Friday, August 31, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [31]


In 1999, a former member of the UDF, Bulgaria's center-right anti-Communist party, wrote an "open letter" to the Serbian opposition. The author was Blagovesta Doncheva, who had her letter to be published on Balkan Revisionist Jared Israel's Emperor's Clothes.

A cursory Google search for Doncheva turns up various links to her letter and a second letter, as well as a handful of other works in support of Serbia against NATO, and very little else. One does learn that Doncheva, at least for awhile, was enamored with a Russian writer by the name of Alexander Dugin. To get a taste of his ideals (from an article translated into English by Doncheva herself--a real labor of love), you should check out this link:

War Is Our Mother!

Parenti, perhaps desperate for fresh material and quote sources, essentially turns Chapter 18 over to Doncheva. Most of this chapter is simply a discussion of the issues and concerns she raises in her "Open Letter to the Serbian 'Democratic Opposition.' "

Even if Doncheva were merely a disappointed and distraught former UDF member, Parenti's decision to essentially lean on the text of her open letter to the Serbian opposition betrays the intellectual weakness of Parenti's argument and the lack of substance to his objections.

In order to appreciate how weak Doncheva's arguments are, and to experience how crudely she expresses them, read for yourself:

With Her Eyes Opened

Aside from the maudlin, almost Dickensian, tone of the letter (it should be noted that I have not found a single post or letter or article by Doncheva which does not mention how destitute she is), a few things stand out. Given that this letter was written in implicit support of Milosevic and the Socialist Party in Serbia, the last item on her short list of actions taken by Bulgaria in support of NATO's war is worth noting:

"For the first time since the end of the 500 year Turkish Yoke last century Turkish ground force passed through Bulgaria."

Oh the horror--the Turks are coming! This is not the only example of such sentiment in her work. Not surprisingly, Parenti makes no notice of her implicit bigotry.

As for much of the "substance" of her charges, two factors need to be kept in mind. One--I myself spent an entire summer in Bulgaria in 2000, and my wife and I have many Bulgarian friends who have lived through the entire post-Communist period and continue to live there. There were indeed hard times, and Doncheva is not lying when she says that street beggars, extreme poverty, and a weakening of the health care system are elements of the new Bulgaria. It is also true that in 1999, it would not have been at all clear that things were going to get better--the latter half of the 1990s had not been good even for educated and employed Bulgarians, and there were no obvious indicators that the worse was behind for good.

However, Doncheva was being rather selective in her use of statistics and anecdotes to paint a picture of life in Bulgaria. 1999 was not nearly as bad as 1996 had been, for example, and even in 2000 at least some of the Bulgarians I know were cautiously optimistic. There were still areas of real concern--indeed, there still are--but there were also signs that the imminent collapse into Third-World level economic collapse had been avoided.

Secondly, Doncheva makes much of the social and economic disruptions incurred by the sudden (and admittedly often painful and poorly or even criminally managed) transition to a free-market economy. Left unsaid is the fact that the society and economy being disrupted were the products of draconian wholesale top-down changes carried out by the Bulgarian Communist Party; Bulgaria's agricultural sector was completely collectivised, and like all Warsaw Pact nations Bulgaria's economy was geared to serve as part of the larger Socialist Bloc economy, rather than as an organically developed and diversified domestic economy. Any changes to the old system--a system which was brought down from the inside in part because it was failing--was bound to bring about drastic and often painful social and economic changes.

Parenti apes Doncheva's logic throughout this chapter, extending his thesis to suggest that the fate of Serbia under NATO/UN/EU/IMF rule might be even worse than Bulgaria--maybe Yugoslavia would end up just like Romania. Revealing his true nature and his real values underneath the patina of humanist concern, Parenti writes:

"A November 1999 poll stunned the capitalist-restorationist Romanian government when it reported that 61 per cent felt that life had been better under the Communist government of Nicolae Ceausescu. Despite the shortages and serious problems under that regime, everyone had some measure of security and the problem of survival was neither an everyday challenge nor frequent tragedy."

Given that Parenti think Stalin has been unfairly maligned by historians, such an interpretation should not come as any surprise. Still, I trust the reader possesses the requisite intellectual flexibility needed to reject Parenti's simple-minded interpretation of that bare statistic.

Parenti also brings Iraq into the discussion; given current events and my desire to keep this blog moving to the next subject (only two short chapters to go), I will not take up this comparison, which is only in passing at the end of the chapter regardless.

Doncheva published a second letter on this subject, just as bathetic and bombastic as the first. If the reader is interested:

Slavery Is Freedom

While virtually worthless as a serious critique of Bulgaria's situation, of the geopolitical issues regarding Serbia in 1999, or of Western foreign policy, this chapter does an admirable job of exposing the thinness and reactive nature of Parenti's analysis of world events. If the man wanted to be taken seriously, he could have started by deleting this entire chapter from his manuscript before he ever submitted it to the publisher.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [30]


In the opening paragraphs of this chapter, Parenti attempts to link Milosevic to other world leaders who have been "demonized" (he uses that word a lot in reference both the Milosevic and Serbs in general) by the West in order to justify military action against their regimes. The company Parenti puts him in is interesting--Qaddafi, Noriega, and Saddam Hussein. All four of these leaders, we are assured, have been slandered--because as far as claims that, say, Milosevic and Saddam were threats to regional security and peace:

"If not blatantly false, such charges are usually inflated."

He is quick to modify his opening comments with the disclaimer that sometimes these leaders are less than saintly; but they are still better than the long list of dictators supported over the years by the US.

If Parenti wants to make the point that Pinochet, the last Shah of Iran, and Somoza were horrid dictators, he'll get no argument from me. I have nothing good to say about any of those characters. But all three of them are gone, and have been for some time. To say this is not to defend past injustices committed or at least tolerated by the US and its proxies during the Cold War (or before, or after). It is simply to state a fact; and also to make one further point--it is possible that a current action taken by the United States in the here and now can be, perhaps should be, judged on its own merit. We should not forget the more sordid and shameful episodes in our nations' history. But neither should be shackle the idealism of the present to the ugliest episodes in our past.

Parenti goes on to point out the the US was negotiating with Milosevic right up through Dayton, and only 'turned' on him later; while this might seem like a devastating point out of context, any reasonably informed observer at the time knew that the US was simply trying to get a peace deal done in Bosnia. As part of that effort, it was recognized that Milosevic was also eager to end the fighting as soon as possible. Continued Serb defeats and retreats incurred a political and economic cost he was not willing to pay. The decision to make Milosevic a "partner in peace" was simply a tool of expediency by an administration not particularly keen on getting involved in Bosnia but very keen indeed about getting Bosnia off the front pages of the papers with an election year coming up.

At this point in the chapter, Parenti's work as a shill for the Milosevic regime becomes much more explicit. He asks the reader to "[c]onsider some components of the FRY [sic] system" and then lurches into an extended, multi-part riff outlining the utopia which was the whitewashed "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" of Parenti's imagination.

