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LIBERAL APOLOGETICS FOR IMPERIALISM


Edward S. Herman

The

American Prospect (TAP) magazine, edited by Robert Kuttner and Paul Starr, with

Robert Reich as "National Editor," is a liberal magazine par

excellence, and has frequent articles on domestic policy issues that represent

the best of traditional liberalism, opposed to welfare "reform" and

the evolving systems of social and economic injustice. They have regularly

criticized Clinton and the Democrats for their numerous failings on these

domestic issues, despite a basically pro-Democrat alignment. The magazine

largely eschews foreign policy, however, but when it does touch upon that area

it does so lightly and superficially, and its editorial bias approaches complete

apologetics for Clinton’s (and U.S.) foreign policy.

I

noted in an earlier ZNet Commentary ("What Is Liberalism?") that Paul

Starr had written a crude and uninformed apologia for Clinton’s Kosovo policy in

TAP ("The Choice in Kosovo," May-June 1999), and that the magazine had

refused to publish any critical response to that awful piece (there were at

least two letters submitted). Co-editor Kuttner himself has largely steered

clear of foreign policy issues, but he has ventured his judgment that "On

balance" the United States is "a force for good in the world,"

and he chastised radicals for allegedly blaming the United States for most of

the world’s ills ("Why Liberals Need Radicals," May 22, 2000). Several

months later, he had a few further sentences on foreign policy: Clinton’s record

is a "mixed bag"–good on the Middle East and Ireland, "better

late than never" on Kosovo, a failure on Russia, and too solicitous of

investors in policy toward the World Trade Organization, IMF, etc. ("Did

Clinton Succeed Or Fail?," August 28, 2000).

A

new foray was offered TAP readers on November 20, 2000 with Paul Starr’s

"War, Peace and the Election." Starr loves Clinton’s foreign policy,

and is worried that a Bush victory would make us less aggressive in "nation

building" and doing things that would allegedly prevent wars:

"Bill

Clinton’s foreign policy has succeeded so well that Americans take its success

for granted. The intervention in Kosovo carried considerable risks, but it ended

the genocidal Serbian attacks on the Kosovars that had sent them fleeing across

their borders and threatened to destabilize the region." [The fall of

Milosevic one year later, "fully vindicating the original intervention...Kosovo

was Clinton's finest hour."]

"The

breakdown of the peace in the Mideast is a reminder that not every initiative of

the administration has come to a successful conclusion, but Clinton can scarcely

be faulted for his persistence as a peacemaker there."

Before

analysing the above statements, it should be noted that Starr fails to say one

word about at least seven major foreign policy episodes (and debacles) that a

non-apologist would recognize as deserving of some weight:

1.

COLOMBIA: At the same time as he was apologizing for what the United States did

in Guatemala in earlier years, Clinton was escalating U.S. involvement in a

major counterinsurgency war that once again, as in Guatemala, supported a

genocidal military- paramilitary apparatus. This apparatus, funded on an

increasing scale by Clinton, has caused many more refugees and deaths of

innocent civilians over the past three years than the numbers of Albanian

victims of Serb attacks in Kosovo in the three years prior to the Nato bombing.

2.

IRAQ: John and Karl Mueller state in Foreign Affairs (May- June 1999) that the

"sanctions of mass destruction" imposed by Clinton and Blair have

killed more civilians in Iraq than "all the weapons of mass destruction in

human history." More children are dying there EACH MONTH as a result of the

policy of sanctions than the Serbs killed in Kosovo in the year before the Nato

bombing.

3.

HAITI: After first extending Bush’s policy of undermining the OAS sanctions and

brutally forcing back refugees (or imprisoning them in Guantanamo), Clinton then

dragged his feet following the overthrow of Aristide by the military junta, and

did not intervene there until after over 3,000 civilians had been butchered; he

then engineered a friendly exit for the leader of this slaughter. In

"restoring democracy" he allowed the elected president to return on

condition that he adopt the harsh neoliberal policy of Washington’s candidate in

the 1990 election, who had received 14 percent of the vote.

4.

