The answer to the rhetorical question is ‘perhaps yes: but only if you don’t invite Michael Walzer’

by Henry on April 14, 2009

In Spring 2002, Dissent published Michael Walzer’s essay, “Can There Be A Decent Left?,” which played as big a part as any piece of writing in generating the fractures among lefty intellectuals over the Iraq war. Although Walzer was later to come out in (mildly expressed) opposition to the Iraq war, he calumniated the left for its persistent failure to wake up to the reality of global terrorism.

The radical failure of the left’s response to the events of last fall raises a disturbing question: can there be a decent left in a superpower? Or more accurately, in the only superpower? Maybe the guilt produced by living in such a country and enjoying its privileges makes it impossible to sustain a decent (intelligent, responsible, morally nuanced) politics. Maybe festering resentment, ingrown anger, and self-hate are the inevitable result of the long years spent in fruitless opposition to the global reach of American power. Certainly, all those emotions were plain to see in the left’s reaction to September 11, in the failure to register the horror of the attack or to acknowledge the human pain it caused, in the schadenfreude of so many of the first responses, the barely concealed glee that the imperial state had finally gotten what it deserved. Many people on the left recovered their moral balance in the weeks that followed; there is at least the beginning of what should be a long process of self-examination. But many more have still not brought themselves to think about what really happened.

Walzer went on to argue – at length – that the American left was crippled by ideology and self-hatred:

ideologically primed leftists were likely to think that they already understood whatever needed to be understood. Any group that attacks the imperial power must be a representative of the oppressed, and its agenda must be the agenda of the left. It isn’t necessary to listen to its spokesmen. What else can they want except…the redistribution of resources across the globe, the withdrawal of American soldiers from wherever they are, the closing down of aid programs for repressive governments, the end of the blockade of Iraq, and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel?

… many left intellectuals live in America like internal aliens, refusing to identify with their fellow citizens, regarding any hint of patriotic feeling as politically incorrect. That’s why they had such difficulty responding emotionally to the attacks of September 11 or joining in the expressions of solidarity that followed.

… We certainly need something better than the rag-tag Marxism with which so much of the left operates today—whose chief effect is to turn world politics into a cheap melodrama, with all the villains dressed to look the part and one villain larger than life. … For the moment we can make do with a little humility, an openness to heterodox ideas, a sharp eye for the real world , and a readiness to attend to moral as well as materialist arguments.

And so on. I am not providing a complete summary of Walzer’s arguments here, merely providing quotes that illustrate his attitude to the left’s failings (the essay is not long – go and read it if you want the full flavor of it). The reason that I’m concentrating on this is that I recently read this earlier exchange between Walzer and Scialabba, which appears to have disappeared from Dissent’s website, but which throws a rather different light on Walzer’s stalwart defence of humility, openness to heterodox ideas, sharp eye for the real world and readiness to attend to moral as well as materialist arguments.

Simply put, Walzer’s behaviour in this ‘debate’ is a cause for shame and a betrayal of the responsibilities that he himself lays out as those of the public critic. The debate is prompted by a New York Times editorial (included on Scialabba’s page) where Walzer more or less claims that they hate us because of our rich moral values and calls for the formation of the 101st Combative Intellectual Brigade to provide air support to the War on Terror.1 Scialabba – commenting in Dissent’s forum – dissents appropriately enough, politely but firmly suggesting that Walzer is implicitly giving a free pass to US foreign policy. And then Walzer responds with a set of rather dishonest rhetorical maneuvres that I think are best evaluated by the standards that he himself sets out in his later essay. My scorings …

(1) Humility Complete fail. At no point whatsoever, does Walzer even hint at any willingness to engage with the possibility that perhaps his personal views on these matters are open to dispute. Instead, he seems to view his role as laying down the law to deluded leftists, and beating into their head the indisputable fact that any disagreement with his claims is tantamount to giving in to the terrorists. Moreover, Michael Walzer, like The Shadow, can See Into The Hearts of Men. When Scialabba suggests that anti-US terrorism may have something to do with US foreign policy, he is, unbeknownst to himself, making the claim that “the terrorists must be rational leftists (even if they have adopted vicious methods) or else they fall off the map of the known universe.” Similarly, when Scialabba suggests that there is ground for debate over whether or not sanctions against Iraq were a good idea, and whether international law on interventions is a good or a bad thing, he is in fact not suggesting that there is ground for debate. As Walzer observes, he is in fact making three ‘recommendations’ for policy action (that these recommendations are entirely invisible to ordinary readers – perhaps they have been printed in transparent pixels – is only further proof of Walzer’s uncanny persipacity).

(2) Openness to heterodox ideas. Fail that is so replete with fail that it passes into an entire new infinitude of failness. Terry Pratchett remarks of druids in The Light Fantastic (I do not have my copy to hand, so the quote is perhaps a little inexact), that they believed that there was a place for people engaging in the exciting cut and thrust of intellectual debate, and that that place was somewhere towards the center of the next Solstice bonfire. Walzer, on the evidence of this piece, would presumably gravely concur (though perhaps with some furrowing of the brow, and melancholic ruminations on how difficult it is for the flame-engulfed critic to strike a balance between intellectual independence and the values of his community). In Walzer’s view, debating whether US foreign policy has anything to do with terrorist attacks and suggesting that the US is not guided by universalistic Enlightenment values in its foreign policy is positioning yourself somewhere on the somewhat limited gamut between appeasing the terrorists and actively allying yourself with them. As he describes it:

what George’s proposals amount to, it seems to me, is a policy of appeasement. The way to prevent a recurrence of the attack is to give the terrorists what George thinks they want.

Or, more pungently still:

he thinks that the terrorists are criminals, but he has an informal alliance with them: they attack and threaten to attack again, and he recommends that we attend to their threats

Classy!

(3) Sharp Eye for the Real World. Again, a fail (I admit that this is getting rather monotonous). Walzer seems uninterested in ‘mere’ facts, such as whether or not sanctions against Iraq resulted in ‘thousands’ of people dying, or hundreds of thousands, as some reports have suggested. At least, he appears disinclined to debate them, despite repeated invitations. What is far more important to him is the transcendental truth that they are attacking us because they hates our Western values forevers! ! !, a truth so self-evident that it requires no structured defence, or indeed supporting evidence whatsoever.

(4) Readiness to attend to moral as well as materialist arguments. Yet another fail, for the simple reason that Walzer has no willingness to concede that there are any arguments worth having here whatsoever, whether moral, material, immoral, immaterial or whatever you’re having yourself. When Scialabba suggests that the “morality of the Iraqi blockade” and “issues of unilateralism and international law” are “knotty and mortally important questions” and that there are “few people whose opinions about them I would rather read [than Walzer’s],” Walzer spots that Scialabba is cunningly trying to entice him into ‘debate’ and ‘reasonable discussion’ and evades the trap, constructing a straw man argument, stuffing it into Scialabba’s mouth and refuting it entirely to his own personal satisfaction. Morality here isn’t something to be ‘attended to’ – it’s a nail-encrusted bludgeon to belabor your opponents with.

If I’m being sarcastic here rather than trying to engage with Walzer, it’s because I see nothing in this debate that is worth engaging with. That is because it isn’t a debate – instead it’s one person trying to engage in reasoned argument, and the other trying to shout him down. This is a genuinely disgraceful intellectual performance on Walzer’s part. As Scialabba says in his summation:

What I’ve actually been saying all along, and what Michael has been denying, is that anti-American terrorists are objecting—justifiably or not—to American policies and their results, not merely to our “way of life.” It is therefore an elementary obligation, both of justice and of rationality, to examine those policies critically before settling on an anti-terrorism strategy rather than to absolve them a priori of any responsibility for anti-Americanism. For some reason, Michael seems willing to do almost anything—even adopt a pretty nasty tone with a longtime Dissent contributor—to forestall, or at any rate postpone, such an examination.

Scialabba later withdraws the accusation of nastiness – I wouldn’t have under these circumstances (but then, I suspect that he is probably a much nicer person than I am). But even apart from the quite unpleasant tone of Walzer’s claims (e.g. that to be a critic of American foreign policy at this time is to ally yourself with the terrorists), he is as Scialabba notes, repeatedly ducking the argument, in ways that have real political implications. Walzer’s own summary of Julien Benda (from The Company of Critics, page 33) is apposite here.

False intellectuals are “the moralists of realism.” They locate themselves within the real world; they share in its passions; and they invest those passions with the authority of mind and spirit. They moralize politics, not in the sense of making it moral but rather in the sense in which we speak of someone rationalizing his actions or his interests, that is, justifying them with a show of reason. So false intellectuals lend to politics the aura of morality and teach politicians not so much to do evil (for the necessity of that they understand well enough) as to think it good. And then the evil they do is so much worse, for it is entered into with enthusiasm and pursued systematically – pursued with a clear conscience, without the doubts, hesitations and sleepless nights that are the only useful contribution that intellectuals make to the men and women who inhabit the realm of the real.

It would be unfair to identify these thoughts as Walzer’s own; they are his summarization of a thinker with whom he disagrees, at least in part. But they cut to the quick of what Walzer did in this dialogue, in the New York Times op-ed that prompted it, and in the later essay setting out his stall of wares for reforming a left that was insufficiently enthusiastic about enlisting in the War on Terror. Walzer, by his disgraceful behavior towards Scialabba, is telling us that any attempts to debate the War on Terror, any attempt to doubt it, or to suggest that the problems may partially lie in the policies chosen by American lawmakers, is fundamentally and profoundly illegitimate. In this dialogue, in just the sense that Benda describes, Walzer is behaving as a false intellectual, lending a spurious patina of reason to real world policies, and claiming that criticisms of these policies, however reasonable sounding, are tantamount to cooperating with terrorists. The claims that he made in his more public pronouncements were justified in more reasonable sounding terms, but had the same political import, and (I suspect), were motivated by much the same irrationalities and refusal to debate complicated or difficult points that were in evidence earlier. Trahison des clercs, how are you.

1 I exaggerate but only slightly – Walzer tells us that the deeper cause behind September 11 was “resentment of American power and hatred of the values that sometimes, at least, guide its exercise.” Furthermore, while he allows that we are not precisely at war, he claims that “War” may serve well, however, as a metaphor to signify struggle, commitment, endurance” and then tells us that “there is work also for religious leaders and public intellectuals, because the intellectual climate in many parts of the world is insufficiently unfriendly to terrorism. Terrorists are morally as well as physically harbored, and the only remedy for that is political argument.”

{ 132 comments }

1

Jonathan M 04.14.09 at 9:16 pm

An interesting piece.

I think that Walzer is essentially on a hiding to nothing as he clearly was not motivated so much by reason as he was by fear, bruised patriotism and all of the other ugly hormones that floated through the intellectual body-politic in the aftermath of 9/11.

Because Walzer is (on other occasions) a smart guy you can see him reaching for arguments but they’re absurd and full of bad rhetoric (anyone who uses the term ‘appeasement’ in a serious piece of foreign policy analysis not related to the early years of World War 2 is looking to score political points, not clarify the situation).

So I agree that he’s violating some code of intellectual honesty in writing while emotional but for me the more interesting question is whether he stands by those remarks today.

2

Iain Coleman 04.14.09 at 9:29 pm

So I agree that he’s violating some code of intellectual honesty in writing while emotional but for me the more interesting question is whether he stands by those remarks today.

Why? The damage is done.

3

buermann 04.14.09 at 9:46 pm

I take it this had been lost in the trash bin for seven years, and is published now for archival purposes. Otherwise it’s all “Shut up, Becky!”

4

salient 04.14.09 at 10:01 pm

Why? The damage is done.

Agreed. Walzer’s Dissent essay is an exemplary reminder of how easy it is to be devastatingly wounding to people without saying anything true, or accurate, or fair… but there’s no dearth of examples today.

Maybe a compassionate mindset requires making oneself especially vulnerable to the unfounded accusation that one is hateful. I don’t know. But rereading that essay today was as painful as reading it for the first time however many years back: neither the rushing embarrassed pain of a well-deserved incisive rebuke, nor the apprehensive pain that underlies acknowledgment that some very dear someones deserve rebuke, but the breathless instantaneously exasperated pain of finding yourself suddenly shoved into the path of an oncoming Mack truck, because that must be where you’ve been standing all along… Nevermind that it’s baseless, actually — in the face of such vicious criticism, you almost want it to be true, for a moment, because at least that would render the circumstances coherent.

What I thought then: either (1) the man is seeing ghosts with bloody teeth, or (2) he is a sociopath who derives satisfaction from the suffering of those he addresses.

What I think now: Probably (2). One sees this same characteristic in aggressive trolls: to provoke your conversation partner is to achieve something; to hurt them with unfounded accusations is fair and satisfactory. Conversation is seen as a sparring in which your opponent foolishly decides to abide by rules of etiquette: and in which you’re advantaged by being willing to draw blood.

To continue with the sparring metaphor, it’s one thing to fence with someone. Quite another to go after the opponent with a sharpened sword, force them to fight for their lives and their dignity with their blunted implement, and then accuse them of being animals when they break a sweat. Walzen’s in it for the hunt, for the combat, and I imagine he savors being the only one willing to sneak a gun into play.

5

Xanthippas 04.14.09 at 10:44 pm

Dated though this discussion may be, it still saddens me to see the intellectual dishonesty and moral derangement that some on the left willingly engaged in after 9/11 (and in the run-up to the Iraq war.) For someone like Walzer, reasoned consideration of the causes of the attacks made you an ally of the terrorists, and an opposition to the invasion of Afghanistan held by a minority on the left was an opportunity to smear the left for it’s supposedly anti-American values. So what if he later expressed “mild opposition” to the Iraq war? He had already done his part in marginalizing opposition to any and all thoughtless military responses to terrorism. As Coleman above says “The damage is done.” Indeed, and we’re still dealing with it.

6

lemuel pitkin 04.14.09 at 10:59 pm

Very good post, and exactly what Walzer deserves.

Some people wonder, why dredge this up now. I can’t speak for Henry, but it seems to me possible that 2002 might turn out not to be the last time intellectuals are invited to support violence by the strong against the weak in the name of universal values.

7

MarkUp 04.14.09 at 11:15 pm

”might turn out not to be the last time intellectuals are invited to support violence by the strong against the weak in the name of universal values.”

Are pirates the new terrorists? Arrrgh.

8

PG 04.15.09 at 12:53 am

“which appears to have disappeared from Dissent’s website”

It doesn’t appear ever to have been an article or anything of that sort, but rather an exchange on a message board. Scialabba begins by saying, “I assume the Dissent salon is an appropriate place to comment on Michael Walzer’s op-ed in last Friday’s New York Times.” This is a feature that Dissent doesn’t have anymore but that formerly was at http://www.dissentmagazine.org/wwwboard/salon.html and taken down some time ago.

9

FS 04.15.09 at 1:34 am

The exact Pratchett quote is:

Some druids suggested that there were certain flaws in this theory, but senior druids explained very pointedly that there was indeed room for informed argument, the cut and thrust of exciting scientific debate, and basically it lay on top of the next solstice bonfire.

10

Henry 04.15.09 at 2:18 am

PG – I wasn’t trying to suggest that there was necessarily anything sinister about its disappearance – rather that it wasn’t available any more there (and hence my link to its manifestation on Scialabba’s own site). Thanks for the info as to why it isn’t there.

FS – thank you for the quote – glad to see I didn’t mangle it too badly.

11

Ahistoricality 04.15.09 at 2:24 am

I have a — typical of an historian, perhaps — chronological problem with the set-up. It’s interesting, to be sure, to measure someone’s actions against their stated principles, but it’s much more convincing if the actions in question come after they’ve stated those principles.