The fact that elections were held is trumpeted; Parenti compares US condemnations of the fairness of the political process under Milosevic to earlier refusals to acknowledge the legitimacy of the 1984 Nicaraguan elections held by the Sandinista regime. As someone who was once very sympathetic to the FSLN, I admit to a twinge of outrage at the comparison. For all their faults, the Sandinistas did not wage aggresive war against their neighbors; nor did they commit systematic genocide against entire sectors of their domestic civilian population.

He tops that comparison for disingenuousness, however, when he (quite seriously, apparently), makes this claim:

"After serving two consecutive terms as president of Serbia, Milosevic honored the Yugoslav constitution's prohibition against a third term. He next stood for election as president of Yugoslavia itself."

This is the same consitution that, once upon a time, had guaranteed autonomy for Kosovo and Vojvodina, but never mind that--the fact that Parenti can report this well-documented power play by Milosevic as a high-minded deference to rule of law is really the height of unintentional comedy. He even has the chutzpah to compare this action--favorably, of course--to actions taken by Izetbegovic and others.

We then here that Westen claims of Serbian propaganda by the regime are sheer rubbish, and that Serbs had more access to dissenting media outlets than almost anyone else. This would be an interesting point, if it were true, but it isn't, at least not completely (the dissedent press suffered frequent harrassment and shutdowns, as is well-documented, even if an opposition press did exist). The fact that the media in Serbia wasn't as tightly controlled and totalitarian as in, say, North Korea is not the same as to say that absolute freedom of information existed, or that the opposition press that did exist fought on a level playing field against state-run media outlets.

There is a boxed-aside in this section, entitled "And the USA?" This passage--taken from an article by fellow-traveler Barry Lituchy--is worth quoting:

"Where are the opposition newspapers and TV stations in this country? Can you go to your local newspaper or magazine that calls for the overthrow of the US government? Can you turn on the TV or radio in the evening and listen to socialist or communist politicians giving their views on world or local events? Why does the US demand such opposition media in socialist countries when it does not have it in its own country? Americans are so brainwashed, so housebroken...that they don't even think of these questions."

What to say? Lituchy does a marvelous job of inadvertently betraying the simple-minded dishonesty and the unearned arrogance of the Balkan revisionist mindset. For one thing, I can go to any coffee shop or any student union in this country and pick up some radical publication of one ideological bent or another. The corporate-owned Borders in my quiet suburb carries books by Noam Chomsky, among others, and would be happy to order any other radical publication I care to purchase. I've seen C-SPAN coverage of the American Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Party Convention, and I've seen Katrina vanden Heuvel on Sunday chat shows. Granted, the range of political opinion and ideological adherence of guests on most primetime and major network news outlets tends to be much narrower than is actually available, but for Lituchy to imply that there is some sinister bias at work because Crossfire doesn't regularly ask whoever's replaced Gus Hall at the CPUSA for his opinion is more than a little silly. If this were 1915, we could legitimately ask why Eugene Debs isn't getting equal time with Mitt Romney. But it isn't 1915. There isn't a viable socialist option in American politics right now.

Lituchy and Parenti are stuck in the past, fighting for an ideological balance that wouldn't reflect the true diversity of opinion and analysis which do deserve wider airing. I would like to see a wider spectrum of opinion represented in the mainstream media as well; I would like to see unorthodox and radical idea given a fair hearing. But the standard we hope for needs to be a little more nuanced than "calling for the overthrow of the US Government."

More troubling is the nasty, condescending comment at the end. But this is typical of Lituchy, Parenti, Johnstone, Chomsky, and that lot. They are immune to reason, since anybody who disagrees with them must be ignorant, brainwashed, or just stupid. Calling Americans "housebroken" is the height of snobbish disdain. And a very unjustified snobbery, at that.

Parenti's examination of the media in Milosevic's truncated Yugoslavia follows the same logic as his "revelation" that there were opposition parties and elections in Serbia under Milosevic. Parenti honestly believes that quotes from Serbian artists and comedians to the effect that Milosevic allowed limited political dissent as an escape valve of sorts are either sheer rubbish or merely the deluded ranting of Western tools. Once again, when asked to choose between ordinary people and a dictator with blood on his hands, Parenti sides with the autocrat.

One other point about both this chapter and at least the preceding one--Parenti repeatedly refers to his trip to Serbia in 1999, the observations he made, and quotes from the people he spoke with while on this sponsored, obviously biased group trip. One such example comes now:

"For a police state, Yugoslavia appeared to have a notable scarcity of police on the streets."

He seems to mean this sincerely--as if the reason critics of Milosevic both inside and outside of Yugoslavia spoke of a police state and police state tactics was because Serbian police forces were enforcing traffic laws with a heavy hand.

He moves on to war crimes, where he reaches new heights of dishonesty and feigned surprise--he states baldly that:

"The war crimes that the West has charged Milosevic with seem to be far less serious than the war crimes committed by Tudjman or Izetbekovic [sic] or, for that matter, Clinton, Blair, and NATO."

The point being that the ICTY charges against Milosevic "only" allege 391 deaths total. And that most of the charges relate to incidents which took place after the beginning of NATO bombing. So, Parenti implies, there really was no case against him.

I doubt there is any reasonably informed reader who does not realize that prosecutors tend to bring charges they think they can make stick. Genocide is a hard charge to prove, especially when most of the evidence implicates a proxy regime such as the Bosnian Serb Republic.

Finally, Parenti notes that Serbia itself is a multiethnic country with many non-Serb minorities. The fact that he spends several pages detailing this well-documented fact indicates just how naive and uninformed Parenti's ideal reader would have to be (I made this same point regarding the target audience in my review of Diana Johnstone's "Fools' Crusade"). It is a fact that some Bosnian Muslims from the Drina valley escaped from the early phases of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia by fleeing east, into Serbia proper. I'm a little surprised Parenti does not exploit this fact for all it's worth; in fact, he doesn't bring it up at all. What this is all supposed to prove is not sure--apparently, since the Milosevic regime did not engage in a Holocaust-scale cleansing of the republic they already controlled (and where Serbs were the uncontested majority), we are to conclude that any allegations of ethnic cleansing elsewhere are simply absurd. Again, the Balkan revisionists raise the bar impossibly high, rather than monitoring what actually happened.

He closes with interviews with a couple of Serbian government officials (surely their objectivity and honesty cannot be questioned--he takes all they say as insightful and gospel truth). The tone of these comments is self-righteous and cloying. I can almost picture Parenti nodding furiously in commiseration, waiting for a pause in the monologue so that he might interject with a groveling apology for being part of the evil, imperialist West. He gives these two socialist functionaries something that he withheld from Bosnian rape victim, Albanian refugees, international aid workers, and Western journalists--the benefit of the doubt.

