Sunday, December 05, 2004

Responsibilty in Ukraine

Anne Appelbaum’s 1 Dec broadside in the Washington Post is good in parts:

The "it's-all-an-American-plot" arguments circulating in cyberspace again demonstrate something that the writer Christopher Hitchens, himself a former Trotskyite, has been talking about for a long time: At least a part of the Western left -- or rather the Western far left -- is now so anti-American, or so anti-Bush, that it actually prefers authoritarian or totalitarian leaders to any government that would be friendly to the United States. Many of the same people who found it hard to say anything bad about Saddam Hussein find it equally difficult to say anything nice about pro-democracy demonstrators in Ukraine. Many of the same people who would refuse to condemn a dictator who is anti-American cannot bring themselves to admire democrats who admire, or at least don't hate, the United States. I certainly don't believe, as President Bush sometimes simplistically says, that everyone who disagrees with American policies in Iraq or elsewhere "hates freedom." That's why it's so shocking to discover that some of them do. (full text here)

Appelbaum’s argument – picked up by Arts & Letters, which loves to bash “the left” – is mostly sound. It would be stronger if she were more specific in identifying the critics and the flaws in their arguments.

And it fails to distinguish The Guardian newspaper from some of the crankier Trotskyites (including, for example, overview here, and in their own words here) who contribute to Guardian coverage as a whole.

For The Guardian also publishes Timothy Garton-Ash (against the views of some its own editors?). And on 2 Dec, the day after Appelbaum’s broadside, Garton Ash published Six questions to the critics of Ukraine's orange revolution. It is altogether superior to Applebaum’s (but has not picked up by Arts& Letters).

Garton-Ash provides detail on the by-no-means-only-leftist sceptics of the Ukrainian revolution, and a stronger critique than Applebaum. Further, his questions are focused and relate to what practically can be done focuses – especially by Europeans.

Garton-Ash's sixth rhetorical question is: "If you don't like the Americans taking the lead in Ukraine, why don't we?". He answers:

To some extent we already are. At the negotiating tables in Kiev [on 1 Dec], there was Javier Solana from Brussels, the Polish and Lithuanian presidents, and a senior Russian official, but not, so far as I know, any senior American. And that's right. This is a version of our European model of peaceful revolution, with the aim of rejoining Europe, not America.

Reading Garton-Ash’s piece and much else in the last few days, I realised that I may have been overhasty – in this blog on 24 Nov – to express doubts that other Europeans would play a timely and constructive role in the Ukrainian revolution.

One good outcome of my concern, however, was to apply pressure for openDemocracy to reflect seriously on the matter, and I was pleased when on 25 Nov – thanks to Anthony Barnett, Anatol Lieven and David Hayes – openDemocracy published a piece by Alexander Motyl under a title I suggested, Ukrainians become citizens (The article is here. On 26 Nov, Motyl published another powerful piece in the IHT, EU Hypocrisy Must End).

When first reading Motyl’s piece for oD on 24 Nov ahead of publication I was encouraged, but a little doubtful of his optimism. Was it not too soon to call the revolution in favour of the opposition?

So far, Motyl's optimism has largely been borne out. The Ukrainian opposition has won most rounds, and at least some non-Ukrainian Europeans have played a constructive role.

Marek Matraszek makes the case for part of this in his 2 Dec contribution to openDemocracy, Ukraine, Poland, and a free world. (Matraszek came to openDemocracy via Roger Scruton).

Matraszek castigates the Franco–German preference for what they misconceived as “stability” over “chaos”, and argues that Polish involvement – by both former Soviet collaborators and those who fought against them – has been important and constructive in the Ukrainian revolution:

Walesa’s brief visit to Kiev…underlined the link between the “orange revolution” and Solidarity’s own traditions, which share important common themes: their peaceful nature, an uncompromising demand for dignity and freedom, and a desire for statehood independent of Russian tutelage. That is why Poland’s other current opposition parties – Civic Platform (PO) and Law & Justice (PiS) – feel at home in Kiev, helping Yushchenko in his campaign.

…[Polish President] Kwasniewski’s presence indicated less his undivided support for the ideals of Ukraine’s revolution, and more his recognition that the long–term interests of the country’s elite are best served by an ordered withdrawal under some “roundtable” compromise – of which Kwasniewski and other Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) politicians engaged in have ample experience. If Kuchma and Yanukovych listen to the counsel of their Polish ex–communist friends, they may yet be able to survive personally if not politically; but if they resist the popular, democratising wave, they may face a more humiliating fate. In either case, the Ukrainian future is orange.

Returning to the inadequacy of Applebaum’s attack on the Trotskyist cranks and others, it was good to see Tim Whewell’s report for BBC2’s Newsnight on 3 Dec. As ever, first-rate reporting and analysis from this outstanding journalist.

Whewell’s investigation into outside support for the revolution went straight to the point. He talked to key Independence Square organisers and the students in Pora, who had received support and training from Otpor.

He set out the figures for involvement by Western agents and powers in building up Ukrainian civil society and the opposition movement over the last few months and years. (As I recall, he said this includes US $3m from Freedom House which neo-conservative connections, and some $14m from the US government), and some $20 to 40m via the International Renaissance Fund, which is backed by George Soros, an implacable foe of the neo-cons and the US government.

Whewell also pointed out that there was reasonable transparency on these sums – in contrast to the hundreds of millions in slush funds available to the Ukrainian government and their Russian backers.

Whewell, Garton-Ash, Motyl and some others are vital allies in a struggle against those – on “the left”, “the right” and in the muddy centre – who lack either the ability or the willingness to bring both adequate intellectual capacity and full humanity to bear on the matters at hand.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

When the battle’s lost and won

The 16 Dec edition of the New York Review of Books that carries Chris Hedges article (see previous post) also carries an advertisement from Princeton University Press for new titles, including Jews and the American Soul by Andrew Heinze and The Jewish Century by Yuri Slezkine.

