Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The socialism of fools, mark 2

Awesome. Just awesome.

The trick is, of course, to distinguish between subjective criticism of US government policy and reflexive opposition to anything done by the US anywhere at any time. John Lloyd, former editor of the New Statesman (a journal currently ravaged by anti-Americanism) pulled it off in an Observer article two years ago:

"Anti-Americanism is not criticism of the American government's policies, any more than criticism of the Israeli government's policies is anti-Semitism. But there is now a narrative of the left…which sees in the US an imperial predator whose actions - all actions - are conditioned by this aspect of its being.

”This narrative has ceased to be critical, but become predestinarian: rather as predestinarians divided humanity into those whose actions could never be wrong and those whose actions could never be right, so this strain of left critique arrogates to itself the first and confers on the US the second. It is important not to confuse this grand, totalising critique with criticism, from left or right. The latter is essential for governments, most essential for governments with such awful power as the US commands. But the totalising critique is an intellectual construct, derived from the techniques of 19th century philosophy, which bends all facts to fit the ideological line. "

The point is that you can take your two weeks August holiday in Florida, prefer Coca-cola over Evian and Mark Twain over Cervantes and this doesn’t give you immunity. Anti-Americanism is not (just) a rejection of US culture or its people, but an infallible intellectual doctrine that demands loyalty to the notion of an America that is insatiably ambitious, predisposed to imperialism and fixated on self-aggrandizement. It necessarily follows that she is incapable of acting outside her naked self-interest and, what is more, this strategy can never – and I mean never - enjoy the most accidental or incidental of happy corollary.

America may know better but cannot help herself, and all her foreign policy exploits must be viewed through this perfect prism, no matter the extent to which empirical evidence to the contrary must be reshaped to fit the prescribed ideological mould.

It is worth restating the point: it is perfectly possible to dissent from the Washington line and avoid the charge of anti-Americanism. The US may be the most benign superpower in world history, but she has erred sufficiently often that bona fide, principled criticism is possible without falling foul of anti-Americanism. The criticism itself need not be valid, only rational, at which point genuine anti-Americanists are easily identifiable, eschewing, as they do, intellectual rigour the same way 13-year-old boys dodge soap. So whilst the principled critic and anti-American might share an aversion to what they both regard as US interventionist tendencies, only the afflicted will adjoin a condemnation of US reluctance to intervene, from East Timor to Zimbabwe. Similarly, both parties may be moved to denounce Washington’s provocation of innumerable civil wars in South and Central America, but it is the anti-American who does this while insisting the US should have repeated the trick in Iraq 14 months ago. It is this same, transparent, intellectual dishonesty that juxtaposes an implied racist US disposition that permits the killing, torture and maltreatment of Muslims with impunity, and fierce opposition to American efforts to prevent Muslim genocide in Kosovo. It laments US unilateralism and a contemptuous disregard of international law (Gulf II), whilst reserving the right to berate the failure of the US to act on those occasions when to have done so would have put it beyond the same law (Rawanda, Gulf I and Bush Senior’s decision not to effect ‘illegal’ regime change by proxy in 1991).

The examples are legend and legion, and all are characterised by an almost contrived illogic. Irrational doesn’t cover it.