The scion of a wiser civilization and scold from across the waters stuff played well on the left post WWII, but no one cares about that act any more.
If there is any similarity between Horowitz and Berube, it is that the covers of their books are mighty similar. But Berube’s came out first!
If Horowitz’s current book is the feast for thought that most of his writing is, I guess I’ll save my money and not buy it.

249

Jon H 03.28.07 at 1:04 am

frostbite writes: “I am saying he seems to be much more critical of its marginal opponents than of its supporters and enablers”

Generally that happens when the kooky marginal opponents lash out at him in a baseless and ridiculous manner, as in this case.

Other than those occasions, I doubt he spends more time criticizing the lefty fantasists than he does on the neocon fantasists.

250

engels 03.28.07 at 2:18 am

Then tell me what, in your view, plausibly could have derailed the determination of the Bush Administration to go to war. After all, they relentless marginalized significant fractions of their own government, all external critics (liberals, conservative realists, leftists, Europeans, you name it), all other governments, and any actual evidence from reality during the process of planning the war. Fuck, by all accounts, the president’s own father told him it was a bad idea, to no effect.

Well, Timothy, they certainly did a good job of marginalising their critics, in part by deploying some of the same silly anti-protest clichés which you trotted out in #60 above. Still, there were also a large number of “external liberal critics” whom, if you will recall, didn’t have to be marginalised because they were busy cheering the war on. Of course, I do not number you and Berube among them. Berube was, as we all know, out there waving a Bush Hitler sign and mucking it with the filthy hippies, and I applaud him for it. You, on the other hand, have informed us that you were steadfast in your opposition to the war but decided that the best tactical move was to keep your mouth shut and do absolutely nothing. This strikes me as rather less honourable but, unlike you and Berube, I do not presume to lecture other people on the most effective means of expressing their political convictions.

So I suppose my answer to your question might be: if large numbers of liberals among America’s policy, media and intellectual elites had not, in the run up to the war, bent over backwards to spread Bush’s disinformation, to whip up hatred against ‘Islamo-fascism’ and fear over the ‘War on Terror’, to do Karl Rove’s dirty work for him by smearing the anti-war left, or had sat in the comfort of their ivory towers sticking their heads out of the window only occasionally in order to yell abuse at Noam Chomsky, that might – possibly – and I know this is a long shot – have had a positive effect. To quote an American liberal for whom I have a good deal of respect:

It is the liberals, then, who count. They are, as it might be, the canaries in the sulphurous mineshaft of modern democracy. The alacrity with which many of America’s most prominent liberals have censored themselves in the name of the War on Terror, the enthusiasm with which they have invented ideological and moral cover for war and war crimes and proffered that cover to their political enemies: all this is a bad sign. Liberal intellectuals used to be distinguished precisely by their efforts to think for themselves, rather than in the service of others. Intellectuals should not be smugly theorising endless war, much less confidently promoting and excusing it. They should be engaged in disturbing the peace – their own above all.

251

occam 03.28.07 at 2:25 am

Hattie wrote: “He represents a new generation of leftists who are solid on theory but deeply into praxis.”

– This is where I get frustrated with the blogo-triumphalism. Praxis happens on the ground. Not on blogs, nor on the pages of the Village Voice, Nation, et al. It happens in the streets. If you don’t like ANSWER, out-organize them.

252

robotslave 03.28.07 at 3:40 am

“Praxis happens on the ground. Not on blogs, nor on the pages of the Village Voice, Nation, et al. It happens in the streets.”

You might want to tell that to everyone who donated money to moveon.org*.

Man, are they ever going to feel stupid.

-

* only the most obvious counterexample, we could go on all day listing more. Blogo-triumphalism is indeed grating, but blogs, collectively, are a much bigger part of this “praxis” you speak of than the splinter group ANSWER is, and are likely influencing the body politic more than all of the leaflets, petitions, and placards*** on USia’s** pavements put together.

** UKia, in which I understand there are still some Marxist (and other far-left) political organizations willing to devote at least a substantial fraction of their resources to gaining elected office and then actually facing the problems of governing, is another story.