Jews and the American Soul is described as “a pioneering history which shows how Jewish values reshaped America’s psychological and spiritual vocabulary”

The Jewish Century is described as “a masterwork of interpretive history that begins with a bold declaration: The Modern Age is the Jewish Age”.

These claims are bold. I haven’t read either book, but I wonder about them in relation to what I am reading at present: Richard Ben Cramer’s How Israel Lost.

Cramer summarises as follows:

If I had to sum up what I thought I knew – twenty years ago, after seven years’ contact with Israel – I would have called it “a nice little socialist country, with one problem”. The problem, of course, was the Jew’s relations with the Arabs – inside the country, in occupied lands, and in the nations nearby…Now I’d say the one problem (which the Israelis refer to in shorthand as “the conflict”) has eaten up the rest of the country.

Cramer, who grew up in upstate New York, and is Jewish says:

I love Jews precisely for [their] sense of being “other” – so many have them have it within their breast. It gives them not just the sense that they are different, but the imperative: they have to be different – because they are Jews. So there’s an earnestness about examining life (or at least living it by some rules and standards) that makes it interesting to me – or makes it seem to matter…

For Cramer, one of the key elements in what justifies the existence of the State of Israel was the adherence of its armed forces to the doctrine of Purity of Arms. This was in part expressed in the doctrine that Israeli fighters – in the early days – would go out of their way not to harm civilians, even when that meant putting the lives of their own fighters at risk

Emblematic of the change, argues Cramer, is an incident in the autumn of 2002 when Dan Halutz, a major general and commander of the Israeli Airforce ordered the Assassination of Salah Shehadeh, the leader of the military wing of Hamas. This was done by dropping a one ton bomb on an apartment block in an especially densely populated part of Gaza. At least fifteen civilians were killed (of which eleven were kids) along with Shehadeh. Some 150 others were wounded and lost their homes.

The corruption of language that goes with the corruption of the state and society is straight out of an ancient Confucian story:

But wait – there’s another thing. They aren’t assassinations. Once the IDF got into the business more or less every week, the professional hasbarah men started tinkering with the wording. So, then these attacks became “targeted killings” – which phrase caught on. It sounded surgical. But after a while, everybody knew this wasn’t the surgery, more like slaughter – so, the wording changed again. It wasn’t killing at all. The new idea was these guys weren’t actually people, but “ticking bombs” – about to blow up and kill more Jews. They must be defused!...So the IDF now announces the demise of selected Palestinians as “focussed preventative actions”…

On Cramer's argument, the Jews may have gained the whole world – or at least the United States – but they have lost their own souls.

Ironically, it is in post-modern Europe, struggling to awake from the nightmare of its own history, where something akin to the early Israeli doctine of Purity of Arms is most earnestly talked about – in for example, the human security doctrine promoted by Mary Kaldor and others (see here). How will Europe do in practice?

"Shove that mother Geneva"

Contrasting views on the war in Iraq from Russ Vaughn, 2d Bn, 327th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, and Chris Hedges, a reporter for the New York Times for two decades and author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.

First, Vaughn in a poem he sent to someone I know:

You media pansies may squeal and may squirm,
But a fighting man knows that the way to confirm
That some jihadist bastard is truly dead,
Is a brain-tappin' round fired into his head.
To hell with some wienie with his journalist degree
Safe away from the combat, tryin' to tell me
I should check him for breathing, examine his eyes.
Nope, I'm punchin' his ticket to Muj paradise.

To hell with you wimps from your Ivy League schools,
Sittin' far from the war tellin' me about rules.
And preaching to me your wrong-headed contention
That I should observe the Geneva Convention,
Which doesn't apply to a terrorist scum
So evil and cruel their own people run from,
Cold-blooded killers who love to behead,
Shove that mother' Geneva, I'm leaving em dead.

You slick talkingheads may preach, preen and prattle,
But you're damn well not here in the thick of the battle.
It's chaotic, confusing. It all comes at you fast,
So it's Muj checking out because I'm going to last.
Yeah, I'll last through this fight and send his ass away
To his fat ugly virgins while I'm still in play.
If you journalist wienies think that's cold, cruel and crass,
Then pucker up sweeties. Kiss a fighting man's ass.

Then an extract from Hedges review of Generation Kill by Evan Wright and The Fall of Baghdad by Jon Lee Anderson (New York Review, 16 Dec - full review here

The vanquished know the essence of war—death. They grasp that war is necrophilia. They see that war is a state of almost pure sin with its goals of hatred and destruction. They know how war fosters alienation, leads inevitably to nihilism, and is a turning away from the sanctity and preservation of life. All other narratives about war too easily fall prey to the allure and seductiveness of violence, as well as the attraction of the godlike power that comes with the license to kill with impunity.

But the words of the vanquished come later, sometimes long after the war, when grown men and women unpack the suffering they endured as children, what it was like to see their mother or father killed or taken away, or what it was like to lose their homes, their community, their security, and be discarded as human refuse. But by then few listen. The truth about war comes out, but usually too late. We are assured by the war-makers that these stories have no bearing on the glorious violent enterprise the nation is about to inaugurate. And, lapping up the myth of war and its sense of empowerment, we prefer not to look.

...There are moments when war's face appears to...voyeurs and killers, perhaps from the back seat of a car where a small child, her brains oozing out of her head, lies dying, but mostly it remains hidden. And the books on the war in Iraq have to be viewed, through no fault of the reporters, as lacking the sweep and depth that will come one day, perhaps years from now, when a small Iraqi boy or girl reaches adulthood and unfolds for us the sad and tragic story of the invasion and bloody occupation of their nation.