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [29]


This chapter details damage done to Serbia's political and economic infrastructure. There are good questions to be asked about NATO's military tactics during the 1999 war. Even at the time, there were rumors about the environmental impact of NATO's bombing; friends of mine from Bulgaria reported stories of poisoned fish in the Danube and worse.

But Parenti, of course, has no interest in a sober and balanced examination of this very real issue. It's all just more proof of the evil and imperialistic motives of the Vast Western Conspiracy against socialism in the Balkans. Throughout this book, Parenti has been driven by a near-religious faith in this premise; like all true believers, he does not examine reality with a critical eye but rather looks for selective evidence which will confirm his predetermined beliefs.

Parenti assumes his claims of a deliberate capitalist plot to destroy Yugoslavia's socialist economy are self-evident; the facts he marshals to buttress his claim actually are open to varying interpretations, none of which seem to have occured to him.

The fact that various institutions of the Socialist Party and various state-controlled industries were targeted does not necessarily mean a concealed motive to "third-worldize" ("Third-worldization" is a Parenti-ism he applies to this alleged process) Serbia; rather, such tactics more likely indicate that NATO was going after the infrastructure and the assets of Milosevic's party. Attacks on fuel storage facilities and the transportation infrastructure, for another example, represent a very rational--and not at all unusual--attempt to weaken the Serbian military.

It is true that as the bombing went on civilian institutions were increasingly targeted; but considering that NATO clearly hoped to turn the Serbian public against Milosevic, this strategy should not be so mysterious. Again, Parenti's claims of an undeclared war against Serbia's entire socialist economy in service of a "rational class interest" which allegedly sought to destroy rivals to Western-owned corporate interests fails to convince. As is so often true (much to the disappointment of conspiracy theorists everywhere), it is the most straightforward and logical explanation which is most likely to be correct, not the most sinister and convoluted.

I do not mean to minimize the civilian suffering in Serbia both during and after the bombing--not for the first time in this blog or even this review, I want to reiterate that I had many reservations about NATO tactics at the time, reservations which hindsight and further reading have unfortunately justified. But such qualms are in regard to tactics, not the larger issue of NATO involvement and the justifications for that involvement. Parenti's examples are, in many cases, valid concerns. His description of the whole pictures as "less a war than a one-sided slaughter" would be merely laughable had he not spent much of the preceding few chapters downplaying and/or outright denying the scope and intensity of Serb military and police atrocities against ethnic Albanians.

If this chapter was meant to be the smoking gun--the concrete expose of the Western plot to destroy Yugoslav socialism in action--then the only thing Parenti has accomplished is to document just how unsubstantiated and delusional his entire thesis truly is.

Monday, August 27, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [28]


This chapter discusses the instability, violence, and reverse ethnic-cleansing of Serbs and other non-Albanians in Kosovo after the KLA were left more or less in power after the NATO victory. Parenti is typically one-sided and hyperbolic, but I do not dispute his overt point--Kosovo after the triumph of the KLA became a dangerous, intolerant place run by thugs and mafia types. This blog mostly focuses on Bosnia and I do not want to spend too much time on Kosovo when events are no longer directly related to events in Bosnia; suffice it to say that the situation in Kosovo immediate after the war and afterwards left much to be desired.

His implied subtext--that Kosovo was a mostly peaceful and stable region under benevolent Serbian rule--is absurd, however. And his weak efforts to implicate NATO as an active participant in some KLA atrocities lack any conviction. I think he knows he's just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.

Only five more chapters, and fifty more pages, to go.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [27]


Given that Balkan revisionists often complain about being dismissed as genocide deniers (the truth hurts, don't it?), one would think that Parenti would shy away from such an obvious Holocaust denier parallel. Yet he doesn't--he really titles this chapter "Where Are All the Bodies Buried?" which brings up obvious echoes of the "Where are all the piles of ashes at Auschwitz" type claims of Holocaust deniers.

And the level of "discourse" and analysis in this chapter is on the same level as the title. As such, I won't dignify this chapter with a review at all. The fact that NATO wildly overestimated the number of dead Albanians at the beginning of the campaign is of no significance to me--frankly, I'm glad we overestimated the number of killed; it's one indication that we intervened quickly enough. Parenti's charge that NATO exaggerated the nature of Serb operations in order to justify invasion is weak: if NATO leaders chose to trumpet worst-case scenarios in order to justify an intervention to put an end to the brutalization of an entire people, I can live with that. NATO may have been guilty of sloppy Holocaust parallels (oh, the irony), but Milosevic's regime was guilty of imposing a brutal apartheid, and ultimately of attempting to expel and entire people.

And at any rate, the later revised figures have been verified. And, contrary to Parenti's snide remarks, plenty of forensic evidence has proven a coordinated campaign by Serbian forces to disguise and remove mass graves, many outside of Kosovo altogether.

Parenti compares the "inflated" death tolls to the "inflated" numbers of dead at Srebrenica. Since investigation and forensic work have since verified the number of dead at Srebrenica as well, it would behoove Parenti to release a revised edition of this book with an updated version of this chapter acknowledging that voluminous facts have come to light contradicting his revisionist version of events.

I am not holding my breath.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [26]


Aside from the standard redefinition of "genocide" to exclusively denote campaigns of absolute extermination, this chapter mainly serves to discount or diminish the suffering of Albanians expelled from Kosovo while simultaneously transferring as much blame as possible to NATO for what level of suffering Parenti is willing to acknowledge. Aside from the obvious blind spots in his vision, this chapter also reveals a callousness towards refugees and other victims which would be shocking if the reader weren't already accustomed to Parenti's thinly veiled contempt for ethnic Albanians.

There is very little to comment on here, especially since I am somewhat impatient to have this horrible, dishonest, and stupid book behind me. So what follows is merely a brief summary of a few select points:

-Parenti harps quite a bit on what evidence he can muster that Serbian operations were not genocidal in intent but rather focused on "counter-insurgency" against the KLA. Aside from the obvious bias--Parenti never, as far as I've seen, doubts Serb sources--this point entirely ignores the gap between literally stated goals versus implied intent, not to mention the reality of how orders were interpreted and implemented. Balkan revisionists love to point out that Milosevic never wrote his own "Mein Kampf" -like master plan, as if this and only this (rather than actual actions) could be the only possible smoking gun.

-As noted before, a common theme of Balkan revisionism is that refugees are fundamentally unreliable sources of information. But furthermore, we should demand a very, very high level of desperation and need before refugee status can even be granted. It is striking how often Parenti makes note of the high standard of material well-being and health most Albanian refugees displayed. They weren't destitute enough, apparently. What's more, he discounts the impact of one refugee's story thusly:

"A man told of fleeing to the railroad station to get a train out of Kosovo: "We were frightened by the police," he said (not shot, beaten, or tortured, but frightened)."

