Jean Bricmont

The August 31 edition of CounterPunch contains an interview with the Belgian writer and physicist, Jean Bricmont, conducted by Kurosh Ziabari. I agree with most of what he says, but he makes a couple of highly problematic arguments. In response to a question about U.S. policy in the Middle East, Bricmont says:

    Well, I think one has to make a difference between support for Israel and the desire to “devour” oil. The two policies are not the same and are, in fact, contradictory. As, I think, Mearsheimer and Walt have shown, the pro-Israel policies of the U.S. are to a large extent driven by the pro-Israel lobby and do not correspond to or help their economic or geo-strategic interests. For example, as far as I know, there would be no problem for our oil companies to drill in Iran, if it weren’t for the sanctions imposed on that country; but the latter are linked to the hostility to Iran from Israel, not from any desire to control oil.

I can’t quite agree with this. Does Bricmont really think that the U.S. derives no advantage from having a heavily armed ally in the Middle East? The Arab Spring exposed the fragility of the U.S.’s client states in the Arab world. Israel, on the other hand, is rock solid. Now, more than ever, the U.S. needs to have a “policeman” in the Middle East. As for drilling for oil in Iran, even if there were no sanctions it would be impossible, because Iran has a nationalized oil industry.

From this, Bricmont immediately segues into another argument:

    The second remark is that the anti-war people are not necessarily on the left. True, there is a big part of the Right that has become neo-conservative, but there is also a big part of the Left that is influenced by the ideology of humanitarian intervention. However, there is also a libertarian Right, Ron Paul for example, that is staunchly anti-war, and there are some remnants of a pacifist or anti-imperialist Left. Note that this has always been the case: the pro and anti-imperialist position, even back in the days of colonialism, do not coincide with the Left-Right divide, if the latter is understood in socio-economic terms or in “moral” terms (about gay marriage for example).

    What we do not have is a consistent anti-war movement; to build the latter one would have to focus on war itself and unite both sides of the opposition (Right and Left). But if movements can be built around other “single issues,” like abortion or gay marriage, that put aside all socio-economic problems and class issues, why not?

This is the same as the “left-right” alliance argument that the late Alexander Cockburn used to make. This idea has always been a non-starter, for reasons that should be obvious. These “anti-war” conservatives all have terrible politics. Pat Buchanon is a racist. Ron Paul has ties to white supremacist groups. Israel Shamir is an anti-Semite. These things are not accidents. The supposed “anti-imperialism” of such people is really just the outward expression of an essentially nativist world-view. It is simply absurd to think that leftists can march side-by-side with racists and neo-fascists. Bricmont might as well talk about why the sea is boiling hot and why pigs have wings.

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