Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0008775, Sun, 19 Oct 2003 08:39:53 -0700

Fw: Martin Amis quotes Nabokov's letter ...

----- Original Message -----
From: Sandy P. Klein


Intellectuals Who Distrust Freedom

By Jim Hoagland
Sunday, October 19, 2003; Page B07

American and European intellectuals have a history of distrusting politicians and thinkers from oppressed countries who clamor for the same political and economic freedoms that our savants enjoy. The clamorers cannot represent authentic nationalism if all they want is to be just like us, the reasoning seems to go.

I can understand les profs at the Sorbonne and would-be apparatchiks in the administrations-in-waiting at the Brookings Institution and Harvard's Kennedy School upholding this reverse spin on Groucho Marx's old saw: He refused to join any club that would have him as a member. The savants will not take in members who approve so heartily of the free-market club they inhabit.

But it is much harder for me to understand why President Bush and some senior members of his administration take so readily to that kind of distrust of pro-democracy advocates when it comes to Iraq. This is not an intellectual bent they come by naturally.

Bush has at times deliberately ruled out specific support to Iraqis who have lived under and fully understand Western democracy and who can promote its values in their own country. He has, I am told, accepted the argument made by Jordan's king, Egypt's president, the CIA and others that Iraqis who lived outside the borders of the Baathist terrorist rule are terminally "out of touch" and should not be given any advantages in organizing the country's political future.

That reasoning led to the disastrous U.S. decision not to train large numbers of exiles to serve as interpreters, guides and military police officers arriving with the March invasion force.

It is now a chief cause of the floundering of Bush postwar policy. Day after day, administration spokesmen make it clear the White House is being told -- and is agreeing -- that it must not trust the Iraqis whom U.S. forces fought to liberate. Some officials trash the Governing Council that the administration put in place, evidently to avoid having to give it real power anytime soon.

"The Governing Council is not seen as legitimate by the Iraqi people. They're not ready to take power," according to an unnamed senior official quoted by the State Department correspondent of the New York Times earlier this month.

Talk about disloyal leaks from the upper echelons. How would you like to be dodging bombs in Baghdad while trying to write a constitution so that Colin Powell's people can deliberately undermine you in complete anonymity?

The reasons for this distrust are varied. But much of it stems from the prominent role that Iraqi exiles such as Ayad Alawi, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Pachachi and Abdul Aziz Hakim play on the Governing Council. Bitter foes as they fought for scarce external support while they were living abroad, they have forged a relatively good working relationship since they came home. But a lingering prejudice in Iraq against political exiles blocks significant recognition of this positive development.

Vladimir Nabokov called attention to the West's ingrained distrust of emigres in a reproachful letter he sent to Edmund Wilson, the essayist who had extravagantly praised Lenin's regime, which may have had a hand in the assassination of Nabokov's father in Berlin in 1922:

American commentators "saw us merely as villainous generals, oil magnates, and gaunt ladies with lorgnettes" who had only selfish and base motives for opposing Lenin. That stereotyping made their testimony unwelcome and unweighed, the great Russian novelist regretfully wrote to his future ex-friend.

Martin Amis quotes Nabokov's letter in his recent book, "Koba the Dread," and then argues that "the emigres were very broadly the intelligentsia. They were the civil society," which was crushed and forced into exile by the professional revolutionaries of Bolshevism, who were perversely lionized by many in the chattering classes in the West.

Raymond Aron, an outstanding French intellectual of the 20th century, would recognize today's strange postwar climate. Western writers, Washington politicians and Arab monarchs who never bothered to issue a single critical word about Saddam Hussein as he killed or tortured millions of Arabs and Iranians harp upon the failings and "illegitimate" nature of the Governing Council. Some of them feign moral outrage over (trumped up) embezzling charges against Chalabi.

Writing in the 1950s, Aron denounced intellectuals who were "merciless toward the failings of the democracies but ready to tolerate the worst crimes as long as they are committed in the name of the proper doctrines." They have survived even the end of the Cold War. It would be tragic if Bush and his team were to give them comfort and legitimacy by sharing the savants' reflexive disdain for people who gave up their homeland for so long in order to regain it in freedom.


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