Los Osos, Calif.



Los Osos, Calif.

In his review of Christian Parenti’s The Freedom and other books [“Because We Could,” Nov. 8], Andrew Cockburn takes issue with Parenti’s thesis that we went into Iraq to make “US military might…the sole security arbiter upon which all advanced economies are dependent” and that “securing the Middle East and its oil reserves would give America important political leverage over the EU and East Asia.” Cockburn’s preferred explanation: Dick Cheney wanted to keep his Halliburton pension rolling in. In view of the fact that since 1992 the Project for the New American Century–Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, James Woolsey, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol, John Bolton, “Scooter” Libby, Zalmay Khalilzad, et al.–has advocated a military posture capable of, in their words, “deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role” and military intervention in Iraq to assure “access to vital raw material, primarily Persian Gulf oil” and that this doctrine, once its authors ascended to power, was codified into the National Security Strategy, yes, I think we can safely postulate at least this once, without Cockburn’s fear of delving into “wonkery,” that this nation acted “for reasons of foreign policy.” He might best think of it as his own theory of all governments‚ international actions “motivated by exigencies of domestic politics and/or squalid personal greed” writ large.



Santa Barbara, Calif.

I thank Robert Baer for his review of my book, The New Pearl Harbor [“Dangerous Liaisons,” Sept. 27], in which he, perhaps using methods learned in the CIA, cleverly supports the book’s argument while appearing to dismiss it. First, he begins by declaring, “Conspiracy theories are hard to kill.” He thereby pretends not to know that in the book’s introduction, I pointed out that the question is not whether one accepts or rejects a conspiracy theory about 9/11 but only whether one accepts the government’s conspiracy theory or some other one. By pretending not to know this, Baer suggests that to take issue with the book one needs only to put it in the “conspiracy theory” genre, thereby dismissing it a priori.

Second, he warns readers not to be fooled into thinking the book is “a search for truth,” because my “mind is all but made up.” By pretending to equate my state of mind before I began my research with my state of mind after I finished it, he appears to warn readers that I arrived at my views before examining the evidence. However, since he must know otherwise (assuming he read the introduction), he has simply helped the reader notice that it is his own approach that he has described. For he then says, “Griffin simply cannot accept that our national security system totally failed all on its own on September 11.” So, although my book revolves around the choice between these two theories–official complicity or massive official incompetence–Baer announces that the latter is the truth, saying that the attacks succeeded because of “a confluence of incompetence, spurious assumptions and self-delusion on a grand scale,” thereby suggesting that my book can be dismissed not by refuting its evidence but by dogmatically accepting the incompetence theory.

Third, Baer says that the incompetence theory is really implausible. After pointing to the failure of NORAD to protect us on 9/11, he asks: “Can it really be that incompetent?” He also shows that the claims of the FBI and CIA to have been “surprised by 9/11” are implausible.

Fourth, Baer uses strong words to denounce the book’s ideas, calling them “wacky,” “monstrous,” and referring to one of my sources as a “crackpot author.” This resort to name-calling is Baer’s clearest signal that in his view the book’s evidence cannot be challenged on its own terms.

Fifth, after pointing out that the Bush Administration used 9/11 as a pretext for the war in Iraq, he calls it a “senseless war.” He thereby pretends not to be aware that the desire for a pretext to take over a country with the world’s second-largest known oil reserves could have provided a powerful motive.

At this point, I must add that despite my admiration for Baer’s subtle way of supporting my case for an investigation into the charge of official complicity, he misleads readers by suggesting that the case for the claim that the Bush Administration reaped foreseeable benefits from 9/11 rests entirely on this pretext for the attack on Iraq. I pointed out, however, that 9/11 was also a pretext to pass the Patriot Act, to attack Afghanistan (for oil, gas and bases) and to jack up military spending, especially for the US Space Command, with its goal of weaponizing space. But this is a minor flaw in an otherwise splendid review.



Hamilton, NY

I was delighted to read Meline Toumani’s affirmative opinion about my book The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response [“The Burden of Memory,” Sept. 20], but I find her depiction of Armenian diasporan culture lacking in intellectual understanding and her assessment of the relationship between the Armenian genocide and Armenian diasporan culture shallow and morally skewed.

