Monday, May 28, 2007

Celebrated Austrian Writer and Milosevic Supporter Peter Handke Held to Account

This is an interesting article from The American Scholar magazine about Peter Handke, the critically acclaimed Austrian writer Peter Handke, who supported Milosevic and his regime for years.

The Apologist by Michael McDonald

The article discusses his possible motivations within the context of his literary and cultural beliefs. The subtitle of the article summarizes the main plight--should the cultural world hold artists and writers responsible for supporting heinous causes and espousing loathsome ideas?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Closing Thoughts

Reading "Fools' Crusade" has not been an enjoyable experience, but it has been an enlightening experience--although not, you may be assured, for the reasons author Diana Johnstone intended. I think I understand the motivations behind Bosnian revisionism better than I did before--and they have nothing to do with the truth, or even with defending the cause of Serbian nationalism. As I said before, I don't think Diana Johnstone gives a damn about Serbia or Serbs.

The motivation behind "Fools' Crusade" is simply naked, unrefined anti-Western propaganda. After reading her entire book, painstakingly, and going over each section repeatedly, I detect no other unifying theme. She thinks that her theme is "anti-globalization," yet I have no doubt that Johnstone would be hard-pressed to express what anti-globalization is, other than opposition to alleged American hegemony in the service of global capital.

This is a depressing book, and that is why--Johnstone has no vision of How Things Should Be. Actually, that's not completely accurate, since by reading this book the reader can fairly confidently work out a vision of global order that Ms. Johnstone would approve of.

It would be a world in which the power of the United States and its allies is curtailed at every turn; but various anti-Western rogue nations and petty autocratic regimes are free to act against captive populations at will, and to poison the stability in their regions without fear of reprisal. It is a world in which a vigorous and forceful response by Western-led coalitions to world crises is simply not possible, but instead an ineffective United Nations has a monopoly on the right to intervene in world affairs.

It is a world in which the sovereignty of states is the highest moral good, and trumps the rights and indeed the lives of individuals and populations within a dysfunctional or genocidal nation-state.

It is a world in which the best thing that can be said about a nation's political leadership is that it remains outside of American influence. Where standing up the United States and the West is an automatic good, no matter what atrocities are committed.

It is a world in which competing centers of power are to be applauded, no matter what methods or ruling methods such a challenge to the USA embodies.

We don't have to try very hard to imagine such a world. We don't have to try at all. If you want to see the world as Diana Johnstone thinks it should be, you need only to find images from yesterday's news in Darfur. In the westernmost province of Sudan, a genocide has been carried out under the world's eye; carried out by a regime that knows that the United Nations will always give it one more chance as long as they make token moves and symbolic compromises. A regime that knows that, with Chinese capital behind it, it does not need to kowtow to American pressure or pay lip service to Western sensibilities.

At one point, I believed I would be summarizing this book by saying that it ultimately amounted to no more than a long series of random negatives--that Diana Johnstone knows what she is against, and knows how to take frequent potshots at the West she so clearly despises. But now I see that I was wrong. It was bad enough when I thought this book was simply a reductionist manifesto; a paean to reflexive anti-Americanism. And yet, it's even worse.

"Fools' Crusade" is a book-length attack on secularism, individual rights, and the ambiguities and complexities of truly tolerant and cosmopolitan living. As disheartening and ugly as those sentiments are, the implicit message of the book is even worse. The most damning thing you can say about "Fools' Crusade" is simply to articulate and clarify the implications of her critique. In her turgid chronicle of revisionist lies, we saw all that Johnstone holds in in contempt. In the burning villages of Darfur, we see a terrifying vision of the world ordered as she believes it should be.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Postscript: Perpetual War [7]



This is the last section of the book, the final 2-and-a-half pages of this 268 page assault on truth and honest inquiry. We are at the end.

So what is the concluding moment of this meandering, sloppy conglomeration of conspiracy theories, revisionism, anti-Western hysteria, and disingenuous propagation of collectivist/anti-democratic dogma? On what note does she plan to end her book? What does Diana Johnstone think it all adds up to?

