Thursday, February 07, 2008
Excerpt 1. Mea Culpa of the Militant Liberal
Excerpt from Stephen Marshall's 'Wolves in Sheep's Clothing: The New Liberal Menace
by Stephen Marshall
1. Mea Culpa of the Militant Liberal
Michael Ignatieff retracts his war cry
This weekend’s New York Times Magazine featured an article by the former Harvard liberal – and now Canadian politician – Michael Ignatieff. Titled Getting Iraq Wrong: What the War Has Taught Me About Political Judgment, Ignatieff offers a breezy mea culpa for his earnest support of the overthrow of Saddam in the earliest days of the Bush administration’s campaign for regime change. But if the title infers a deep sense of regret over the use of his A-list liberal pulpit to spur on the lefty war cause, the substance of the article betrays a different motive altogether. Last year, Ignatieff lost in his bid to become leader of Canada’s Liberal party, due in part to his strident support of the Iraq war. So this is a bit of well-positioned damage control that ends up coming off more as naïve self-pity than anything authentically remorseful. The problem, it seems, had less to do with him than the political spotlight which robbed his war-cry of the nuance and half-meanings it was embedded with.
Halfway into the essay, Ignatieff explains that “among friends and family, we also cut one another some slack. We fill in one another’s sentences. What we mean matters more than what we say. No such mercies occur in politics. In public life, language is a weapon of war and is deployed in conditions of radical distrust. All that matters is what you said, not what you meant. The political realm is a world of lunatic literalism. The slightest crack in your armor — between what you meant and what you said — can be pried open and the knife driven home.”
Granted, public life reduces thoughtful discourse to lowest-common denominator soundbites. But in Ignatieff’s case, he simply cannot blame the glaring lights for the banalization of his complicated thinking. I know this because it was Ignatieff, and his public statements on Iraq, who launched me on an 18 month journey into the hearts and minds of the Vietnam-era liberals who betrayed the anti-war stance to support the surge into Iraq. That journey became a book, Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing (released this summer from Disinformation and available from Amazon and GNN), and the following is an excerpt from my impressions of that seminal encounter:
On a blustery fall evening, one month before the 2004 presidential election, I stood at a packed reception at the Overseas Press Club in New York. The crowd was diverse. Young college students mingled with greyer, tweed-jacketed types. In the corner, I saw an elderly man in a wheelchair being helped into an elevator so that he could get an advance seat for the show.
We’d gathered to hear a discussion between Paul Berman and Michael Ignatieff, two leading liberal intellectuals. The subject: how the War on Terrorism was impacting liberal society. Berman, a journeyman writer of the New Left generation that came of age during the glory days of 60s era student activism, was undoubtedly the star of the event. His latest book, a slim polemic titled Terror and Liberalism, quickly emerged as the bible for liberal hawks who were conflicted over the election of George Bush but supported his brisk military response to 9/11. Recounting the history of radical Muslim icon Sayyid Qutb, a leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood who was hanged in 1966, Berman depicts the Islamist philosophy as one directly borne out of a reaction to liberalism. Qutb had studied in the West and come to realize that the most evil aspect of American society was the separation of Church and State; a toxic virus of sacrilegious secularism that would eventually penetrate and destroy Islam. Moreover, he saw European imperialism and American foreign policy as extensions of the Crusades. Thus, for Qutb, the jihad was defensive. It was the only viable response to the insidious creeping influence of Western culture and ideas, and the all-reaching hand of the exploitative free market. Qutb declared a theological war against liberalism itself, one that found its ultimate heroes in Osama bin Laden and the 19 suicidal hijackers of September 11.
Given the ferocious nihilism of the terrorists and their jihadi creed, Berman invokes the spirit of the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, who warned that a liberal society would have to be warlike in order to endure the challenges of its enemies. Berman calls for a multi-front campaign against the Islamists and chides George Bush for focusing the world’s anger and fear on Osama bin Laden, giving the false impression that “our enemy was merely a single person, or a band of desperadoes, and not anything larger.” Because the enemy is, he warns, much larger. It is, according to Berman, a totalitarian death cult that has its roots in the “apocalyptic and phantasmogorical movements that have risen up against liberal civilization ever since the calamities of the First World War.” This is powerful stuff and you can see why Berman, who watched the smoldering World Trade towers from his Brooklyn apartment, surfed the zeitgeist of the post-9/11 reactionary moment. Imbued in all of his writing is an unmistakable sense of fear; a realization that the War on Terror has nothing to do with left or right, it is simply a battle for the survival of liberal civilization. And that this is a time that demands us to shelve some of the most sanctified elements of the optimistic liberal outlook on human nature. Reminding us that, in the past, “forward-thinking and well-educated people with the most generous of ideals sometimes found it hard in those days to believe that Nazis and Stalinists were as bad as they seemed,” Berman calls on his fellow leftists to see evil for what it is and embrace the coming fight. Citing the anti-fascist ethos that had once galvanized the New Left in the sixties, he urges a unified front to back a liberal revolution in the Middle East, one that will birth freedom “in places where the worst of the totalitarian plague had wreaked its damage.”
Suffice it to say, Berman – once a staff writer at the Village Voice and an esteemed contributor to Mother Jones – became instantly popular with conservatives. But not only them. His book was also tailor-made for the new pro-war left who needed something more coherent and articulate than George Bush but less belligerent and pugilistic than Christopher Hitchens. As a result, Terror and Liberalism was a hit, riding the bestseller lists for several weeks and inspiring heated debate amongst readers across the world.
But not everyone was a fan. Lending his well-established liberal cred to the war effort rankled those on the left who felt he was giving unwarranted sanction to the neo-conservatives who only touted liberal values as a superficial front for their acquisitive foreign policy objectives. Others accused Berman, who is a Zionist and made the inherent anti-Semitism of the Islamists a centerpiece of Terror and Liberalism, of latent neo-conservatism himself. In the Introduction to the soft cover edition, Berman challenges those who had begun to question his ideological leanings. To his readers, some of whom still clung to the archaic template of political identities and demanded to know whether his views should be considered left-wing or right-wing, Berman responds, “the question dismays me. I mean, what difference should it make?” In the new paradigm of endless war, he implied, echoing the words of George Bush, you are either with the free world or against it.
