---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 02 Mar 2002 14:03:28 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Replying to a progressive hawk
Replying to a 'progressive' hawk
by Bill Berkowitz
A response to Michael Shuman's Weekly Standard piece criticizing the Left
Michael Schuman, former director of the Institute for Policy Studies and
author of "Going Local:
Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age," recently wrote an
article for The Weekly Standard
extremely critical of the Left's response to the president's war on terrorism.
I read your piece in the Weekly Standard ("My Fellow Lefties . . . Stop it
with the American-bashing" February 18, 2002) and I was flabbergasted. It
wasn't so much what you said although much of it was inflammatory and
plainly wrong, but rather the venue you chose to publish it in and the
distortion of progressive positions on the president's "war on terrorism."
The Weekly Standard? Rupert Murdoch's right-wing publication? Come on guy!
If you were trying to convince your "fellow lefties" that they are dead
wrong about phase one of Bush's "war on terrorism" you would pick some
publication a little bit more left-friendly and one that your "fellow
lefties" might actually read. Given your progressive credentials, I'm sure
there are a number of publications that would print an opinion piece of
yours. And if not the left press, I'm sure you could have gotten an op-ed
or letter to the editor published in some mainstream newspaper.
But, The Weekly Standard? Cheerleader for the permanent war on terrorism?
Come on, guy!
I don't engage in food fights with "fellow lefties." You can read any of
the hundred-plus columns I've written over the past year
<http://www.workingforchange.com/column_lst.cfm?AuthrId=1> at Working
Assets' workingforchange.com and you won't find any inside baseball-type
columns. I'm not going to psychoanalyze your reason for writing this nor
your misguided choice of venues. And, I won't attribute your column to a
First, I've appreciated your past work and I'm certain that I will again.
But your Weekly Standard piece is preposterous. We'll get to why later.
Second, I deplore the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon. Unequivocally. I have grieved for the American and
non-American victims. And, I have been very grateful for the heroic efforts
of firefighters, police, port officers and fellow citizens who bravely
stepped forward for the rescue and recovery efforts.
Third, I also believe that while it is important to deal with terrorism and
terrorist threats of all kinds -- whether from individuals, organizations
or state-sponsored, one also must deal with causation. You can hold two
different thoughts at one time!
Fourth, your article. Let's engage in some honest assessment about the war
on terrorism. On the plus side: The "war on terrorism" has rid Afghanistan
of the dreaded Taliban. Al Qaeda is on the run, although the United States
has yet to kill or capture major al Qaeda leaders including the "evildoer"
himself, Osama bin Laden.
It has also unleashed a rabid Pentagon and an insatiable military, most
clearly represented by the president's recent budget outlining the largest
increase in military spending in more than two decades. At the same time
the budget calls for major cutbacks in domestic spending for social service
Can you honestly answer in the affirmative that the "war on terrorism" has
been successful? Doesn't the specter of phase two, three or four, guided by
neo-conservative intellectuals and the "Rumsfeld Doctrine"the build-up of a
fighting force prepared for permanent war with unnamed and untold numbers
of countries using any means necessary (including preemptive strikes
against whichever target it chooses) -- give you pause?
Let's move on to some of your points:
I don't know of any progressives, unless their quotes have been twisted or
taken out of context -- who believe the terrorist attacks were a good
thing. Some may argue that the attacks had "a political purpose," but no
one that I am aware of excused them. Since you place Noam Chomsky, Bill
Blum, Susan Sontag, John Pilger and Robert Fisk in the same war-criticism
stew, it's difficult to discern when they said or written what you accuse
them of. But, I very much doubt they expressed any sympathy for the
terrorists. Your comments reflect a longtime conservative tenet:
accusations, when repeated often enough by the right-wing press, become
"Justice not vengeance," a slogan you characterize as "suggest[ing] that
any use of force was tantamount to revenge and therefore unjustified.," as
I understand it, was a call for a measured, non-unilateral response to the
horrific attacks, and not a pretext for doing nothing. While the use of the
World Court or other international bodies might have brought more
legitimacy, I basically agree some sort of force was necessary to bring
Osama bin Laden to justice. That force could have been an international force.
You write: "When the bombing started, progressive commentators sounded
humanitarian alarms. A halt to U.S. bombing was essential, the argument
went, to respect Ramadan and to ensure that millions of Afghans did not
starve over the winter. Yet virtually all those progressives making this
argument were largely unaware of the desperate plight of Afghan civilians
before the war, and have all but dropped the issue since. The position of
the Bush administration, that the best way to prevent a humanitarian
disaster was to quickly oust the Taliban regime, turned out to be correct."