Well, as it turns out, it adds up to a post-September 11th world in which the primary threat to world peace and stability turns out to be--the United States of America.

September 11th was merely a pretext for a long-planned extension of American dominance, predicated on the shift in tactics and priorities which she ominously considered (without a word about changing global geopolitical and economic realities) in the previous sections.

Most tellingly, she refers to the planning of neoconservatives and old-line Cold War hardliners within the Bush Administration while implying that this demonstrates a continuation of American foreign policy during the Yugoslav crisis of the Clinton Administration. While there is certainly fertile ground in examining the continuity of American foreign policy across many Administrations, Johnstone is not discussing complex underlying themes here--she specifically uses papers and reports commissioned during the Bush Administration to defend her tenuous thesis. There is little depth, and almost no substance, to her argument.

Anyone familiar with American foreign policy since the 9/11 attacks doesn't need this book to be reminded of the "Bush Doctrine" and it's emphasis on preemptive military actions and renewed commitment to using American military power.

She says:

"Power has its own momentum. Whatever the declared motives, the war against Yugoslavia served as an exercise in the destruction of a country."

And so, on the very last page of her book, Johnstone makes it clear that she hasn't a clue. Yugoslavia was destroyed, all right, but it wasn't NATO aggression that killed it. In the end, this book isn't about Bosnia, or Kosovo, or the plight of the misunderstood Serbs, or Yugoslavia at all. It's about a knee-jerk, irrational hatred of the West and the United States in particular, with Serbs being used merely as props and their alleged tragedy as a convenient tool with which to berate the Western world and it's tradition of individual liberty and secular freedom. I very much doubt that Johnstone cares much about the true plight of contemporary Serbs at all.

After 268 pages, the book peters out on a tired note of knee-jerk anti-Americanism and stale anti-imperialist demagoguery. The mass of footnotes and bibliography that follows only serve to detail and document the vast amount of effort that went into this dishonest and pointless book; a great deal of sound and fury signifying nothing but the stubborn prejudices of an ossified ex-radical and her detachment from reality.


And so, my months-long slog through "Fools' Crusade" has come to an end. I have a few closing thoughts on the book, which I'll post next time. And then, it will finally be time to put this book aside for good.

Friday, May 18, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Postscript: Perpetual War [6]



In this section, Johnstone notes that NATO's 50th anniversary celebration was held during the Kosovo War. The organization adopted a new strategic concept, an attempt to adjust to new post-Cold War realities--in her telling, this was all a cover to increased US hegemony and imperialism. She claims that these three elements of the strategic concept prove US dominance of the alliance:

1. Nuclear Weapons. She claims that the plan ended any hopes of nuclear disarmament by committing the alliance to maintaining their stockpiles. The proliferation of nuclear weapons by non-NATO countries is not discussed here--apparently, only the US is responsible for nuclear arms control

2. Interdependence. This "point" is all about circular reasoning--the link between the US and Europe proves US dominance because the US is the dominant power in the alliance, and that dominance is proved by the link between the US and Europe. Or something like that. The mere involvement of the US is, it seems, enough to prove the worst of intentions.

3. Military action outside of the NATO theater. It is true that NATO is evolving into a regional and even global police force. I, for one, would love to see NATO troops in Darfur. Johnstone is having none of it, of course--the sovereignty of smaller nations like Sudan is more important than asking the hard questions about who will enforce international standards of human rights in a dangerous world.

She ends by noting that NATO now considered their security risks to be terrorism, organized crime, and so on, rather than the Soviet threat. She really seems to believe that NATO has no business redefining its mission even though the Soviet threat, it is safe to say, had already vanished.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Postscript: Perpetual War [5]



Another one-page section, and easily summarized--the "fist" in the title is the US military. To quote the end of the first paragraph:

"The night fireworks over Baghdad in 1991 and over Belgrade in 1999 were displayed on television screens all around the world was [sic] a reminder of what happens to designated "rogues". "

The connection between Milosevic and Saddam isn't novel to Johnstone--Saddam himself spoke on in support of his fellow genocidal tyrant. The linkage is revealing, however--both dictators certainly fought against American imperialism in order to defend the sovereignty of their states. It is kind of Johnstone to provide such frequent and blatant reminders of her priorities.

