I am happy to have this opportunity to reply to Michael Berube, partly because it will allow me to introduce Z Net readers to his article “Toward an Ideal Antiwar Movement: Mature, Legitimate, and Popular,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education of November 29, 2002. In that article, as I will show below, Berube tacitly or explicitly accepts all the premises of the war party, except initiating war without going through UN channels. Colin Powell and Berube–and Berube’s cruise missile left colleagues–might lead this “mature” and “legitimate” protest movement.
As regards his present reply, he speaks about “acerbic name- calling” and his unwillingness to compete “for the moral high ground,” but he is quite a name-caller himself: his reference to Noam Chomsky’s “repellent mixture of hysteria and hauteur” is a not very charming smear, and in his reply here he is a self-designated “leftist of conscience,” in contrast with me and Chomsky. The title of his Chronicle of Higher Education article could hardly be surpassed for self-righteous moral posturing as he lectures the antiwar movement on proper behavior.
In his first paragraph, Berube misinterprets my analogy with William Lloyd Garrison and the abolitionists, which was not about race but about adherence to principles in the face of unpopularity. I was saying that Garrison couldn’t be popular because he was fighting for a principle not yet acceptable to the vast majority, in the North as well as the South. A leftist sticks with those principles, and Garrison couldn’t have written an article on “The Ideal Anti-Slavery Movement: Mature, Legitimate and Popular.”
In defending his vicious ad hominem attack on Chomsky, Berube now says “Perhaps I should have credited him for speaking out at all [on the interruption of food supplies for Afghanistan], at a time when most Americans were thinking only of revenge.” Instead, he latched on to Chomsky’s charge that “the U.S. has demanded that Pakistan kill millions of people…” Berube doesn’t explain WHY he didn’t give Chomsky credit for speaking out, but I can do this very easily: Berube has been a consistent strong defender of the U.S. attack on Afghanistan, and at no time has he himself expressed any great concern for Afghan civilian victims of the U.S. war. Chomsky’s charge, on the other hand, was an attack on U.S. Afghan policy, and Berube can’t abide that. He doesn’t even challenge Chomsky’s facts: that the United States instructed Pakistan to cut off the flow of fuel and food supplies to a starving population, to the horror of the international aid groups. The population at starvation risk was estimated at 5-7.5 million people. This doesn’t arouse Berube’s indignation at all–only Chomsky’s alleged hysterical inflation.
But Berube also misrepresents facts on this exchange, as well as displaying zero indignation at a murderous policy. He now claims he didn’t critize Chomsky for repeating a New York Times report that the U.S. had ordered the cutoff, but a reader of his original text will see that he never suggested that Chomsky was reporting those facts from a reputable source–Berube made it appear that they were concocted by Chomsky, and he even said “we can learn a great deal about the moral level of the antiwar left by its willingness to debate claims like these;…,” clearly implying they were untrue, or why couldn’t they even be debated? He now says he only objected that “Chomsky was wrong to overstate so hyperbolically the legitimate concern of UN aid workers…” But Chomsky overstated nothing. He said that the U.S. had ordered Pakistan “to kill possibly millions of people.” This was on target. Berube’s distinction between the “legitimate concerns” of the UN aid workers and the illegitimate concerns of Chomsky is thus fraudulent, and is simply Berube’s rhetorical device to denigrate Chomsky while deflecting attention from his original denial of what are now “legitimate concerns” but previously were not even debatable.
In Berube’s view, Chomsky’s alleged hyperbole justifies the words “repellent mix of hysteria and hauteur” and illustrates “the hard left’s myopia and intransigence.” I would suggest that what is really repellent–and illustrative of the cruise missile left’s politics and morality–is the fact that it is the strong condemnation of a U.S. policy that arouses Berube’s anger, not the murderous policy itself, linked to the imperial crusade that Berube (and the other cruise missile leftists) supported.
On Karakak and Berube’s treatment of it, cutting through his obfuscations, he denies that U.S. bombing policy involved “as premeditated a form of killing as shooting each of them individually.” He never comes to grips with this argument, nor does he ever admit that U.S. targeting policy hit large numbers of civilians for reasons other than “intelligence failure.” The cruise missile leftists simply can’t accept the fact that there was a deliberate policy of sending missiles to and dropping bombs on targets in populated areas based on reports and rumors of a Taliban or Al Qaeda presence–that, as reporter Dexter Filkins eventually acknowledged in the NYT (July 21, 2002), “in [their] eagerness to kill Quaeda and Taliban fighters, Americans did not carefully distinguish between civilians and military targets.” Cruise missile leftist Marc Cooper was really upset at Marc Herold’s studies showing the extensiveness of bombing of civilian sites. Berube and his comrades prefer to focus on the fact that the Taliban was removed from power; a “blow for human freedom.”
Tapping Berube’s article on “Toward An Ideal Antiwar Movement,” let me enumerate the reasons why it is entirely reasonable to describe Berube as a supporter of the imminent war against Iraq. First, he denounces the statement that “We believe that peoples and nations have the right to determine their own destiny free from military coercion by great powers.” Berube says that the “antiwar faction crafted a new ‘sovereignty’ rationale…that turned its back on decades of left internationalism…” This is complete nonsense, as the “sovereignty rationale” goes back many years and is the basis of international law and the UN (Article 2.1 of the UN Charter says “The organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.”) By “left internationalism” he means cruise missile left and imperial state rejection of that nonintervention principle. Given this rejection, the imperial powers and cruise missile leftists are not disturbed by blatant disregard for the UN Charter and international law in these interventions.