These were the same police who were shooting and beating plenty of other ethnic Albanians, but clearly this guy was just being skittish when he made a run for it. Then again, Parenti also discounts another women's story because she was merely driven from her home by police, which he claims is "not exactly an atrocity." When armed paramilitaries evict you from your home at gunpoint, I hope you'll be able to keep that in mind.

And so on...there are fourteen pages of this garbage. At the end Parenti tries to display some balance of humanity by acknowledging that

"...the refugees that Clinton spoke to certainly had endured the terrible experience of being uprooted from their homes and sent off with few possessions, in some cases being separated from loved ones."

But in Parenti's world, this is pales next to the far greater injustice committed by a NATO which had to oversell it's war to a skeptical public. It's easy to look at a complex, multifaceted issue such as international intervention in Kosovo and do nothing more than pick and choose certain inconsistencies for ridicule. Easy; but also just about the extent of Parenti's critical abilities. Normally, one must go to a campus coffeehouse to find such a mixture of self-righteous bombast and clueless simplemindedness. Reading Parenti's book is like experiencing youthful hard-left idealism shorn of its redeeming qualities--namely, youth and inexperience. Parenti is old enough to know better. But not wise enough, or sophisticated enough, or mature enough, or compassionate enough.

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [25]



Parenti makes a drawn-out and rather odd analogy comparing civilian casualties in wartime to pedestrians killed by a reckless driver. As Parenti tells it, since a driver who kills bystanders through reckless driving can be held liable for their deaths, then shouldn't the accidental killing of civilians during military action, specifically bombing, automatically be considered a war crime?

Unfortunately, Parenti doesn't delve any deeper into this comparison--which would be necessary, since he makes no exceptions and adds no qualifiers. He does not draw any distinction between precision guided bombs versus carpet-bombing, for example. Because Parenti has written in other places in defense of revolutionary violence, and because he certainly is no anarchist--the man has no problem with state power when the state is socialist (or, preferably, Stalinist), he should have examined this point further. I do not believe he is advocating absolute pacifism, so to leave the analogy hanging is simply lazy.

But no matter--he goes on for several pages attempting to imply that civilian casualties were intended. That is his choice of words; he is not claiming that NATO planners were indifferent to the civilian suffering on the ground in 1999, or that the military and political restraints pushed NATO to use tactics which placed pilot safety ahead of ensuring the highest standards of accuracy (which would have been a fair point to make). No--Parenti says this:

"But there is a real question as to how unintended the killing of civilians has been."

This is a very serious accusation, yet the evidence he gathers is rather weak. It may come out that NATO knowingly dropped cluster bombs onto civilian areas--I am no fan of the manner in which the Kosovo campaign was implemented--but Parenti hardly makes a convincing case.

And so this chapter goes--more quotes and occasional stray facts gathered in an attempt to reverse the guilt. Predictably enough, the fact that most of the expulsions of ethnic Albanians began after the onset of bombing is used to somehow damn NATO--as if the planning for such ethnic cleansing wasn't already in place; as if forcing over a million people out of their homes is a moral and reasonable response to military assault. But this is standard Balkan revisionism, and Parenti adds nothing new to this tired storyline.

There is a list of "Fictions" and "Facts" in which Parenti presumes to uncover various Western "deceptions". The list ends with this "fact":

"The "stiffest military challenge" in NATO's history was actually a sadistic, one-sided, gang-battering of a small country by the most powerful military forces in the world."

I defy any undergraduate to cite that "fact" in a paper.

And so the chapter ends, with yet more protestations that ethnic Albanians were not being driven from their homes in large numbers until the bombing started and the usual outrage about diplomatic hardball at Rambouillet. And then the standard list of past US crimes and foreign interventions and invasions. Noam Chomsky does this too, as does Diana Johnstone, and I can only repeat what I've written previously--for the far-left Balkan revisionists, the problem isn't that we cared too little for the people of East Timor, it is that we care too much about the Muslims of Bosnia and the Albanians of Kosovo. Because the motives of the world's most powerful nation are never pure and wholly altruistic, then those motives must be entirely suspect. And it is the motives--not the actual actions, or the effects of those actions, which matter most to Parenti and his fellow travelers.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [24]


[I've been busy and out of town for most of the past week--sorry it's taken me so long to get back to blogging]

Parenti has a big ax to grind--NATO, not Milosevic or Seselj or Karadzic, was the real war criminal in Yugoslavia in his version of events. To begin, he lists the laws both national and international that NATO, in his opinion, violated.

The problem with this section is not that he is incorrect--strictly speaking, Parenti sticks to the facts in these opening paragraphs (although he seems to consider the NATO Charter to be "international law"--I'm not so sure about that). His objections are all over the map and rather disjointed. He objects to the violation of Serbian sovereignty on the basis of the UN Charter (which, in better hands, could have prompted a worthwhile examination of how the UN deals with domestic crises). He also claims that the Clinton Administration violated the War Powers Act as well as bypassing Congress altogether. Again, there are merits to these objections--so it is all the more distressing that Parenti doesn't seem the least bit interested in discussing them further. He throws the information out, raw and unexamined, and assumes that his job is done. Other than another couple of legalistic paragraphs on about the War Powers Act, he has already moved on.

We next discuss how NATO represents a newer and more sinister form of imperialism because it represents no particular people or geographic entity. NATO is a lot like a corporation, you see, and corporations are bad. I apologize for the glib tone--Parenti has actually quoted an interesting point--but once again the man has borrowed an insight without adding anything to it. Much of this book has the feel of a hastily-written undergraduate paper with random quotes inserted into the text post de facto in order to make the instructor happy.

Just as Parenti lacks the intellectual curiosity and even-handedness to make anything interesting of the issue state sovereignty, international interventions, and international law, he lacks the honesty necessary to discuss the issue of diplomacy. In short, he returns to the scene of Rambouillet. We already know that Parenti wants to believe that the Belgrade regime were unfairly set up; there is no need to rehash that imaginary scenario.

What follows is an odd exercise in logic; one that seems to suggest that any and all military actions by a state are fundamentally immoral, no matter what the cause or circumstance. We will consider this in the next post.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [23]


More blatant revisionism built on a foundation of complete disinformation. Parenti--like most Balkan revisionists--gets himself all worked up because the West did not come to Rambouillet with a willingness to negotiate. The Milosevic government went through the pretenses of being willing to negotiate--and why not, since at least some members of the government had to realize they had pushed their luck too far once again (keep in mind that Parenti claims the Racak massacre was staged).

Parenti's complaints are that the Serbs were given a take-it-or-leave it set of conditions which, if accepted, would have allowed NATO forces to ignore Yugoslav sovereignty with some impunity. And he is correct. Whether or not you think this is a bad things depends entirely on your familiarity with reality and the calibration of your moral compass.