RWANDA: Clinton not only stood by during the holocaust in Rwanda, his

administration actively fought even modest interventions that might have stemmed

the genocidal tide, and Secretary of State Warren Christopher instructed his

staff to avoid using the word "genocide" to describe events in Rwanda.

But of course Clinton did apologize later.

5.

EAST TIMOR: Although Indonesian military and military- sponsored militia killed

more East Timorese even before the August 30, 1999 referendum than the Serbs

killed Albanians in Kosovo in the year before the Nato bombing, and intelligence

reports six months before the referendum disclosed Indonesian plans to kill and

destroy on a really large scale if Indonesia lost the referendum, Clinton did

nothing whatsoever to interrupt the pre-referendum killing or prevent the

subsequent death and devastation. Even after 85 percent of the population had

been driven out and 70 percent of the country destroyed, Clinton’s line was that

it remained Indonesia’s responsibility to deal with the situation. Only after

the post-referendum massacres were largely concluded, and under international

pressure, did Clinton finally call off his friends. For the next year he did

nothing to help the more than 100,000 East Timorese held hostage by Indonesian

militas in West Timor.

Before

the Indonesian financial crisis, and Suharto’s exit following his failure to

follow IMF orders and consequent loss of U.S. support and control, Clinton had

gotten along wonderfully well with Suharto–"our kind of guy" was the

language quoted in the New York Times at the time of Suharto’s visit to

Washington in 1995.

6.

TURKEY: Turkey has behaved toward its Kurds at least as badly as the Serbs

treated Kosovars, and during the 1990s killed and made into refugees many more

Kurds than the Serbs did Kosovars. But Clinton gave massive aid to Turkey

throughout his term of office, supported it in every possible way, and made no

complaint about its treatment of Kurds, which Starr would label

"genocidal" if Turkey was not a Clinton-supported client state.

7.

RUSSIA: Clinton’s policy toward Russia was unrestrained support for rapid

privatization and an open economy, under conditions where these would

necessarily have catastrophic effects; and they have produced a broken society,

immense robbery of state assets, a collapse of the productive economy, and a new

authoritarianism with a democratic facade. Kuttner at least notes that this

policy was a failure, even if only in a phrase; Starr ignores it.

Returning

to Kosovo: Paul Starr’s ignorance concerning the Kosovo conflict is profound,

and he simply reproduces Nato apologetics as established truth. The

"genocidal Serbian attack" that sent the Kosovars "fleeing across

their borders" was not "genocidal" and was the result of Nato

policy, not the cause. The total number killed on all sides in Kosovo in the

year before the bombing was estimated to be approximately 2,000; and even during

the bombing when there were many killings and larger numbers of expulsions,

there were only several thousand deaths overall and people were not put on

trains to death camps but were pushed across borders, in large measure as a

military measure. Expulsions were greatest where fighting was heaviest, mainly

in areas controlled by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and top Nato officials

now admit that KLA guerillas were "constantly on the phone to Nato,"

and that Nato had "instigated" a major KLA offensive (Paul Richter,

Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2000).

As

Canadian OSCE observer Rollie Keith stated, it was the Nato bombing that

"turned a human rights crisis into a disaster." Jiri Dienstbier, the

UN rapporteur for human rights in Kosovo, and a former Czech foreign minister

under Vaclav Havel, recently estimated that 330,000 Serbs, Roma and other

non-Albanians have been driven from their homes in Kosovo under UN occupation,

and he says that the intervention "has not solved any human problems, but

only multiplied the existing problems." It is true that Clinton

"won" and taught the Serbs a lesson (namely, don’t mess with us), a

lesson taught in earlier Reagan and Bush triumphs (Grenada, Panama). But only a

Clinton ideologue and propagandist, or victim of the propaganda system, could

regard this intervention as creditable (and both Kuttner and Starr so regard

it).

