Hard News by Russell Brown


David Cohen has sent me the text of John Lloyd's final essay for the New Statesman, in which Lloyd explains why he is resigning as a columnist for the magazine he once edited: because the left, blinded by its revulsion for American imperialism, has "made a fundamental mistake" in opposing the forcible overthrow of an odious regime in Iraq.

Lloyd doesn't say whether he believes US motives are entirely benign, but he is in no doubt that in defending sovereignty in the name of anti-imperialism, opponents of war undermine their claim to champion the oppressed. These arguments are always a bit easier to make after the fact of course - if he was so sure of his argument, why didn't he resign last year? But I absolutely agree with this passage:

The left's programme now should be to argue in favour of committing resources to those multilateral agencies that work, and to seek agreement from those forces everywhere in the world that are committed to democratic (or at least more responsive) government and to an observation of human and civil rights. The aim, as the US political scientist Michael Walzer has put it, should be a "strong international system, organised and designed to defeat aggression, to stop massacres and ethnic cleansing, to control weapons of mass destruction and to guarantee the physical security of all the world's peoples".

I would be happy to see a code which made full access to the international community contingent on human rights standards. Perhaps in the very end this might embrace a military response, but I would prefer the inducement of the ability to belong to an economic club - something, perhaps, like the European Union does. (It was interesting to see Hungary vote overwhelmingly - albeit on a low turnout - to join "old Europe" in the EU over the weekend. Other part-time members of the "coalition of the willing" are likely to follow, and Tony Blair wants to take Britain into the European single currency. Why? Because it's a better model than the bullying bilateral deals the US wants to do now.)

But it must be non-arbitrary and it must be consistent, and in the brave new world thus far outlined by the White House, there's precious little of that. In 2000, the UN human rights rapporteur on torture concluded his two-week fact-finding mission in Uzbekistan with the declaration that torture is "systematic" in the country's prisons and detention camps. The story contains this quote from exiled Uzbek author Safar Bekjo:

"In the first detention center, the detainee is beaten, verbally humiliated, punched, hung upside down, given electric-shock treatment, forced to wear a gas mask, and then made to inhale chemical gases. If a detainee doesn't sign the necessary document, a false confession fabricated by interrogators, then different torture methods are used. This includes cutting off fingernails, punching needles under people's nails, putting sticks or other objects into the anus, and raping women. These are mass-scale, special torture techniques. Authorities don't mind if the general public knows about this torture. It keeps them in constant terror."

Reads remarkably like the kind of torture-porn pro-war advocates have been tossing around since they settled on human rights as the most reliable rationale for war in Iraq, doesn't it? Yet this story was published at the same time that the US began describing Uzbekistan as an "ally" and moved its troops there.

Since then, Uzbekistan has mysteriously disappeared from the US State Department's latest register of countries that deny religious freedom, along with other US-friendly states, according to Human Rights Watch.

And next month - story courtesy of some dreadful lefty at the New Statesman - Clare Short, the British Secretary of State for International Development, is due to chair the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in ... Uzbekistan!

The US has also been happy to look the other way elsewhere in Central Asia too - notably in Turkmenistan, where the megalomaniac Stalinist dictator Saparmurat Niazov has renamed the months of the year and days of the week for himself and his family and appears to regard his powers as roughly equivalent to those of God. Why is this being tolerated? As former US Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Thomas Woodrow explained in this short but startling essay in February: oil.

To rejoice in the relief of the Iraqi people from a brutal dictatorship is one thing. To believe that the US action was motivated solely by a benevolent desire for democracy in the world is just stupid.

In the circumstances, it's understandable that The Left might have become a little confused about motivations and morality. Can you remind me why we're invading Syria next? I seem to have forgotten.