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Apologies from the Left.
September 17, 2001 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Apologies from the Left. Journalist Matt Welch compiles a few and opines: "Which "dictator" were we supporting when bombing Yugoslavia? Oh yeah, none. In fact, last I remember, Yugoslavia's dictator is now facing a trial for War Crimes, and tentative democracy is gaining a foothold in Belgrade and Zagreb." (via Ken Layne)
posted by owillis (30 comments total)

 
I am so glad to see someone coming from his political standpoint say these things. Especially since he's from MY political standpoint and I can't seem to talk about any of this without spiraling downward into vulgarities.
posted by glenwood at 8:31 PM on September 17, 2001


Nothing is more convincing than generalizations about the left and suggesting dancing Palestinians need not apply for basic human rights.

As much as I like to also say, "Yeah we've been bad, but not lately" and think everything is going to be okay, it conflicts with the reality of resentment and distrust that many feel towards the US.

If we were as hot as Matt suggests there would be more dictators facing the war crimes tribunals like, say, Saddam Hussien.

The Chomsky attack is a straw man. Its pretty obvious from the context that Chomsky's assumptions are based on the fact that the Sudan lost half its pharmaceuticals. The Sudan has 35 million people and after the bombing half the medicines it had before. Civilians certainly got the shaft over this mistake.

Matt defends this bombing as an error. Is it an error like you punched the wrong hole during the election or an "error" like when the US accidently destroyed the Chinese and French embassies. When your government has a history of lying, its tough to distill the truth.

Before the trolls attack, I did not suggest the US deserved any terrorist attack. But I do not buy the rally of "We're okay its just the lefties that can't see the light."
posted by skallas at 8:48 PM on September 17, 2001


Matt defends this bombing as an error.

It was an error. And that is the point. There is a catastrophically huge gap between accidentally killing 6000 civilians and intentially planning to do so and then celebrating "God's work". End result is the same, yes. But does it not dramatically affect the evilness scorecard?
posted by glenwood at 9:01 PM on September 17, 2001


Talk about your bad examples -- it's the wingnuts on the right who objected most strenuously to the war in Yugoslavia, as "Albright's War". (Search for that on Free Republic if you don't believe me.) They felt it was entirely a distraction to what they saw as Topic One (and no, I'm not opening that can of worms -- you figure it out).

The left, as regards Yugoslavia, was badly conflicted. Many had supported Bosnian nation-building with witheringly precise documentation of the war crimes committed by all sides while the United States and Europe sat on their hands. Then there was support for the Serbian people as they tried to demonstrate against Milosevic's nationalist-fascist pseudo-legitimate régime. Then it swung back as the cleansing in Kosovo came to light. Many on the left were bewildered when their unreliable friend Clinton decided to build a coalition to create a Kosovar protectorate, then decided to enforce it with the most remote and mechanical methods of war yet used by any nation. The left in general abhors ethnic cleansing, but it also abhors unnecessary war. (The left splits on wars of debatable necessity.) Given that Welch takes that example as the case study in the viewpoint of the left, it's clear he isn't being generous with anybody liberal in the way that he wants liberals to be generous with support for dictators and remote-control war -- because, hey, it's all in the name of democracy, right? Wrong, and I'm really sorry to call him on that. It's a good essay in some ways, but it picks a straw man target.

The principled stand against nations that harbor terrorists is already turning into a mere rhetorical tool, as we're now perfectly willling to overlook terrorism sponsored by the Pakistani government in the region of Kashmir. It's said to be one of the quid pro quos on which Musharraf unsurprisingly insisted. The reason, obviously, is that we don't care about terrorism in a place where we aren't, and right now those terrorists aren't. It's just a dollar bill, liquidity in negotiations.

All people like Chomsky have insisted on over the years is policies in support of justice for ordinary people. Is our support for the corrupt and flatulent Saudi régime justifiable as support for democracy? Try it. What about Jordan? A reasonably nice King, but a King. Syria? When the President died, they "elected" the new President, the old President's son: an optometrist. Our great friends, the Gulf States? You're kidding. Pakistan is a case study: support for democracy when convenient, but when it isn't, military dictatorship is just fine with us.

