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Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press
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11/10/2005

Comments

M.R. Moore

Well, if that’s the only entry from Outside the Text that you saw fit to preserve, I’d say you’re right to concentrate your efforts on The Reading Experience. I’d be happy to read still more of your thoughtful comments on literature, your eloquent defense of the “merely literary”, and your continuing war on banal Tom Wolfe-style “realism”.

Because I have no interest in reading a fulmination on politics that ends in a call to insert books in orifices. It just goes to show that Allen Ginsberg died too soon to see the opening line of Howl vindicated as thoroughly as it has been by the politics of the last five years.

You can identify the victims of this madness fairly readily, as they are inevitably lobbing accusations of fanaticism at their foes. But I have to chuckle when I am accused (as I have been) of seeing the world in black and white, particularly when my accuser is utterly incapable of seeing even a hint of a silver lining (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor) in the overthrow of one of the worst mass murderers of the last quarter of the 20th Century. Of course, with accusers like this, you really can’t win. If you betray any hint of doubt about the war (cf. George Packer), then you’re just a wishy-washy neo-liberal taken in by neo-conservatives.

If some of us have gone over to the “other side”, however you choose to define it, it may be because years of defending the U.N. against the genuinely nutty John Boltons of the world suddenly seemed like wasted breath when we watched those blue-helmeted U.N. peacekeepers stand by and do nothing while Gen. Radko Mladic and his boys slaughtered thousands in Srebrenica.

Of course there are alternatives to war. The armies of the west can keep their hands clean, as they kept them clean in Rwanda, as they are keeping them clean in Darfur. In these cases clean hands have come at the cost of over a million murdered, untold number of women raped, and more horror stories than anyone could or would want to record.

And no, Iraq under Saddam Hussein was not Rwanda. (This is cold comfort to hundreds of thousands tortured, raped, and murdered, but it is a valid point.) I realize your essay on Berman’s book does not address these other foreign policy catastrophes. However, as an intellectual exercise, as proof of the seriousness with which you take the world’s problems, perhaps you would like to share with us your solution. What would you have done? Have you come up with a third way, between military action and inaction? What would have prevented Hutu militias from slaughtering a million Tutsis? Please be specific, and please cite a successful example of the tactic you advocate.

As for me, the only solution I can imagine would have been to send in thousands of troops. Tens of thousands. Hundreds, maybe thousands of them would have been killed. And they would have killed tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Africans. Would this have been an acceptable alternative to genocide? Or just a racist, imperialist war?

I realize that if my “solution” had been implemented I would have had blood on my hands. They are already comprehensively stained. As are those of anyone who advocated leaving Saddam Hussein in power. If you can tell me how you would have kept yours spotless, please let me in on the secret. I’d really like to be one of the good guys, too.

Dan Green

"perhaps you would like to share with us your solution. What would you have done? Have you come up with a third way, between military action and inaction?"

On Rwanda specifically, I think a concerted effort to get the United Nations to authorize military action would have been appropriate. If that proved impossible, an alliance of many willing nations to provide military resources would have been acceptable. Military action by the United States alone would have been morally justified but otherwise unfeasible and undesirable. Unilateral military action of this sort would have ultimately been an invitation to mischief by irresponsible administrations such as the one currently in power. As it turned out, the Bush administration didn't need an invitation, but providing it with even more excuses would be deadly. I am not in favor of unilateral American military action except in true cases of self-defense, although I am willing to see the U.S. join in on international efforts to intervene in particularly heinous examples of thuggery.

Iraq, of course, was nothing like Rwanda. We were not threatened, and thus inaction would have been the correct response. I can see no justification whatsoever for invading this country.

Birnbaum

I wish I could be as certain as Dan about "no justification" for deposing Hussein.

The fault was not in our imperial excercise but its unilateralism and it's arrogant execution. An administration hostile to the UN would of course pay lip service to multilateral involvement, thus U.S. attempts at consensus building via the UN or NATO were doomed. If I were sitting in the foreign ministries of industrial powers around the world I can't see how I would look at Dick Cheney and his gang as creditable partners in any joint action. Clearly, hawks were and are calling the shots.

During the 1st Cold War the US, which continued in it's assumed role as the world's policeman, actively supported a repugnant group of thugs ( Trujillo, Batista, Somoza, Duvalier, Greek colonels, the Shah, the Guatamalen military, El Salvadoran military, South Africa, Sukarno, Pinochet, Coceascau, Sigman Rhee et al). So it may (ok, it is) a mark of progress tThat there were even discussions (and limited response in the case of the Balkans) about the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Uganda and Dafur. Honestly though, doing nothing can not be an option in the face of genocidal regimes.

The American dilemna is a result of a leadership deficit. It seems we have no one creditable and non ideological in the halls and byways of power and policy to chart a course that navigates the dilemnas horns of national security and national (like human rights) values. So we while we ought not do nothing, what we do do has to include both of the concerns I mentioned—admittedly and obviously no easy task.

Also, anyone intending to read Berman's Power and the Idealists?

R. A.  Rubin

Yes, I went from Left to Right, but believe me, I didn't skip Liberalism -- it was like quicksand. Once implemented it ate your economy and your soul.

Dan Green

"Deposing Hussein" is not the same thing as invading Iraq. There are (were) ways of contributing to a "regime change" short of waging war. Waging offensive war is not an acceptable way to compensate for failed policies implemented by inept and despicable politicians.

Birnbaum

Dan I know deposing Hussein is not the same thing as a preemptive war—I intended no sleight of hand . But by casting American action in that way, it is the way I can make palatible the reality of Iraq.

What were (are) the ways we could "contribute" to regime change?

Dan Green

"What were (are) the ways we could "contribute" to regime change?"

Supporting those within the country trying to overthrow the regime (with limits--no Ahmed Chalabis), strengthening the United Nations rather than destroying it, moral suasion. Perhaps none of these would have worked. That would be unfortunate, but it's a fallen world, and we can't redeem it.

M.R. Moore

>On Rwanda specifically, I think a concerted effort to get the United Nations to authorize military action would have been appropriate.

That might have been a possibility, but how long would it have taken? In this case, the Clinton administration (and I voted for Clinton twice) pointedly vetoed the use of the word "genocide" at the UN, as that would have obligated the US (and others) to act. Again, take a look at Darfur. As some have pointed out, the genocide is pretty much over at this point. Because there is no one left to kill.

>Iraq, of course, was nothing like Rwanda. We were not threatened

Were we threatened by Rwanda?

Lee Judt

Your characterization of Paul Berman as right winger is reckless in the extreme. Until the left learn to accept criticism gracefully without seeing every critic as a "right winger" it will never be able to correct its errors.

Its errors are legion going back to the 30's. I won't list them all. I will just ask you one question: how is it that a literary critic of the claiber of Edmund Wilson (whom I greatly admire) was able to not only to oppose our entry into the Second World war, but spent the rest of his life justifying his decision.

The hubris of many lefitsts critics leaves me speechless.

btw: do you think Paul Berman is wrong in seeing the left's embrace of the Palestinian cause

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