January 29, 2006

To the New Empire Builders

Andrew Sullivan condemns the kidnapping of "innocent women and children in order to put pressure on their husbands or relatives" by the U.S. military. Sullivan concludes his brief entry by noting that "we slowly descend toward the level of the enemy. Because King George can."

Given Sullivan's overall views -- and the foreign policy he champions to this day, one which is devoted to spreading Western-style "democracy" by the use of military force followed by prolonged occupations, used even against countries that are no threat to us -- this falls into the same category as Sullivan's repeated denunciations of torture. Sullivan's condemnations of barbarity are surely better than defending or minimizing such atrocities as so many hawks do, but only in the most superficial sense.

In an article from last summer, Naomi Klein recalled the film, "The Battle of Algiers," and the character of Col. Mathieu, who is based on the actual French commander, Gen. Jacques Massus. When challenged about France's use of torture, Mathieu calmly replies that torture "isn't the problem":
"The problem is the FLN wants to throw us out of Algeria and we want to stay. ... It's my turn to ask a question. Should France stay in Algeria? If your answer is still yes, then you must accept all the consequences."
Should the U.S. stay in Iraq? Sullivan's answer is still yes. If he were honest and capable of understanding the principles involved, he would realize that he too must accept all the consequences.

As I explained the more general issue in the second part of my series "On Torture":
But ... Sullivan’s second thoughts do not go nearly far enough. Sullivan has not given up the program he endorses at all—or even seriously questioned it. He still believes "in this war as a war of liberation and increased security." This, too, fails to pass the sanity test. Sullivan apparently has never read the numerous articles by any number of experts on terrorism (genuine experts, I emphasize, not dilettantes who blog in between jaunts to Provincetown and walking the dog)—all of whom have pointed out at great length that the invasion and occupation of Iraq, as well as every other aspect of Bush’s “War on Terror,” have only served to increase the actual dangers we face.

But none of this for Sullivan. (None: "I’ve long admired Bush’s recognition of the life-and-death struggle against Islamist fascism as the central task of his presidency. And it’s hard not to value his grit in pursuing what will, I think, eventually be regarded as critical wars in the defense of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. He comes across as a genuinely kind and warm man, of solid values and clear objectives.") Sullivan still wants his American Empire (with his other hero, Tony Blair, as a very junior partner), he still wants American hegemony, and he still wants us to impose "freedom" by force on countries that have no history or culture to support a political system modeled on ours. He’s still an apocalyptic crusader, seeking to create a new world through sacred violence and death just like his hero, Bush.

He just doesn’t want any of the mess. Here’s another news flash for Sullivan: if you want empire and military domination of large swathes of the world in an endless, woefully defined “War on Terror,” lifelong detentions and torture are an inseparable part of what you’re going to get. That kind of mess (and much worse) is woven into the very fabric of the program you so enthusiastically supported—and which you still support.

Of course, to understand that brutality, cruelty, torture, death, the disregard of individual rights, and the undermining of what are supposedly “American values” inevitably accompany the drive to empire requires that one is capable of grasping the lessons of history, that one can engage in meaningful and accurate analysis of political and cultural dynamics—and that one can think.

It also assumes that a person understands that he cannot continually express admiration and support for the political equivalent of Al Capone—and then recoil in shock when he sees that blood has been spilled on his immaculate carpet. Oh, the horror! His carpet has been soiled, and his soul is tormented—while countless other people are maimed or dead.
That same essay has more about these issues. And the final two parts of my series "On Torture" -- here and here -- analyze the ultimate failure of Sullivan's condemnation of torture. There are several aspects of that discussion that I will be explaining in more detail in the near future.

Related Essays:

The Demand for Obedience

When Life and Happiness Are Not Enough: The Tragedy of the Unborn Self

[All of the entries in my series "On Torture," together with brief descriptions of the the individual posts, are listed here. And an explanation of my temporary retreat from blogging and what my plans are now will be found here. My personal situation remains extraordinarily tenuous but, even if I should be unable to continue writing at some point, all of the essays will remain available in the future, barring Blogger disappearing or some similar calamity.]