(Commentary appears with links and opportunity to comment at http://bigleftoutside.com )
I don't tread easily or eagerly into the Iraq quagmire - the battlefield upon which Nation contributing editor Marc Cooper's indefensible attack this week against another Nation writer, Naomi Klein, via his weblog, takes place (links and cites appear below) - but maybe by looking in from outside of that conflict I can offer some fresh wind context demonstrating just how low Cooper has sunk into a quicksand of his own making.
Cooper, prior to his attack on Klein, was already up to his neck in his own mierda due to a series of missteps, writing about faraway places from Caracas to Cancún, imposing his First World lens on events in other lands, getting the facts woefully wrong, and revealing an increasingly opportunistic, knowingly false, softheaded analysis of events outside of the United States.
In fact, that imposed ignorance by some North Americans regarding events in the rest of the world was a major theme of Klein's own Nation column this week, the one that provoked the erratic accusations by Cooper.
Cooper's attack on Klein went beyond civil critique. He called her a "friend" and "apologist" for an Iraqi religious fundamentalist, offering a seamless imitation of the red-baiting that characterized Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-commie crusades of the 1950s. What an opportunist prick! I'll deal with Cooper in a moment, but first a few thoughts about the context, and a look at what Klein actually said, as opposed to Cooper's dishonest distortion of it...
I will refer to the Iraq occupation as a "war" in quotation marks, because it was never an authentic war, like, say World War II or Vietnam: it was, and remains, a media war, an act of electronic theater, a staged event that, yes, sadly, also causes the untold human suffering that authentic wars bring, that part is real. The "war," however, as soon as it started, was fast causing problems for me all the way in the Southern Hemisphere.
The problem was that the attention of so many good colleagues in journalism and the agents for change that we cover was fleeing toward "the war," and toward demonstrating against it. Indeed, I wrote at the time that I thought that was one of its intents: to take wind out of the sails of other advancing social movements inside and outside the United States. The Iraq occupation was gobbling up so much time and energy from the battles we were winning across "a country called América," for authentic democracy, journalism, human rights, etcetera. People were leaving their long-developed posts on these battlefields to go marching against the Iraq "war," and there I was, standing on feet of clay, in an emptying foxhole, trying to remain at my own post, with the same bullets as before flying overhead, but with fewer hands on deck.
I sent a communiqué to readers and colleagues on March 21, 2003, titled If the Tyrants Want War.... There, I declared:
"George W. Bush wants you and me to drop everything and pay attention to his global tantrum. I decline to waste my time on his 'war.' It is not even an Authentic War, because a war has a winner and a loser. Gulf War II, like his father's Gulf War I, will only have losers. I want no part of it, not even as a spectator.
"This 'war' is a media show. The bravest soldiers refuse to fight in unjust wars. I refuse to watch. I admit: I think less of the gullible people who sit entranced in front of the television or the computer screen obsessed with this 'war,' whether pro or con. Don't they see? The 'war' is being held for them, for their attention, to bring them into power's trance, to keep them from more life affirming activities. This war brings a bombardment of their consciousness, too, to keep them stuck in place. What if they held a war and nobody watched? Politicians would wage fewer wars.
"And that is all I have to say about Gulf War II."
Seventeen months later, I'm still at my post, and little by little, the troops have come back to this front, and new, mostly younger, reinforcements have come from all over. These foxholes are more staffed than ever, and we're winning the battles in our own hemisphere again. Indeed, "the war" in Iraq, and the resistance to it, did have one unintended consequence that helped us over on this side of the oceans: It raised the price of oil, bolstering the conditions by which the Venezuelan people could, on August 15th, assert their authentic democracy onto still higher ground.
Bush neutralized his own coup-plotting plans for South America by putting so many eggs into the conquest of Mesopotamia. And enough of us remained at our posts down here to rip his dark plans for Latin America out of his hands. Even Otto Reich, his chief Latin American egg-layer, saw the writing on the wall some weeks ago and left the Bush administration, depressed and defeated. It's morning in América!
And so I admit, that by remaining at my post all these months, I'm left with a certain ignorance to speak about the Iraq conflict, except as it plays upon the current presidential campaign in the United States, which I have followed closely here and elsewhere, and where "regime change" is urgent.
Now, onto Cooper's McCarthy-inspired attack on Klein...