12

J 04.15.09 at 11:40 am

Ahistoricality writes: I have a—typical of an historian, perhaps—chronological problem with the set-up. It’s interesting, to be sure, to measure someone’s actions against their stated principles, but it’s much more convincing if the actions in question come after they’ve stated those principles.

“Convincing” of what? In either case, the subject has either changed her or his principles, or is acting inconsistently with them. I’m not quite following you here.

13

Salient 04.15.09 at 12:11 pm

“Convincing” of what? In either case, the subject has either changed her or his principles, or is acting inconsistently with them. I’m not quite following you here.

Your “in either case” statement may be misleading you. I’m sure you’ll agree, there is a third possibility: the subject could be lying to us about what their real principles and motivations are.

I think Ahistoricality’s “convincing” can be read as “unreasonable to suspect the person is misleading us, and reasonable to suppose they offering their justifications with sincerity, with honesty, and in good faith.”

Example: in 2001-2002 I heard a lot about justifying the Iraq war on the pretense of “liberating the Kurdish” when there had been no discussion of liberating the Kurdish before war was proposed or pursued. Were the people arguing for this justification being sincere and honest? I would have been much more convinced of their sincerity had I heard these same people arguing for liberation as a just pursuit in the previous year.

14

Ahistoricality 04.15.09 at 1:24 pm

the subject has either changed her or his principles, or is acting inconsistently with them

The post assumes hypocrisy. It’s an indictment, with the assumption that the subject should live up to his own stated principles, ignoring the fact that the subject didn’t state those principles until later. Ex post facto law is unconstitutional; in moral argument, it’s at least a little presumptous and unfair.

15

Sam C 04.15.09 at 1:33 pm

Ahistoricality: ‘a little humility, an openness to heterodox ideas, a sharp eye for the real world, and a readiness to attend to moral as well as materialist arguments’ are pretty good principles, and Walzer can be criticised for not living up to them, regardless of when or even whether he stated them (they’re hardly original to him). Hypocrisy isn’t the only or the worst vice.

16

Henry 04.15.09 at 1:37 pm

Ahistoricality – If it makes you feel any better, you could think about the causal arrow of hypocrisy going in the reverse direction – that it is hypocritical of Walzer to make these indictments of the purportedly indecent left a few months after he had behaved in demonstrably indecent ways towards a member of the left. Or, you can think of this in terms of publication schedules. Given the time it takes to prepare an article for a print publication (and I have some idea of how Dissent’s timeline in particular works), his article was certainly being drafted a few months before its Spring 2002 publication date, and most likely (I personally would lay money on it) at or around the same time that the debate with Scialabba was taking place. I think it perfectly reasonable to argue that the debate and the piece go hand-in-hand – they form part of the same reaction to the same perceived phenomenon, originating at, or close to, the same time. In any event, it would also be possible to draw up a very similar indictment on the basis of Walzer’s previous writings in _In the Company of Critics_ and elsewhere. These principles flow from a theory of the role of the social critic that Walzer has articulated previously in many places.

17

GK 04.15.09 at 2:06 pm

Henry, I objected to your comments on the Walzer-Scialabba exchange before, and I won’t this time. You make a convincing case overall, and whatever quibbles I still have are too minor to bother with.

But like some other commenters above, I don’t understand what you think we ought to learn from all this. Here’s what I think is the sole clear lesson: People often say things they come to regret (or ought to come to regret) when they write emails or message board posts hastily, in a state of heightened emotion; people often do better than this when they sit down to write (and revise) essays.

That’s hardly newsworthy, and I think you must mean us to learn more than this. What is it? Do you think that settling accounts about who was in the right or the wrong in a years-old, unpublished (albeit publicly available) dispute is valuable in and of itself? That’s not entirely unreasonable, but surely you have some reason for writing about this particular dispute. Is your post supposed to suggest some broader criticism of the (for lack of an uncontestable label) liberal-internationalist left as a group? Of Walzer as a political theorist? Of Walzer as a human being? (Your title suggests the last of these, but I don’t want to assume that’s what you meant.) If any of those is what you’re aiming at, why should we take Walzer-at-his-worst as representative, rather than Walzer-at-his-best? You seem to recognize a difference between the two, since you use Walzer’s own standards to judge him.

18

GK 04.15.09 at 2:27 pm

Henry, I wrote my previous post before (or while) you posted your most recent comment. You’ve clarified (or at least I think you have) that a personal judgment about Walzer is what you’re after. Fine, but I still want to know why this has a significance beyond the familiar moral of “don’t write emails when you’re mad.”

19

Ahistoricality 04.15.09 at 3:36 pm

Henry and Sam C: Fair enough. But none of that’s really reflected in the rhetoric of the post.

20

Henry 04.15.09 at 4:03 pm

GK – OK. Why it is important (in my opinion) is twofold. First – Walzer as public actor. Thus the charge of hypocrisy, but, more importantly, simply terrible behaviour. I don’t think that this invalidates all of Walzer’s work, especially his political theory. But it does make me (along with a lot of other stuff) considerably more disinclined to give him the benefit of the doubt when he seeks to apply theory in contemporary debates, in ways that might be considered to be tendentious on the one side or the other. The nailing of his colours to a particular political mast here, and complete unwillingness to engage reasonable arguments that disagree with him is not what public intellectuals of his role and weight ought to be doing, if they are acting responsibly. It would have been different, I think, if Scialabba had been a genuine provocateur, or had been guilty of the same kind of nonsense himself. But he’s not – he is trying, as best as he can, to maintain a reasonable conversation with someone who has no interest in being reasonable.

But second, there is an important question regarding the tracing back of the genealogy of bad ideas here. The split over the Iraq war was perhaps the most important political argument over the last decade within the (perhaps not so important in itself) American left within which both Walzer and I are located. The “Decent Left” essay played a very important role in crystallizing and catalysing that split. This debate is significant evidence, I think, about the thinking that lay behind that essay. And any effort to categorize the world in ways that depict George Scialabba as an ‘ally’ of the terrorists is fundamentally and irrevocably flawed.

I disliked the “Decent Left” essay intensely when it came out, suspecting that it was less about trying to create a reasonable left, than about creating the ideological justification for claiming that one side of the argument was reasonable, and one side was anything but. Walzer’s behaviour in this debate provides, I think, significant supporting evidence for that claim – reasonableness in and of itself being evidence of cooperation with terrorism, rank appeasement etc if it was reasonableness that came to conclusions which differed from the ones that Walzer himself drew.

Or, to put it a different way, I think that the debate and the essay go hand in hand – both being manifestations of Walzer’s quite hysterical reaction to September 11 – a reaction which has had manifest intellectual (and, arguably, real world) consequences.

21

Henry 04.15.09 at 4:04 pm

Or – shorter Henry – the lesson is ‘don’t write sweeping essays for Dissent when you’re mad’

22

Salient 04.15.09 at 4:49 pm

Or – shorter Henry – the lesson is ‘don’t write sweeping essays for Dissent when you’re mad’

Fair enough. I dispute your charitable interpretation.

I don’t think Walzer was genuinely angry, any more than your average troll is. I don’t think Walzer witnessed any evidence (of the behaviors or mindsets he describes in the lefty population). I think he saw an opportunity to lean on his credibility in order to falsely claim the existence of that evidence, in order to marginalize reasonable dissent that might have prevented, stalled, or inhibited the course-of-events that he wished to see occur. I think he was pleased to have that opportunity, and took advantage of it while he could.

23

james 04.15.09 at 5:00 pm

Did the terrorist mention the blockade of Iraq as a partial reason for the 9/11 attacks? By my recolection they did not. Or at least not initially. Does any recall if this is the case? If this turns out to be accurate, then at least one Michael Walzer’s major arguements turns out to be factual.

24

GK 04.15.09 at 5:14 pm

considerably more disinclined to give him the benefit of the doubt when he seeks to apply theory in contemporary debates, in ways that might be considered to be tendentious on the one side or the other

That, I think, is still unfair, although since we’re talking about inclinations & benefits of the doubt (benefit of the doubts?), we’re veering far enough into questions of taste that I’m not sure there’s much argument to be had here, once you’ve stated your view.

This, though–

the tracing back of the genealogy of bad ideas…evidence, I think, about the thinking that lay behind that essay

–makes sense to me. I’d still propose that there are valuable ideas to sift out from the “Decent Left” essay, but I’m convinced by at least part of what you’re after here.

Thanks for clarifying.

25

Righteous Bubba 04.15.09 at 5:17 pm

Did the terrorist mention the blockade of Iraq as a partial reason for the 9/11 attacks? By my recolection they did not. Or at least not initially. Does any recall if this is the case?

I recall it as tangential: bin Laden saw American troops in the holy land of the Arabian peninsula as sacrilege over and above any sympathy for the downtrodden Iraqis.

26

George Scialabba (aka geo) 04.15.09 at 6:22 pm

Thanks to Henry for revisiting this exchange and for giving expression to my own surprise and chagrin over Walzer’s dismaying performance. Apologies to all for the lack of proper paragraphing in the website version; that will be fixed soon. For anyone interested in these matters, here is another, later exchange with Walzer (his original essay and reply are still on the Dissent website):

http://www.georgescialabba.net/mtgs/2004/01/is-there-an-american-empire-a.html.

And here is my long review of Walzer’s Arguing About War, which raises many of the same issues:

http://www.georgescialabba.net/mtgs/2004/12/arguing-about-war-by-michael-w.html.

FWIW, an earlier, kinder essay on Walzer appears in my What Are Intellectuals Good For?

27

james 04.15.09 at 7:31 pm

Righteous Bubba – I am under the impression that “American troops in the holy land of the Arabian peninsula” is a direct reference to the American troops who were stationed in Saudi Arabia.

Assuming Iraq was not directly referenced in the initial manifestos. It is equally accurate (or incorrect) to say the terrorist attacked the US because of US freedoms as it is to say the terrorist attacked the US because of US troops in Iraq. Neither item is actually a point specifically raised by the terrorist, just one inferred by pundits. This was one of the points Wazler raised in the discussion with Scialabba. Namely that Scialabba had added issues important to his political view (US blockade of Iraq) as one of the causal reasons for the 9/11 attacks.

28

dsquared 04.15.09 at 7:50 pm

James – Point 1) f) of Bin Laden’s Letter To America

You have starved the Muslims of Iraq, where children die every day. It is a wonder that more than 1.5 million Iraqi children have died as a result of your sanctions [Bin Laden is incorrect here – this is a Saddam-era propaganda figure which was widely believed and reported at the time but not born out by later research – dd], and you did not show concern. Yet when 3000 of your people died, the entire world rises and has not yet sat down.

This was sent in October 2002, after the Walzer/Scialabba dialouge, but in the 1996 Declaration of Jihad has:

It is out of date and no longer acceptable to claim that the presence of the crusaders is a necessity and only a temporary measure to protect the land of the two holiest sites, especially when the civil and military infrastructures of Iraq were savagely destroyed showing the depth of the Jewish-Crusaders’ hatred of the Muslims and their children […] More than six thousand Iraqi children have died due to lack of food and medicine as a result of your unjustifiable and aggressive sanctions imposed on Iraq. and its nation. Iraqi children are our children. You (America), together with the Saudi regime are responsible for the shedding of the blood of these innocent children. All of that makes every treaty we have with you null and void.

The 1997 interview has “A reaction might take place as a result of US government’s hitting Muslim civilians and executing more than 600 thousand Muslim children in Iraq [earlier citation of earlier propaganda figure, also exaggerated although not widely known to be so at the time -dd] by preventing food and medicine from reaching them. So, the US is responsible for any reaction, because it extended its war against troops to civilians. This is what we say. “

29

Righteous Bubba 04.15.09 at 7:52 pm

I am under the impression that “American troops in the holy land of the Arabian peninsula” is a direct reference to the American troops who were stationed in Saudi Arabia.

Yes, but I didn’t want to make the assumption that bin Laden has respect for borders drawn up by Europeans. I dunno what the borders of his holy land are, but I’ve never gotten the impression that his caliphate would be seated in Baghdad.

It is equally accurate (or incorrect) to say the terrorist attacked the US because of US freedoms as it is to say the terrorist attacked the US because of US troops in Iraq.

I’d disagree as US freedoms did not lead to troops in the peninsula and operations in Iraq did. Not equally accurate.

30

Timothy Burke 04.15.09 at 7:52 pm

I’ve been trying to figure out what, if anything, concerns me about this post. I agree completely with its critique of Walzer’s rhetorical moves at that time, and the mismatch between the heavy obligations he lays upon others and his inability to measure up to those obligations in his own conduct.

I guess one small thing I keep thinking about is that there’s a longer intellectual history involved that feels complicated to me. I think a lot of the “decents” jumped in with fists flailing after 9/11 because it represented an opportunity to drive home some of their long-standing critiques of a composite perspective on nationalism, anticolonialism, globalization, ‘cultural imperalism’, identity politics, non-Western societies and so on that was an important part of pre-9/11 leftist politics in the US and Western Europe. So Walzer and a lot of people were assholes about the way they jumped on the opportunity, but for various reasons I think that liberal or left intellectuals who had been critically inclined towards that composite perspective felt very beseiged and belittled on the left prior to 9/11.

I guess maybe more I’m wondering whether Henry thinks that the obligations that Walzer saddles on intellectuals (and then fails spectacularly to live up to himself) are in fact legitimate obligations of intellectuals. E.g., are you just critical of someone who sets standards and breaches them, or are you critical because you approve of the standards that Walzer articulates and thus are doubly appalled by his failure to live up to them (e.g., appalled once by the hypocrisy and appalled twice because any intellectual who breaches those standards bugs you)?

This is making me think a bit about a post Henry made a while back on bipartisanship, in which (I hope I’m paraphrasing it reasonably well) Henry argued that bipartisanship or rational consensus is not a goal of politics, that in his view politics is really about the struggle between antagonistic groups or collectivities whose antagonism is founded in some “real” incompatibility between their underlying interests, where the resolution of that incompatibility is something of a zero-sum game. If the obligations that Walzer lays on intellectuals are genuinely admirable, isn’t that something closer to the idea that there’s some possibility of a politics based on shared standards of reason, conduct, etc.? If politics just comes down to antagonistic interests fighting it out by any means possible, isn’t being disappointed with Walzer or any intellectual sort of beside the point? You just have to figure out what team they play for: you don’t expect anything more of them.

31

Righteous Bubba 04.15.09 at 7:52 pm

Thanks to dsquared for setting it straight.

32

dsquared 04.15.09 at 7:58 pm

I think the source of the problem is that Bin Laden’s demands didn’t include anything about Iraq – they were all about US troops out of Saudi Arabia and something about Palestine. So basically I think it is open to the neutral onlooker to say that Bin Laden didn’t really care about the suffering of the Iraqi people except in as much as it made useful propaganda for a war that he already wanted to fight for unrelated reasons … you can see where I’m going here, can’t you?

33

Salient 04.15.09 at 9:13 pm

If politics just comes down to antagonistic interests fighting it out by any means possible, isn’t being disappointed with Walzer or any intellectual sort of beside the point?

Speaking more generally than about Walzer specifically: Do you see no point in advocating for the marginalization of a dangerously irresponsible thinker? I think that marginalization and dismissal, within the constraints of sincerity and of reasonable and open discourse, is the most appropriate response to pursue.

(Perhaps I shouldn’t be so hyperbolic as “dangerously” — but I was only one of many people to be on the receiving end of some ugly physical violence in 2002 that resulted directly from confusion of responsible war protesters with terrorists. I’m just speaking up, however feebly, on behalf of others whose good intentions and whose responsible actions were rather systematically derided and labeled as terrorist-support, and who dealt with intimidation and unprovoked assaults as a result).