Mingling with some of the other audience members in the reception hall at the Press Club, I quickly discovered that a few of them were Canadian and, despite Berman’s high profile, were here to see their fellow countryman Michael Ignatieff “rub one on the nose of the pro-war crowd,” as one ostentatiously bejeweled woman told me. Her remark was surprising. Though Ignatieff, a professor at Harvard, had emerged as one of America’s leading liberal ethicists and champions of rights-based society, he had been as openly pro-war as Paul Berman. In fact, it was Ignatieff, writing in the Guardian on the one-month anniversary of 9/11, who first defined the terrorists as “apocalyptic nihilists” and compared them to European fascists, arguments that later became pillars of Berman’s Terror and Liberalism. And while most liberals were still grappling with the significance of the attacks and how they should respond to Bush’s vengeful militancy, on October 1, 2001, Ignatieff was clear: “Since the politics of reason cannot defeat apocalyptic nihilism, we must fight. Force is legitimate to the degree that it is discriminate, and to the degree that it is discriminate, it is just.”
Just as I began to clarify Ignatieff’s position, we were suddenly interrupted by the five-minute warning. The sparkling woman excused herself, explaining that she wanted to get a good seat. Watching her move cat-like through the crowd, it struck me that many of the people here probably held similar false conceptions that Ignatieff was anti-war and they were here to see a debate. For most Canadians, it is a default position, so why wouldn’t one of their leading lights bolster the conventional wisdom? But Ignatieff was careful to isolate himself from the critics of American foreign policy who imputed sympathetic justifications to the terrorist attacks, writing “it is an adolescent fantasy to assign the injustice of the world to a single address.” Yet he was not so judicious with his alliance to other, equally fantastic claims. A year after 9/11, Ignatieff cautiously pushed the Bush administration’s Saddam-Osama hypothesis in the Financial Times, cloaking it in a reasonable-sounding deliberation over “how much assistance terror receives from rejectionist states, chief among them Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”
When the time came for war, however, Ignatieff’s measured uncertainty was replaced with hesitant acquiescence. Sounding like a man severely compromised by the pressure Americans were foisting on prominent liberal academics, he described his position as a surrender to “the least bad of the available options.” And one year after the invasion, Ignatieff confessed to be a “reluctant yet convinced supporter” of the war. Hardly the full-throated support that other pro-war liberals like Paul Berman had mustered by that time. But Ignatieff was mining a theme that would become central to his thinking throughout the post-9/11 period. In each successive article and public speech since his original backing of Bush’s military response to 9/11, Ignatieff had increasingly portrayed himself as a philosophic yet embattled participant in the national dialogue; a deep-thinking intellectual, troubled by the dirty prospects of war on terror but conscious of the need for America to defend itself. As a champion of civil liberties, Ignatieff soon found that he had been forced into the difficult position of trafficking in what he termed “lesser evils”: the recognition that defeating terror may not only require violence, but also coercion, deception, secrecy, and violation of rights. How would a liberal society maintain its standards when its enemies had none, he asked. It is a question that ultimately became the thesis for his own book, The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in the Age of Terror, and which formed the inspiration for our gathering at the Press Club that night.
Hanging back as the crowd funneled into the small staircase, I thumbed through my copy of Ignatieff’s The Lesser Evil. Thick double blue lines connected his text to my own notes, scribbled in the margins, highlighting the major thrusts of his argument. Unlike Berman’s bossy polemic, Ignatieff’s is a soul-searching meditation on the kind of responses we should expect, and permit, from a liberal society that is threatened by terrorism. A passionate advocate of ethics and civil rights, Ignatieff reminds us that the value of our modern liberal democracy lies beyond its respect for institutional procedure and civil rights. Rather, what makes us unique in the world is the premium we place on each individual human life and the extent to which we will create laws to protect and preserve them. At least, in theory. In reality, Ignatieff observes a troubling shallowness among average Americans when it comes to the discussion of protecting the civil liberties of terrorists. Where liberal intellectuals regard these rights as non-negotiable, the mass populace and their governmental leaders have remorselessly placed them on the block, effectively trading civil rights for national security and reverting to the old caveat of authoritarian regimes that in a state of emergency there are no sacred cows, only golden calves and paper tigers, ready to be sacrificed and immolated at the first sign of trouble.
Yet Ignatieff is a realist. He understands that in cases where the threat is inarguably dire, the democratic state must engage in his titular “lesser evils” – preventative or investigative detention, intensive interrogation, torture, targeted killing, and even pre-emptive military strikes. At any time, these may represent a nation’s first line of last defense. But, Ignatieff writes, the pursuit of these tactics is always an exercise in “moral risk.” And this is where he differs from Paul Berman. Where Berman’s take-no-prisoners battle cry comes from a very real fear of the annihilation of liberal society, Ignatieff, though not ruling it out, warns that America stands to lose its soul even as it defends its borders. The demands of a life-or-death struggle, he argues, could reduce democratic society to one that mirrors that of the terrorists; in which violence becomes “an end in itself.” Moreover, fighting an enemy that has no respect for the Geneva conventions, nor the basic tenets of liberal society, poses great challenges to the constitutional republic which is inherently constricted by the laws of its civil code. There are certain things the liberal democratic state cannot do without sacrificing its claim to liberal democracy. So it’s not a fair fight, and the terrorists know this. Hence, their strategy is less dependent on military conquest than psychological torment. They wage a patient and spectacularly horrific guerrilla war, designed to force the democrats into committing illiberal acts that ultimately, Ignatieff writes, “erode the moral identity of the state, together with its will to resist.” And in this way, the terrorists will not have to win the war in order to defeat liberal democracy because the foundation of the society would already have been destroyed. This is the dark side of the War on Terror; one that could ultimately entrap Americans in a downward spiral that would leave nothing of their once sacrosanct rights-based liberal system.*
Walking into the jammed lecture hall, I took the last seat in the second row reserved for press. Despite the negative impact of television on the popularity of public discussions, I was not surprised to see such a large crowd. Michael Ignatieff and Paul Berman are two of America’s most respected liberal intellectuals. Both have written persuasive and provocative books, each identifying a major crisis being faced by American liberal democracy. Scanning the earnest faces, waiting patiently for the intellectuals to make their appearance, I wondered which one is of greater concern to the people gathered here: the internal conflict described by Ignatieff or the external threat posited by Berman? I knew that in the marketplace of ideas it is books like Berman’s Terror and Liberalism, with its stern warning that a people who underestimate the Islamists could find themselves extinct, which resonate with the buyers. Americans have proven to respond well to fear, and Berman has expertly peddled vigilant dread. Ignatieff’s Lesser Evil, on the other hand, offers a sobering reflection on the weakened stature of modern liberalism, showing that it has as much to lose in its reaction to terrorism than to terrorism itself. But fear, he warns, is the means with which terrorism seeks to undermine democracy. “A people living in fear are not free,” he wrote in The Lesser Evil, causing me to wonder what state he imagined Americans were living under, if it was not one of fear. In any case, his was a message that, if it was indeed true, would be the last thing a terrorized public would want to read. Which is exactly why I had come out to see him tonight.
