Onward, Rieff

Ezra Klein made a good point a couple years ago: good old fashioned, unabashed leftism is too uncommon these days. When the left-most edge of the mainstream consists of people like Robert Reich, you know there’s a problem. Luckily, over at BloggingHeads.tv David Rieff (in a discussion with the far more reasonable Michael Cohen) is here to solve it. Everyone who’s read Rieff’s work knows him to be an insufferable isolationist who really does embody the worst “blame America first” caricatures that the right tries to paint mainstream Democrats with. And in that he does not disappoint here, claiming within an hour that Germany has as strong an idealistic pull to immigrants as America (which is pretty absurd on its face), that Israel isn’t a democracy, that Woodrow Wilson is comparable to Joseph Goebbels, and that the Monroe Doctrine is the equivalent of contemporaneous European imperialist endeavors in Africa. Indeed, at one point he outright says that, when he thinks of America, he doesn’t think of the UN or the Marshall Plan but of the overthrows of Arbenz and Mosaddeq and of Suharto’s invasion of East Timor. Which is an, er, eccentric perspective. All of this is, of course, delivered in Rieff’s trademark condescending, jaded, “I’ve lived through this and know it all ends badly” tone. Wonderful – way to stretch out the ideological spectrum, Dave.
One more word about that colonialism point, however, since it’s been made by “neocolonialism” scholars and people like Chalmers Johnson for a while now. In a sane world, one shouldn’t have to point this out, but there is a real difference between placing military bases and providing economic and military aid to a country, and colonizing it. They are truly, inherently different. France didn’t just control the Algerian economy and polis, it believed, until the early 1960s, that Algeria was a vital part of France. Same with Belgium and the Congo, or Britain and Kenya. That has not been the case with the US and any territory since Hawai’i. We don’t believe that Japan, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or any other country commonly listed as a de facto client state is a part of the United States. We support them, and heavily influence their policies, but they maintain an independent character in a way that France purposefully tried to suppress in Algeria, and Belgium in the Congo, and Britain in Kenya. To equate the two is simplistic and silly.

2 thoughts on “Onward, Rieff

  1. Yeah, David Rieff can be annoying, but I’ve always had a place in my heart for him, he is, after all, Susan Sontag’s son. But more importantly, how did you manage to listen to that? Michael Cohen’s audio was not just standard bhtv bad, but unlistenable bad.

  2. I think everyone has a special place in their heart for Susan Sontag and her kin; anyone who wrote “Notes on Camp” and traveled to Sarajevo to put on a production of Waiting for Godot is pretty lovable. That said, the things I dislike about Rieff are exactly those which go against the latter tendency in his mother. Whereas she stood alone on her end of the left in supporting intervention in Bosnia, he’s now standing alone among prominent commentators in opposing action in Darfur.
    And maybe I need to get my hearing checked, but I didn’t have much of a problem understanding Cohen. The commenters did seem annoyed about his audio.

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