Sunday, October 12, 2003

Susan Sontag Speaks Out, From Germany

As so many in the literary and media world have done, Susan Sontag is making remarks critical of American policy in Iraq, but from the perceived safety of Europe. I guess she falsely thinks she's insulated by the Atlantic. Sontag has been very abusive of American policy towards Iraq, and Bush administration policy in general, since Day One, so it's not like she's hiding anything. But I'll guarantee she'll get more press coverage than she has been with these remarks.

While in Germany to receive a "peace prize" from German booksellers, she had this to say:
“I think as long as the USA has only one political party — the Republican party, a branch of which calls itself the Democratic party — we aren't going to see a change of the current policy,” she said.

Sontag said Bush's policy breaks with America's 50-year-old tradition of consulting with its allies on global matters instead of acting on its own, which the Bush administration did when it went to war against Iraq without the backing of the United Nations.

“It's really the end of the republic and the beginning of the empire,” she said, likening former President Bill Clinton to Julius Caesar and Bush to Agustus.
Her statements about the US now not requiring UN approval and coordination before we act is a bit like saying, "Hey! The sun's yellow." Since 9/11, Bush policy has been just that, to move away from international entanglements that stifle US interests in favor of a status quo Euro-quagmire politics. I think this unilateral approach is a good thing, as Europe has long shown they are willing to let the US finance their militaries while they command them. It's better to heed the Jeffersonian advice to avoid foreign entanglements.

As they say, read the whole thing. There's quite a bit more. You can find more of her remarks here, including some editorialising by the Deutsche Welle.

Now, on the subject of republic vs. empire, I think she's more onto something. It's a healthy debate to maintain: is America sliding toward empire? Sontag believes so, and I worry that we may be. But the surest sign that we are not is Europe and Japan today. If we were empire, they'd be client states. Anyone can see that's not the case, especially Europe. Look at our most recent involvements in Kuwait and Kosovo. In neither country has America set itself up as a master. But I do think we're still a bit too close, in that we're aiding Europe in maintaining hegemony over the Eastern Baltic states. And it's definitely true that we're just involved in too many places around the world for our own military health; our political health as well. It's something to think about. You can read some good stuff by author Jerry Pournelle here or by just scrolling down from the main page and looking at topics. It's a high-quality content site anyway.

On the subject of Susan Sontag, her book "Illness As Metaphor," is one I recommend unreservedly. I did a paper on this in college. She looks at the tuberculosis scare of the early 20th century and the myths and fears that built up around the disease. Then she looks at the cancer scare of the late 20th century with the same eye and dymystifies the disease. It's a powerful essay. She later wrote "AIDS And Its Metaphors," which the book above also contains.

Shame about the politics, though.

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