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The Beaten Devil

Oh, Counterpunch. How do I loathe thee? Clicking through the site's archives, one comes across a confused piece entitled "Muammar Gaddafi: In Memoriam," written by someone named Fawzia Afzal-Khan. This article ponders whether we should view Gaddafi as a tyrant or a reformer. The jury is out for Ms. Khan or, indeed, never convened in the first place. Perhaps not wishing to out herself as an unadulterated lover of tyranny, Khan is careful not to state too clearly what she thinks. Cockburn himself was less demure. Here's what he wrote about Gaddafi in October 2011:

Dollar for dollar I doubt Qaddafi has a rival in any assessment of the amount of oil revenues in his domain actually distributed for benign social purposes. Derision is heaped on his Green Book, but in intention it can surely stand favorable comparison with kindred Western texts. Anyone labeled by Ronald Reagan  “This mad dog of the Middle East” has an honored place in my personal pantheon.

Cockburn died in Berlin, Germany. If he had been living there in April 1986, he may have been one of the casualties of the bomb that exploded at the La Belle discotheque, planted by the henchmen of Abu Nidal, a long-time client of Gaddafi. How interesting, but not at all surprising, that Cockburn would choose only Western nations in which to live and hawk his wares, and only those that had been attacked or degraded most viciously by people he regarded, in varying degrees, as co-thinkers and comrades-in- arms.

Sometimes, this hypocrisy took the form of amnesia. In 1980, when the Afghans were getting their own taste of the Brezhnev doctrine, Cockburn wrote of their country:

An unspeakable country filled with unspeakable people, sheepshaggers and smugglers, who have furnished in their leisure hours some of the worst arts and crafts ever to penetrate the occidental world.... If ever a country deserved rape it's Afghanistan. Nothing but mountains filled with barbarous ethnics with views as medieval as their muskets, and unspeakably cruel too.

That, you see, is what they call "speaking truth to power." Predictably, Cockburn opposed the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. An alleged "radical," he nevertheless defended the status quo when it came to the most barbaric reactionaries and seemed comfortable with, if not amenable to, the death-cult establishments in Palestine and Lebanon. In fact, when I think hard about it, I wonder why this man was considered a radical at all. When your essential worldview is shaped by the writings of a 19th century German philosopher, you are not a radical. When you publish op-eds by dictators who have been in power since Eisenhower was president, you are, in a very literal sense, a conservative. When you're skeptical about everything except Josef Stalin, you cannot be said to have a very developed sense of bucking "the establishment."