Klein wrote a column for The Nation this week: Bring Najaf to New York. Now, I'm not proud of my ignorance, but the fact is if you asked me to identify Najaf on a map, I would not be able to find it. I can draw you a map to Chipiriri, Cochabamba, or to Juchitán, Oaxaca... but Najaf? It did sound like someplace in Iraq, though, and, reading the article, it turns out that my presumption was correct.
Klein made me feel much better when she explained, writing from New York on the eve of the Republican National Convention, that even those who are paying attention to that other side of the world might find it hard to encounter Najaf:
"What surprises me is what isn't here: Najaf. It's nowhere to be found. Every day, US bombs and tanks move closer to the sacred Imam Ali Shrine, reportedly damaging outer walls and sending shrapnel flying into the courtyard; every day, children are killed in their homes as US soldiers inflict collective punishment on the holy city; every day, more bodies are disturbed as US Marines stomp through the Valley of Peace cemetery, their boots slipping into graves as they use tombstones for cover.
"Sure, the fighting in Najaf makes the news, but not in any way connected to the election. Instead it's relegated to the status of a faraway intractable ethnic conflict, like Afghanistan, Sudan or Palestine. Even within the antiwar movement, the events in Najaf are barely visible. The 'handover' has worked: Iraq is becoming somebody else's problem. It's true that war is at the center of the election campaign--just not the one in Iraq. The talk is all of what happened on Swift Boats thirty-five years ago, not of the cannons being fired from US AC-130 gunships this week."
Then she quoted novelist and Vietnam Veteran Tim O'Brien, with words that are relevant to this subject of ignorance about foreign affairs:
"My time in Vietnam is a memory of ignorance and I mean utter ignorance. I didn't know the language. I couldn't communicate with the Vietnamese except in pidgin English. I knew nothing about the culture of Vietnam. I knew nothing about the religion, religions. I knew nothing about the village community. I knew nothing about the aims of the people, whether they were for the war or against the war.... No knowledge of what the enemy was after.... and I compensated for that ignorance in a whole bunch of ways, some evil ways. Blowing things up, burning huts as a frustration of being ignorant and not knowing where the enemy was."
Klein notes that O'Brien's words about Vietnam "could have been talking about Iraq today." They resonate with me because those words are equally true about any corner of Latin America, from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego. Ignorance about "the other" is the theme of our times.
In sum, Klein's essay is about the same imposed ignorance of North American daily life regarding what goes on in other lands, and the consequences at home and abroad of a Commercial Media and its "poorly informed North American public" that we Narco Newsies try, from our end, to replace with Authentic Journalism. So, being largely ignorant myself about Iraq, but not at all ignorant about journalism, I can see that Klein is trying to do from her own experience on that part of the globe the same thing we're trying to do here: report and inform, bring the news from one place, breaking the information blockades, to another. In other words: to bring Najaf to New York.
Not very hard to figure out, is it?
Klein reports about some guy named Sadr whom, I deduce, must be a big deal over in Iraq:
"Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers are not just another group of generic terrorists out to kill Americans; their opposition to the occupation represents the overwhelmingly mainstream sentiment in Iraq. Yes, if elected Sadr would try to turn Iraq into a theocracy like Iran, but for now his demands are for direct elections and an end to foreign occupation."
She's pretty harsh on him, there, isn't she? She says he could win an election and that if he did he could "turn Iraq into a theocracy, like Iran." Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but, to the contrary, a dry reporting of the facts. And that apparently this Sadr fellow made the mistake of asking Bush for "elections." (I could have told him, knowing as little as I do, that Bush would never have gone for that!) and now, elections still delayed, this Sadr and his followers are at "war against the occupation." Klein writes:
"Before Sadr's supporters began their uprising, they made their demands for elections and an end to occupation through sermons, peaceful protests and newspaper articles. US forces responded by shutting down their newspapers, firing on their demonstrations and bombing their neighborhoods. It was only then that Sadr went to war against the occupation."
Klein concludes, bringing her point (and the news) home from Najaf to New York:
"As I write this, days before the Republican convention, the plan for the demonstration seems to be to express general outrage about Iraq, to say 'no to war' and 'no to the Bush agenda.' This is an important message, but it's not enough. We also need to hear specific demands to end the disastrous siege on Najaf, and unequivocal support for Iraqis who are desperate for democracy and an end to occupation.
