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Friday, October 07, 2005

Comments

cenizo in Austin

OK, I read Abramsky's piece, and I question "the central point: that, unlike traditional “third-world” liberation movements looking for a bit of peace and quiet in which to nurture embryonic states, al-Qaida is classically imperialist, looking to subvert established social orders and to replace the cultural and institutional infrastructure of its enemies with a (divinely inspired) hierarchical autocracy of its own, looking to craft the next chapter of human history in its own image."

It's one thing for Osama and clan to want to (re-)claim parts of Africa, parts of the Middle East and parts of Aisa to remake according to its own insane vision. But quite another thing to dream of putting the burkha on the good women of Kansas, Beijing and Johannesburg, i.e., a global Islamic imperium. To be blunt, they are not up to it (empire, on any scale) because, unlike (for one) the ancient Romans, they are mere destroyers, with no desire to build a single thing, much less roads or aqueducts.

Thus, they will, no doubt, cause a lot of death and destruction in the years to come, but lacking the vital creative drive, they dig their own graves faster than they make ours.

Never discount scalability when evaluating ideology.

David Horowitz

Marc, I want to commend you for flailing away at leftists the way that you do. I know that the Nation Magazine won't publish your pro-American thoughts, but you are welcome to contribute to Frontpage on a regular basis. Christopher Hitchens and Paul Berman have already signed up and I am looking for other renegades from the left to join our crusade. Long live the war on terror! Down with Arabs! Death to the commies!

Marc Cooper

For a moment I thought of removing the above post which is not from Horowitz. But why not leave it? A PERFECT example of the knucklehead fringe that is phobic to debate, discussion and criticism.

Randy Paul

As someone who rides the subways every day (and five days a week to Ground Zero) and who considers himself squarely on the left, I must have missed the meeting when I agreed to let the people that Abramsky cites speak for me.

They don't and I can assure that they don't speak for many of the people who live in my city, which voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry last year, and who feel less safe with Bush in office.

Everytime I exit the Rector Street station I look north and see what Al Qaeda is capable. I also see what the Bush administration is incapable of: anything other than flatulent rhetoric when his poll numbers go south.

Nell

The response that has been "woefully, catastrophically inadequate" has been that of the Bush administration:
- abandoning laws and norms covering U.S. military behavior;
- hijacking the country's grief and fear to invade and occupy a country completely unrelated to the actual threat;
- looting the national treasury on behalf of the rich;
- shredding diplomatic, trade, and cultural relationships with almost every other country in the world;
- filling _every_ important position in the government on the basis of political loyalty rather than competence.

But, hey, I'm sure this country's future is FUBAR because of the response of "The Left"....

Jim Russell

Did you agree with the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan Nell?

Marc Cooper

Nell.. that is an incredibly disingenuous response. Just incredible to me. So you believe,then that because Bush is a disaster, we can not and should not seriously consider the threat posed by the likes of Al Qaeda?

And please be kind enough to not put words in my mouth. Neither I nor Abramsky said that the US was FUBAR because of the response of the Left. What Sasha said, and I agree with him, is that the woeful response by much of the Left to the authentic threats before us, only further empowers Bush.

What makes you incapable of debating that point, if not accepting it?

Cenizo: Ur point about scalability is well taken. But the Twin Towers attacks was on some friggin' scale.

Randy: Your point is also well taken. There are millions in your category (and mine). Abramsky was not pointing to Kerry voters nor Democrats per se nor "the left" in general. He specifically spoke of the "activist left" which unfortunately he is mostly right about (note the speakers' list from the Sept 24 demos). And he singled out four writers who are held up as paragons by that stratum.

Abbas-Ali Abadani

Abramsky: "Yet reading the voices of much of the self-proclaimed 'left' in the London papers in the aftermath of the bombings."

Lest we forget only people who agree with us are on the *real* left -- the others are on the "self-proclaimed 'left'."


"Fisk's quotation marks around 'war on terror' suggested none too subtly that battling terror organisations is mere subterfuge for a more nefarious agenda."

More nefarious agenda? Such as destroying Iraq, Iran and Syria? Gee, what a nutball conspiracy theorist that Fisk is.


