Pesky "Leftists"

Joe Klein and Eric Alterman duked it out in the Huffinton Post recently over Klein's breakfast remarks about the "left wing" of the Democratic Party. Klein claims Alterman misrepresented what he said by conflating the terms "liberal" and "left wing" (though how "right wing" could accurately reflect "liberal" positions or how "liberal" isn't "left" he does not say). Klein can nitpick if he wants, but his remarks are still relevant. In his own defense he wrote in the HuffPo that
The default position of leftists like, say, Michael Moore and many writers at The Nation, is that America is essentially a malignant, imperialistic force in the world and the use of American military power is almost always wrong. Liberals have a more benign, and correct, view of America's role in the world and tend to favor the use of military force if it is exercised judiciously, as a last resort, and in a multilateral contect--with U.N. approval or through NATO. The first Gulf War, the overthrow of the Taliban and the Kosovo intervention met these criteria; Bush's Iraq invasion clearly did not.
(Emphasis mine.)

Here, Joe Klein unwittingly reveals his profound ignorance of both history and world journalism from the last few decades. Leaving aside the ethical question of whether intervention is "wrong," America's imperialist interventions are so well documented that it's pathetic that so many Americans (most self-styled "conservatives," say) are unaware of them. If they were aware of what the foreign policy apparatus of our government has done, they would be horrified. Knowing what the US government has done and reacting appropriately to it as humans capable of empathy and regret is distinct from supporting socialist or progressive policies. This is why "left" and "liberal" are non-descriptive, distracting adjectives here. There has always been a tradition in this country of non-intervention in foreign affairs. President George Washington advised against it, and even a pro-assassination president like Eisenhower warned against the corrupting influence of the military-industrial complex. Recently, conservatives like Pat Buchanan and Justin Raimondo of antiwar.com have argued against intervention (Raimondo is pretty hard-line about it).

Shelves of thoroughly researched books that Joe Klein apparently hasn't read have detailed the covert (and overt) actions of the US intelligence-security apparatus in world affairs, and "almost always" these actions weren't "exercised judiciously, as a last resort, [or] in a multilateral contect" (even spell-check would've caught that one, Joe). To note this is not to "hate" America, it is to recognize what's been done in our name and what's led to much of the world "hating" us. It is to insist that instead of following the usual protocols, we should actually do what Klein stupidly thinks we've done. Because if we really had used "military force if it [were] exercised judiciously, as a last resort, and in a multilateral contect," we'd have few problems.

This is not what we have done. As I told one of our mystery reporters last week (at the Mayfair Lounge, no less), Americans live in a bubble. Within the borders of our country, our laws sorta kinda apply (see influence-peddling, elections, etc. for exceptions), while without our borders our government acts like Tony Soprano. This is no exaggeration. It is the truth. But it is not without exception. And this is where it's critical to note that knowing our history and writing about it is not to "hate America" or to be "anti-American." Because Western governments have repeatedly and routinely acted just as the United States has. When the US wasn't preeminent, back in the days of the French and British and German empires, Western colonial powers did exactly what we've been doing since WWII. (Indeed, we did the same things before WWII, but to a smaller extent, because we weren't so powerful and rich. Remember Mexico? Remember the Maine?) I don't doubt most governments throughout history have acted similarly, depending on their ability to do so. The reason America stands out is that it's the lone superpower. Even during the Cold War, the US was stronger and richer than the USSR, and it acted accordingly, viz. for its "interests."

But what are "interests"? Why do governments do these things? Governments--and ours is no exception--always claim that their reasons are noble. They're going to bring freedom, defend the country against a dire threat, civilize the natives--you name the cause, they've made it, always straightfaced and rarely sincerely. The British were going to liberate Iraq. Later, of course, they fought a battle for Fallujah, faced an insurgency and bombed thousands of civilians. Yes, things certainly have changed. In the late 19th century, Western nations invaded Africa and raped it for its resources. What did they tell their people at the time? They were going to "civilize" Africa. Who knew that "civilizing" meant cutting down so many with recently invented Gatling guns? (Pesky darkies!) And does anybody remember the Opium Wars or how we pried open Japan's legs? Our current wars and the reasons for them are no different. Anyone who wants to know what the "war on terror" is about should peruse Zbigniew Brzezinski's book The Grand Chessboard. (Hint: it's not about "terror.") There is one word for why most governments do such dastardly things: power. And in many instances that amounts to trade.

In the case of our "war on terror," America's "interests" are power-based. They have to do with money and influence and with maintaining our preeminence in the world. If we acted "judiciously" in Bosnia because of the Kosovars, why did we make a deal with Al Qaeda there? According to Congressional terrorism expert Yosef Bodansky, American officials promised Al-Zawahiri's brother (or Al-Zawahiri himself) $50 million in exchange for Al Qaeda not attacking us there. We also trained KLA terrorists in the region, even after we supposedly had stopped because of international agreements. This is troubling, to say the least. If we bombed Afghanistan because of 9/11, why were we preparing to do so before 9/11 and why did American officials reportedly threaten the Taliban with a war in October, which is exactly what happened after the WTC and Pentagon were attacked? Oddly enough, an oil pipeline route was at stake; so was influence over Afghanistan and Central Asia (Condi Rice's expertise), the fulcrum of power in Eurasia. But enough of 9/11. There's a long list of covert US action to "hate."

Here's a short list: United Fruit, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Chile, Argentina, Cuba, Congo, Iran, Egypt, Italy, the Phillippines (Abu Sayyaff? We helped create them). For more, read Killing Hope, The Assassination Business, or the ugliest one of all, The War on Truth. The list is too long for a blog post of any detail. If you're curious, not really busy or not incredibly lazy, then read these books; they'll change your perception of what you're told on TV. Note: Why did Al-Zawahiri pick 9/11? That's when the US-supported Egyptian security forces picked him up and tortured him (he's since deserved it). Go figure.

Some Americans may have asked themselves why prisoners at Abu Ghraib and many other detention facilities, for example, were mistreated tortured. I don't know. But I and many others have repeatedly noted that the methods used were drawn up by the CIA and taught to police forces throughout Central and South America decades ago. The mystery of Abu Ghraib isn't why or how it happened, it's why and how we let it happen repeatedly in the past fifty years. The only difference between then and now is that in Iraq, we weren't using proxies.

Since the grand productive colonial days, Western governments have done no less than what they always have, limited only by an increasingly curious media (until recently) and evolving standards that mitigate against wholesale slaughter. (I don't doubt that non-Western governments do the same or would do so if they were rich and powerful, but I don't know much about them.) So are Brits or French who criticize their governments' foreign maneuvers labelled "anti-British" or "anti-French"? Do they "hate" their countries? I don't know. But presumably they do not. As with US citizens who criticize their government's inhumane foreign actions, I imagine they recognize the distinction between covert action and country. If a wife criticizes her husband, does she hate him? If he punches his friend and she scolds him, is she anathema? No. And those who criticize the abhorrent behavior of our government are no different.

BONUS: Nobody noticed, but in his Klein-critical HuffPo piece, Alterman wrote that he "went to a breakfast this morning sponsored by HBO and the Council on Foreign Relations where Tina Brown interviewed Julia Sweig, author of Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century..." (emphasis mine). Time Warner's HBO and the CFR? How bizarre is that? Is there a precedent?

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