George Szamuely, far from being a dummy, is one of the best
writers that we have. His columns have been a highlight of
Antiwar.com, and I have personally been one of his biggest
fans. Yet the degeneration of his style and we have
only just gotten past the first sentence! is undeniable.
Who, after all, uses words like "parrots" and "toadies" these
days, unless they are trying to parody Pravda's polemics,
circa 1933? What, no "lackeys" and "lickspittles?"
The use of such language is indicative, as Orwell pointed
out, of "a reduced state of consciousness," which "if not
indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity."
Szamuely a conformist? I don't believe it! But as we
venture further into this thicket of stock phrases, a shockingly
ill-written polemic, the awful truth emerges. . . .
AND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
political aim of the kind of stereotypical writing
as Orwell avers in his above-quoted classic essay, "Politics
and the English Language" is not to communicate
ideas, but to obscure them behind a cloud a prefabricated
images, ready-made phrases, and emotional metaphors. Yet the
tired hack doesn't have it so easy: that's why he looks so
tired. His job is never done, you see, because there is always
some hint, in the quality of the writing itself, in the way
the words are strung together on the page, that gives us a
hint of their essential dishonesty. The problem is that the
images are usually stale, and the metaphors invariably mixed,
and the result is lifeless and unconvincing, and ultimately
puzzling. . . .
first denounced last Sunday's elections as totally meaningless
since they would inevitably be 'stolen' by President Slobodan
Milosevic, they then turned around and decided, before any
results had been announced, that Vojislav Kostunica had won
outright on the first ballot. So much then for Milosevic's
chicanery. NATO's high-fives at the election results are reminiscent
of the inane rejoicing that followed the end of the Kosovo
bombing last year. It had taken 11 weeks to defeat
a tiny power like Yugoslavia. And even then NATO had to make
important concessions. Yet the Brits and the Americans celebrated,
as if it were VE-Day all over again."
who, exactly, is doing the celebrating? News reports
showed photos of "at least 200,000" people jamming the streets
of Belgrade were they all Madeleine Albright and Robin
Cook replicants? That is precisely the line taken by the shrinking
circle of neo-communists who make up Milosevic's Praetorian
Guard, and their minuscule far-left cheering section around
the world: Kostunica and the 52 percent-plus who voted for
him are all "traitors" who have lined their pockets with Western
dollars and sold out to the CIA-NED-George Soros Conspiracy.
This "analysis" involves a kind of self-induced blindness,
what Orwell called "doublethink," a mental technique that
involves blanking out whatever facts contradict dogma: in
this case, what Szamuely is blanking out is the sight of over
200,000 exuberant Serbs, celebrating their rightful victory.
He just doesn't see it. Unfortunately for him, the
rest of us do and this is the thankless task of the
propagandist, who is forced to make himself look more than
a little foolish, on occasion, in the interests of upholding
the party line.
likens his opponents to parrots, but there is a certain squawking
tone to his own perorations, as when he describes the Yugoslav
presidential election results as
far from convincing win in the first round of voting for Kostunica,
as well as a victory for the Government coalition in the Yugoslav
parliament. NATO claims vindication. But if it has indeed
'won' and this is by no means clear-then it is only
after a massive and unprecedented effort at intimidation.
The Serbs were first bribed to vote the "right" way-thus the
proverbial 'carrot'. And if that failed to do the trick, there
was the threat of military action-the 'stick.'"
Orwell puts it, "in our time, political speech and writing
are largely the defense of the indefensible," and this is
certainly true here. There is always something unsettling
about propaganda, as opposed to an attempt at a more subtle
and nuanced analysis especially in apologias for authoritarian
and generally indefensible regimes. In reading it, one gets
a nagging feeling that something important is being taken
for granted. In this case, it is the equation of Kostunica
with NATO, which Szamuely casually drops as if he were discussing
something as incontestable as the law of gravity or the fact
that two plus two equals four. While it is the Serbian people
who are out in the streets, in the hundreds of thousands,
in Szamuely's view this is unimportant, incidental, perhaps
it is not even happening. All those people are merely stand-ins
for NATO troops, who will soon be thronging Belgrade's streets
in about equal numbers. . . . .