The second and final (and long) paragraph implies that aggressive actions by the United States serve to keep other nations in line. She claims that the bombing of Yugoslavia served to intimidate Bulgaria and Romania into complying with the requirements of NATO membership against the wishes of their populations, as if the leadership of those two nations weren't already clamoring to join the Western club. She claims that NATO membership serves mainly as a guarantee that a nation will not be the victim of NATO aggression in the future; I cannot imagine what NATO might have bombed Bulgaria for in 1999, but I suppose there's an oil well somewhere she could blame it all on.

She ends by pointing out that NATO member Turkey gets away with numerous human rights violations against the Kurds. A fair point, except that she both ignores the real pressure placed on Turkey over the years--but even so, this would not be the only double-standard the United States has held regarding its strategic allies. Which does not excuse the hypocrisy, but complaining about the hypocrisy raises this point--which is worse, the hypocrisy of not taking action in Turkey, or the hypocrisy of taking action in Yugoslavia? Johnstone and other critics of American interventions love to point out inconsistencies, but she and most other like-minded scolds consistently fail to articulate what exactly the fault is. If the United States sometimes fails to insist on civilized and humane treatment by other countries, is that a reason to condemn the US when they do?

My question from the previous post still stands--what would Diana Johnstone's response be to unilateral American military intervention in Darfur? I very much doubt she could articulate a reasonable and coherent response to that hopeful scenario.

Monday, May 14, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Postscript: Perpetual War [4]



In which Johnstone deliberately mixes different uses of the same word:

"Another irony is that the crusade against "nationalism" in Yugoslavia was led by the United States, which has no qualms about pursuing its own national interest with the clamorous support of a population whose flag-waving nationalism has no rival in contemporary Europe, or perhaps even in the world."

There is, I am sure, a distinction to be made between Fourth of July fireworks and cornball Stars-and-Stripes patriotism on the one hand, and a nationalism based on mythic blood-purity with religious connotations on the other. Pity Johnstone can't see it.

From there, she segues into a discussion of globalization as American hegemony in disguise, in that the supplanting of the traditional nation-state by international institutions such as the IMF and GATT are bound to be American-dominated and/or in sync with American interests. What she envisions, apparently, is a world in which the USA retains its sovereignty and everybody else loses theirs. Or, if not everybody else, then the "smaller nations" of the world. By which I doubt she means Luxembourg or Andorra; but most certainly means authoritarian, anti-Western holdouts such as Milosevic's Serbia. Once again, Johnstone puts the sovereignty of the state above the welfare of individuals.

We're deep in conspiracy land now--international finance is the primary tool by which imperialist America dismantles the sovereignty of other nations and eliminates rivals to the "New World Order" that she would like to believe has been at the forefront of American planning since George Bush Sr. made that phrase infamous. She would like very much for the reader to believe that is all part of some sinister, well-designed, masterfully implemented policy directed from the shadowy backrooms of the American Empire, out of sight of the clueless flag-waving hicks.

Unless, of course, it's time to rattle some sabers and kick some ass. Then it's time for the military to put some muscle behind this imperialist project--the subject of the next section of the book.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Postscript: Perpetual War [3]



The "partners" in the title of this section refer to the NATO allies allegedly duped into cooperating with the United States; the "crime" refers to the plot to "destroy Yugoslavia." If that seems more than a little off, wait until you read the opening sentence:

"The NATO war against Yugoslavia might be studied by ethnologists as a contemporary example of the familiar role of blood rituals in sealing the unity of groups."

Feel free to re-read that sentence again; I'm sure most of you experienced some sort of double-take. I certainly did. Please note--I am not discounting the possibility that modern nation-states are incapable of participating in pre-modern rites and rituals. There are continuities of human existence and human societies which can and should humble the hubris of contemporary humanity. That is not the point--the point is more specific--is this true? I think that anyone with even a shred of respect for the facts and the truth knows that the answer is 'No'.

