What's Left

September 16, 2003

Even a liberal candidate of stirling qualities would make little difference, but an "antiwar" war criminal?

By Stephen Gowans

Michael Moore, the documentary filmmaker, whose credits include Bowling for Columbine, The Big One and Roger & Me, likes what he sees in former General Wesley Clark. Clark is toying with the idea of seeking the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, and if Moore has his druthers, Clark will run.

So what does Moore, the antiwar liberal, see in Clark, the warrior? A lot. According to Moore, the former general:

Opposes the Patriot Act and would fight the expansion of its powers;

Is firmly pro-choice;

Filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan's affirmative action case;

Would get rid of the Bush tax cut and make the rich pay their fair share;

Respects the views of other countries and wants to work with them and with the rest of the international community;

Is opposed to war.

That's enough for Moore to urge Clark to seek the Democratic Party nomination. He says he's not endorsing Clark, but he likes what he sees.

Moore admits there's something odd in his backing a general. But that's not the half of it.

What the filmmaker forgot to point out in a letter to friends and supporters urging them to contact Clark and ask him to run, is that the former general -- the man Moore says opposes war -- led NATO's illegal 1999 war of aggression on Yugoslavia, a war that compelled Human Rights Watch (renowned for pulling its punches where the US is concerned) to condemn Clark's forces for grave breaches of humanitarian law. Clark ordered NATO warplanes to bomb civilian targets, bridges, roads, factories, power stations, petrochemical plants, a radio-TV building --  all war crimes.

Curiously, Moore hasn't time for former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who faces war crimes charges (which, only the most credulous wouldn't suspect of being trumped up), but has more than a little time -- and kind words -- for Clark, the liberal "antiwar" war criminal, whose war crimes are evident in the wrecked civilian infrastructure of the country whose bombing he oversaw four years ago.

That should leave more than a few people scratching their heads, not only over Moore, but over Clark's claiming he's opposed to war. Maybe Clark is sincere (he says war should only be used as a last resort) but were the former general president, would his self-described antiwar views make any difference? They didn't when he was Supreme Commander of NATO. And if Clark could reconcile his antiwar views as NATO chief, couldn't he do the same as Commander in Chief?

It might be said that as NATO chief, Clark had to follow orders, even those that conflicted with his liberal, war-as-the-last-resort values, if he wanted to keep his job. But as Commander in Chief, he'd be boss. He'd have free rein to run the country as he saw fit.

That's a standard liberal view, and perhaps one Moore shares. If so, it would account for why his activism has always been aimed at people at the top -- from GM Chairman Roger Smith (Roger & Me) to Nike Chairman Phillip Knight (The Big One); people Moore seems to think shut down auto plants and open Third World sweatshops because they're greedy and benighted, not because they're pushed to by a global capitalist system. The flip side is that if you happen upon an establishment figure who embraces liberal values -- even if his track record is dodgy -- you back him for the top job.

In Moore's view, the top guys have free rein, and can choose to pay high wages, keep money-losing plants open, and encourage unions to thrive, if they want to. Elect the right people, with the right views, or sweep the boardrooms of the nation clean, and replace them with liberals and people of conscience, and auto plants will soon be reopened in Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan, Third World sweatshops will be shut down (and production will shift to the US where employees will be paid decent wages), and legislation will be passed forbidding profitable firms from laying off employees. In other words, the imperatives of a global economic system can be abolished by Moore's activism and the good will of people at the top.

But that's not how it works. It doesn't really matter whether those in charge are liberal paragons (as Moore thinks Clark is) or models of turpitude (as he thinks Bush is.) What really matters is the coercive, external forces that act upon them. CEOs who lay off employees feel no delight in their actions, but say they do what they do, not because they want to, but because they have to -- the firm's profit-interests are at stake. That's the coercive external force. And if they don't do it, someone else will. In short, their hands are tied. But Moore never sees the ropes. Or if he does, he thinks they can be readily broken, by a supreme act of good will. Can good will abolish the requirement of firms to seek a profit, and of governments to help them do so?

As in business, so too in politics. Ask yourself this: Why is the US, alone among Western industrialized countries, and not a few Third World ones, including Cuba and Libya, without a universal public health care system? Americans, who live in a much vaunted democracy, want one, there's no question they need one, there's no doubt they can afford one, and a former president (Clinton, who Moore backed) worked to get one. So why has the confluence of democracy and the good will of the guy at the top, failed to deliver one?

The answer is that the views of presidents -- and of a majority of Americans -- don't matter half as much as the profit-interests of  private health care providers and the insurance industry. Appeal to the president all you want. Invoke American democracy. It makes no difference. Money talks, usually through presidents, and over them, if it has to.

Another question? Who was one of the principal German figures backing NATO's war of aggression on Yugoslavia? The answer is Joschka Fischer, the Foreign Minister, and also leader of the German Greens, officially a pacifist party. Fischer says he's opposed to war, which makes him, as much as Clark, a liberal antiwar war criminal. You'd think that four years ago, with the liberals Clinton and Blair at the helm, and antiwar liberals like Fischer and Clark in key positions, that war on Yugoslavia could never have happened. Still, it did. Maybe the views of those in charge don't matter as much as Moore thinks. Maybe wars of conquest aren't the exclusive domain of Bush and his coterie of hawkish advisors.

Fischer's coalition partner, Gerhard Shroeder, is the prime minister of Germany, and a socialist. His views are unquestionably as liberal as Clark's, if not more so. Still, he's rolling back public services, because the global economic system -- which he and other progressives have no plan to challenge  -- demands it. Bush isn't the only world leader aggrandizing corporations at the expense of employees and the public.

And elsewhere in the world, liberals, progressives, and social democrats, from Lula to Chile's Ricardo Lagos, preside over governments that have made peace with the global capitalist system and its imperatives. They may be people of good will, who care about the environment and the poor and jobs for all at decent wages, but it hardly matters. Greedy or altruistic, liberal or fanatically right-wing, it's the rules of the game that keep directing the players in the same direction -- tax cuts for the rich, privatization, rolling back public services, wars of conquest, whatever it takes to fatten bottom lines.

An executive I know, a thoughtful man, kind and charming, explains his company's unkind, uncharming and inhumane downsizing, wage cuts and union-busting, this way:

"Do I like it?" he asks. "Is it good for the people affected?"

"No. Absolutely not! But that's capitalism."

The answer to this is, "Well, then capitalism must be replaced."

As an alternative, we can listen to Moore and waste our time replacing Bush with a liberal antiwar war criminal who will follow in the hoary presidential tradition of pursuing wars of conquest, redistributing income upwards, and mollycoddling the wealthy, not because he wants to (though he might), but because he has to if he wants to keep his job.

More than 150 years ago, the same guy who pointed out that the "will, either good or bad, of the individual capitalist" doesn't matter, what does is "the immanent laws of capitalist production [that] confront the individual capitalist as a coercive force external to him" described the state in capitalist society as an executive committee for arranging the affairs of the business class.

You can change the members of the committee, but if you don't change their masters, you haven't changed a thing. That, Moore -- who sees merit in replacing one war criminal (a conservative) with another (a liberal) -- hasn't figured out yet.


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What's Left