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September 27, 2004

MORE ON THE DEBATE OVER NAOMI KLEIN

In a previous post, I cited Frank Smyth's first-rate article on Iraq for Foreign Policy in Focus, "Who Are the Progressives in Iraq? The Left, the Right, and the Islamists" as the definitive reply to Naomi Klein and others who appear to be justifying Muqtada al Sadr and the rest of the reactionary theocrats who are spearheading the armed "resistance" in Iraq. Frank, Marc Cooper, and I have all received some angry criticism reflecting a certain school of thought that defends Klein and others on this set of issues. .

Frank forwarded to me yesterday one such letter, better written and more intelligent than most, and his reply to it. I found Smyth's reply so pertinent that--with his kind permission--I'm reprinting the entire exchage below (I've excised the name of Frank's correspondent because I couldn't reach him for permission to use it). The exchange follows:

Smyth’s Straw Man Simply Doesn’t Exist, by R.N.

The article from FPIF paints a simplistic and homogeneous picture of the left as naive anti-imperialists who uncritically identify with the Islamic resistance fighters who are challenging the American occupation of Iraq. The author repeats the very same error that he accuses the American left of committing vis-a-vis the Iraqi’s.

First, the author repeats the myth that the American military invaded Iraq “in order to remove a leader who ranked among the most despised despots in the world.” This, of course, is George Bush’s current preferred explanation of why the US deployed 140, 000 troops (soon to be increased to 150,000), spent over 200 billion dollars, and lost over a thousand lives occupying Iraq. I guess I am one of those “naïve leftists” who believes that the war was indeed an imperialist war of aggression, that it’s main goal was to insure America’s control of Iraq’s valuable natural resources (see M. Klare’s recent well argued book BLOOD AND OIL), and that the Bush administration has no intention of installing a democracy (here I agree with Chomsky’s arguments) in the Middle East or allowing a coalition of leftist or secular Iraqi’s outside of Washington’s control to win the election and nationalize Iraq’s resources –its goal is to establish a client state that will serve American interests. Second, the author fails to raise the issue of Iraqi self-determination and the right of various groups in Iraq (yes even the reactionary one’s) to resist the brutal American military occupation which is being enforced at the point of a gun and with bombs and missiles. Third, most people on the left that I have read and encountered ARE aware of the various groupings in Iraq, and do not have the simple-minded identification with the particular factions that are resisting the occupation as Smyth claims. Finally, the American left is far more diverse that Smyth acknowledges, and he seems to have a great need to homogenize it simply to set up a straw man that is easy to knock down with cheap shots. I have rarely heard leftist defend Saddam, although many have argued that he was being supported by the US when he was committing his worse crimes.

Although I agree with Smyth that Iraq is a highly complex and political reality, it is extremely naïve to argue that the occupation will result in free elections (is this what the CIA and Bush want?) that will give Iraqi progressives a fair chance, and that the resistance in turn is evil because it is controlled by “reactionaries.” The resistance taps into a much larger pool of nationalism and a justified anger at the destruction and rape of IRAQ under false pretenses.


Frank Smyth replies:

Good point about oil, and I have a few comments to add further down.

But I disagree about the alleged "straw man" and I will give you examples of real distortions.

In the fall of 2002, Democracy Now's Jeremy Scahill reported that Iraq's referendum on Saddam, the one which his authorities claimed received 100 percent of the Iraqi vote, was a legitimate reflection of his allegedly unanimous popularity. Democracy Now never reported that the Iraqi communist party (Iraqcp.org) called the referendum a "farce," saying it was part of a long pattern of Saddam's "deceit and manipulations." Nor did Democracy Now or most other progressive outlets report much, if anything, to suggest that many Iraqis, none more than leftists, had long opposed Saddam's minority-based regime. (Please send me even one example.)

More recently, The Nation's Naomi Klein reported that the al-Mahdi militia reflected "mainstream" Iraqi views. This is not the case, as I think I make clear in the FPIF piece. She simply does not understand where this group fits in within the context of Iraq's majority Shi'as, or that the al-Mahdi militia is an Islamist reactionary force. (And anyone seeking to understand the religious politics of Iraq should regularly read www.juancole.com.)

Most recently, Scahill and Klein together suggested that the two kidnapped Italian women were most likely allegedly abducted by a Western if not CIA-backed group tied to the U.S.-backed Iraqi government. This I only mentioned in the FPIF piece. I will elaborate here. Their main evidence for making this claim is that the kidnapping operation was so large, fast and efficient that it had the markings of Saddam's old intelligence services or Muhabarat. And, add Scahill and Klein, the U.S.-backed Prime Minister Allowi, back when he was allied with Saddam, worked in the Muhabarat during its early years. (See Commondreams.org, their Guardian piece or scroll down on Democracy Now.)

Indeed Allowi did. But Scahill and Klein fail to note that there are far more Ba'athists including ex-Muhabarat men among the Iraqi resistance than in the U.S-backed government. They also miss another point. The essence of Scahill and Klein's claim is that the kidnapping of the two Italian women was so blatant and well-done that Iraqis could not have pulled it off on their own, and that they must have had Western intelligence backing. If that is not racism, it is surely Orientalism. As there is no doubt that the Muhabarat, surely on its own turf and periodically also elsewhere, was always second to none as an intelligence service including the Mosad, the CIA or the also well-respected Iranian intelligence services.

Nevertheless, your thoughtful and thorough point about the Bush administration's designs on Iraqi oil is well-taken. I would only add that whoever controls the future of Iraq's oil may well be determined by elections --at this point, like it or not. And the United States may well try to impose or keep a proxy in power, as the Bush administration tried first to promote Chalabi and then Allowi (both of whom I trash in the FPIF piece). And that is why progressives need to be more mindful of how the United States is trying to manipulate Iraq's internal politics.

Posted by Direland at 01:14 PM | Permalink

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