"And his reference to Sweden misses the point that al-Qaida's modus operandi involves attacking nodal points of western power rather than peripheral regions."

Clairvoyance. It's not just for traitors and defeatists anymore.


"It misses the central point: that, unlike traditional 'third-world' liberation movements looking for a bit of peace and quiet in which to nurture embryonic states, al-Qaida is classically imperialist, looking to subvert established social orders and to replace the cultural and institutional infrastructure of its enemies with a (divinely inspired) hierarchical autocracy of its own, looking to craft the next chapter of human history in its own image."

I thought that all revolutionary movements (even if they are reactionary in ideology) seek to "subvert established orders to replace the cultural and institutional infrastructure of [their] enemies with" one of their own, "looking to craft the next chapter of human history in [their] own image."

Isn't this, for example, what Sendero Luminoso is doing in Peru, or Comrade Prachanda's forces in Nepal? Or, perhaps a better analogy, the Christian Identity movement in the US?


"Simply blaming the never quite defined, yet implicitly all-powerful 'west' for the ills of the world doesn't explain why al-Qaida slaughtered thousands of Americans eighteen months before Saddam was overthrown."

So we have a) "The West" is a meaningless concept, b) history began on 9/11, and c) there was no war, Saddam merely "was overthrown".


"Moreover, many of those who reflexively blame the west do not honestly hold up a mirror to the rest of the world, including the Muslim world, and the racism and sexism and anti-semitism that is rife in many parts of it. If bigotry were indeed the exclusive preserve of the west, their arguments would have greater moral force. But given the fundamentalist prejudices that are so much a part of bin Ladenism, the cry of western racism is a long way from being a case-closer."

Bigotry exists everywhere, in every nation, culture and society. The ability to exert state power on a global, or even regional, scale does not.

"We should attend to the way bin Laden and his followers invoke 'the west.' They do so alternately to describe any expansive and domineering 'first world' economic and political system and, even more ominously, to demarcate a set of ostensibly decadent liberal political, cultural, social, and religious beliefs and practices."

Umm, "bin Laden and his followers" are hardly the only people who define the West in this manner. One need only go to Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, etc. and find out, for example, what the people there think of homosexuality and who they blame for trying to make it a cultural norm in their societies. Heck, you only have to go as far east as Prague to see this.

Since cenizo has already dealt with the ridiculous (and yet ubiquitous) Hitler/Nazi/WW II analogy that Abramsky draws I'll skip that, and I'll get to the "Enlightenment/Open Society" stuff in a separate post.


One thing I would like to say in favor of Abramsky is that the section of his essay titled "the progressive alternative" is excellent. I found myself agreeing with every word. And I have to admit that I was completely unaware of that "Redifining Readiness" report prior to this. Here's the link

https://www.cacsh.org/eptpp.html

Abbas-Ali Abadani

Abramsky: "Indeed, what al-Qaida apparently hates most about 'the west' are its best points: the pluralism, the rationalism, individual liberty, the emancipation of women, the openness and social dynamism that represent the strongest legacy of the Enlightenment. These values stand in counterpoint to the tyrannical social code idealised by al-Qaida and by related political groupings such as Afghanistan's Taliban."

[...]

"It is because bin Ladenism is waging war against the liberal ideal that much of the activist left's response to 11 September 2001 and the London attacks is woefully, catastrophically inadequate. For we, as progressives, need to uphold the values of pluralism, rationalism, scepticism, women's rights, and individual liberty and oppose ideologies and movements whose foundations rest on theocracy, obscurantism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, and nostalgia for a lost empire."

[...]

"In power, a left that fails to grapple with the challenges facing the open society risks sapping the will of liberal countries to stand up to totalitarian-think. Such a scenario would, in a very profound sense, embody a betrayal of the central Enlightenment tenets nurtured, in fits and starts, for more than two centuries in one or another citadel of pluralism."

At this point, rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll just post a few relevant quotes from Corey Robin's "The Fear of the Liberals".

https://www.thenation.com/doc/20050926/robin

"...the animating faith of the 1960s was in the democratic capacities of ordinary men and women, making it difficult for liberals and leftists to believe in conquering armies from abroad or shock troops from on high.