Toumani states that my book will become an “artifact in the fetish-culture of diasporan Armenians.” But fetishizing commodities is different from fetishizing a scholarly book. To imply that a culture can fetishize the extermination of nearly 1.5 million people and the destruction of a homeland of 2,500 years is to trivialize genocide and distort the Marxian and anthropological notion of fetishism. Toumani also suggests that the Armenian-American quest for Armenian genocide recognition is the lifeblood of the Armenian diaspora, that it is a glorying in victimhood and that this victimhood is inauthentic because later generations of Armenians didn’t really suffer.

Such a view lacks any understanding of the psychology of trauma and how grief and loss are transmitted across generations; the wounds of genocidal violence are passed down in deep and lasting ways, and for Armenians they are compounded by Turkey’s continued denial of its crimes. She also discloses little understanding of the peculiar condition of Armenian genocide discourse. For more than half a century after the genocide, Armenians had no voice on the world stage. One of the worst human rights crimes in modern history had gone unpunished, unacknowledged and denied. When an Armenian genocide discourse finally emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth century, it came as a catharsis, a recovery of a buried history and a morally empowering responsibility. Diasporan Armenians could now begin to seek justice for their culture, honor the memory of their martyred forebears and take on a role of moral leadership in the international human rights community.

How would Toumani expect Native, African-or Jewish Americans to behave if the cultures that had exterminated them today denied their crimes and pursued a program of harassment, blame and racist demonization? Scholars have called the Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide singular. In such a morally berserk predicament, shouldn’t Armenian-Americans and others respond with vigilance and an ethical pursuit of justice? Most Armenians in the diaspora seek first a fundamental climate of intellectual freedom where this history can be taught in the classroom and discussed in public without harassment by the Turkish government and community. After all, the Armenian genocide is a landmark history that inaugurated the modern era of genocide, was precursor to the Holocaust and helped give rise to Raphael Lemkin’s invention of the concept of “genocide.”

Last, Toumani treats Armenian-American culture as something inauthentic and devalues it with reductivism. Responding to Turkey’s denial is but one part of this rich diasporan culture. Any basic Geertzian and Turnerian understanding of culture (even with a Cliffordian caveat for contested difference) would have allowed Toumani to reflect on the fact that most Armenian-Americans share a system of complex symbols and images, a set of rituals, a system of gestures and encoded languages and, yes, indeed a shared history–one of the essential realities that all cultural communities are bound by.



Brooklyn, NY

Peter Balakian’s response fails to engage my fundamental point: that diasporas identify themselves in relation to a homeland, but that the psychological and material needs of the diaspora may be radically different from–and may even clash with–the needs of that homeland. In the case of the Armenian diaspora, this tension is particularly relevant because most diasporan Armenians profess a strong sense of dedication to the success of the new Armenian state and feel a deep affection for that culture and country.

When I visited Armenia last year, I found people were far less interested in Turkey’s recognition of the genocide than in seeing the border with Turkey reopened so that they could have normal commerce and interactions with their neighbor. Some suggested that economic relationships between Armenian and Turkish businesspeople could be the foundation for mending the longstanding bitterness between the two groups. Unfortunately, such relationships are impossible without an open border; and many argued that the intransigent behavior of diaspora Armenians on the genocide issue had fostered continuing hostility between the two states.

Is seeking redress for the murders of people who died eighty years ago worth it if it means preventing the improvement of the lives of a whole nation of people now alive? It’s a horrible, sad question, but until Turkey establishes diplomatic relations with Armenia, it’s unfair–and morally skewed, to use Balakian’s words–not to ask how diaspora behavior affects Turkey’s attitude toward Armenia.

Rather than considering this complicated scenario, Balakian repeats the talking points that Armenian-Americans are supposed to include anytime they get a few moments of airtime. In doing so, he wrongly implies that I suggest that Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide is OK.

Balakian also accuses me of not understanding the Armenian diaspora’s relationship to its history. His list of cultural theorists notwithstanding, I draw on memories of Armenian summer camp in America (a rite of passage for Armenian-American youth), where regions of the campground were named for Armenian battlefields. Hideous songs about war, bloodshed and revenge against Turks constituted the daily sing-a-long. (Granted, few involved in the passion plays understood the Armenian words, another peculiarity of these expressions of nationalism.) When I told Armenians in Armenia of this, they stared at me in disbelief.

