George Soros's words often kick up storms. And another storm has hit.
This time it's about comparing America today and Nazi Germany -- and how states deal with their not-so-pleasant pasts. Just for the record, Soros also included Turkey and Japan in his mix of history-denying countries that faced obstacles in approaching their futures in a healthy way.
Soros is sort of like a less careful Alan Greenspan whose wrinkled brow, or the length of pause before he spoke, or a small wink could generate political and economic tsunamis.
Soros is worth something around a couple or few tens of billions of dollars and donates through his charities half a billion dollars a year, most of this to help cultivate civil society development in former Soviet bloc countries. Recently, he has broadened his arena of concerns -- particularly in the area of global warming/climate change and doing something to help shore up global resistance to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He has also invested a lot in trying to help us to get rid of or to get beyond the Bush presidency
But the right wing hates George Soros. And the NeoCons (on the right or the left) hate him more.
I just don't get it though because he has actually helped change societies successfully and is a hero in much of the world. The necons too have wanted to change the world -- albeit with guns, while Soros did it through education and political and civil institution buildng. One must surmise then that they are both jealous of his success and have a counterproductive obsession with military-driven social change, something that rarely if ever works.
If there was a person in the United States or the world who better reflected a "transformational diplomat," a person concerned with checks and balances inside governments and who telegraphed a concern for basic human rights in everything he funds and animates, I don't know who the person is.
So, what exactly did George Soros say. Here, is is a recap from the New York Post that adds to an original item written by Floyd Norris's "Davos Diary" for the New York Times:
After asserting that the United States is recognizing the error it made in Iraq, Soros said, "To what extent it recognizes the mistake will determine its future."
He went on to say that Turkey and Japan are still hurt by a reluctance to admit to dark parts of their history, and contrasted that reluctance to Germany's rejection of its Nazi-era past.
"America needs to follow the policies it has introduced in Germany," Soros said. "We have to go through a certain de-Nazification process."
Soros spokesman Michael Vachon told Page Six: "There is nothing unpatriotic about demanding accountability from the president. Those responsible for taking America into this needless war should do us all a favor and retire from public office."
Martin Peretz in The New Republic under a small header "The Madness of King George" (more aptly applied to the current occupant of the White House) and a subsequent title, "Tyran-a-Soros" has written the most vile depiction of the Soros commentary :
George Soros lunched with some reporters on Saturday at Davos. He talked about spending $600 million on civil society projects during the 1990s, then trying to cut back to $300 million, and how this year it will be between $450 and $500 million.
His new projects aim, in Floyd Norris's words, to promote a "common European foreign policy" (read: an anti-American foreign policy) and also to study the integration (or so he thinks) of Muslims in eleven European cities.
He included among his dicta a little slight at Bill and Melinda Gates, who "have chosen public health, which is like apple pie." And then, after saying the United States was now recognizing the errors it made in Iraq, he added this comment, as reported by Norris in The New York Times' online "Davos Diary": "To what extent it recognizes the mistake will determine its future."
Soros said Turkey and Japan were still hurt by a reluctance to admit to dark parts of their history and contrasted that reluctance to Germany's rejection of its Nazi-era past. "America needs to follow the policies it has introduced in Germany. We have to go through a certain deNazification process."
American arrogance is tough enough for the world to handle -- but arrogance after botching up a war that has resulted in the deaths many tens of thousands and displaced millions while U.S. citizens at home enjoy a comfy life of tax cuts and Desperate Housewives -- is even more over the top.
Martin Peretz is part of the crowd that pounded a drumbeat for the Iraq War and has been complicit with the other Chief Ideology Officers of the neocon movement -- folks such as Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, Bill Kristol, and Charles Krauthammer -- in engaging in a broad denial of the idiocy of this military action and are today ignoring lessons that could be learned from our Iraq debacle as they encourage yet another disastrous clash -- this time with Iran.
Soros properly and appropriately referred to de-Nazification because that was a process that assured that there was accountability for the deadly, barbarous, and horrible actions taken by the government of Germany. Like in Japan, political and military leaders -- and some social, educational, and business leaders -- were purged from their offices in order for those of different political ilk to come into positions of power.
Soros is referring to political accountability and political change after what many conservatives are calling a series of the worst political and military strategic mistakes in modern American history. He is referring to those in the White House and in American politics who turned a blind eye after Abu Ghraib, who did nothing when people were shut up -- some mistakenly -- without legal counsel in Guantanamo. He is referring to those who sat on information related to the Haditha horror until it was exposed.
