[Marxism] John R. MacArthur on prowar liberals
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Nov 2 09:16:16 MST 2005
(Except for a false note on the Bolsheviks, this is really good stuff.
MacArthur wrote a book after the first Gulf War that attacked media
complicity. He is the major funder behind Harper's magazine.)
Published on Tuesday, November 1, 2005 by the Providence Journal
Pro-War Liberals Frozen in the Headlights
by John R. MacArthur
New York -- It's been dreadful, these past three years putting up with
George Bush's fraudulent rationales for invading Iraq. And there's no
respite in sight -- the phony justifications keep coming, no matter how
many corpses pile up, no matter how badly the political situation
deteriorates in Baghdad, no matter how many lies surface about the pre-war
The other night in a restaurant I had to bite my tongue, instead of my
bread, when a man at a neighboring table declared his "trust" in Dick
Cheney and the president.
But as much as I'm infuriated by the Bush brigade's steadfast support of
the Iraq horror, I find myself angrier still when pro-war liberals -- the
so-called reluctant hawks -- wring their hands over the bloody mess they've
wrought with their neo-conservative allies.
There are many such handwringers in politics, especially within the
leadership of the Democratic Party. Sen. Joseph Biden, of Delaware, is
forever asking "tough questions" about Iraq (the torture at Abu Ghraib and
Guantanamo upset him terribly), without drawing the obvious conclusion that
we never should have attacked in the first place, and need to get out as
fast as possible.
In journalism, the current handwringer-in-chief is the New Yorker writer
George Packer, whose book The Assassins' Gate has met with high praise from
handwringers, hawks, and a subset of pundits I call trimmers. Handwringers
"anguish" over their past or current support for the war; hawks don't
apologize for anything; and trimmers criticize Bush the foolish president,
but avoid unequivocal denunciations of this foolish war.
Christopher Hitchens, a ferocious hawk, has embraced The Assassins' Gate,
calling Packer "both tough-minded enough, and sufficiently sensitive, to
register all [the] complexities [of the Iraq conflict]." The handwringer
Samantha Power went even gushier in her blurb on the back cover: "Packer .
. . cuts past the simplistic recriminations and takes us on an
unforgettable journey that begins on a trail of good intentions and winds
up on a devastating trail of tears."
Trimmer Frank Rich, of The New York Times, settled for calling Packer's
book "essential," and quoting it favorably in a column.
I think a better description of George Packer is "useful idiot," as invoked
by some Western anti-communists when they ridiculed liberals sympathetic to
the ruthless Soviet state. Too harsh, you say? After all, "humanists" such
as Packer, Power, and Michael Ignatieff signed on with the neo-conservative
crowd for a "democracy-building" project in Iraq, not a proletarian
overthrow of capitalism.
But Packer's book is nothing if not the autobiography of a liberal dupe.
Its central narrative concerns the political journey of Packer's Svengali,
Kanan Makiya, whose ascent from Iraqi Trotskyist and anti-Saddam exile to
Cambridge (Mass.) intellectual to friend of Ahmed Chalabi to intimate
adviser to Bush's "cabal" of right-wing radicals is related in excruciating
Like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Richard Perle, Makiya fancies
himself a "revolutionary" using bullets made in the forges of the
Enlightenment. But the whole neo-con notion of "shocking" the Arab and
Muslim worlds onto the true and only path of "democracy" parallels the
merciless Bolshevik mentality of 1917 more than it follows on the tolerant
ruminations of Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau.
So what if tens of thousands of bystanders get killed in the wake of the
overwhelming historical forces of progress? Like Lenin and Trotsky, the
neo-cons want world revolution, not slow evolution.
Packer reports (without evident irony) that Makiya told Bush that invading
Iraq would "transform the image of America in the Arab world" (boy, did it
ever), and he quotes his brainy pal as explaining to the president that
once freed of Saddam Hussein, "people will greet the troops with sweets and
flowers." Yet even after 2 1/2 years of carnage, the tender, doubt-filled
George Packer is still seduced by his "idealistic" Iraqi soulmate.
Despite the "recklessness of its authors," Packer writes, "the Iraq war was
always winnable; it still is."
I'll grant Packer this much: He has a terrific, if unwitting, ear for the
absurd and the grotesque. In The Assassins' Gate we learn that Makiya wept
while he sat with Bush in front of a TV and watched Saddam's statue pulled
down, in what we now know was a staged photo op -- also that "the sound of
the first bombs falling on Baghdad was, to Makiya, a joyful noise."
But there's a limit to my appetite for black humor. Packer becomes
insufferable when he announces that he hasn't been able "to sort out [his]
feelings" about Makiya and Iraq. "He was my friend and I loved him. He had
devoted his life to an idea of Iraq that I embraced. He had attached that
idea to the machinery of war, and a lot of people had gotten killed." I
feel your pain, George.
Would that Packer loved the U.S. Constitution, so badly defaced by a
gratuitous war rammed through the Congress on a wave of deception -- or
that he cared more for the children killed and maimed in the United States
- guerrilla crossfire.
Would that he understood that the utopian ideologues in the Office of
Special Plans were themselves being used by the cynical, power-mad, and
money-hungry troika of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld.
Has it occurred to Packer that the invasion of Iraq might well have been
little more than a neo-colonial oil grab and a cheap re-election-campaign
tactic? Does he understand that Bill Clinton's and NATO's supposedly
idealistic bombardment of Serbia in 1999 (endorsed by liberals, though it
was unsanctioned by the U.N.) served as the prime philosophical precedent
for Iraq, and was just as illegal? Can he accept that "humanitarian
intervention" often makes a bad situation worse? Would he be willing to
take some Iraqi refugees into his home, in Brooklyn?
Might the fretful Packer conclude from all he has learned that no authentic
democracy can be built on a lie? Apparently not, since this hypnotized
Trilby is currently frozen in the national headlights of liberal
approbation (and, presumably, big book sales).
I recently had the chance to hear Packer and Makiya speak jointly in New
York. Makiya, unrepentant, was still spreading lies, while Packer was
merely misreading people and books -- he earnestly invoked Graham Greene's
great Vietnam novel, The Quiet American, to make the unoriginal point that
American "idealism" sometimes gets the United States into trouble.
Actually, Greene was talking about American "innocence," a very different
thing (which Packer cites more or less correctly in his book).
But the line from the novel that Packer should have memorized goes like
this: "Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the
world, meaning no harm." It's a useful lesson for a useful idiot.
John R. MacArthur, a monthly contributor, is publisher of Harper's Magazine.
© 2005 Providence Journal
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