The Liberal Defence of Murder
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A war that has killed more than a million Iraqis was a “humanitarian intervention”, the US army is a force for liberation, and the main threat to world peace is posed by Islam. These are the arguments of a host of liberal commentators, including such notable names as Christopher Hitchens, Kanan Makiya, Michael Ignatieff, Paul Berman, and Bernard-Henri Lévy.
In this critical intervention, Richard Seymour unearths the history of liberal justifications for empire, showing how savage policies of conquest—including genocide and slavery—have been retailed as charitable missions. From the Cold War to the War on Terror, Seymour argues that colonialist notions of “civilization” and “progress” still shape liberal pro-war discourse, concealing the same bloody realities.
In a new afterword, Seymour revisits the debates on liberal imperialism in the era of Obama and in the light of the Afghan and Iraqi debacles.
convenient verdict. Yet, whatever label one applies, it was clearly a grave atrocity. The massacre resulted from the ruthless strategy of Serb paramilitaries who, in seizing a territory, surrounded it, sealed it off, evicted the women and children, and kept the men to be either killed, or thrown in detention camps, or used for forced labour.106 However, the treatment of Srebrenica in the Western press highlights its capacity for selective attention. In the run-up to that atrocity, a wave of
January 1992, and he pushed the Bosnian Serbs to accept the Vance–Owen plan in the Spring of 1993.107 After a brief spell of US bombings of Serb positions, and the recapture of substantial Serb-claimed territories by joint Croat–Muslim forces, negotiations resumed. The Dayton Peace accords of November 1995 validated the claims of the nationalist parties and promulgated partition – the very solution that interventionists had hoped to avoid. The agreement formally recognized Republika Srpska, and
that, if America left Iraq, its oil resources would fall into the hands of those who would use them to blackmail America.118 This carried two implicit assumptions: that a state not developed under American guidance would necessarily be irrational, undemocratic and bellicose; and that, because of this, America has a right to decide what happens to Iraq’s resources and people. Genocidal levels of death are a price ‘we’ must pay for this right (even if ‘we’ don’t pay it) – a consensus that also
2003; H. Porter, ‘Democracy is not in the war plans’, Observer, 16 March 2003; J. Borger, ‘US plans military rule and occupation of Iraq’, Guardian, 12 October 2002; R. Cornwell, ‘Turf War Rages in Washington Over Who Will Rule Iraq’, Independent, 5 April 2003; O. Morgan, ‘Man who would be “king” of Iraq,’ Observer, 30 March 2003; D. Dehl, ‘Iraq’s U.S. Overseer Is Praised by Rumsfeld’, New York Times, 2 May 2003; N. Klein, ‘Baghdad year zero: Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia’,
was heaven-sent. The neocons had a narrative, a plan, and an obsession with Iraq as the last remaining hub of a senescent Arab nationalism; they were energetic and had all the right entrées to power, while the left was still reeling from historic defeats. And finally, the claims of the antiwar left that these attacks would be used to justify a wave of aggression that was by no means connected with catching the 9/11 criminals fell victim to an intense emotional and intellectual fug. The