"Many liberals, and some leftists, no longer hold these views. Their faith is guided not by the light of justice but by the darkness of evil: by the tyranny of dictators, the genocide of ethnic cleansers and the terrorism of Islamist radicals. Despite their differences -- some of these liberals and leftists support the war in Iraq, others do not; some are partial to popular movements, particularly those opposing anti-American governments, while others favor constitutional regimes, particularly those supporting the United States -- theirs is a liberalism, as the late Harvard scholar Judith Shklar put it in a pioneering essay in 1989, that seeks to ward off the "summum malum" (worst evil) rather than to install a "summum bonum" (highest good). Reversing Augustine's dictum that there is no such thing as evil -- evil being only the absence of good --today's liberal believes there is only evil and progress is measured by the distance we put between ourselves and that evil."

[...]

"Straddling minimalism at home and maximalism abroad, many of today's liberals are inspired by fear. This "liberalism of fear," as Shklar called it, is not to be confused with the terror Americans felt after 9/11 or with Democratic timidity in the face of Republican success. No, today's liberal believes in fear as an idea -- that it inflicts such suffering on men and women that we can assess governments by the degree to which they minimize it. Fear is the gold standard, the universal measure, of liberal morality: Whatever rouses fear is bad, whatever diminishes it is less bad. In the words of Michael Ignatieff, liberalism 'rests less on hope than on fear, less on optimism about the human capacity for good than on dread of the human capacity for evil, less on a vision of man as maker of his history than of man the wolf toward his own kind.'

"Though leftists in the sixties certainly spoke of fear, they viewed it not as a foundation but as an obstacle, a hindrance in the struggle for freedom and equality. Whites resisted civil rights, James Baldwin observed, because they were possessed by a 'sleeping terror' of ceding status and privilege to blacks. Blacks, in turn, were like 'the Jews in Egypt, who really wished to get to the Promised Land but were afraid of the rigors of the journey.' The goal was to eliminate or overcome fear, to take one step closer to the Promised Land. This required not only courage but also an ideologically grounded hope for progress. Without an answering vision of social justice, no one would make the journey.

"Many contemporary liberals have given up that hope, turning what a previous generation saw as an impediment into a path. Fear is no longer an obstacle but a crutch, a negative truth from which liberalism derives its confidence and strength. 'What liberalism requires,' according to Shklar, 'is the possibility of making the evil of cruelty and fear the basic norm of its political practices and prescriptions.' Liberal values like the rule of law and democracy obtain their worth not from reason or rights -- which many liberals no longer believe in as foundational principles -- but from the cruelty and fear illiberal states and movements routinely inflict upon helpless men and women.

"Today's liberals are attracted to fear for many reasons, including revulsion at the crimes of the last century and the miserable state of the postcolonial world. But one of the main reasons is their belief that fear possesses an easy intelligibility. Fear requires no deep philosophy, no leap of reason, to establish its evil: Everyone knows what it is and that it is bad. 'Because the fear of systematic cruelty is so universal,' Shklar wrote, 'moral claims based on its prohibition have an immediate appeal and can gain recognition without much argument.' Once liberals realize that they are 'more afraid of being cruel' -- and of others being cruel -- 'than of anything else,' Richard Rorty has argued, they need not worry about the grounds of their beliefs."


I'm tempted to quote a great deal more from the article. But there's the link, read it for yourself in its entirety.

matter

So now you're drinking the "they hate our freedoms" Koolaid, Marc? Get a clue you ossified putz.

Nell

Marc: >>So you believe because Bush is a disaster, we can not and should not seriously consider the threat posed by the likes of Al Qaeda? > get out of Iraq, bring home the troops from all points east, curtail support for Israel, develop a more sensible, non-oil-based energy policy, and our troubles would dissipate in the wind. >Indeed, what al-Qaida apparently hates most about “the west” are its best points: the pluralism, the rationalism, individual liberty, the emancipation of women, the openness and social dynamism that represent the strongest legacy of the Enlightenment.

