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>From: "michael pugliese" <firstname.lastname@example.org> >Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2002 23:07:28 -0700 > >http://www.centerforbookculture.org/context/no10/berube.html > >Nation and Narration > >Michael Berube > >Imagine the 43rd Presidency without Osama bin Laden, the year >2001 with an uneventful > >September 11. > >It's January 2002, one year after Bush's controversial inauguration, >and the White House is a shambles. Having passed the tax bill >that was the only rationale for his Presidency in the eyes of >his financiers, George W. Bush is in deep doo-doo. The post-New >Economy recession is in full swing, and working Americans have >discovered to their dismay that the $300-$600 rebates they received >back in 2001 will cover a couple of heating bills and winter >clothes for the kids, and that's it; over the next fifteen years >they'll see another $15 from the tax cut, having no capital gains >or estate tax relief to look forward to, while the executives >at Halliburton look to pick up $15 billion each. The same holds >true for the executives of Enron and their $60 million severance >packages (severance packages for CEOs having been exempted from >taxation by a little-noticed rider to the bill), except that >Enron's spectacular collapse has fired one House investigation >into Bush's and Cheney's financial interests in deregulation, >one Justice Department investigation into Enron's role in crafting >Bush/Cheney energy policy, and another broader Senate investigation >into corruption and influence- peddling in the new administration. > >All three investigations have been denounced by Rush Limbaugh, >William Kristol, and the Wall Street Journal as "a monkey wrench >in the very engine of prosperity," but nobody is listening to >these toadies anymore. They've been discredited not only by their >unflagging support for Enron but also by their earlier denunciations >of the review of the Florida election returns, which, though >ambiguous in many respects, indicated beyond all doubt that more >Floridians intended to vote for Gore than for Bush in November >2000--and that Florida Republicans, knowing well in advance that >they were in for a dogfight, deliberately struck thousands of >black voters from the rolls while filling out fraudulent absentee >and military ballots months before the election. And since more >Americans voted for Gore than for Bush nationwide in the first >place, the new President's legitimacy hangs by a thread. The >Electoral College is soon to be abolished, and sweeping reforms >in voter registration and voting tabulation systems are being >enacted in every state of the union. It doesn't help matters >that 84 percent of Americans think that Bush "isn't working hard >enough" as President, largely because he has not yet returned >from summer vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. As for >Bush's cabinet . . . what cabinet? O'Neill and Rumsfeld have >made early departures, as predicted by Beltway insiders from >day one; Gale Norton has resigned under pressure after having >been discovered clubbing baby seals off the coast of Alaska; >and attorney general Ashcroft is widely criticized for continuing >to hold his controversial "prayer breakfasts" in which he calls >on Jesus Christ to "smite the unbelievers."I think it's safe >to say that the events of September 11 changed everything, don't >you? > >* * * > >Like the deadly particulate matter floating in the air of lower >Manhattan, the political fallout from September's terrorist attacks >will have immeasurable toxic effects for decades. The narrative >of that fallout remains to be written--indeed, it remains to >be lived and experienced. But it's already becoming possible >to see several important story lines taking shape in U.S. political >culture. > >The early days now seem like days of hysteria: there was the >justifiable hysteria of New Yorkers who feared that the bridges >and tunnels were the next targets, and there was the ugly hysteria >of right-wing pundits for whom the attacks changed nothing but >the volume of their daily screeds. One unwittingly ludicrous >example was provided by the celebrated hack Shelby Steele, who >was writing an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal denouncing the >UN conference on racism when the planes hit, and merely tweaked >it into a September 17 column denouncing global crybabies in >general--some of whom were apparently flying those planes, although >the connection wasn't made quite clear. (News flash: advocates >of reparations for slavery kill 6000 in New York!!) More dangerous >were the early responses of people like Andrew Sullivan--and >Ann Coulter and Rich Lowry of the National Review; Coulter went >so far as to lose her job at the Review, less for the content >of her written work (according to editor Jonah Goldberg's October >3 column) than for her public demeanor after