Balakian accuses me of ignoring the psychology of inherited trauma. But the idea that grief and loss are transmitted across generations is not at odds with my argument. For later generations of Armenians in the diaspora, knowledge of the genocide manifests itself in many ways: deep pity, guilt, a sense of importance for having a dramatic history and confusion over the divided ethnic identity that results from a dispersion. I contend that the powerful need to honor and assert this sense of ethnic identity is, above all, what fuels the diaspora’s campaign for genocide recognition. This is not to forgive Turkey or to minimize the horror of genocide; it is simply to be honest about what drives human beings. This also helps explain, in part, why Armenians in Armenia–whose ethnic identity is not in question–feel less compelled to emphasize this part of their history.



Somerville, Mass.

Peter Canby’s review “Latin America’s Longest War” [Aug. 16/23] provides an insightful introduction to the sad and violent situation in Colombia, where 90 percent of workers earn no more than the minimum wage of about $120 per month. A few clarifications: Canby implies that three US contractors held by the leftist FARC guerrillas since early 2003 were piloting crop dusters. In fact, they were employed by California Microwave Systems (CMS), a subsidiary of military contractor Northrop Grumman, to conduct aerial surveillance in an area with a longstanding guerrilla presence. While the Americans were certainly interested in coca crops and cocaine laboratories, their mission was also part of the counterinsurgency. Their photographs provided intelligence on guerrilla activities just as surely as they identified the more easily camouflaged coca crops and drug laboratories. The CMS employees were veteran US military personnel working in the military services industry. They were accompanied by a Colombian army sergeant, and the national daily El Tiempo reported that their aircraft was participating in military operations “directly coordinated by US military personnel.” This illustrates the merger of the 2002-03 drug and antiterrorist (read counterinsurgency) wars. The fate of the three Americans is tied to that of other high-value captives, like former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. FARC wants to sign a “humanitarian accord” to exchange prisoners and “humanize” the conflict, but the Colombian government refuses to talk without a cease-fire. President Álvaro Uribe has a visceral hatred for FARC, who killed his father when he was 14. The captive high-tech mercenaries are largely ignored in Colombia and abandoned by Washington. To most Colombians, they certainly deserve no more consideration than the thousands of Colombian citizens in equally distressing circumstances.

Canby correctly points out that President Uribe “has demonstrated a willingness to move against not just the guerrillas but also the paramilitaries,” while indicating that government action against the paras has been “cautious.” One could draw a starker distinction between Uribe’s approach to the two illegal groups, however. Uribe proposed to allow the paramilitary commanders, considered responsible for 90 percent of human rights violations, to receive “alternative punishment” for war crimes and cocaine trafficking that would have involved no jail time. When that was disallowed by the courts, he offered to have them negotiate their own punishments as did Pablo Escobar, the powerful drug trafficker who had the government build him a luxury jail in the 1980s. In contrast, Uribe has consistently rejected FARC’s overtures for even a humanitarian accord. When the United States invaded Afghanistan, he expressed the wish that after finishing off the terrorists there, the Americans would come to FARC-dominated areas of Colombia to “do the same.” Uribe’s differing attitude to the two groups came through in recent comments to a BBC interviewer when he said that the actions of all illegal armed actors were unacceptable, including those of FARC, who intended “to subjugate Colombia,” and those of the paramilitaries, who wished “to defend Colombia.” This recalls Canby’s humorous description of the paras as “the armed wing of the middle class” in defense against guerrilla kidnapping for profit, but it also reminds us that the paras sprang from the private antiguerrilla armies of wealthy ranchers.

Canby states that “in the midst of the post-9/11 hysteria, the Bush Administration requested and received authorization from Congress to declare FARC a terrorist threat [thus allowing] the United States to use its drug funds and helicopters in anti-FARC operations.” However, the State Department had already declared FARC a “designated foreign terrorist organization,” in 1997.

Finally, Canby points out that FARC is far from being defeated and may have “simply retreated…to wait out the end of Uribe’s term,” a plausible conjecture when it was written. But this past summer, the guerrillas carried out their most deadly offensive against the armed forces in recent years. In November, another guerrilla group, the ELN, also staged an unusually large attack against the national police.

If readers come away from Canby’s insightful review with a greater appreciation of the Colombian labyrinth, they should understand that neither drugs, terrorism nor guerrilla war are responsible for the social crisis in the country, and that efforts based solely on their eradication will inevitably fail to solve it.


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