*** and puppets. Mustn’t forget the puppets.

253

robotslave 03.28.07 at 3:43 am

Ooh, markup that doesn’t show up in the preview! As noted in the fine print!

Poem!

* I want to be
* an asterisk
* and not this crappy
* bullet list

254

chaco's mom 03.28.07 at 3:44 am

Hey, Michael. What a joy to read your prose again — how’s the family doing? And when can we see you on Dancing with the Stars?
P.S. You wonder why the left never gets anywhere in this country? The thread answers itself.

255

martin Wisse 03.28.07 at 5:03 am

Donating money isn’t activism either.

Especially not to MoveOn, whose suggestions for direct action all seemed to run around “let’s have a bake sale and donate the money to the Democratic Party”.

256

a 03.28.07 at 5:35 am

“I think we’re rather a long way from demonstrating that NATO had no possible legal justification for intervening, as asserted by dsquared and others.”

No possible?? It’s possible that pigs can fly. It’s *possible* that there was justification to intervene in Iraq. I doubt that d2 or anyone else has claimed that there is no possibility – just that, when all is said and done, it was wrong to intervene, legally and morally. At least that is my position.

257

robotslave 03.28.07 at 5:38 am

Especially not to MoveOn, whose suggestions for direct action all seemed to run around “let’s have a bake sale and donate the money to the Democratic Party”.

I suppose we wouldn’t want to have *all* of the asinine, belittling stereotypes crowded onto one side of the debate, eh?

Now be a good little demagogue and unpack “direct action” for us outsiders, would you please? We’re ever so eager to learn why exactly it is that things organized by your left-team *do* count as activism, but the things the other left-teams put together don’t.

If donating money isn’t activism, then how about raising money? Or does it not count as activism at all when there’s money involved, period? Am I getting warm? Is there a prize?

258

robotslave 03.28.07 at 5:53 am

“it was wrong to intervene, legally and morally. At least that is my position”

And since you are not the security council or an international court, or even engaging the problems presented, that leaves unresolved the question of whether or not intervention was in accord with international law, at least in the two cases I discussed. Neither of which involved Iraq.

Iraq is a much simpler case– Saddam wasn’t engaged in a war of aggression, there was no ongoing civil war, and no imminent humanitarian crisis in the country. The problems in international law that I outlined do not come into play.

259

ejh 03.28.07 at 7:02 am

I think we’ve reached the “whatever, dude” point in the dialectic.

I agree and personally I shall declare my innings closed here. Let me and my puppet wave everybody goodbye.

260

a 03.28.07 at 7:40 am

“And since you are not the security council or an international court, or even engaging the problems presented…”

YOu’re right – I’m not trying to engage. I’m simply pointing out you created a strawman of the lowest possible order – you claimed that it’s “possible” to say that intervention in Kosovo was legal, and D2 was wrong because he asserted it’s not “possible”. I don’t think D2 made such a strong assertion, but I could be wrong since there are a helluva a lot of comments.

261

robotslave 03.28.07 at 8:46 am

you created a strawman of the lowest possible order

Hardly.

First of all, the logical fallacy you are erroneously accusing me of is not of the “straw man” variety, but that’s hardly the point here.

I gave specific reasons, and a particular argument that could be presented for the legality of intervention in Kosovo. I did not mean it is “possible” that such intervention was in accordance with international law in the sense of “anything is possible,” but rather in a very narrow sense, and frankly, I did not think you were responding in good faith.

See comments #11 and #98, for daniel’s position, if you haven’t already located it yourself. You decided to read my comment and respond to it without taking the trouble to familiarize yourself with the context it was made in.

That’s fine, there are only so many hours in the day, after all, but I’m sure you will in turn forgive me for having little patience with a blustering objection that shows no sign of even attempting to understand the point I was making.

You seem to have fixated on the single word, “possible.” My argument works perfectly well without it; try re-reading the comment with that adjective deleted. I used it only because there are several ways in which international law allows for interventions; the word was not meant to encompass anything outside those constraints.

262

a 03.28.07 at 9:27 am

“See comments #11 and #98, for daniel’s position…” Which says nothing like what you attributed to him. So my strawman comment stands.