"United for Peace and Justice states that 'there are two key moments this year when people throughout the United States will have the opportunity to send a resounding message of opposition to the Bush Agenda: November 2, election day, and August 29, in New York City.' Sadly, this isn't the case: There is no chance for Bush's war agenda to be clearly rejected on Election Day, because John Kerry is promising to continue, and even strengthen, the military occupation of Iraq. That means there is only one chance for Americans to express their wholehearted rejection of the ongoing war on Iraq: in the streets outside the Republican National Convention. It's time to bring Najaf to New York."
That's a fair enough argument. Readers of this blog know that I don't share her opinion that November 2nd means so little. I do think there is a major difference between Bush and Kerry. Yet I'm also used to being disappointed by my old friend John, so I don't begrudge the differing analysis of folks like Klein, who say the streets are a more important venue than the ballot box. They might well be right. We'll find out in due time.
But, kind reader, did you find anything in that Klein text that suggests a "moral confusion that clouds the vision, even the rationality, of much of the anti-war movement," or, worse, " a forthright apology for the religio-fascist militias of Muqtada Al Sadr," or anything "damn near a call for the peace movement to join in solidarity with his Mahdi Army"?
Seems to me she was pretty hard on that Sadr guy, while also reporting the facts that surround him. But those accusationss, by the aforementioned Marc Cooper, scribbled onto his blog, accuse her of apologizing for the guy and supporting ("in solidarity") his army.
Sorry, but that's not what she said, as anyone with a brain cell left can clearly read in her words.
"Klein should know better," lectures Cooper. "All enemies of the U.S. occupation she opposes are not her friends. Or ours."
So now, Cooper is distorting Klein's words to claim a friendship between her and this Sadr guy. Cooper adds, with blowhard indignation, "Naomi Klein knows better than to pander to these sorts. 'Bringing Najaf to New York' is not only a non-sensical equation, it's a morally offensive one."
Since when is bringing true facts over international borders "morally offensive"?
Since Cooper's accusations have absolutely nothing to do with what Klein actually said, one wonders: What was this attack really about?
What really caused Marc Cooper to feel so "morally offended"?
Here's my analysis:
Klein, who probably, like me and most of the world, doesn't address tired old knowitall farts like Marc Cooper when she sits down to report a story, hit Cooper's hot buttons when she spoke of "American ignorance" about events elsewhere in the world. This is precisely the problem area for the disgraced contributing editor for The Nation, where Cooper has been twisting in his own quicksand for some time now, and is now up to his neck.
After all, when Cooper did "a Rick Bragg toe-touch" last year in Cancún so he could write, from the beach, purportedly from the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization (demonstrations that contributed to a concrete victory by smaller and mid-sized nations - led by Brazil's foreign minister Amorim Celso - over the dominance by the U.S. and Europe that had historically imposed unfair trade rules upon them), he displayed that very gringo ignorance of a foreign place that Klein criticized so articulately in her column.
In Cancún, Cooper wrote a smarmy and ignorant, stereotype laden, account about the City of Cancún, barking that unidentified "cultural observers say, wryly, that the reason for Cancún's increasing popularity among Mexicans is that coming here is sometimes the easiest, no-hassle way for Mexicans to 'leave Mexico' for a weekend or so... Indeed, finding a small, family-run Mexican taqueria or panaderia--a taco stand or a traditional bakery--is much easier in downtown Los Angeles or Chicago than it is in Cancún."
Since I collaborate with the largest daily newspaper in Cancún and the region, the daily Por Esto!, headquartered on the other side of the tracks from Cancún's hotel zone, from the place where the majority of Cancún's terrain and its population exists, I know that what Cooper said there is untrue. There are pan and tacos galore! The city, in fact, is filled with taco stands and bakeries. What's clear is that Cooper, almost Jayson Blair-like, didn't spend enough time in the popular barrios of that city to notice them, and just phoned it in as if he had been there.
In other words, Cooper, in Cancún, behaved in exactly the way for which Klein criticized other Ugly Americans for how they approach Iraq.