In short, he makes his argument by oversimplifying the left, while accusing the left of oversimplifying. Right. And the Orwell essay is full of so much ad hominem folderol that it can hardly be called a considered support of his position. (Read enough Orwell and you'll find that he despises practically everyone.)

Of course, he may well be correct that the Left earns its scorn, as it were, from Middle America, by daring to proclaim that we are not always perfect, or that terrorist acts such as we've experienced are the kind of inevitable blowback against which we've warned. At times like these, such is tantamount to treason in the homes who espouse stormtrooper nationalism.

I'm going to wave my flag for this country, because I don't want such people to own that symbol. We can bring justice to the middle east without cruise missiles, if we are brave enough and persistent enough and principled enough. We can bring bin Laden to justice in the same way. Or we can choose to perpetuate injustice and hatred and create the next generation of suicide bombers.
posted by dhartung at 9:06 PM on September 17, 2001


"evilness scorecard"?? WTF?
posted by Opus Dark at 9:06 PM on September 17, 2001


skallas: If I remember correctly, the war crimes tribunal in Yugoslavia was either not supported, or outright decried, by many on the left. What I do recall? Never had I had heard such outright slamming of America from the far left as I did before and all during the Yugoslavian action. You'd have thought that the government of the United States was the source of all that was deplorable in the known universe.
posted by raysmj at 9:07 PM on September 17, 2001


dhartung: It's reasonable for Chomsky, et. al., to argue for stronger support of democracy. But at times like these, they should make it clear what side they are absolutely, definitely on. Some, including me, would call that a moral duty. Or is he just talking with his own, much like Falwell and Robertson with the 700 Club? Does he really think the columns only stay within an ideological community? Chomsky, ideological provincial? If you want to convince others of the rightness of your beliefs, or even to start a dialogue with the rest of the nation, it's essential to write in ways that most people would understand, to find some empathy with the average reader (as well as, to a lesser degree, those of differing ideological stripes).
posted by raysmj at 9:16 PM on September 17, 2001


I won't defend US foreign policy-but to see it as somehow causing the WTC attack is a fundamental error. The active terrorists-whether they actually bombed the WTC or not-do not accept our very existence as valid. They want us first, out of the middle east totally, and ultimately they want us vanquished-not killed per se-just converted and living by the "book". Their writings are clear on this. Blaming our foreign policy for creating radical jihadist-terrorists is like blaming our foreign policy for creating Jerry Falwell's homophobia. These people hate us for what we are -on top of and exclusive of- hating what we do. They are radicalized jihadists. If we gave free dental care and a rolex to every Palestinian and Afghani tomorrow, their enmity would not cease. We would make some friends with the less ideologically disposed populace, and thus smooth the sea of resentment the terrorists sail on. That is an important, and probably the only achievable, goal-but as for the terrorists-there can be no reconciliation or compromise. Not to get melodramatic, but truly, only one of us can continue to exist.
posted by quercus at 9:25 PM on September 17, 2001


>>You'd have thought that the government of the United States was the source of all that was deplorable in the known universe.<<

I don't think that is the case. As voters we have at least some say over what the U.S. does and the causes it allies its self with. When the U.S. claims democracy and supports dictators, then some of us wonder what is going on.

>>It's reasonable for Chomsky, et. al., to argue for stronger support of democracy. But at times like these, they should make it clear what side they are absolutely, definitely on. Some, including me, would call that a moral duty. Or is he just talking with his own, much like Falwell and Robertson with the 700 Club? Does he really think the columns only stay within an ideological community? Chomsky, ideological provincial? If you want to convince others of the rightness of your beliefs, or even to start a dialogue with the rest of the nation, it's essential to write in ways that most people would understand, to find some empathy with the average reader (as well as, to a lesser degree, those of differing ideological stripes).<<

True, Chomsky tends to have great theory but falls flat in talking about it. For that matter this seems to be a serious problem for the left.