263

soru 03.28.07 at 11:18 am

And then we are left with the question, NOT ‘do I support x y and z for ‘good’ reasons’ but instead: ‘does this or that action break the relevant laws?’.

Quick question: what is the concensus here on whether US participation in the Vietnam war was, on the US part, against the relevant international laws?

Would a hypothetical consistent sovereignty left be in favour of the sovereign right of Diem to rig elections and call in military advisors?

264

Timothy Burke 03.28.07 at 11:58 am

Hey, Engels. I wrote plenty about the war, attended protests, gave speeches at rallies. So good job on the continuing misreadings. Moreover, the references to puppets, etc., are (at least for me) ironic terms that are shorthand for a more profound split about tactics in the anti-war movement, of long standing.

265

Hidari 03.28.07 at 2:07 pm

266

Walt 03.28.07 at 2:28 pm

Wow this is a long thread. I think it demonstrates conclusively that intramural fights are always much more intense than intermural ones.

267

engels 03.28.07 at 2:30 pm

Ok, Timothy, full credit to you if you went to protests. That wasn’t a “misreading”, though, it was an incorrect but fairly natural assumption to make, based on your extended mockery of “hippies chaining themselves to tanks” and your claim that it was futile to try to stop the war, by someone who has not followed your political activities. But apologies for not being aware of the latter.

Still, there was a serious argument to be had here, and it seems like you and Michael are not interested in having it, at least with me. Now, if you’ll excuse you, there’s a Bush Hitler sign I have to finish painting.

268

Rich Puchalsky 03.28.07 at 4:25 pm

engels, there’s a problem with having a serious argument in a thread that starts with a poster reporting that someone else has lied about him. Serious argument about policy is not really what the post is about. It’s about the more basic activities of first, reporting the truth, second, motivating the not-truth-tellers to stop. Admittedly that’s complicated in this instance by Berube having to explain exactly why this particular untruth was told, but it’s still not a good lead-off for a general discussion.

269

engels 03.28.07 at 8:06 pm

Rich – Read the thread. There are over #270 comments on these wider issues and I don’t think they are all mine. Not to mention that the post itself makes a number of highly dubious claims about policy, which I tried to object to. In fact, AFAICT the only person in this discussion who has stuck doggedly to repeating the mantra that “Cockburn lied, people died” is you.

And, although I said I wasn’t going to defend Cockburn, I have to say that I can see no evidence in this post that Cockburn did lie about Berube. For example, Cockburn’s implying that Berube bears some responsibility for the Iraq War, despite the fact that Berube opposed the war, might be wrong, in your view, it might even be repugnant, but it doesn’t seem fair to call it a lie. So unless you can substantiate your accusation, I think you ought to stop repeatedly calling Cockburn a liar.

270

abb1 03.28.07 at 8:19 pm

Yeah, what engels said.

“Have any of them, from Makiya through Hitchens to Berman and Berube had dark nights, asking themselves just how much responsibility they have for the heaps of dead in Iraq…”

So what – I’m asking myself the same question. Every US citizen should be, including Cockburn and Chomsky, and I am sure they do too.

271

engels 03.28.07 at 8:33 pm

To be clear, and with respect to abb1, my view is slightly different from his in #275. I think that Cockburn was having a go at Berube in particular and not just at Americans in general. What I would assume Cockburn, Herman, et al think, is that although Berube was opposed to the Iraq War, he campaigned in favour of a wider set of policies around the issue of military intervention, and against the anti-war movement, and the effect of his actions was to help make the war possible. Basically, it was an unintended but foreseeable consequence of his campaigning that it made the Iraq war more likely. Now that position may be mistaken and it may be horribly unfair on Berube. But if that it what they think, then I don’t think the quoted statements are lies, or intentional attempts to mislead people into thinking that Berube actually supported the war.

272

Donald Johnson 03.28.07 at 10:41 pm

Darn, now I’ll have to go back and reread both Cockburn and Herman.

But not right now.

273

San 03.28.07 at 11:07 pm

274

s.e. 03.29.07 at 3:45 am

I don’t remember. Has anyone linked to to Berube’s original piece?
This is the one that bothered me.

