dinsdag, augustus 10, 2004

'It wasn't 'My Pet Goat!' Part III

So, finally, here is the last instalment of my debunking of the debunker - the arguments against Hitchen's arguments against Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (points eleven through nineteen). I am sure by this point you have long since lost interest. As have I. Nonetheless, herewith submitted for your approval:

[As before, the points in bold are intended to capture the essence of Hitchens' critique, followed by a quote taken from his either his original article in Slate about the film or the transcript of his recent interview on Lateline, an Australian political talk show that would like to be like the BBC's Newsnight]

11. What's wrong with Bush taking off too Crawford for 250 days?

Hitchens: President Bush is accused of taking too many lazy vacations. (What is that about, by the way? Isn't he supposed to be an unceasing planner for future aggressive wars?)

Bush did take an awful lot vacations during his presidency, and this is commonly acknowledged. A Washington Post article of August last year noted that Bush had taken a total of 250 days off up until that point, which worked out to a total of 27 per cent of his time in office. In comparison, Clinton took a total of 152 days off over the course of his two terms.

It seems fairly evident that this is proves once a fratboy, always a fratboy, and something that the pre-lobotomy Hitchens might easily have zoned in on in one of his works. Even in 'perfidious' France, I don't believe that most workers have a paid vacation of a quarter of their working year.

12. Human rights trumps national sovereignty

Hitchens: We are introduced to Iraq, "a sovereign nation." [he then goes on to say, essentially, 'so what?']

Here, again, I would concur with Hitchens. Moore is almost unique amongst liberals in including America's breach of Iraq's national sovereignty amongst the list of reasons why the current war is criminal. The fetishisation of national sovereignty is normally an attribute of anti-war Stalinists. I remember when I was involved in a Vancouver anti-war coalition in 1999 (I say 'a' and not 'the' Vancouver anti-war coalition because, sadly but typically, there were two), organising against the bombing of Yugoslavia, the tankies got quite hopped up about the sovereignty of the country.

But the sovereignty of a country is immaterial to the righteousness of the action. Indeed, theoretically, a socialist at some point could support the breach of one country's sovereignty militarily, were there crimes being committed there, the motives of the breaching country noble (which is admittedly an exceedingly dim possibility) and the methods employed did not constitute gross human rights violations themselves. On a far more quotidian level than war, the various trade agreements and international financial institutions breach national sovereignty, but we do not oppose them for that, we oppose them for the horrific consequences of structural adjustment, et al. Human rights conventions and environmental treaties would similarly breach national sovereignty, but we support them (whatever their risible toothlessness).

If we bring up the issue of national sovereignty in our arguments, we then are so easily defeated by our opponents by the simple and correct argument that human rights trumps national sovereignty. We win over nobody, and it is entirely a good development that most people today have not a care for national sovereignty in this regard. Indeed it is even something that can be built upon in terms of arguments against nationalism and for internationalism. Harkening back to anachronistic notions of national integrity is a free gift to our adversaries.

13. Moore only shows kids flying kites in Iraq; he doesn't show the internal terror, the prisons, etc.

Hitchens: In this peaceable kingdom, according to Moore's flabbergasting choice of film shots, children are flying little kites, shoppers are smiling in the sunshine, and the gentle rhythms of life are undisturbed. Then—wham! From the night sky come the terror weapons of American imperialism. Watching the clips Moore uses, and recalling them well, I can recognize various Saddam palaces and military and police centres getting the treatment.

The point of these shots in the film, surely, are to remind that whatever the extant savagery of Hussein's regime the bombs that did drop, dropped not on Hussein but on children flying kites. This is so plain, so apparent and is the very heart of the anti-war argument. One honestly wonders how the once dedicated humanitarian that Hitchens was can overlook so simple and powerful an argument.

One might further say that, whatever the crimes of any dictator our planet has witnessed, bombing from a great height is never warranted. I am surprised that to this day, there is not, outside the anti-war movements, there is not a single-issue 'ban bombs' - period - movement.