Journalist Jules Siegel, my friend and colleague who has lived in Cancún for the past 23 years, replied to Cooper last year:
"You just made one of the worst mistakes that any progressive activist can fall into. You went to a Third World area and you defecated all over it because it did not fit your culturally imperialist views of what the inhabitants should be doing with their lives."
Can you see, kind reader, how Cooper is similarly projecting his own prejudices upon Iraq?
Cooper does that everywhere!
After the April 2000 failed coup d'etat in Venezuela, Cooper similarly launched an ignorant attack on Venezuela President Hugo Chávez, an attack citing "facts" that have now proved to have been invented out of thin air:
"...no one should confuse Hugo Chávez with Salvador Allende, the democratically elected Chilean president overthrown thirty years ago by a similar US-supported alliance of the economic upper class and the military. Chávez has failed to produce much of the radical change he promised. He showed little of the respect that Allende did for authentic democratic institutions. Unlike Allende, whose public support increased before his overthrow, Chávez has seen his original 80 percent support drop to just over 30 percent."
Of course, we now know, once again, for eighth electoral test in eight years, that Chávez continues to enjoy the same level of support he's enjoyed in all those elections: Close to 60 percent, or double that bogus "30 percent" figure that Cooper claimed it was, as he parroted the Commercial Media spin about Chávez's supposed lack of popularity. Cooper had no hard facts to back up his claim: It was what he wanted to be true, it fit his spin, and therefore he declared it so.
Calling Chávez, "a thug," Cooper claimed that "Chávez's undeniable charisma flirts with megalomania, his denunciations of all opposition borders on the paranoiac and his antidote to the hollower forms of democracy is often ham-fisted demagogy."
Cooper rants about "hollower forms of democracy" (um, like, hollower than what?) Hello? Is there a synapse left upstairs in the corpus of Marc Cooper? Does the elevator not go to the top floor anymore? Chávez has just welcomed, and emerged triumphant from, the only recall referendum ever allowed by any president anywhere on his continued term in office.
Cooper just doesn't like charisma, obviously, because he has none. This being another problem he seems to have with Klein, who, he wrote this week, "has earned the admiration of a new generation of dissidents with a notable intellectual keen-ness." I guess intellectual keen-ness, like charisma, is also threatening to the tired Cooper.
Cooper is still at it with his crumbling discourse on Venezuela. Here's a doozy from his blog posted on August 21: "I, personally, had no idea that the Venezuelan vote was being carried out electronically. I had no idea because no one mentioned it before the vote."
Sheesh, the electronic machine debate, aside from being vetted from the Miami Herald to the New York Times prior to the vote, was a frequent topic of reporting and discussion on all the Venezuela oriented news sites and in all the Venezuela press. Again, all this points to one simple and obvious conclusion: Marc Cooper doesn't do his homework on the themes he writes about.
That alone doesn't bother. He's just another ham-and-egger like most lazy fucks who call themselves "journalists" and opine, with that classic ignorance that Klein took to task, on any ol' subject they want.
No, here's why I bother, today, with Cooper's rant: It was his accusation that by explaining the factual reality in Iraq today, Klein, who had reported that this Sadr guy "would try to turn Iraq into a theocracy like Iran," was nonetheless a "friend" of and apologist for Sadr because she also reported the reality of his popular support, and the rightness of others of his demands, like for "elections."
That, kind readers, is McCarthyism: Cooper's knowingly false accusation that because Klein told the truth about someone else, and about an undeniable political reality, she is therefore his "friend" and "apologist" in "solidarity" with him.
Well, when his cesspool of self-made quicksand finally reaches Marc Cooper's mouth - It can't be long now - I certainly am not going to take the time to pull him back out. For me, Marc Cooper is dismissed from ever being taken seriously again... another boring sell-out, like his pal David Horowitz, on a trajectory to nowhere except the next payday... He already doesn't exist, he has no further relevance to the living, vibrant, social movements in my hemisphere, except as a big, fat, convenient prop in this essay, about the slippery slope of simulated McCarthyism during a time of simulated war.
Best of luck and all success to the hundreds of thousands of good people marching on the streets of New York today for regime change in the United States... including, Narco News webmaster Dan Feder, and, I presume, the very same Authentic Journalist Naomi Klein, among other friends old and new... And don't worry about whatever assholes like Cooper might be typing from their Times Square hotels or cubicles... Because even from here, from way down somewhere in a country called América... We got your backs.