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‘Balance’ Sickness at The Nation


The Nation has not distinguished itself in its coverage of the Kosovo crisis.

It has had some good editorials and articles, but these are nicely balanced by pro-war

pieces. It should embarrass the editors that its UN Correspondent Ian Williams is a

fanatical hawk, who supports the NATO violations of the UN Charter and contemptuous

treatment of the UN itself. Contributing Editor Kai Bird has been given space for a truly

stupid hawkish entry that calls for a ground war in Kosovo, on political and moral grounds

(June 14). Christopher Hitchens has had three pro-war articles that have taken the form of

anti-anti-war diatribes (May 17, May 31, June 14). This all no doubt reflects the sad

intellectual and moral state of the liberal-left, but one would have hoped for more from

the Nation.

Bird quotes Paul Berman, an old Nation as well as New York Times favorite,

on the moral issues involved: "We, who used to be the party of non-intervention

(because we were anti-imperialists) should now become, in the case of various dictators

and genocidal situations, the party of intervention (because we are democrats)." Bird

seems unaware that Berman spent a great deal of his intellectual energy in the 1980s

denouncing the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, in a perfect complement to the

imperialist intervention of his own government. It also seems never to have occurred to

Bird that the NATO intervention in the Balkans might be a further reflection of

imperialism in action, with human rights providing only its legitimizing facade. He offers

not a word on the context of the intervention, which he seems to think sprang from NATO’s

natural aversion to ethnic cleansing. He wants a "truly international

intervention" in which the key is "international law." That NATO has

violated international law in order to avoid veto by the international community escapes

his understanding. He confronts the problem of double standards (e.g., Turkish Kurds) by

saying that "we should stop arming the Turks in their war against the Kurds."

But why is the leader of NATO supporting ethnic cleansing in Turkey and why not mobilize a

"truly international intervention" there? Bird does not say, except that Kosovo

is right in Europe, "on our watch." But Colombia and Turkey are also "on

our watch." In other words, this is intellectual and moral garbage.

Hitchens is equally bad in his latest effort ("Port Huron Piffle," June 14),

in which he attacks Tom Hayden’s May 24th Nation piece that opposed the bombing

with a series of sly obfuscations. He takes advantage of the fact that Hayden is trying to

influence the Democratic Party, and Hayden uses some opportunistic arguments like the

threat of a Vietnam-like "quagmire," the damaging effect of the war on the

Democratic Party and on Al Gore’s prospects, and the squandering of money that could be

used for better purposes. Hitchens asks why we should care about Gore’s political

fortunes, and he notes that Clinton had already committed large resources to Star Wars,

etc. These are legitimate criticisms of Hayden, but really question his political aim

rather than the guts of the article.

When we get to the guts, Hayden towers above Hitchens. Hitchens contends that Hayden’s

use of "quagmire" and "bogged down" suggests a clumsy superpower in

Vietnam rather than an aggressor, and implies an equating of the Vietnamese resistance to

the "drunken robotic militias" of Serbia. He adds that the free fire zones in

Kosovo "are the work not of NATO but of Serbian death squads." This is sleazy:

the use of "quagmire" implies nothing about aggression, clumsiness, or the

quality of the resistance. Making the victims of the NATO attack only the "drunken

robotic militias" is dishonest; and referring to the conscript Serbian army in such

terms is the kind of racist, dehumanizing propaganda that serves well the NATO eagerness

to kill without restraint (as the "allies" did in the desert slaughter of

thousands of helpless Iraqi conscripts in February 1991). Hitchens’ failure to see that

the free fire zones and refugee flight are in large measure a function of the NATO attacks

is straight NATO apologetics. (Hitchens never mentions Serbian refugees, although those

produced in Serbia itself now exceed those fleeing Kosovo.)

As in his earlier "Belgrade Degraded" (May 17) Hitchens sneers at "the

obligatory ‘double standards’ passage." The double standard is awkward for Hitchens

as he obviously supports hard line policies toward Yugoslavia but finds it difficult to

explain away something like the exemption of Turkey and the Kurds. So he resorts to

rhetoric, asking whether Hayden urged action in Rwanda, as if this is relevant to

evaluating the U.S. and NATO double standard. He then asks: "Did he not notice the

denial of Turkish membership in the European Union because of Kurdistan and Cyprus and

human rights for Turks, or would he have said that NATO members had no moral right to take

such decisions, given their silence on (let’s say ) Tibet? This is casuistry." But

the casuistry here is strictly that of Hitchens. He tries to demonstrate NATO’s high moral

standing by mentioning the European Union’s punitive action against Turkey, and then

brings in Tibet to deflect attention from the substantive issues raised by selectivity to

"moral right." But Hitchens slides by several points: EU is not NATO, and NATO

has never expressed the slightest discomfort with Turkey or its human rights failings. He

also fails to explain why the EU’s and NATO’s treatment of Turkey’s severe ethnic

cleansing was so extremely mild compared to NATO’s treatment of the Serbs, and he neglects

mentioning that the United States opposed those mild sanctions by Europe and has aided and

supported Turkey without deviation as it has killed large numbers of Kurds and has made

hundreds of thousands refugees.

What this selectivity suggests is that perhaps "moral right" is irrelevant to

explaining NATO policy in Yugoslavia. Tom Hayden has the merit of noting that "this

war is being conducted for reasons of state and not primarily for human rights."

Hitchens needs to avoid such matters, because with all his "left" bluster and

references to saving money with cluster bombs, in the end he accepts that

"Slavo-fascism" has been the driving force and problem in the Balkans and that

the NATO response was "when the sheer exorbitance of the crimes in Kosovo became

impossible to ignore." Mentioning that crimes in Colombia and Turkey were

substantially more severe than in Kosovo before the NATO bombing but were "quite easy

to ignore" is awkward for one who has bought the NATO bill of goods and objects

mainly to NATO’s tactical blunders.

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