her incoherent follow–up >essay was spiked. And Goldberg's postmortem has the ring of truth, >for Coulter's now-infamous line, "We should invade their countries, >kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity," was after >all not terribly different from Lowry's plan for "identifying >the one or two nations most closely associated with our enemies, >giving them 24 hours notice to evacuate their capitals (in keeping >with our desire to wage war as morally as possible), then systematically >destroying every significant piece of military, financial, and >political infrastructure in those cities." > >This is strong stuff--so strong, in fact, that in response to >Sullivan's vile suggestion that Gore voters would form a "fifth >column" of decadent leftists in university towns and on the coasts >(you know, where a lot of those decadent Oscar Wilde types live), >any rational person could've replied that throughout September >and October, you couldn't do better recruiting work for Al Qaeda >in Muslim nations than to distribute free copies of the National >Review. > >Of course, some of the right's hysteria was understandable: remember, >they excoriated Arab terrorists for days after the bombing in >Oklahoma City, only to be compelled to swallow hard once the >white kid with the crewcut emerged as the perp. Think of their >tension, their long-unfulfilled desires to rage, rage against >the backward cultures of Islam: by September 11, 2001, the right >had been waiting more than six years to vent, and some of them >simply lost control. > >Interestingly, though--and devastatingly for the left--they reined >themselves in; after the first few queasy weeks, there would >be no more talk of crusades and conversions and infinite justice. >For who knew, until September 11, that Grover Norquist, longtime >tax nut and conservative organizer extraordinaire, had been cultivating >Arab-American voters for the GOP? (So assiduously, it turned >out, that he'd had his President lunching with some Hamas and >Hezbollah supporters, as Franklin Foer pointed out in the New >Republic.) And who knew that the hard right would scotch its >plans for systematically destroying the capitals of Muslim nations >the minute they realized that they couldn't get to Afghanistan >without going through Pakistan? > >Prevented by their own President from conducting a hate campaign >against Arabs, the harpies of the culture-war right turned to >a safer domestic target--students and professors. In a remarkably >crude, incompetent pamphlet, the Joe Lieberman-Lynne Cheney outfit, >the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, combed college campuses >for seditious statements like "ignorance breeds hate," "hate >breeds hate," "our grief is not a cry for war," "an eye for an >eye leaves the world blind," "knowledge is good," and "if Osama >bin Laden is confirmed to be behind the attacks, the United States >should bring him before an international tribunal on charges >of crimes against humanity." (All but one of these are actual >statements cited by ACTA as evidence of insufficient patriotism >on U.S. campuses. Afficionados and adepts will recognize the >last item as the words of Joel Beinin, the antepenultimate item >as the words of Mahatma Gandhi, and the penultimate item as the >motto of Faber College in Animal House.) Lynne Cheney has not >commented on the pamphlet, and may in fact be in a secure undisclosed >location for all I know; Lieberman's office has issued one of >those "distancing" statements that stops short of taking the >Senator's name off the letterhead. > >Meanwhile, even as the New Republic continued to publish the >work of liberal writers, the editorial staff collectively staged >what Stuart Hall once called the Great Moving Right Show, and >kept right on moving until they passed the National Review. Think >I'm kidding? Count the number of times each magazine has criticized >Ariel Sharon since September 11, and you'll get some sense of >why I respect the National Review's Middle East coverage more. >Or read every post-9/11 editorial signed by the editors, like >the October 29 clarion call to "weaponize" our courage. (In his >bunker in Baghdad, a shaken Saddam Hussein looks up from his >copy of TNR: "Nothing would please me more than to fight American >armed forces in the daughter of the mother of all battles--but >I cannot face the fearsome senior editors of this weekly magazine.") >Or look at their vicious attacks on Colin Powell, who is apparently >unfit to run the State Department and should be replaced by someone >wiser, someone with a firmer grasp of the perfidy of Arabs, perhaps >someone who has attended the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced >International Studies, like editor Lawrence F. Kaplan. > >* * * > >The narrative of the left is more tangled and more somber. But >before I remark on the ways the Chomskian left has consigned >itself to the dustbin of history, let me go back