Letters

Readers respond to an interview with pro-war liberal Paul Berman on the future of Iraq.


Salon Staff
April 11, 2003 11:00PM (UTC)

Read the interview.

Paul Berman is an ass. The left has always been about international, non-governmental solidarity, the building of civil society and the extension of the good things in life to those who previously lacked them. Or rather, the serious left has always been about that. The left that writes letters every day, or spends its money on organizing and solidarity work. The left that campaigned and voted for Nader, sick-to-death of the spineless Democratic and Republican parties. The left that was against sanctions for 12 years and against this war for both short-term humanitarian reasons and long-term strategic reasons. That left, the left that receives so much abuse from the lazy and ignorant, from the New York Times and the New Republic, from the Paul Bermans and the Michael Kinsleys, has been serious about building civil society from the beginning. That's why we could imagine winning without war, for instance, because we had some idea what spending time and money on talking to people and building alternative institutions could accomplish.

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For the present, though, that's a moot point. Paul is correct that the left should do its best to make sure Iraq comes out of this a truly free and democratic place. There are two complementary ways of doing this. The first is to keep informed, articulate, and politically threatening pressure on the Bush administration and their rubber-stamp Congress to really rebuild Iraq, a minimum 10 year and $100 billion commitment.

The second way is the harder way because it will require that the self-important liberals who feel good about not being radicals get off their ass and get involved. I don't think that liberal America, the mass of people who vote Democratic because they're scared of Republicans, who are afraid of guns but not of bombing Third World countries, this mass of well intentioned but alienated people, are capable of making a space in their lives for rebuilding Iraq.

If they are, if we all are, then the challenge is before us; what are we going to do? I'll pass on that one, and let our intellectual leaders, like the heartfelt Paul Berman, give us a list of non-governmental organizations that he is supporting in the new Free Iraq.

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And no easy outs; Doctors Without Borders doesn't count. Mere humanitarian aid would, after all, be merely "bleeding heart" liberalism. Let's hear the names of the many groups who are dedicated to building a free, democratic and wealthy Iraq. I look forward to seeing some names and addresses. If Paul doesn't know any off the top of his head, I'm sure he could ask someone like the much-maligned Noam Chomsky, who'd probably be glad to provide a short list of 30 or 40 groups we could start with.

-- Joseph Witt

Paul Berman is exactly right -- with the exception of the civilian casualties inflicted, this is indisputably a great day for the Iraqi people. But, as pretty much everybody knew, winning the war was the easy part.

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The hard part will be forcing Bush to stick to his rhetoric, but this is truly a worthy challenge for the left. If the U.S. does not make similar efforts against North Korea, Syria, Sudan and all the other tyrannies the left has been protesting for the last few decades, then our victory in Iraq will no longer seem like a great day. It will seem like an isolated incident.

If our efforts in Iraq have brought hope to the millions still living in tyranny around the world, the worst thing we could do would be to let Bush's inattention extinguish that hope. This is a vital role the left can play, starting now.

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-- Adam Morrow

Tyranny is dead. Anarchy now reigns. What happens next? It is easier to smash a pot with a sledgehammer than it is to glue it back together again. Intellectuals sitting at their desks in the Pentagon or in New York have found it easy to imagine the tyrants of the world being overthrown through the use of America's extremely formidable military force, but who is now going to repair and rule this new Lebanon?

Germany is a poor analogy for the current situation. For all of the savagery of the Nazi era, Germany had been a liberal country with a tradition of democracy and a well-educated, cohesive people. Iraq has no tradition of democracy and was an artificial colonial construct of different provinces of the Ottoman Empire by the British. The majority of the current Iraqi population are under 25 and have known nothing else but the reign of Saddam Hussein, violence, war and poverty.

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For all the talk of the potential wealth of Iraq, it is extremely indebted and has suffered over $200 billion in damage to its infrastructure. Its annual income in 1990 was only $12 billion and most of this is just needed to feed its people let alone repair its decrepit oil industry and shattered basic services such as electricity and water. The generosity of the Bush administration to the rich and the military has not been shown to the American people and is unlikely to be offered to the Iraqis given the precarious state of the U.S. economy as we approach the beginning of a new presidential election season.

What we really need now are the wise men like George Marshall that helped put the world back together again after World War II. Unfortunately, we have the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz regime. Paul Berman can wish that this were different, but it is not. Let's hope that the Bush administration does not compound the disaster by following through in their belligerent statements towards Syria, Iran and North Korea. As John Kerry recently said, our only hope appears to be regime change at home to bring some sanity back to U.S. foreign policy. We should all pledge ourselves to do all that we can to defeat Bush in the next election.

-- Martin Kannengieser

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