Monday, August 13, 2007

"A Problem From Hell" by Samantha Power [4]

I highly recommend this book to all readers of this blog (I suspect most of you have already read it). It is a serious and nuanced work yet Power does not shy away from drawing hard conclusions; it is sober, reasoned, and balanced yet impassioned and far from neutral. From the first page, when Power recounts a horrific scene from her stint covering the war in Bosnia, her commitment to advocating a greater involvement by the most powerful nation in the world is clear. She makes no pretense to disinterested neutrality.

The disconnect between the reality that Power documents and the surreal, conspiracy-heavy world that Johnstone and Parenti describe is immense; anyone who finds Parenti's fictional Western conspiracy to undermine and colonialize Yugoslavia even slightly plausible needs to read this book--Power's well-documented, coherently argued, and well-written text will make short work of such pathetic delusions.

As to the myriad of objections that Parenti and company constantly bring up in their tedious campaign to muddy the truth and cloud moral judgment, allow me to quote Power from the conclusion of this necessary book. In a section discussing various reasons for US inaction and passivity in the face of genocide, she discusses several factors, beginning with "Knowledge". As in "We didn't know." As she demonstrates in case after case, we always knew enough to know that something terrible was happening. And, she argues, calls for unrealistic levels of precision and completeness are a great way to avoid taking action 'until all the facts are in.' And so she concludes:

"With so much wishful thinking debunked, we should long ago have shifted the burden of proof away from the refugees and to the skeptics, who should be required to offer persuasive reasons for disputing eyewitness claims. A bias towards belief would do less harm than a bias toward disbelief."

Accept the moral logic of this simple declaration, and the entire edifice of lies, distortion, and amorality constructed by the Balkan revisionists comes tumbling down.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [22]



After spending all of two pages detailing what passes for historical context in Parenti's world, he then devotes a full ten pages to an unremitting onslaught against the KLA. I am no fan of the KLA and I won't waste time defending the all-too-often criminally thuggish nature of that organization. Parenti's entire "analysis" is pathetic and transparently one-sided at any rate--he damns the KLA for threatening the life of Rugova without ever mentioning the reason Rugova was an important--and non-violent--figure in recent Kosovo history. The years of apartheid under which ethnic Albanians in Kosovo lived go unmentioned.

And, predictably, he tails off with the revisionist version of the Racak massacre. The conspiracies that Parenti alludes to--that the KLA planted dead bodies (of fighters, not civilians) in order to fake a massacre has been discredited thoroughly. Once again, Parenti's claims are so far-out--based on biased disinformation and obsessed with conspiracy-mongering--that there is truly no point in even disproving them. His book has drifted so far from any balanced view of reality that it is next to impossible to refute any single point--ever assertion he makes exists in a context of faulty assumptions and interwoven disinformation, all viewed through a cramped and narrow viewpoint. I suspect the rest of my review of this book will be equally brief--it is tiresome and pointless to engage Parenti's arguments. He simply isn't worth the effort.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [21]


Parenti is simply begging for a beat-down in this chapter His ignorance has been on display throughout this book, but while most of his chapters have begun with overheated rhetoric or laughable assertions (the Serbs were targeted because a larger percentage of them were Communists, for example), he begins this chapter (after a short initial paragraph recapping that "all that remained" of Yugoslavia was Montenegro and Serbia with its two autonomous provinces) with the following declaration:

"Let us begin with some history.".

Well, historical context is good--let's see where Parenti starts, and what historical facts he chooses to emphasize:

"During World War II, the Albanian fascist militia in western Kosovo expelled seventy thousand Serbs and brought in about an equal number of Albanians from Albania."

On the one hand, I'm oddly thankful that Parenti didn't go back much, much further into the historical record in order to muddy the issue with even more half-baked nationalist myths and questionable demographic facts. One of the main impediments to any US involvement in Bosnia was the ridiculous claim that the war was a tragic by-product of "ancient hatreds". Serious observers of the crisis realize that it was more recent history--the vicious, multi-faceted civil war that raged during WW II and the clampdown on discussion imposed by Tito--rather than unfinished business from the Ottoman invasion which truly fueled whatever genuine nationalist passions were inflamed by cynical and irresponsible politicians in the years after Tito's death.

So I do not object to the decision to begin his brief historical sketch during WW II in principle, but while it should be possible to present a balanced view of the conflict there without examining previous events such as the 1908 conquest, such a balanced presentation is clearly not Parenti's intention. His account is incredibly one-sided, and riddled with misinformation clearly derived from Serb nationalist sources.

The claim that thousands of ethnic Albanians entered Kosovo during World War II has long been a staple of Serb nationalist propaganda, so there is little mystery as to where Parenti is getting his information (there is no citation for this claim in the text). He goes further still in deferring to the views of his Serb nationalist allies when he regurgitates claims that there was an ongoing ethnic cleansing of Serbs and other non-Albanians throughout the post-WW II period.

The portrayal of Kosovar Serbs as being victims of ethnic cleansing in the years before Milosevic is not without a grain of truth--relations between the two communities were not good--although Parenti, typically, does not bother detailing any of the history of the region prior to WW II, when the province was conquered and a policy of harassment against the Albanian population as well as a colonization project to settle ethnic Serbs in the region in order to turn the demographic balance in Belgrade's favor.

The chapter continues to list all the failings and shortcomings of Kosovo and its Albanian majority in language very similar to the logic used by 19th Century imperialists to justify the subjugation and exploitation of colonial peoples.

And then we get to the Milosevic era and beyond. The rest of this chapter will be discussed in the next post.

Friday, August 10, 2007

"A Problem From Hell" by Samantha Power [3]

The Problem of Sovereignty

Whenever we consider the crime of genocide, and especially when we consider any possible responses to an act of genocide, the issue of state sovereignty nearly always must be factored in. I qualify my statement with "nearly always" because I imagine that it is not completely out of the realm of possibility that an act of genocide could occur somewhere in the world without the complicity or--more usually--the involvement of the government. There are countries in the world with weak central governments, as well as countries with certain areas out of the practical reach of national authority.

However, almost every act of genocide I know of has been committed by a state actor, sometimes through proxies, or at the very least is tolerated or even tacitly encouraged by the central government. The Holocaust of World War II was unusual in that the majority of the victims were not citizens of the state responsible for the genocide. The Indonesian campaign of terror against East Timor is another example. However, when an act of genocide occurs, it is most often committed:

1) By the government of a state; and
2) Is committed against citizens of that very same state.

One consistent theme in Power's book is the tendency of the international community to fall back on diplomatic protocol and on traditional state-to-state diplomacy in response to genocide. And the problem with this, of course, is that all too often the state is the guilty party either directly or through proxies. We see this dynamic being played out today, as the UN and other international actors continue to negotiate with the Sudanese government over Darfur; while the regime in Khartoum continues to dither and drag its' feet, the people of Darfur continue to live in fear and hunger--when they are allowed to live at all.

