A reply to Perry Anderson
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Mar 10 13:47:15 MST 2003
March 10, 2003
A Rebuttal of Perry Anderson
An Unfounded Rush to Cynicism
By MICHAEL NEUMANN
Perry Anderson has written a clever piece which journeys far, but not to
much of a destination. His conclusion is
"Simply this. Mewling about Blair's folly or Bush's crudity, is merely
saving the furniture. Arguments about the impending war would do better
to focus on the entire prior structure of the special treatment accorded
to Iraq by the United Nations, rather than wrangle over the secondary
issue of whether to continue strangling the country slowly or to put it
out of its misery quickly."
But one suspects here the intellectual's love of investigating
'structures' has caused Anderson to play fast and loose with lowlier
particulars of fact and morals.
This is apparent from some of the debunking claims made in the
(admittedly transitory) defense of Bush and Blair. Anderson maintains,
for example, that "the United States has always reserved the right to
act alone where necessary". On its own, this amounts to no more than
claiming rights of self-defense recognized in the UN Charter, and it is
quite apparent, pace Anderson, that those rights do not apply. But
Anderson continues: "In recent years it acted alone in Grenada, in
Panama, in Nicaragua, and which of its allies now complains about
current arrangements in any of these countries?" Since Anderson is far
from obtuse, this can only be disingenuous refusal to acknowledge that,
on the international stage, justification involves questions of degree.
Unilateralism in an area claimed as a special sphere of influence for
over 180 years, a claim that has every mark of de facto international
recognition, is hardly comparable to an assault on a vastly more
powerful state, with vastly greater implications for the whole world,
far outside that sphere. Anderson may be right that the moral principle
involved is the same, but it would be hypocritical not to allow the
world a bit of hypocrisy in distinguishing between major and minor
violations of that principle. Besides, whether or not America's allies
complain about its unlilateralism in the Americas, plenty of those who
oppose the war quite consistently do complain, and vehemently.
Similarly, Anderson's claim that the US response to Iraq might cow Al
Qaida cannot be sincere; it is so silly that even the Americans haven't
made it. You might as well say that the ticks will keep their distance
from the lioness after seeing what she does to the zebra.
Anderson makes the same herculean effort to be obtuse when he discusses
the world's previous acceptance of pre-emptive strikes. Israel, in 1967,
at least faced a real or imagined threat comparable to the US
confronting massive armies mobilized in Canada and Mexico, not the
threat of non-massive armies not mobilized and thousands of miles from
its borders. And again, even the Americans are not dumb enough to claim
that "in attacking Iraq, we will be doing no more than completing the
vital preventive strike against the Osirak reactor of 1981." The strike
was already complete. It destroyed the reactor, which was not rebuilt.
Had the Iraqis actually restarted a nuclear program, and had the US and
Britain hit nuclear-related installations with another air strike,
indeed no one would have complained too much. How on earth is that
comparable, in scale or seriousness, to what is now contemplated?
Anderson's feigned inability to distinguish between a relatively small
bombing raid and all-out war is disturbing.
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