It has been a long time since I bothered with Norman Geras’ blog, or others in the supposedly left pro-war camp. But I did go to the Geras blog tonight, and found a reply to Madeleine Bunting’s op ed in the Guardian. Bunting's article is a j'accuse, directed against the pro-war intellectuals -- the belligeranti.
Geras’ reply comes in several parts. Here are three of the Iraq parts:
“Ingredient 4 This one concerns the distribution of blame. It's totally forthright, but only in one direction: '[T]he most catastrophic blunder in half a century of British and American foreign policy. Ill-conceived and spectacularly badly implemented...'; 'the politicians who made the decisions, who lied, and ignored and manipulated expert opinion are still in power and still uttering the same meaningless platitudes.' As for the daily carnage being perpetrated by political forces actively opposed to any democratic process and bound by none of the recognized moral constraints in their choice of methods and targets, here Bunting is coyly indirect. It's just 'blood and brutality' and 'nightmare scenarios', and even then it's because (borrowing the words of Zalmay Khalilzad) 'we have opened a Pandora's box'. But even if 'we' are to blame, in Bunting's judgement, for having done that, why does she have no word of blame to direct at anyone else, as if there were no other forces - former Baathists, just for example, jihadis - determining where Iraq is headed? The anger is all reserved for 'the politicians who made the decisions' and so forth - as if there were just one culpable party.
Ingredient 5 Is there any positive side to what has happened in Iraq? Is Bunting pleased at least for the Kurds? Who knows? She offers no word to enlighten you. Is it at all material, as far as she's concerned, that despite everything 'Iraqis have continued to say by decisive margins that, on balance, getting rid of Saddam Hussein was still worth it'. Given Bunting's way of drawing up a balance sheet on Afghanistan, one shouldn't expect her to say anything about this when it comes to Iraq, and she doesn't.
Ingredient 6 And that brings us to the heart of things here - the heart of things being that Bunting doesn't allow that the differences over the Iraq war were a matter of judgement, in which not all the considerations pointed in the same direction. The only look-in this gets from her is this: 'One can understand the eagerness to topple Saddam might have blinded some into backing a recklessly foolish war.' You see, it 'blinded' us. It couldn't have been, could it, that for people of left and liberal outlook this was a genuine and extremely powerful consideration - to terminate the rule of a genocidal tyrant, to close down the torture chambers and the murderous processes feeding the mass graves? Writing as if there was only ever one arguable or legitimate side of the story, as if the future was from the start completely transparent, and as if there were no human costs in not going to war against Saddam, is a piece of the purest demagogy, if it isn't (as it usually isn't in such things) outright dishonesty. In this latest piece of hers, Madeleine Bunting speaks for all those in the anti-war camp who have simply silenced the 'other' considerations, disallowing that they carried any weight. They have been, unfortunately, many. There were ways of opposing the war, ways that did not indulge in this silencing, this disallowing, and these can and should be respected. The Bunting-style concoction is something else.”
This is the kind of intellectual sleight of hand that we can expect from the belligeranti as the death spiral plays itself out -- the irrelevance of American power, the unpredictable direction of Iraqi violence, the shedding of all credibility by the Coalition. In essence, the belligeranti re-writing of history will make everything depend on the moral rightness of wanting to “terminate the rule of a genocidal tyrant, to close down the torture chambers and the murderous processes feeding the mass graves.”
Unfortunately for this argument, it makes no sense. America and Britain could as well have invaded Indonesia in 1990 – after all, Suharto murdered easily 500-800 thousand Indonesians in 1966 and 1967, and if I wished to divide those by the years, I could easily come up with a per year figure of deaths. But the latter would be a lie, just as Geras' remark about Saddam Hussein is a lie. There is no evidence that Saddam Hussein was feeding the mass graves in 2003. To have smashed him in 1991 would, indeed, have prevented that – but not to have smashed him then casts as much doubt on the moral dimension of the invasion as would be cast if we invaded Serbia today for having invaded Bosnia in 1992.
