[Marxism] John R. MacArthur on prowar liberals

Louis Proyect 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 
propaganda campaign.

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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