AND THE MEANING OF LINKS
attempt to portray Kostunica as pushing the button that sends
cruise missiles into Serbian homes is so patently dishonest
that it takes one's breath away. Antiwar.com has run several
across the page in great big red letters, detailing Kostunica's
demands that the NATO-crats stay out of Yugoslavia's internal
affairs. One old general, now a leading opposition figure,
wondered aloud if these "loony" Western politicians would
shut up long enough for the Serbian people to take back their
country and solve their own political problems. Kostunica's
critique of the Milosevic regime as the assassin and not the
savior of Serbia's fight for sovereignty,
his nationalist credentials, his many
statements bitterly denouncing NATO these stories
and more have all been linked and discussed on this site.
But Szamuely has no time or inclination to examine what we
put on this site: he is too busy constructing a caricature
and defending every action of the Belgrade government. I note,
in passing, that he rarely if ever uses links to enlighten
his readers as to the sources of his researches. On the internet
this is very suspicious behavior, because the implication
is that perhaps those links would lead back to some pretty
dubious sources. . . .
WHO NEEDS ELECTIONS?
not coming right out and saying that Milosevic should have
declared a "national emergency" and canceled the elections
instead of merely trying to steal them, Szamuely comes close:
He finds it "hard to take any elections seriously under such
circumstances" because "how can you cast a vote for the candidate
of your choice if there is a chance of cruise missiles blowing
up your home if you vote the 'wrong' way?" In that case, the
elections should never have been held in the first place:
this is an argument for the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic
since day one of the NATO bombing. I never thought I would
see the day when I would be reading an apologia for authoritarian
rule posted on Antiwar.com and it is a sad day indeed.
This apologia is framed in terms of the "fairness" of the
Yugoslav election and, specifically, the functioning of Milosevic's
Federal Election Commission. Szamuely writes:
the United States is demanding that Milosevic steps down,
even though the Yugoslav Federal Electoral Commission is saying
that Kostunica did not receive 50 percent of the vote. The
US Government is accepting without question the claims of
the Democratic Opposition that Kostunica won 55 percent to
Milosevic's 35 percent. Yet these figures are not based on
any vote count, but on the reports of opposition poll watchers-hardly
a disinterested bunch of observers. There were no American
observers at the polls. The Russians were there. They claim
they witnessed no election irregularities."
Szamuely leaves out is that all attempts by the Opposition
to inspect the ballots have been rebuffed. He questions the
role of partisan poll-watchers as being "hardly disinterested,"
but what about the Federal Election Commission, which is appointed
by Milosevic (except for 2 members of the Opposition)?
What is more, this esteemed Commission did not even meet after
the results were in: a communiqué was released informing
the Opposition members and the public of the "official" numbers.
But there is some reason to suspect these numbers, after all,
Milosevic's history of ballot-box-stuffing: it took three
months of demonstrating in the streets, in 1996, before Milosevic
gave in to mass protests against the falsification of municipal
election results. As a concession to the Opposition, this
time, the government let a single Opposition delegate on the
Federal Election Commission go into the building where the
election ballots are kept under heavy guard: go ahead, they
said, and inspect the ballots in their millions. To
this day they
refuse to let the Opposition inspect the ballots, or to
publish the basis of their figures. Is this what Szamuely
wants to defend?
be it from me to tell the Serbian or any other people what
kind of government they ought to adopt, but there is a very
bright line that must be drawn between defending the Serbian
people against NATO's attacks and defending the Serbian
government against its own people. The people are not
their government, although this is a mistake non-libertarians
often make. It is one thing to call for nonintervention in
Serbia's domestic affairs, and quite another to justify each
and every action of the Serbian government, even the most
indefensible. To give his piece a touch of parody, for some
reason, Szamuely cites the Russians' approval of the Yugoslav
electoral process as some kind of good government seal of
approval this from a country whose
own President probably committed massive vote fraud in
an election as dicey as Yugoslavia's, if not more so!
