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Wednesday, June 25, 2003


Perry Anderson's piece in the LRB -- Casuistries of Peace and War -- is good, straightforward Marxist analysis. Every piece of it is right -- it is just the whole thing that is wrong.

Shall we start from the ending?

"What conclusions follow? Simply this. Mewling about Blair's folly or Bush's crudity, is merely saving the furniture. Arguments about the impending war would do better to focus on the entire prior structure of the special treatment accorded to Iraq by the United Nations, rather than wrangle over the secondary issue of whether to continue strangling the country slowly or to put it out of its misery quickly."

This, in dismissing the issues of the current peace movement in order to focus on attacking the underlying pattern. A politics depends, of course, on there being an underlying pattern. And so the piece is rife with the old images that evoke the real and the apparent, the veil and the God behind it, such as this graf which affirms, simultaneously, the writer's more acute sense of reality -- those x-ray eyes -- and the really frivolous issues that trouble the mere masses:

"Cultural dislike of the Bush Presidency is widespread in Western Europe, where its rough affirmations of American primacy, and undiplomatic tendency to match word to deed, have become intensely resented by public opinion accustomed to a more decorous veil being drawn over the realities of relative power."

Of course, public opinion, like the legendary Indians on the isle of Manhattan, is always willing to trade real value for beads and veils. Female items, in fact -- when what we need are hard headed, hard hatted thinkers. However, we suspect that public opinion, stupid as it may be, is not so stupid as to think itself as wise as Anderson thinks himself.

The war in Iraq, in Anderson's view, is simply an extension of the war as Clinton pursued it. A change in quantity, here, does not lead, for him, to a change in quality. He begins the article by listing six arguments against the war and six counter-arguments for it. His contempt, of course, is for the prudential argument -- after all, in Anderson's view, the war will be short, victory is assured, and occupation will be a snap. Oddly, no consideration is given, at all, to the costs of occupation -- it is the oddity of political analyses of the 'stand-off" between the U.S. and Iraq, as the Washington Post calls it, that each side considers the cost, and the willingness of both sides to bear the cost, a moot point. It is as if there were no consideration whatsoever that wars and occupations require quite a lot of cash to sustain, and the morale to get that cash. We're going to go into this on another post, soon.

The more we hear that Iraq will be a pushover -- an assumption that we make, ourselves -- the more we wonder whether that is going to be the case. Similarly, the idea that public opinion in Britain and the U.S. will swing unanimously behind the war once it starts -- another assumption of the pundits -- while it seems likely to us, becomes everyday less likely to us as it sinks from an hypothesis into a pre-supposition. For almost all pre-suppositions about this war, so far, have turned out wrong.

And to go on with wrong... Anderson makes a number of points that fall in that category. For instance, presenting the Bush side of the equation on the war, he writes: "You also forget that we already have a very successful protectorate in the northern third of Iraq, where we have knocked Kurdish heads together pretty effectively. Do you ever hear dire talk about that?" Now, who has ever represented the point of view that we knocked Kurdish heads together pretty efficiently? Nobody that we've read. We suspect this is Anderson infusing his own p.o.v. -- which tends to Realpolitik in jackboots -- into the Bush position. In fact, the knocking together of Kurdish heads has been done pretty much by Kurds -- although saying such a thing is disallowed by Anderson's worldview, in which everything must reflect great power hegemony. That makes perfect sense when public opinion is simply a dupe, decorous veils are manipulated in Salome fashion to distract all but the eagle eye of our Marxist Sherlock Holmes, and we can just thank the Bush administration for admitting, honestly, that international institutions are simply tools to administer American hegemony. In Anderson's odd view, power has total control, so the only thing to do is to arouse total resistance. Of course, who these total resistors are is a bit of a problem, and how they are to resist is another one. Perhaps they are the spirits of the marxist dead, and they will wing there way to us from some Ouija board manipulated by the editorial board of the New Left Review.

However, LI will stick with the dupes in the street for now.

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