Monday, February 18, 2008
I could almost have called this post 'How neoconservatives perish' if the title wasn't already spoken for. When Harry and Dave mourn together, you know a warmonger is dead. In this case, it is Tom Lantos, a Henry Jackson Democrat who recently kicked the bucket. I have little interest in Lantos, but since he is the object of post-mortem encomium and praise, it's worth looking at what the warmongers find so loveable.
Lantos is praised by his mourners for having resisted the Nazi death squads in Hungary, which is indeed immensely creditable. However, the sole reason he is really being mourned by these chumps is because he supported US foreign policy with a great deal of pecksniffery about human rights. Of course, he does have a reputation for supporting human rights, but it is entirely undeserved. He supported military appropriations for El Salvador's death squads at a time when the local ruling class was literally inclined toward genocide according to US analysts. He supported America's bombing of Tripoli, that actually killed up to 100 civilians, and in fact regretted that America was not aggressive enough in taking "punitive strikes" of that kind. When the Iran-Contra affair blew up, he told Oliver North that he regarded him with "respect, admiration and affection," and said it would be a privilege to make a financial contribution to a defense fund established by the lieutenant colonel's Naval Academy classmates. He defended the American state's incestuous relationship with the Saudi dictatorship on the grounds that it supplied a great deal of oil. It is true that Lantos co-founded the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, but then this was effectively a front for the PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which is often used to devise 'humanitarian' cover for American wars and pro-US dictators and ethnic cleansers and so on. The same Hill & Knowlton switchboard that forwarded calls for Lantos and chums was also performing the same service for Suharto and the leaders of the FRAPH in Haiti. The foundation received its cash from the NED, and also from that other front organisation, the Committee to Free Kuwait, and on its board was vice-chair of Hill & Knowlton, Frank Mankiewicz (one of Lantos' friends). One of his other concerns, the Congressional Human Rights caucus, was important in disseminating propaganda during the first Gulf War.
It is true that Lantos hadn't liked the idea of supporting either side in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, but then his main concern was Israel (AIPAC loved him for his devotion to the blue and white), and I might add he never wasted a word criticising anything Israel might to do the Palestinians that he so reviled. He did pretend to support the Kurds of Iraq, but he was also a long-time defender of the Turkish state. He was a Holocaust-denier when it came to the Armenian genocide, until such time as Tayyip Erdogan's government made friends with Iran and Syria, at which point he abruptly turned on his heel and voted to censure Turkey's genocide - not, as he made clear, for any principled reason, but just to punish the Turkish government for its political mis-steps. In the end, Lantos was a miserable apologist for Bush's war in Iraq, having promised Colette Avital of the Israeli Labour Party that the US would impose "a pro-Western dictator, who will be good for us and for you". And he rebuked criticism of its scandalous Guantanamo gulag (which latter point made him a hero to the neocons). So, let's drop the pretense that he was a lifelong freedom fighter. Once you've supported death squads and dictators, and sacrificed the truth about one of the biggest extermination campaigns of the twentieth century on the altar of a geopolitical alliance with a racist state, you don't get to call yourself a supporter of human rights and a fierce opponent of genocide any more. In reality, he spent a great deal of time advocating American expansion and the aggressive pursuit of its interests, which often involved criticising the human rights record of opponents of the US while supporting America's worst atrocities. In pursuit of this, he commingled the exact same proportion of bombast, sanctimony and realpolitik with respect to American foreign policy that every neoconservative does. Like other hawkish Democrats, he just didn't share the neoconservative hostility to liberal nostrums such as environmentalism, gay rights or welfare.
Well, doesn't that just sum up the isomorphic relationship between neoconservatism and the 'pro-war Left'? Hitchens would probably be a neoconservative if they weren't hung up on religion and 1950s Americanism. Berman was persuaded of the neoconservative case over Iraq, and explains that he would have loved to be wholly with them, but they regarded his "drippy, left-wing" language about progress and so on with contempt, and he could never understand their domestic agenda in the 'culture wars'. BHL, interviewing William Kristol, was alarmed by the latter's support for the death penalty, but exuberant about a generation of American intellectuals committed to human rights and so on. They are so close, yet not close enough. They network together, dine together, appreciate one another's jokes, sign one another's petitions. Oh, but then some silly issue comes up at the dinner table. A neocon will say that the liberal support for egalitarian permissiveness dilutes the martial values and strong work ethic that America needs to defend itself. A liberal warmonger will reply that the neoconservative hostility to gender equality, gay rights, and social welfare makes a mockery of their support for the humanitarian agenda internationally. Yes, one neocon will reply, but not all neoconservatives oppose gay rights and it isn't as important as ensuring the conditions for freedom in which civil society can fight for such rights. But, the liberal hawk avers, not all neoconservatives supported democracy in Haiti and your record has been spotty to say the least, what with the mass terror in Central America - we have the advantage of consistency, or at least some of us do. Yes, the neocon godfather interrupts from the top of the table, but your 'consistency' is purchased at the price of impotence. If you don't play the game of real politics and aren't prepared to support America's real interests even if it means getting your hands bloody in the short-term, even if it means torture chambers and death squads and a bit of rape, then no one will listen to you and your words amount to nothing. The world isn't a nice place, much as we would like it to be, and we must do what is in America's interests, because those are the interests of democracy. So, one timorous liberal who isn't sure he should be there chips in, are you saying that support for human rights is a rhetorical component of the struggle for American supremacy which will eventually deliver strong liberal capitalist societies for most of the world? Doesn't that actually suck? At which point the rest of the table in one voice tell him to shut up.