All heads turned as the two men entered the room. Had I not seen the photographs on their respective book jackets, I would have confused them. Berman, the nervy dragon-slayer, is diminutive and bookish while Ignatieff, the judicious worrier, resembles a former college quarterback. Perhaps relieved to see his relative size, the Canadians gave Ignatieff a slightly louder applause. But any hopes their man would intimidate Berman and emerge as the champion of pacifism were quickly dashed. Instead, he opened with a soft rebuke to the anti-war movement, which he condescendingly described as “otherwise well-meaning people protesting against the overthrow of a homicidal, genocidal, maniacal dictator.” Beside him, Berman nodded approvingly. I felt the audience titter. Ignatieff continued, raising the issue of Abu Ghraib. The crowd nodded in unison at the scandalous mark against the invasion. But, again, Ignatieff swerved away from any flat-out condemnation of the American campaign. He described the revelations of torture as a “catastrophic geo-strategic defeat,” limiting it to the context of a major PR disaster. Further, he warned, despite the controversy Americans would need to avoid any kind of “moral perfectionism” that would hinder the war on terror. Behind me, a woman sighed. I felt warm air on the back of my neck.
Peering sullenly at the audience through wire-framed spectacles, Berman grabbed the baton from Ignatieff. He too believed that the war was being lost on the intellectual front. But while Abu Ghraib was the current hot-button issue, Berman located the problem in how the administration presented the war to the American public. Bush, he explained, failed to prepare them for a long-term struggle and now that it had dragged on, returning a high number American casualties, public opinion had soured. Worse, he continued, in all the Pentagon’s bungling, the essential message – that America offers the world a model of liberal society, equal and just, while the Islamists have nothing to counter it with – had been lost. Instead, all eyes and ears are focused on the crimes of America, which has lost a great deal of ground with those millions of people who could have been brought to our side.
Like much of the audience, I wanted to witness the clash of two intellectual titans who see vastly different dangers looming in America’s war on terror. But it never came. Perhaps under some tacit agreement, the men steered away from points of contention in favor of pressing the case that wartime necessarily places strains and poses challenges to liberal democracy. They never questioned the primary forces that drove America into Iraq, only the failures of the Bush administration in making its case to the public. They shirked any truly radical desire to get to the root of the conflict between Islam and the West, beyond the narrative we have been given by the White House and mainstream press. In this way, they came off more as apologists for the war and its ill effects than incisive political scientists charged with the responsibility of exploring every angle.
I kept waiting for Ignatieff and Berman to jump through the mirror and look at the Iraq war from the outside in. But they never did. Even though it has been one of the major contentions of the anti-war crowd, not once did they openly consider that the prosecution of the war may be linked to the same economic factors that so many in the anti-war left have asserted. As pro-war liberal academics, it simply wasn’t part of their lexicon. They limited their focus to the threat that terrorism, and America’s response to it, pose to liberal society. And in this way, themselves became the biggest threat to American liberalism. Not only because they failed to include in their analysis the very real potential that America has reached a point of economic vulnerability that its leaders will twist facts and manipulate fears until they produce the necessary political and military outcome. But because they failed to read the more tangible clues to the true intent of the war. Listening to Ignatieff’s lament of the torture at Abu Ghraib, I was astonished that he made the lazy case of compartmentalizing it from the war, isolating it from the character of the invasion. It seemed obvious to me that Abu Ghraib was a direct product of the unilateral spirit of the war, indicative of just how little regard its planners held for the Iraqi’s lives and future. I ached to put up my hand and challenge him, but the discussion droned on without any sign from either man that they were interested in what the audience had to say.
Instead I scribbled notes and stole furtive looks at the crowd, who had woken from their glassy-eyed resignation and suddenly perked up. Berman was in his element, speaking in graven tones about the fascistic nature of the bin Ladenite Islamicists who are the enemies of reason and little more than a glorified “death cult.” It is his trademark slogan, one that crystallizes the violent nihilism of the suicide bombers’ jihad. It has the dual effect of evoking fear and manufacturing consent; his listeners can’t help but be titillated by the terrifying image. Sensing this, Ignatieff played the good cop, rejoining with a hopeful realism. The West can survive the War on Terror, he explained, but “we have to be very, very tough.” In the end, the solution must be political, and for that reason we cannot back out until liberal democracy has been delivered to the Iraqi people. Then, he declared without the slightest hint of irony, “I can think of no more noble a sacrifice than for US soldiers to die defending an Iraqi polling station.”
Initially, I just processed the sentence, jotting it down on my pad. But then I noticed the words a line above, scrawled in menacing letters, “death cult” and it all fell into place. Ignatieff’s simple words – “I can think of no more noble a sacrifice than for US soldiers to die defending an Iraqi polling station” – were a wonderful sentiment, on the surface. But that is just the point. It’s only once the words are scraped with a blunter edge that their true significance can be uncovered. If al Qaeda represents a death cult for Islamicism, then highly influential and well-placed liberals like Ignatieff, many of whom originated in the New Left that emerged from the anti-Vietnam movement, have become part of a death cult for democracy. At first it sounds silly to say. Of course we are willing to sacrifice everything for our liberal system: soldiers have always died for democracy and freedom. It’s what free persons are naturally drawn to fight for.
But now look deeper. This has always been the rationale presented by politicians seeking public support for their military interventions. We fight to protect the free world from fascism. It was the same in 1961. But in those days, it was Berman and Ignatieff’s generation that got famous for protesting a war their parents started. For exhibiting what became their defining trait, a critical skepticism of the state’s motives to wage unilateral, unprovoked campaigns. In their prime, they had always viewed the state’s military interventions through a proto Marxist economic lens. But now, paralyzed by the mortal fear of annihilation, they have abandoned that questioning impulse to become highly influential supporters of a military enterprise that has cost thousands of innocent Iraqi lives. Not to mention the ever increasing number of America soldiers wounded and injured in the guerrilla war. The same boys and girls Michael Ignatieff has just offered to the to the pyre as “noble sacrifices.” Exactly who’s child is Ignatieff – a Canadian let’s remember – offering up in the name of an Iraqi democracy? One that may inevitably provide institutional consensus for a society built on Sharia law that contravenes the very core of his views as a social liberal. And, more importantly, just who does he think is out there fighting in Iraq anyway?