Yes, from the onset of the bombing progressives argued for a halt to the
bombing and an increase in humanitarian aide. It was clear from the outset
that indiscriminate bombing was killing many more civilians than the
Pentagon was willing to admit. Events over the past few weeks have proved
that many innocent civilians were targets: In late January, close to twenty
innocent civilians were killed by U.S. bombs, some were arrested and later
reported being beaten by U.S. troops. Just as the numbers of dead at the
World Trade Center has been downsized as time has passed, the number of
civilian deaths in Afghanistan will most certainly be upsized in the coming
You write: "Then progressives shifted arguments once again, this time to
decry the civilian casualties from 'indiscriminate' use of force by the
U.S. military. Currently circulating in progressive Internet listserves is
a cut-and-paste catalogue of civilian casualties put together by Professor
Marc Herold at the University of New Hampshire, who estimates that more
than 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed by the U.S.-led campaign.
"The former intended to kill civilians; the latter didn't. The former
intended to perpetrate attacks on U.S. civilians (and still may do so); the
latter intended to prevent them. The former increased the chances of
civilian deaths by hiding among civilians; the latter sought, however
imperfectly, to avoid civilian targets. To ignore these distinctions seems
to be but another slap at the victims of September 11."
This part of your critique is really troubling. To write off Prof. Herold's
work as an Internet "cut and paste" job does a tremendous disservice to his
effort and to the hundreds of reports that he has monitored since the
beginning of the bombing. Anyone who is familiar with his work knows that
he has painstakingly checked, double-checked and checked again civilian
casualty reports for accuracy. If anything, he has erred on the side of
caution. You can bet that when the final numbers are in, the death toll
from U.S. bombing will be much closer to Prof. Herald's figures than the
You write: "While any civilian casualties of war are deplorable, and some
of the criticisms of errant U.S. bombing, such as hitting a clearly marked
Red Cross warehouse twice, are legitimate, the attempt to draw moral
equivalence between the terrorists and U.S. troops is reprehensible."
This is the straw man of all straw men arguments.
Prof. Herold is not arguing about moral equivalency. He's trying to record
what happened before the information is irretrievable. He's doing what the
U.S. press refused to dotrack the deaths of innocents in Afghanistan. Do
you think Prof. Herold should have ignored the civilian deaths in
Afghanistan, not mentioned them as the mainstream media was wont to do.
(For more on Prof. Herold's "A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United
States' Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan: A Comprehensive Accounting," see
"Bring out your dead: Tallying up the casualties in the face of
indifference." --> <http://www.workingforchange.com/article.cfm?ItemID=12694>
Prof. Herold has also written on the long-term danger and potential damage
of unexploded cluster bombs left behind in Afghanistan. (See "Bombs 'r' us:
Cluster-bombing Afghanistan and the critics of the ^A'war on terrorism")
To ignore civilian deaths diminishes the victims of September 11. What
links the casualties of September 11 with the dead civilians in Afghanistan
is their common humanity. One life is no more valuable than another. Ask
the orphans of Afghanistan if they think that the deaths of their parents
by errant bombs is any less hurtful.
That you label dissent "irresponsible" is astounding.
Writing that your "fellow lefties" have "sullied more worthy progressive
causes for years to come" fails to recognize the "new" New World Order this
administration is creating. It also fails to acknowledge that phases two,
three or four of the war on terrorism, built on the back of a mistaken
analysis of phase one, will prove to be far more dangerous and lethal.
Chris Matthews, host of CNBC's "Hardball" and a San Francisco Chronicle
columnist, recently wrote about the hijacking of the war on terrorism by "a
coterie of ^A'neo-conservative' thinkers, led by Weekly Standard publisher
William Kristol and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz."
Michael, how much better off are we today than we were September 10? Now
that reporters are being allowed to do their jobs, they are reporting on
the chaotic return to Afghanistan's special brand of warlordism. Warlords
attacking warlords; anti-Taliban forces fighting other anti-Taliban forces;
government officials assassinating other government officials. Chaos and
confusion reigns. U.S. bombing continues and now the bombs are being
dropped on former allies.
On February 15, the San Francisco Chronicle's Anna Badkhen reported:
"Although the war is over, some of Dostum's soldiers, who are mostly ethnic
Uzbeks but include ethnic Tajik fighters, go out almost nightly to rob and
rape Pashtuns, the ethnic group that composed most of the Taliban militia
but is a minority in the north. Such abuses are a clear illustration that
the interim government of Prime Minister Hamid Karzai has been unable to
stem lawlessness throughout much of Afghanistan."
The allies the United States bought and paid for include some of the most
anti-democratic leaders around. Pumping money into Pakistan has exacerbated
the India/Pakistan conflict. As Human Rights Watch has reported, some
countries are using the excuse of terrorism for their own callous political
purposes. A new "Drug War" has been unleashed on Latin America. U.S. forces
are plotzing down all over the globe. Is this the safer and saner world you
At home, every new proposal by Bush's Justice Department carving away at
our civil liberties is justified by the "war on terrorism." Domestic budget
cuts to pay for this "good war" will disproportionately target the poor.
The legion of military hawks swooping around our country are unfettered by
political opposition. The debate, as the Heritage Foundation termed it, is
not why the "war on terrorism" but who to attack next. For them, the battle
cry "let's roll" means let's roll out Star Wars.
Is this the world you envision? One you support?
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement.
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