so what if Milosevic rigged the election to prevent
a first-round victory by Kostunica after all, who are
we to tell the Serbs, the Russians, or anyone, how
to organize their electoral procedures? Here is where the
bright line must be drawn. It is one thing to deny that the
violation of democracy is a valid pretext for intervention,
and quite another to whitewash and endorse tyranny. The American
contingent of the Slobodan Milosevic Fan Club, which, I am
sorry to say, Szamuely seems to have joined, has made a big
point of touting the various "election observers" invited
by Milosevic to give the elections a clean bill of health.
from the West were excluded, but among the invitees were
such sterling examples of the democratic process as North
Korea. The Chinese promised to show up, but reneged at the
last minute. I guess they didn't want their reputation for
democracy at all sullied. Are these the kinds of regimes
that Szamuely holds up as examples to be emulated worldwide?
The astonishing answer to this question is, unfortunately,
yes. . . .
DICTATOR FAN CLUB
had no right to be shocked by Szamuely writing apologias for
Milosevic, as I had ample warning of it in an early essay
he penned for the New York Press last year, an effort
that struck me, at the time, as interesting, and daring
and now strikes me as repulsive. "The
Red Tide Turning" is a panegyric to dictators everywhere,
a remarkable document written from the perspective a Cold
War conservative who supported US involvement in Vietnam:
"Whatever the atrocities the US perpetrated," he wrote, "I
believed that they were a price worth paying to resist Communism."
But today, he sees the North Vietnamese Communists in a different
light: Ho Chi Minh, you see, "unlike the assorted political
hacks who played musical chairs in Saigon, was an authentic
leader of Vietnam." Admiringly he notes that "the Hanoi regime
. . . took everything the United States threw at it and still
prevailed." Good old Uncle Ho, he didn't need the Russians
or the Chinese, he did it all by himself what a hero!
Never mind that this Authentic Leader killed and imprisoned
tens of thousands in the Vietnamese Gulag, and inaugurated
one of the most repressive Communist regimes in the world,
second only to North Korea in its savage repression of any
and all dissent. This is just a minor detail in Szamuely's
grand geo-strategic vision: it is "a price worth paying to
resist." But what are we resisting today, now that the Leninist
project survives only in such places as Belgrade, North Korea,
and the faculty lounges of America's universities?
ZEMIN FIGHTER FOR FREEDOM?
complains that "today there is no countervailing force to
U.S. supremacy" and "Washington's tantrums are international
law." Therefore, we must worship at the altar of anyone and
everyone who stands up to Washington's plan for world conquest,
especially including the most tyrannical and bloodthirsty
despots. Like Ho Chi Minh, Saddam Hussein, far from being
the devil figure of Western propaganda, is really a saint,
at least in this strangely inverted theology, which is actually
a kind of devil worship. In attacking the US-funded and largely
impotent anti-Saddam Iraqi exile groups gathered in Washington
last year to lobby for more US tax dollars, Szamuely casually
remarked: "By resisting relentless US pressure for almost
10 years, Saddam has shown himself to be the authentic leader
of Iraq, something these toadies can never hope to be." Ah,
yet more "toadies" and yet another Authentic Leader, this
one a real prize. Oh yes, the world is full of heroes,
if you just know where to look. "Today's fighters for freedom
are no longer Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel. They have names
like Jiang Zemin, Vladimir Putin and, yes, Slobodan Milosevic."
the time I thought all this was rather clever: I excused the
iconization of dictators as a literary device, a kind of rhetorical
overstatement that made a valid point the point being
that, like the Communists, the US elites had become a power
with world-conquering ambitions. As it turns out, this was
a real danger sign one I was willing to overlook
whether on account of my admiration for his writing style,
or for political reasons, or some combination of both. In
retrospect, however, it seems clear I was evading the truth.