275

Rich Puchalsky 03.29.07 at 4:04 am

“There are over #270 comments on these wider issues”

Yes, and everyone knows that in a comment thread, quantity equals quality, right? The ones that go on to 100+ comments are typically not models of serious argument.

As for the rest, here’s the Cockburn quote again: “The war party virtually monopolized television. AM radio poured out a filthy torrent of war bluster. The laptop bombardiers such as Salman Rushdie were in full war paint. Among the progressives the liberal interventionists thumped their tin drums, often by writing pompous pieces attacking the antiwar “hard left”. Mini-pundits Todd Gitlin and Michael Berube played this game eagerly. Berube lavished abuse on Noam Chomsky and other clear opponents of the war, mumbling about the therapeutic potential of great power interventionism, piously invoking the tradition of “left internationalism.”

That paragraph puts Berube among “the war party”, has him thumping a tin drum, and attacking “clear opponents of the war”. If you don’t think that’s a lie, your tolerance for propaganda is a lot greater than mine.

276

s.e. 03.29.07 at 4:21 am

Rich Puchalsky,
there’s no lie in that paragraph. It’s polemical that’s all. The argument goes that defending American intervention in one instance clears the way for it in another.

“Among the progressives the liberal interventionists thumped their tin drums, often by writing pompous pieces attacking the antiwar ‘hard left’ “

Most likely the hard left’s myopia and intransigence will not matter to most Americans — that is, those who never trusted the judgment of Chomsky or Z Magazine in the first place and don’t see why it matters now that anti-imperialists have lost a “credibility” they never had in some quarters. But the reason it should matter, even in parts of America where there are no campuses, no anti-Sharon rallies, and no subscribers to Counterpunch, is that the United States cannot be a beacon of freedom and justice to the world if it conducts itself as an empire. Nor can we fight Al Qaeda networks in 60 countries if we alienate our allies in Europe, who so far seem to be much more capable of finding and arresting members of Al Qaeda than is our own Justice Department.

The antiwar left once knew well that its anti-imperialism was in fact a form of patriotism — until it lost its bearings in Kosovo and Kabul, insisting beyond all reason that those military campaigns were imperialist wars for oil or regional power. And why does that matter? Because in the agora of public opinion, the antiwar left never claimed to speak to pragmatic concerns or political contingencies: for the antiwar left, the moral ground was the only ground there was. So when the antiwar left finds itself on shaky moral ground, it simply collapses.

277

IM 03.29.07 at 4:21 am

Mr. Cockburn seems to be a master in the art to attack unfairly without outright lying. He creates the impression that Prof. Berube is a war supporter. But he only says:
1. Liberal interventionist – true
2. Attacking the hard left – true
3. attacked Chomsky -true
4. Chomsky is a clear opponent of the war, that concedes indirectly Berube is a war opponent, just in a unclear way.

No direct lie and still a effective smear.

Impressive, Hitchens and Sullivan will be jealous.

278

s.e. 03.29.07 at 4:24 am

The last two paragraphs are both Berube.
Blockquote was off.

279

Rich Puchalsky 03.29.07 at 4:44 am

s.e., no, it’s really not just polemical. If you re-read the Cockburn article, you’ll see that it’s all about Iraq. Cockburn, unlike Berube, does not say one word about how Berube’s support of war in Kosovo or Afghanistan prepared the way for war elsewhere. Instead, Berube is presented simply as an Iraq war supporter. And it has later sentences such as “As Iraq began to plunge ever more rapidly into the abyss not long after the March, 2003 attack, this crowd stubbornly mostly stayed the course with Bush.” That’s not merely polemically misleading, as you might say if you looked only at the “mostly”; it states that Berube was once *on* the course with Bush.

If Cockburn hadn’t wanted to do this, he could have added half a sentence — something like “Berube, although he opposed the Iraq War, helped to prepare for it by supporting invasions of Kosovo and Afghanistan, lavishing abuse on Noam Chomsky [etc]“. But he evidently did want to make this smear, based on a falsehood.

280

s.e. 03.29.07 at 4:53 am

I don’t really care that much either way. I had an exchange with Berube about the piece I just linked to and after all this just found the link. So I posted it.
Cockburn is an ass. But so is Berube. It’s depressing to think that nobody mentioned Tony Judt’s piece until well into this thing. When I saw engels’ comment… “duh!”
why didn’t I…?”

But it didn’t. And Judt is right. And Berube’s piece is pathetic. And Cockburn is an ass. And I’m done

281

engels 03.29.07 at 4:54 am

The war party virtually monopolized television. AM radio poured out a filthy torrent of war bluster. The laptop bombardiers such as Salman Rushdie were in full war paint. Among the progressives the liberal interventionists thumped their tin drums, often by writing pompous pieces attacking the antiwar “hard left”. Mini-pundits Todd Gitlin and Michael Berube played this game eagerly. Berube lavished abuse on Noam Chomsky and other clear opponents of the war, mumbling about the therapeutic potential of great power interventionism, piously invoking the tradition of “left internationalism.

Rich – Like I said, Cockburn is talking about Berube in the same breath as the Iraq war supporters because in his view people like Berube are also to blame for the war. He lumps Berube in with Todd Gitlin, which doesn’t seem unfair. The last sentence is obviously an attack on Berube’s “liberal interventionalism” and on Berube’s campaign of invective against Chomsky. It is also obvious that Cockburn is not implying that Berube is a supporter of the war, hence his use of the term “clear opponents of the war” to distinguish Chomsky (a “clear” opponent of the war) from Berube (an opponent of the war).

I think you could arguably blame Cockburn in this essay for not explicitly mentioning that Berube opposed the war but he has limited space and the essay isn’t really about Berube anyway. He never says or even implies that Berube supported the war, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to suspect him of intending to mislead and for anyone who is moderately well informed about Cockburn’s views or the issues which he is addressing here, the meaning is perfectly clear.

So I would say that the charge that Cockburn is being “intellectually dishonest” seems quite unfounded and it is certainly false to say that he “lied”.

282

engels 03.29.07 at 4:59 am

Rich – It’s a polemic. Cockburn lumps Berube in with the people who supported the war for reasons staed. You may think it’s wrong to make up silly groupings of your opponents for your own rhetorical purposes but lots of people do it, cf. “Sovereignty Left” above. You seem to think the article should be judged on the impression it might give to someone who had never heard of Berube and was interested in knowing whether or not he supported the war. That is not it’s point. It is aimed at people who are already familiar with politics.

283

Donald Johnson 03.29.07 at 3:42 pm

I re-read the Cockburn piece and it is misleading. In context the person not aware of Berube’s writings would think Berube was prowar. Whether Cockburn meant to convey that impression one could debate–I’ll decline. He should have worded it differently if he didn’t want to mislead.

284

engels 03.29.07 at 4:08 pm

In context the person not aware of Berube’s writings would think Berube was prowar.

Berube is indeed “pro-war” and that’s Cockburn’s point. He considers Berube to be someone who is generally pro-war but opposed the war in Iraq. And I’m sorry but your reading seems absurd to me. The piece is not intended to convey factual information about Berube’s beliefs. It’s a polemic. To its intended audience its meaning is perfectly clear. And there are plenty of clues in what Cockburn wrote – that he mentioned Berube alongside Gitlin, that he contrasted Berbube with “clear” opponents of the war, like Chomsky – that he meant to imply Berube was against the war.

And, Donald, you are moving the goal posts. This is not about whether the piece is “misleading”: that’s arguable, although I probably wouldn’t agree. Berube is accusing Cockburn of “lying” and being “intellectually dishonest”. You do not chuck those kinds of accusations around without evidence of intent.

285

Chris Bertram 03.29.07 at 4:20 pm

He considers Berube to be someone who is generally pro-war but opposed the war in Iraq.

Well everyone who is not a pacifist thinks some wars are justified, that wouldn’t justify calling them “generally pro-war”. Perhaps you think that calling someone who supported the NATO intervention in Kosovo and the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan “generally pro-war” is accurate and justified?

