Strange Bedfellows

Norman Geras, an apparent Anti-Idiotarian leftist describes the Moral Failure that led so many from his camp to support the Hussain Regime.

I really appreciate what he risked saying this, considering the audience that he spoke to (the Workers’ Liberty Summer School). Some of the better parts:

[T]here is also a certain historical past of the left referred to loosely under the name “Stalinism,” which forms a massive blot on this commitment and these values, on the great tradition we belong to. I am of the generation–roughly 1960s-vintage, post-Stalinist left–educated in the Trotskyist critique of that whole experience, and in the new expansion and flourishing of an open, multifaceted and pluralist Marxism; educated in the movement against the war in Vietnam, the protests against Augusto Pinochet’s murderous coup in Chile, and against the role of the U.S. in both episodes and in more of the same kind. Of a generation that believed that, even though the Western left still bore some signs of continuity with the Stalinist past, this was a dying, an increasingly marginal strand, and that we had put its errors largely behind us. But I fear now it is not so. The same kinds of error–excuses and evasions and out-and-out apologia for political structures, practices or movements no socialist should have a word to say for–are still with us. They afflict many even without any trace of a Stalinist past or a Stalinist political formation.

From the “Emperor Has No Clothes” section:

On Sept. 11, 2001, there was, in the U.S., a massacre of innocents. There’s no other acceptable way of putting this: some 3,000 people (and, as anyone can figure, it could have been many more) struck down by an act of mass murder without any possible justification, an act of gross moral criminality. What was the left’s response? In fact, this goes well beyond the left if what is meant by that is people and organizations of socialist persuasion. It included a wide sector of liberal opinion as well. Still, I shall just speak here, for short, of the left. The response on the part of much of it was excuse and apologia.
At best you might get some lip service paid to the events of September 11 having been, well, you know, unfortunate–the preliminary “yes” before the soon-to-follow “but” (or, as Christopher Hitchens has called it, “throat clearing”). And then you’d get all the stuff about root causes, deep grievances, the role of U.S. foreign policy in creating these; and a subtext, or indeed text, whose meaning was America’s comeuppance. This was not a discourse worthy of a democratically committed or principled left, and the would-be defense of it by its proponents, that they were merely trying to explain and not to excuse what happened, was itself a pathetic excuse. If any of the root-cause and grievance themes truly had been able to account for what happened on September 11, you’d have a hard time understanding why, say, the Chileans after that earlier September 11 (I mean of 1973), or other movements fighting against oppression and injustice, have not resorted to the random mass murder of civilians.

Why this miserable response? In a nutshell, it was a displacement of the left’s most fundamental values by a misguided strategic choice, namely, opposition to the U.S., come what may. This dictated the apologetic mumbling about the mass murder of U.S. citizens, and it dictated that the U.S. must be opposed in what it was about to do in hitting back at al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in Afghanistan.

Something similar has now been repeated over the war in Iraq. I could just about have “got inside” the view–though it wasn’t my view–that the war to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime should not be supported. Neither Washington nor Baghdad–maybe. But opposition to the war–the marching, the petition-signing, the oh-so-knowing derision of George W. Bush, and so forth–meant one thing very clearly. Had this campaign succeeded in its goal and actually prevented the war it was opposed to, the life of the Baathist regime would have been prolonged, with all that that entailed: years more (how many years more?) of the rape rooms, the torture chambers, the children’s jails and the mass graves recently uncovered.

This was the result that hundreds of thousands of people marched to secure. Well, speaking for myself, comrades, there I draw the line. Not one step.


War makes for strange bedfellows, because I am at this point with the Libertarian Party. I can no longer abide the mindless pacifism that pervades the National structure. I am One Step from ending all my donations to the LP. I’m still a part of the party simply because they have moved on past the war, and are back on topic with the issues of taxes and the War on (some) Drugs. I’m one Idiotarian editorial away from giving the party a shove.

Maybe the world does need to unite the disaffected extreme liberals and extreme libertarians into an Anti-Idiotarian party.

It was a moral war. I don’t mean that in that it was justified morally; I mean that it was a war with moral roots. Hussain was a stain on humanity. There is no way that someone who truly loves liberty more than he hates any political opponent can oppose this war after the fact. This is what is uniting the extreme liberal and the extreme libertarian.

There is a Cause Belli of course, and in this case, a justifiable one. There were strategic reasons (and Den Beste does an excellent job of outlining them) but these reasons support the moral war, rather than contradict it. If a corporation feeds hungry children for profit, that does not make the act of feeding children any less moral.

The war is over. It is time to do something about the Iraqis who deserve a chance at a better life than Hussain would allow. What they do with that chance it up to them.

Last and worst here. If the balance doesn’t come out how you want it to, you hope for things to change so that the balance will adjust in your favor. In the case under consideration, this is a perilous moral and political impulse. When the war began, a division of opinion was soon evident among its opponents, between those who wanted a speedy outcome–in other words, a victory for the coalition forces, for that is all a speedy outcome could realistically have meant–and those who did not. These latter preferred that the coalition forces should suffer reverses, get bogged down, and you know the story: stalemate, quagmire, Stalingrad scenario in Baghdad and so forth, leading to a U.S. and British withdrawal. But what these critics of the war thereby wished for was a spectacular triumph for the regime in Baghdad, since that is what a withdrawal would have been. So much for solidarity with the victims of oppression, for commitment to democratic values and basic human rights.

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