Fwd: dsanet: Fwd: Gitlin on Leftist Interventions

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at SPAMhotmail.com
Wed Oct 13 20:07:24 MDT 1999

I do not endorse this one iota. It is simply a signal of just how far the
mighty have fallen.
>From: "Hughes, James" <James.Hughes at trincoll.edu>
> >To: "DSAnet (E-mail)" <dsanet at quantum.sdsu.edu>
> >Subject: dsanet: Fwd: Gitlin on Leftist Interventions
> >Date: Wed, 13 Oct 1999 11:01:40 -0400
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> >This message is from: "Hughes, James" <James.Hughes at trincoll.edu>
> >
> >
> >The End of the Absolute No
> >The American left's reflexive opposition to U.S. military intervention
> >down over Kosovo. A veteran activist says it's about time.
> >by Todd Gitlin
> >September/October 1999
> >Mother Jones
> >
> >Traveling around the country last spring, after NATO's bombardment of
> >began, I kept walking into the same conversation. I'd be catching up with
> >one or another old friend from the '60s, comrades with whom I shared
> >obsessions and convictions for the better part of a decade, and no
> >conviction more passionate than our common hatred for the Vietnam War. In
> >subsequent years we had kept opposing American military involvement
> >and yon, whether in Nicaragua, Chile, Guatemala, Grenada, El Salvador, or
> >Panama. Most of us had deplored the Persian Gulf War, too. Now, in 1999,
> >would gingerly feel each other out: So, what do you think about this war?
> >With relief, pleasure, some awkwardness, even surprise, we discovered
> >we still agreed. Some felt unequivocal, others agonized and bewildered,
> >most of us supported the NATO war over Kosovo. We supported it in fear
> >trembling--because what NATO was doing was, after all, war. But still we
> >supported the war, if not its every tactic. We were certain it started
> >too soon but much too late, and then was botched. We were worried about
> >consequences in Russia and China. A few of my old friends even opposed
> >particular war, the air war, because they wanted a ground war instead.
> >And a few wanted no war at all. Like veterans of the Vietnam War, they
> >flashed back to old terrors. But what one thought 30 years ago has lost
> >predictive value. Like it or not, the American left's near-automatic No
> >military force, a staple of conviction, even "identity," for three
> >is finished. Just as well.
> >Until recently, most of the new left tended to think of Washington's
> >policy as all of a piece, the product of original imperialist sin. These
> >were the fundamentals: The future was preordained by a history of gunboat
> >diplomacy, coups, alliances with dictatorships--all signs of arrogant
> >Manifest Destiny on a global scale. The Vietnam War was but one in a long
> >line of aggressions back to the Spanish-American and Mexican wars, which
> >turn were continuous with slavery and the genocide of the Indians, the
> >(yes) shooting match. Cold War belligerency, unwarranted by any Soviet
> >threat, threatened to blow up the planet. Throwing its military and
> >corporate weight around the world, America made the impoverished more
> >impoverished, the desperate more desperate. America was lusty for power,
> >ingenious with its deceits as it was untrustworthy. Democracy,
> >self-determination, human rights--such rationales of the hour were ruses,
> >all. This complex of half-truths seemed to make sense of many events that
> >otherwise appeared wholly mysterious.
> >For a few years after the breakdown of communism in 1989, the left
> >around trying to find traction. Still, for all the muddle,
> >anti-interventionism remained in place, a kind of Cheshire politics--a
> >unifying No in the absence of a compelling Yes. Some division emerged
> >the Gulf War, but most of us on the American left looked at Desert Storm
> >saw bluster and oil, the corpses of Iraqi civilians and visions of
> >body bags to come. Others, especially in Europe, were more impressed by
> >risk of appeasing a military conqueror, even though they, too, were not
> >enamored of fighting a war for oil. Myself, I marched and spoke against
> >war, despite the U.N. approval; despite the fact that Saddam Hussein was
> >nearest thing to a fascist in the contemporary world; despite the
> >unlikelihood that sanctions, the form of coercion that most on the left
> >preferred to war, would succeed in dislodging Saddam from Kuwait. On
> >balance, however justified the end it was supposed to serve, the war
> >unwise, a disproportionately brutal means.
> >Still, it was already clear that positions were becoming matters of
> >not absolutes. One friend and I, after a long back-and-forth, decided
> >we were six inches apart, I coming out against the war and he in favor of
> >it--perhaps a matter of temperament, in the end. Had I known then what I
> >learned five years later, knowledge would have in my case trumped
> >temperament cleanly. For in 1995, I heard the unimpeachable U.N. Special
> >Commission chief Rolf Ekeus report that during his missions in Iraq he
> >confirmed some of the U.N.'s most fearful projections: When the Gulf War
> >began, Saddam had 25 missile warheads loaded with anthrax, intended for a
> >surprise attack, and was a few months short of having a usable nuclear
> >missile. His compunctions about using such weapons were nil, of course.
