Autonomous Source

February 18, 2004

Me and Naomi get it on.

Canada is rightfully proud of Naomi Klein. This woman, a Canadian, has managed to joined the ranks of international, jet-set idiotarians such Noam Chomski, Tariq Ali and John Pilger. So proud we are of her that when she makes one of her pronouncements it becomes the lead Canadian internet news story. That's how I found her latest piece in todays's Globe and Mail. It's so nice and juicy and full of nonsense that I've decided to give it a good fisking. Now, I have to mention that I'm a virgin fisker -- I've never done this before. I may seem and little clumsy and hesitant but I can only improve with time if you'll give me a chance.

We find Ms Klein angry that some of the anti-war people are moving on. She evidently feels that people should still be screaming and stamping their feet.

It was Mary Vargas, a 44-year-old engineer in Renton, Wash., who carried U.S. therapy culture to its new zenith. Explaining why the war in Iraq was no longer her top election issue, she told the Internet magazine Salon that, "when they didn't find the weapons of mass destruction, I felt I could also focus on other things. I got validated."
This validation is apparently based on the quickly-forming article of faith that the opponents of the war had long argued that Saddam had no weapon of mass destruction. Tim Blair looks at an example of this rewriting of the record and corrects a few facts. Of course the real reasons the war was opposed have turned out to be either exaggerated or completely imaginary. But if Ms Hutton wants to declare victory and move on, it's probably for the best. But Ms Klein is not satisfied.
Yes, that's right: war opposition as self-help. The end goal is not to seek justice for the victims, or punishment for the aggressors, but rather "validation" for the war's critics. Once validated, it is of course time to reach for the talisman of self-help: "closure." In this mindscape, Howard Dean's wild scream was not so much a gaffe as the second of the five stages of grieving: anger. The scream was a moment of uncontrolled release, a catharsis, allowing U.S. liberals to externalize their rage and then move on, transferring their affections to more appropriate candidates.
Does she really expect them to keep yelling the same things over and over? She does want the Democrats to win, doesn't she?
All of the front-runners in the Democratic race borrow the language of pop therapy to discuss the war and the toll it has taken not on Iraq, a country so absent from their campaigns it may as well be on another planet, but on the American people themselves. To hear John Kerry, John Edwards and Howard Dean tell it, the invasion was less a war of aggression against a sovereign nation than a civil war within the United States, a traumatic event that severed Americans from their faith in politicians, from their rightful place in the world and from their tax dollars.

"The price of unilateralism is too high and Americans are paying it in resources that could be used for health care, education and our security here at home," Mr. Kerry said on Dec. 16. "We are paying that price in respect lost around the world. And most importantly, that price is paid in the lives of young Americans forced to shoulder the burden of the mission alone."

Conspicuously absent from Mr. Kerry's tally are the lives of Iraqi civilians lost as a direct result of the invasion. Even Mr. Dean, the "anti-war candidate," regularly suffers from the same myopic math. "There are now almost 400 people dead who wouldn't be dead if we hadn't gone to war," he said in November. On Jan. 22, he put the total number of losses at "500 soldiers and 2,200 wounded."

She makes a good point here, though for the wrong reasons. When brutal regimes murder their populations and threaten their neighbors, the Democratic candidates would prefer that the US acted as the witnesses to the Kitty Geneovese murder -- "it's not our problem". The Democrats are running not as opponents to war, but as opponents to responsibilty. They would all prefer that the police -- or the UN -- handled things.
But on Feb. 8, while Mr. Kerry was in Virginia and Mr. Dean was in Maine, both of them assuring voters that they were the aggrieved and deceived victims of President George W. Bush's war, the number of Iraqi civilians killed since the invasion reached as high as 10,000. That number is the most authoritative estimate available, since the occupying authorities in Iraq refuse to keep statistics on civilian deaths. It comes from Iraq Body Count, a group of respected British and U.S. academics who base their figures on cross-referenced reports from journalists and human-rights groups in the field.
Have you ever noticed that when an organization is controversial or possibly biased, a journalist who is herself biased will preface using their propaganda by referring to it as "non-partisan" or "respected"? I have, and I think we have another sighting of that phenomena here. Iraq Body Count's figure of 10,000 sounds pretty impressive until you consider that they have included in the tally civilians killed by other civilians, by preventable diseases, and by terrorists. All the US's fault apparently.
John Sloboda, co-founder of Iraq Body Count, told me that while the passing of the grim 10,000 mark made the British papers and the BBC, it received "scandalously little attention in the United States," including from the leading Democratic candidates, even as they hammer Mr. Bush on his faulty intelligence.
It possibly didn't receive too much attention because it's not as "respected" as Ms Klein suggests. Possibly it was seen as the anti-American propaganda that it is.
"If the war was fought on false pretences," Mr. Sloboda says, "that means that every death caused by the war is a death on false pretences."
Ms Klein builds a tower of nonsense in this piece and this is the foundation. "False pretences" -- what are they? Another article of faith that has been constructed after the war is that it was only waged because the Americans and British claimed that Saddam had vast stockpiles of WMDs. As if she would be now saying what a great job the US did if the weapons had been found. Anyone who was paying attention will know there were more complicated reasons given for going to war, but I'm not going to get into it because the nonsense starts flying fast and furious now and there's just too much to fisk:
If that's the case, the most urgent question is not, "Who knew what when?" but "Who owes what to whom?" In international law, countries that wage wars of aggression must pay reparations as a penalty for their crimes.
What international law is that? The only international law is that to the victors go the spoils. The losers pay reparations to the winners. I can't imagine where she gets this stuff, but it gets worse:
Yet in Iraq, this logic has been turned on its head. Not only are there no penalties for an illegal war, there are prizes, with the United States actively and openly rewarding itself with huge reconstruction contracts. "Our people risked their lives. Coalition, friendly coalition folks risked their lives and therefore, the contracting is going to reflect that," Mr. Bush said.
Man, where to start? If the US was rewarding itself, it would just take the resources of the country, rule by martial law and let the people of the country fend for themselves. The to the victors go the spoils attitude. Instead they are investing billions of dollars to improve the infrastructure of the Iraq and create democratic institutions. How can these huge costs be considered "rewarding itself"? And if the US government doesn't want to spend its money on French and German contractors, it's acting perfectly within its rights.
When the reconstruction spending has attracted scrutiny, it has not been over what is owed to Iraqis for their tremendous losses, but over what is owed to American taxpayers. "This war profiteering is poison to America, poison to Americans' faith in government and poison to our allies' perception of our motives in Iraq," John Edwards said. True, but he somehow failed to mention that it also poisons Iraqis not their faith, or their perceptions, but their bodies.

