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The Starboard at Portside


Monday evening, the respected listserve of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism known as Portside selected for circulation a commentary that had appeared in that morning’s Boston Globe: Swanee Hunt‘s “The Three Lessons of Srebrenica” (July 11).

Now. I myself had caught Hunt’s commentary earlier in the day via the Boston Globe‘s website, just a tiny part of my effort to survey the reporting and analysis taking place with respect to the 10th Anniversary of the “fall” of the Srebrenica enclave to Bosnian-Serb hands back in July, 1995—and everything that happened in the week-to-ten days that followed this event, and the ten years after that.

When I found Hunt’s original in the Boston Globe, my reaction was that it is a blood-thirsty piece of garbage, hewing slavishly to the reigning narrative of the breakup of Yugoslavia, and in every major feature: The series of wars there in the 1990s were characterized by good guys and bad guys; outsiders could tell the good guys from the bad guys based upon their ethnic and religious backgrounds; and the bad guys weren’t just bad but really, truly, Nazi-like bad, their crazed destruction of an ethnic paradise like Bosnia and Herzegovina used to be having been hatched years before by the genocidal puppeteer up in Belgrade, without whom, none of the rest could have happened. (Though I should add that Hunt’s narrative is quite typical of the genre to which it belongs. Typical of virtually everything that was placed into circulation about the former Yugoslavia during the Srebrenica anniversary. As well as typical of its author’s work overall.)

What interests me here is the reason why Portside, the “left side in nautical parlance,” as they’ve been reminding us for years, a “news, discussion and debate service” the aim of which is to “provide varied material of interest to people on the left—things that will help them to interpret the world, and to change it,” would have chosen Swanee Hunt’s utterly false and anti-leftist commentary in the first place.

In other words: Is Portside for real? Or has Portside fallen over the starboard-side—at least on questions that touch on the wars that accompanied the breakup of the former Yugoslavia?

My hunch is that two aspects of Swanee Hunt’s commentary grabbed the starboardists at Portside—and note that Hunt’s bio as provided by Monday’s Globe tells us that she is the “director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.”

The first was simply its author, a very rich woman dripping with prestige in American policymaking circles whom at no point in the history of her work on issues related to the former Yugoslavia (dating at least to her Ambassadorship to Austria from 1993 onward) has shown the slightest deviation from the reigining white hat, black hat narrative—with the biggest and the whitest of the white hats worn by you know whom.

This crucial bias behind Hunt’s work is borne out by information at the Women Waging Peace website, the whole WWP project being “An Initiative of the Hunt Alternatives Fund.” Notice that Women’s Participation in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY): Transitional Justice for Bosnia and Herzegovina (July, 2004—also see the very glossy Executive Summary), WWP’s major publication on the former Yugoslavia, assumes as factually given that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is an impartial seeker of truth and dispenser of justice into which the “expertise” of the women of Bosnia and Herzegovina ought to be instrumentally channeled. Indeed, three of the four links to “Background” sources provided by this outfit’s Bosnia and Herzegovina webpage are to the International Crisis Group and the U.S. Institute for Peace—ultra-biased sources, in fact, but biased in the direction of American Power and its foreign policy objectives.—So the nature of the interest that Women Waging Peace has taken in the former Yugoslavia over the years has been the conjunction of Bosnian Muslim women and the prosecution of ethnic Serbs. This is the real background of Swanee Hunt’s work on the former Yugoslavia. And doubtless one reason why the starboardists at Portside placed her commentary in circulation among their listserve.

The other aspect of Hunt’s commentary that no doubt grabbed the starboardists’ attention is the way it provides a sanctification for American Power when justified in conjunction with an humanitarian cause. These days, most starboardists in the States are desperate for a reason to kill that sounds more soothing to the ear than the reasons coughed up by the White House in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Former U.S. Ambassador Swanee Hunt to the rescue, who wasted no time instructing us that the “Srebrenica massacre demonstrates that genocidal aggression requires well-reasoned military intervention….We stood by, wringing our hands, as thousands were brutally executed in a massacre that might have been prevented by decisive action….The tragedy is that we waited so long to call the Serbs’ bluff and that our force commanders initially refused to pursue the war criminals.”

Well-reasoned military intervention. Decisive action. Pursuing war criminals. And the like. And yet a commentary that proclaims these to be desiderata but finds them sorely lacking in the American construction of, and response to, the wars in the former Yugoslavia was selected by Portside for circulation.

Rhetoric such as Swanee Hunt’s is intended to appeal to starboardists everywhere.

But also to portsiders?

The Three Lessons of Srebrenica,” Swanee Hunt, Boston Globe, July 11, 2005
The Three Lessons of Srebrenica,” Swanee Hunt, as posted to Portside, July 11, 2005

The Politics of the Srebrenica Massacre,” Edward S. Herman, ZNet, July 7, 2005

The Srebrenica Massacre, July 10, 2005

Postscript (July 15): Looking over the Portside Archives for the past six-and-one-half month period to gain a clearer understanding of how this listserve, the purpose of which is to circulate “varied material of interest to people on the left — things that will help them to interpret the world, and to change it” (“What is Portside?“), has performed with respect to the former Yugoslavia, it appears that Portside has placed four items into circulation that are relevant to this inquiry:

1. “Srebrenica Video Vindicates Long Pursuit by Serb Activist,” Daniel Williams, June 26, 2005 (originally published in the June 25 Washington Post)
2. “2) Re: Kandic and the Serb Video,” Edward S. Herman, Tidbits, Portside, July 9, 2005
3. “The Three Lessons of Srebrenica,” Swanee Hunt, July 11, 2005 (originally published in the July 11 Boston Globe)
4. “Re: The Three Lessons of Srebrenica,” Nicholas Hart, Tidbits, Portside, July 12, 2005

Items No. 1 and No. 3 originated deep within establishment U.S. media sources (the Washington Post and Boston Globe, respectively), and dealt with the former Yugoslavia in thoroughly establishment ways—the latter especially being virulently counter-leftist. As Nicholas Hart opened his letter to Portside in response to its decision to circulate Swanee Hunt’s commentary (Item No. 4): “Ms. Hunt’s words are toxic and deserve harsh criticism from the Left” (Tidbits, July 12). Unasked—and of course unanswered—was the logically prior question as to why on earth a listserve with alternative, broadly leftist aspirations would have selected Hunt’s toxic, right-wing commentary to circulate in the first place? Should any of Portside‘s seven moderators care to proffer an explanation, this blog is all ears.

The other relevant item (No. 2: “Kandic and the Serb Video“) circulated by Portside these past six-and-one-months was written by a colleague of mine to express his great disappointment and indeed anger over Portside‘s selection of the Washington Post‘s report about the genocidal Serbs. The strength of this response alone suggests that it should have been featured not as a mere “Tidbit” but as an original submission in its own right. But Portside chose otherwise—for reasons that are up to its moderators to explain. To rewrite Nicholas Hart’s letter of July 12: The Post‘s report was toxic and deserves harsh criticism from the Left. Instead, Portside featured it. Go figure.

Without carefully checking, I honestly cannot say whether a similar pattern has been true of the material circulated by Portside for the more than four years the listserve had been running prior to 2005. Nevertheless. I do want to call everyone’s attention to the fact that, when, in 2005, Portside has selected material for circulation the focus of which is the breakup of Yugoslavia and its aftermath, the material has been thoroughly establishment. Curiously, Portside makes this switch so dramatically that it is hard to resist jokes about the moderators stumbling over the starboard rail.

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