> >Sanctions, in hindsight, wouldn't have worked, Ekeus thought, and so the
> >had been a just war after all. Another blow against my own automatic No.
> >By that time, I had already relinquished it on another issue: the fate of
> >ex-Yugoslavia. In fact, the anti-interventionist consensus on the left
> >visibly and irrevocably cracked over the Serb assault on multi-ethnic
> >in the early 1990s. At a birthday party in early 1993, I sat with a
> >half-dozen friends with whom I had shared a hundred positions for what
> >already seemed like a hundred years, and encountered views ranging from
> >"Bomb Now!" to "None of Our Business!" Apart from the intensity of our
> >interest, we who had once been fiercely opposed to the mainstream were
> >probably not so different from a tableful of Americans picked at random.
> >What followed were years more of Europe, America, and the United Nations
> >standing by, making threats and then reneging on them, while Milosevic
> >savaged Bosnia--until, finally, American bombing helped drive him to a
> >partitioned peace. Whereupon, as predicted, Milosevic went to work on the
> >Albanians in Kosovo. In the meantime, Hutus slaughtered Tutsis in Rwanda
> >while no one lifted a finger, even as Clinton's intervention in Haiti
> >plainly saved lives. The price of nonintervention was rising steeply in
> >eyes of many: It was beginning to seem that a careful Yes could do good,
> >while a reflexive No was being discredited by events.
> >If all armies gird to fight the last war, all anti-war movements are
> >to fight the previous peace campaign. For strict pacifists, it's no
> >All wars are the same, equally indefensible. But in 1999, even some on
> >nonpacifist left thought they had been jolted back to Vietnam. These
> >Rejectionists, as I shall call them, looked at the NATO war and saw
> >and a "new imperialism," Milosevic as America's "latest demon," the
> >States acting as "policeman of the world"--these phrases from Tom Hayden,
> >with like words emanating from Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Howard
> >Zinn, and the editors of, and most contributors to, The Nation.
> >I read the Rejectionists, trying to make out what they proposed instead
> >war. Diplomacy, I heard. Yet diplomacy with Milosevic had proceeded for
> >eight years, as tens of thousands of Bosnians and thousands of Kosovars
> >at his hands, and he reneged on deal after deal with aplomb. Some
> >supporting the opposition to Milosevic. Yes, surely the West should have
> >tendered more help to anti-Milosevic forces during the weak opposition
> >campaign of 1997, and perhaps, if all else failed, the Kosovo Liberation
> >Army should have been armed. But had the United States done more of this
> >sort of thing, and Milosevic still pursued his barbarous designs, what
> >The Rejectionists did not seem to be asking that question, let alone
> >answering it. They were rightly indignant about the loose rhetorical
> >Hitlerization of Milosevic--a comparison that automatically (and
> >disgracefully) prettified not only Hitler but the Khmer Rouge, the Hutus,
> >and other mass murderers--but they seemed more exercised by extravagant
> >rhetoric than by years of Serb atrocities.
> >Rejectionists charged inconsistency, asking rhetorically, "Why Kosovo but
> >not Rwanda or East Timor?" As if, having failed to stop one gang of
> >we should have tried to stop none. Worse, having failed to do what needed
> >be done to stop the awful atrocities in Rwanda, were we bound to stand by
> >the Kosovars were massacred, dispossessed, and deported? Because they
> >European, was it a sort of global affirmative action to look the other
> >I was disturbed, too, by what struck me as a rather cavalier approach
> >avoidance of--Milosevic's victims, at least until the bombing started.
> >Rejectionists took a moment to declare Milosevic beastly, but some
> >him not so bad considering his neighborhood. Hadn't Kosovar Albanians
> >nasty to Serbs, too? Weren't the KLA terrorists themselves? Surely NATO
> >would emerge from the 1999 war in some sort of de facto coalition with
> >KLA--not the kind of people with whom we want to get into entangling
> >alliances.
> >And clearly, Rejectionists added once the bombing began, the NATO attacks
> >produced a disaster for the Kosovar Albanians. Well, NATO's
> >was plain, Milosevic having brutalized the Kosovars tenfold or a
> >once the air campaign began. Still, I thought, if NATO did miscalculate,
> >that was grievous but not a crime. The crime was Milosevic's. NATO didn't
> >choose its dismal options. Consider that, in occupied France during World
> >War II, French partisans killed German soliders in full knowledge, not
> >guesswork, that the Germans would retaliate against French civilians
> >10-to-1. They judged that reprisals had to be risked, because, in the
> >all-too-real world, no hands are clean.