Walzen is directly, unambiguously offering a justification for violence against left-wing protesters: he imagines them to be indistinguishable from terrorists, and carefully stokes the misplaced outrage resulting from this equivocation. He does this consistently enough to convince me it wasn’t just an angry isolated outburst, but a calculated campaign.

I saw some of the results of that campaign; surely we all did. But I think I’ve said my piece on this as clearly as I can, so I won’t continue on about it, for fear of inadvertently trolling.

34

virgil xenophon 04.15.09 at 9:29 pm

You people “on/of the left” can dance it any way you want to dance it, but many of you are on the wrong side of the facts, morality and history in this matter of your reactions to 9/11 and the post-9/11 world we now live in–whatever the faults/mistakes successive American governments may have made throughout the long train of history. And Walzer is correct in pointing out the “barely concealed glee” that so many on the left–to their eternal discredit–exhibited. History will not be kind to those who harbor such views as Walzer decries. But go ahead, talk amongst yourselves and rationalize away. But the stain of history will remain. Walzer is also right in observing that so many of you do indeed walk, talk, write–live the entirety of your lives–as “internal aliens” forever estranged from the very Nation (whether the US, UK , AUS, etc.) which harbors and protects you–smug in your beliefs in your intellectual, cultural and moral superiority. Yet it will be (always is) the very people, Governments and organizations you as a group so whole-heartedly despise whom you will turn to in order to save you when the subway bombs go off or when your plane is skyjacked and the prospect of your throat being slit grows near.

Am I ranting about blind loyalty and fealty to unfettered actions of governments and the stifling of any and all criticisms–even “misplaced” ones? Absolutely not. What I AM suggesting, however, is a little bit less smugness on the part of many of you and the automatic, reflexive attribution of imbecility to everything associated with the side opposite–an attitude with which postings on this site all too often reek–no matter how logical the argumentation.

As time passes by, the wisdom of Orwell’s trenchant observations about “intellectuals” (As most here would proudly consider themselves to be–I ain’t exactly hearin’/seein’ any disclaimers ) on the left prove to be time tested indeed.

35

Righteous Bubba 04.15.09 at 9:35 pm

Wow.

36

dsquared 04.15.09 at 9:49 pm

that speech in #34 was bollocks when Jack Nicholson did it at the end of “A Few Good Men” and it’s bollocks now.

37

Henri Vieuxtemps 04.15.09 at 9:59 pm

Personally, I don’t think it’s about non-decent “lefty intellectuals” at all. Plenty of non-lefty intellectuals like Zbigniew Brzezinski, and even ultra-nationalists like Pat Buchanan understood what was going on and reacted more or less rationally.

It’s just a bunch of loudmouth crazy jihadis in our midst making troubles.

38

virgil xenophon 04.15.09 at 10:35 pm

I see dd has reflexively validated the thrust of my point in my 2nd., para.

39

Anderson 04.15.09 at 10:39 pm

Walzer is also right in observing that so many of you do indeed walk, talk, write—live the entirety of your lives—as “internal aliens” forever estranged from the very Nation (whether the US, UK , AUS, etc.) which harbors and protects you—smug in your beliefs in your intellectual, cultural and moral superiority.

It’s satire, right? Because right after that, he says this:

What I AM suggesting, however, is a little bit less smugness on the part of many of you and the automatic, reflexive attribution of imbecility to everything associated with the side opposite

No one can be that irony-impaired and still live, right?

40

dsquared 04.15.09 at 10:45 pm

curses chiz chiz, i am undone by the MONNSTER TRAPP which virgil hav set for me with his RETORIC.

41

John Protevi 04.15.09 at 10:57 pm

I want to know what’s up with capitalizing “Nation” and “Governments” in #34.

42

Maurice Meilleur 04.15.09 at 11:08 pm

@41: Capitalized nouns; it’s an artifact of translating quickly from the original German.

43

Maurice Meilleur 04.15.09 at 11:15 pm

May I say also that if my plane is ever hijacked, I’m probably not going to be that worried about the possibility that the hijackers will also slit my throat. In fact, since it’s likely that the government I want standing on that wall, need standing on that wall, &c. &c., will be trying to blow my plane out of the sky, I might even hope for it.

44

Walt 04.15.09 at 11:42 pm

I think the pretend patriotism of someone like virgil makes it easier for them to deal with the fact that they actually hate America and everything it stands for.

45

salient 04.15.09 at 11:56 pm

the “barely concealed glee” that so many on the left—to their eternal discredit—exhibited.

Name some names. With links to their writing, or speaking, or any firsthand evidence you prefer (audio ok, video ok, interviews ok, transcripts probably ok, essays ok, blog entries from their blogs ok…)

46

maxa 04.16.09 at 2:21 am

I think there’s great value in marginalizing a Walzer, although he’s been puttering about for years. I think he should be put out to pasture. He wants to delegitimize views that can trump his argumentatively, and resorts to the rhetoric of totalitarianism–you’re either part of this choate mass of opinion that supports violence, or you’re with people that want to harm us. He should’ve gotten lost years ago.

47

JMW 04.16.09 at 2:22 am

Salient, you say, “I don’t think Walzer witnessed any evidence (of the behaviors or mindsets he describes in the lefty population).” I wouldn’t be so sure of that. Henry’s post does a lot to discredit Walzer’s behavior in the back-and-forth with Scialabba, and I’m not here to defend Walzer. But as a self-described moderate living in New York at the time of 9/11, with several friends and acquaintances on the left side of the media business, I witnessed some of that behavior myself. Now mind you, I don’t mean anything that justifies the most heated, threatening reaction on the other side, at all. But there were undoubtedly alienating moments (for me) in which people reacted in a way that I found surprising or even inappropriate. Much of this was tied up in my shock and grief, I freely admit. Perhaps it was that shock and grief that I expected to sense more than I did in others. In any case, there are people who (rightfully) adopt strident tones about injustices and violence in other parts of the world who treated what happened that day as little more than a validation of their own political certainties. Were elements on the right guilty of this? Of course. Does Virgil seem eager to pick a not-too-pleasant (and not-too-reasonable) fight? Sure. But returning the favor with immediate cries of “pretend patriotism” and “translating from the German” goes some way toward proving why there aren’t many productive conversations in this country between people with differing viewpoints.

48

virgil xenophon 04.16.09 at 2:31 am

Salient:

Those are Walzer’s words. Did you make the same request of him? BTW, blog postings are brief essays, not footnoted dissertations. If the shoe fits; wear it.

Walt: BWAAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahahah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

49

salient 04.16.09 at 3:04 am

Those are Walzer’s words. Did you make the same request of him?

Oh. (Yes, I did. Still waiting on the answer to it, actually, not that I expect to receive a response.) You refer to your own post as “my point,” so I was assuming you were speaking for yourself (i.e., I took you to agree with Walzer). My apologies for the misinterpretation (though it seems I’m not the only one who misinterpreted you).

Now mind you, I don’t mean anything that justifies the most heated, threatening reaction on the other side, at all… there are people who… treated what happened that day as little more than a validation of their own political certainties.

Thank you, JMW. What you’ve described is a far cry from a mass terrorist-alliance-formation. I might quibble with the precise interpretation you offer, or ask that you forgive the mildly defensive and fatalistic “the whole world is falling, but what did we expect” -type-grieving that some folks went through in their shock and disorientation, but really it’s not my place.

It’s not just a matter of degree: there’s a core difference between what you write and what Walzer writes. This is because you’re interested in being reasonable and sincere, and you’re operating in good faith. (And it’s much appreciated on this end.) Walzer, conversely, seems to have been interested in calculatedly inciting hatred (and at least the threat of violence) directed toward those who might have impeded the war plan with reasonable protest and dissent.

I think it’s important to assess whether a writer seems to be operating in good faith (insofar as we can assess and arrive at well-supported conclusions).

50

Walt 04.16.09 at 3:50 am

You expect a productive conversation to follow from Virgil’s comment? Do you also expect productive conversations to follow from punches to the head?

51

magistra 04.16.09 at 7:10 am

the automatic, reflexive attribution of imbecility to everything associated with the side opposite

A question for you, Virgil. Do you think it’s worse to be called an imbecile or a traitor? If you think being called an imbecile is worse, then I’m happy to start calling right-wingers US traitors for destroying the reputation of their own country.

52

virgil xenophon 04.16.09 at 9:01 am

migstra:

When did I stop beating my wife, you say? Really, magistra; either imbecile or traitor, eh? The insulting condescending tone of your comments force me to refer you to my answer to dd, and only serve to reinforce the validity of the thrust of my argument.

But beyond that, however, you DO raise an interesting point about the supposed “damage” done America’s reputation by “right-wingers.” Which, exactly, group of “right-wingers” do you mean? Everyone in the Bush Administration foreign policy-making apparatus? To include everyone in the DOD? Or just “Bu$Hitler” himself? This is not a trick question, as I’d truly like to know before I formulate my answer as the subject is not an unimportant one.

53

virgil xenophon 04.16.09 at 9:20 am

salient@48

It would appear that your definition of what is being “reasonable and sincere” and “operating in good faith” is someone who doesn’t challenge your version of how the left reacted to 9/11 and subsequent events. One person’s characterization of the reaction of many /some on the left to 9/11 as “defensive and mildly fatalistic” is another’s “barely disguised glee.” Although I will admit the “defensive” part of the equation is certainly displayed here in full force today.

54

Uncle Kvetch 04.16.09 at 10:52 am

JERRY FALWELL: The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this.

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, yes.

JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen’.

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we’re responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.

–9/13/01

55

Salient 04.16.09 at 11:41 am

It would appear that your definition of what is being “reasonable and sincere” and “operating in good faith” is someone who doesn’t challenge your version of how the left reacted to 9/11 and subsequent events.

Well, I want specific examples. Funny thing is, I’m very open to changing my perspective if someone would like to build a reasonable case, and by “reasonable” I at least mean “points to evidence.” That seems like a reasonable request to make of Walzer, or of anyone who makes parallel claims, about vast swaths of people. While the use of maniacal-sounding words to describe someone, like “gleeful,” makes me uncomfortable, I could grow to respect someone who makes a plausible case for their claims, with documented examples. If you’re not going to do that here, I see no reason to take your (or Walzer’s) interpretation of events at immediate face value. Saying something provocative about a large group of other people doesn’t automatically make it true: so I ask for evidence.

Although I will admit the “defensive” part of the equation is certainly displayed here in full force today.

In the 21st century, I guess we can add “terrorist” to the short list of things people will react very strongly to being called. It seems reasonable to be defensive when someone’s accusing you of being something that (if their claim was taken seriously) could result in your indefinite detention and being tortured.

I don’t remember you being an especially vicious person (granted, that’s just from previous threads, but it’s all I have to go on) but I think there’s something vaguely vicious about delighting in others’ defensiveness.

And, I again apologize: apparently you have not stated your wholesale agreement with Walzer, so it’s not fair to accuse you of having equivocated reasonable protest with terrorism. I do feel as though you’re engaging in the “poke them with a sharp stick, laugh at them when they howl, and act innocent when they flail back” theory of conversation engagement, which means I won’t have anything further to say in the conversation. Walking away from it’s about the only emotional defense one is left with, and why would I want to continue a conversation with someone who seems to enjoy provoking me?

You have the last word here, w/r/t me at least, virgil xenophon; if you choose to respond, I would appreciate reciprocation of the respect I’ve shown you.

56

virgil xenophon 04.16.09 at 12:04 pm

salient, it’s 5AM here in CA West Coast time-I’ve GOT to get some sleep, but check back ltr, I’ll try to give you a reasonable reply .

57

Barry 04.16.09 at 1:51 pm

Henry, could you get your banning widget out again? We have a latinate troll (trollious tediousum).

Frankly, at this point I’ve given up arguing with people who have neither evidence, logic nor courtesy on their part. Dsquared one make the argument that given the benefit of the doubt to proven liars is a more serious problem than the actual fallacy of argument Iad hominem, and I’ve decided to extend that to trolls.

58

Anderson 04.16.09 at 2:11 pm

We have a latinate troll

Xenophon was Greek. Just sayin’.

59

Lee A. Arnold 04.16.09 at 4:57 pm

Well there are leftists as kooky and mentally unhinged as rightists, some of both publishing for big circulations, and they say and write stupid things, but that doesn’t excuse tarring everyone else with the same brush just because these few are idiots.

And even more intellectuals are balanced upon emotional presuppositions that a terrible crisis like 9-11 can reveal.

Yet I wonder whether Walzer (or Virgil Xenophon) would similarly excoriate the U.S. military, which is engaged in an evaluation of American foreign and military policy that is tending a bit leftward — so much so that Noam Chomsky was invited to lecture at West Point “On Just War Theory and the Invasion of Iraq” in January 2007 (and among other things, strongly criticizes Walzer’s book.) The lecture is here:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3740467851698161135

The war colleges also are examining the problems of nation-building and social welfare, instead of just hit-and-run military operations.

Why all of this? Because the important question now is what is engendering this new generation of warfare, and how the U.S. can keep the moral high-ground to fight it effectively. It’s very different than fighting state aggressors. The military thinks the U.S. must present its causes and reasons so that people are not driven to join terrorists.

Does anyone think the fight is over? 9-11 was a tactical failure — the jihadists appear to have expected that the secular and therefore “morally weakened” West would run away from a fight, while at the same time the fundamentalist Muslims would rise up and join bin Laden and company to form the Caliphate. Neither happened. They won’t be making that mistake again, while their greater delusions will continue. The next big attack will attempt a knock-out blow — many cities at once, even if it takes a decade or two to set up. Does anybody doubt this? If so, why?

60

Henry 04.16.09 at 5:00 pm

Barry – This comment struck me as pretty off the wall and highly offensive (if you are coming to a community and claiming that “so many” members of that community are smug, alienated, effete snobs who were gleeful at an event in which thousands of innocent people died (and yes – Virgil Xenophon is quite clearly stating that he agrees with Walzer here), at the least you should come bearing actual evidence. (And NB – that evidence can’t be at the level of ‘some random crazy dude somewhere’ – Virgil Xenophon’s claim is aimed at this blog and the people who comment on it – since there are several thousand posts here over the last few years, and hundreds of thousands of comments, he needs to show how we have indeed been expressing our glee at September 11 etc. That said, he has not been a troll in the past, so I am (partly against my better instincts here) giving him the opportunity to either come up with the goods, or admit that he can’t and withdraw his accusations.

61

Donald Johnson 04.16.09 at 6:02 pm

“that evidence can’t be at the level of ‘some random crazy dude somewhere’

Ah, darn it. Because I did see some almost stereotypical lefty in Union Square a weekend or two after 9/11 who said that “some might call bin Laden a freedom fighter.” So there were a few kooks out there. But many of us, including many of us Chomsky fans, were perfectly capable of holding multiple emotions in our heads simultaneously–horror over what happened, fear of what might happen next, and disgust turning to nausea over the jingoistic reactions of people like Hitchens and Walzer. (This far into the thread and nobody mentioned Hitch? Why not?)

62

Righteous Bubba 04.16.09 at 6:08 pm

Because I did see some almost stereotypical lefty in Union Square a weekend or two after 9/11 who said that “some might call bin Laden a freedom fighter.”

But that’s not an example of craziness because there are people who call bin Laden a freedom fighter. If he’d said “I think bin Laden is a freedom fighter” I’d say you’d spotted your loon.

63

Barry 04.16.09 at 6:45 pm

04.16.09 at 2:11 pm

Me: “We have a latinate troll”

Anderson: “Xenophon was Greek. Just sayin’.”

