What is gained by claiming, on the basis of an imaginary conversation with bin Laden, that bin Laden has a moral calculus (albeit one that “sane people will reject”) whereas Bush and Cheney do not?The Professor is in the middle, or reaching the end, or just beginning a series in which he takes on "the left", or "the really, really, really left" or something, for their hyperboles and moral equivalences and various and sundry sins. Unspoken but nonetheless underlying every word is a singular concern: that the electoral prospects of Democrats are damaged when far left academics provide rhetorical fodder to rightists by making radical claims about American imperialism.
It is true that the electoral prospects of Democrats are harmed when far left academics provide rhetorical fodder to rightists by making radical claims about American imperialism.
The Professor, whose writing betrays a desire to make a moral rather than a tawdry political case, never explains why such academics (or other far lefties) should care.
In this latest installment, the Professors subject is a rambling article by Michael Albert. It's a slow-moving target, but even so, The Professor fumbles.
OK. But even still, I have to wonder about these public talks at which everyone “understands” the argument that bin Laden ranks a bit higher on the moral scale than Bush and Cheney because Michael Albert has imagined having a conversation with him about the cost-benefit ratios entailed in the attacks of September 11.That's a callow misrepresentation. Albert's thinking isn't graceful, and his "thought experiment" is a peurile illustration of the political and moral calculations of waging war. But The Professor asks:
What is gained by claiming, on the basis of an imaginary conversation with bin Laden, that bin Laden has a moral calculus (albeit one that “sane people will reject”) whereas Bush and Cheney do not?The "imaginary conversation" is only a rhetorical device to illuminate this difference: that whatever his aims or goals, the policies of Osama bin Laden have killed many less people, indeed many less innocent people, than the policies of Dick Cheney and the dauphin. That Albert chooses to make this case via a retrospective examination of hypothetical casualty figures is a great weakness in his writing, when the plain-as-day examples lie right in front of us. It is true that more people were killed and are being killed in Afghanistan than died in New York. It is true that many, many, many more people were killed and are being killed in Iraq than died in New York.
In part this is a matter of military capability, but in larger part, it is the old imperial calculus that if the achievement of "good" ends requires great death and destruction, so be it.
It is impossible to say who made what moral decision, but it's perfectly clear that on the unforgiving basis of dead bodies, Osama bin Laden has been less destructive than Dick Cheney.
Now, Dick Cheney claims to be pursuing war in service of democracy, whereas bin Laden claims to be pursuing war in service of ejecting Westerners from his holy lands and ending their interference in the internal affairs of Muslim nations. Those may not be morally commensurate goals, but certainly they're politically commensurate. On either side of this conflict exists the megalomaniacal belief that a particular system of governance is so inherently superior that it justifies mass killing in order that it be implemented. I advocate limited, democratic government, secularism, and civil liberty at home, but it is not the place of ours or any government to inculcate such principles in other peoples, except insofar as they may look to the example of freedom and, desiring it for themselves, affect their own revolutions.
So in the instance of both the United States advernturism and Osama bin Laden's terrorism, the root assumption of innate superiority conferring a right to kill is the same. What remains, as I noted, is capacity; capability; power. In that regard, Osama bin Laden is a pissant.
To say so is a crime in The Professor's book because it doesn't play well among the citizens of our great grazing Republic, and therefore harms the chances of the nominally liberal party in elections. Some of us have concluded that such foreign policies will be pursued regardless, and so we just don't give a damn. Will Ned Lamont and other Democrats oppose war in Iraq? Yes, because we're losing, or because it seemed we might lose back at the beginning. Will he oppose imperial war on principle?