Sure, they _also_ hate our freedoms, but that's not what most motivates the attacks. Fisk and Naomi Klein are not defending the Al Qaeda worldview, and they _are_ "[upholding] the values of pluralism, rationalism, scepticism, women’s rights, and individual liberty" to a far greater degree than those who overstate the actual threat that Al Qaeda poses. Which Abramsky does. That overstatement is the very core of the false choices he presents, and of the false course down which Bush&co have "led" the American people. War policies and war-mentality-as policy are what undermines pluralism, rationalism, scepticism, and individual liberty.

Abramsky is the one who's not engaging any real arguments. He sees nothing (but perhaps his own brave self) between Robert Fisk/Naomi Klein and John Kerry/Jon Corzine. Left opponents and critics of a "war on terror" very much follow Abramsky's advice to "oppose ideologies and movements whose foundations rest on theocracy, obscurantism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, and nostalgia for a lost empire. " There's a homegrown movement that fits that bill; it's far more dangerous to this country than Al Qaeda could have been. However, instead of combating it, too many American liberals joined it in fear, providing a political base for the very policies that have massively multiplied the threat from Islamic terrorists.

Abramsky's point seems to be summed up in this paragraph, an all-too-familiar excluded-middle exercise by which the left is blamed for the success of the right:

>>a left that ignores the magnitude of these threats risks reducing itself to irrelevance, and, in so doing, ceding power to conservatives who will fight their wars on terror in a deeply destructive, dirty way, who will leap upon the opportunity to clamp down on civil liberties and undermine non military, non security-related government spending, and who will use the fear of terror to reshape societies according to their own illiberal sights. <<

My view is that a "respectable left" that insufficiently opposed the war on Iraq, that consistently buys into the democratizing powers of invasion and occupation, and that overblows the magnitude of these threats by focusing on the social ideology instead of the political and military realities of Islamic terrorism, does more to cede power to conservatives than the actual antiwar left.

Nell

Serves me right for not previewing; the previous comment got mangled because I used brackets for quotes.

Here's v2.0:

Marc: "So you believe because Bush is a disaster, we can not and should not seriously consider the threat posed by the likes of Al Qaeda?"

Of course we should. We should consider it with all the rationality, scepticism, and concern for individual liberties that our Enlightenment heritage can provide.

But Abramsky's approach, focusing on 'they hate our freedoms' and Al Qaeda's totalitarian social ideology instead of the political/military realities of armed fundamentalist Islamic movements, overblows the threat in a way that actually makes it more difficult to evaluate it realistically and respond effectively.

Here Abramsky overstates what left critics of the "war on terror" have been saying in order to dismiss it:

"get out of Iraq, bring home the troops from all points east, curtail support for Israel, develop a more sensible, non-oil-based energy policy, and our troubles would dissipate in the wind."

These actions will not make our trouble dissipate in the wind, but they are central and essential to dealing with the threat -- most importantly, by keeping it to a manageable scale. Responding with war or "war" does exactly the opposite. Notorious blame-America-firster Gen. Anthony Zinni was advocating just the actions in the quote above to a receptive VMI audience in the fall of 2002. And he specifically took on the tired 'they hate us for our freedoms' line that Abramsky tries to revive:

"Indeed, what al-Qaida apparently hates most about “the west” are its best points: the pluralism, the rationalism, individual liberty, the emancipation of women, the openness and social dynamism that represent the strongest legacy of the Enlightenment."

Sure, they _also_ hate our freedoms, but that's not what most motivates the attacks. Fisk and Naomi Klein are not defending the Al Qaeda worldview, and they _are_ "[upholding] the values of pluralism, rationalism, scepticism, women’s rights, and individual liberty" to a far greater degree than those who overstate the actual threat that Al Qaeda poses. Which Abramsky does. That overstatement is the very core of the false choices he presents, and of the false course down which Bush&co have "led" the American people. War policies and war-mentality-as policy are what undermines pluralism, rationalism, scepticism, and individual liberty.

