Monday, February 25, 2008

Watching a humanitarian imperialist squirm

This debate between Samantha Power and Jeremy Scahill is instructive. Power wriggles and squirms, skewered on her own moralisms and legalisms, utterly incapable of facing well-known facts, and winds up with a rat-a-tat bluster of personal impressions ("I supported ... I didn't see it that way ... I haven't heard") in which she poses as a complete ignoramus. Somehow she just never heard about how rigged the Rambouillet process was. Practically every one of these 'humanitarian' interventionists who remains true to the cause and adores the Democratic Leadership Council is trying to cop some distance from the Iraq catastrophe if at all possible. Power therefore currently poses as an opponent of the war on Iraq, even though she was very much in favour of it when she and Ignatieff and the Harvard human rights circle were debating it in 2002. The trouble is that almost exactly the same reasoning that was deployed to support the prolonged destruction of Yugoslavia applied to Iraq several times over, so there has been some difficulty in explaining exactly why this one was unique. Here she uses the "but for" argument that she offers in one of the interviews appended to 'A Problem from Hell' (an utterly silly book, larded with inaccuracies and omissions). Asked if the war on Iraq was a humanitarian intervention, she says "you know, 'but for' Saddam Hussein's repression of the Iraqi people, would the Bush administration have gone to war? And the answer is yes ... In Kosovo, 'but for' the atrocities against the Albanians, would NATO have bombed? No ... the key ingredient, the 'but for' ingredient, was Milosevic's slaughter and ethnic cleansing." Milosevic certainly repressed the Kosovars harshly and unjustly, although any ethnic cleansing prior to the bombing is entirely fictitious. So, aside from how facile the 'but for' argument is (a cheap soundbite contrived for talk shows, I imagine), it relies on a lie. Actually, her book defends the US government for its claim that Kosovo constituted a 'genocide', although even the ICTY doesn't feel up to defending that ruse any longer. In fact, while Jeremy Scahill rightly points out that the official number of corpses discovered by investigators is 2,700 and ethnicity has not been determined, Power tried to claim in her book that in fact 4,000 bodies had been found, (while on the same page adjusting her claim to 4,000 bodies and body parts) and allows readers to believe that over 11,000 bodies are buried in 529 sites in Kosovo alone. This was the ICTY estimate made during the war, and was repeated by people like Ignatieff. But in fact, Power's book was written in 2003, long after that figure had been dispelled. In short, Power will deploy anything to defend the reputation of the Clinton administration. Her stance is also stunningly hypocritical. For, after all, consider the worst that you can say about Milosevic: he violently repressed the Kosovars and encouraged nationalist resentment toward them; he built up a huge police force especially during the 1990s, to repress the opposition; he censored the media; he invaded Croatia to defend Serbian interests and ended up prosecuting a bloody war; he supported right-wing nationalist scumbags in the Republika Srpska who perpetrated some vile atrocities including the Srebrenica massacre; he was on the take and had ties with an extensive criminal network. On the other hand, hardly a dictator. Elected several times, in a country with independent trade unions, legal opposition parties, demonstrations, and so on, this was not fascism, or even a 'communist dictatorship' as some silly-billies claim. But Saddam's regime. Why, there was certainly an acute mass murder of the Kurds in the late 1980s to punctuate the chronic repression. There was demonstrablly mass torture and rape as policy, no shortage of viciousness, no free trade unions, no independent media at all, no tolerance for opposition demonstrations. Any opposition had to work underground. By Power's logic, she really ought to be one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the occupation of Iraq. After all, you can blame just about everything that happens on the bad guys and feign ignorance when you have to. What's the problem? Essentially, it comes down to this: if the Republicans do it, it is probably for some cheap short-term material benefit, whereas if the Democrats do it, it is for long-sighted compassionate reasons. So, as a great man once asked, what's a "but for"? The answer: for pooping, silly.