Peretz is lambasting Soros because of the temerity of comparing anything that the United States might do in the world with the horrors of what Nazi Germany did -- and these were horrors. Peretz and others seem to think that they have some kind of monopoly in drawing on metaphors that related to German war crimes in the mid-part of last century, particularly when it comes to the Holocaust and to Jewish issues. (though he might not realize how utterly offensive and inappropriate the comparison of "King George" is to someone who has done more than anyone in history to finance the cultivation of systems of checks and balances around the world.)
Soros might have used Japan's case to make his point -- but he knows Japanese history less well and intimately than that of Europe and Germany's role. Soros is talking about those who place ideology over empirical rationality, those who have positions of power and did awful, terrible things in our own government -- and now need to be "purged" from our system.
I agree with Soros and understand the metaphor he was using. I have the sense of context and I think the maturity to know that Soros was not implying that America is on the same moral plain of a German state that exterminated six million Jews. Of course Soros is not saying that -- and Peretz and the other critics that have tried to ride this wave know it too.
They are manipulating Soros's comments to try and pin on him some notion of moral equivalence while missing the key issue that Soros is saying that we have gone through the worst erosion in the fundamentals of American democracy since the domestic internment camps of Japanese-Americans since World War II, and perhaps even before that.
Soros has a strong and compelling point -- and I think it should be heard for what it is, untarnished by the likes of Martin Peretz who have twisted from Soros's comment the important value it should have for our discussions in this country about the character of our future political course.
Martin Peretz, to my knowledge, has engaged in little to no self-scrutiny about the role that his own influential commentary had on the buildup to the Iraq War. He, to my knowledge, has not exposed his close personal relationship with Ahmed Chalabi -- whom I met at The New Republic at a meeting organized by Peretz for editors of the magazine. I emphasize to my knowledge.
Peretz helped sell Chalabi -- and helped sell the Iraqi National Congress -- to official Washington. Chalabi, whose intelligence chief later defected to Iran, and Chalabi who himself allegedly passed on information he was getting from his American contacts to Iranian sources.
There is a corruption and self-censorship that hit Washington and blinded many in responsible political positions and government roles and allowed the U.S. to launch a war that should not have been launched -- and to spend a great deal of time and resources punishing those who were speaking out against it.
The Europeans tried to intervene and stop us from invading Iraq -- and they were right -- but still we punish them for their "disloyalty."
The administration and its fans of the "war of choice against Iraq," as Zbigniew Brzezinski stated recently, have also spent a great deal of time trying to punish and ridicule Soros -- anything to cast attention away from their own complicity in this disaster and their own mistakes. . .and their own disloyalty to the national interests of the United States of America.
We do need a political purge in this country. We need accountability -- and we need to face up to the terrible mistakes and -- yes -- the horror in some cases that our actions have unleashed.
Soros is right.
-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note
Update: This thoughtful email came in from a knowledgeable reader and should be added to the record:
The ugliest allegation in Peretz's screed is that George Soros was a Nazi collaborator.
This is simply untrue. Soros was a 13-year-old boy when the Nazis entered Budapest. His father hid him with an official from the Ministry of Agriculture (whose Jewish wife was also in hiding). Soros posed as his godson to avoid being murdered by the Germans.
Soros's father managed to hide his wife and other son as well, and helped many others escape. While Soros was in hiding with the official, a Mr. Baumbach, the official was assigned to inventory the estate a wealthy Jewish family that had fled to Lisbon -- leaving their property behind as the Nazis required. Baumbach spent three days inventorying the estate.
Rather than leave the child alone in Budapest, Baumbach brought Soros along. This is documented in Michael Kaufman's 1998 biography of Soros George Soros: The Life and Times of a Messianic Billionaire.
As for the 1998 60 Minutes interview, Pertez, like conservative Sinclair broadcasting before him, deceptively quotes Steve Kroft's conversation with Soros. As is clear to any one watching the excerpt, Soros does not say he participated in confiscation.
In fact he states earlier in the piece: "I had no role in taking away property." The notion that Soros in any way collaborated with the Nazi is nothing more than a neocon canard. Any commentator with the least bit of integrity should recognize this.
-- Steve Clemons