At least in the 1960’s and 70’s, there was a draft. As unpopular as it was, the lottery system offered the illusion of democratizing the act of service, of randomly selecting those who would die in the conflict. Today there is no such pretense.* The young soldiers I met at the small “forward operating” bases in the Sunni Triangle, the front line of the War on Terror, were all volunteers. But the great majority of them had opted for National Guard or full enlistment out of a direct financial need. They were the poor and lower middle class kids who slipped through the safety net of America’s failed liberal project, choosing military service as a one-way ticket out of the slum or trailer park. This precisely the kind of socio-economic pre-determination, a form of serfdom in itself, that the original liberal revolution was launched to destroy. That no person would be forced into any exploitive situation solely on the basis of class or race.
Now here was Michael Ignatieff, a professor at Harvard who has a 1/10 chance of ever teaching a kid who’s parents make less than $100,000, offering up their bodies as shields against car bombs. Ignatieff, who wants people to die for democracy, but has never once sought to impose a draft to make sure those who serve are not self-selected out of financial need. Who have only found themselves in the military because of the harsh economic realities of the very free market system that is now being imposed on the Iraqis. Does he not realize the insanity of this situation? That he has simply become another adult who has never fought in a war, and who’s children will probably never fight in a war, sending other people’s kids out to die for an ideological goal: the protection of liberal democracy which once promised to deliver the American dream, that has categorically failed in the United States. He has simply become everything his generation once fought against.
Or so I thought.
These are the words I wrote, hunched over my knees, leaning on the far edge of my chair. I barely noticed the talk had ended. I heard the audience asking questions, challenging the intellectuals’ blanket support of the war. One man asked if they had ever considered that it was simply about oil, Berman answered that while it may be an element of the strategic value of Iraq, it was never a driving force when placed next to the very real threat of liberal extinction. I kept writing. Moments later, they were gone and the room erupted into an agitated chorus of murmurs.
I finished my notes and walked out into the blustery October night. Warm wind blew on my face and I felt energized; a challenge had been set before me. Not to attack the brilliant minds of Berman and Ignatieff, that could only end in humiliating failure. Besides, I didn’t feel anger or contempt for either of them. Rather, I saw them as members of a fascinating and unique social grouping who should be questioned and studied. For they are a part of that generation of Baby Boomers (those born between 1943 and 1961) who have dominated the political and social discourse in America since their voices began to change in the early 1960s. Conceived during the halcyon days following World War II when the prevailing sense of optimism got everyone in the mood, the Boomers have always represented the most populous generation in America. And now, as they have grown into the loosened skin and graying hair of middle age, they have begun to take on the same fearful, protective psychology as their parents. Naturally, there are many who still champion the virtues and values of their revolutionary youth. But for the most part, the generation who set the example for building mass movements and challenging entrenched, social, political and economic power have become part of that establishment themselves. After thirty years of accumulation, now they have something to lose. Even the liberals have become conservative.
In their prophetic book, The Fourth Turning, Neil Howe and Bill Strauss outline a system of 80-100 year cycles in which major, transformative crises, or turnings, occur every 20-25 years. Writing in 1997, Howe and Strauss predicted the fourth turning to come around 2005. It is one in which the Boomers will “occupy the upper echelons of worldly power through a likely Crisis Era that will not end until about 2020.” Though they do not attempt to foretell the nature of the calamity, they offer terrorist attacks, domestic economic collapse, and plague as likely scenarios. On how we will survive it, they are more specific. The responsibility for shepherding America through the crisis, Howe and Strauss write, will be in the hands of the Baby Boomers and their own children, Generation X, who will be responsible for reigning in the more destructive tendencies of the adults; arrogant selfishness and a propensity for despotism among them.
As a member of that younger generation, the words I heard that evening suddenly crystallized the source of this great threat to our future. It is not the ideological conservatives like Paul Wolfowitz and Bill Kristol – who have been so brazenly forthright about their global objectives – that worry me. No, it occurs to me that it is the quiet, respectful liberal academics like Michael Ignatieff and Paul Berman who present the most insidious danger. Because they come cloaked in the veil of humanitarian reformism and democratic activism, the proponents of a fair society. But underneath that flimsy fabric, they are just as much the members of an American elite as George Bush and Bill Kristol. And they have everything to lose when the United States finally begins the ugly tumble down from its imperial perch.
Excerpt 2. Hitchens on Wye
The Hay festival grounds are buzzing with excitement. Elevated above the verdant earth on wooden platforms, green-carpeted floors connect a network of pristine white tents and open-air restaurants. Sequestered in a remote corner, off the more trafficked gangways, is a quiet room with French doors that open to its own private garden. It is here, far from the madding crowd, in the exclusive Green Room, that small clusters of VIPs gather between events to drink tea, eat biscuits and swallow fresh strawberries.
During the rush and tumble of the festival, A-list authors and their well-groomed agents mix with politicians, actors and the children of British aristocracy. There is a Guinness and a Rothschild. Alexander Waugh, the grandson of Evelyn, sits near Barney Broomfield, son of famed British documentary film-maker Nick, with his girlfriend actress Mary Nighy. In the center of the room, a group of men are gathered around the beautiful violinist/actress/journalist Clemency Burton-Hill, who’s concert performance the night before reportedly brought many in the audience to tears. But there is one person conspicuously absent. All the more so because he has recently been the subject of yet another controversy, this time at the hands of an irate Scottish politician who publicly called him a “drink-sodden ex-Trostskyite popinjay.” Which makes him all the more central to the gossip of the day.
If Hay is to books what Glastonbury is to music, then Christopher Hitchens is the festival’s resident Liam Gallagher. Like the lead singer of Oasis, who lit up crowds with his zeitgeist lyrics, epic rudeness and raised middle fingers, Hitchens is the primary draw of Hay’s opening weekend, pulling crowds of one and two thousand strong to see him chain smoke his way through a debate about religion, war or literature with some other chart-topping intellectual of the day. If they’re really lucky, they’ll get to see him tell a member of the audience to fuck off.
