Thursday, December 08, 2005

Pinter Assaults U.S. Foreign Policy Since 1945

And what more can I say than he's correct. Harold Pinter is this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Rather than make a bland speech about his artform, he used it to beat the ever-loving-shit out of U.S. foreign policy. And that's a good thing. You can read it in full here. (P.S. Expect a vitriolic response from Christopher Hitchens. Which will be interesting since I believe Hitchens must agree with most of it or he'd have to disavow everthing he's written before the latest Iraq War).

What I liked most of about it --other than it was Chomskyite to a fault -- was Pinter's ability to bash Great Britain as well.

It [the U.S.] also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days - conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead?

The British, as well as the French and the Spanish, should never forget Pinter's moral self-searching. They all have brought the bayonet into the bellies of children before as well. It's not so much that they've lost the taste for such acts, but that their points were blunted by American power. In the context of Iraq, the French shouldn't forget that their government wasn't against the war on principle, but on self-seeking interest in renewing oil purchases from Iraq. International relations is a nasty, bloody affair. Good intentions are rarely ever that. Self-interest motivates every action. Never forget that.

All this should bring us to this necessary abstraction, states, all states, are inherently violent, dominating heirarchical institutions based on illusions of legitimacy. Democracies are the best at subduing this tendency internally, but that doesn't stop them from savagely deflecting it outwards. Think Athens had a non-violent foreign policy? Think again.

That said, we live in the real world and states are the organizational foundation for the international system. Currently, the U.S. is the most powerful state in the system. Naturally it will rig the game in its favor -- although not as overtly and as arrogantly as the Bush Administration has done. If Kerry was our president now, our bayonets would have been sugar-coated, but they would have killed just as well.

Yet, I can't help but feel that Pinter misses the large mujahideen in the room. Sure American power is hideous and violent when peeled back from its "Maybe It's Maybeline" face, but is it not better than the likes of Zarqawi in Iraq now? Like I've said hundreds of times before, the Iraq War was a crime, an act of state terrorism and aggression. And yes it became a self-fulfilling prophecy as we really do fight true-to-life jihadists there now. But glance at the predicate of the last sentence: "we really do fight true to life jihadists now." Let that roll around in your head. After a few minutes of pondering it, the answer is self-apparent. We cannot give Iraq to Zarqawi and Al-Qaeda. That simple. We can be gruesome, but an Iraq left to these elements will indeed make Abu Ghraib look like fraternity hazing gone a bit too far.

The hope for us and Iraq is that the people of the western democracies will awake out of their slumber, demand a sober policy for democracy in Iraq (if at all possible), and make our leaders live up to the rhetoric they sling like rufies in a sleazy bar. We, me and you, democratically together, are the only hope for a better world. For this, we must have what Pinter closed on in his speech. He says it better than I ever could:
I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us - the dignity of man.
But we must also not loathe ourselves so much that we forget the other murderers in the room. Even amongst killers, there are those more compassionate than others. Sometimes to drop our knives is to slit our own throats.