> >As for the KLA, since when can one always choose one's allies? Stalin was
> >our ally against Hitler--and the United States damn well needed him.
> >on every side of the war over Kosovo found themselves matched up with
> >strange bedfellows.
> >This sort of bitter knowledge had come to me awkwardly at first. For some
> >years, I wondered whether it amounted to middle-age accommodation, a kind
> >ideological crow's-feet. But rethinking the 1960s for a book, revisiting
> >what had gone well and what had gone disastrously then, helped me
> >the tarnished beauty of realism. Reckless idealism doesn't care about
> >results. Refusing to contemplate practical results is childishly
> >easy--seductive and self-betraying.
> >Those who condemned the NATO war categorically never posed a serious
> >to the key questions: What else was to be done for the human rights of a
> >systematically persecuted population? If not by NATO, then by whom? The
> >United Nations, which stood by and did nothing as Milosevic violated
> >Security Council resolutions with impunity dozens of times? "I hate this
> >war," a friend said to me. "I hate it, too," I replied, "but what would
> >rather do about the Kosovars?" "I don't know," she said. Long pause. I
> >her again after peace broke out. She still had no answer. "I'm glad I
> >have to think about that," another said.
> >Such, I had come to think, was a luxury of life in parochial America.
> >the heartless could pretend away the Kosovo predicaments, the product of
> >many crimes and missed chances over the years. Even a victory in this war
> >was going to usher in ugly results--as did America's withdrawal from
> >Vietnam, for that matter. Kosovar earth was scorched; the Kosovar Serbs
> >would be dispossessed in turn. But winning pretty was not an option. The
> >absolute No was an outsider's luxury, an excuse not to reason. "I'm glad
> >don't have to think about that" means "I insist on guarantees in a world
> >without guarantees. I want my choices and consequences simple. I'll hold
> >to my absolutes, and if the world doesn't go as it ought, too bad for it
> >its lousy choices. I check out."
> >That the use of force was legitimate did not ease my mind, nor should it
> >have. I did not want to disregard the Serbian dead, and reports of bomb
> >damage shook me. The means were hideous, the just end not in sight, even
> >the bombing intensified. All the more people died because they were
> >and mistargeted from three miles up, the better to protect NATO aviators.
> >month into the war, I looked at my own hands and was not pleased. At
>times I
> >was tempted to backslide. Most of my old crowd felt such twinges and
> >qualms--agonies, even. But not for long. Backing down, it felt to me,
> >be succumbing to yet another purity fetish. So never mind that, over our
> >shoulders, we could hear--I could hear--Rejectionists shrieking that we
> >become the warmongers our younger selves had despised.
> >Once we accepted the principle that the use of force was legitimate to
> >protect human rights, there was plenty to debate about strategy and
> >But the Rejectionists were not seriously entering into that debate. They
> >seemed to start from the presumption that the United States and its
> >have no business intervening anywhere for any purpose, that the U.S. is
> >condemned by history to do no good abroad--except, perhaps, when pressing
> >Israel. Their absolute No seemed less a practical argument about likely
> >consequences than a prejudice.
> >On the other hand, start from a different presumption and the predicament
> >changes. Start from the presumption that human rights trump national
> >boundaries; that when a minority is systematically persecuted, someone
> >is able to do so should intervene; that when ideal institutions do not
> >for that purpose, the nonideal institutions that do exist are obliged to
> >their best--then, in the case of Kosovo, it was NATO or nobody. Only a
> >use of force stood a fighting chance of accomplishing a just end: the
> >Kosovars' safe resettlement.
> >The fact that, in this case, the results were less bad than they might
> >been does not flash a green light to intervene everywhere, casually, or
> >often. The postwar world being nasty and brutish, long on local slaughter
> >and weapons of mass destruction, we--people of good will, not only the
> >not only Americans--will face such dreadful choices again. What then? To
> >specify necessary conditions for just intervention in the abstract is not
> >difficult: The consequences of inaction need to be unbearable, the aims
> >achievable, the means proportional, the costs sustainable. It will not be
> >easy to convert principles to rules, let alone establish reliable
> >institutions for averting catastrophes. Machines cannot be programmed to
> >decide about intervention; human beings will have to decide, each time
> >freshly. But one thing is certain: In the quandaries to come, the
> >No will be useless.  </> <<...>>  </>
> >

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