March 01, 2003

Perry Anderson in the London

Perry Anderson in the London Review

Excellent article by Perry Anderson of UCLA in the London Review of Books. Cuts through much of the shrill commentary regarding Iraq today.

Some key language: "The enormous demonstrations of 15 February in Western Europe, the United States and Australia, opposing an attack on Iraq, pose a different sort of question. It can be put simply like this. What explains this vast, passionate revolt against the prospect of a war whose principles differ little from preceding military interventions, that were accepted or even welcomed by so many of those now up in arms against this one? Why does war in the Middle East today arouse feelings that war in the Balkans did not, if logically there is little or nothing to choose between them? The disproportion in reactions is unlikely to have much to do with distinctions between Belgrade and Baghdad, and would in any case presumably speak for rather than against intervention. The explanation clearly lies elsewhere. Three factors appear to have been decisive.

First, hostility to the Republican regime in the White House. Cultural dislike of the Bush Presidency is widespread in Western Europe, where its rough affirmations of American primacy, and undiplomatic tendency to match word to deed, have become intensely resented by public opinion accustomed to a more decorous veil being drawn over the realities of relative power. To see how important this ingredient in European anti-war sentiment must be, one need only look at the complaisance with which Clinton's successive aerial bombardments of Iraq were met. If a Gore or Lieberman Administration were preparing a second Gulf War, the resistance would be a moiety of what it is now. The current execration of Bush in wide swathes of West European media and public opinion bears no relation to the actual differences between the two parties in the United States. It is enough to note that both the leading practical exponent and the major intellectual theorist of a war on Iraq, Kenneth Pollack and Philip Bobbitt, are former ornaments of the Clinton regime. But as substantial policy contrasts tend to dwindle in Western political systems, symbolic differences of style and image can easily acquire, in compensation, a hysterical rigidity. The Kulturkampf between Democrats and Republicans within the United States is now being reproduced between the US and EU. Typically, in such disputes, the violence of partisan passions is in inverse proportion to the depth of real disagreements. But as in the conflicts between Blue and Green factions of the Byzantine hippodrome, minor affective preferences can have major political consequences. A Europe in mourning for Clinton - see any editorial in the Guardian, Le Monde, La Repubblica, El Pais - can unite in commination of Bush."

Posted by Gregory at March 1, 2003 07:30 PM
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