But what I'm seeing is yet another repeat of what happened in the Gulf War, and before that the cold war when it became impossible to even open a debate about U.S. foreign policy without getting some stupid, trite "love it or leave it line." Of course one of the things I love about the U.S. is that I can suggest that the U.S. would be better off with a different foreign policy without being shot.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:41 PM on September 17, 2001


raysmj: If you want to convince others of the rightness of your beliefs... it's essential to write in ways that most people would understand

Right on. As a diehard lefty- and something of a Chomsky fan- what has long bothered me is that despite many good ideas, the "left" including Chomsky still doesn't seem to know or want to know how to use PR tactics or rhetorical devices to convince the "common man". What Chomsky says is often quite reasoned and thoughtful, and in the context of a decent education and familiarity with his works and related resources, perfectly understandable. But I suspect an average person who stumbled across that column would get the erroneous idea that Chomsky is against democracy or thinks the terrorist attacks were justified somehow because he hates America too. Sadly, the poor bastard still hasn't grasped the most basic principles of rhetoric and persuasion; any column making the point his did has to heavily sugar-coat it in a certain level of patriotic fervor and plenty of "this horrific, horrific act cannot be tolerated!" sentiments- sometimes even if you don't believe, just because your audience will expect it. Using common language, "real-life" analogies and fables, or offering sometimes insincere platitudes- these things aren't "dumbing down", they're called communicating to most people, and it frustrates me that the left's most prolific minds seem too damn dull to get this.
posted by hincandenza at 9:59 PM on September 17, 2001



If you're looking for a not-quite-from-the-left critique from a spiritual son of Orwell, you might as well go the whole hog and read Christopher Hitchens.

(There was an interesting and unintentionally apposite discussion on Homage to Catalonia on R4 last night, which more or less agreed with you, dhartung. After everything else, Orwell was an Old Etonian.)

I suppose the paradox of the intellectual left is that while its critique often involves the dissection of the supposedly self-evident tenets of political action (Chomsky, Said) its prescriptions are generally just as absolute. Not that that invalidates it, by any means: simply that (from my biased perspective) the left tends to engage in a slightly more palatable hypocrisy.

It could be worse: instead of Chomsky, we might be relying on Jean fucking Baudrillard. But it's times like this that we need Bill Hicks about ;)
posted by holgate at 10:12 PM on September 17, 2001


Ah, Bill Hicks... :) Yeah, the left can be so dispassionate and clinical, with a brand of elitism and absolutism that's quite off-putting. I've said it before, and I'll say it again- political change takes time, yet extremists of all stripes want it to happen over night... hence minimizing their effectiveness, until they realize they need to offer rhetoric and jingos and slo-o-owly pull the rest of the country along, bit by bit.
posted by hincandenza at 10:23 PM on September 17, 2001


glenwood, If it was an error — which is conventional wisdom outside the White House — why haven’t reparations been forthcoming? It was the very definition of a war crime. If you were shot because you were mistaken for a known muderer, should there be any sort of penalty? Or, could everyone just acknowledge that “It was a mistake,” step over your dead body and forget about it?

Dan makes a good point. Critique of US policy isn’t simple-minded loathing of the stars and bars. They’re looking for social justice. The thread tying US policy together is support for economic and political systems that are under its control — the outcome isn’t necessarily beneficial for regular folk.

If a move doesn’t bolster US power, its likely not to act. Occasionally, this means humanitarian aid and good works. Often, it means totally ignoring or supporting massive atrocities. Why did NATO bomb the crap out of civilian targets in Serbia and Montenegro, but refuse to lift a finger against Suharto’s genocide in East Timor? They both were going on at the same time.

You’ll likely to find the answer after understanding which institutions benefit from the (in)action.

The liberal litany of self-congratulation over military intervention in Serbia is as annoying as it is wrong. Milosevic was deposed by a massive democratic protest. The common thread in Serbian opposition press was that sanctions gave power to Milosevic, bombs killed civilians and created refugees. A Belgrade student said, “We did it on our own. Please do not help us again with your bombs.”