Fried or broiled, us Vandals don’t care :)

64

Barry 04.16.09 at 6:47 pm

O.K., Henry – but if he keeps it up, I wanna big, shiny “I toldya! See! Huh! Toldya!” certificate :)

65

Michael Bérubé 04.16.09 at 6:47 pm

Sigh. Well, late to the wake again, but here are both my cents. Walzer’s blowoff of George looks worse each time I read it, and I read it for the first time in the George thread last week. And “Decent Left” looks worse than I remember it, too. So count me among those who think that Walzer’s rhetorical strategy does indeed make every antiwar skeptic look more or less, and mostly more, like an al-Qaeda sympathizer or a hard-bitten blame-America-first ideologue.

That said, I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that regrettable and/or misguided things were said (on the left) only by the guy putting up the wheat-paste posters around Union Square. Take for example one of Walzer’s more unobjectionable passages, in which he argues that a military response in Afghanistan “was never really accepted, in wide sections of the left, as either just or necessary.” That seems unobjectionable to me insofar as many people on the left would agree with it then and now: their argument was precisely that war was neither just nor necessary.

And that’s an argument worth having still. In the fall of 2001 I was skeptical of war on consequentialist grounds: would all hell break loose? would Pakistan fall to Islamists? would we wind up in a Soviet-style quagmire? etc. But I did think it made sense to respond militarily to what amounted to a base/training camp set up by stateless terrorists with the assistance of a failed/rogue state. And I was simply stunned by the argument that war in Afghanistan was “many times worse” than 9/11 because the world’s richest nation was bombing the world’s poorest, and by the argument (deep breath) that it constituted a “silent genocide.” The obscure fellow who said that in 2001 later said (in 2003) that he was not predicting a silent genocide, then wrote (a couple of times) thereafter that the war should have been called a silent genocide. And then in 2005 there was the publisher of Z arguing that bin Laden ranked higher on the moral scale than Bush and Cheney — on the grounds of his imaginary conversation with bin Laden. No, I’m not making that up, honest to Moloch. I just can’t see that as a useful political-rhetorical strategy, if we’re still abiding by the “pragmatic effect” standard enunciated in the first George thread. In the past, perhaps I’ve gotten angrier at those arguments than I should have. But I still think they damaged Our Side more than a whole raft of puppets at demonstrations (besides, I like the puppets).

But back to Walzer. I can’t find anything in Henry’s post to disagree with, not a thing. The suggestion that Scialabba advocated “appeasement” and “has an informal alliance” with the attackers is just ugly, as is the idea that significant numbers of leftists, here or anywhere, responded to 9/11 with barely concealed glee. And, I’m sorry to say, unworthy of someone advocating “decency” and “humility” in these matters.

66

Henry 04.16.09 at 7:11 pm

I don’t know if I have ever said it in a public forum (since I wasn’t blogging at the time, nor more than a lowly post-doc typing away in obscurity in Germany), but I was in favor of the US going after the Taliban in Afghanistan at the time. And Walzer’s essay stuck in my craw nonetheless. As Michael implies, the issue that I want to take on in the post wasn’t who was right or wrong back then, but how the debate was conducted. Plenty of stuff has been said on the other side of this argument that I was not hugely enamoured of either – “Alexander Cockburn”:http://crookedtimber.org/2007/03/26/how-do-i-sleep/ was quite as dishonest as Walzer when he put his mind to it.

67

geo (George Scialabba) 04.16.09 at 8:23 pm

Michael@64: I was simply stunned by the argument that war in Afghanistan was “many times worse” than 9/11 because the world’s richest nation was bombing the world’s poorest, and by the argument (deep breath) that it constituted a “silent genocide.”

I’m not sure why you should have been stunned. Here is Chomsky’s main statement on this subject, from a major essay in Z Magazine, February 2002 (“The War in Afghanistan”):

The costs to Afghan civilians can only be guessed, but we do know the projections on which policy decisions and commentary were based, a matter of utmost significance. As a matter of simple logic, it is these projections that provide the grounds for any moral evaluation of planning and commentary, or any judgment of appeals to “just war” arguments; and crucially, for any rational assessment of what may lie ahead.

Even before September 11, the UN estimated that millions were being sustained, barely, by international food aid. On September 16, the national press reported that Washington had “demanded [from Pakistan] the elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan’s civilian population.” There was no detectable reaction in the U.S. or Europe to this demand to impose massive starvation; the plain meaning of the words. In subsequent weeks, the world’s leading newspaper reported that “The threat of military strikes forced the removal of international aid workers, crippling assistance programs”; refugees reaching Pakistan “after arduous journeys from Afghanistan are describing scenes of desperation and fear at home as the threat of American-led military attacks turns their long-running misery into a potential catastrophe.” “The country was on a lifeline,” one evacuated aid worker reported, “and we just cut the line.” “It’s as if a mass grave has been dug behind millions of people,” an evacuated emergency officer for Christian Aid informed the press: “We can drag them back from it or push them in. We could be looking at millions of deaths.”

The UN World Food Program and others were able to resume some food shipments in early October, but were forced to suspend deliveries and distribution when the bombing began on October 7, resuming them later at a much lower pace. A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned that “We are facing a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions in Afghanistan with 7.5 million short of food and at risk of starvation,” while aid agencies leveled “scathing” condemnations of U.S. air drops that are barely concealed “propaganda tools” and may cause more harm than benefit, they warned.

A very careful reader of the national press could discover the estimate by the UN that “7.5 million Afghans will need food over the winter—2.5 million more than on September 11,” a 50 percent increase as a result of the threat of bombing, then the actuality. In other words, Western civilization was basing its plans on the assumption that they might lead to the death of several million innocent civilians—not Taliban, whatever one thinks of the legitimacy of slaughtering Taliban recruits and supporters, but their victims. Meanwhile its leader, on the same day, once again dismissed with contempt offers of negotiation for extradition of the suspected culprit and the request for some credible evidence to substantiate the demands for capitulation. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food pleaded with the U.S. to end the bombing that was putting “the lives of millions of civilians at risk,” renewing the appeal of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who warned of a Rwanda-style catastrophe. Both appeals were rejected, as were those of the major aid and relief agencies. And virtually unreported.

In late September, the UN Food And Agricultural Organization warned that over 7 million people were facing a crisis that could lead to widespread starvation if military action were initiated, with a likely “humanitarian catastrophe” unless aid were immediately resumed and the threat of military action terminated. After bombing began, the FAO advised that it had disrupted planting that provides 80 percent of the country’s grain supplies, so that the effects next year are expected to be even more severe. All ignored.

These unreported appeals happened to coincide with World Food Day, which was also ignored, along with the charge by the UN Special Rapporteur that the rich and powerful easily have the means, though not the will, to overcome the “silent genocide” of mass starvation in much of the world.

Let us return briefly to the point of logic: ethical judgments and rational evaluation of what may lie ahead are grounded in the presuppositions of planning and commentary. An entirely separate matter, with no bearing on such judgments, is the accuracy of the projections on which planning and commentary were based. By year’s end, there were hopes that unprecedented deliveries of food in December might “dramatically” revise the expectations at the time when planning was undertaken and implemented, and evaluated in commentary: that these actions were likely to drive millions over the edge of starvation. Very likely, the facts will never be known, by virtue of a guiding principle of intellectual culture: We must devote enormous energy to exposing the crimes of official enemies, properly counting not only those literally killed but also those who die as a consequence of policy choices; but we must take scrupulous care to avoid this practice in the case of our own crimes, on the rare occasions when they are investigated at all. Observance of the principle is all too well documented. It will be a welcome surprise if the current case turns out differently.

That is to say:

1) The US knew, and was publicly warned by credible observers, that its contemplated military actions put hundreds of thousands, or millions, of Afghans at risk of starvation.

2) These warnings had no apparent effect on US actions, except for minor and inadequate relief efforts.

3) There was virtually no public protest in the United States about (1).

If these things were true, then it is an astounding and disturbing indictment of US policy and US intellectual and moral culture.

Why Chomsky foolishly and stubbornly insisted that his use of the term “silent genocide” was justified, was not a “prediction,” etc. is of some interest, I suppose. But to me, at least, it’s of miniscule interest compared with the willingness of the US government to commit an enormous crime (which, fortunately, did not actually materialize) and the complete lack of public concern about that willingness.

It’s possible, of course, to disagree with (1), (2), or (3), or all of them. That would be of some interest. But Chomsky’s personal psychology — which is all that the uproar over his use and defense of the term “silent genocide” actually reveals — is of minimal interest.

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geo (George Scialabba) 04.16.09 at 8:27 pm

The Chomsky quote above extends from “The cost to Afghan civilians …” to “It will be a welcome surprise if the current case turns out differently.” My commentary resumes with “That is to say.” Sorry, the preview screen betrayed me.

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Donald Johnson 04.16.09 at 10:05 pm

Noam, IMHO, is not very good at admitting error and overstatement. Or in other words, what Geo said. And according to some plausible-sounding article that came out in the Guardian in May 2002, there probably were some thousands of starvation deaths from the Afghan war.

Nicholas Kristof wrote a column in the NYT balancing the 1000 civilian deaths he claimed the war had caused, versus the one million lives saved as we bombed our way to a public health victory in Afghanistan–

Link

I’d be curious to know if his predictions were right, but I haven’t tried to check. But those were glorious days, in late 2001-2002, when the answer to high mortality rates was as simple as blowing up the local government and sending in UNICEF.

As for the guy I heard, righteous bubba, you might be right, because I didn’t hang around very long to see where he was going with his argument, but for the minute or so I listened (he was in an argument with someone), it did sound like he thought of bin Laden as a possible freedom fighter.

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Leo Casey 04.16.09 at 10:19 pm

I think GK’s points make the most telling critique of Henry’s post here, and I don’t think that my friend Michael Bérubé, with whom I agree far more often than not, really addresses them. It seems to me that there is an attempt in Henry’s post to make what was clearly not a considered statement, but something quickly posted on a bulletin board. In short, it was more on the order of the sort of listserv exchanges that were prevalent in 2001 — well before the days of the blog and the more public and published quality of such discourse. If we were all judged by the sorts of things we wrote in that context, fired off in a few minutes without much reflection, I fear that not many of us would end looking as the most charitable interlocutor. I know that I would not. [And remember that not a few of the listservs of those days have been archived on the internet.] It is also worth recalling that in the early days of virtual publications, not many of us had developed a full appreciation on the perils of a system of publication to the world which required nothing more than us clicking on the “send” button immediately after we were finished writing. I have certainly learned the value of sleeping on a post at least one night before it goes public.

Part of what I think took place on that bulletin board is that reading and writing in haste in an informal space at best, Walzer quickly read Scialabba as reflective of a lot of what was circulating on listservs at that time, such as the Noam Chomsky’s responses to 9/11, and reacted to that — rather than to what Scialabba was saying. A closer, more careful reading might still have found fault with Scialabba’s position, but also recognize how it was different from the position Walzer was directing his main fire at.

I think that Walzer’s Can There Be A Decent Left? essay is of an entirely different order — it went through the old paper publication process, and surely had the benefit of reflection and readings by others before it was published. If Henry wants to take issue with those arguments, and read them as a reflection of Walzer’s considered views, that seems to me an altogether different matter. But he doesn’t do that. What I find troubling and unfair about Henry’s critique here is his amalgamation of the raw and the cooked publication, as if they were the same thing. In its own way that leads to a reading which, at the very least, is uncharitable.

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Leo Casey 04.16.09 at 10:22 pm

The perils of instant publishing. The sentence should have read:
It seems to me that there is an attempt in Henry’s post to make what was clearly not a considered statement, but something quickly posted on a bulletin board, into something it was not.

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Donald Johnson 04.16.09 at 10:51 pm

“Walzer quickly read Scialabba as reflective of a lot of what was circulating on listservs at that time, such as the Noam Chomsky’s responses to 9/11, and reacted to that—rather than to what Scialabba was saying. “

That’s supposed to be a defense of Walzer? This makes him sound like an idiot. I think Salient’s reading in post 22 is equally plausible. But perhaps being an idiot is preferable to that, so yes, you are defending him.

It’s all very well to point out Chomsky’s failings, real and imagined, and use him as a scapegoat and a representative of all that’s supposedly wrong with the kneejerk antiwar left. But in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, anyone who was critical of US foreign policy, who thought US foreign policy was the major reason why the US was hated, and who feared that 9/11 would be used as justification for starting new wars that would kill vast numbers of people was treated as a pariah by “decent leftists” and indecent rightists alike. If you had those views, you were an insensitive monster who was gloating over the deaths of 3000 innocent people and you thought the US had it coming.

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lemuel pitkin 04.16.09 at 10:57 pm

Noam Chomsky’s responses to 9/11

Which responses? Link or cite?

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Lee A. Arnold 04.17.09 at 12:02 am

I find some of this discussion to be very odd. I’m pretty sure I’m politically a centrist, but I find myself agreeing with Chomsky most of the time, I met him once and I liked him personally very much, and I think his basic stance has now become quite crucial, i.e. if we don’t clean up the language that we use, and if we don’t pay attention to the definitions of international law, then we are in an Orwellian descent and it will not end well. E.g. calling 9-11 “terrorism,” while calling low-grade secret warfare by the U.S. in seemingly countless other situations by other names. Or the status of the identification of “just war,” whether in Walzer’s book or anywhere else, which comes with almost no criterion other than “I think this is one” or “In my opinion…”

This stuff matters now, precisely because it’s not a matter of war between states, but rather the ability for mass destruction wielded by small numbers of people committed to one cause or another. Fighting this thing is a matter of getting most individuals to understand that it is wrong, and not to join forces with them, and to stop them. And this means using clear language about intentions.

I tend to think the U.S. rightwing is emotionally damaged as a nearly invariable rule, but the leftwing pisses me off because I think it is intellectually inept. On the one hand all sorts of concepts are reified and used in discourse as if they were social or mental actuators, and on the other hand there is a lot of relativism based upon (I guess) the breakdown of certainty in the Enlightenment project.

I think we may be in trouble. No one — neither left, right, Christian, Jew, or Muslim, in the United States or anywhere else — is stepping up to express a realistic, universal vision. But if we don’t work to formulate a clear image of what the world ought to be like, it will not happen. It should be very clear that forward images are necessary, and lacking. Has everyone fallen for the libertarian Hayekian “spontaneous order” nonsense?

So here is a question: What is the left’s current attitude about Iraq? Is helping Iraqis get from a dictatorship to a democracy ultimately a good or bad thing? And is anyone on the left able to say something we don’t already know? Everyone is very angry and there are all sorts of issues, from Bush lying to get into the war and screwing up the occupation thereby causing the deaths of many more, to the fact that any democracy in Iraq is most likely to elect a Shi’ite theocracy allied to Iran, hardly in keeping with U.S. foreign policy interests for the foreseeable future, although quite possibly providing a way to play the Saudis. I am all over the map on this one: I think getting rid of dictators is good, that the liars should go to jail, that instituting torture is the biggest mistake in U.S. history, and that maybe in 100 years time the U.S. will be thanked for helping a majority express its will.

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Z 04.17.09 at 12:54 am

From a foreigners perspective, Virgil’s anger and good-willed leftist arguing over “decent left/indecent left” would be amusing, if the consequences had not been so tragic. As for myself, I will reiterate the simple point that before supporting (concrete) military action, one has the moral duty to examine what military forces will actually do. On those ground, I was against the US-led only war in Afghanistan. Apart from that, what geo said.

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Donald Johnson 04.17.09 at 1:59 am

“that maybe in 100 years time the U.S. will be thanked for helping a majority express its will.”

I’ve wondered that myself, but this still wouldn’t justify the war or the hundreds of thousands dead. It’s sometimes true that good can come out of evil actions. America itself is an example of this–a safe haven for some, after the original inhabitants had been killed or ethnically cleansed.