This imagined blood ritual, Johnstone believes, bound the NATO countries into a collusion with an aggressive United States "even if they secretly knew better." She compares this enforced, guilt-ridden solidarity to the racist imperial ideologies of the 19th Century.

Having established the self-evident truth of this thesis in her own mind, Johnstone then proceeds to detail a "dangerous precedent" set by NATO involvement in Yugoslavia. She goes so far as to call this delusional pattern a "formula for transforming contemporary internal conflicts into pretexts for military intervention." The "formula" is as followed [each point is the first sentence from the original text; this is all quotes]:

1. Economic "reforms" weaken the state.
2. The weakening of the central state aggravates ethnic or regional particularities and conflicts.
3. The ethnic troubles are interpreted as a "human rights crisis."
4. The United States and/or NATO go to war to resolve the alleged "human rights crisis."
5. The resulting chaos is turned over to an "International Community."

If you have been following me through the preceding 261 dreary pages, you can fill in the rest of the text on each point (each are a short paragraph). We have already seen this entire "argument" developed at length throughout this book. There is no point in slogging our way through her twisted logic and revisionist retelling one more time; instead, ask yourself one question--what would Johnstone's reaction be if the United States and NATO did what should have been done years ago, and gone into Darfur to put a stop to the genocide there? Would she apply the same "formula" to a Western-led intervention to save the impoverished black Muslims of western Sudan?

Here's hoping we find the answer soon, by the way.

The section closes with a long paragraph that asserts that:

"The unilateral procedures adopted by NATO for Yugoslavia amounted to asserting a Western monopoly on determining what is a "humanitarian catastrophe" and what should be done about it. A genuine, unquestioned humanitarian emergency could be dealt with legally through the United Nations."

The first sentence involves an odd sort of circular reasoning--there is apparently something wrong with Western societies determining how they interpret and respond to global events. The second sentence is, of course, highly ironic given the counterproductive and anemic actions of the United Nations in Bosnia, Rwanda, and now Sudan. While Johnstone parses factually unsubstantiated hypothetical situations and abstract legalisms, people continue to die under the watchful eye of the "lawful" United Nations.

The section ends with Johnstone asking:

"What is to stop a ruthless group, ready to sacrifice some of its own people to reach its goals of taking power over a territory, from staging fake massacres in order to gain the prinze of being able to "use NATO as its air force"?

No bonus points for whoever guesses what she's implying here. General MacKenzie and her should do lunch sometime.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Postscript: Perpetual War [2]



This section is one page long. Just enough time for us to learn that, apparently, Italy violated its own constitution in order to join in the NATO war against Yugoslavia. How true this is, I cannot say. However, she is convinced that this is damning evidence that the war provided the United States the opportunity to establish hegemony over the EU through NATO.

The Italian PM at the time was a Communist, by the way--this is proof that the Western Left had been completely suckered in. This is a nice touch--Johnstone has actually had very little to say about interventionist left/liberals; this allows her to dismiss them out of hand. They were thoroughly duped, you see.

This is a short post. It was a short section. There isn't much more to say.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Postscript: Perpetual War [1]



In some chapters and sections of this book, it is necessary to read a few sentences before the first fallacy rears its head. No such trouble this time around--the "Postscript" kicks off with this blatant disregard for reality:

"One of the great ironies of the Yugoslav intervention is that this operation, hailed by its ideological champions as uniting Europe around a noble cause, was an episode in the ongoing drive by the United States for supremacy over Europe as well as over the United Nations."

Well, that's just not true. Not at all. The United States, as any reasonable observer of the war knows, was more than happy to stand aside and wait for newly unified Europe to take the lead.

And wait. And wait some more.

As for the United Nations, since Johnstone has had not a word to say about the UN and its shameful record in Bosnia, there is little to say here. Or rather, there is a great deal to say here, but since the UN has been a minor--or even an off-stage--character in her alternate version of events, this is not the place for it. (I do hope to discuss the United Nations and its role in Bosnia in a future review or project).

