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‘This should only happen in response to genocide’ (two leftwingers argue over Libya)

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Michael Ratner: I was really surprised to see you endorse the war in Libya. Especially after you say you endorsed the Afghan war, you would understand that your judgment on this issue may not be perfect.

Phil Weiss: Well I hated the Iraq war and was in the streets. I endorsed the Afghan war and was wrong. I’m very mixed on this one. I just put up a post echoing your point, from an anonymous friend. I cant say I’m persuaded by his argument; I just spontaneously feel good about it on Arab Spring grounds– and as Uri Avnery says, Think of stopping Franco. Though we will soon know who is right.

R. There’s no way one should be mixed. It’s a typical imperial war run by U.K, France, and USA, they get the oil, a neo liberal economy, and Israel gets a new friend when it’s going to need it. When they ignore Ivory Coast, Bahrain, Yemen, Palestine, you need to ask what they are up to. And we know nothing about the opposition. It ain’t Egypt. This is apart from violation of the Security Council Resolution already, no constitutional consent by the Senate, and no way to see an outcome. Such gross intervention if it happens at all, should happen in response to genocide. This is just awful.

Qaddafi is no Franco. Franco was backed by Hitler, the republic by Soviets. The war was or became a proxy for the bigger issues and power struggle. In those circumstances intervention would have been very different.

W. Some of this is about paradigms, e.g., communism/anti-communism. The Arabs who support intervention are doing so out of an Arab democracy movement, which is different and maybe a new paradigm of int’l power relations.

Also, I think you are missing the degree to which the pro-Arab left is in favor of this. Here’s Paul Woodward. And Robin Yassin-Kassab at Pulse.

R. It’s Yassin-Kassab’s chance to call us names and accuse us of supporting Soviet intervention. It attacks the politics of a mythical anti-interventionist. If he has an argument it’s lost, and he has no sense of history–this kind of intervention is always done in the interests of the power that intervenes. 

W. Take out his tone and my point is, his view is being echoed in several quarters on the left. 

R. It’s politics and it’s an argument by smear. I think it’s similar to your Chomsky debate– a situational focus rather then understanding what this country is about. After Palestine, Yemen, Bahrain, Ivory Coast, Iraq, Afghanistan–you accept Libya?

W. I agree that you and I have a fundamental difference here: your “situational” was my doorway to political engagement. I hated the Iraq war and wanted to figure out what got us there. My problem with Chomsky is that he has an inability to see the collectivized Jewish perception of interest in that war– the lobby– while I see the lobby as utterly determinative of policy in Israel/Palestine, and an important factor in Iraq too. As you have surely discovered, I am not logical, I am perceptual; and yet what you dismiss as “situational” is an important fact I observed throughout my life: Jews with access to power who are concerned with What is good for the Jews. Sometimes situational is determinative– the UN Security Council veto on settlements can be explained no other way– and I feel a Jewish responsibility to examine the roots of this collective failure… I take your friend Leon Golub’s savage line, as you related it years ago–

And then he knew, at least for himself and probably many others: to be a “Jewish political artist” was to be an artist who avoided depicting the horrors inflicted on Palestinians. Of course, that is true for more than just artists. Many Jews who are very involved in human rights, ending poverty and war, and fighting for the underdog avoid criticism of Israel.

and upend it: What is the role of the Jewish artist? It is to deal with Palestine.

As to “what this country is about,” here I generally defer to your analysis and Chomsky’s too. Though re oil, I am still unpersuaded that Gaddafi or the rebels or Saddam or Cheney have had any real effect in the end on American access to oil markets…

R. Of course even my politics came from Vietnam—but it became apparent that Vietnam was no aberration and not situational. Nor have the other wars been as well.

Finally you and the Jewish lobby will agree on something. The Libya attack is good for Israel —what the lobby is saying—that could be a good gauge.

This dialogue was by email, here slightly edited

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-06.

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