Monday, July 18, 2005


Red herrings

The Drink-soaked Trotskyite Popinjays for War and Ophelia Benson at Butterflies & Wheels mention an interview with Christopher Hitchens in which Hitchens disputes that there were no connections between Saddam Hussein and terrorism. Ophelia Benson seems interested in the logic of Hitchens' argument - which is impeccable, to be sure. Of course, it's impossible to prove a negative, but the proposition that there might have been links between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda (which there seems to be no evidence for) or that Saddam Hussein might have stockpiled Weapons of Mass Destruction (also, no evidence) is, on the face of it, more reasonable than the proposition that there might have been an armada of invisible pink elephants flying low over central Bagdad last Saturday - and more worthy to discuss.

Still, I'm surprised that Hitchens (as well as more on the pro-war Left) jumps on this. As far as I understand, their case for military intervention does not hinge on Saddam Hussein's possession of WMDs or links to terrorism - but more on the idea that removing a particularly brutal and bloody dictatorship was a good idea. It seems to me as well that the anti-war movement has been similarly led astray by the WMD/terrorism angle. I would have been still opposed to the war even if Saddam was convincingly linked to terrorism or possession of WMDs. I gather the same would go for the bulk of the anti-war movement. Nagging doubts that I had - and have - about the anti-war position had nothing to do with Anthrax or mustard gas but more with the fact that Saddam Hussein was a particularly nasty piece of work and that it's a great thing that he has gone - and the Iraqis may finally have, despite the terrorists that killed 150 people last weekend in an ongoing effort to drag the country to full-blown civil war, an opening to determine their own fate that they did not have before 2003.

I guess that a big chunk of the anti-war movement's focus on the failure to find WMDs, the evidence that some leading politicians may have lied (shock!) or were planning to attack Iraq anyway is pretty much a symptom of totally reactive, lowest-common-denominator politics. Instead of finding a principled basis on which to oppose the slaughter in Iraq, you hack away and hack away at any weakness that shows up in the pro-war narrative. One would wish that the Left had exercised the same criticism back in 1999 more widely - but that was then, and then it was a Democrat president waging war... Galloway's despicable comments after the London bombing are testimony to the same rank opportunism. But you see the same phenomenon in Hitchens' "maybe Saddam did really have links to Al-Qaeda" argument.

What would such a principled opposition be? As usual, I'm seeing two candidates. On the one hand, the Communist position which aims to increase the political strength and political independence of the international working class. The War on Terror indisputably creates an atmosphere of nationalism, political paranoia and increased state powers in the main country that's waging it - and should therefore be opposed (in the way it is currently being waged). The argument would also be that the occupation of Iraq will strangle the opportunities of working class independence that may have sprung up after the removal of Saddam (the slaughter and destruction with which this was achieved would be an argument in itself) - still, there's probably some room for debate here (compare the differing positions of the Iraqi Communist party and the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq).

On the other hand, there is the Libertarian anti-interventionist argument, exemplified by the excellent and Lew Rockwell. There may not so much distance between the Libertarian and the Leninist on this point: the Libertarians' main fear, which seems to be well on the way of becoming reality, is one of war and everything that accompanies it leading to the voracious state gobbling up more and more potentially oppressive power. But opposition to war seems to be based here on an iron-clad respect of national sovereignty - whereas in the Communist view, borders tend to be as meaningless to socialist tank columns as to the international working class.

But in both positions, no quarter must be given to radical islam - a movement militantly opposed to both Communism and Libertarianism and everything else that traces its roots to the Enlightenment. Regardless of whether we're dealing with strikes in London or with the monotonous, ongoing slaughter of hundreds upon hundreds in Iraq. And here there's a difference with the political mush that goes for the mainstream Left these days - which seems to be drifting from seeking political nuances to outright apologetics for islamic terrorism, and from opposition to the occupation of Palestina to anti-semitism.

Recently, I'm drifting more towards the national-sovereignty position. Because if there's one thing Communists should have learned from the past century, it's that imposition of socialism by armoured columns doesn't really work. And I suppose the same may well go for liberal democracy.

Merlijn de Smit

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