We might be at an important juncture in the development of world civilization. It may be time to recognize that once-progressive concepts such as the Nation-State and the "self-determination of peoples" are no longer the best mechanisms by which to secure the greatest possible freedom and liberty for the most possible people.

It may be time to stop thinking of the world as being made up of countries and peoples, and to start thinking of it as being inhabited by billions of individuals. It may be time for us to begin thinking seriously about how to make the concept of "global citizenship" a reality.

The sanctity of "sovereignty" is no longer a rational means by which to defend regional or global stability; nor is it acceptable to place the inviolability of a governments' control over its own affairs above the well-being and human rights of that governments citizens.

In that light, it is interesting to note that the the website, which was started specifically to protest American involvement in the former Yugoslavia, states in the "Who We Are" section that "This site is devoted to the cause of non-interventionism" specifically, rather than "War" in general. More specifically, they seem to be against American intervention--anywhere, at any time, for any reason.

The anti-interventionists rallied to the cause during the debate over the war in Bosnia, they continued their crusade during the Kosovo war, and they presumably are keeping a close watch on any potential "intervention" there. As long as the slaughter in Darfur remains a purely internal and domestic issue within the borders of the sovereign nation of Sudan, out of reach of American interference, all will be right in the world of the non-interventionist movement.

When reading Diana Johnstone I frequently tried to ascertain what she was hoping for; her book made it very clear what she was against, and she spends much of the book finding fault with the way events in Bosnia played out and with the international order as it stands. But what is she--and Parenti, and Chussodovsky, and Elich, and the good people at FOR? They all make it very clear what they are against, and why the international order should not work as it does, but how SHOULD the world look, according to them?

Power gives a fairly graphic glimpse to the answer to this question in Chapter 10: Rwanda: "Mostly in a Listening Mode". In Rwanda, despite the best efforts of Romeo Dallaire and his skeletal force of poorly equipped and mostly-abandoned UN troops, it can be said with essentially no hyperbole that the international community--and, as she so painfully documents, particularly the United States--did precisely nothing. We stayed out of it. In Rwanda, we were all non-interventionists. If one wants a vision of the world where sovereignty and strict legalisms and the orthodoxy of non-interventionism reign unimpeded, then revisiting the horrors of Rwanda during that apocalyptic summer of 1994 would be a good place to begin.

Americans have a long tradition of prizing individual rights, protecting the individual from the abuses of the state or any other unchecked power, and believing in the primacy of the individual over any collective. We also have a long tradition of cherishing civic nationalism over racial, ethnic, tribal, or religious nationalism. We understand the transcendent value of the secular, non-sectarian ideal of undifferentiated citizenship. It is time to formulate new international laws and institutions to ensure that our rhetoric about the universality of these values truly extends beyond our own borders.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [20]


This chapter is simply loathsome genocide denial of the basest sort. It's all here--the "Living Marxism" claim that the ITN footage was faked; bogus refutations of Roy Gutman's reporting; and, of course, claims that Muslim deaths at Srebrenica were highly exaggerated while the Western media ignored the "hundreds" of Serb civilians reportedly killed in the hills surrounding Srebrenica. Typically, Parenti demands impossible standards of accuracy as far as the Muslim deaths at Srebrenica are concerned, while he relays stories about supposed massacres of Serb civilians without bothering to provide any substantiation whatsoever.

After ten pages of this drivel, he ends the chapter with a dismissal of the public relations firm of Ruder & Finn (who represented both Croatia and Bosnia), human rights (or, in his telling, "human rights"--the quotes are the typographical equivalent of a contemptuous sneer)--groups such as Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders, and of the wide spectrum of leftists who chose to speak out against the Serbian genocide. That he derides people such as Salman Rushdie and Susan Sontag as "half-informed" is unconscious irony of the highest order.

This chapter is 14 pages long--the longest in this rather flimsy book so far--and there is absolutely nothing of merit in it to discuss. The 'charges' he makes in this book have long since been refuted; or rather, they were refuted by reality before he ever wrote them. Confronted with the truth, Parenti merely clamps his hands over his ears and screams louder.

This tedious compendium of lies and misinformation is nothing but hateful garbage. Refuting the completely discredited accusations in this chapter would be to dignify them with a response. I won't do it. We will move on.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [19]



Having listed a number of incidents involving Croat, Muslim, and Bosnian government forces, Parenti now turns to attention to the seige of Sarajevo.

This is interesting--I would have expected him to go for broke and break out the Srebrenica denial material at this point, but Sarajevo it is. And unlike Srebrenica, there is far too much visual evidence of the siege to deny that it happened, so instead Parenti opts for the argument that it wasn't really a siege at all--or at least not a very bad one--and it was the Bosnian government's fault.

Parenti's 'evidence' for this assertion essentially boil down to two points--the Bosnian government's intermittent intransigence both with the international community and its own citizens; and the fact that, at certain (no doubt carefully chosen) points in time, life in Sarajevo was less than completely hellish. Parenti inadvertently betrays his own dishonesty in the first paragraph. First, he writes:

"The key story that set much of world opinion against the Serbs was the siege of Sarajevo which lasted, on and off, from April 1992 to February 1994."

(The "on and off" is a condescending little touch, isn't it?)

Then he approvingly quotes Charles Boyd, who noted that local markets were selling produce at reasonable prices on the day the Bosnian government was commemorating the 1,000th day of the siege.

Boyd has become quite the darling of Balkan revisionists (apparently US generals are not guilty of being imperialists if they happen to have convenient excuses) but Parenti could have at least addressed how a siege that lasted less than two years "on and off" could have made it to Day One Thousand.

And then, of course, the usual charges that Bosnian forces (always--ALWAYS--ABiH forces are referred to as "Muslim" forces; but then, he later talks about an interview on "Muslim television") systematically shelled their own citizens; that the famous marketplace bombings were actually bombs planted by "Muslim" troops; and of course that the entire siege (as it were) was entirely the fault of the Izetbegovic government, which refused to accept cease-fire and peace agreements. God forbid we blame the heavily armed troops in the surrounding mountains and hills. Parenti even praises the Serb forces for this:

"Bosnian Serb forces had offered safe passage to all civilians. With noncombatants out of the way, especially women and children, the Serbs would be able to treat Sarajevo as a purely military target."

He honestly seems to believe that this was a noble, humane, and reasonable gesture. It is worth noting that in this chapter, Parenti's previously noted pretense of relying mostly on Western sources has gone out the window--nearly all of his 'information' comes from fellow revisionists.

At the end of the chapter, Parenti cynically plays at being even-handed by admitting that "Violations of the Geneva convention can be ascribed to Serb forces, especially Chetnik paramilitary units and irregulars." He proceeds to list a series of rather random and unconnected atrocities (almost as an aside, he concedes that Serb forces bore "much of the responsibility for Sarajevo").

