A group of New York area “liberals,” the cream of civil society, listen to a group of liberal hacks make arguments against a war on Iraq. All 150 of them seem to agree with the speakers’ standard liberal view about Saddam being a monster but that inspections need time to work, etc. They are quickly turned around by a genuine representation of Iraqi-ness – – a real live Arab!! and not one of those Palestinians either! – Kanan Makiya, who whips them into a cruise-missile left frenzy with talk of how a war in Iraq is a moral imperative, and that Iraqis generally want this war. Makiya could very well genuinely believe that the distant goal of neoliberalism gives moral neccessitation to the slaughter of his country-men by new and improved Patriot missiles cheered on by the patriotic left. As Edward Said has recently pointed out, Makiya has the air of a scoundrel. Not to quibble further, but I never saw Ken Saro-Wiwa beg the United States to invade Nigeria, For that matter, I doubt that many Palestinians or Israeli peace activists think the best way to end the occupation would be for Uncle Sam to rain cluster-bombs on Tel Aviv. No sincere believer in human rights can believe that a large human-rights violator, let alone any nation, impose them.
What’s the point of all this? A particularly vulgar piece of journalism by one George Packer in the Sunday New York Times magazine. In what seems disturbingly like a companion piece, yet more cultural cold-war influenced than a recent Nation article on the “left and 911,” Packer interviews a group of “liberal intellectuals,” all of whom supported US actions in the Balkans in the early 90’s, something Packer terms the “Bosnia consensus.” This is the first step in an underhanded effort to discredit the real antiwar movement, not surprisingly Packer makes a David Horowitz-style intellectual leap and claims Noam Chomsky defended Slobodan Milosevic. Reading the interviews with the “New Humanitarians,” of whom views are mixed in regards to Iraq (but all accept the premise of US power) I found myself wondering why Packer did not find it neccessary to interview one Muslim or Arab writer. I should have known he would end the piece with a few fightin’ words from Makiya.
In fact, Packer deploys horrendous second-person manipulation from the first sentence of the article, of which it seems clear that the purpose is to alienate readers, even those who are antiwar, from participating in any mass movement against the upcoming Iraq war….
“If you’re a liberal, why haven’t you joined the antiwar movement? More importantly why is there no antiwar movement that you’d like to join?….Where are the antiwarriors?”
Packer does give lip-service to the growth of antiwar activitiy, but he notes in a Gitlinian fashion that the demonstrators’ slogans are not nuanced enough. Perhaps Leon Weiseltier could have done a better job. This is followed by the claim that being that it is unconsstructive, the antiwar movement is unworthy of “liberal support.” I am wondering if the unnuanced songs of the Civil Rights movement were unworthy of liberal support. Just about every positive mass movement in American history gains elite acceptance, if not implementation through “liberal support,” and this is, underneath the obvious critiques that dogmatic leftists and rightists may have about liberalism, a good thing. The Tet offensive turned a lot of establishment types against the war in Vietnam. Likewise Bush’s expected cavalierness in the face of succesful weapons inspections. Make no mistake, Packer has good timing.
Packer constructs a false dichotomy between the “left” that finds all American actions to be”Imperialist” and a “right” that eschews foreign policy as social work. The “Bosnia consensus” was formed by a number of people, who had previously been anti-war, those who were involved in “the sixties.” These “new humanitarians” were hellbent for leather for each and every Uncle Sam action of the nineties, and following 911, the War on Terrorism. On some level, this should discredit any honest particpation from these types in an honest antiwar movement. Fuck the liberals. Fuck them straight in their ears.
But wait. There is now some sectarianism among this “tiny but influential” group of liberal intellectuals. This sez Packer, is as fierce as any argument since Vietnam. Oy. IT gets even more patheric…Packer claims that there is a lesser and greater jihad for these folks. The greater one is the one inside, between the hope of human rights and democracy and their innate mistrust of President Bush. It seems to me that even entertaining the notion that Bush has plans at work to create a wonderful democratic Iraq is about as delusional as thinking that the Soviet Union was really preserving socialism in Prague.
There are a variety of interviews with quite a few of the usual suspects, none of whom have anything substantive to say beyond the script that Packer has already written for them. They simply supply variations on the theme. Here we see Ignatieff thinking containment has worked (never mind the genocidal sanctions.) There we see Walzer being against the war, not being “just” in his eyes, but explaining that he wouldn’t participate in a movement that would “strengthen the hand of Saddam.” Nevermind the Bushian turn of phrase, Walzer is clearly not foursquare against the war. Though he claims knowledge that the antiwar movement he joined in the sixties “strengthened” the Vietcong because “they had already won,” he knows that no one is out to strengthen the hand of Saddam, not even the Workers World Party. On the other hand, Walzer has always enjoyed strengthening the hand of Sharon, but that is an entirely different issue.
Christopher Hitchens out-Horowitzes Horowitz in adopting the worst of ultra-left demagogery for ultra-right purposes. He must really being entertaining himself. His argument in favor of war is not liberal, it is neoconservative. He claims that there is a “secret agenda” and lets us in, that a democratic Iraq would lessen the dominance of Saudi Arabia. He must have really been in a state of cognitive dissonance over the Kissinger thing, because he embarassed even himself with statements like “Americanization is the most revolutionary force in the world…..I feel like I did in the sixties working with revolutionaries…thats what I’m doing …I’m helping a very desperate underground….reminds me of my better days.”
David Rieff has a nuanced position, and seems to be the odd man out of this crowd, claiming realistically, in my opinion, that the war in Bosnia was about supporting a democracy, while Iraq is simply being sold as imposing democracy, which isn’t even clear. Leon Wieseltier plays an interesting, if unintentionally pathetic doublespeak game by claiming that war may be neccessary but he opposes it because it would be playing with fire. Paul Berman goes off the deep-end like a typical neo-con claiming that Iraq is a war for Western civilization. Most entertaininglyt, he quizzically refers to Tony Blair as leader of the free world. But he doesn’t trust Bush and the neocons. In Packer’s view, this leaves him, like all of New Humanitarians, in the familiar position of “intellectuals with an arsenal of ideas and no way to deploy them.”
This is the biggest lie of Packer’s many big lies. The liberal hawks have become America’s secret strikeforce to mobilize liberals, democrats and progressives to support the homeland. They have had plenty of opportunity. Those who sincerely oppose the war can throw caution to the wind and join and even help organize “liberal,” even New Republic editing Zionists who happen to be opposed to Bush’s war plans. This is as important time as ever in American history to build a mass antiwar movement of leftists and rightists and liberlas and socialists and conservatives and communists and libertarians allike. Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late. So come on, Leon, come on, Michael, write a long-winded placard and tell your friends. Maybe one of you can even come up to the dais.
Not gonna happen.
Fuck the liberals. Fuck them straight in the ear.
JORDY CUMMINGS can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org