Sunday, February 21, 2016

There Is One Orwell, and Hitchens Was His Prophet

Recently I read The Betrayal of Dissent: Beyond Orwell, Hitchens and the New American Century (Pluto Press, 2004) by Scott Lucas.  Lucas shows how Christopher Hitchens anointed himself as George Orwell's spokeman for the twenty-first century.  It was a good read, and reminded me of a number of things I needed to be reminded of, such as this:
Hitchens charged that Chomsky, in The New Military Humanism, was guilty of 'double standards' in criticising NATO's bombing of Yugslavia while supporting intervention in the case of East Timor.  Chomsky replied, 'There is a double standard only if the intentions are humanitarian …. My book found no evidence of benign intent [over Kosovo] …. hence no double standard but rather the familiar single standard of power interests with little concern for human consequences'  Hitchens, after the cheap jibe, 'It is no disgrace to be condescended to by Noam Chomsky nor to be instructed in matters of formal logic and argumentative procedure', wrestled with double standards before settling on a simpler call, 'We appear to be in a new era, where old reflexes serve us less well.  However, this does not relieve us of our responsibility to take the side of the victims, as Chomsky once taught me and many others to do' [66-7].
Quite.  But who are the victims?  Hitchens lost sight of that question, except for thinking that he himself was the victim, of Left Orthodoxy.  Those who were killed or maimed or made into refugees by American (or NATO, which amounts to the same thing) bombs, missiles, and bullets were never on his radar, as Lucas points out:
At no point did Hitchens acknowledge that, his clearly defined 'war against Saddam', the Iraqi people rather than the leader were likely to be the first casualties and those dealing with the long-term consequences [85].
What I want to focus on, though, is Hitchens's accusation that Chomsky applied a double standard, allegedly opposing "intervention" in Kosovo but advocating it in East Timor.  This is a popular claim among liberal and progressive enthusiasts for US state violence.  I first encountered it, I think, when George H. W. Bush invaded Panama in 1989, and numerous times since then.  I haven't yet heard it in connection with US support for the Saudi invasion of Yemen, but that's probably because most Americans, regardless of their location in the political rainbow, are doing their best to ignore that one.

As far as I know, Chomsky never called for the US to "intervene" in the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor, which lasted from 1975 to 1999 and killed hundreds of thousands of people -- roughly a third of the population.  This was largely because the US had already intervened in that action, by approving it in advance, by arming and training Indonesian forces, by Presidential evasion of Congressional prohibition of US support, and by blocking United Nations action.  Not until the East Timorese had courageously voted for independence in a referendum, did President Bill Clinton finally instruct Indonesia to withdraw.  In 2002 journalist Allan Nairn (who along with Amy Goodman was badly beaten by Indonesian troops in East Timor in 1991) questioned Clinton about this, and Clinton bravely dodged the question.  He conceded that the US had "ignored" and been "insensitive" to the situation, which was false, since US presidents including Clinton had worked so hard to support Indonesia for a quarter of century. (There's no transcript for that clip, but a partial transcript is available here. It's worth listening to the clip, which includes not only Clinton but Richard Holbrooke and Henry Kissinger lying wildly about their records.)

Hitchens and other apologists for state violence might claim that Clinton "intervened" by finally stopping US aid to the Indonesian invasion, but this ignores the ongoing intervention that preceded it.  They also hope to confuse the issue by equivocating.  Chomsky and other critics of US foreign policy don't necessarily object to diplomatic "interventions," it's military interventions that we oppose.  President Obama could intervene in the Saudi invasion of Yemen, for example, by withholding material and other support for the Saudis, and Chomsky would surely approve of that -- provided the aid wasn't merely continued by diverting it through other channels, as normally happens in such cases.  But what liberal and progressive supporters of state violence want is military intervention, marketed as "humanitarian," with enormous costs in human life and well-being for its supposed beneficiaries.  There's no double standard.