Second, Berube has great faith in the imperial powers engaging in intervention for benevolent purposes. He says that “I would prefer to see great powers exercising coercion to prevent such nations [that kill their own people] from determining their own destiny…” And so he is prepared to thrust aside the basis of international law and leave it to George Bush and other humanitarians to straighten things out by violence at their own discretion.
In the November article on the cruise missile leftists I quoted Berube’s statement that “the United States cannot be a beacon of freedom and justice to the world if it conducts itself like an empire.” That is, he believes acting like an empire is a matter of choice; that the U.S. leadership can “say no,” and is not obliged to carry out a foreign policy that serves the interests of its dominant corporate elite. If it did establish a system of National Security States in Latin America, supported Marcos, Suharto, Mobutu (etc.), and has pressed Structural Adjustment Policies on dozens of poor countries, it didn’t have to do that. It could dedicate itself to doing good. This is not only silly, it is plain imperial state ideology, and wonderfully suited for apologetics for imperial interventionism.
It should be noted that Berube’s warm feelings about the enlarged capacity of “great powers exercising coercion” in the New World Order has not been impaired by the coup d’etat, rule, and plans of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld business administration. Nowhere in his “Ideal Antiwar Movement” does he suggest that they pose a very serious threat of imperial violence and that curbing them is an urgent global task. Only curbing Saddam Hussein seems to strike him as worthy of attention.
Third, the shape of his rationale for an Iraq war is already evident from his simple-minded view of the Afghan war. If getting rid of the Taliban was a justification for the Afghan war, certainly getting rid of Saddam Hussein will be enough for Berube, if done through proper channels.
Fourth, while claiming to be against a war with Iraq, he accepts all the premises of the war-makers. He poses these questions in his Chronicle article: “Do we approve the UN Security Council resolution that is sending inspectors in, or do we dismiss the UN vote as a mere fig leaf for American hegemony? If we agree that the viability of the UN depends in part on its willingness to enforce its own resolutions, do we continue to oppose a war if Saddam does not disarm by February?” Berube doesn’t discuss these points, he just assumes all will agree with his implied answers.
He implies that the Security Council is an independent body and is NOT providing a figleaf, although there is massive evidence of steadily increasing U.S. domination of Security Council decision- making, serious U.S. arm-twisting and bribery in the current process of dealing with Iraq, and pretty general global disapproval of U.S. Iraq policy–implemented in good part through its misuse of UN authority. He ignores the fact that U.S. officials have declared they will invade whatever the inspectors find, and that the resolution according to which inspections go forward has been structured to require Iraq to prove a negative. It doesn’t occur to him that the Security Council’s inability to enforce its numerous resolutions on Israel because of a regular U.S. veto damages its “viability,” nor does he consider that UN viability is affected by its inability to confront the U.S. determination to attack Iraq (or Afghanistan, or Yugoslavia) in violation of the most basic requirement of the UN Charter. He also takes as a premise that Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction is a really big threat, and that the U.S. campaign to attack Iraq is based on that alleged threat and not on an alternative agenda.
On earlier U.S. policy toward Iraq, Berube says in his Chronicle article that “Clearly, the Persian Gulf war sanctions against Saddam have failed on every count, since they have hardened Arab opinion against the United States even as they allow the dictator to starve his people and smuggle in military equipment.” We may note that it is the hardening of Arab opinion against the United States that he regards as the big negative in the sanctions–the fact that they reportedly killed over a million Iraqi civilians, hasn’t registered with Berube–he makes it Saddam Hussein who “starved his people,” not the United States and Britain, a statement based on massive ignorance and bias. (For a detailed refutation, see John and Karl Mueller, “Sanctions of Mass Destruction,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 1999; Joy Gordon, “Economic Sanctions as Weapons of Mass Destruction,” Harpers, Nov. 2002). Does his taking the United States off the hook for sanctions of mass destruction remind you of his inability to find U.S. civilian bombings in Afghanistan to be based on policy, and his indignation at (and smear of) Chomsky for blaming the United States for actions there threatening mass starvation? Could there be a pattern of apologetics here for the state that “struck a blow for freedom” in Afghanistan? Can there be any doubt that the same will be said of regime change in Iraq? So in criticizing the antiwar movement and pretending to be offering it advice, while accepting all the premises of the war- makers, without saying so explicitly Berube makes a case that there is no real basis for such a movement! The forthcoming war will be good, carried out by proper authorities for benevolent ends (he has never mentioned any other ends pursued by his leaders in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, or Iraq). The only reservation implied in his article is that it should not be done unilaterally–using that term in its Orwellian sense where bullying, bribery, and virtually manufacturing a casus belli is not unilateralism.
So it is clear why the existing antiwar movement is not “ideal,” etc., for Berube–it is antiwar and antiimperialism, and Berube is not. Thus his critique, in which he pretends to be on the left and concerned at the ineffectiveness of the movement is really a deception. He is against it, like the other cruise missile leftists, who spend a great deal of their time attacking the antiwar movement. This is a rerun of similar “left” attacks on the Vietnam antiwar movement, featuring then also the sponsorship by, or affiliation of, far left groups, some openly rooting for the National Liberation Front, who supporters of the war focused on and publicized with the quite obvious purpose of discrediting the movement.
Finally, Berube explains that I should not be surprised that my views render me “marginal to serious political debate,” and I should not take this marginalization as a sign of “secret virtue.” Serious debate for Berube is debate in mainstream publications to which he has access, along with his fellow cruise missile leftists. While making a snide remark about my “secret virtue,” he doesn’t even hint at the possibility that his and his fellow CMLs’ access might be related to the fact that they are saying exactly what the prowar mainstream wants to hear, whereas my (and other antiwar spokespersons) are frozen out simply because we contest the war- party line. No, it HIS virtue, gracious style, and solidity of argument that does it!