I see Hitchens standing with a few people who are preparing to leave. Sensing a chance to get him in Hay-mode, I step in and ask for an interview for my book. Looking at me, he hardens his lips and shrugs his shoulders. “Why not?”
A few moments later, Hitchens is seated again, looking at me through brown-tinted aviators. I ask him what it’s like, the world seen through a brandy bottle. “Sherry,” he corrects me and lights a Rothman cigarette. Sitting next to me on a floral patterned wicker chair, he looks tired. I ask him if perhaps we should postpone the interview to another time.
“No, I find this topic rather energizing.”
In the next hour Hitchens will smoke seven cigarettes and beckon twice for the girls in the Green Room to bring him more “apple juice” and fizzy water while I struggle to avoid asking a stupid question. It begins with a simple one: “Do you call yourself a liberal?”
“A few people have introduced me as or referred to me as a ‘former’ liberal and I’ve never been one, and in fact, I’ve hung on calling myself a socialist probably a little longer than I should have. Partly because it was a way of stating one wasn’t merely a liberal. And that’s because I was brought up, politically, at least, a lot in England where liberal suggested simply middle-class compromising.”
Hitchens’ major inspiration to become a writer came while sitting in a public library in Devonshire, reading an essay* by Connor Cruise O’Brien, the Irish diplomat and historian. In it, O’Brien refers to liberalism as “the word that makes the rich world yawn and the poor world sick.” Being labeled it was a charge considered “damaging” in Africa, Asia and Latin America where, O’’Brien explains, “the American and European liberal has too often been – and is perhaps increasingly – a false friend.” Casting the Kennedy-era American UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson as the liberal voice par excellence, O’Brien describes how the liberal state’s benevolence looked to its recipients:
“From this viewpoint, Mr. Stevenson’s face, with its shiftily earnest advocate’s expression, is the ingratiating moral mask which a toughly acquisitive society wears before the world it robs: ‘liberalism’ is the ideology of the rich, the elevation into universal values of the codes which favoured the emergence, and favour the continuance, of the capitalist society.”
It was an indictment that resonated with Hitchens, then a budding eighteen year-old socialist.
“Actually, if you read that essay,” he explains, “it was exactly what I felt for us on the left in Britain: The word liberal was a very rude thing to call somebody. Liberalism was an attempt to drape capitalism with some kind of pious social conscience…It used to be preceded almost always with the term ‘wishy-washy.’”
Hitchens takes a long drag on his cigarette, adding, “In America now, liberal is the word that the right uses to defame secularism, welfarism, anti-militarism and so on. I think because it’s no longer plausible to attack communism. There used to be two ways of attacking liberalism. One was to say ‘limousine liberal’ – it’s very much what one would call myself – and the other was as ‘soft on’ communism.”
In fact, these were both identifiers that could have been pinned on the pre-9/11 Hitchens. As far back as his student years at Oxford, he was adept at playing both sides of the class line, between revolutionary socialists and high class fashionistas. As Martin Walker, one of his classmates, recalls, “He was criticized for being a ‘champagne socialist’ or a ‘country-house revolutionary.’” And this flirtation with elite groups wasn’t lessened by his status as a Washington journalist, even when he was still writing for the Nation. As early as 1999, the Washington Post described Hitchens as belonging to “a rarefied world where the top pols and bureaucrats sup with the media and literary elite at exclusive dinner parties. It’s a cozy little club of confidential sources and off-the-record confidences…”
For many of his critics, the most damning evidence of his duplicitous turn-coatism hinges on the articulate case he made for the indictment of authoritarian statesmanship in The Trial of Henry Kissinger (2001). For younger readers, myself included, this was our introduction to Hitchens the polemicist. And the understanding, though simplistic, was that he was against government agents who used their power selectively, justifying any use of covert or widescale military force as necessary for the preservation of the American interests. But for Hitchens, his contempt for Kissinger not only made sense in terms of his socialist politics, but also as a foundation for his support of the invasion of Iraq.
“When I wrote the Kissinger book, where would I have been then? If someone would’ve said ‘are you a socialist’ I would have been reluctant to deny it. And I certainly wrote it from – it’s the outcome of years and years of struggling against Kissinger, trying to expose him from the left. As for me being in support for regime change in Iraq, that to me is a direct extension of the critique of Kissingerian realism. Or neo-realism.”
In fact, this was the very point on which he found consensus with the neo-conservatives, who were newly installed in Washington just as Trial was being released. Hitchens recalls his first meeting with Paul Wolfowitz – “I was very flattered, I suppose, some might say I had been unduly impressed” – in which the Deputy Secretary of Defense was “at pains to make it clear to me that he regarded himself he as the opposition to, the opposite of Kissinger.”
Clearly, for the neo-cons, whom we later learned had their eyes set on Iraq long before they took power in the Bush administration, Hitchens was a perfect ally. As one of the highest profile leftist writers in America, and a sympathetic comrade of Ahmad Chalabi, the former head of the Iraqi National Congress who once bragged of feeding the U.S. intelligence false information about WMD in order to bolster the case for invasion, he would prove to be one of their greatest assets in prosecuting the war.
But while the case can be made that Hitchens, like New York Times martyr Judith Miller, became an unwitting channel for the Pentagon’s pre-war propaganda, he sees it differently. Writing in the preface to Regime Change, his 2003 collection of essays on Iraq, he argued his position for U.S. military intervention from the “viewpoint of one who took the side of the Iraqi and Kurdish opposition to Saddam Hussein, who hoped for their victory, and who then had come to believe that the chiefest and gravest mistake of Western and especially American statecraft had been to reconfirm Saddam Hussein in power in 1991.”
So for him, the issue* was always one of liberation for the Kurds and Shia first, the rest of the country second. The ends would justify the means, even if that meant racking up a hundred thousand Iraqi casualties in the military action and subsequent occupation. It almost sounds… Kissingerian.
I wonder if the neo-conservatives have the same compassionate register for the victims of Saddam’s brutal regime of which, even Hitchens admits “the worst atrocities, mass murder with genocidal intent, torture, aggression, and so forth were committed when Saddam Hussein was the recipient of Western favor and protection.” Or if that even matters.
For Hitchens the war represents a kind of dual regime change for both Iraq and the United States. In the past, they were linked by a status quo policy that protected men like Saddam. It was in American interests to have strong leaders who were allied to them. But with the neo-cons all that has changed.