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Henry 04.17.09 at 2:23 am

Leo – you’re entitled to your opinion, obviously. But my opinion, for what it is worth, is that you are over-hastily seeking to excuse what is quite inexcusable behaviour. Yes – people can say horrible things on the Internet that they repent at leisure. But the usual practice when one says things that one shouldn’t have (especially when you make accusations as vicious and unpleasant as these ones) is to say sorry. When I’ve gotten too embroiled in heated discussion, and made accusations which are much milder than the accusation of cooperation with terrorists, I’ve apologised – privately and publicly – for them. Walzer has made no public apology whatsoever for his behaviour, and I imagine that if he had made a private one, George would have had something to say about it by now. The only reasonable inference one can make is that Walzer is unwilling to withdraw his shameful and disgusting accusation. If you can come up with a justification for his reticence – he has had some seven years to think it over and apologize after all – I would very much like to hear it. Personally, I don’t think that there is any plausible justification on even the most minimal account of the responsibilities of a public intellectual.

And I really think that the rather weak and allusive language that you employ in your comment is eliding what Walzer did – this isn’t a case of Walzer having misrepresented Scialabba’s position in ways that a ‘closer, more careful reading ‘ would have rectified. This is a case of Walzer directly accusing him of cooperating with terrorists a few days after the biggest terrorist attack that the US has experienced. Or to put it more bluntly. (1) Do you think that we should adopt an understanding and forgiving attitude when someone falsely accuses a perfectly reasonable interlocutor of cooperating with terrorists?And do you think that there is nothing wrong with making that accusation – and then failing, over the intervening years, to correct it after the heat of the moment has died down? Your comment would suggest that your answer to both these questions is yes – I rather suspect however that it is no, and you are giving a degree of leeway here to someone whom you admire that you wouldn’t were another, less sympathetic (to you) figure responsible.

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Michael Bérubé 04.17.09 at 3:06 am

George @ 67: I’m very well aware of the warnings of aid agencies, and of the position of Mary Robinson, in the fall of 2001; and of course I’ve read that essay of Chomsky’s, as well as many other things he’s said on the subject. So let me try to straighten this out, admitting, at the outset, that I’ve botched this argument in the past.

There is a difference, in my book (literally! in my forthcoming book), between saying “the interruption of aid convoys might exacerbate massive starvation, and the number of people affected might be as high as seven million,” and saying “those seven million didn’t die, but we should continue to conduct the moral accounting as if they did.” The first seems to be completely defensible, the second completely indefensible. So what’s important to me here is not Chomsky’s personal psychology — I honestly don’t see why you think that’s at issue — but the question of whether we should apply the term “silent genocide” to a massive loss of life that did not occur.

Here’s Chomsky in Hegemony or Survival:

It is the merest truism that choices are assessed in terms of the range of likely consequences. We understand the truism very well when considering the actions of official enemies but find it hard to apply to ourselves. There are many illustrations, including recent US military exercises. Aid agencies, scholars, and others who properly warmed of the risks in Afghanistan and Iraq were ridiculed when the worst, fortunately, did not come to pass. At the same level of moral imbecility, one would rush into the streets every October to sing praises to the Kremlin, while ridiculing those who warned of the dangers of placing missiles in Cuba and persist in condemning the criminal lunacy of the act. (78)

And here’s my response in The Left at War:

Allow me, then, to take Chomsky’s analogy to the Cuban Missile Crisis on its merits, and to add the mere truism that choices are also assessed in terms of actual consequences. It is not clear, on that score, what a sober post hoc assessment of the temporary interruption of Afghan aid convoys has to do with rushing into the streets every October to sing praises to the Kremlin, but this much is clear: Chomsky’s position on Afghanistan is not “I relied on the reports of aid workers as relayed by The New York Times, and though (thankfully) the worst predictions did not come to pass, I still oppose the war on Afghanistan on moral grounds.” This is a position I would disagree with but would certainly respect. Rather, Chomsky’s position is that people who reassessed the moral calculus of the war in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban– that is, after the most dire warnings did not come to pass– are moral imbeciles, the equivalent of people who would praise the Kremlin (on an annual basis, no less) for precipitating the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Oh, and the essay you cite not only includes a rehearsal of the argument about the interruption of aid convoys; it also includes this passage: “When Taliban forces did finally succumb, after astonishing endurance, opinions shifted to triumphalist proclamations and exultation over the justice of our cause, now demonstrated by the success of overwhelming force against defenseless opponents. Without researching the topic, I suppose that Japanese and German commentary was similar after early victories during World War II.” Really, George, if the relevant standard for political discourse is pragmatic usefulness, why not object when someone of Chomsky’s extraordinary intellectual stature hauls out Ye Olde Americans=Nazis/Axis trope? Is this any way to wean one’s fellow citizens away from the Bush-Cheney regime?

As for the Walzer/Scialabba exchange: Leo, you know I’ve admired your work on these subjects for years, and I think you also know that I admire Spheres of Justice and have long considered Michael Walzer an intellectual giant. But look again at the timestamps on that exchange. It wasn’t just an email-back-and-forth. George initially writes on 9/24/01; Michael responds on 9/27 at 1:07 pm. George then writes back four and a half minutes later, which I gotta say is pretty annoying. But that’s not the point. The point is that Michael’s second response — the one in which he accuses George of being in “informal alliance” with al-Qaeda — comes four days later on October 1, which is surely enough time for a man as smart and as judicious as Walzer to think twice about using such a phrase as that. And the bit about “appeasement” is from 10/4. Look, I think Michael Walzer had a plausible reason to write that essay, and I still think he’s an intellectual giant. But I was genuinely surprised by this exchange, in which George (with whom I obviously disagree about matters Chomskyan) raised questions that deserved a more thorough and less dismissive response.

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George Scialabba (aka geo) 04.17.09 at 4:31 am

saying “those seven million didn’t die, but we should continue to conduct the moral accounting as if they did” … seems … completely indefensible

The “moral accounting” of what? It seems to me that Chomsky is saying: 1) the decision to go to war without regard to the risk of enormous loss of innocent life was a crime, whether or not those lives were actually lost in the sequel; 2) those who supported that decision at the time were, at least if they were aware of those risks, morally and intellectually irresponsible; and 3) there is a great deal to be learned about the real purposes of American foreign policy and the conditions of American intellectual life from (1) and (2). I think he’s completely, unanswerably right about that.

If you mean that, once the feared mass starvation did not materialize, someone who had initially opposed the war was justified in changing his mind, or at least reopening the question, then I agree. If you mean that someone who initially supported the war was entitled to feel that he had been right all along and need not recognize that his initial support had been very much mistaken, then I disagree. I take Chomsky to be speaking primarily of and to the latter.

I’m a little uncertain what you mean by “choices are also assessed in terms of actual consequences.” It’s true, of course, that someone who points a gun he mistakenly thinks is loaded at you and pulls the trigger cannot be prosecuted for murder. But you are entitled to make certain inferences about his moral character. Likewise, the US did not actually cause the starvation of hundreds of thousands or millions of innocent Afghans. But the fact that it disregarded the clear risk of doing so allows us to make some inferences about the character and purposes of American foreign policy. And the fact that there was scarcely any opposition to that decision allows us to make some pretty unflattering inferences about American intellectuals.

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George Scialabba (aka geo) 04.17.09 at 5:20 am

Henry, perhaps in your generous indignation, you’re a little too hard on that ill-considered phrase of Walzer’s: “an informal alliance with the terrorists.” I understood him to mean not that I actually approved of terrorism or was pathologically anti-American, but simply that I was a moral and political idiot. Not nice, but not heinous.

What I deplore in that exchange (and criticized in my Nation review of <Arguing About War) is his eagerness to dismiss, even disparage, the suggestion that American foreign policy is fundamentally amoral, devoted to securing the conditions for the penetration and control of the global economy by American capital. What accounts for his stubborn resistance? Could it be that to acknowledge the real purposes of American foreign policy would be to give up the fantasy that US support of Israel is based on admiration for Israeli democracy or principled support for Israeli self-determination? That’s speculation, of course; but it’s surely a more interesting question than whether he was merely rude to me or something worse.

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George Scialabba (aka geo) 04.17.09 at 5:27 am

What happened? Oh well, here’s the rest of that comment:

Arguing About War) was Walzer’s eagerness to dismiss, even disparage, the suggestion that American foreign policy is fundamentally amoral, devoted to securing the conditions for the penetration and control of the global economy by American capital. What accounts for his stubborn resistance? Could it be that to acknowledge the real purposes of American foreign policy would mean giving up the fantasy that US support of Israel was based on admiration of Israeli democracy or principled support for Israeli self-determination? That’s speculation, but it’s surely more interesting than the question of whether Walzer was merely rude to me or something worse.

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Chris 04.17.09 at 12:05 pm

choices are also assessed in terms of actual consequences.

Perhaps, but not primarily. If you drive drunk and arrive home safely, you are not vindicated, even if you believe you are.

More broadly, this kind of formulation covers up the question of who is doing the assessing, and by what standards. (For example, the second sentence in the previous paragraph is my opinion; I don’t know whether or not there are any universal moral laws, or if so, what they are or whether that is in accord with them. I don’t even know how such laws could possibly be knowable if they did exist.) I think a major reason for the incoherence of much moral discourse is our inability to agree on even the most basic standards.

P.S. I would interpret the “freedom fighter” comment as a sarcastic reference to people (mostly rightists) who called the Nicaraguan contras “freedom fighters” while they were blowing up schools, bridges, hospitals, etc. in the course of their war against a democratically elected government. But maybe that’s just me.

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dsquared 04.17.09 at 1:21 pm

Is this any way to wean one’s fellow citizens away from the Bush-Cheney regime?

The metaphor is a poor basis for policy here; babies need to be weaned gently, but addicts fair better if they go cold turkey. So the question is; was the relationship between the American public and imperial power more like one where they were babies who depended on it for sustenance, or one where they were freely choosing adults who indulged in it because they found it pleasant? Could go either way, but I don’t necessarily think that Michael is on firm ground in asserting definitively that the Dr Spock treatment is more effective than the “tough love”.

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Henry 04.17.09 at 1:49 pm

George – I think that the accusation here is rather stronger than moral and political idiocy. When I hear someone described as a moral or political idiot, I take that to mean that they are either ignorant or careless of the consequences of their actions. But cooperation, under any ordinary language use of the term, implies a degree of active and conscious agency. Now, obviously Walzer is not insane – he is not suggesting that you are going out there spotting targets for Al Qaeda. But he unambiguously says that you are cooperating with terrorists. The exact language he uses is that “[George] thinks that the terrorists are criminals, but he has an informal alliance with them: they attack and threaten to attack again, and he recommends that we attend to their threats.” Unpacking this, as best as I can, the most plausible reading I can come up with of his theory here is something like the following.

“George does not actively coordinate with terrorists. However, if he were really pressed on this, and were to be completely honest, he would admit that he was engaged in a common enterprise with them. Both he and the terrorists want to push back US power, and while George may not be explicitly collaborating with the terrorists, he recognizes that his efforts reinforce theirs, and vice versa, and (given their shared long term objective), he believes that this is a good thing. From George’s point of view, terrorist attacks are not only legitimate, they are useful. When terrorists attack, George recommends that we appease them. George and people like him will hence act as tacit force multipliers for them within the US. George and his friends may not want to acknowledge this in public. But they know in private that this is true.”

It may be that there is a more benign available reading – but if so, I don’t really see it.

On the pragmatics, I’m with Michael. Chomsky has been ploughing this furrow for a couple of decades now, and hasn’t, I don’t think, achieved that much in terms of changing the general discourse in the US. Where change has occurred (viz. the US relationship with Central America is somewhat better than it used to be), there are other agents who are more plausibly responsible for it. Nor is there any sign (in my eyes) that this is going to be different in the foreseeable future. So you do have to ask yourself whether there are different, more effective forms of criticism out there. George’s book holds out Chomsky and (far more dubious to my mind) Cockburn as models for what public intellectuals should be doing – but I am pretty skeptical as to whether they are really succeeding in speaking to a broader public. Much of this, of course, has to do with the way that US public debate is structured, but it is better to start with the system of debate that you have, I think.

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Donald Johnson 04.17.09 at 2:39 pm

” Much of this, of course, has to do with the way that US public debate is structured, but it is better to start with the system of debate that you have, I think.”

But Chomsky’s main point is precisely that the way the debate is structured has tended to exclude people who are harsh critics of US foreign policy and he’s had quite a bit of influence here, at least in the leftist blogosphere. One can criticize Chomsky’s rhetorical style and some of his positions, but that’s irrelevant, because he could have George Scialabba’s personal style and I don’t think his access to the mainstream press would have been any greater.

The rise of the leftier parts of the blogosphere is an attempt at getting around the structural problem that Chomsky has spent decades criticizing. Whether this has been a politically significant endeavor is a different question, but at least there is rampant Chomskyism online and for better or worse that’s part of his legacy. I call myself a Chomsky fan, but I haven’t actually read any of the two or three political books he’s written since 9/11–there are now plenty of lefty bloggers one can read instead. But I still don’t see (with rare exceptions, some of them surprisingly enough in recent Roger Cohen columns) the antiwar left POV expressed on the op ed pages of the NYT.

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geo (George Scialabba) 04.17.09 at 4:18 pm

I think I’m with Donald. “The way US public debate is structured” explains an awful lot — a great deal more than Chomsky’s polemical personality and rhetorical style (which, at least in print, and considering the magnitude of the crimes he’s documenting, the sheer volume of his output, and the niggling obtuseness and bad faith of many — not all, of course — of his critics, might well be a lot worse). And as far as I know, the best account of how US public debate is structured is Chomsky and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, a book that would still be well worth a Crooked Timber forum, which I imagine Chomsky would be happy to lead.

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lemuel pitkin 04.17.09 at 4:55 pm

Chomsky has been ploughing this furrow for a couple of decades now, and hasn’t, I don’t think, achieved that much in terms of changing the general discourse in the US.

That’s an awfully high standard, isn’t it? What if he just was a clear and consistent speaker of important truths about US foreign policy? Would that really be so awful?

I am pretty skeptical as to whether they are really succeeding in speaking to a broader public.

Really? I think Chomsky has spoken to a broader public than practically any other contemporary American leftist (except Michael Moore, who perhaps not coincidentally comes in for the same kind of scorn.) Take a group of politically active students on a typical college campus: what critic of American foreign policy — what political writer in general — do you think is more broadly familiar?

In fact, I think the problem is exactly the opposite — precisely because he writes for a broad audience, he’s not very interesting to writers and academics. Personally I haven’t read any of his stuff in years.

But! when I rad his stuff in high school, it was a revelation — one of the main sources of my engagement with politics — and that’s true of a number of friends of mine as well. It’s true he hasn’t changed the discourse in the US, but I reckon he’s done more to raise it than, say, Dissent ever has.

Do you really disagree?

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Henry 04.17.09 at 5:04 pm

I may have expressed myself badly here – what I was saying is that indeed the public discourse in the US is structured so as to exclude certain points of view, but that there is then a pragmatic question of how to deal with that. One possibility is to do a la Gramsci, and to try and construct your own countervailing public sphere. This is what I take Z magazine etc to involve – and while they haven’t been a complete failure, I don’t see them having much influence outside a limited circle. The other is to try to work within the public sphere as it is – here, the obvious problem is that you have to compromise in order to get any sort of message across. My sense is that the first strategy really hasn’t worked in the sense that it has changed public debate. But I am not sure how to deal with the second. I do want to write something longer about this, in response to some of the arguments that George makes in his book, but haven’t figured out how precisely to articulate what I want to say. And I think that this is the core question (or one of the core questions) that George’s book asks- can public intellectuals play a significant role in political debate, given how this is structured. My first approximation answer is that I would like to see more Doug Henwoods, and fewer Alexander Cockburns on the left – but I need to think this through properly.

