November 17th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: Widespread support for Development Bank

Editorial: Election 2001 - The issues which must be addressed

TESTIMONIAL: News Weekly: more than a magazine

BIOETHICS: Church leaders reject all human cloning

DEFENCE: Navy League endorses Coastwatch, rejects coast guard

Straws in the Wind: The great wombat race / Inch by inch / Escobar lives!

ECONOMICS: Development Bank - a boost for regional enterprise

COMMENT: Exposing the anti-American Left

Letter: Development Bank

Letter: Pakistan next?

Letter: Knowledge nation

Letter: What jobs?

Afghanistan: War on terror - the scorecard so far

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Baby bonus signals sea-change in family policy

HEALTH: Are too many Australian children over-medicated?

EUTHANASIA: Belgium threatens to go down the Dutch road

ECONOMY: Where competition policy fails

LITERATURE: Nobel winner celebrates life and civilisation

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Exposing the anti-American Left

by Michael Scammell

News Weekly, November 17, 2001

One can only wonder at the instincts of the peace protesters marching around the cities of Australia recently.

Is it really any surprise this mix of university students, the socialist Left and occasional, genuine pacifists - who look awfully similar to the S11 rabble who protested outside Crown Casino in Melbourne last year - spend most of their time chanting slogans denouncing the United States? Is there any doubt that the instincts of these protesters is totally anti-American?

Curious, too, are the banners these protesters carry - lots of attacks on US imperialism, militarism, globalism and just about any other "ism" you can think of, but very little about torture and oppression in Iraq or summary execution in Afghanistan.

I am still waiting for banners at these protests that read, "End militarist regimes in Iraq" or "Stop public executions of women in Afghanistan".

Most of the commentary against the actions of the US tends to run along these lines too. An enormous onus of proof is placed upon the United States with only token - if any - criticism of the actions of the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks. It is this selectiveness that is at the heart of most anti-Americanism.

US to blame

Another ploy of critics has been to point out the real or imagined failings of US foreign policy in the Middle East.

Columnists such as Phillip Adams in The Australian and academic Scott Burchill in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, for example, mention the suffering children in Iraq in order to attack the lack of sensitivity in US foreign policy.

But here again the onus has been placed entirely upon the US - through its trade sanctions on Iraq - as being the root cause of the problem.

There is no suggestion by Adams and Burchill that the best way to resolve the problems in Iraq would have been for the US to have kept marching on Baghdad when they had the chance back in 1991.

Do they consider the Iraqi Government or the Taliban in Afghanistan more legitimate and moral governments than that in the United States?

Of course such hard questions are anathema to the Left, because they involve acknowledging the US has a legitimate role to play in international affairs.

And yet, ironically, such solutions would aid the suffering of Iraqi children much faster than any amount of hand-wringing by the Adams and Burchills of this world.

The main failure of these commentators though is not the anti-Americanism, or flawed moral equivalence in their arguments - as a matter of free speech they have every right to argue their positions.

The real failure is in the timing of their often spurious critiques. Put bluntly: couldn't they have used some judgement and waited a few days?

To use a crude analogy, telling Americans they might have brought the September 11 attacks on themselves immediately following the event is a bit like calling the police, after your house has been broken into and your family murdered, and the first comment the police make to you is, "Well you really should have got safety locks installed".

Most people would consider such a reaction insensitive and lacking in any form of compassion.

As examples of this insensitivity, consider Canadian writer, Naomi Klein, who only days after the attacks was arguing her usual case regarding US-globalism being the cause of all evil and then linking it to the attacks.

Or feminist luminary, Susan Sontag, who in the immediate aftermath of September 11 wrote in The New Yorker magazine that "In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards." And then she goes into an extended critique of US foreign policy.

For the Left, who are always trumpeting their caring, sensitive side, one can only ask, "How can you be so callous?"

This is not an attempt to stymie a rigorous debate over the events of September 11. But occasionally the call should be made that commentators use some judgement in picking the appropriate moment to deliver their ideological home truths.

Couldn't they have at least waited until, literally, the bodies in the World Trade Centre were cold?

  • Michael Scammell was Media Officer for the US Consulate in Melbourne 1989-1995

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