“I think it’s a good thing that American national interests are present in, and can apparently be made congruent to, the spread of democracy. It doesn’t happen without people fighting for it. It’s not just objectively true. You have to fight to make it true, so that it becomes so. It comes to a very interesting point that a lot of people don’t recognize, where the U.S. realized that, especially in the Middle East, it couldn’t go on wanting this political slum, where they’re using proxy leaders and client regimes, or movements, and picking up and dropping different clients according to shifting allegiances. Investing themselves in the survivors, that they would have to take the risk that even though more democracy might not make people act in pro-American ways, it’s much better than status quo.”
Hitchens sips quickly from his glass and lights another cigarette. “We went to war on the status quo in the Middle East. Which is a pretty amazing thing for an isolationist republic. It was mainly because a couple of people, Wolfowitz among them, won that argument in the White House, and in the Republican Party. They converted Cheney. Which is very important.”
Important because for corporatist political leaders like Cheney, the only use for Iraq was under the sand.
“Cheney wanted to lift the sanctions.” Hitchens leans forward and affects a sterner expression, channeling ogrish VP: “Fuck this, this is liberal humanitarianism. Let’s get back to doing business. Buying and selling a bit of oil, that’s what we do. The rest of it can go fuck itself. They can’t drink the oil. In the end, they’ll come around to see things our way.’”
So the neo-cons converted him. Shook out the selfish short-sightedness and got him on board for the bigger vision thing. But I’m curious about something. In all of the reading I have done on Hitchens’ advocacy of the regime change, he never intimates that there is any economic benefit in the occupation. I take a broad swipe at it.
“The word neo-liberal is often used to describe the way America asserts itself economically in the world.”
“Do you feel that is a relevant term and how would you describe its nature and relationship to U.S. world power?”
“The U.S. needs access to everyone else’s markets. And that world order is often described as neo-liberal, yeah.”
I wonder if Hitchens, the former socialist, has really questioned the role of free market neo-liberalism in the prosecution of this war. Because for many in our generation, the American promise of liberal democracy is also part of a negotiation in which US corporate interests, who the American government essentially represents, are looking to expand the perimeter of their marketplace and enfranchise new people in it as both cheap labor and consumers.
“Isn’t that system itself riddled with inherent inequities and unfairness that may actually contravene the essential liberal values?” I ask.
Hitchens leans in and speaks very quietly.
“It seems to me to be true. Though I don’t think the hegemonism of what America wants to say in the Middle East or in Venezuela is the only thing to notice about the policy – because there are so many other authorities, some of them positive. But it is quite clear that one form of liberalism, market liberalism, is very much identified with the American way and the American state.”
I suggest the natural extension of that is the neo-liberal belief in a connection between free market and a free society. Hitchens agrees. “There appears to be one. And this includes a respect for law and respect for individuals as well as human rights for groups or minorities. And there are many, many places in the world where the adoption of a liberal policy, so defined, would be a step up. A big one.”
I look over at Hitchens and I see him speaking out his thoughts. He is now engaging in a confession of his own loss of faith in the great socialist dream, the one that once offered a glimmer of hope in the face of capitalism’s all out assault on the virtues of a communitarian society.
“There’s obviously been a great trial that could’ve been about social democracy… And you see, that’s what people don’t believe anymore. That’s what made me give up. There is no other plausible internationalist movement with a socialist agenda, nor is there a plausible theory of power; that capitalism could be challenged. There isn’t. For the first time in its history, capitalism doesn’t have an ideological enemy.
“So in effect, capitalism is having another revolution. So you have to go back to the original Marxism and look at the Manifesto and remind yourself, ‘That is what the old boy said.’ This is the greatest revolution in human history, all we need is to have it run by workers, not by the owners. We need to have those who produce, making the production decisions. Extremely powerful and attractive ideology.”
“It is,” I submit.
“But now Quixotic. Some of these contradictions replicate themselves. In South Korea, at least until recently, there were a huge numbers of workers who had, a generation before, been peasants. And now in newly assembled cities and factories and plants, generating an enormous amount of wealth, and working very hard in very repressive conditions, making things they couldn’t afford to buy. The moment comes when the workers want to buy the cars. Now South Korea has more or less past that point. It did happen. But for a while, as in Brazil, you were looking at the early stages of industrialization. But as Marx would’ve done, noticing it means environmental degradation, short-termism, pollution, terrible labor exploitation, huge social dislocation, miserable cities full of cowed, overworked people. But in the end it produces enough wealth to make people want to press on until they have a share in it.”
Hitchens pauses and drinks from his glass. The Green Room has suddenly gotten very quiet. The most quiet since I arrived. Looking around, I realize that we are among the last people remaining.
I wonder if he is finished with his thoughts, since he has almost ceased to look at me, it is as if he is talking to himself. Taking out another cigarette, he continues.
“I think the verdict of history is in, one may feel a little wistful about it, but wistfulness is no good as a dialectical method. At all. So, in fact, capitalism is reasserting itself as the only revolution. And it takes a Marxist to see it, sometimes.”
“Asserting itself as what kind of revolution?” I ask.
“As the only dynamic revolutionary force in the world, reasserting itself after having gone through terrible decay; after all capitalism led to imperialism, to fascism, to war. Led to the great crisis in the 20s and 30s. It’s true, don’t let’s forget. And not just morally true, it’s politically true. It looked as if it were dead-ended. It really did. And to most of its supporters it did too. And that’s why they went Keynesian. They thought, we can only save it this way. You had to buy [the workers] off. That’s what’s happened since: you’ve got to give these guys a health service, protection of work, and this and that. And also give them some money so they can go on buying things.
“It will never get to the point of stasis, it will keep on consuming itself.” Hitchens looks up at the ceiling. He waves his hand at the wall, searching for something in his memory, “What’s umm… for crying out loud, I can’t –”
It’s a rare moment that he forgets anything of importance. I shift in my seat, unsure of what to say, and afraid to have him terminate the interview at this point.
“Don’t worry,” I try to reassure him.
“But I do.” Hitchens puts his glass down and begins moving methodically toward the name.
“One of the great theorists who wrote about the clash between capitalism and socialism was instinctually, himself, a socialist, but had great respect for capitalism. Schumpeter.”
I breathe a quiet sigh of relief. Hitchens takes a hard drag from his cigarette and continues.
