Separatism and Secession

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at
Sun Mar 28 11:43:39 PST 1999

-----Original Message----- From: Doug Henwood <dhenwood at> To: lbo-talk at <lbo-talk at>

>Nathan, you could tell similar stories about people all over the world,
>places the U.S. and its junior partners aren't bombing now. Why this sudden
>and selective turn to "humanitarian bombing"? Heroic tales of streaming
>voters are being mobilized to defend an imperial mission.

Actually Doug, the full-scale level of ethnic clensing in the Balkans in the last few years is on a level few areas in the world match at the moment. The Kurds in Turkey have been repressed but the Turkish majority has not actually sought to drive them out of their homes and even out of their country. The Israel analogy to the Palestinians (which others on this list rushed to hold up in its unique brutality precisely because people were losing their homes) is probably the best on.

Parts of Africa have faced these issues and, if you have not noticed, multinational interventions that violate sovereignty have repeatedly been used to settle internal disputes that threatened to spill over into neighbords, whether in Sierre Leone or the Congo. Of course there are geopolitical interests involved, but NATO is actually doing nothing that does not have precedent with many of the recent multilateral interventions by African states.

The reality is that NATO intervention would be globally more unacceptable anywhere else. In Latin America, the equivalent actor would have to be the OAS, in East Asia, SEATO and so on. In the ideal, the UN might be called on to serve the function of setting the groundrules of humanitarian intervention, but it is unclear why these regional multilateral interventions are more or less legitimate than the UN alternative, given how skewed power is within the Security Council.

And, ultimately, I have never found arguments of harms that we have failed to address significant reasons to ignore a harm we can address. Such inconsistencies may be clues to look for reasons the present situation may not actually be moral, and I have seriously considered that in researching the situation, but having taking that clue seriously, the determination in the end is still what is the right thing to do NOW. What to do with Kosovans dying and being ethnic clensed NOW. What to do in a situation where there is an opportunity to act, for whatever reasons geopolitics has allowed it NOW.

We are supporting the right side in this conflict. The stories of Kosovan murders are not the bullshit tales often told to justify our supporting the bad guys in conflicts - the mountain of human rights reports should confirm that. There is a pragmatic argument of the effectiveness of bombing that Gar Lipov raises, which I take seriously, but the "kneejerk" suspicion of the "imperial mission" is overriding every decent impulse that should be activating analysis here.

Grant that NATO is an imperialist operation. Unless you can give a good reason for their self-interest in supporting the Kosovan side, the basic fact is even hegemon's use their power to do good occasionally when it doesn't hurt their self-interest. In this case, protecting Muslim victims of Christian persecution no doubt is winning the US brownie points that can be invoked to gain trust for support of other operations by Muslim nations in areas of direct US self-interest.

On the anti-imperialist left, it might make Machiavellian sense to block the bombing and sacrifice the lives of Kosovans to prevent the US from gaining that prestige, for fear of the consequences down the road. I just can't play that hardball when we have the chance to stop these atrocities. I hear all this stuff about "imperialism" while Milosevic is involved in mass murder and ethnic clensing. It just doesn't move me and it does not move most folks, other than those like the Rockford Institute who rather like seeing Muslims die at the hands of Christians. The fact is that this is one of the first wars I can remember where Democrats are supporting the intervention in significantly higher numbers than Republicans.(Yeah, I know Cold War liberals used to support wars, but we are talking post-Vietnam).

Despite all the cant and suspicion, I have not heard one good reason why this intervention is in the US's self-interest. A lot of mainstream commentators have said this, which they mean as a criticsm, but I take as praise of the humanitarian nature of the intervention. So on one side we have vague grumblings about "imperial missions" and on the other massive documentation and advocacy of intervention by left human rights folks like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, IGC-PeaceNet and so on.

As I've said repeatedly, the pragmatic worry about the effectiveness of military action is reasonable and pertinent, but the attack on the morality of the ends seems extremely weak. And the libelling of the Kosovan separatists, who reflect the overwhelming sentiment of the population there, sounds a hell of a lot more like government propaganda than anything Clinton has said--- which is not surprising since most of the libels and attacks on the Kosovans are coming directly from Serbian govenrment offices, then being recycled through anti-war media outlets.

--Nathan Newman

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