Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Law & Order
Battery Powered Bras
Peace & Justice
John M. Laforge
Gay Community Notes
East Timor Q&A
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Mother Jones, Todd Gitlin, & Kosovo
Many people were concerned during the Kosovo conflict that crimes against the Albanian Kosovars were so horrific that however painful it might be to undertake, NATO intervention was warranted. Such folks felt that genocide was imminent and that U.S./NATO bombing would curb violence and save lives. To sensibly respond to such views thus required revealing the actual facts and context, including:
(1) That the U.S./NATO intervention was motivated not by humanitarian considerations, but to quell a growing conflict before it threatened U.S. and European interests and to further entrench U.S. might and demote international law and the UN;
(2) That the bombing would: strengthen Milosevic and undermine those fighting him in the democratic opposition; weaken the nonviolent voices of the Kosovars; exacerbate ethnic hatred to perhaps intractable levels; directly kill and exile more Kosovars and unleash all restraints on the Serbs doing likewise; smash Yugoslavia and Kosovo back decades and maybe a century in development with who knows what long-term human costs; dramatically weaken the UN; destroy remaining international law; inform the world that the U.S. is ready, willing, and able to bomb anytime, anywhere; elevate NATO to a war machine; and provide rationales for further defense spending in the U.S.
(3) That the bombing would make things much worse, leading to more deaths and exiles, and why it was therefore horribly undesirable.
I doubt that many readers of Zs anti-war articles are confused about these matters, but those with access only to mass media are in a different position and continued exchanges about their concerns should certainly occur.
But there are other kinds of support for the bombing that arent so well motivated, including, for example, opportunist, intellectually dishonest, yet purportedly progressive support for it from people who had more than enough information to know the bombings implications, but supported it anyhow, presumably to be acceptable, to be respected, to be taken seriously in the mainstream press, and to ride the currents of fashion that elevate progressives who denigrate dissent.
Making judgments about folks motives is generally counter productive. It is usually better to argue the facts, only. But once in a while there is an instance of "left analysis" that is so disreputable that it ought to be labeled as such.
In the September/October issue of Mother Jones Todd Gitlin has a prominent article titled, "The End of the Absolute No." Mother Jones adds as a lead-in teaser: "The American lefts reflexive opposition to U.S. military intervention broke down over Kosovo. A veteran activist says its about time." Clearly MJs editors knew precisely what they were publishing and what its true appeal was.
tells us that traveling around the country during the bombing he kept encountering "old friends from the 1960s anti-Vietnam War movement" and of his being "pleasantly surprised" to find that he and they "in fear and trembling" supported the NATO war over Kosovo. He then says, "Until recently, most of the new left tended to think of Washingtons foreign policy as all of a piece, the product of original imperialist sin. These were the fundamentals: The future was preordained by a history of gunboat diplomacy, coups, alliances with dictatorshipsall signs of arrogant Manifest Destiny on a global scale. The Vietnam War was but one in a long line of aggressions back to the Spanish-American and Mexican wars, which in turn were continuous with slavery and the genocide of the Indians, the whole (yes) shooting match. Cold War belligerency, unwarranted by any Soviet threat, threatened to blow up the planet. Throwing its military and corporate weight around the world, America made the impoverished more impoverished, the desperate more desperate. America was lusty for power, as ingenious with its deceits as it was untrustworthy. Democracy, self- determination, human rightssuch rationales of the hour were ruses, all. This complex of half-truths seemed to make sense of many events that otherwise appeared wholly mysterious."
Which is the half-truth part of this "manufactured" perspective, some readers may wonder? Well, past bad acts dont in themselves guarantee future bad outcomes, a silly notionor half-truth. Likewise, U.S. foreign policy is not a matter of persistent habits, as the passage implies people claimed. Most new left anti-imperialists believe instead that a set of institutions exists which breeds certain types of international policy and associated behaviors year in and year out, with great consistency and only minor deviation, and that as long as these institutions persist they will continue to have such effects unless there is some very powerful mitigating factor.