Abramsky is the one who's not engaging any real arguments. He sees nothing (but perhaps his own brave self) between Robert Fisk/Naomi Klein and John Kerry/Jon Corzine. Left opponents and critics of a "war on terror" very much follow Abramsky's advice to "oppose ideologies and movements whose foundations rest on theocracy, obscurantism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, and nostalgia for a lost empire. "

There's a homegrown movement that fits that bill; it's far more dangerous to this country than Al Qaeda could have been. However, instead of combating it, too many American liberals joined it in fear, providing a political base for the very policies that have massively multiplied the threat from Islamic terrorists.

Abramsky's point seems to be summed up in this paragraph, an all-too-familiar excluded-middle exercise by which the left is blamed for the success of the right:

"a left that ignores the magnitude of these threats risks reducing itself to irrelevance, and, in so doing, ceding power to conservatives who will fight their wars on terror in a deeply destructive, dirty way, who will leap upon the opportunity to clamp down on civil liberties and undermine non military, non security-related government spending, and who will use the fear of terror to reshape societies according to their own illiberal sights."

My view is that a 'respectable left' that insufficiently opposed the war on Iraq, that consistently buys into the democratizing powers of invasion and occupation, and that overblows the magnitude of these threats by focusing on the social ideology instead of the political and military realities of Islamic terrorism, does more to cede power to conservatives than the actual antiwar left.

Nell

OT query:

Marc, is there any prospect of the commenters here being able to use HTML code to produce italics, boldface, blockquotes, and embedded URLs? It would make for greater readability.

Just wondering; I understand if comment spam or related concerns make that out of the question.

Nell

Also, Marc, it would be a favor to readers if you would remove my mangled post above (at 3:35). Thanks, if you do.

richard lo cicero

Marc, I can't speak for your friends but I know I had my doubts about this latest alert. Consider that it came shortlt after yet another "Major" speech by Bush that amounted to saying "BOO! 9 - 11!" as many times as he could. And coming as it did in the wake of the monstrous dud that his latest SCOTUS pick has been and the indictments and rumors of indictments plus Iraq plus Katrina - well, as someone said, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows!

Mayor Bloomberg may have needed it too. Steve Gilliard has been writing on his blog that Bloomie's refusal to go to a debate at the Apollo has hurt him among Blacks, the key swing group in the NY Mayoral race. I don't know but Gilliard lives there so I'll give him some credence, And on the day of the debate you get this alert which crowds out other news, Hmm,

In short, you cry wolf a lot and even real threats get greeted with sceptisism.

James Doran

People might be curious about opendemocracy.org, the online publication that Abramsky's article appeared in. Along with Harry's Place, it is a source of writings by the pro-war "decent left" and vitriolic attacks on people like George Galloway or Cindy Sheehan who have the temerity to attack the war without two hands tied behind their back, as people like Marc Cooper would prefer.

The insufferable Todd Gitlin is an editor at opendemocracy.org as is Danny Postel, who competing with Cooper to win the 2005 Arthur Koestler award for rueful ex-radicals. But the editor I find most intriguing is Roger Scruton, who should tip you off about the credentials of this scuzzy publication:

The New York Times, March 23, 2002, Saturday, Late Edition - Final

Advocating Tobacco, On the Payroll Of Tobacco

By Alexander Stille

"Roger Scruton, High Priest Philosopher of the Libertarian Right, Defrocked and Exposed as 'Grimy Hack' for Tobacco Industry."

This headline on a news release from a British anti-smoking group gives a flavor of the glee with which the British left and parts of the British press greeted recent revelations that the conservative philosopher and commentator Roger Scruton had been on the payroll of a tobacco conglomerate and had offered to publish articles in prominent publications attacking efforts to restrict smoking.

These are the basic facts. Two months ago, The Guardian published a leaked e-mail memorandum that Mr. Scruton and his wife, Sophie, sent to Quentin Browell, an executive at Japan Tobacco International, which sells numerous brands of cigarettes, including Camel, Winston and Salem. In the memo Mr. Scruton offered to orchestrate a major pro-smoking publicity campaign and urged that his monthly retainer be increased to 5,500 pounds (about $7,800) from 4,500 pounds (about $6,400). "We would aim to place an article every two months," the memo stated, mentioning as possible publications The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London, The Daily Telegraph, The Spectator, The Financial Times, The Economist, The Independent and The New Statesman. "While one or more of these articles might be written by R. S.," the memo continued, referring to Mr. Scruton, "we would do our best to get other journalists to join in."