On

the Middle East, both Kuttner and Starr give Clinton credit for trying to be a

"peacemaker." That he was strictly a front man for Israeli interests

and did absolutely nothing toward ending the conflict with justice; that Oslo

was an attempt to force upon the Palestinians acceptance of their military

defeat and weakness, including expropriation, ending of any right of return, and

second or third class citizenship; and that Clinton was therefore a

"peacemaker" only in an Orwellian sense, never occurs to Starr (or

Kuttner). Israeli analyst Amira Hass, writing in Ha’aretz (Oct. 23, 2000), says

that seven years after Oslo, Israel "has security and administrative

control of 61.2 percent of the West Bank…[which] has enabled Israel to double

the number of settlers in 10 years, to enlarge settlements, to continue its

discriminatory policy of cutting back water quotas for three million

Palestinians, to prevent Palestinian development in most of the area of the West

Bank, and to seal an entire nation into restricted areas, imprisoned in a

network of bypass roads meant for Jews only. So that 200,000 Jews have freedom

of movement, about three million Palestinians are locked into their Bantustans

until they submit to Israeli demands….the bloodbath that has been going on for

three weeks is the natural outcome of seven years of lying and deception, just

as the first intifada was the natural outcome of direct Israeli

occupation."

In

short, the Oslo agreement was a hugely biased construct designed to legitimate

Israel’s property seizures and consolidate its superior rights, arrangements

that are sometimes denounced in the Israeli press (but never here) as worse than

those in apartheid South Africa. Outbursts under this system of injustice were

absolutely inevitable; and as journalist Robert Fisk notes, the only thing

surprising about the collapse is "our continued inability to grasp what

happens when a whole society is pressure cooked to the point of explosion."

(The Independent, Oct. 13, 2000). In an important sense, however, explosions

from below are functional, as the U.S. and Israeli bias is so extreme that the

victims throwing stones are quickly labelled terrorists, the army shooting to

kill with high powered weaponry is once again only retaliating to irrational

violence. So more weapons and greater repression are justified to meet a problem

based on structured injustice.

But

for Starr (and Kuttner), working strictly within the blinders of the U.S.

establishment’s unlimited backing of Israeli interests (and de facto acceptance

of deep racism and injustice), Clinton’s role in heating up the pressure cooker

was creditable.

Four

of the seven cases listed above, that Paul Starr failed to mention, had this

double characteristic: the killings exceeded those carried out by the Serbs in

Kosovo for the year before the bombing; and they were carried out by "our

kinds of guys" for Bill Clinton (the Indonesian military, the Turkish army,

the Colombian military and affiliated paramilitaries, the Haitian military long

supported by the United States [Cedras, the killer who took power when Aristide

was deposed, had been recommended as head of the army by the U.S. Embassy]). In

the case of Iraq and Saddam Hussein, the killings by sanction have been vastly

greater than Serb killings, and they are allocable to Bill Clinton–as Albright

stated on national TV, the 500,000 Iraqi child deaths have been "worth

it." In the case of Rwanda, Clinton just didn’t give a damn. With Russia,

weakening the country militarily and making the transformation away from

socialism–and social democracy as well– irreversible, were the greatest

concerns of Clinton and his associates; the immense human costs appear to have

been given zero weight.

An

incredibly bad record, and in fact a very good case can be made that Clinton

should qualify for a war crimes trial (see my "Clinton Is The World’s

Leading Active War Criminal," Z Magazine, December 1999). But by misreading

the Kosovo and Middle East record, and suppressing most of the information

relevant to evaluating Clinton’s foreign policy, Paul Starr makes Clinton into a

great foreign policy leader.

Liberalism

has fallen far in our time; in fact, as evidenced by Paul Starr and TAP, it is a

propaganda arm of the imperial state. In his classic statement of liberal

principles, L. T. Hobhouse asserted that "it is of the essence of

Liberalism to oppose the use of force, the basis of all tyranny"

(Liberalism, Oxford University Press, 1964 [first published in 1911], p. 27).

But with an imperial state, force is in constant use, under the cover of

bringing civilization to backward peoples or otherwise doing good (recently,

allegedly protecting human rights and bringing stability). It is striking to see

how the liberals can recognize that a man like Clinton will sell out his own

poor people to win a few votes (in the Personal Responsibility Act), but can

convince themselves that he operates on high principle in places like Kosovo or

the Middle East. It is obvious also why they must block out of their minds East

Timor and other inconvenient scenes of mass death and betrayal to maintain their

patriotic and loyalist image of their leader in action.  

 

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