That Geras clings, still, to the idea that 2003 was 1991, and that invasion was the only way to stop the ‘feeding of the mass graves” is merely the usual farce. But I’d like to concentrate on Ingredient 4, since one of the things that will slip by in the coming battle of recriminations is how much the pro-war party did, actively, to worsen the situation once Iraq was invaded. The mistakes here came fast and thick, and are indicative of the stew of intellectual corruption in which these characters are steeped. A small bill of particulars would go like this:
1. The de-legitimation of secular democracy. The first and most lasting damage done to post Saddam Iraq by the neo-cons and the war supporters happened indirectly. Even as Iraq was being invaded, the Pentagon flew a known swindler, Ahmed Chalabi, with the nucleus of a paramilitary (the first of so many) to Iraq. Not one war supporter I know of blanched. None protested that putting the face of a criminal on the American supported Iraqi force was a tremendous mistake, and would wound any attempt to create a democratic faction in Iraq. Imagine, if you will, gathering a party to support feminism and putting a former rapist at the head of it. Imagine appointing Ken Lay the head of the SEC. Imagine appointing George Bush to some commission to repair New Orleans. In all of those situations, the grotesque disparity between the record of the person so appointed and the ostensible purpose of the organizations to which they were appointed would have immediately created an outcry. Chalabi, the first of a number of sinister American clients in Iraq (Allawi having, perhaps, an even worse record), was placed in Iraq as though it were the most normal thing in the world. This should reveal, pretty much, the massive bad faith of the pro-war side’s ostensive and gaudy “concern for the Iraqi people.” It was the typical colonialist gambit of finding a criminal for a dark skinned, conquered population that can keep enough order to allow looting to proceed in a peaceable manner.
2. The next opportunity for the pro-war crowd to actually make a difference was in the first couple months of the occupation. Those months planted the terrible seeds of what has come after. The refusal to consider immediate Iraqization of the government; the appointment of sub-competent Americans to positions of authority in Iraq; the attempt to redo the Iraqi economy to the benefit of the U.S.; the disbanding of the army; the laissez faire attitude to looting. At no point did the pro-war people flinch. Even when the policy was clearly insane – the disbanding of the army was, obviously, insane, and LI wrote about it as early as May 30, 2003, to say so – the pro-war people never raised a single peep. Of course, what we wrote then was not the CW it is now, but it was pretty easy to guess. But of course, that isn't all. When Halliburton came on the scene like a devouring locust, Christopher Hitchens wrote a column praising the company. For some reason, he didn’t write a column recently, about the Pentagon overruling their auditors and allowing Halliburton to collect 200 million dollars in gouged profits. Surely he should have. The whole attitude of the pro-war party was either smug or organizing themselves in absolute lockstep behind the Bush plan.
3. As the occupation got under way in earnest, and it was evident that an insurgency was taking place, the pro-war people did their best to lie about this. It took months for them to unglue themselves enough from following every jot and tittle of the pronunciamentos issuing from the Bush white house to even notice that something might have gone a teensy bit wrong. Instead of operating, then, in terms of their supposed love for erecting a ‘liberty loving’ Iraq – which would clearly require internationalizing both the coalition force and the governing structure, kicking out Bremer, and speeding up the transition to an all Iraq government – they continued the childish and stupid project of spitting at the French – what they were hired for in the first place, I suppose. This was probably the last chance to transition from the occupation into an Iraq that could have connected with the strong traditions of its pre-Saddam past. However, this was certainly not in the interests of the Americans, who were determined to knock down one of those traditions – Iraq’s seminal role in nationalizing oil and starting OPEC – and so this never happened.
4. After that, of course, the crimes come thick and fast – the air strikes, the massacres of crowds, the outlawing of Sadr, the attacks in Najaf, and the crowning war crime of sacking Falluja, all celebrated by a crowd that now had wandered so far from supporting anything but colonial oppression in Iraq that they had simply become a joke. A joke whose main indignation was directed at George Galloway. The disgusting left in pursuit of the irrelevant left.
5. So, let us not forget what the pro-war group has wrought. And let’s not get caught up in pointless conversations about the worth or non-worth of toppling Saddam Hussein, since regime change and occupation are two different issues -- one did not have to flow into the other, after all. That they did -- that it was obvious that the bogus D.C. warriors were going to invade to stay -- delegitimated the attack in the first place. But the questions should be separated, anyway, for maximum clarity. The question is the worth or non-worth of the occupation of Iraq, and the guilt, the indelible guilt of the pro-war intellecutals is built on that dark and bloody ground.
ps -- I exempt, from the above five points, Johann Hari -- one of the few belligeranti who actually consulted something other than his own moral superiority when writing about Iraq. While disagreeing with Hari's notion of feedback - especially the curious reverence in which he holds obviously flawed polls of the Iraqi people -- at least he has a notion of feedback, and it extends beyond what is being cleverly expressed on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal or the latest Hitchens screed in Slate. LI understands the moral grounds that would move someone like Hari, or even Geras, to support an invasion to knock out Saddam Hussein. But a morality so doped up on its own righteousness that it mainly functions to produce a smokescreen of invective and sophism behiind which a gang of corporate hustlers and imperialists are trying to impose an unpopular order on an unwilling populace soon passes into immorality. Hari, to his credit, realized this early on.
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"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads