28 July 2013

Linfield Reads Stallabrass ... and so on.

"Reading this anthology—many of whose pieces date from 2008, and some of which were previously published—is like trolling through a flea market looking for gems. The book mounts no sustained argument, or arguments; instead, it covers—in a fairly haphazard fashion—such issues as the role of embedded photographers; the use of torture in the wars in Afghanistan and, especially, Iraq; and the ways in which technological changes are affecting the reception of photojournalism and the work of photojournalists. Still, I like flea markets ..." ~ Susie Linfield

The passage above opens Linfield's review of the collection Memory of Fire: Images of War and the War of Images* by Julian Stallabrass at the Aperture blog. Turns out that Stallabrass replies and Linfield responds. These are two of the best writers on photography around. Where they disagree is over the assessment of US imperialism. Here I side with Stallabrass. Linfield in many respects wants us to draw a curtain over the US role in Iraq prior to the military adventures and war crimes of Bush #2 and his minions.
"Everything that Julian Stallabrass says about how Iraq was strangled, weakened, and torn up by international sanctions and the U.S. invasion is correct. What he doesn’t say is that Iraq had been strangled, weakened, and torn up by previous decades of misrule by Saddam Hussein’s pathologically violent, repressive Baath regime. I am always mystified as to why “anti-imperialists” believe that the history of a country begins when the U.S.—or another power—invades it."
And she wants to call attention to the obvious flaws of the Iraqi resistance.
"The “resistance” in Iraq is rabidly intolerant, sectarian, murderous, and misogynistic; like the Taliban in Afghanistan, it represents a reactionary, totalitarian program. To romanticize, or even remotely defend, these movements is, I think, a cruel hoax. They do not represent any sort of liberation, or any sort of decent future, for their fellow citizens."
Let me be clear - Linfield is right in this second passage. I am not defending the opposition. However, nothing she says there excuses the US intervention. Moreover, it is disingenuous to suggest that Saddam Hussein simply emerged  as a vicious dictator of his own accord. We ought not to frame our arguments so narrowly that they neglect the documentary record.

This, of course, is Donald Rumsfeld, among the primary architects of Bush #2's foreign policy disasters, caught in a compromising pose. This was his earlier incarnation (1983) as Special Envoy to the Middle East under Reagan. The latter, of course, underwrote Hussein politically and financially. (Background here.)  Hussein surely was a pathological tyrant, but he was to some considerable extent our pathological tyrant. In other words, recognizing the disaster that is the current Iraqi opposition is wholly consistent with forcefully pointing out the duplicitous meddling (and much worse) of the US in Iraq for decades. Linfield surely knows that.
* The book is published in the UK by Photoworks.

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