"Human rights" vs. sovereignty: liberal case for world conquest

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon May 5 00:31:48 MDT 2003

This thoughtful article bears thinking about in relation to the current
campaign against Cuba, and the efforts to recruit liberals and radicals to
participate (now being countered by the Cubans aggressively and positively,
I am glad to say).

Its also relevant to the discussion that David McReynolds, I, and others
have participated in as part of United for Peace and Justice over whether
U.S. occupation of Iraq should be fought by favoring UN occupation or the
immediate restoration of Iraq's sovereignty.

Since Vietnam, the Republican Party has gradually replaced the Democratic
Party as the favored war party of the imperialist rulers (the Democrats were
favored for this role from World War I to Vietnam).

This article is a
reminder that shifts back to the Democrats are possible. There is also  the
possible emergence of a more openly fascist current as a division within the
Bush war camp(much as McCarthyism emerged as a fascistic current out of the
bipartisan witch-hunt after World
War II).

The Cubans are correct, in my opinion, to note the growing fascistic
character of US imperialsit policy internationally.  But I think that the
bourgeois-democratic character of the home front (Patriot Act and all, which
the Cubans also recognize) is going to prove in irreconcilable contradiction
with pursuing this war drive to a successful conclusion.

Fred Feldman

Globe and Mail   May 3, 2003

Hawks in doves' clothing

The idea that human rights trumps sovereign rights has given rise to an ugly
new kind of 'liberal'

By John MacArthur

During the early phase of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, I came across
a scathing critique of the war in a surprising locale, written by the
unlikeliest (or so I thought) accuser of the Bush-Blair axis of imperialism.
The publication was Conrad Black's militantly right-wing, pro-war British
weekly, The Spectator, and the author was named Hitchens -- not the
putatively "leftist" one named Christopher -- but his supposedly
"reactionary" brother, Peter.

There was no confusing the brothers after the first paragraph. Operation
Iraqi Freedom, says P. Hitchens, was a "left-wing war," a destructive
enterprise providing "the excuse for censorship, organized lying,
regulation, and taxation." Remarkable, especially coming after my old ally
C. Hitchens's famous defection from the leftish, anti-U.S. peace camp to the
bipartisan war party. But a left-wing war? Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld,
Paul Wolfowitz, et al. in the same ideological basket as Eugene Debs,
William Sloane Coffin and Michael Moore?

At first glance, P. Hitchens's thesis was preposterous -- the application of
raw, unilateral military power (and the subsequent war profiteering by big
business) seems a rather authoritarian idea more in keeping with the brutal
dogma of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan than with nice liberal notions of
international co-operation, humanitarian aid and peaceful disarmament.

But on closer examination, I realized that P. Hitchens was on to something.
Liberals have been lobbying since the early 1980s for more aggressive
"humanitarian" interventions that would override the niceties of
international law, the sovereignty of nations and even United Nations
peacekeeping efforts. To the extent that the Bush-Blair doctrine of
pre-emptive war encompasses human rights and the "right" to overthrow
tyrants, the Iraqi war was very much a "left-wing" war.

Of course, I don't buy George W. Bush's human-rights rationale for the
latest gulf war any more than I bought his father's epiphany in 1990 that
Saddam Hussein was the new Hitler. Too many murderous American clients,
including Saddam, have gone in and out of favour since 1898 (the year we
"liberated" Cuba from Spain) for me to take seriously the altruistic prattle
emanating from this White House.

But a surprising number of liberals did take Mr. Bush at his word whenever
he turned misty eyed about Baathist atrocities, as well as the urgent need
for "liberating" the Iraqi people. Behind their dovish compassion lay a
ferocious streak of Wilsonian hawkishness. It also presented itself during
the Bosnia crisis in the early 1990s, when human-rights hawks adopted the
principle of "liberal intervention" laid down in the 1980s by Paris-based
intellectuals such as the physician-activist Bernard Kouchner. Mr.
Kouchner's rhetorical grandstanding -- "The day will come . . . when we are
able to say . . . 'Mr. Dictator, we are going to stop you preventively from
oppressing, torturing and exterminating your ethnic minorities' " -- took
hold. And nice liberals started sounding like nasty, pre-emptive

I recall a hair-raising speech by George Soros, "currency speculator turned
human-rights promoter," in which he argued for creation of a UN rapid
deployment military force that could intervene anywhere in the world on a
moment's notice to prevent the powerful from killing the weak (i.e. by
killing the powerful). Around the same time, it became fashionable in the
neighbourhood inhabited by Susan Sontag and David Reiff to denounce the UN
peacekeepers in Bosnia for not being sufficiently anti-Serb, the Serbs being
ultranationalist "facists."

"Liberal" military interventions by the United States and its allies
followed in due course. George Bush Sr. played the human-rights card by
promoting the fake baby-incubator atrocity in Kuwait. Then came Somalia,
Haiti and Kosovo (which achieved reverse ethnic cleansing of Serbs on behalf
of the Kosovo Liberation Army).

Kosovo was the clearest assertion of the new doctrine of liberal
intervention, a legal and moral template for the overthrow of Saddam.
According to its critics, the NATO bombing campaign was a pre-emptive war in
clear violation of international law (Kosovo was legally part of Serbia,
which had attacked no other country). But liberals were happy because the 78
days of aerial mayhem led to Slobodan Milosevic's eventual removal from

"Leftists" now seek to expand the concept of liberal pre-emption by claiming
Abraham Lincoln as their patron saint. Lincoln, they say, was bent on
liberating the whole world, not just the southern states -- a foolish
exaggeration about a practical politician who nearly wrecked his career by
opposing America's imperialist invasion of undemocratic Mexico in 1846. It's
no coincidence that President Bush chose the USS Abraham Lincoln for his
welcome-home photo op on Thursday.

Where does all this leave the liberal constitutionalists like me, who
opposed all the aforementioned interventions? I certainly subscribe to the
principle of universal human rights, just as I support the corrupt and
imperfect United Nations.

But the problem with symbolic military gestures is that they kill innocent
bystanders as surely as do acts of naked aggression that are devoid of good
intentions. Total the many thousands of civilian dead in the earlier gulf
war, in Somalia, Kosovo/Serbia and the latest gulf war, and you already have
a pretty good argument against liberal intervention.

Moreover, war unleashes death in unpredictable ways; I think, for example,
that the NATO bombing led to the death of more Albanians than would have
died from non-intervention -- by sowing panic and granting the Serbs a
pretext for settling scores with the KLA.

As an American liberal, I wish that my fellow citizens believed that charity
begins at home. I wish the United States had taken in millions of persecuted
Jews before Hitler could liquidate them. And I wish that we had listened to
a liberal Swedish internationalist named Hans Blix, instead of a right-wing
Texas nationalist named Bush.

Liberal interventionism has given moral cover to the ugliest, most
undemocratic impulses seen in this country since Woodrow Wilson signed the
Espionage Act (which put Eugene Debs in jail for opposing the First World
War) and unleashed his attorney-general's infamous "Palmer raids" against
"subversives" (John Ashcroft must envy the "liberal" Wilson).

Worse still, it has defaced the American Constitution with the forged
signature of Lincoln, written in the blood of Arabs who will never stroll on
the Mall.
John R. MacArthur is publisher of Harper's Magazine.


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