Every dollar wasted on an overcharging, underperforming U.S. contractor is a dinar not spent rebuilding Iraq's bombed-out water-treatment and electricity plants. It is Iraqis, not U.S. taxpayers, who are forced to drink typhoid-.and cholera- infested water, and then to seek treatment in hospitals still flooded with raw sewage, where the drug supply is even more depleted than during the sanctions era.

She paints quite a picture doesn't she? She takes one grim story from a hospital and casually uses it to condemn everything the US has done in Iraq. The previous regime was a brutal, kleptocratic nightmare that turned one of the most advanced Arab states into a backward, broken state. And now ten months after the occupation began, she complains that the US hasn't fixed everything? Ballsy.
There is currently no plan to compensate Iraqi civilians for deaths caused by the willful destruction of their basic infrastructure, or as a result of combat during the invasion. The occupying forces will only pay compensation for "instances where soldiers have acted negligently or wrongfully."

According to the latest estimates, U.S. troops have distributed roughly $2-million in compensation for deaths, injuries and property damage.That's less than the price of two of the 800 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched during the war, and a third of what Halliburton admits two of its employees accepted in bribes from a Kuwaiti contractor.

You cannot join the international, jet-set idiotarian club unless you mention Halliburton at least once in every column you write.
To talk about the price of the Iraq war strictly in terms of U.S. casualties and tax dollars is an obscenity. Yes, Americans were lied to by their politicians. Yes, they are owed answers. But the people of Iraq are owed a great deal more, and that enormous debt belongs at the very centre of any civilized debate about the war.

In the United States, a good start would be for the Democratic candidates to acknowledge some collective responsibility. Mr. Bush may have been the war's initiator, but in the language of self-help, he had plenty of enablers.

They include Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards, among the 27 other Democratic senators and 81 members of the House of Representatives who voted for the resolution authorizing Mr. Bush to go to war. They also include Howard Dean, who believed and repeated Mr. Bush's claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. They include, too, a credulous and cheerleading press, which sold those false claims to an overly trusting U.S. public, 76 per cent of whom supported the war, according to a CBS poll released two days after the invasion began.

Why does this ancient history matter? Because so long as Mr. Bush's opponents continue to cast themselves as the primary victims of his war, the real victims will remain invisible, unable to make their claims for justice.

She really seems to think that she's got the high moral ground staked out in claiming to care for the losses of the Iraqis. These losses were terrible to be sure, but the US did its very best to avoid them, at great risk to its own armed forces. She hasn't mentioned -- nor ever will -- the the more than 300,000 in mass graves throughout Iraq. Maybe they deserve some justice too.
The focus will be on uncovering Mr. Bush's lies, a process geared toward absolving those who believed them, not on compensating those who died because of them.

If the war was wrong, then the United States, as the main aggressor, must devote itself to making things right. Part of grief is guilt, when the grieving party starts to wonder whether they did enough, if the loss was somehow their fault, how they can make amends. Closure is supposed to come only after that reckoning.

So, if I understand correctly, the whole premise of Ms Klein's argument seems to be that
  1. The US intervened in another country using "false pretenses", which made it wrong.
  2. Things are not now perfect in that country.
  3. Everything wrong in that country is therefore the fault of the Americans.
  4. To atone, all Americans must feel guilty, confess their error and let the anti-war protestors really have closure.
I'm not sure, but I think I can spot a few errors in her logic.

So, I hope it was good for you too. It was much more of a workout than I thought it would be. Maybe it'll be easier next time. Okay, uh, I've got to go now, my kids need their lunch. Maybe I'll call you.

Posted by Bruce Gottfred at February 18, 2004 12:18 PM | TrackBack

Good job on the fisking of Klein. From my experience doing the same to an absolutely ridiculous poster for a "pull the troops out of Afghanistan/Iraq" rally last year here in Edmonton, I know that it's not as easy as it seems. As Naomi Klein's taste for the hyperbolic really knows no bounds I very much appreciated it.

Posted by: Mel at February 22, 2004 01:42 PM

Thanks for the positive comments. I wasn't very happy with my job on this, and I realize it's because it's so incredibly difficult to argue against the bizarre worldview she and her friends have. As it was I spent 3 hours writing it and it barely scratched the surface of all that could be said. Lesson learned for me.

Posted by: Bruce Gottfred at February 23, 2004 10:00 AM
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