She is correct to note the the United States helped push Boutros Boutros-Ghali out and Kofi Annan in, but what of it? Does she expect the reader not to realize that the members of the Security Council wield a great deal of clout within the Secretariat? Is this supposed to shock us?

She claims that the United States used the war as a pretext to "assert both U.S. dominance over the European Union through NATO, and NATO's dominance over the United Nations," which would be a fascinating and controversial thesis if she only had a single shred of evidence to support it. So much of this book has been along that same line--Johnstone connects some carefully selected dots and firmly declares that they lead to some apparently self-evident conclusion she never bothers to explain or verify. Again--conspiracy theories.

At least she has a new bogeyman--rather than the Trilateral Commission, we get the "International Community," which she refers to by the initials 'IC'. She compares the 'IC' to an "English gentlemens' club," an exclusive and privileged group of nations able to call the shots without having to spell the rules out. Not a bad metaphor, and maybe not even completely off-base, but what of it? Johnstone is good at finding little inconsistencies in order to criticize the way things work; she's not so good when the time comes to suggest a better (and even remotely feasible or realistic) alternative.

But again, this would be the time to bring up the role of the UN in Bosnia, a subject she has assiduously avoided. NATO has replaced the UN in some roles; it did brush the UN aside in Bosnia. Explaining why would require a closer look at the United Nations in the post-Cold War age of genocide. A perfunctory look would be an improvement.

She closes this brief section by claiming that the US coerced other NATO countries into taking military action in Kosovo in order to simultaneously deceive them into believing they were equal partners in NATO even as diplomacy was "abandoned" against Milosevic, leaving the military option--which, she correctly notes, would be dominated by the United States--as the only one left.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Five [20]


[Some concluding thoughts]

The book Fools' Crusade consists of an introduction, a short conclusion (which I will begin to briefly consider in the next post), and five rather long chapters. Two of these five chapters amount to little more than sustained and relentless (although not focused or persuasive) attacks on a nationality. Chapter Four searched far and wide across the history of ethnic Germans in order to bolster claims that Yugoslavia was destroyed partly as a result of resurgent Prussian/Hapsburg hegemony. And now Chapter Five, which dispenses with the relative calm and moderation of the preceeding anti-German screed in order to indulge if naked bigotry. She is not the slightest bit subtle about this--Albanians, we are assured, are a hateful, uncivilized people who are unable to restrain their bloodlust against Serbs when incited by outsiders. Like wild animals, they simply cannot resort to reason or empathy.

What to say? There is no rational response to much of what Johnstone says in this chapter. It is not enough to point out how flawed, dishonest, and selective her use of facts is. It is not enough to point out how biased she is when choosing who to belive and who to doubt. Throughout the entire book, Johnstone has operated from the premise that ethnic groups are homogenous, static, and clearly defined. Furthermore, she accepts as a given that they have collective identities and qualities which transcend temporal and spatial divides. By the end of the book, this troubling subtext has become explicit and even central to her argument. The first three chapters of Fools' Crusade centered on a simplisitc critique of Western hegemony and American foreign policy along with a distorted history of events in the former Yugoslavia, all mixed with a healthy dose of conspiracy mongering.

But here, we've had little more than crude, quasi-fascist race-baiting. It was not fun reading this chapter. What is truly depressing is to realize that she felt obliged to write it. The tiresome dreariness of her worldview almost makes me feel sorry for the woman.


Coming up next--the exciting Conclusion to Fools' Crusade.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Five [19]



I don't like sanctimony in any form, so I will concede Johnstone's right to make the following comparison:

"Just as the medieval Crusades were proclaimed from churches, the 1999 crusade against the Serbs was proclaimed from the holiest of contemporary sites, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, by James Hooper, executive director of the Balkan Action Council."