Arial bombardment by definition is a war crime. There are always, always more innocents killed than combatants. There is an anti-torture politic outside the broader human rights movement and there is an anti-death-penalty movement besides the broader anti-criminal justice movement. Minor reforms form part of the road to broader emancipation. Let there then be an anti-bombing campaign beyond the anti-war movement.

14. Saddam did kill Americans

Hitchens: Moore asserts that Iraq under Saddam had never attacked or killed or even threatened (his words) any American…. Saddam boasted publicly of his financial sponsorship of suicide bombers in Israel. (Quite a few Americans of all denominations walk the streets of Jerusalem.)… the Iraqi secret police were caught trying to murder former President Bush during his visit to Kuwait. Never mind whether his son should take that personally. … Should you and I not resent any foreign dictatorship that attempts to kill one of our retired chief executives?... Iraqi forces fired, every day, for 10 years, on the aircraft that patrolled the no-fly zones and staved off further genocide in the north and south of the country

First of all, Hitchens, long-standing campaigner for Palestinian rights and (although he tries to hide it these days) anti-Zionist, should be able to defend the right of Palestinians to self-defence. However much I may personally abhor the tactic of suicide bombing, morally and strategically, I offer my support, such as it is, to Palestinian freedom fighters unconditionally. Suicide bombing is an issue for another day, but, once again, do we need to remind Hitchens that other liberation struggles have, every single one, committed atrocities in the course of their righteous campaigns. If we chose who we supported internationally on the basis of which army of national liberation was composed of saints, we would end up supporting none.

From this, presumably, we can deduce that Hitchens not only supports the war on terror, but has now gone back on his thirty-five-year-long support for the Palestinian freedom struggle.

As for his challenge, "Should you and I not resent any foreign dictatorship that attempts to kill one of our retired chief executives?" No, we do not resent it in the slightest. Kill away. Especially one so despicable as Bush senior. How many deaths was he responsible for as CIA director, vice-president and ultimately president? As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, were they held to the same standards as those in the dock at Nuremburg, every single US president since World War Two would be have been hanged.

Iraqi forces fired on US and UK aircraft that backed up the UN's genocidal sanctions regime?

Good for them.

15. The left supports Saddam

Hitchens: Michael Moore has just said, in so many words, the one thing that no reflective or informed person can possibly believe: that Saddam Hussein was no problem. No problem at all.

Once again the slander that Hitchens and other chickenhawks rely upon: We like Saddam. Which is why we all campaigned against American support for him in the eighties.

16. Civil rights abuses that are a product of the Patriot Act are a trifling nothing

Hitchens: We are shown some American civilians who have had absurd encounters with idiotic "security" staff. (Have you ever met anyone who can't tell such a story?) Then we are immediately shown underfunded police departments that don't have the means or the manpower to do any stop-and-search:

It would take too long to go into detail of all the numerous examples of basic civil rights that are a result of John Ashcroft's deeply authoritarian Patriot Act in order to argue against this point. One can only surmise, similar to the conclusion of the last rejoinder, that Hitchens is also a fan of The Man Who Does Not Dance. Maybe he can help Ashcroft go hang drapes over other semi-nude statues in the Justice Department in his spare time.*

It must be said, however, that there are many pro-war liberals who have at least had the clarity of mind to come out against the Patriot Act as a gross violation of the freedoms America was founded upon.

17. The US-Saudi link is overblown

Hitchens: Why did Moore's evil Saudis not join "the Coalition of the Willing"? Why instead did they force the United States to switch its regional military headquarters to Qatar?... The Saudis hate, as they did in 1991, the idea that Iraq's recuperated oil industry might challenge their near-monopoly. They fear the liberation of the Shiite Muslims they so despise.

The despicable Saudi leadership is a key US ally - it seems strange that Hitchens seems to be denying this. This produces many problems internally. This is manifest. They thus would prefer to minimise the more overt examples of the link. A move of America's regional headquarters to Qatar is helpful in this regard. Furthermore, the US itself knows that Saudi is profoundly unstable at the moment. It makes sense that they move their command operations away from the regime that tomorrow or a year from now will fall as certainly as the Shah's regime fell in 1979.