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Michael Bérubé 04.17.09 at 5:08 pm

George @ 79: The “moral accounting” of what? It seems to me that Chomsky is saying: 1) the decision to go to war without regard to the risk of enormous loss of innocent life was a crime, whether or not those lives were actually lost in the sequel; 2) those who supported that decision at the time were, at least if they were aware of those risks, morally and intellectually irresponsible; and 3) there is a great deal to be learned about the real purposes of American foreign policy and the conditions of American intellectual life from (1) and (2). I think he’s completely, unanswerably right about that.

The moral accounting of the war in Afghanistan. And this moral accounting, I have to say, is much too hypothetical to be “completely, unanswerably right.” It leaves out all the complicating factors, such as the estimation (by the aid agencies themselves) that 5 million Afghans were at risk of starvation that winter irrespective of the war, and the fact that after the fall of the Taliban, aid convoys not only resumed — they brought more food into the country than they’d been able to do for ten years. I don’t see any useful parallels to guns-to-heads or drunk driving here. Now, did US media make too little of the danger represented by the interruption of aid convoys, and too much of their resumption? Yes, undoubtedly.

But here and elsewhere, George, I think you’re underreading Chomsky. To wit:

If you mean that, once the feared mass starvation did not materialize, someone who had initially opposed the war was justified in changing his mind, or at least reopening the question, then I agree. If you mean that someone who initially supported the war was entitled to feel that he had been right all along and need not recognize that his initial support had been very much mistaken, then I disagree. I take Chomsky to be speaking primarily of and to the latter.

I mean the former, and I’m glad to see some grounds for agreement there. But Chomsky’s going much further than your paraphrase suggests: he’s actually arguing, in that passage from Hegemony or Survival, that people who reassessed the war in those terms (i.e., changing their minds after the mass starvation did not occur) are moral imbeciles.

This seems to me a very questionable way of dealing with one’s interlocutors — and that, after all, is the question that animated Henry’s post and subtends this thread. For my part, I don’t see why Chomsky can’t be content with saying “the war in Afghanistan turned out to be a mere prelude to the war in Iraq, and formed the basis for the establishment of the Bush-Cheney archipelago of secret indefinite-detention-and-torture sites.” That seems to me the best counterargument to people like me who supported that war, because it forces us to deal with its vile sequelae and compels us to defend, instead, a hypothetical war that never happened, in which the US conducts a very limited strike against Tora Bora, captures bin Laden and associates, and works with the UN to establish a stable and legitimate government in Afghanistan. Instead, Chomsky keeps doubling down on those temporarily-interrupted aid convoys, as when he said in 2006 that “Afghanistan, if we look at it, is one of the most grotesque acts of modern history.” And everyone who demurs from this is an imbecile.

Now, as for rhetorical style. I agree (and argue in my book) that Chomsky has adopted this strategy in the belief that his fellow Americans need to go cold turkey, to swallow the blue pill, to break out of the mass-media Matrix and contemplate the possibility that the events of 9/11 were not as bad as the bombing of the al-Shifa plant, which most Americans had already forgotten. But Daniel @ 83, “weaning” doesn’t always imply infantilization, and I didn’t assert definitively that “weaning” is always the best policy. Sometimes tough love works better. But likening the US to the Axis powers because of the way US media reported the fall of the Taliban strikes me as singularly ineffective either way: it doesn’t wean Americans way from Bush-Cheney, and it doesn’t make them slap their foreheads and say, “ye gods! how true — I thought I was happy to see the Taliban fall, but now I see have been a good German all along!”

As for Chomsky and the blogosphere, I agree with Donald. With one caveat, which I’ll post below.

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Henry 04.17.09 at 5:09 pm

Lemuel – I hope that I didn’t come across as expressing scorn for Chomsky. That wasn’t the point. We are probably going to have a seminar on George’s book, and I will try to write something proper on these issues for that. But I don’t think that the debate here is between Z magazine and Dissent – both have their advantages and disadvantages, but neither is likely to set the world on fire, given current form.

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dsquared 04.17.09 at 5:10 pm

I think Lemuel is right there – there isn’t really an equivalent rock band to Rage Against the Machine that’s out there promoting Michael Walzer as their favourite thinker. There’s a danger of looking at all of Chomsky (and Michael Moore, who adopts the same rhetorical approach)’s fans and more or less definitionally excluding them from being “the broader public”, but actually most of them are basically normal people who happen to like Chomsky.

If the “broader public” statement isn’t just the tautologous “Chomsky doesn’t appeal to people who don’t like Chomsky”, then we’d have to identify his fan club as being odd or marginalised or out of the mainstream in some other way than the mere fact of their being Chomsky fans. The simple fact that the Chomsky cult keeps growing (and that it reliably adds a couple of thousand college students from every matriculating class) suggests to me that his approach is totally consistent with broad appeal – it’s just that it’s actually a very unpopular political position.

After all, the implied market niche for someone who believes the same things as Chomsky, but takes a more conciliatory approach (and thus would have the broader appeal that Chomsky lacks) does seem to have gone unfilled for a very long time, while the market niche of someone with a slightly more mainstream political stance but a very Chomsky-like rhetorical style got filled quite quickly by Michael Moore.

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lemuel pitkin 04.17.09 at 5:26 pm

One possibility is to do a la Gramsci, and to try and construct your own countervailing public sphere. This is what I take Z magazine etc to involve – and while they haven’t been a complete failure, I don’t see them having much influence outside a limited circle. The other is to try to work within the public sphere as it is

Why does it have to be one or the other? Seems to me the latter only benefits from the existence of the former.

I’m second to no one in my admiration for Doug Henwood, but I don’t think you get more Henwoods by reducing the number of Cockburns. The opposite, actually.

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Michael Bérubé 04.17.09 at 5:29 pm

Here’s the caveat. Books like Manufacturing Consent and Robert McChesney’s Rich Media, Poor Democracy belong to the “political economy” school of media studies, in which (1) the ruling class owns the ruling ideas and (2) disseminates these by way of the corporate media, thereby (3) leading the people to misidentify their real interests and succumb to, you know, false consciousness. The argument against this school, developed out of British cultural studies, is not that mass media don’t dupe people; on the contrary, they do it every day. Rather, the cultural studies argument — which has been quite thoroughly mocked, derided, and misunderstood by the political-economy people — is that you don’t know the meaning of a mass-cultural artifact until you find out what people actually do with it. Nothing makes this case so well as the rise of the progressive blogosphere. But you know what? According to Chomsky, Herman, and McChesney, the Internet will not be progressive because it is commercial. From Rich Media, Poor Democracy:

When the Internet is viewed in this manner, it is hard not to see it as constituting the basis for a genuine revolution in information dissemination with striking and world historical implications for politics. This is the Internet that has enthralled the Tofflers and Negropontes and Gilders– the utopian futurologists– for the past decade. And the strength of this vision is that it has an important element of truth.

But this point should not be exaggerated. Having a website does not mean many people will know of its existence and therefore seek it out. We should not extrapolate from the experiences of a small community of activists to think that this will become the heart and soul of the Internet experience. It has not and it will not [my emphasis]. . . . Despite its much-ballyhooed “openness,” to the extent that it becomes a viable mass medium, it will likely be dominated by the usual corporate suspects. Certainly a few new commercial content players will emerge, but the evidence suggests that the content of the digital communication world will appear quite similar to the content of the pre-digital commercial media world.

To be clear: I’m not faulting McChesney for failing to predict the emergence of the blogosphere back in 2000. I’m faulting him for saying — definitively! — that it couldn’t happen, because Teh Internets are Dominated by Corporations. Likewise, C&H in the 2002 intro to Manufacturing Consent:

The Internet is not an instrument of mass communication for those lacking brand names, an already existing large audience, and/or large resources. Only sizable commercial organizations have been able to make large numbers aware of the existence of their Internet offerings. The privatization of the Internet’s hardware, the rapid commercialization and concentration of Internet portals and servers and their integration into non-Internet conglomerates– the AOL-Time Warner merger was but a giant step in that direction– and the private and concentrated control of the new broadband technology, together threaten to limit any future prospects of the Internet as a democratic media vehicle.

Now, did US cultural studies get very silly and trivial in the 1990s? Yep, mos def. But dismissing that tradition isn’t simply a matter of making fun of silly, trivial essays on Die Hard and Madonna. The CS tradition was right in principle and in practice, it seems to me, to insist that you can’t gauge the political potential of a cultural artifact simply on the basis of who made it and who owns it (not that these are unimportant, either). You also have to look at how it’s used. And I hope Chomsky, Herman, and McChesney are pleased to have been wrong about their early assessments of the Internets, pleased to see the emergence of a left political culture that has had quite notable success in running end-around the filters of the US mass media.

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dsquared 04.17.09 at 5:33 pm

I’m second to no one in my admiration for Doug Henwood, but I don’t think you get more Henwoods by reducing the number of Cockburns.

I seem to remember Doug making the point very well on the lbo-talk listserv that the “reasonable” is defined in relation to the “outrageous”. If you got rid of all the Cockburns, Henwood would be the weirdo out-of-the-mainstream guy that we wanted to get rid of.

The most obvious example of this phenomenon (in reverse) would be Martin Luther King, whose redefinition from “fiery Communist loony preacher” to “gentle pastor who we can do business with” was a direct result of the rise to prominence of Malcolm X.

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lemuel pitkin 04.17.09 at 5:35 pm

Michael is obviously right that Chomsky is never going to convince most Americans — for the reason Daniel gives, that most Americans are simply not going to think of their country’s role in the world as fundamentally imperial.

But is that such a damning criticism? Convincing a minority still seems worthwhile to me, first because a committed minority can sometimes accomplish a lot — surely Chomsky deserves some credit for the Boland amendment — and second because the existence of the anti-imperialist position opens up space for more acceptable criticism of US foreign policy.

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lemuel pitkin 04.17.09 at 5:39 pm

Michael-

Do you think it’s possible that the warnings about commercial domination of the Internet might have contributed something to the open Internet we know and love today?

I mean, Rachel Carson’s predictions didn’t come true either….

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Righteous Bubba 04.17.09 at 5:42 pm

…and it’s not as if internet dominance schemes aren’t floated frequently enough…

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Scott Martens 04.17.09 at 5:54 pm

And I hope Chomsky, Herman, and McChesney are pleased to have been wrong about their early assessments of the Internets, pleased to see the emergence of a left political culture that has had quite notable success in running end-around the filters of the US mass media.

Michael, as someone who, as part of my doctoral thesis, has just had to wade through Chomsky on corpus linguistics – a subject where he was not only wrong but demonstrably and stupidly wrong and persists to the present day – fifty years later! – in his manifest error using new demonstrably and stupidly wrong arguments, I will bet you money that Chomsky does not think he proved to be wrong.

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geo (George Scialabba) 04.17.09 at 6:06 pm

Michael @ 89: he’s actually arguing, in that passage from Hegemony or Survival, that people who reassessed the war in those terms (i.e., changing their minds after the mass starvation did not occur) are moral imbeciles

I don’t think that’s what he’s arguing at all. Here’s the passage again:

It is the merest truism that choices are assessed in terms of the range of likely consequences. We understand the truism very well when considering the actions of official enemies but find it hard to apply to ourselves. There are many illustrations, including recent US military exercises. Aid agencies, scholars, and others who properly warmed of the risks in Afghanistan and Iraq were ridiculed when the worst, fortunately, did not come to pass. At the same level of moral imbecility, one would rush into the streets every October to sing praises to the Kremlin, while ridiculing those who warned of the dangers of placing missiles in Cuba and persist in condemning the criminal lunacy of the act. (78)

It seems clear to me that it’s those war supporters who ridiculed “aid agencies, scholars” and others who opposed the war at its outset because of the risks of mass starvation that he’s calling moral imbeciles. He’s not applying the term to people who decided, after the mass deaths did not occur, to support continuing prosecution of the war in Afghanistan — not, that is, in the terms of this exchange, “the former.” Nor is he even saying that people who disregarded the dangers to innocents and supported the
war from the outset are moral imbeciles (and, given how irresponsible that support was, I think that shows considerable restraint on his part). It’s those who ridiculed opponents of the war when their — perfectly reasonable — fears were not realized who are moral imbeciles. I think he’s quite right about that.

I also think he’s right that “Afghanistan, if we look at it, is one of the most grotesque acts of modern history,” if one understands “Afghanistan” here to mean (as I think he clearly intends) “the decision to bomb Afghanistan in reckless disregard of plausible warnings of large-scale starvation.”

Finally, complaints about Chomsky’s rhetorical “strategy” of “likening the US to the Axis powers” seem to me misleading. Chomsky has never suggested, and has many, many times explicitly denied, that the US is a totalitarian, or even an authoritarian, state, or that it has carried out atrocities on the scale of the Holocaust or the Gulag. He regularly calls the US “the freest country in the world.” But he is right to point out that all governments use large-scale violence, often against civilians, to achieve their political purposes and invariably lie about it, and that “responsible” intellectuals and the mass media typically assist in the deception. To say that Goebbels might have envied the intellectual flabbiness and docility of the US media is no more to equate the US and Nazi Germany than to portray Breshnev envying Nixon the bland deceptiveness of Ron Ziegler (as Gary Trudeau did in a famous Doonesbury strip) is to equate the US with the Soviet Union.

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Henry 04.17.09 at 6:11 pm

Ok – to state my argument in its currently and self-admittedly half-arsed form. The pragmatic end goal here isn’t necessarily to convince lots of people. It is to change US foreign policy and economic policy from its current frequently rather horrible self, given the daunting problems of the two party system, Senate, parlous state of public media etc.

The debate (in George’s book, in Lemuel’s retort etc) on how to do this, often focuses on two possible ways. One is the Chomsky route of galvanizing the activists and converting the ready to be converted in the hope of creating popular unrest against the policies in question. The second is the Dissent route (or take whatever little magazine you will), of trying to work within a common high culture of shared cultural references among well educated elites and shape that culture in ways that may reshape political objectives too.

Neither of these seems likely to work. I don’t know how many people are readers of Chomsky or related publications – but if we call the number of people x, my best guess is that even if you had 10x you wouldn’t be able to penetrate through (look at how difficult it was for genuinely enormous demonstrations against the Iraq war to get substantial coverage, let alone change debate). So that route seems unlikely to me. The Dissent route seems even less likely. If you write for Dissent these days, you are writing because you want to have a conversation with a bunch of lefties, not because you have any hope of changing politics. There is no shared high culture of the sort that the NY intellectuals appealed to, to the extent that there ever was. Instead, policy makers’ culture, such as it is, is a mish-mash of Econ 101, Malcolm Gladwell, stale business jargon and international relations cliches.

So why I am bringing up Doug Henwood here (our own John Quiggin would also qualify), is not because he is more moderate or soft-spoken than Cockburn or whoever. It is because he has specific technical expertise, but is also able to write. My sense is that the most promising way (and it has its own problems, obviously) is through what you might call inorganic intellectuals – intellectuals who have mastered both the technical jargon that feeds into elite discourse (such as economic theory, international relations theory, MBA stuff etc), but are able to use its flaws, fissures, areas of poor fit with its ideological uses etc to turn it against itself. This is a little like the old public intellectual strategy – but adapted to the changed cultural discourses that we live in. And I will happily admit that these thoughts are half chewed – they are what I have been ruminating on after reading George’s book, and have at least another few stomachs to pass through before they become properly digestible.

