Why I support the bombing

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at yale.edu
Sat Mar 27 10:06:26 PST 1999

-----Original Message----- From: NM <nillo at tao.agoron.com>

>The expressed
>moral position that the US government is by definition more immoral than
>other opponent, and thus can never be the justified party in a military
>conflict feels like a reductionist political position that assists
>political posturing while undermining critical analysis of choices in
>specific situations.

-"Feels like"? Well, I've been follwing the thread very closely, and -everyone who is against the bombing has given a number of well-thought out -reasons, grounded in historical analysis of both the Yugo situation in -particular and of imperialism in general.

I used "feels like" very specifically to express how the arguments come across, not to say that there are not arguments against the bombing. Doug and Carroll have been most explicit in their blanket opposition on principle to any military action by the US, irregardless of the specifics of the situation, but others have promoted variations.

Such a blanket opposition is not an untenable position to argue for; I just think it is wrong.

>Why the pro group continues in this sort of
>smear of the antis as uncritical knee-jerkers is beyond me.

I regret the word "knee-jerk" since it does imply the idea of "uncritical" when I meant to convey "blanket principle." Most who hold a rigid anti-US intervention position have put great thought into that position; I just think such a blanket principle is inappropriate for the reasons I gave.

>The US is not a hegemon and I think this is what
>the pro camp is missing. There are other forces on the ground, the choice
>is not between US bombing and Milosevic killing with ground troops. The
>choice is between the people in the Balkans being fed up with war and doing
>something about it (as the peace movement in the Balkans, the strikes, the
>high rates of desertion all show) and the US using Kosovo as a pretense to
>cement power and actually, to perpetuate the rule of Milosevic, who is not

>being targetted and will never be targetted.

Hegemony does not mean exclusive action by the hegemon; in fact, it applies the opposite, since the very idea of hegemony (as opposed to totalitarian control) assumes a network of institutions and proxies by the hegemon which boxes in actions by other actors.

If there is evidence that the desertions in the Serbian army had crippled the ability to suppress and murder Kosovans, I might be convinced. But that evidence just has not been there.

>So what? We should protest those actions that feed that barbarism- the
>poverty, the intolerance, the political self-dealing among elites, and so
>on. Unfortunately, the protests during that phase of the cycle are never
>that large.

-Imperialism does feed the barbarism. And when war hits, this shows the -barbarism in sharp relief, which is why the demos get bigger. That is -precisely when we can argue about the connections between war and poverty -and intolerance etc., because it shows the limits of peace under -imperialism.

This is the fallacy that I most disagree with. Times of war are usually the point where state repression and jingoism most limit discussions and criticism of the state. Many of the anti-interventionists argue that it is precisely the war that has consolidated Milosevic's power and prevented the peace movement there from promoting critical discussion of the government's actions. As you argue, "the peace movement is evaporated under the pressure cooker of the bombs." Why doesn't war put the Yugoslavian government's barbarism in "sharp relief"?

Why does war silence the peace movement there, but empower it in the US and Europe? Wars that turn bad and lose popular support - like the Vietnam War or Russia's war in Afganistan - do open up critical discussion about regimes, but that is not a general process by which war opens up critical space, but only a process by which a range of folks criticize the regime to distance themselves from association with being a loser.

Historically, wartime has been the most restricted periods of critical commentary on regimes. I have this sense of peace activists thinking every war is the Vietnam War, so protests will gain momentum in the same way. It just doesn't happen.

It is actually during peacetime, during the run-up to conflict, that the largest space for critical protest exists. It bewilders me that the Left continues to time protests for the aftermath of hostilities rather than long before during the peacetime leadup to barbarism. Of course, it is easier to motivate our troops with the flashpoint of war, but that is partly because Left leadership has primed them for action at those points.

But as some folks have noted, mass demonstrations for a free Kurdistan during "peace" exposes the contradictions of US hegemony far more than dissent during a war with stated aims to protect victims of repression. Of course there are contradictions in that position, but the public is less likely to listen to those contradictions in the heat of war than during times when our troops have not been officially commited on one side or the other.

>Because of course, every Serb is a wild eyes freak ready to kill every
>single non-Serb in the Balkans. Nope, there is nobody there to support, no
>peace movement, nothing like that. And those crazy, swarthy bastards must
>die. Oh yes.

Again the contradiction; war empowers the peace movement in the West but does not help it in the Balkans? During the height of conflict, both peace movements initially lose public visibility and credibility; that is the nature of jingoistic entrace into war. What will matter is how people react on both sides to protracted conflict.

It is because I believe that every Serb is not a wild-eyed freak that I am skeptical that they will continue to support a regime that, in defense of slaughter of Kosovans, failed to agree to a negotiated solution that would have prevented war.

On the other hand, whatever Serbian unions and activists do, the hope is that US intervention will give Kosovan ethnic albanians more chance to organize and defend themselves.

The story is any case is unlikely to have a happy outcome, at best only having a less horrific outcome. Those opposing the bombing may be correct that it will only make things worse; as others have said, this is a point of honest disagreement in analysis of likely outcomes.

--Nathan Newman

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