George's New York Press essay was not just a
literary device, a rhetorical flourish meant to amuse more
than instruct, but the political manifesto of a fan club for
foreign dictators. The simplistic almost cartoonish view of
world events expressed in this strangely adolescent essay
is typical of politicized intellectuals, who resist nuance
and look for heroic figures to populate the stories they like
to tell themselves. Now many of my critics have made just
this criticism of my many paeans to Pat Buchanan, and there
may be some truth in that but, whatever you may think
of Pat, he can't be accused of enslaving millions in the Chinese
Gulag. What this defense indeed, deification
of dictators resembles, more than anything, is Satanism, which
is nothing more than the inversion of all that is generally
considered holy. When alienated teenagers indulge in it, we
tend to dismiss it as just another gesture of adolescent rebellion,
a phase they're going through, and that this too shall pass,
along with piercings, purple hair, and puberty. But it seems
to me that George Szamuely is well past puberty. It is kind
of sad to have to tell a grown man, in public, to grow up.
But it has to be done.
WE FIFTH COLUMNISTS?
the anti-interventionist movement should ever become known
as the great admirers of and apologists for Szamuely's Authentic
Leaders the devils of this world it would be
a disaster that could never be undone. This is how the War
Party smeared the America First movement of the 1930s, by
working assiduously to characterize organized opposition to
US entry into World War II as "Hitler's fifth column"
with deadly success. Charles A. Lindbergh was smeared as a
"Nazi," and the America First Committee was indicted by Roosevelt's
Justice Department as an organization under the control of
enemy agents. Szamuely's cult of the foreign devil not only
sets antiwar activists up for a devastating political attack,
but also sets them up for possible legal problems: in his
essay, Szamuely mentions Osama bin Laden, the alleged terrorist
mastermind, as one of the principal enemies of the US. Is
he, too, a "freedom-fighter" and, if so, isn't discretion
the better part of valor?
conservatives of yesteryear have traveled many strange paths
in the wake of the fall of Communism. The neoconservatives,
grouped around the Weekly Standard, have taken up the
theme of "national greatness" and are writing earnest essays
calling for the US to take up the burden of "benevolent world
hegemony." The paleoconservatives, grouped around Chronicles
magazine, and their libertarian allies, including
the Center for
Libertarian Studies, are building a new "isolationist"
movement to dismantle the Empire and restore our Old Republic.
But George Szamuely has chosen a different path. Now that
Communism and the varieties of Leninist-style socialism have
almost vanished from the face of the earth, Szamuely has taken
up the fallen banner. In a bizarre twist of fate, he has become
his old Communist antagonists, repeating their arguments,
even their arcane economics, and the whole thing has about
it a distinctly tragic-comic air. Here is the Ultimate Lost
Cause, like trying to revive phrenology,
and it is painful and even embarrassing to watch. . . .
ON A LIMB
that Milosevic might steal the election outright, Szamuely
sought to justify it in advance by going
out on a limb and predicting Kostunica's defeat in the
first round: "Why on earth would anyone vote for a political
group that promises to cut public expenditure, close down
so-called 'inefficient' industries, and open up the country
to predatory foreign investors hunting for bargains?" Gee,
I don't know, maybe because they're tired of having to join
the ruling party in order to have and keep a job, maybe because
they put a value on freedom of the press, and tend to frown
on election fraud maybe that and more. But it is useless
to argue with someone who still doesn't seem to understand
why Communism fell, imploding so suddenly and dramatically
in a vast display of "people power" similar to what is happening
in Yugoslavia today. . . .