Did you agree with the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan Nell?

Jim Russell

What is your workable alternative James? What is your solution?

Try to give us some detail and specifics on your plan James, so we can determine if it is workable or wishful.

mikey

It is entirely possible to acknowledge that the terrorist threat is all too deadly real AND to note that the Bush administration has used these public warnings for crass political purposes. The ways in which the terrorist threat announcements were tied to the rhythms of Kerry's poll numbers and then suddenly just disappeared after the election was/is an insult to all of us. This sort of thoughtfulness, to stand against both the terrorist threat and those who seek to exploit it, seems warranted.

Dan O

I shudder at the paroxysms of disgust sure to spew forth on this board at the mention mere mention of C. Hitchens, but he makes an important and useful point about Orwell's independent path that was both oppesed to imperialism and fascism. The debate on this topic seems too often to take one of two positions, both of which are crude caricatures. On the one hand, everything that the US does is motivated by greed, stupidity, cynicism and dreams of imperial grandeur. On the other hand, anyone who criticizes our foreign policy is a traitor who hates America and is giving comfore to those who hate our freedoms.

In the first case, (I won't go into the second one because it is too idiotic to tangle with) everyone who dislikes us is ratonal and expressing a legitimate grievance of some kind. They are George Washingtons who want peace and independence for themselves and a free Palestine with good jobs. This view is as myopic as the other. It leaves no room for the possibility that the threat from Al Qaeda is real. (And anyone who dares to take it seriously is vilified--take a look at a few of the posts above). Isn't it just possible that they want nothing of the kind? Isn't it possible that excatly what they say is exactly what they want: the abolition of alcohol, the return of the caliphate, the extermination of unorthodox Islamic sects, the banning of music, the destruction of all infidels, the destruction of Israel and probably Jews for good measure--I could go on with their lunatic list, but all that is important to remember is that they believe this no matter how unrealistic, and there is no limit to the depravities they will use to usher in their vision of how the world should look. Does anyone think for a moment that if on 9/11 they had had access to a nuclear bomb of some sort that they would not have used it? That somehow they would have thought of this as going too far? I very much doubt it.

We should be very careful about ascribing motives to them (like freedom fighting) that are viewed through the lens of our own experience. To call them freedom fighters is to project our values on a nihilisitc death cult obsessed with a Utopian view of the world that I hope never to live in. They had a chance to make the culture they wanted in Afghanistan; they did so, and it was the antithesis of everything I value. Call me patrician if you like, but I'll take the West with all it's many many flaws over a world with no religious freedom, vicious anti-semitism, no art, no political freedom, disgusting oppression of women (and don't feed me the "respect" line here), religious law, religious punishment, and so on. To fail on this question is to fail on the most important political question of our day.

Nell: Look to Orwell for some inspiration here. Isn't it possible that the islamic fundamentalist movement of a certain stripe is as dangerous as some of us are saying AND that Bush and his pals are cynically exploiting it? Their exploitation doesn't make the threat go away, nor does it turn these guys into George Washingtons. It's like the conversation we keep having is: "They want a draconian version of sharia law." "George Bush sucks." "They behead people." "George Bush sucks." "They want to destroy Israel." "George Bush sucks." "Their view of the world is essentially fascist." "George Bush sucks." This disgust with the worst of the US (no matter how well placed) is blinding some people to a real danger. And that disgust, all too often for my taste, wipes the sins of others away. George Bush does suck. And we've done a lot of reprehensible things, but that doesn't mean we have to cede all moral authority to whatever putrid nihilistic group claims a grievance.

I'll repeat for emphasis: To fail on this question is to fail the most important political question we face. And, just like much of the left failed the Stalin test, much of the left is failing this one. (And just to head off facile responses about invoking Stalin, I am not comparing these guys to Stalin, but only pointing out that this is as important a watershed event). This is a serious fight between incompatible world views. I know which side I am on.