Deriding this view of U.S. foreign policy, Gitlin apparently wants readers to believe that he no longer thinks that U.S. interactions with other nations are consistent outgrowths of U.S. capitalism, international market forces, the historic north/south division, and reasons of state. Instead, Gitlin purports to believe that humanitarian concerns can overpower these older sources of policy. To my reading, this is like pronouncing that we should henceforth expect corporations to pursue the well being of their workers as a first priority, regardless of the impact on profitseven though corporations all around us are behaving no differently than in the past. Well, despite its obvious problems, lets see where Gitlin goes with this new "insight" about policy possibilities.
Gitlin proclaims that the left has until recently been full of "rejectionists" who looked at the NATO war and saw "evil" and a "new imperialism," Milosevic as Americas "latest demon," and the United States as "policeman of the world" and did so out of misguided attachment to past analyses without realizing that things had changed. Of course, other than pulling some phrases from personal exchanges with "old friends," Gitlin doesnt even attempt to assess the actual arguments and evidence offered by anti-war activists. In fact, Gitlin doesnt quote so much as a single argument or claim made by anti-war critics, much less reveal inadequacy or reflexivity.
So how can a social analyst like Gitlin ignore readily available documentary evidence regarding the topic of his studypeoples viewsyet make grandiose claims about them and expect to be taken seriously? Perhaps its because Gitlin knows that the audience that he cares to communicate with wants to hear these words so much that they will not hold them up to even the most modest scrutiny against fact.
Gitlin says, "I read the Rejectionists, trying to make out what they proposed instead of war." Who are the rejectionists that Gitlin read and what did they say? Gitlin sees no need to tell us if he did, we could check his claims. Instead, Gitlin barrels ahead, berating rejectionists for not suggesting alternatives to bombing. But "rejectionists" made public the suppressed facts about the U.S./NATO ultimatum and the official Serb position at the bombings outset. They pointed out at the time that there appeared to be unexplored diplomatic openings, later pointing out in retrospect that that conclusion was correct and that the settlement (both the formal and actual outcomes) was a compromise between the initial U.S./NATO ultimatum and the initial Serb position. U.S./NATO abandoned their most extreme demands, which guaranteed their rejection, and Serbia accepted a military presence (which ended up, by U.S. fiat, being a NATO presence in violation of the Peace Accord). This outcome and the course of the diplomacy all along made it reasonably clear throughout that there were diplomatic options, and that pursuing them might well have led to much the same outcome without the huge atrocities that were undeniably a result of the insistence on bombing.
But suppose there was, contrary to best evidence, no possible diplomacy and no possible international sanctions. Would it then follow that we should bomb?
For Gitlin apparently the answer is yes. For me, plainly not. Rather, in this hypothetical scenario if you determined that bombing would be predictably worse than doing nothing, you should do nothing, assuming you are concerned about the plight of the Kosovars. The logic and moral imperative of doing nothing rather than doing something that is worse than nothing was repeated ad infinitum during the war and after as well by the so-called rejectionists whose views Gitlin is denigrating and which views, we have to assume, he is familiar with. Now I doubt Gitlin doesnt understand this. He just chooses to ignore it and to ignore the substantive discussion that it calls fortha sober assessment of what we could sensibly predict about the impact of bombing before the fact, or what we can say about the bombing in hindsight, for that matter. Gitlin avoids all this, it seems to me, to fulfill his driving agenda of the moment which is to take a stance for the bombing and against the "reflexive left," a creature largely of his creation.
Gitlin says: "Rejectionists charged inconsistency, asking rhetorically, Why Kosovo but not Rwanda or East Timor? As if, having failed to stop one gang of killers, we should have tried to stop none." Actually informed critics charged consistency, that is, they claimed, and still claim, that in all these cases U.S. motives flow from institutional and geopolitical requisites and have nothing to do with humanitarian concerns, instead, usually having the opposite impact and purpose.