286

engels 03.29.07 at 4:43 pm

Chris – I didn’t say that it was “accurate and justified” to lump ‘liberal interventionists’ in together with people who specifically supported the war in Iraq in the way Cockburn does. I said that Cockburn appears to believe this is justified because he sees them all as being part of a militaristic faction of the left which he blames for the war in Iraq, and given that this is his view, however unfair you think this is, it is not right to say that he is “lying” here, or even being “intellectually dishonest”.

287

engels 03.29.07 at 4:57 pm

And FWIW I do not think any useful purpose is served by trying to divide the world up into people who are “generally pro-war” and “generally anti-war” (where “generally anti-war” would not mean the same thing as “pacifist” BTW). I wouldn’t do it myself and it is probably unfair on genuine humanitarian interventionists. However, I do not think it is beyond the pale of normal political rhetoric.

288

Michael Bérubé 03.29.07 at 5:28 pm

Michael – Perhaps you can point me to the part where I take issue with your claim that Cockburn lied about your position?

No need, engels. Thanks.

289

Roy Belmont 03.29.07 at 5:47 pm

As central as they are to state of things, Afghanistan and Iraq, as interventions, or as some would have it, invasions, are accomplished. Berube may or may not sleep well in the midst of all the attention he’s generated for whatever stands he may or may not have been taking on those enterprises as they began to assume the shape of exigency, way back when, but they’re not all of what we encounter, as we look toward the Near East.
The validity of Cockburn’s accusations of Berube’s complicity could maybe get substantiated by examining his, Berube’s, posture toward the baiting and bullying and consequent invasion of, or intervention in, Iran. Which is really not a discrete thing, as nor was Afghanistan discrete from Iraq, however much it might comfort some to think so. All part of the same general hoo-haw. Done by whom we might ask ourselves, as well might Mr. Berube, should he awaken in the night confronting some blank dark hour.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of noise issuing from him on this matter, presently, though.
Here’s Michael Berube in his own write, on August, 2006, gettin all up on Lenin’s Tomb with the academic snark-n-stuff (bonus confirmation of fatuous name-calling):

For the “we are all Hezbollah now” “left,” check out this remarkable fellow, whose support of Hezbollah is nothing if not full-throated. For the pro-Iranian “left,” there’s a “leftist” the like of which has not been seen since the final days of the liberation of Symbionia, and who has taken to cheering Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the “Persian Chavez” who should serve as a model for “the rulers of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.” Amazingly enough, she is the editor of the zine of the Monthly Review. And for the pro-Iraqi-resistance “left,” there’s the New Left Review and its many expressions of solidarity with what it calls the “Iraqi maquis,” on the grounds that the Iraqi resistance has the moral authority of the French resistance during World War II, and the U.S. . . . well, you can complete the analogy easily enough, I’m sure.

290

Kent 03.29.07 at 6:17 pm

I think this is getting out of hand. Everybody here is (more or less) on the left. Everybody is attacking each other, sometimes rather viciously. The most common charge? That people have, um, spent too much time attacking people on the left, when the right is the more important target.

Oops.

Am I the only one to think that most of the attacks on this thread are a waste of time and energy? No, worse than that: they’re sowing anger and discord among people who agree on probably 90% of all things political. Is this really what we need to be spending our time on?

Mistake #1: Cockburn attacking Berube for being pro-war when, clearly, Berube was not pro-war. Cockburn:

“where are the parlor warriors? Have those Iraqi exiles reconsidered their illusions, that all it would take was a brisk invasion and a new constitution, to put Iraq to rights? Have any of them, from Makiya through Hitchens to Berman and Berube had dark nights,….”

Clearly, Berube did not believe that the war could “put Iraq to rights.” That’s just a lie.

Justified reaction: Berube pointing out that Cockburn lied about this.

Unjustified reaction (mistake #2): Berube attacking Cockburn in return. Here’s the key part where Berube goes off the rails, IMO:

“But if Alexander Cockburn is going to wonder whether I’ve had any dark nights in the past few years, I suppose I can wonder in return if he’s had any moments of regret for inveighing against people like me and Gitlin as insufficiently anti-imperialist and unacceptably willing to consider violations of Saddam’s sovereignty. Because although the Sovereignty Left has achieved a remarkable consistency in defending Milosevic and the Taliban from international interventions, they also did their part to make the antiwar movement in the US smaller and less effective than it might have been when it came to Iraq.”

