Monday, January 09, 2006

BLOOD IN THE SAND

Thomas Cushman (editor of one of the muscular liberal gospels - "A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for the War in Iraq") reviews Stephen Eric Bronner's "Blood in the Sand" in the current edition of Democratiya. Regular viewers may be able to guess what's coming up from the book's subtitle: "Imperial Fantasies, Right Wing Ambitions, and the Erosion of American Democracy". Here's Cushman's take:
Bronner's book is a fairly straightforward series of theoretical reductions, but the principal one is that the war was 'little more than an imperialist ambition' led by a cabal of neoconservatives in the United States, and supported by several deluded left-wing intellectual traitors.

This account, however, completely ignores the fact that the main ideological driving force for the war emanated from two sources that have very little to do with Bush, neoconservatism, or American imperialism. The first was the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998 which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton (who has since changed his mind; during his recent trip to the Middle East he denounced the war as 'a mistake.') Bronner seems to remember nothing of this. He ignores the fact that regime change in Iraq has been a matter of public law in the United States since 1998 and was duly and legally authorised by the US Congress in 2003.

He also ignores another ideological source of the war. Tony Blair, perhaps the most principled liberal statesman of modern times, was a leading force in calling the world to its senses about the nature of Saddam's tyranny and the need to stop him from wreaking further havoc in the Middle East. In an impassioned speech in Chicago in 1999, Blair, a great friend of Clinton, and no doubt with Clinton's imprimatur and support, called for an end to Saddam and the democratisation of the Middle East. This occurred while George W. Bush, an isolationist governor in Texas, was most likely not dreaming of imperial hegemony, but figuring out how to get elected by appealing to domestic dissatisfactions. Bush was, so to speak, Blair's poodle on the matter of Iraq and foreign policy more generally after 9/11.
It's hard to believe that publishers are still willing to print books consisting of such long discredited arguments and even harder to understand how they keep selling. As Cushman says, once you've read one you've read them all.

In addition to his critique of the book, Cushman also asks some hard questions of Bronner, without resorting to the name-calling that the latter happily occupies himself with under the heading of "Dub'ya's Fellow Travelers: Left Intellectuals and Mr Bush's War".
Bronner has the distinction of having been one of the members of the Delegation of Independent United States Academics to the Iraqi-American Academic Symposium which was held at the University of Baghdad on January 14-16, just a few months before the war began. Bronner takes great pains to assert that he and his contingent, as well as the 33,000 academics who signed a related petition, sought to distance themselves from Saddam's regime. In his own words, he tried 'not to become a dupe.' He admits that Saddam was a brutal and ruthless thug. But how could Bronner escape the label of 'dupe' after failing to see that Saddam was manipulating this well-meaning group to his own advantage? There is little question that Saddam saw such people as dupes. He was enamored of the political simplicities of the anti-war movements in the democracies which were fighting to stop the war against him. To show up in Iraq at this time, at the invitation, and with the approval, of Saddam (there was no other way into Iraq) was to make oneself partisan to the regime.

While guests of the regime in Iraq, the US 'peace' delegation publicly named the numerous sins of the United States. But they made no mention of the transgressions of Saddam. How could they while on Iraqi soil with Saddam's apparatus of terror in power? The fact is that Bronner and others were lending symbolic legitimacy to Saddam Hussein's regime and no amount of posturing can deny the objective validity of this fact. The delegation confirmed George Orwell's famous dictum that in times of struggle between liberal democracies and totalitarian states, pacifists are 'objectively pro-fascist' despite their declamations that they are only third parties trying to seek peace through negotiations and diplomacy.
Well worth a read.

And Norm's got a review in Democratiya too: Crimes Against Humanity: A Normative Approach.

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