I read in a few different places that the CIA helped Otpur, the democratic student movement. If its true, that was probably the best the thing the west could’ve done. Support democracy by supporting popular movements, not killing innocents.
posted by raaka at 10:38 PM on September 17, 2001


Actually, raaka, exactly what kind of involvement would you like to have seen the U.S. seek in East Timor? I understand it was a place of constant atrocity, but could you as a U.S. policymaker really have stood up for involving U.S. troops in a never-to-be-solved war against the world's fourth-largest nation, home to 16,000 islands and nearly as many cultures and interests, home to one of the world's most corruput bureaucratic milataristic governments?

I hate to say it, but the U.S. ought to lean heavily towards its own interests, and towards countries it's closely enmeshed with. (Phrasing the latter purely as "economic and political systems that are under its control" is a rhetorical stroke.) The U.S. also ought to stay out of situations in which it can't find a good outcome (which is why I've always opposed the Gulf War). This means that, sometimes, we're in the horrible positions of witnessing atrocities on CNN and not being in a position to end them. So goes life for all of us, humans as well as nations.

But the crucial question is this: bin Laden and his supporters say the U.S. is the biggest terrorist on this planet. Do you agree? Adding all actions together, has the U.S. government been purely terroristic, on the same order or greater as bin Laden?
posted by argybarg at 10:59 PM on September 17, 2001


Phrasing the latter purely as "economic and political systems that are under its control" is a rhetorical stroke.

Last year trade negotiations were held up because the US couldn’t decide on some issue or another. Asked to comment on the holdup, a third-world bureaucrat said that nothing happens until the US is ready. International trade regimes are controlled and initiated in Washington. Nothing happens without its support. Otherwise, third world debt would be a memory. You could argue that it isn’t entirely US dominated, but saying it isn’t first-world dominated would be a hell of a feat.

ought to lean heavily towards its own interests, and towards countries it's closely enmeshed with

Well, the US was incredibly “enmeshed” with Indonesia and saw the area as “its own interests.” A better plan would be to support the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Here’s what the US should’ve done on East Timor:

1) Stopped supplying Suharto with his weaponry.

2) Stop calling him an ally while he committed murder and terror campaigns against a peasant nation. Clinton Admin on Suharto in ’95: “[He’s] our kind of guy.”

3) Six hours after Albright held a press conference asking Suharto to step down, he did. (Correlation doesn’t prove causation, but still.)

4) Support, instead of actively flaunt, UN statements asking Indonesia to withdraw and give East Timor independence.

No bombs, no sanctions. All this could’ve been done in an afternoon.

bin Laden and his supporters say the U.S. is the biggest terrorist on this planet. Do you agree?

By what measure? Innocent deaths? Refugees? Human rights abuses like torture? bin Laden has some six or seven thousand (highball estimate) murders attributed to him. If you want to count East Timor as an US action that’s 200,000 deaths. (Its also partially Britian and Australia, but mostly, I believe, the US.)

The US was just a victim of a terrorist attack, quite possibly, by Laden. I’m willing to call him a terrorist. By the same token, you should ask an East Timorese whether they think the US is a terrorist state.

Now that’s rhetorical stroke.
posted by raaka at 12:37 AM on September 18, 2001


The results of the bombing of Yugoslavia were, the death of innocent civilians, the return of a country to a pre-industrial stage, the poisoning of the Danube with chemicals from destroyed factories, the support to an army of armed thugs (the KLA) who after their successful ethnic cleansing of Kosovo from the Serbs and Gypsies, are now stirring civil war in the Republic of Macedonia and who, BTW are widely rumored to have support from Bin Laden's organization and are major heroin traffickers.
Milosevic's democratically elected successor is a man who publicly condemned the NATO attack on Yugoslavia, while being the leader of an opposition party.
And I won't even get into the fact that the NATO attack turned small scale atrocities against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo into a full massacre, or that the KLA's aim for a "greater Albania" involves the violent secession of parts of countries where Albanians are either a minority (Montenegro) or non-existent (Greece).
posted by talos at 3:53 AM on September 18, 2001


I didn't hear the Radio 4 discussion of Orwell and I'm not sure whether dhartung is criticising or not, but anyone who wants to understand how nationalistic thought works should read Orwell's Notes on Nationalism. There is no better description of how nationalistic thought skews the press and society.

Whatever Orwell's views and background were, no political commentator has ever, EVER, been as honest and insightful as he was about prejudice and double standards. He could see it in himself and others and his writing is shot through with the desire to expose it, which is probably why it appears that he despises everyone. He didn't. He could just see through them. I wish he was here.
posted by Summer at 5:47 AM on September 18, 2001


[ There's not yet an archive of the edition of A Good Read discussing Orwell, but it'll be up in a couple of days, I'd imagine. It's a reflection on his misanthropy, his insightful critique of the English "establishment left" (Auden, McNiece et al) and the extent to which his actions in Spain might have compromised his own journalistic intentions. ]
posted by holgate at 7:42 AM on September 18, 2001


This would all be ever so much more convincing if there weren't the nearly continuous "I am better than you are" subtext.

So here's a giant clue: we are all craven morons, clutching at the dark corners of our hearts.

People die. People kill other people. Take a decent person, give them absolute power, and they'll murder twenty million people in the name of decency. Every government ever devised is corrupt, self-interested, and perfectly willing to slaughter others in the pursuit of whatever shiny bauble catches the eye.

Nobody is clean. Nobody ever will be clean. You can try, but this puerile banter about who is cleaner than whom goes nowhere but down. Behind every closet door is a pile of bodies; all the perfume and fancy lace doilies on Earth won't get rid of them.
posted by aramaic at 7:50 AM on September 18, 2001


If you want to count East Timor as an US action that’s 200,000 deaths.

Well, if you want to, feel free. Realize you are counting the U.S. as the sole moral agent on the earth and relegating all other countries to the moral status of a dependent child. Why you'd want to do that -- you'd have to tell me.
posted by argybarg at 8:08 AM on September 18, 2001


And aramaic, as for comparing who's better: fair enough.

But the only reason I ask the question is this: If you hope for America to destroy the capacity of bin Laden and his associates to function, do you do so only because your stuff is in this country?
posted by argybarg at 8:11 AM on September 18, 2001


Critique of US policy isn’t simple-minded loathing of the stars and bars. They’re looking for social justice.

The irony, I think, is that the left uses the same logic as Falwell and Robertson: we brought this upon ourselves; we're to blame for our own misfortunes. On one hand, we have the 700 Club saying that it's because our domestic moral behavior have offended God, on the other, it's that our foreign policy has offended the sensibilities of the world.

It's the same story, from two different sides. We lambast the religious right because we don't believe as they do, but we revere idiot linguists because... hell, I don't know why.
posted by terceiro at 8:51 AM on September 18, 2001


The comfortable pockets of the demarcated far left and far right tend to be where people go to project their psychological dramas on the world rather than realistically grapple with it. More perversely, they tend to view themselves as the only realists.
posted by argybarg at 9:05 AM on September 18, 2001


argybarg: good point. The most dangerous position is the one which is completely sure that it contains the only reality.
posted by terceiro at 10:09 AM on September 18, 2001


the left uses the same logic as Falwell and Robertson: we brought this upon ourselves

That’s just misrepresentation. I’ve read in the past week that the US reaps what it sows, that it somehow deserved what it got. That goes way too far for my taste. All I’m saying is the US has been a valid target for terrorist attacks since the beginning of the 90s. Before, the US was relatively terror free. What changed to bring that about? The argument goes that at least some of the change is directly related to US policy. Obviously, all of it couldn’t be.

If anyone made an argument that showed terror attacks aren’t related to US policy, I’d certainly listen. It’d have to supply more evidence than “the people that did this are mindless killers who hate freedom.” Sure they’re killers, maybe they hate freedom. That doesn’t explain why they attacked the US. Why not Japan?

Fundamentalists think we’ve become a secular society and God has abandoned us. Any rational person instantly knows that’s ridiculous. What isn’t so easy is to brush off is a serious critique of US actions around the globe. One way of ignoring the argument is comparing those who make the it to fundamentalists.

Realize you are counting the U.S. as the sole moral agent on the earth and relegating all other countries to the moral status of a dependent child.

Uh, no. I’m saying the US should be responsible for its actions. Is the US above all that?

project their psychological dramas on the world

I’m not sure if this is a troll or not. What’s your understanding of the past week?
posted by raaka at 12:55 PM on September 18, 2001


we have the 700 Club saying that it's because our domestic moral behavior have offended God, on the other, it's that our foreign policy has offended the sensibilities of the world.

If the US didn’t dedicate itself to certain foreign policy actions around the world, and people used US foreign policy as evidence for some argument, then the comparision would be valid.

From another perspective, people who believe actions around the globe aren’t effecting someone, somewhere, do so on a purely metaphysical level.
posted by raaka at 1:03 PM on September 18, 2001


raaka, the US should indeed be responsible for its actions. The US is not responsible thereby for every case of genocide that happens anywhere in the world. Many ideologies and governments behave in moral independence of the US, and they assume responsibilities for their own human failings.

Considering East Timor a "US action" is pure solipsism.
posted by argybarg at 3:55 PM on September 18, 2001


The psychological drama I see acted out in those who nestle in the far left and far right is often much the same. "They" (the Ignorant/decadent/amoral Everyone Else) are opposed to poor "us" (the few capable of seeing the truth), persecuting us for speaking the truth. (I believe one post this week said that "Middle America" scorned "us" for "daring to believe that [the U.S.] is not perfect.") There's always a small number of "us" in the world, and "our" light is in perennial danger of being snuffed out. In other words, a persecution complex.

That's usually mixed with an unyielding, indiscriminate belief that some large singular system (the government, corporations, the Media) is purely evil, unlimited in power, and virtually animate in having a specific will to do wrong. This abets the larger belief that only "we" (in the far left, or the far right) are capable of seeing reality, and that everyone else must be ignorant or brainwashed. Needless to say, this also feeds and is fed by the persecution complex. Any direct attack on belief in this controlling system reinforces belief in the controlling system.

This kind of sheltering psychodrama is usually satisfying because it plays out some old, familiar role, usually assigned by one's family in childhood. (It may correspond to a smothering parental influence, or a family "scapegoat" role). It reminds the individual of that comfortable family role; it removes the obligation to listen openly to outside viewpoints; and it has the built-in reassurance of access to truth In Itself. It seems like a tough role for ultraconservatives or ultraliberals to break out of -- or even recognize that they're playing.

Pardon me if I sound arrogant; I don't mean to.

As for your question about my understanding of the past week, I guess I don't understand what you mean.
posted by argybarg at 4:14 PM on September 18, 2001


One last:

If anyone made an argument that showed terror attacks aren’t related to US policy, I’d certainly listen.

Teach me how to prove a negative first.
posted by argybarg at 4:17 PM on September 18, 2001


Teach me how to prove a negative first.

Sounds like a dodge. Tell me why terrorists attacked the US. By your own admission, it can’t have anything to do with US policy.

indiscriminate belief that some large singular system .... is purely evil, unlimited in power, and virtually animate in having a specific will to do wrong.

Well, I don’t believe that. The world we live in is quite a bit more nuanced.

Pardon me if I sound arrogant

It’s not arrogant, it’s incorrect. Maybe its arrogantly incorrect, whatever. I’ve read summaries of “liberal” thought that are similiarly patronizing. Anti-authoritarians often have to remind pro-authortarians, such as yourself, that you don’t need someone telling you how to live your life. The life you are defending is marked by sheltered complacency and an aquesience to power that I’d rather do without.

Considering East Timor a "US action" is pure solipsism.

1) I also stated Britian and Australia allied with Suharto.

2) Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the US considered Suharto an ally, gave him weaponry and didn’t speak out against him for 23 years. You’re right its “pure solipsism,” but you’re leveling the accusation in the wrong direction.
posted by raaka at 6:42 PM on September 18, 2001


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