In fact, if you just removed everything from that paragraph forward in Berube’s piece, the need for the fights throughout the thread pretty much disappears. Unnecessary attacks breed unnecessary attacks. Cmon, aren’t we (mostly) friends here? Is intra-party purity really the most important thing?

291

engels 03.29.07 at 6:40 pm

Gosh, Michael, what an incisive point: my 7-year-old brother is in stitches.

For the adults among us, a quick summary of the conversation:

(1) I say I’m not interested in passing judgment on a personal squabble between Cockburn and Berube, and address myself to the less ad homimem aspects of Michael’s post.
(2) Michael Berube, the great liberal pluralist and tireless campaigner for a broad-based anti-war movement, informs me that none of these objections are “worth making”.
(3) Rich Puchalsky tells me that, despite the 200+ comments which say otherwise, the question of whether or not Cockburn “lied” is the only legitimate topic of discussion here.
(4) I defer to Rich’s judgment and set out my reasons for why I don’t think it is fair to call Cockburn a “liar” on the basis of the article Berube linked to.
(5) Michael Berube points out that – neener, neener – I am now defending Cockburn, contrary to what I said I wanted to do two days ago.
(6) I bang my head on the desk and wonder why I bothered trying to have a meaningful discussion with Michael Berube.

292

engels 03.29.07 at 7:04 pm

And Michael, any time to do feel up to the challenge of trying to say something half-way intelligent, here’s a short list of some of the outstanding substantive objections to your post:

(i) Your term “Sovereign Left” is an silly straw man, which distorts the views of the people to whom it is intended to apply.
(ii) It is arrogant of you to suggest that Cockburn and others in the anti-war movement should be losing sleep now because they campaigned against the war in their own way, rather than toeing your preferred ‘diversion from the War on Terra’ line, which goes against the principles of many people on the left, especially as you have provided no evidence that this would have helped matters, and, indeed, as it appears far more likely that such people did a damn sight more to actually try to stop the war than you did.
(iii) You have given no real grounds for the serious accusations you make of Cockburn, namely, that he “lied” or that he is “intellectually dishonest”.

293

Michael Bérubé 03.29.07 at 7:42 pm

I’m sorry, Engels. I could go back and cite the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic petition that read, “Jail the real war criminals: the NATO leaders who committed crimes against humanity and against Yugoslav sovereignty and who continue to commit those crimes today”; or the Not in Our Name antiwar petition, which insisted that “peoples and nations have the right to determine their own destiny, free from military coercion by great powers”; or the October 2002 argument that UN inspections in Iraq “represent a fundamental violation of international law and Iraqi sovereignty.” But I’m not going to do any of that, because I just don’t think I’m dealing with someone honest or intelligent or mature enough to deserve yet another round of explanations. I don’t mind your defenses of Cockburn, because in digging yourself ever deeper you’ve managed to do quite enough damage to yourself as it is. But watch the head-banging, though. The effects are only going to get worse with time.

294

Donald Johnson 03.29.07 at 8:24 pm

See, these last few posts are what is wrong with so many internet debates–tempers are lost and people start erecting strawmen and so forth.

There were a fair number of substantive principled anti-intervention points made all through this thread, but it got tangled up with personalities.

Engels–I didn’t move the goalposts. I just said Cockburn’s statement would give the unwary reader the wrong impression of what Berube thought about the Iraq War. If he meant to give that impression it was dishonest. If it was part of a polemic and the misleading aspect was inadvertent, then it wasn’t. I don’t know which it was.

295

Donald Johnson 03.29.07 at 8:42 pm

Moyn’s essay in the Nation seems relevant here (for anyone still reading)

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070416/moyn

I don’t have time to find my instructions on link-making.

296

Michael Bérubé 03.29.07 at 8:45 pm

Thanks for the link, Donald. And I’ll close the thread before it degenerates any further.

Comments on this entry are closed.