to those early >days of hysteria and say a few words in defense of people I now >disagree with: it was entirely plausible, in those first few >days, to think that the United States had received some kind >of global comeuppance. Bless their hearts, the diehards of the >anti-imperialist left had always had the integrity and the conscience >to say publicly that the United States had too often acted unilaterally >and unethically in the post-1945 world, often against its own >realpolitik interests as well as against its own democratic ideals. >The anti-imperialists were right about Vietnam, they were right >about Chile, they were right about El Salvador and Nicaragua, >they were right about Indonesia in 1975 and they were right about >Iran in 1953. It was not initially unreasonable for any of them >to think, as the World Trade Center collapsed five blocks from >my best friend's apartment, son of a bitch, someone's gotten >to us at last. Such a sentiment, despite the vitriol heaped upon >it by the right, implied no sympathy with the attackers; the >anti-imperialist left, at its best, despised anti–democratic >forces no matter where they came from. It merely registered the >sorry fact that the United States had, indeed, too often given >the wretched of the earth cause to hate us. > >But when the narrative of the attacks became more complex, the >Chomskian left did not. Slowly it became clear that for all its >past crimes, the U.S. government wasn't nearly as proximate a >cause of the attack as were, say, the governments of Saudi Arabia >and Egypt, U.S. "allies" who'd been dancing a dicey pas de deux >with their own Islamist radicals for twenty years in order to >keep the lid on the domestic unrest created in part by their >own corruption. And slowly it became clear that Osama bin Laden >and Al Qaeda were not animated by any of the causes dear to American >leftists: the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon >were not, it seemed, symbolic strikes against U.S. unilateralism >with regard to missile defense, post-Kyoto energy policy, landmine >treaties, or the rights of children. They were not cosmic payback >for our support of Suharto or Pinochet or Marcos or Rios Montt >or Mohammed Reza Pahlevi. They were not aimed at Katherine Harris >or Kenneth Starr or William Rehnquist. Indeed, the more the West >learned about bin Laden, the more we were led down strange narrative >byways we hadn't even considered as tangents to the main event: >he was convinced by the Somalia expedition that the U.S. was >a paper tiger? He wants American soldiers, especially women, >to stop desecrating the land of the two holy mosques? He speaks >of "eighty years" of Arab abasement, harking back to the end >of World War I? > >Well, that should have given anyone pause for thought. Maybe >if bin Laden had denounced the CIA's overthrow of Mossadeq, maybe >if he'd jeered at our futile attempts to play Iran off Iraq and >vice versa throughout Reagan's presidency, and maybe if he wasn't >carrying around one of those theories about the global Jewish >conspiracy, he'd have had a shred of credibility with me. But >Somalia? Somalia really was an attempt at liberal-internationalist >humanitarianism, and as for the eighty-year-old Sykes-Picot agreement >divvying up Arab provinces after World War I, there aren't that >many American leftists committed to the restoration of the caliphate, >so it's hard for me to see the appeal on that count as well. >In fact, as Chris Suellentrop of Slate observed, the U.S. doesn't >even deserve any grief about the end of the caliphate: "It would >be nice," he wrote, "if bin Laden would note that the United >States objected to the Sykes-Picot agreement as a betrayal of >the principle of self- determination, but that's probably asking >for too much." There's no doubt that our government has committed >crimes against humanity in our name. But Somalia and Sykes- Picot >aren't among them. > >So, faced with an enemy as incomprehensible and as implacable >as bin Laden, much of the left checked the man's policy positions >on women, homosexuality, secularism, and facial hair, and slowly >backed out of the room. They didn't move right, as so many Chomskian >leftists have charged; they simply decided that the September >11 attacks were the work of religious fanatics who had no conceivable >point of contact with anything identifiable as a left project >save for a human-rights complaint about the sanctions against >Iraq. As Marx himself observed, there are a number of social >systems more oppressive than that of capitalism. Al Qaeda and >the Taliban are good cases in point. > >For almost a month, the dispute between the Chomsky left and >the Hitchens left was largely a theoretical affair, featuring >a sweetly pointless debate in the Nation over whose condemnation >of Clinton's 1998 cruise-missile strike against the Al-Shifa >pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan was more thorough and/or