The Imperialist Propaganda of Hitchens and Friends
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It will be recalled that the predictions of a cakewalk towards a jubilant, free Iraq were not solely the product of the Bush administration. What has sometimes been called the 'pro-war Left' --in fact, a loose coalition of liberals, former radicals and ex-socialists -- has shocked and awed former colleagues and comrades, with bold and strident claims about the great works that American military power could achieve in Iraq, and elsewhere. It has been of great service to the Bush administration that, in addition to the shock troops of Christian fundamentalists, Israel sympathizers and neoconservatives, it could boast the support of many prominent liberal intellectuals, some of whom still claim an affiliation to the Left. (A number of them even claim to represent the authentic Left against the 'pseudo-Left'.
Some of these commentators are close to Washington or to figures who have been prominent in the Bush administration. Some have helped formulate policy, as when Kanan Makiya was called upon to help devise plans for the 'New Iraq'. And they have all performed a role of advocacy for the Bush administration and supportive governments.
To put it briefly, they have helped to screen the war-makers from articulate criticism. They have taken threat-exaggeration out of White House press briefings (where it would be regarded cynically), and the moral exaltation of American military power out of the realm of the Pentagon (where it might result in laughter). This coalition is historically far from unique, in many ways resembling the Cold War intelligentsia who pioneered 'CIA socialism'. And it plays a traditional role in castigating dissent among the intelligentsia, while the arguments of the pro-war Left reach wider audiences through journals, newspaper columns, television slots and so on. As well as acting as conduits for the distribution of policy justiications, the liberal pro-war intellectuals help frame arguments for policy-makers in terms more palatable to potentially hostile audiences. The arguments themselves are antique, and have not improved with age. They are symptomatic of the hegemony of what Jean Bricmont calls the 'interventionist ethic'. If it were not for certain widely held assumptions about the remedial power of conquest, originating in the age of European empires, their arguments would make no sense to anyone.
Many of the current batch of liberal advocates of empire have a history on the Left, often abandoned at some point after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For all but recalcitrant Stalinists, the human prospect following the collapse of the Russian superpower in 1989 was supposed to be a promising one. Fukuyama's sighting of an 'end' to history was, notwithstanding his own dyspepsia, touted as a prospectus for universal accord. The one true model for society had been revealed by no less an authority than History, and that model enjoined free-market capitalism and liberal democracy. As Gregory Elliott observes, 'the locomotive of history had terminated not at the Finland Station, but at a hypermarket. All roads lead to Disneyland?' There were some outstanding problems, of course: in place of Stalinist dictatorships emerged new particularisms of a religious or national sort that, while hardly systemic threats, clearly posed problems for the 'New World Order' that Bush the Elder had vaunted. It was in the course of engagement with these problems that former left-wingers decided at various points to pitch in their lot with what the French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine had referred to as the American 'hyperpower'. The occasion for apostasy varied, but key moments were Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, and the attacks on the World Trade Center. In the absence of states purportedly bearing the historical mission of the proletariat, many former Marxists, including anti-Stalinists, either made peace with centrist liberalism or morphed into their neoconservative opposites. American military power was now an ally of progress rather than its enemy.