What critics made the comparison that Gitlin refers to for, was to show that U.S. motives couldnt be humanitarian. After all, if humanitarian concern was such a powerful component of policy that it moved the U.S. to massively bomb Yugoslavia due to Serb policies that had killed several thousand people before the bombingthen humanitarian concern should also motivate interventions to curtail Turkish ethnic cleansing at about ten times the scale of Kosovo, or Colombian violence at almost exactly the same scale as Kosovo, or the violence in Timor, now threatening again to erupt into horrific proportions, especially since in all these cases the U.S. wouldnt have to bomb to curtail horrible injusticet. It would only have to stop supporting it and demand its halt. So the point of activists comparative references to Turkey, Colombia, Timor, etc., was demonstrating that if humanitarian concern is not operative in so many places where it could lead to successful changes by simple actions, then it just doesnt exist. Of course, anti-war activists also emphasized that U.S. motives aside, the key point in rejecting bombing was that bombing would be predictably counterproductive in human terms.
It is as if the Mafia suddenly says it wants to use its goons to clean up high schools so they dont have internal dynamics leading to racial fighting or violent shootings. Do we then say, hey, no one else has proposed anything to solve this pressing problem and the Mafia says it is motivated to do good in this case, and they do have the means, and no one else has any ideas, so sure, lets let them go in and clean up. Or do we instead look at the structure and history of the Mafia, and at its past and current behavior in the next door neighborhood where it tries to push drugs, and deduce that despite what it says, not only are its motives not humanitarian but rather to quell disturbances that cut into its drug business, but also that its intervention would do far more harm than good?
Can we imagine Gitlin deriding those who would reject Mafia intervention on grounds that it would do more harm than good as being uncaring about the plight of the students or as being reflexive in presupposing that a once-bad Mafia is an always-bad Mafia? I think not.
Next Gitlin says, "Worse, having failed to do what needed to be done to stop the awful atrocities in Rwanda, were we bound to stand by as the Kosovars were massacred, dispossessed, and deported? Because they were European, was it a sort of global affirmative action to look the other way?" This is simply disgusting. On the one hand, the anti-war activists actual claim was that the U.S. generally escalates violence in such situations, and did so in Turkey, Indonesia, Colombia, etc. But more, Gitlin is implying that those against the warand amazingly, the only people he named were Chomsky, Ehrenreich, and Zinn, quoting none of them, of coursedidnt give a damn about the plight of the Kosovars (perhaps even for reverse racist reasons). He ignores that anti-war activists argued and believed (rightly, history demonstrated), that the undertaking was not only not humanitarian but would greatly worsen the human suffering in the region.
Gitlin tells us that the "rejectionists" start from the presumption that the "United States and its allies have no business intervening anywhere for any purpose, that the U.S. is condemned by history to do no good abroadexcept, perhaps, when pressing Israel." There is a rather sleazy implication here: that the left is anti-Israel (for Israel is the only country they want to pressure) or, worse, anti-Semitic. But this is utter nonsense. The left has called on Washington to "press" countless human rights violators cut off military aid to Indonesia, press for workers rights in Vietnam, Guatemala, and China, and so onwhile at the same time being extremely skeptical of U.S. bombing as a solution to such violations.
When has the left ever urged U.S. bombardment of Israel to prevent atrocities against Palestinians? It is Gitlin who has to explain the inconsistency that cheers U.S. military strikes over Kosovo, while never urging similar military action against Ankara, Bogota, or Tel Aviv.
Gitlin says, "Rejectionists added, once the bombing began, the NATO attacks produced a disaster for the Kosovar Albanians." Well, actually, those against the war didnt add anything of the sort to their pronouncements "once the bombing began," but instead pointed out that before the bombing began one could predict with very high confidence levels that its impact would be horrid, and that that was why one should oppose it. What is more, anti-war activists (rejectionists, to use Gitlins term) also pointed out that the devastation was exactly what the NATO military command predicted. It was "entirely predictable," commander Wesley Clark stated as the bombing began. It was surely anticipated by the political leadership, who simply didnt give a damn, as demonstrated by their failure to plan for the catastrophe it elicited.