But this all comes after several pages of predictable and decontextualized incidents, a crude and barely-sourced attempt to snow the gullible reader. The Bosnian government forces are blasted for refusing to allow the UN access to the Sarajevo marketplace after the infamous 1994 bombing. Which begs the question--why should the UN expect to have unrestricted access, anyway? Where is Michael Parenti's concern about sovereignty now? Why should the UN be allowed to go anywhere and see anything in the Bosnian capital? He does not explain--in the former Yugoslavia, the sanctity of state sovereignty was apparently only for Serbia and the RS.

This tedious and thoroughly dishonest chapter closes with a comparison between the "moderated truths" mouthed by mealy-mouthed neutralists like Boyd, Rose, and so on versus the "barrage" of "Serb-bashing stories broadcast unceasingly around the world." This level of hyperbole and paranoia is worthy of Karadzic and Cosic at their best. In the next chapter, Parenti signs on to the Serb nationalist cause whole-heartedly.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [18]


Anyone familiar with the conspiracy-minded arguments of the Balkan revisionist movement will most likely be able to guess both the general theme of this chapter and some of the specific incidents cited with a great deal of accuracy merely from reading the title.

First, he sets the stage by introducing that favorite revisionist strawman--the reflexively anti-Serb--and monolithic--West.

"To accomplish this, [support for "costly, illegal, and often bloody intervention"] they filled the air with charges about brutally depraved Serbian aggressors who perpetrated genocidal atrocities against innocent Croats, Muslims, and ethnic Albanians."

At the end of my previous post, I quoted Parenti's snotty aside about the US media being "propaganda and tools of war" without adding much comment. I still do not feel like addressing this point--there are important issues regarding the corporate nature of the mass media in the US, and various institutional biases which are deeply embedded in the vast majority of major new outlets. And it is certainly true that, all too often, mainstream media outlets tend to be too chummy with government leaders and too deferential to accepted orthodoxies.

None of these criticisms, however, validate Parenti's crude and silly assertion that the US media served as a propaganda arm in Bosnia. Many of the journalists who covered the war so passionately advocated their views so passionately in an effort to influence official policy back home. Parenti blithely ignores the clearly documented record which shows extreme reluctance towards involvement in the former Yugoslavia, so his characterization of the purposes and motivations fueling media coverage should not be surprising. Suffice it to say that both the Bush and Clinton administrations sought to keep Bosnia off the front pages. Warmongering was the last thing they were trying to do.

So what follows is a list of atrocities committed by Croat and Bosnian Army forces--after a disclaimer that:

"Atrocities such as murder and rape are committed in almost every war (which is not to consider them lightly). Indeed, murder and rape occur with appalling frequency in many peacetime communities, and political leaders who wish to fight such crimes could start by directing their energies closer to home."

The cynicism and moral reductionism of such a statement (Diana Johnstone made the exact some point in "Fools Crusade") is hard to overstate. Parenti attempts to elevate his lowest-common-denominator moralizing by going on to state that:

"What should be remembered is that the Serbs were never accused of having committed murder and rape as such, but of (a) perpetrating mass murder and mass rape on a "genocidal" scale, and (b) doing such as part of an officially sanctioned systematic policy."

I had three reactions to this paragraph:

1) Well, DUH. Of course that's what "the Serbs" were accused of. That's why 'they' got the 'bad press,' Michael.
2) About that "the Serbs." Plenty of the press coverage of the war was very simplistic and over-generalized, but I've yet to see a single formal charge from The Hague against "The Serbs" as a whole. Like Johnstone, Parenti regards ethnic groups as uniform, singular entities, and therefore regards any attack on members of the group or of its self-proclaimed leadership to be an attack on the whole.
3) Nice touch putting "genocidal" in quotes--like most Balkan revisionists, I presume Parenti intends to set the threshold of 'genocide' so high that nobody short of the Nazis could ever meet it.

I have already discussed the shortcomings of this intellectual approach in my review of "Fools Crusade" and have no inclination to rehash that discussion right now. Parenti, like Johnstone, deliberately blurs the distinction between often heated, rushed, and often broadly-described press coverage with actual actions taken by and legal procedures implemented by the international community.

And so Parenti begins a tired, predictable, and conceptually disjointed survey of various human rights abuses carried out by different Croat, Bosnian Croat, Bosnian Muslim, and Bosnian Government forces. Operation Storm is here, as well as the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian Croat statelet of Herceg-Bosna; none of these atrocities are defensible, all deserve to be decried. None of them negate the powerful and compelling case made by Norman Cigar and many, many others that the government of Slobodan Milosevic and his proxies in Bosnia and Croatia bear responsibility for planning and committing genocide amidst the wreckage of Yugoslavia.


I will summarize the rest of this chapter in my next post.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [17]


This is the somewhat infamous chapter in which Parenti argues that the Republika Srpska was the unwitting victim of a Western capitalist plot to destroy a legitimate, democratic and socialist state. By this point in the book, it is clear that Parenti is either a pathological liar or, more probably, a classic case of the "true believer" who filters all received information through a dogmatically ideological preconception.

It is instructive to read this book in tandem with Samantha Powers' A PROBLEM FROM HELL--Powers' impassioned but also well-researched book exposes the myopic and cramped vision that Balkan revisionists present. The information needed to expose the lies of Parenti, Johnstone, and company is voluminous and readily available. Her chapter on Bosnia relies on plentiful information, data, and testimonial which collectively make a mockery of Parenti's paranoid and simplistic fairy-tale about a sinister and well-executed Western plot to destroy Yugoslavia. The true story, course, is that the US government, under two Presidents--one from each party--was desperate to stay out of Bosnia and mostly managed to do so for several years. The facts, and vast bulk of documentation available to any person even mildly curious about the war, are clear. In order to avoid the obvious conclusion, one must refuse to see what is clearly there.

Therefore, there is little point in wasting time refuting the minutiae in Parenti's screed. I will briefly summarize the contents of this truly insane chapter with only a couple of comments.


The reader cannot claim, at the outset of this chapter, that he or she was not warned--Parenti writes that:

"Gregory Elich provides an excellent and well-documented account of the Western colonialist rule imposed on Republika Srpska. What follows is drawn almost entirely from his writing."

As always, the Balkan revisionists are a self-contained, self-referential closed loop. Don't worry, it isn't all Elich in this chapter--our good friend Diana Johnstone gets quoted more than once, as well.

In Parenti's world, Radovan Karadzic is a misunderstood and tragic figure; a well-meaning champion of minority rights and a victim of a smear campaign by Western capitalists. His crime, as it turns out, was that:

"...although Karadzic was not a Communist, he appointed many Communist and leftist officers because they were his most capable military men, and they shared his anti-separatist goal."

Well, that's one way to put it, I suppose. In Parenti's telling Karadzic was brushed aside by NATO in favor of Biljana Plavsic, whom he dismisses as "a right-wing monarchist", who would prove more compliant with the demands of the free-marketers. Karadzic was "now branded as a war criminal" (as if he weren't already). Parenti is not content to merely whitewash Karadzic's actual war crimes out of existence, he goes one further and writes:

"Although sent down the Orwellian memory hole, Karadzic was still at large and being hunted by Western intelligence agents as of 2000."