AND YE SHALL FIND
big problem with socialism and authoritarianism is that they
don't work, and are doomed, in any event, by the example
of countries that can provide people with the freedom to live
and work and prosper. It was only the projection and application
of American and allied power that allowed the old Soviet Union
and the international Communist movement to hold on for as
long as they did. Once the Cold War ended, they collapsed.
The projection of similar power in the Balkans today is what,
in turn, has delayed the overthrow of Milosevic this long.
He is, after all, the last of the old Stalinists in power
on the European continent, and it is way past time for his
downfall. That the Serbian people have, in spite of everything,
defied the odds and chosen neither the US nor Milosevic is
an act of courage that every person of good will let
alone every opponent of intervention must cheer. If
Szamuely and his few followers in the Anti-American faction
of the antiwar movement are looking for overseas "freedom-fighters,"
they might look to the people out in the streets of Belgrade.
editorial note: As the editorial director of Antiwar.com,
I have to take some political responsibility for the material
appearing on this website, but not so in recent days. The
view that Slobodan Milosevic is some kind of heroic figure
is a view held by very few people, and none except Szamuely
who have any credibility. Unfortunately, Szamuely has lost
his with his induction into the mysteries of the Slobo cult,
and the rest led by Jared
Israel, whose site has contributed what I consider an
undue number of links from this site argue on automatic
pilot, detailing the alleged payoffs and subsidies available
to everyone in the Opposition, it seems, but Kostunica. No
matter what their ostensible subject, these numerous articles
all have the same theme: the world is divided into two and
only two camps, the US and everybody else. There are no nuances,
no middle ground, no complicating and entirely human developments
and variations. We must choose between Slobodan Milosevic
and Madeleine Albright, between Tony Blair and Saddam Hussein,
between the US and whatever hapless despot (the more brutal
and primitive, the better) they happen to subject to a public
mugging. Well, I for one, refuse to choose. . . .
OR COMMON SENSE?
crude reductionism of Szamuely's viewpoint does not take into
account the complexity of human beings, and of the issues:
it is an arid and ultimately fatal point of view that could
destroy the all-too-limited effectiveness of the anti-interventionist
movement. What's more, I believe this erroneous and ultimately
destructive view has had a complete and thorough airing on
this site and that enough is enough. If pleas
that such arguments are hurting the case against war fail
to reach them for surely they don't hope to convince
any normal human being that Milosevic is some kind of hero,
or even the least bit admirable then it is time to
call into question their motives, and stop giving them a platform.
Now this may seem "intolerant," and not in keeping with the
atmosphere of open discussion we have boasted about on this
site, but I question the morality of calling for the imposition
of state-controls on protesting anti-Milosevic demonstrators
and publishing material that rationalizes their arrest by
Serbian government authorities. The student group "Otpor"
has been singled out for special attention by the smear campaign
conducted by Milsoevic's American fan club, a group whose
platform as described by the slanderers doesn't match anything
on Otpor's website: perhaps
they got their information directly from Milosevic's secret
police. In any case, do we really want to set these
people up for state repression in the name of "free
signed many fundraising letters asking for people to contribute
to this site, I cannot in good conscience allow Antiwar.com
to be used in this manner without protesting in public
and urging you to add your protest to my own. If you've ever
given a penny, or even if you're just a regular visitor to
the site, please write in to the Board of the Center for Libertarian
Studies the sponsors of this site and remind
them that they are, after all, libertarians
in spite of the almost exclusively single-issue focus of Antiwar.com.
We must never allow ourselves to fall into the trap of prettifying
tyranny in the cause of "peace" such a strategy can
only fatally undermine the cause of both. The Slobodan Milosevic
Fan Club has been quite vocal, crying "foul" over my attacks
on their parodic absurdities in a series of rebuttals and
obviously orchestrated emails. Well, I can do some orchestrating,
too: come on, you guys, if you don't want Antiwar.com turned
into a site promoting dictatorship in the name of "noninterventionism,"
then let your voice be heard. Write to: Justin@antiwar.com,
and I'll forward your letters to the Board.