Division over the so-called 'War on Terror' has led to the emergence of a new species of second-rate, 'third way' spivs and turncoats, who theoretically consider themselves the True 'liberal left', whilst aligning their sympathies with US neoconservatism. Christopher Hitchens is probably the most famous example, a close second being Nick Cohen, whoring out his services to the cluster bomb cause. For the most part, neither writer has much to say, other than a few snide remarks on the perceived failings of the left, and some assertions on the wonderful character of World Bank grande fromage, Paul Wolfowitz. For this reason, this particular breed of 'liberal' is particular popular with hard-right commenters, who excitedly think they've found a new stick with which to beat the left.
With that in mind, it's worth noting this review of Cohen's recent book, What's Left?, the 'most substantial work of a pro-war left intellectual' (found courtesy of Crooked Timber). Reviewer Johann Hari (once a pro-war bedfellow of Cohen's) mounts a systematic and scathing rebuttal of some of Cohen's most flawed arguments. The review is relatively lengthy, and I won't enter into all of it here, but a few points are worth noting:
It's painfully conspicuous that Cohen's statements about neoconservatism consist
solely of assertions, primarily about the personal niceness of Paul Wolfowitz.
The overwhelming contrary evidence is simply ignored. A policy of systematic
torture? The immediate imposition of mass privatisations, causing mass
unemployment and sectarian unrest? The barricading of civilian men aged between
18 and 60 in Fallujah, a city the size of Baltimore, before attacking it with
chemical weapons? Cohen does not say how these neoconservative tactics have been
"fighting the Left's battles for them".
Hari also lays into Cohen's 'Enlightenment' pretensions, exposing the Realpolitik beneath the increasingly tarnished veneer:
It is increasingly clear that the invasion of Iraq was motivated not by
Enlightenment values, but by a desire to achieve US control over the Middle
East's oil supplies. After September 11th, especially since it was now plain
that the House of Saud's vast oil fields were vulnerable to an Iran-style
internal Islamist revolution - and Iraq's were the most appealing alternative.
As long ago as 1991 - back when the only thing George W Bush tortured was the
English language - Dick Cheney said about Iraq,: "We're there because the fact
of the matter is that part of the world controls the world supply of oil." Yet
the only times Cohen mentions oil is to mock the madness of the left for
bringing it up. Is his explanation - that Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were
suddenly gripped by Wilsonian idealism - more plausible?
Hari seizes on Cohen's imbecility in asserting that those who choose neither Saddam, nor Bush, are 'the greatest villains of all':
This injuction to "pick a side" is Cohen's way of ironing out the cognitive
dissonance that comes from being aware of crimes by the Bush adminstration, but
supporting them anyway. As for the idea that people who do not pick one of two
forces are "the biggest villains of all", using this logic, the greatest
villains in the Cold War were India - a rather eccentric judgement.
All in all, Hari is a little too charitable for my liking, considering the foolishness that Cohen has wrought upon the Anglophone world's op-ed pages. He also, inexplicably, fires a (wayward) salvo at Lenin (the blogger, not the Russian), which gets the requisite treatment here.
Complaints notwithstanding, the review serves as a creditable attempt by a pro-war intellectual to rethink his position, and to make evident the intellectual vacuity, and mercenary morality of the cruise missile 'liberals'. Cohen deserves nothing less than contempt; one of his latest opinion pieces is an idiotic attempt to argue that we need more Islamic villains on film and television, lest we 'liberals' be seen as trying to 'appease and deny' terrorism.
Whilst it is unfair to take the most contemptible elements of the pro-war right, and hold them as exemplars, it may nonetheless be worth illustrating for Cohen (and friends) precisely the sort of ideological company he is keeping. Perhaps considerations of 'fairness' ought to be jettisoned, when Cohen himself accuses anybody who refuses to endorse the war of having terrorist sympathies. We can find the same 'logic' on any number of pro-war right websites.
I despise linking to such sites, but here is an example of a pro-war rightist waxing lyrical, pondering a possible Muslim Holocaust:
"Muslims are being put on trains and sent to concentration camps, gassed
and buried in mass graves I suppose." We can only dream. (source).
Notably, the comment goes unchallenged. Another example can be found in this botched creature, who relishes the 'war on terror' as a suitable outlet for his violent racism:
Waging war militarily on the islamists certainly radicalises more
muslims.So what are we supposed to do, tolerate their murderous ways and hope
they go away? They won’t.
And here’s why the screams of outrage begin: The
more muslims it radicalises the better, because sooner or later they’ll detonate
a nuke or a dirty bomb, which will cause a devastating response from the
West...Ryadh and Mecca will do for a start. (source).
This, in a post entitled 'Affirming reality'. 'Tis a pity the warmongers have so little appreciation of irony.
The message is clear - Cohen wants us to hold our noses, disbelieve our senses, dull our intellects, and sacrifice the last of our principles for the sake of Bush's wars. We see the motivations of some of the war's supporters. Such 'humanitarian interventionism'. Such commitment to freedom. Such Enlightenment principles on display.
So to all of the cruise missile liberals, please take a closer look at your Faustian pact. These are the scum that Cohen and his ilk have chosen as bedfellows. These are the violent, bigoted cretins with whom he lies.