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Z 04.17.09 at 6:15 pm

But likening the US to the Axis powers because of the way US media reported the fall of the Taliban strikes me as singularly ineffective

Though I agree with you, Michael, that the passage you quoted could be read this way in isolation, I think the more reasonable reading within the massive context of Chomsky’s work is not that the US is like the Axis, or like Soviet Union, but rather that central figures in media and intellectual opinion in the US treat the foreign policy of the US in a manner not unlike the media and intellectual opinion treated the same questions in any other historical state, including those which are rightfully recognized as the worse ones. This exegesis has been made in excruciating details in many Chomsky’s book, and I would guess that it could not escape a moderately charitable reader of anyone of them (but it could very well escape a casual reader of an opinion piece of Chomsky).

Regarding the larger point of whether Chomsky’s tactics are effective, also raised by Henry, or whether there are ineffective or even counterproductive, I happen to side with Chomsky, or Daniel if I understand his usually sly remarks correctly, because of heuristics reasons. If your default position is the classical chomskyan one recalled above (“States treat matters of foreign policy in terms of their respective power and with no consideration for morality, the virtuous proclamations of central segments of their intellectual and political class notwithstanding”), you are in an “Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence” mode towards the use of force in international affairs. I happen to think this is the correct state of mind: the burden of extraordinary proof should fall on defenders of the idea that a military operation will not cause massive civilian death, or will have humanitarian positive effect, not on those who deny it.

Incidentally, this is how I interpret Chomsky’s “silent genocide” routine: as someone who has deeply entrenched this “Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence” state of mind, he would be baffled that anyone could treat on equal footing “massive starvation could have happened so the Afghan war was a heinous moral crime, even though it did not happen” with “Ben Laden could have been captured with not a drop of civilian blood spilled and Afghanistan could have turned in a scandinavian style democracy so the Afghan war was morally A OK, even though it did not happen”. The second statement requires extraordinary evidence, whereas it is (in the state of mind I described before) the negation of the first which requires extraordinary evidence.

There isn’t really an equivalent rock band to Rage Against the Machine that’s out there promoting Michael Walzer as their favourite thinker

Man o’ Just War?

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Z 04.17.09 at 6:20 pm

I should have reverted to my default position: what geo said.

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Barry 04.17.09 at 6:21 pm

Michael ‘DangerProf’ Berube: ” I’m faulting him for saying—definitively!—that it couldn’t happen, because Teh Internets are Dominated by Corporations. “

And a major difference between the MSM and the blogosphere is that the MSM *is purely* dominated by corporations, whereas the internet is still run more on a ‘common carrier’ model.

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Leo Casey 04.17.09 at 6:35 pm

On the question of the sort of things that immediately post 9-11, Chomsky was saying and were circulating on left listservs, I think the following Chomsky quote is particularly instructive:
The September 11 attacks were major atrocities. In terms of number of victims they do not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton’s bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and probably killing tens of thousands of people (no one knows, because the US blocked an inquiry at the UN and no one cares to pursue it).

I happen to remember that quote well, because it was the start of an extended Internet exchange Chomsky and I had post 9-11. I pointed that the bombing of the factory had been conducted at a time when the loss of life would be minimized [one person, a night watchmen died] and that the claim that “probably” tens of thousands killed as a result of the bombing was entirely without foundation. Chomsky’s claim was that an action taken to minimize the loss of life, in which one person died, was a greater crime than action which was designed to kill as many innocent people as possible, and killed thousands. There was a time when you could read the entire exchange on the Z-Net website, but they — just like Dissent — have probably decided that 8 year old Internet exchanges, even ones such as the one Chomsky and I had which was reproduced in journals and on webpages from India to Finland, are not the top priority for their web site.

Henry:
I am not defending what Michael Walzer wrote in response to Scialabba on the bulletin board. What I am saying is that you are stripping it of its proper context, and amalgamating what was the equivalent of offhand comments [a bulletin board exchange] with what was the equivalent of a keynote address [the Dissent ‘decent left’ essay]. I think that fairness and the principle of charitable reading requires those distinctions to be made. By analogy, it is certainly wrong to be cross and short and jump down the throat of a co-worker, friend or family member more out of your own issues than what they said — but we all do that on occasion. And where you say that such misbehaviour requires an apology, I would agree. But that is an altogether different matter from deliberating going after a co-worker, friend or family members in a calculated and planned way, understanding full well that one is being unfair. The misdeed needs to be placed in a context that you are stripping away. If you could demonstrate a similar unfairness [different from an argument you don’t accept] in the Dissent essay, I would be the first to say to grant the points you make here. I have not, however, see this.

Michael:
There is at least one other way to read the time gaps you cite, and one which is more plausible than the one you offer — at least from where I sit. Those of us who came of age as intellectuals before the Internet have habituated to it in different ways. Some of us spend extraordinary amounts of our waking hours on it, and have taken to publication forms such as blogs with all the joy and enthusiasm of a Spartacist finding dirt on a competing Trotskyist. {-; Others have preferred to remain with the hard print medium, and simply see email as a faster way of transmitting the documents. [I leave to the side value judgments on who has taken the better road.] It seems to me that Scialabba, responding to Walzer four minutes after he wrote something, fits the first pattern, and that Walzer fits the second. I doubt very much that he read what Scialabba wrote and mulled it over for four days, but rather felt an obligation to respond to an overt challenge on a Dissent bulletin board when he saw it, read it quickly and wrote off an instant response a rushed fashion to get on to the press of “real work.”

The human conditions being what it is, we are all pretty fallible when it comes to our relations with each other. That is the ground for charitable readings, which attribute the better intentions to the other, are called for.

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Donald Johnson 04.17.09 at 6:46 pm

“I pointed that the bombing of the factory had been conducted at a time when the loss of life would be minimized [one person, a night watchmen died] and that the claim that “probably” tens of thousands killed as a result of the bombing was entirely without foundation. “

Anyone interested in revisiting that issue can find it summarized at the Wikipedia entry, which includes links to the Casey/Chomsky exchanges.

Link

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lemuel pitkin 04.17.09 at 6:51 pm

Henry’s 100 is very well put, and may well be right. But I still don’t see any argument against Chomsky, etc.

The fact is, these are just really hard problems. Sure, if Chomsky reached 10 times his audience, it wouldn’t be enough. But take anything any of us is doing and multiply it by 10, and it wouldn’t be enough.

So lame as it sounds, why not let a hundred flowers bloom? Why not let some people pursue the counter-hegemony route, and others the inorganic intellectual route? They will anyway, given people’s different talents and situations. And the two seem to complement each other far more than they compete. It’s not as if there isn’t enough work to go around.

Personally, I don’t think think we’ll see any real progress without a genuine, angry, activist, oppositional movement. So I think public intellectuals who address themselves to that kind of movement, or its potential members, are absolutely essential. But I don’t see that as an argument against the kind of thing you’re describing. That’s probably essential too.

The original post was right to call out Walzer for his shameful behavior. But the criticism of him — or of Chomsky or whoever — needs to be on the grounds that what they are actually doing is immoral or harmful, not just that something else might be better.

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geo (George Scialabba) 04.17.09 at 7:30 pm

Thanks to Donald for the link to the Wikipedia entry on al-Shifa. The references, especially the Casey-Chomsky exchange, are well worth reading. Leaving aside the specifics of the controversy, I’d like to single out Casey’s conclusion:

Why does Chomsky’s “Reply” demand such a complete and detailed rejoinder?
There is great deal more at stake here than Chomsky’s moral equivalency between the September 11 mass murders and the bombing of the al-Shifa factory, as repugnant as that was as a response to the tragedy. If that was the sole issue, we could leave the matter with a simple repudiation of his comments.
But there is a political perspective here — what I call left-wing fundamentalism — which is represented by Chomsky’s arguments. Indeed, he is arguably the most prominent and most accomplished of its exponents. This left-wing fundamentalism has a Manichaean world view which holds that the U.S. is the fundamental source of all evil in the world, such that all other crimes — even the mass murders of September 11 and the theocratic totalitarianism of the Taliban and the Sudanese government — pale by comparison. Chomsky’s moral equivalency argument between the September 11 mass murders and the al-Shifa bombing is just one manifestation of that perspective, albeit a particularly telling and offensive one.

The issues raised here have been pretty thoroughly debated, especially in the wake of Walzer’s “Can There Be a Decent Left?” and the Euston Manifesto. But since I haven’t taken any direct part in these debates, and since we’re on the subject of Chomsky, I’d like to say that I think Casey’s application of “moral equivalence” and “left fundamentalism” to Chomsky and (in general) Z Magazine is thoroughly wrongheaded. In particular, to attribute to Chomsky the notion that “the US is the fundamental source of all evil in the world” is simply silly, unworthy of Casey’s obvious intelligence. One may reasonably ask: why does Chomsky focus overwhelmingly on the crimes of the US state (even if he does not deny or excuse the crimes of other states)? He has answered that question many times (eg, in his reply to Casey), and I think his answer is reasonable: citizens in a free society have a primary moral obligation to see that policies implemented in their name, and paid for by their taxes, are humane, or at least lawful. In a society like the contemporary US, where belief in the idealism and virtuousness of American international behavior is general among the population and is a requirement for regular publication in the respectable media, that obligation is even more pressing.

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Salient 04.17.09 at 8:39 pm

If you could demonstrate a similar unfairness [different from an argument you don’t accept] in the Dissent essay, I would be the first…

Walzer: “Any group that attacks the imperial power must be a representative of the oppressed, and its agenda must be the agenda of the left.”

This is from the essay, verbatim. Do you feel this is a fair characterization of the perspective of the American left in 2002?

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Michael Bérubé 04.17.09 at 9:15 pm

OK, this is getting a little eerie. Henry @ 100: one is the Chomsky route of galvanizing the activists and converting the ready to be converted in the hope of creating popular unrest against the policies in question.

As it happens, my take on Chomsky’s mode of address in TLAW actually uses the word “galvanize.” The idea — and I think this description has some merit, regardless of what rhetorical strategy one prefers — is that the Chomskyan account deliberately tries to galvanize and convert, rather than to persuade, because that is what the situation (whatever the situation is) demands. And yes, sometimes people gotta be galvanized, and certainly some Americans who routinely exempt themselves and their nation from the kind of moral accounting they apply to others need to be smacked upside the head with one of Chomsky’s counterfactuals. No argument there. But for those of us who have become pretty familiar with US crimes at home and abroad (usually, partly thanks to early exposure to Chomsky-Zinn-etc.), the galvanizing isn’t of much use. I tend to think that most of Chomsky’s fans don’t read him all that closely for the Deeper Implications of the analogies between interrupted aid convoys and the Cuban Missile Crisis, and don’t take the time to parse (as Leo did) the plausibility of comparisons between 9/11 and al-Shifa; lots of people read Chomsky in the more general way Z suggests @ 101: the point is generally to shake up American complacency and moral exceptionalism, by whatever rhetorical means necessary, and let’s leave the fine debating points to Dissent.

Now, I said “most,” not “all” Chomsky’s readers: George clearly agrees with every last one of Chomsky’s claims on Afghanistan — not because he hasn’t read Chomsky closely but because he has. For example:

I also think he’s right that “Afghanistan, if we look at it, is one of the most grotesque acts of modern history,” if one understands “Afghanistan” here to mean (as I think he clearly intends) “the decision to bomb Afghanistan in reckless disregard of plausible warnings of large-scale starvation.”

I thought you might agree with that part, George. So be it. Where we can’t agree, we should at least make the terms of disagreement clear, and mine rest on my conviction that actual atrocities — like those carried out by the US’ detention camps and torture sites — are more grave than possible atrocities that did not in fact occur.

Now clearly, there’s no easy way to break the news of Abu Ghraib, say, to ordinary Americans. And the Kerry campaign should long be remembered — and shamed — for failing even to utter the words in 2004. So sometimes, yes, a rhetorical shock to the political system is necessary. But as my book argues, in Chomsky’s case that strategy comes with hidden costs. One — just one, since I don’t actually want to write to NYU Press and tell them they don’t need to publish the thing since my contributions to this thread amount to a capsule summary of it — is that Chomsky often adopts what I call the “I alone have escaped from the US to tell thee” mode, in which every other intellectual and every other media outlet in the country is hopelessly compromised or actually complicit with evil, and the left has no domestic allies but for a saving remnant, a happy few. And that strategy gets very weird when it comes to the Balkans, about which, as Chomsky said in 2005, “there was a hysterical fanaticism about Bosnia in western culture which was very much like a passionate religious conviction. It was like old-fashioned Stalinism: if you depart a couple of millimetres from the party line, you’re a traitor, you’re destroyed. It’s totally irrational.” Yep, everyone who refused to join in on the West’s hysterical fantacism about Bosnia was labeled a traitor and destroyed. Because the party line was totally pro-intervention and/or pro-Muslim from the start, and like old-fashioned Stalinism, that party brooked no dissent. I could also cite the passage from Hegemony or Survival in which C. claims that no one in the fall of 2003 doubted the Bush administration’s rationale for war in Iraq, but I have to save some stuff for the, you know, actual book. But I will at least contest Chomsky’s claim that people who warned about the Afghan aid convoys were “ridiculed” when the worst did not come to pass. Laura Rozen’s essay, e.g., was a pretty good discussion of the question, not a piece of ridicule.

Leo @ 104: Those of us who came of age as intellectuals before the Internet have habituated to it in different ways. Some of us spend extraordinary amounts of our waking hours on it, and have taken to publication forms such as blogs with all the joy and enthusiasm of a Spartacist finding dirt on a competing Trotskyist.

LOL, as we say on blogs. And you know we agree that the Fourth International were splitters. OK, you have a point; maybe Michael Walzer didn’t spend four days thinking just how to accuse George Scialabba of having an informal alliance with al-Qaeda. But he still shouldn’t have said it.

But in the interests of charity, I’ll acknowledge that there was a lot of excess agon and frayed nerves on the US left in those days. (Myself not exempted, even though I didn’t attempt to say anything publicly for some months; had I tried to do so in September of that year I would have been completely incoherent.) Anger at the attack itself, of course. Anger that it was not prevented. Anger that it would then be used, as Ellen Willis said at the time, by the most radical right-wing administration in US history. Anger at the ravings of the “reasonable” right, like Rich Lowry’s National Review column of 9/12, “The American response should be closer to something along these lines: identifying the one or two nations most closely associated with our enemies, giving them 24-hours notice to evacuate their capitals (in keeping with our desire to wage war as morally as possible), then systematically destroying every significant piece of military, financial, and political infrastructure in those cities.” And anger at each other, much of it left over from disputes over the Balkans that basically amounted to a Z v. Dissent debating society before 9/11 but exploded thereafter. If Walzer’s response was out of character, and I do believe it was, perhaps that was part of the reason.

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Barry 04.17.09 at 9:21 pm

Leo: ” I pointed that the bombing of the factory had been conducted at a time when the loss of life would be minimized [one person, a night watchmen died] and that the claim that “probably” tens of thousands killed as a result of the bombing was entirely without foundation.”

If a poor country loses a significant source of pharmaceutical supplies, that could well cause a lot of deaths, and much additional suffering.

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geo (George Scialabba) 04.17.09 at 9:56 pm

Michael: Where we can’t agree, we should at least make the terms of disagreement clear, and mine rest on my conviction that actual atrocities—like those carried out by the US’ detention camps and torture sites—are more grave than possible atrocities that did not in fact occur.