Gitlin says, "Well, NATOs miscalculation was plain, Milosevic having brutalized the Kosovars tenfold or a hundredfold once the air campaign began." What miscalculation? Does Gitlin honestly think that NATO couldnt predict what the results of the bombing would be? If so, why Clarks "entirely predictable" comment as the bombing began?
Interestingly, Gitlin doesnt even mention the intentional bombing of civilian targets in Yugoslavia, a terror war against a citizenry, not an army, a grotesque crime in all renditions of international law and ethical concern that I can find. Even if the NATO authorities hadnt admitted that they knew the likely outcome of their actions before the fact, to think that they didnt would be incredible from someone with as much background and as many resources at his disposal as Gitlin has.
Gitlin says: "Still, I thought, if NATO did miscalculate, that was grievous but not a crime. The crime was Milosevics." So if a bystander seeing a person down the street breaking a window to steal a TV and shoot the store owner, who has as his only two options to do nothing or to pull out an Uzi and spray the owner, the owners family, the perpetrator, and a whole bunch of innocent bystanders, chooses to reach for the Uzithen, in the wrap-up assessment of the ensuing carnage Gitlin would say that this bystander bore no responsibility for all those deaths, only the thief/killer did? I doubt it. I think Gitlins rationality only disappears selectively.
Gitlin says of his transformation, "for some years, I wondered whether it amounted to middle-age accommodation, a kind of ideological crows-feet." But age has nothing to do with the issues at hand. Instead, perhaps Gitlin has become accommodated to a world of actors and relations in which it is very serviceable to be supporting U.S. policy and, in particular, denigrating those who oppose it. Perhaps Gitlin knows that his article will be well rewarded by effusive attention from mainstream media, eliciting good wishes from people in high places, and elevating him to being taken seriously by folks who previously dismissed him as just another leftist. Is this too harsh? Well, lets see.
Gitlin says about those he calls rejectionists: "Reckless idealism doesnt care about results. Refusing to contemplate practical results is childishly easyseductive and self-betraying." He has a point here but of course, it is Gitlin who is guilty of "refusing to contemplate practical results," not anti-war activists, in that it is Gitlin who dismisses without any evaluation the claim by anti-war activists that "the practical results" of bombing would be to worsen the pain and suffering of those in the area. More, when Gitlin charges that others were "uncaring," hes holding that he was "caring." So are we to believe that by advocating bombing that predictably made the plight of the Albanians vastly worse, he was demonstrating that he cares for them? If so, then by the same logic, was Lyndon Johnson demonstrating his moral concern and sympathy for the Vietnamese while bombing them into the stone age, destroying cities to save them? Was Gitlin therefore confused in opposing Johnson, perhaps not yet as sophisticated and non-rejectionist as he is now?
Gitlin says that "backing down [on support for the bombing after its horror became evident], it felt to me, would be succumbing to yet another purity fetish." The actual bombing had precisely the effects on the Kosovars, on Yugoslavia, and on international law, that the critics predicted, but Gitlin nonetheless persists in his allegiance to the policy, he says, to avoid succumbing to a "purity fetish." So who is it that is ignoring the "practical effects" of the policies under dispute? Who is it that is judging policies not based on their impact on those who are suffering, but based on something else entirely?
Finally why did Mother Jones publish Gitlins "essay?" Well, I think this kind of publishing by a self-described leftist periodical is a predictable editorial outcome of a drift toward and longstanding incorporation of corporate structure, corporate culture, and corporate values in our undertakings, just as we would predict that if we enforced and celebrated racial and sexual hierarchies inside our institutions, in time our editorial products would be apologetic about racism and sexism and denigrate serious anti-racist and anti-sexist activists.
Lets hope Gitlin doesnt start reporting for "Democracy Now" at a steadily more corporatized Pacifica. Z