courageous; >then the bombs started dropping on Afghanistan, and the camps >hardened into place, with leftists who'd denounced the Taliban >steadily for five years now denouncing a military action designed >to remove the Taliban from power. This is perhaps the most important >episode in the many narratives of September 11, because it represented >the earthquake that had been building along a fault line in the >U.S. left dating back to the first Bush Administration's operations >in Panama and Kuwait, and because it has ramifications for the >future of U.S. foreign policy for decades to come. > >A large part of the split had to do with the simple fact that >bombs were dropping. For U.S. leftists schooled in the lessons >of Cambodia, Libya, and the School of the Americas, all U.S. >bombing actions are suspect: they are announced by cadaverous >white guys with bad hair, they are covered by seven cable channels >competing with one another for the catchiest "New War" slogan >and Emmy awards for creative flag display, and they invariably >kill civilians, the poor, the wretched, the disabled. Surely, >there is much to hate about any bombing campaign. > >Yet who would deny that a nation, once attacked, has the right >to respond with military force, and who seriously believes that >anyone could undertake any "nation-building" enterprise in Afghanistan >without driving the Taliban from power first? Very well, some >of my post-September interlocutors said, the Taliban must go, >but not by force. A curious answer: for why would any clear-thinking >leftist believe that the Taliban could be removed by persuasion >alone, as if, like Al Gore after the Supreme Court's supremely >corrupt decision in Bush v. Gore, they would smile wryly into >the cameras and say, "It's time for us to go"? > >The arguments against military force started flooding the left-leaning >listservs. One, the link between the attacks and the Taliban >was not strong enough to justify bombing. Two, we had supported >bin Laden indirectly back when he was one of the mujahedeen fighting >the USSR. Three, the terrain and the enemy would quickly lead >us into a quagmire. Four, the bombing of Afghanistan was the >moral equivalent of the September 11 attacks--or even worse, >since the U.S. was attacking from a position of wealth and strength. >Five, there would be no "nation-building" after the ouster of >the Taliban--just more bombing, this time in some other impoverished >nation. Six, the U.S. had been a global aggressor for so long >and with such impunity that it had no moral ground from which >to operate even after being directly attacked. > >These are the arguments that have insured the Chomskian left's >irrelevance to foreign policy debate for the foreseeable future, >and I confess I am not always sure why anyone would make them >in any case. Arguments three and five are relatively innocuous, >being merely predictive, but the rest range from merely illogical >(one, two, six) to morally odious (four). For instance: the fact >that a U.S. government was once foolish enough--or Zbigniew Brzezinski >was once cavalier enough--to fund the Arab "Afghanis" in the >1980s does not mean that a U.S. government is barred from opposing >any of their progeny now. The Chomskian left has been playing >this tune for some time now--today's public enemy was yesterday's >CIA darling--and while it does serve a heuristic function, in >that it reminds amnesiac Americans that baddies such as Saddam >and Noriega and Suharto didn't appear on the world stage out >of nowhere, it doesn't serve any substantive function except >obfuscation. Would the Chomskian left seriously prefer that the >U.S. stick by its totalitarian ex-clients no matter what, as >the Cold Warriors of the right once urged us to do? > >The argument about our past dealings with bin Laden is thus a >smokescreen, as was Chomsky's argument in 1999 that our intervention >against Milosevic in Kosovo could not be motivated by "humanitarian" >concerns because if we were serious about humanitarianism we >would also have intervened in East Timor. Even Chomsky's fans >will recall that this argument was not a clarion call for wider >U.S. interventions around the world beginning in East Timor; >it was an argument designed to obfuscate the issue at hand in >Kosovo, namely, allegations that the Serbs were engaged in genocide. >Similarly, in addressing the question of whether the U.S. had >the right to respond militarily after September 11, Chomsky offered >more smoke: "Congress has authorized the use of force against >any individuals or countries the President determines to be involved >in the attacks, a doctrine that every supporter regards as ultra-criminal. >That is easily demonstrated. Simply ask how the same people would >have reacted if Nicaragua had adopted this doctrine after the >U.S. had rejected the orders of the World Court to terminate >its 'unlawful use of force' against Nicaragua and had vetoed >a Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe >international law." Very well; with regard to Reagan's contra >war and the mining of Nicaragua's harbors, Nicaragua and the >World Court were in the right, and the U.S. acted like a rogue >nation. How exactly does this prove that "every supporter" regards >the use of force as "ultra-criminal" with regard to September >11? > >The fissure on the left that began in 1989-90 and became visible >in Kosovo is now a chasm. In retrospect, Kosovo didn't have quite >the impact on the left it might have, partly because conservatives >also opposed that operation on the grounds that Clinton had ordered >it (by 1999, Clinton could have launched a campaign against childhood >diseases and House Republicans would've responded by declaring >measles a vegetable and bundling it into school breakfast programs), >partly because of Monica, and partly because it was shrouded >in murk from Srebrenica to Rambouillet. But many of the most >vocal opponents of the U.S.–led NATO intervention in Kosovo are >now the most vocal opponents to the U.S.–led intervention in >Afghanistan, which suggests two things: first, that the fact >of civilian deaths on U.S. soil is in an important sense immaterial >to their position on U.S. policy, and second, that on the grounds >they offer today, they will never support another American military >action of any kind. Permanently alienated by Vietnam, by Chile, >by Indonesia, or by Reagan's deadly adventures in Central America, >they're gone and they're not coming back, not even if hijackers >plow planes into towers in downtown Manhattan. > >The right is just gleeful about this, of course, because it needs >the Chomskian left for effigies, hate minutes, election-year >fundraising and general vituperation. Christopher Hitchens seems >pretty happy as well, since he gets to settle a bunch of old >scores and coin acerbic new phrases like "the Milosevic left" >and "the Taliban left." But for all my sympathy with Hitchens, >I cannot share his sense of exhilaration; instead, as I watch >that shard of the left sailing away, I modulate between relief >and sorrow. Relief, because the break is decisive and clarifying, >highlighting all those who cannot use the word "heroes" without >scare quotes, all those who cannot bring themselves to utter >anything about freedom and democracy if doing so will make them >say words that might also have come from the mouth of a conservative. >Sorrow, because there will soon come a time when I am going to >miss these people, when I am going to wish they had some clout >in domestic politics. Not because I will agree with them, necessarily, >but because--unlike liberals--they do not make compromises, and >they know how to get mad. Liberals are good at patient deliberation >and stress abatement in the Mister Rogers mode, which is why >conservatives simply tear them from limb to limb whenever anything >important--like, say, a Presidential election recount in southern >Florida--is at stake: while the liberals hold a seminar on the >lessons of 1876, Tom DeLay flies in a bunch of goons to stop >the recount by force. Liberals like that image of themselves: >so what if those firebreathing yahoos run the country? At least >we've got our sanity and our Birkenstocks. But for precisely >this reason, liberals are not very good at organizing demonstrations >and mass protests when the President announces the creation of >military tribunals or the abrogation of client-attorney privilege >in cases where the client has an Al- in his last name. How many >liberals stood up and shamed John Ashcroft when he appeared before >the Senate on December 6 and impugned the patriotism of civil >libertarians? How many liberals voted against the USA-PATRIOT >act? How many liberals took to the streets when Bush issued Executive >Order 13233, overturning the Presidential Records Act and closing >the archives on the Reagan-Bush years? Who's kidding whom? This >is just not the kind of thing liberals do these days. > >But there's still plenty of mobilizing to do on the domestic >front for everyone who prefers democracy to mild totalitarianism, >and this should include everyone from William Safire to Katha >Pollitt. The narrative of that struggle will doubtless be experimental >and self-reflexive and full of postmodern historiographic metafiction >in the mode of Ishmael Reed and E. L. Doctorow, but if it's going >to be a narrative any of us will want to tell our children at >night, first we're going to have to remind liberals how to get >good and mad. And we should do it sooner rather than later--that >is, before rather than after Ashcroft sets up those new-for-2002 >Preventative Detention Camps to keep track of people who show >signs of dissenting, demurring, or otherwise disparaging the >Department of Justice's good-faith efforts to ensure domestic >tranquility. Because by that time, we won't even be able to tell >our stories to our lawyers. > > > >