I don’t think that I, or Chomsky, or anyone in the history of the world, has ever suggested that atrocities that did not occur are graver than actrocities that did. What he contended, and I agreed with, is that to act with reckless disregard of plausible warnings that you might cause immense suffering to innocent people is a grave crime; that this was what the US did; that those who opposed the invasion of Afghanistan on these grounds were justified; and that those who later ridiculed that opposition because the (plausibly) feared consequences did not materialize were moral imbeciles.

But I will at least contest Chomsky’s claim that people who warned about the Afghan aid convoys were “ridiculed” when the worst did not come to pass. Laura Rozen’s essay, e.g., was a pretty good discussion of the question, not a piece of ridicule.

Michael, the form of your argument here is: 1) Chomsky said that people who did X are moral imbeciles. 2) But some people did not do X. If he had said that everyone who discussed early opposition to the war ridiculed it and was therefore a moral imbecile, then the existence of Laura Rozen’s piece would be sufficient refutation. But of course he said nothing of the sort.

Chomsky often [claims that] every other intellectual and every other media outlet in the country is hopelessly compromised or actually complicit with evil”

????

By the way, what do you mean by “this is getting a little eerie”?

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Z 04.17.09 at 10:12 pm

C. claims that no one in the fall of 2003 doubted the Bush administration’s rationale for war in Iraq

Of course people doubted Bush’s rationale, but their opinions were virtually unheard in the common forums of american expression. Are you honestly saying that scepticism towards, say, the existence of WMD in Iraq was a well-received topic in the american media in 2003 (I wouldn’t know, not being american, but the media study group Fair has some pretty convincing report in its archives, just to cite one, among 393 guests speaking on Iraq on the standard news shows in 2 weeks in 2003, 3 were opposed to the war)?

Yep, everyone who refused to join in on the West’s hysterical fantacism about Bosnia was labeled a traitor and destroyed

Ah, that I can answer for myself. I remember pretty clearly the decade 1990/2000. At that time, I was 1) quite young and not so information savvy 2) abstractly in favor of military intervention in the former Yougoslavia on humanitarian grounds. Even so, I was disgusted by the media treatment of those wars. I don’t know how it was in the US, of course, but in my home country people were accused by respectable media outlet of neo-nazism or of facilitating genocide simply for expressing scepticism (some which turned out to have been perfectly well-founded) or sometimes simply for ensuring accuracy. Just as in american media in the run-up to the Iraq war, no falsification was big enough to be called a lie, as long as it was employed to argue for the “official nice guys”. Soon thereafter, I joined the Air Force Intelligence, and discovering the gap between the official description of the war and the accounts of people who had actually planned and executed it was eye-opening.

Now, it doesn’t meant that I necessarily agree completely with Chomsky’s take on, say, the Kosovo bombing. However, I do think that media outlet considered at the acme of respectability published utter rubbish and shameful falsifications during almost a decade on the subject, and scorned or gave ample public forum to those who scorned even mild dissenters.

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rea 04.17.09 at 11:09 pm

the decision to bomb Afghanistan in reckless disregard of plausible warnings of large-scale starvation

Well, but there’s a rather large hole in this argument–it depends on the warnings of large-scale starvation having been “plausible”. And perhaps merely “plausible” isn’t the burden of proof here, either, unless we’re all going to adopt the Chomsky-Cheney “1%” doctrine.

There was never much evidence that millions dead of starvation was a reasonably likely result of the bombing campaign in Afghanistan.

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Donald Johnson 04.17.09 at 11:31 pm

“There was never much evidence that millions dead of starvation was a reasonably likely result of the bombing campaign in Afghanistan.”

Millions of deaths wasn’t plausible–millions were at risk and the risk was real. What the NGO’s were saying was that maybe 100,000 would die. That didn’t happen because the Taliban lines collapsed before the winter snows came and so a large scale famine was averted. The NYT did cover this, though IIRC they didn’t cover it in depth until the danger was over. And I think David Rieff goes into all this in a book he wrote, though I don’t think he’s a Chomsky fan.

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Donald Johnson 04.17.09 at 11:33 pm

Here is a NYT report on the danger of widespread famine in Afghanistan from early November 2001–

Link

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Donald Johnson 04.17.09 at 11:36 pm

Here is a Guardian report on the actual number of famine deaths–the writer, Jonathan Steele, estimates it was in the 10,000 range (possibly as high as 20,000).

link

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Donald Johnson 04.17.09 at 11:41 pm

And here’s page 255 from David Rieff’s “A Bed for the Night” talking about the very real danger of a massive famine in Afghanistan caused by the bombing. The only thing Chomsky is guilty of is exaggeration–millions of people at risk doesn’t mean millions of likely actual deaths. The person in this link talks in terms of 100,000.

Link

I think this supports Chomsky’s view of the moral depravity of our political culture.

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Righteous Bubba 04.17.09 at 11:42 pm

Chomsky often adopts what I call the “I alone have escaped from the US to tell thee”

One of the more heartening things in the documentary Manufacturing Consent is when someone asks what they should be reading at about 2:18. Chomsky essentially says you have to track this stuff down yourself and that everything he’s saying could be wrong. Of course in short order the filmmakers move to a more-or-less commercial for Z

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5631882395226827730

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Donald Johnson 04.17.09 at 11:45 pm

Sorry for the multiple posts. The last link didn’t work. I’ll try again, but maybe Amazon doesn’t let you link to the web searches inside the book. Anyway, if you click on the “search inside this book” and type in the word “famine”, you’ll find pages 255 and 256 discussing the famine in Afghanistan issue.

Link

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George Scialabba (aka geo) 04.17.09 at 11:54 pm

By the way, what do you mean by “this is getting a little eerie”?

Michael, please disregard this question. Just reread your post and understood that you were referring to Henry’s (apparently) close anticipation of one of the major themes of your forthcoming book, not to bizarre comments by your interlocutors.

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Righteous Bubba 04.17.09 at 11:58 pm

not to bizarre comments by your interlocutors

Trying…harder…

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Leo Casey 04.18.09 at 1:47 am

Thank you Donald at 105 for the Wikipedia link to my exchange with Chomsky, which I had not known existed. I spent about a half hour last night trying to resurrect other links, without any success.

I would simply point out to Barry at 111 that a great deal of what I did in that exchange with Chomsky was examine the claim that the Sudan had lost a significant source of vital medicine that could not have been readily replaced. I suppose it is not surprising that I believe I showed that the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence did not support that claim.

To Salient at 108, I don’t think that there was a single, homogeneous view on the American left in 2001, or that Walzer’s essay posits one either — it is clearly written from what was a position within the left itself, albeit one which was critical of what Walzer saw as the dominant strains of the left. I do not know that I would agree with Walzer that the dominant view was the one he described in the sentence: perhaps in the precincts of the small organized left which consists largely of ideological ‘true believers’ and perhaps even on large parts of the academic left [there is overlap between those two categories], but certainly not in the broad mass left of trade unions, civil rights organizations, feminists, the gay and lesbian movement, etc. And it is the broad mass left which matters. But I do think that there was then, and continues to be today, those who pretty much fit Walzer’s characterization in that sentence, and see any and all opposition to American power as expressions of righteous revolt by the oppressed. In just such a vein, I have read some incredibly stupid apologies for Somali pirates in the last few days.

At 107, I think that George helps elucidate what some of the real political differences are here. He finds it wrongheaded to conclude that Chomsky proposed a moral equivalence between 9-11, on the one hand, and the bombing of the al-Shifa factory, on other hand; I don’t see a plausible reading of what Chomsky said immediately after 9-11 [quoted in 104] that would support anything but the conclusion of moral equivalence. Moral equivalences just don’t get much plainer than that.

And while George is entirely correct to note that I characterized Chomsky’s worldview as Manichean and fundamentalist, he neglects to add what was the really the main thrust of my conclusion in that piece: that such a worldview “undermines our capacity as citizens to compel the U.S. government to do the right thing in the world.” In this regard, it is telling that when faced with a theocratic authoritarian state in the Sudan that had engaged in a very real and very un-silent genocide against its southern African peoples for many years [now extended to African peoples in the Darfur region], Chomsky trained none of his fire against it, but instead focused on the American government. Indeed, he went so far as to criticize the American government for not accommodating itself to the Sudanese regime at a time when the Congressional Black Caucus, the AFL-CIO and human rights groups were all urging stronger opposition.

And all this was at a time when Chomsky had just finished taking the same side as Pat Buchanan and the xenophobes of the American right in opposition to American intervention against the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosova, and following a period of remarkable silence over the American and European failure to take any action against the genocide in Rwanda.

I understand that how we understand this pattern, and the longer pattern of Chomsky’s interventions on issues of American foreign policy, is a matter of interpretation, one that can be read in different ways. There are, of course, cases where he was right, because the use of American power was clearly wrong and destructive, from Vietnam to Iraq. But if there was ever a single instance of him supporting the use of American power when it was desperately needed, such as in Rwanda or Darfur, much less of supporting the use of American power when it accomplished important and right ends, such as in Bosnia and Kosova, I have yet to see it.

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George Scialabba (aka geo) 04.18.09 at 1:54 am

Not actual bizarre comments, but possible ones, which are worse.

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Arion 04.18.09 at 11:52 am

Were there (are there) leftists of the sort Walzer once imagined? I suppose so. In the immediate aftermath of 9-11 I recall a local candle-light vigil, with signs opining that poverty and US imperialism was the root cause. A far leftist myself, this steamed me up quite a bit. I riposted with an op-ed piece in the local paper, laying out some good reasons why Al Qeada was a pretty dangerous and unbalanced crowd. What impressed me at the time was how rapidly and completely my local lefty friends abandoned their position. To be sure their initial response demonstrated a knee-jerk anti-patriotism; a legacy left over from Vietnam. But the rapidity and sincerity of the change was impressive!
Regardless, Walzer’s outlook is appalling and reprehensible. It needs to be remembered and periodically castigated.

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Michael Bérubé 04.18.09 at 8:40 pm

Z @ 112: Are you honestly saying that scepticism towards, say, the existence of WMD in Iraq was a well-received topic in the american media in 2003?

No. About the performance of the American mass media in the runup to the war in Iraq, and for a couple of years thereafter as well, I have no quarrel with Chomsky whatsoever. In fact, I acknowledge in my book that the Pentagon program of seeding the teevee with “analysts” conforms to the Manufacturing Consent model pretty damn well. I’m only saying that on the periphery of the mass media, millions of people — including most of the progressive press and lots o’ blogs — doubted not only the WMD rationale but the “let freedom ring” rationale as well, and it’s worth acknowledging the fact and emphasizing the breadth of the opposition.

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George Scialabba (aka geo) 04.18.09 at 11:14 pm

Leo: Moral equivalences just don’t get much plainer than that.

Oh, sure they do. How about “the Contras are the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers” or “Saddam is as bad as Hitler”? Both of these were probably repeated in public something like a million times more often than any comparison between 9/11 and al-Shifa, and probably to something like a million times more political effect in the real world. If that’s true, or anywhere near true, would you agree that the decent, responsible left ought to have devoted approximately a million times more energy to refuting the former moral equivalences than the latter — especially before the former worked their incalculably greater mischief? Do you think that’s about the actual proportion in which the decent left’s efforts did divide?

Here again is the passage of Chomsky’s that you consider “particularly instructive” about his moral and intellectual irresponsibility:

The September 11 attacks were major atrocities. In terms of number of victims they do not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton’s bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and probably killing tens of thousands of people (no one knows, because the US blocked an inquiry at the UN and no one cares to pursue it).

In this passage, he asserts that: 1) the US had no credible pretext for bombing Sudan; 2) about half its pharmaceutical supplies were destroyed; 3) tens of thousands of people probably died, more than on 9/11, although we cannot know this for sure because 4) the US has consistently blocked investigation into it.

Throughout your long critique of Chomsky, you do not dispute (1) or (4). You raise some objections to (2), though in the end you more or less agree. All your fire is directed at (3). You argue cogently, though in the end I (and apparently other commenters here) are not at all convinced that “the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence” goes against Chomsky’s — explicitly qualified — claim. What you do not and cannot show is that his tentative claim was implausible, much less irresponsible. There was (and apparently remains) plenty of reason to say “probably,” though it would probably have been wiser at the time to say “quite possibly.”

Your frequently repeated point that the US bombing was carefully planned to minimize loss of life on the night of the bombing, and that this makes all the difference between the <mens rea of Clinton and that of Bin Laden, does not seem to me to prove as much as you think. The CIA found trace amounts of a guilty chemical in the soil outside the plant grounds and then told the Secretary of Defense that it was “as sure as it gets” that chemical weapons were being manufactured inside. Not only was this absurd, but the CIA must have known that the plant manufactured badly needed pharmaceuticals, since foreign NGOs knew it perfectly well. Clinton may have been ignorant — though unpardonably ignorant — but the US government as a whole was not ignorant and therefore bears moral responsibility for bombing a facility on which an unknown number of civilians were known to have relied for essential, life-sustaining, not easily replaced products. And on no credible pretext. Whether the US’s moral guilt in such a case is greater or less than that of the al-Qaeda terrorists is debatable. (And Chomsky did not say it was, merely comparing the number of apparent deaths.) But that you — and many others on the decent left — thought it irresponsible, even offensive, to have mentioned the two episodes in the same breath is something I continue to find incomprehensible.

Your comment about Chomsky’s “opposition” to the US intervention in Serbia/Kosovo is misleading. Chomsky’s published writings on those subjects — I haven’t read all his interviews — are concerned entirely with showing that: 1) much of the justification offered for the NATO intervention by the US government and in the media was false; 2) that the result of the bombing was expected to be, and was, a sharp increase in Serbian atrocities; 3) the possibilities of a peaceful (ie, diplomatic) solution were not yet exhausted, and that part of the responsibility for this lay with the US.

Chomsky acknowledged in this case, as any sensible person must, that wrong actions may produce good consequences. But that truism does not absolve the citizens of the US from their urgent responsibility to understand the real determinants and purposes of American foreign policy. Unless they do — if they continue to believe fairy tales about our government’s good intentions and benevolent purposes — then the prospects for an international culture of law-abidingness are very dim.

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George Scialabba (aka geo) 04.18.09 at 11:22 pm

Correction: a couple of lines mysteriously and exasperatingly disappeared from the fifth or sixth paragraph. The passage in question should read:

“Your frequently repeated point that the US bombing was carefully planned to minimize loss of life on the night of the bombing, and that this makes all the difference between the mens rea of Clinton and bin Laden, does not prove as much as you seem to think. The CIA found trace amounts of a guilty chemical in the soil outside the plant grounds and then told the Secretary of Defense that it was “as sure as it gets” that chemical weapons were being manufactured inside. … “

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Leo Casey 04.19.09 at 7:21 pm

George:

I am not inclined to go over the ground of that exchange once more. I thought that my last reply to Chomsky was pretty definitive, so I gave him the last word and I will give it to you as well. Anyone who wants to judge for themselves, can go to the actual exchange, thanks to Donald finding it reproduced in this Wikipedia entry: LINK.

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Leo Casey 04.19.09 at 7:27 pm

I didn’t seem to be able to get the link in the previous post correct, so here is the URL:
http://web.archive.org/web/20011012151411/http://www.zmag.org/casey2.htm

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Brownie 04.20.09 at 12:27 am

I take it all those who doubt the existence of at least some left/liberal post-9/11 “barely concealed glee” missed BBC1’s ‘Question Time’ a few days laters?

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Brownie 04.20.09 at 12:27 am

I take it all those who doubt the existence of at least some left/liberal post-9/11 “barely concealed glee” missed BBC1’s ‘Question Time’ a few days later?

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Brownie 04.20.09 at 12:27 am

I take it all those who doubt the existence of at least some left/liberal post-9/11 “barely concealed glee” missed BBC1’s ‘Question Time’ a few days later?

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