[sixties-l] The impossible peace (Gitlin - 9/23) (fwd)

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    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2001 23:51:11 -0800
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: The impossible peace (Gitlin - 9/23)

    The impossible peace


    We are stretched on a moral rack, argues Todd Gitlin, who believes Congress
    has failed to ask essential questions on the ends and means of war

    Sunday September 23, 2001
    The Observer

    A peace movement is beginning to roll across American campuses, but as war
    fever heats up it is likely to smash into, at best, a wall of indifference,
    at worst, fury, unless it confronts a question that many on the Left prefer
    to duck. The question is: what is a just and effective response to the 11
    September massacres? Simple rejection of war will not, by itself, do.

    The appeal of the anti-war position is substantial, in precisely the degree
    that the war position, while emotionally satisfying, is vague, weak and
    unconvincing. Too many questions have gone unanswered. Where is convincing
    evidence that the fingerprints of Osama bin Laden are all over the plot? If
    they are, how can American troops find his lair, or anyone's, in the
    Afghanistan mountains that have normally repelled invaders? What would
    constitute victory in a war on terrorism?

    On 20 September, a reporter asked Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld this
    latter question. Rumsfeld roamed in circles for some time before arriving
    at the claim that victory would have come when the American people were
    persuaded that they were safe. Victory would come not with a surrender or a
    conquest but with a belief! But beliefs can be misguided. They can be
    managed. Such a war is a phantasmagorical war with real corpses and no just

    So scepticism has good reasons. Yet, morally and tactically, what is the
    ground for such scepticism if it is deaf to the outrage that Americans (and
    others) feel? Objectors to war must also be conscientious. Those who
    rightly counsel the powerful to listen to the powerless are obliged to
    listen to those everywhere who have been brought low. At this moment,
    American outrage is not only fierce, it is utterly and plainly human and it
    is justified. Sneering critics like Noam Chomsky, who condemn the
    executioners of thousands only in passing, would not hesitate to honour the
    vengeful feelings of Palestinians subjected to Israeli occupation. They
    have no standing.

    Americans can surely be criticised for wanting war while not being sure
    whom to war against. American foreign policy can be blamed for supporting
    corrupt Arab regimes, frequently issuing carte blanche to wrongheaded
    Israeli policies, inviting blowback. But who dares say that, whatever the
    sins and crimes of American foreign policy, a nation attacked as the US was
    attacked on 11 September is not entitled to self-defence?

    The trouble is not with the sentiment, or the right, but the execution.
    Like other dissenters, I find it hard to imagine a large-scale military
    operation, in Afghanistan or elsewhere, that can 'whip terrorism' (in one
    of President Bush's formulations that predated more competent
    speechwriters) or even bring us closer to that just goal.

    Some on the Left say they are not obliged to tell the authorities what to
    do, except disappear or upend their foreign policy across the board.
    Concrete proposals are said to legitimise undeserving authorities or to
    ratify policies left for now unchanged. In the 1960s, the peace movement's
    reply to those who asked: 'How can we leave Vietnam?' was: 'On boats.' A
    good answer then, because the US had no business in Vietnam. Vietnamese
    nationalism was not America's business, but massacres on American soil are
    its business.

    Many say that the US should change its foreign policy - I have long thought
    the US should be pressing Israel to end the occupation and uproot the
    settlements - but the presumption that the fundamentalist murderers would
    be placated by a just arrangement in Israel-Palestine is absurd. The
    question still dangles: what to do?

    Timothy Garton Ash has offered one approach on the website,
    opendemocracy.net. There needs to be action that plausibly fights global
    terrorism, but it needs to be undertaken by the United Nations, not just
    the US, or the US and the UK, or Nato, or even Nato with a few allies, but
    to use a term flung around rather glibly during the past two weeks -
    civilisation. The US must drag itself out of the unilateralist fit evident
    over Kyoto, chemical weapons and missile defence. All this for its own
    sake. But the question remains - what kind of war would even the grandest
    coalition make?

    Others propose that we think of the terrorist actions as monstrous crimes,
    the perpetrators as criminals. This makes much sense. International
    criminal conspiracies were and, almost certainly, remain at work. No
    political claim can justify what these killers do. They may be aided or
    expedited by states, but they are not themselves states. For criminals, due
    process is described - indictment, capture, trial, punishment.

    But to say that the whole of the murderous conspiracy ought to be
    disbanded, the bad guys brought to justice, is to say that something ought
    to happen that years of comparable calls have not made happen. And the
    warmakers will have a right to ask: what if this fails? How long does this
    quest go on? Is the use of force precluded?

    So we are stretched on a moral rack. Congress, hastening to rally behind
    the President, has abandoned a necessary debate about ends and means. The
    war the US seems about to rush into is more likely to be Donald Rumsfeld's
    counterproductive war than Colin Powell's restrained one. In prospect is a
    war without end, crusade versus counter-crusade, jihad versus
    counter-jihad, a war of raids, killings, guerrilla and counter-guerrilla,
    captures, reprisals, counter-reprisals, with chemical, biological and
    nuclear weapons not ruled out.

    'Bombing the hell out of Afghanistan', as recommended by Senator Zell
    Miller of Georgia, may or may not have been rejected. To the degree that
    the American assaults are indiscriminate, American vengeance will fuse with
    fundamentalist paranoia and generate terrorist recruits. But even less
    unjust wars will likely blow back on us.

    Thinking with our blood won't do. I wish I knew what would.
    Todd Gitlin is the author of The Sixties: The Twilight of Common Dreams and
    the forthcoming Media Unlimited: The Torrent of Images and Sounds in Modern
    Life. He is the North America editor of the website www.openDemocracy.net.

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