Secondly, America's Middle East allegiances are numerous and contradictory. In another example, the US both supports Turkey, oppressor of Kurds, and protected the Kurds in the north of Iraq for ten years because it suited their purposes to do so.

18. Michael Moore = Leni Riefenstahl

Hitchens: Here we glimpse a possible fusion between the turgid routines of MoveOn.org and the filmic standards, if not exactly the filmic skills, of Sergei Eisenstein or Leni Riefenstahl

Wow. We're comparing Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 to fascist Leni Riefenstahl's oeuvre? And seeing a coagulum of the work of revolutionary socialist Eisenstein and Hitler-loving Riefenstahl as well?

His renegade cretinism takes my breath away

19. Moore
opposes the 'economic draft'

Hitchens: Would he have abandoned Gettysburg because the Union allowed civilians to pay proxies to serve in their place? Would he have supported the antidraft (and very antiblack) riots against Lincoln in New York?

This is such a spurious argument. Apart from having to trace back to the last century to come up with an appropriate analogy, it is a simple truth that the poor and young fight wars while the old and rich plan them.

But let's take Hitchens argument at face value.

To agree with Hitchens' position, one has to assume that Moore and other anti-war activists are against all wars. We, outside the Quakers - bless them - have never said this. Moreover, we do not even go so far as to say that imperialist powers can never be justified in waging war. We simply say the occasions in which they are justified are inestimably rare. The Union's position in the American Civil War was one that progressives would have (and did) support. Without going into to much of the detail, in the battle between bourgeois democracy (the North) and a semi-feudal system built on slavery, socialists back the more progressive bourgeoisie. But this is a long-since decided battle.

The one argument that Hitchen, Aaronovitch and Cohen and their ilk have against the rest of the left in this war, that on the surface has merit, and has not sufficiently been dealt with, is the follow-on from this position: If socialists prefer bourgeois parliamentary democracy over feudalism, then does it not follow that we support bourgeois parliamentary democracy over fascism and other variants of authoritarianism too? They argue that at all times socialists support the more progressive, if bankrupt, capitalist democracy to dictatorship. And this is true. Cohen, uniquely, is coherent in this argument. Aaronovitch long ago made his peace with the Third Way and Hitchens today seems to have no problem with the rest of the Republican agenda, so we can dispense with them as consistent socialists. Cohen, however, may support the war, but he remains a scourge of Blairism. He argues that the consistent socialist position is to oppose Blair, but support him against Ba'athist authoritarianism.

The difference - and this is key - is that in the last century and earlier, the battle between bourgeois parliamentary democracy and feudalism was to the death. The success of capitalism depended on the death of feudalism. Contrariwise, contemporary authoritarianism and fascism is quite compatible with capitalism, and as such, we can see the war, far from ridding the country of authoritarianism, replaces it with another, equally authoritarian dictatorship. And why would it not? What use is parliamentary democracy in the region to protection of oil interests? As the demonstrations in Iraq lucidly pronounce: "The apprentice is gone! The master has arrived!" Never mind the murderous methods of achieving the overthrow of Hussein and maintaining the occupation as reasons to oppose the war, if this were indeed a battle against authoritarian regimes, Bush and Blair would drop their support for other dictatorships in the region and around the world. If global bourgeois democracy honestly declared war on dictatorship, hey ho, socialists would rejoice. But there are no authoritarianisms left on this planet that were not put there by bourgeois democrats. QED.

* Perhaps the reference there is a little obscure. Attorney-general John Ashcroft, a Christian fundamentalist of the highest order, ordered the statue of Blind Justice in the rotunda of the Justice Department be covered by curtains because one of her nipples was showing, as is neo-classical statuary's wont. He also, just like John Lithgow in Footloose, is opposed to dancing. Some biblical injunction against it or something.

Presumably then, he also won't be dancing as part of our revolution or anyone else's. Boom boom.