Thanks to Blatham for his courteous and patient response. It's always nice to find, when one has oneself skirted the borders of what is still decent, that the other has taken it in good nature and with understanding. Very reassuring <nods>.
Of course, I'm afraid that admirable courteousness changes little about the chasm that divides us in opinion here. To me, basically, this bit here repeats the largest mistakes of Cold War-era leftists (because yes, they made mistakes too, and I guess I should say "we" there, though I have the excuse of adolescent hubris ;-)):
I know there is a fire in Zimbabwe. Another in Darfur. Another with AIDS in Africa and Asia. Another with avian flu. Another with the stripping of the oceans and global warming. Lots of fires. Lots of potential fires. But smack in the center of every one of them - that is, the possible solutions or mitigations of global dilemmas - sits the US, doing almost nothing or making matters worse through obstruction and division and profit-mongering militarism.
This to me seems related to the mindset that had 1980s leftists spend their energy, time and solidarity on the Chile committee, the El Salvador committee and the South Africa campaign, the anti-nuke movement, the anti-NATO actions ... and when someone talked with or about East-German dissidents, there was a bored silence if not an outright frown. Sure its bad over there - we know there's a fire there too - but lets not forget about the main
danger we face today! Ronald Reagan's revival of an American empire that promoted dictatorships around the world!
Selective neglect wasn't the only mistake here; perceptions of problems that were
real enough were also clouded or distorted by this determined focus. South Africa and the US supported the indeed ruthless Unita guerilla's in Angola? The story was clear: a progressive, besieged revolutionary government, facing the insidious attacks of the bad guys. It was only after the end of the Cold War that progressives here realised that, well - the Angolan government itself had been almost as brutally totalitarian - and the conflict had quite a few other (regional, tribal) dimensions as well, some of them justified. The same misestimations, fuelled by a worldview that did indeed put the US threat "smack in the center" of everything that was observed, were repeated multifold around the world, from Nicaragua to Mozambique.
What I taste in Blatham's take now is a total lack of critical reflection on the lessons that should have been learnt from that time (and that, at least here in Europe, definitely have been discussed at length in the nineties, ad nauseam even).
Basically, the quote I just lifted from Blatham's post could almost literally
have been uttered by
the people who'd gloss over budding news of Mao's budding misdeeds (not necessarily talking Zimbabwe here), because the real and acute danger to the world surely was McCarthyism
with whom I compared Blatham.
To me, it does represent a loss of sense of proportion. I mean, what does it mean? Is the US "smack in the center" of Mugabe's drive to dispossess opposition-minded ghetto dwellers, turning them into homeless refugees and camp inmates, surrendered to the state's arbitrary, totalitarian grip? Or even "in the center" of a possible solution
to that problem? Is the US in the center of the African AIDS crisis, still escalating in the face of the unwillingness of governments like Mbeki's to honestly face up to it? Is it in the center of Putin's increasing authoritarianism, the torture, rapes and lawlessness in Chechnya? Of the thousand, twothousand executions every year in China, of hundreds of peasant rebellions there against corruption and arbitrary dispossession? Of North-Korea's regime, the very worst, famine-struck dictatorship in Asia since Pol Pot? Of Pakistan and India acquirung nukes?
Of course not. There are fires raging in the world now that the US is genuinely to blame for, Iraq most of all. It has a fair share of responsibility for Middle-Eastern totalitarianism in general, too. There are also other places where one would wish that the US would do something about
the raging fire. But to therefore declare the US the cause or problem of it, the very center
of the issue, is getting something fundamental exactly upside down.
The thing to realise here, after all, of course is that one would wish the US did something about, say, Burma or Zimbabwe, because we would expect
the US to do something about such abuses. And we would expect so because the US after all promises
, in all its lofty rhetorics, to fight for freedom, democracy and all that.
Nobody, on the other hand, spends his time wishing China would intervene. Nobody does, because its clear that it wouldnt, anyhow - and it never promised to.
So here we have a country that oftentimes creates a sense of frustration, even betrayal, because it promises to work for liberation but then, often, doesnt (or even does the verz opposite) - and there we have a rival that wont even promise anything of the sort. That, in fact, actively supports dictatorial regimes like Burma's or Zimbabwe's quite systematically; that will rush in to help any dictator the US does
, eventually, decide to isolate. (There's a very interesting article from The New Republic about the rise of China as a diplomatic power in the Third World, from Asia to Africa to Latin-America, here: HOW CHINA IS CHANGING GLOBAL DIPLOMACY: Cultural Revolution
To my mind, that makes the US still the better of the two, rather than the central player of all evil. The same comparison goes for Russia, for example.
I, for one, will nevertheless still spend more time criticizing the US than China. For one, because it is an ally of my home country, so its my responsibility to do so; secondly, because exactly of
its promises and rhetorics, the US can
be held accountable to loftier values.
I am also very much aware of the paradox there, however: that America attracts criticism exactly because it nominally does
hold itself to higher values that other major powers, the EU excepted, wouldn't even bother with. Which in itself is something to be grateful for (all the more so because the US government DOES, undeniably, at times work exactly for such values: take the very praiseworthy role of the US, from diplomatic pressure to training and funding democratic NGO's, journalists, etc, to covert operations and outright war, in the Ukraine, Serbia, Georgia, Kosovo).
And it is exactly this paradox that I feel Blatham has lost sight of.
Furthermore - and no less problematically - the immediate instinct to relate any topic, whatsoever, that comes up to the assumed central role of the US fudges and cloaks the all too independent responsibility of other players.
There's several things going on here. First off, the question of direct responsibility. By turning any conversation of "fires" around the world to the focus of potential American responsibility - or ignoring the issue altogether if such a focus is not easily made! - other all too independently important factors are quickly glossed over - to the benefit of local, corrupt, egomaniac tyrants. For folks like Mugabe, every mention of the role of the US (or in his case, the UK) is a handy little opportunity to deflect from his own, primary responsibility.
By extension, this leads to a flawed understanding of the situation on the part of the observer with that urge. See the example of Angola. The role of local cultural problems and of local political oppositions that may not
necessarily easily align with the conservative/liberal axe is not perceived or instinctively belittled. This is, in fact, the liberal equivalent of Bush's crusader world view, of "us versus them" and "freedom-loving Americans versus crazed Muslim extremists"; it reduces local complexities into a black and white directly derived from our own
political landscape. It is its mirror image, with comparable problems in the analysis of local situations that results. We end up with BBB explaining
Ahmadinejad's election victory as the Iranians thumbing their nose at Bush <rolls eyes>.
There is an element of exasperating arrogance in this, as much as there is in Bush's crusaderism. Whether we look at Nepal or at Bolivia, its all about us. It just must be. As if those peoples are not well able to develop their own, intricate abuses, totalitarianisms, conflicts. A sensible mind would identify any various elements at play, including foreign meddling by different powers. Bush's MoveOn mirror image would say: "See! It's the Bushites messing up again!" A kind of inverted expression of national megalomania.