I will only ask the reader to ponder that sentence for a moment. Reflect on the true nature of the Crusades. Consider the motivations behind them. Call to mind the disastrous and violent consequences on not only Muslims, but also Eastern Christians and Jews. And then read that sentence again. Ask yourself what sort of person would engage in such grotesque hyperbole.

If you, the reader, honor my above requests, you will have given this metaphor much more serious thought and honest reflection than Johnstone obviously did--she moves right along as if this incredulous, shameless parallel needs no qualification or substantiation. My previous post made note of how unremittingly hateful and vile the tone of Chapter Five had become. The bile seems to permeated all her faculties--here, near the end of her book, any pretense to balance and fair-minded concern for the welfare and safety of all Balkan peoples has been abandoned. This book, championed by Edward Herman as the work of a preeminent left-liberal commentator on the Balkans, finishes as a race-obsessed, conspiracy-minded screed against just about anybody and everybody non-Serb.

But anyway--the ostensible point of this section is the allegedly bogus nature of the democracy being supported in the former Yugoslavia by the West. She quotes the above-mentioned James Hooper in order to show that the West was really out to replace Milosevic by extreme measures, as a way to discredit his regime and, you might be sure, the socialist system.

That this was all a plot and not an even semi-sincere effort to rid Serbs of a noxious dictator is clear to Johnstone, as she points out in this quote:

"Had Milosevic been a genuine dictator, he would simply have arrested dissidents and stayed in office."

Is it any surprise that Johnstone dropped hints in the previous chapter that she considered the "takeover" of East Germany by West Germany to have been unfair and unjust?

It is not enough to glibly claim that Milosevic was a democrat; she needs to smear the actual democratic opposition in Serbia, as well. Once again, Johnstone the pro-Serbian Nationalist is a piss-poor friend to actual Serbs. She derides Zoran Djindjic as "notoriously opportunistic and unpopular" and portrays the idealistic Serbian youth movement Otpor as simplistic tools of of the West. That Otpor could have been both a simplistic movement accepting aid from the West and a legitimate voice of Serbian youth is, apparently, not a possibility.

So when Milosevic tried to hold on to power after his electoral failure versus Kostunica, this was all just cynical Western ploys to stage an unnecessary overthrow in order to justify the subsequent handover of Milosevic to the Hague by the Kostunica government. The same free and fair election which Milosevic did so well in was, apparantly, open to manipulation by the West.

The situation was more complicated than I am allowing here, no doubt. I have no doubt that there is a kernel of truth to many of the allegations she makes; armed gangs bused in to storm the parliament building, etc. But it hardly matters--she has no use for nuance and balance, so why bother trying to engage her warped and biased views in honest debate? There was much violence and uncertainty during the overthrow of Milosevic, and many of the actors on both sides were undoubtedly unscrupulous. One can acknowledge such details by way of adding the complexity, or selectively marshal them as a way to discredit the truth altogether. Guess which approach she takes?

So the moral of this final section is this--Milosevic was a democrat who was betrayed by a weary populace no longer willing or able to stand up to Western imperialists, stripped of power by a Western-backed opponent who controlled the streets with a pseudo-movement of callow youths fed on superficial Western iconography and monetary support, and finally turned over to international justice as a scapegoat so that his nation might appear sufficiently contrite. The idea that the man who controlled Serbia's formidable police and security apparatus was a helpless victim of spray paint-wielding youths would be laughable if Johnstone didn't seem so dourly earnest about it. She truly believes the man was a martyr.

And so Chapter Five--and this book, except for the 10-page postscript--end with this nauseating bit of drama:

"It was not enough to bomb Serbia and detach part of its territory. The Serbian people must be made to believe--or to pretend to believe--that they deserved it. The crime must be made to fit the punishment in the New World Order."

Johnstone's contempt for ordinary people and for the messy ambiguities of real life are mind-numbing. I did not quote the comparison between the fate of Milosevic and Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu, another socialist who was betrayed by a bogus mob. It's no use trying to guess at her motivations for sympathizing with such monsters. If you have been following my review of this book even superficially, you will be all to aware of what dark and nihilistic views are inevitable when one follows such twisted logic.