“Joseph Schumpeter called it creative destruction: capitalism needs to go on devouring things and making things unstable and dangerous in order to keep on existing. Finding shorter and more scientific routes to production, productivity, demand, efficiency, discarding waste or competition, creating and then breaking up monopolies. It creates a destructive force. But anyone can recognize it as a revolution. It’s the only revolution in town.”
He says it with a kind of swagger that almost feels triumphant and then declares the inevitable: “But now we think it’s very unlikely that its workers will become its managers. That doesn’t seem as if that’s ever going to happen. They can become its beneficiaries.”
In his essay that so inspired the young socialist Hitchens, Connor Cruise O’Brien* chronicles a conversation between himself and Kwame Nkrumah, the pan-Africanist leader who became the first Prime Minister of Ghana. Nkrumah was then involved in trying to make Ghana into a socialist society. Of this effort, O’Brien writes, he believed “this government had been right to reject the façade of liberalism,” and that he saw in it a “greater sense of responsibility to the people – not in a formal sense but in a profound one – than [in] neighbouring states with more apparently liberal constitutions.”
When Nkrumah asked O’Brien, who was there to work with the government, if he was a socialist, the Irishman replied that he was, understanding that to be a liberal in Africa was a to be a “false friend.” But driving home after the interview, Connor explains, he realized that a liberal was in fact what he was.
“Whatever I might argue, I was more profoundly attached to liberal concepts of freedom… than I was to the idea of a disciplined party mobilizing all the forces of society for the creation of a social order guaranteeing more real freedom for all instead of just for a few.”
I wonder if Hitchens is aware at just how much he echoes the reluctant admission of his literary polestar in his own acquiescence to the fatality of the socialist ideal. As one of the highest paid writers in the United States, what else can he do but accept his own latent capitalism.
“It means we’ve conceded,” he says, “that capitalism has embarked on another revolution. It’s not only survived the battle with socialism but it’s replenishing and extending and strengthening itself, without a viable or plausible alternative.”
With the daylight now flirting with the crimson hues of sunset, Hitchens rises from his chair. Bidding me goodbye, he wishes me luck in discovering my own path, away from the Left he now sees as reactionary defenders of the status quo.
“There’s no longer any Left and I can’t be any part of it. It took a lot for me to get to the realization that it was,” he pauses for effect, “conservative. I wasted so much time… you could save yourself the trouble. You’ll feel better.”
Excerpt 3. Bittersweet Symphony
This summer, concert goers will get a chance to save the world by rocking out to loud music and buying Earth-friendly cotton t-shirts. The Live Earth concert for our “climate in crisis” will surely raise the profile of environmentalism, but will it actually drive its audience to understand the root causes of the problem? After all, it’s been nearly two years since ten simultaneous Live 8 concerts were held across the world to raise awareness for African poverty, and if that event is any indicator, we shouldn’t expect much beyond the hype and sparkle that does more for aging rockers than the designated cause du jour.
Timed to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of his original Live Aid concert, Bob Geldof hoped the Live 8 event would pressure leaders of the G8 countries (U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Japan, U.S., Canada and Russia) into canceling the debt of the world’s most impoverished nations. Though it has never been easy to get politicians to do anything for the poor, Geldof felt his chances were good since he had the ear of the G8’s new president, U.K. prime minister Tony Blair.
Back in 1985, when he was still an aspiring socialist and junior member of the British Labour party, Tony Blair attended Live Aid. Years later, he told Geldof that the experience had shaped his vision of African policy and so, in 2004, Geldof persuaded Blair to head an examination of African poverty and the role the international community has played in its tragic history. The study was titled the Blair Commission for Africa and focused on debt relief and increased aid as the most direct means of alleviating the “living wound” of Africa’s plight. The next step, Blair and Geldof decided, would be to convince the leaders of the world’s seven richest nations (G7 plus Russia = G8) to commit to the Blair Commission program. And what better way to force these politicians into a deal than to get a billion people involved in the process. So, as Blair got set to host the G8 summit at a golf course in Scotland, Geldof called Bono, Madonna and Pink Floyd, trucked his speakers into London’s Hyde Park and invited the world to the show.
I sat among “thousands of millions,” as Bob Geldof put it, watching the concerts from their homes. Switching between MTV and AOL’s live-to-net broadcast of the concerts in London, Paris, Berlin, Toronto, Philly, Rome, I hummed along with a roster of stars that, as much as they tried, just couldn’t muster the earnest save-the-world insurgent spirit that had made Live Aid such a global phenomenon. Watching Kate Moss’ then-boyfriend Pete Doherty wander deliriously onto the stage and then barely get through a shrill rendition of T-Rex’s classic Children of the Revolution seemed like the symbolic moment. For a generation that has the world at its fingertips, which truly lives in a virtual global village, they have less sensitivity and connection to the plight of starving Africans than the kids did 20 years ago.
Sure, everyone wore their white wristbands, cosmetic evidence of their unity with the campaign to Make Poverty History. But in a development that was symbolic of the disconnect between the glossy, star-driven first world campaign and the soul-draining struggle of the global poor, it was later reported that millions of the bands were produced in Chinese sweatshops where workers are paid 25 cents an hour. As usual, the intentions were good, but you know what they say about the road to hell. And the irony wasn’t lost on many in the Western media. When Geldof announced the concerts on CNN, declaring they were “dealing with the roots of that poverty,” critics assailed him for assembling a “hideously white” roster that only included two African-born performers. Many saw it as a ploy to raise the sagging profile of old, unfashionable rock stars like The Who, Paul McCartney and Duran Duran, while others charged that it was the rock stars who were being used by the G8 politicians.
Bono brushed off the latter criticism, saying “Is there some degree of being used here? Yes. But I am not a cheap date, and neither is Bob Geldof.” Which may well be true. As a result of the Live 8 and Make Poverty History campaigns, the G8 agreed to cancel the debt of the world’s eighteen poorest nations and double 2004 levels of aid to Africa from U.S.$25 to U.S.$50 billion by the year 2010. But when this failed to impress the very Africans Live 8 was created to benefit, neither Bono nor Geldof had any snappy comebacks.
“One should not be surprised,” wrote the African scholar Samir Amin in his The Liberal Virus, “that at the very moment when capitalism appears to be completely victorious, ‘the fight against poverty’ has become an unavoidable obligation of the rhetoric of the dominant groups.”