Now that we've all shed a tear for Radovan Karadzic (mysteriously, Parenti has a not a word in defense of that good leftist anti-separatist military officer Ratko Mladic), we move on to more ranting about Plavsic's purge of 'leftists' from the Western colony of RS and the maneuvering to place OSCE approved politicians in positions of power, all in the name of dismantling the worker's paradise of Republika Srpska. Parenti and Elich's complaints about the unconstitutional nature of such moves appears to be genuine--they seem to regard the RS as a legitimate state conceived under normal circumstances, it's internal affairs no concern to the international community.

The entire chapter essentially makes the same 'point' over and over again--the moves to hold war criminals accountable for their actions and to oust nationalists from positions of power and influence were all just a front, a Trojan Horse allowing capitalists to destroy an free, democratic, and socialist economy with impunity.

The NATO moves to shut down the RS police stations is regarded with all the horror and outrage you would expect--Parenti uses a quote from UN police spokesperson Liam McDowell--"We basically let them know what is expected of a normal police force; not a socialist police force..."--to alert the reader that free-market capitalism at the point of a gun, not war crimes, was the real motivator at work. But even if one acknowledges that the quote is not only genuine but really does convey the thrust of the move to take over the police stations, rather than being a throwaway line--so what? Does Parenti believe that a police force should be "socialist"? How would a police unit fight crime in a "socialist" manner? Are police in the USA generally "capitalist"?

The takeover of TV stations is cast in the same light--Parenti dismisses Western portrayals of the stations as being run by hardliners as complete piffle. At this point, Parenti and Elich have things so completely backwards one could write a chapter-length essay refuting the assumptions underlying almost any paragraph chosen at random. Comments such as:

"Under the guise of "democratic reform," foreign powers were dictating what the media could or could not say in their own nation."

both misrepresent the mandate of the forces attempting to create space for a secular, tolerant civil society to flourish away from the withering blizzard of nationalist bombast; and are completely disingenuous as far as accurately conveying the motives and actions of the supposed victims of these Western diktats.

There is more, but I assume the reader has had more than enough by this point. However, it is worth noting that Parenti makes dark and sinister claims about NATO which I suspect Johnstone, for one, would hesitate to state so baldly. Namely:

"Under the guise of hunting down war criminals, NATO continued to commit war crimes of its own, including kidnapping and assassination."

Yes, he really says "kidnapping" and "assassination." He recounts the arrests of several different war crimes suspects (these are the "kidnappings"), as well as a couple of attempted arrests which ended in gunfire, with the suspects dead "the "assassinations"). One telling detail--in his account of the arrest of Djordje Djukic and Aleksa Ksrmanovic (arrests which were certainly ambushes, a tactic which is not an uncommon law enforcement technique no matter how much outrage Parenti brings to the story), Parenti mentions that they were taken by "Bosnian Muslim soldiers" rather than Bosnian government soldiers, or even soldiers from the Muslim-Croat Federation. His choice to identify them by ethnicity rather than by their official provenance is telling.

And thus Parenti's story of the tragic debasement of RS ends--with its people reduced to colonial status, at the complete mercy of the Western imperialists, who had even cut the country in half by turning control of the Brcko corridor over to joint control. The irony of his outrage on this particular point would be laughable if it weren't so stupidly offensive on more levels than I have patience to articulate.


There is a boxed aside in this chapter, as well, entitled "Imperial Double Standards," and the reader can most likely guess the thrust of the piece with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Parenti complains that the US government is guilty of

"...characterizing Serb media as propaganda and tools of war (as if the US media weren't)..."

The rest of this short piece is equally sophomoric and crude. Parenti is preaching to very devoted and uncritical choir.

"A Problem From Hell" by Samantha Powers [2]

Chapter One, "Race Murder," begins the story of the United States and 20th Century Genocide by way of the infamous genocide against ethnic Armenians by the Ottoman imperial government. The term "race murder" was coined by the US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at the time, Henry Morgentuau. Morgenthau risked his diplomatic relations with the Turkish government and went outside the limits of his job in his efforts--ultimately unsuccessful--to provoke a reaction from the Wilson Administration and Congress. Morgenthau, then, is the first in a long line of principled and conscience-stricken Americans (keep in mind this book focuses specifically on official US responses to genocide) who swam against the tide of official indifference and tried to make a difference. There are many people in this book who deserve to be remembered, and he is the first.

I will not go into details of the Armenian Genocide here--I trust that most readers of this blog are aware of at least the broad outlines of the story, and are aware that to this day the modern Turkish government continues to insult the memory of those killed by perversely maintaining the fiction that the killings and deaths were merely the unfortunate collateral damage associated with total war and the instability of a multinational empire coming apart at the seams. Any readers of this blog who might criticize me for dredging up the recent past rather than moving on and allowing for "healing" might pause to consider this.

The pattern of increasing violence against an unwanted group--couched in euphemisms about "security" and so forth--as well as an unwillingness by the outside world to act or even to acknowledge the reality of the situation, would become distressingly familiar as the the bloodiest century in human history played itself out.

The Armenian Genocide occurred before Raphael Lemkin (who is a central figure in this book) had even coined the word "genocide"--Morgenthau's anachronistic "race murder" was only one of many attempts to convey the scale and nature of the atrocity. This not only left concerned observers (of which there were tragically very few) grappling for words, it also presented a challenge to those morally brave souls who cried out for some sort of international response--there was no mechanism for such a response, nor was there any legal, procedural, or ideological basis for doing so.

The crucial point is illustrated in a couple of places in this chapter. On page 8, Powers writes:

"Morgenthau had to remind himself that one of the prerogatives of sovereignty was that states and statesmen could do as they pleased within their own borders. "Technically," he noted to himself, "I had no right to interfere. According to the cold-blooded legalities of the situation, the treatment of Turkish subjects by the Turkish Government was purely a domestic affair; unless it directly affected American lives and American interests, it was outside the concern of the American Government." the ambassador found this maddening."

And then, on page 14, U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing argued against setting up what would have been the first international tribunal for war crimes to try German and Turkish leaders for "violations of the laws of war and "laws of humanity."" Lansing's reasons for doing so are worth quoting:

"In general the Wilson administration opposed the Allies' proposals to emasculate Germany. But it also rejected the notion that some allegedly "universal" principle of justice should allow punishment. The laws of humanity, Lansing argued, "vary with the individual." Reflecting the widespread view of the time, Lansing said that sovereign leaders should be immune from prosecution. "The essence of sovereignty," he said, was "the absence of responsibility." The United State could judge only those violations that were committed upon American persons or American property."

There's that word 'sovereign' again. We will consider this further in the next post on Power's book.