Jordy Cummings

Contrary to the assertions of Mr. Abramsky and by extension Mr. Cooper, none of the leftists he mentioned in any way denigrate the threat of Al Qaeda. Nor does contextualizing that threat make it any less of a real threat, just as contextualizing Nazis ala the Treaty of Versailles does not remove the neccessity of fighting Nazis. And like the US in World War 2, not bombing tracks to Auschwitz, not liberating camps until the end, despite Soviet intel about them, the US is not fighting Al Qaeda correctly at all. While I blanche at the concept that it is up to the "left" to come up with an alternative approach, using international police/intel actions as opposed to blundering war and torture and assassinations - as well as adressing the Palestine issue, would be morally right as well as strategically sound.

reg

"And, just like much of the left failed the Stalin test"

Any honest reading of history would have to include the fact that Trotskyists like Hitchens also failed that test because they failed to include Leninism in their critique. Orwell wasn't a Leninist, incidentally, and his writings on the Civil War are the perspective of a man of the broad left, but not a man of any canned leftist ideology or The Left. Of course Hitchens is no longer a Trot in that sense - although his thinking is clearly still rife with bizarre "revolutionary internationalist" bullshit characteristic of the Trotskyite wordview, but invoking Hitchens and Orwell in the same sentence turns my stomach. "Regime change?" Orwellian language if there ever was any...

I'm glad I'm one of those millions of folks who, while we may well constitute what is effectively "the left" in American politics because of our liberalism and pragmatically humanistic ideals (if I can invoke anything so old-fashioned and unfashionable), wake up each morning without giving a flying shit what "The Left" thinks about anything because in the context of these kinds of arguments it's politically nonexistent, outside of organizing the occasional parade. There's a broad range of left-liberal analysis in which the question of either/or regarding America as Pre-Destined Devil or Avenging Angel doesn't enter into the discussion one whit. Why dither over this? It's a waste of time... And yes, Bush has exploited AND exaggerated the nature of the al Qaeda threat relentlessly, with the effect of actually increasing the danger. I don't see any contradiction - nor much in the way of rational counter-argument - on that piece of it.

Polemcists like Hitchens and Paul Berman are also, incidentally, part of the problem, because each in his way has dragged an ideological agenda - baggage would be more like it - into
their alleged "analysis" of the character and capacities of this enemy. Both of them, by proposing what is literally an impulsive, shoddy crusade rather than an aggressive and effective defense, fall into the fantasy realm that guys like Curtis LeMay and Richard Perle (ooops) occupied during the Cold War.

reg

"I know which side I am on."

Well gee, Dan - kudos for getting the really easy part right.

Abbas-Ali Abadani

Dan: "We should be very careful about ascribing motives to them (like freedom fighting) that are viewed through the lens of our own experience. To call them freedom fighters is to project our values on a nihilisitc death cult obsessed with a Utopian view of the world that I hope never to live in."

I'm sorry but this is a total strawman argument. In fact, I challenge you to find a single poster here who has referred to "the freedom fighters of al-Qaeda" or (what you seemed to be repeatedly inferring) "Zarqawi, the George Washington of his people."

By the way "nihilistic death cult" is a catchy phrase and it seems to have spread fast. Hitchens, Abramsky, Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen ... it seems to have become a rhetorical staple of the "decent left."

Just out of curiousity, is anyone here familiar with the methodology and ideology of the 19th century Russian nihilists? What it was they hoped to accomplish by their actions?

A leading question, I know...

tim

I thought the debate on this blog was improving, but today's exchanges are disabusing me of that notion. Why is it so hard to get over the Manichean binary of Bush-is-bad, and nothing-else-matters and grapple with the complex and dangerous world we actually live in? I write as a NY subway rider who now sits there wondering if I am going to have my eyes blown out because some bin Ladenite psycho doesn't like me talking to unmarried girls. Of course Bush is a snake, but that is such a bad thing precisely because he is incapable of really responding to this quite real threat -- just as many of the screeching ideologues who keep popping up here as cariacatures of themselves.

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