It’s something that the Western media missed entirely. Here we were, fifteen years after end of the Cold War, long after capitalism has been declared the world’s ideological victor, still focused on world poverty. And, with a situation in Africa no better than twenty years ago when the last world aid music event was held. Now, of course, many would say that it is not the fault of liberalism that African countries have not been able to institute sustainable fiscal policies. And that would be true if there wasn’t a long legacy of liberal economic intervention on the continent of Africa, much of it designed around the goal of relieving poverty. So what’s wrong with this picture?
Samir Amin claims that for representatives of the World Bank, IMF and rock stars like Bono and Bob Geldof, poverty is only ever seen as an empirical measurement, one that can be conquered through mathematical reasoning. Increase aid, remove the debt… problem solved. But this is just rock star economics. The reason nothing has changed for Africans since the last time Geldof and Bono beamed their message into hundreds of millions of homes worldwide is that they have been sucked into playing the game of the G8 leaders. They discuss poverty without challenging the methods and mechanisms that generate it.
Now, for Amin the Marxist, the foundations of African poverty are deep and advancement is a treacherous road, obstructed by the evils of capitalism. But it wasn’t just the far left that was questioning Live 8. Two weeks after the concerts, the New York Times published an op-ed by Cameroonian journalist Jean-Claude Shanda Tonme which essentially built on Amin’s criticism, but from a different perspective.
“Our anger is all the greater because,” Tonme wrote, “we didn’t hear anyone at Live 8 raise a cry for democracy in Africa. Africa’s real problem is the lack of freedom of expression, the usurpation of power, the brutal oppression… Don’t they understand that fighting poverty is fruitless if dictatorships remain in place?”
At a time when the armies of America and Britain are supposedly fighting anti-democratic insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, these words should have stung the eyes of pro-war liberals who applauded the debt relief program as a crucial step toward ending poverty.
“Neither debt relief nor huge amounts of food aid nor an invasion of experts will change anything,” wrote Tonme in the Times. “Those will merely prop up the continent’s dictators… We would have preferred for the musicians in Philadelphia and London to have marched and sung for political revolution.”
But revolution is hardly the kind of thing that Geldof’s government-friendly spectacle was designed to inspire. The closest anyone got was a Versace-clad Madonna singing “Music makes the people come together. Music makes the bourgeoisie and the rebels come together.” And there’s good reason for that. Because revolution in countries like Cameroon, Chad and Togo would demand overthrowing leaders who have a long relationship with the IMF and World Bank. Leaders who, according to John Perkins, the “Economic Hit Man” turned best-selling author, are given huge sums of money that are never expected to be repaid “because the nonpayment is what gives us our leverage, our pound of flesh.”
Working for the international consulting firm of Chas T. Main, Perkins’ job was to create optimistic financial projections for developing countries that would justify huge IMF and World Bank loans. Though the money was supposedly lent to recipient nations for infrastructural development, much of it never left the United States since it went directly to Main or other U.S. construction and engineering companies like Bechtel or Halliburton which were contracted to do the work. More importantly, Perkins writes in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, he would bring in such high loans that it would drive the countries bankrupt and they would be “forever beholden to their creditors, and… would present easy targets when they needed favors, including military bases, U.N. votes, or access to oil and other natural resources.”
“It’s a sham, it’s a subterfuge,” he says solemnly.
Perkins views the recent pledges by the G8 to Make Poverty History as the latest chapter in this legacy of economic entrapment.
“This program to forgive debt in eighteen nations, with another twenty-two on the back burner, that’s an amazing tool of economic hit men. I believe totally in debt forgiveness, but this is not about debt forgiveness. Every one of those countries is being asked to allow American corporations or international corporations to privatize their electric and water systems and many of their other resources. They are asked to accept the trade barriers we have in the United States and the other G8 countries and yet not keep their own trade barriers to protect their markets from our products. So we are using this debt forgiveness ploy as a way to get them more entrenched in the empire. It’s a very, very subtle and effective economic hit man tool and yet, most people don’t seem to realize that.”
Just one month after the G8 leaders made their highly publicized vow to cancel debt for the poorest eighteen countries, a document leaked from the World Bank severely undermined the credibility of their promise. Penned by Geoff Lamb, the bank’s vice president for concessional finance, the document explained that “most countries receiving 100 per cent debt cancellation would be classified as ‘green light’ and therefore become eligible for new borrowing.” Even more damning is Lamb’s reference to a G8 document instructing that those nations receiving debt relief should be “eased into new borrowing.” According to Perkins, this borrowing will then funnel right back into projects earmarked for Western companies.
Commenting on the leak, Dave Timms of the World Development Movement (WDM) said the World Bank was essentially “asking the executive directors how quickly they can get the countries that receive debt relief back into patterns of borrowing and back into debt.” A World Bank spokesman dismissed the controversy, describing the document as “an informal and preliminary presentation.”
But what about Perkins’ assertion that, as a condition of the debt relief, these countries would be forced into privatizing their resources and lowering trade barriers? A quick glance at the Blair Commission report, the U.K. government’s analysis of African poverty that formed the basis for Bob Geldof’s partnership with Tony Blair in Live 8, is telling. Its opening line states that, “for its part, Africa must accelerate reform.” Reform, of course, is a code word for privatize. Clearly, despite all the nice talk, this is still the modus operandi for the neoliberal forces of globalization. In September 2005, a report published by WDM showed that of the IMF and World Bank’s official poverty reduction strategies (P.R.S.P.’s), which enforce conditions for debt relief, loans and aid on a country-to-country basis, “90 per cent contain privatisation measures… and over 70 per cent include trade liberalisation.” Trade liberalization is another euphemism for lowering of trade barriers.
A report from Council on Hemispheric Affairs explained the G8 “debt relief” scheme this way: “Candidates seeking debt relief are caught in a classic Catch-22 dilemma: in order to relieve poverty they must institutionalize the circumstances that created it in the first place. This compromise does not end when external debts are finally relieved. Rather, countries must continue to conform to IMF/World Bank expectations in order to win the good credit ratings that are the password for attracting foreign investments.”
Finally, I decided to do a random check on one African country that was scheduled for debt relief – the New York Times op-ed writer Jean-Claude Shanda Tonme’s beloved Cameroon. In October 2005, just four months after Live 8, Cameroon announced that it “plans to privatise its state airline, water utility and telecommunications company as part of an IMF-backed economic reform programme aimed at obtaining debt relief.”