Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Solipsistic Left

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  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    I would like to know what those who opposed the war had as an alterntive.

    'Wow! What happened here?'
    'Well, this building used to be an orphanage but it caught fire. Thos bodies over there are all the orphans.'
    'So you just let the place burn to the ground?'
    'Well, not exactly. These two guys ran in and tried to put the fire out and save the orphans. Problem was they were drenched in gasoline and carrying sticks of dynamite - that's when all of this happened.'
    'Oh my God! Why didn't you try and stop them?'
    '(Sneering with contempt) What? And then just let the orphanage burn to the ground?'

    Personally, my alternative to the botched US invasion and occupation was to have an, uh, unbotched international invasion and occupation. Imagine if you had a division of the Egyptian army patrolling the Sunni triangle, or a hundred thousand German troops to safeguard Saddams munitions stores after the invasion. What if - instead of dismissing the entire Iraqi army, refusing to pay them out and then opening fire on them when they protested (thus ensuring that several million unemployed soldiers in a country awash with weapons now loathed the US) they kept the army together and used it to provide security and rebuild the damn country?

    Clearly under the Bush Administration all of these were pipe dreams so my other alternative for the US is not to invade and occupy another country if you have a dishonest and incompetent government.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    I would like to know what those who opposed the war had as an alterntive.

    neil mate, i've seen you trot out that line many, many times.

    everyone agrees that saddam was a problem. the real question is, "is he a big enough problem to require the invasion and occupation of iraq?"

    answer? no.

    [cue waving of arms by hawks]

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    81stcolumn: that'd be a very interesting discussion to have, but I don't think we'd disagree all that much. All I wanted to do was point out that it was very, very odd of Simon to say that people on the left supported Saudia Arabia and its human rights record out of fear or hatred for George Bush.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Russell, have a look at that site with the creepy obsesion with Aaronovitch. Are you really keen on people who think that even putting pressure on the South African Govt to criticse Mugabe are is too much liberal intervention?

    Which would be to mischaracterise the tenor of both the blog post and the Aaronovitch column it refers to.

    I do find it odd that you think that blog's "creepy" though. It's just a watch site, and a far from creepy one at that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    I'm not at all mischaracterising the post. That's what they were on about. They took great offence that Aaronovitch should be asking those who fought apartheid to firmly condemn Mugabe. Their reasoning was that such pressure from the South African Govt would surely make things worse in Zimbabwe. Who do you think would actually benefit from such inaction and why do you think that site would be encouraging such inaction?

    It's an obsessive and irrational watch site. Creepy.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • noizyboy,

    RSS feed...

    bloglines is choking on it because it's coming up as invalid. Check the validator errors.

    wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 171 posts Report Reply

  • Terence Wood,

    The Indecent Left review of Nick Cohen mentioned above is here. It's well worth a read as are some of his posts on Ollie Kamm.

    It's not so much Cohen's initial support of the invasion of Iraq that irked me - I thought it was a tenable position even if I ultimately disagreed with him. It was his (and Kamm's and Harry's Place's) actions afterwards that got my goat. Despite it becoming clearer and clearer that: the war was a disaster; the Bush adminisatraion was truely, truely inept, corrupt and bereft of ethics; and that the invasion was a massive own goal in the 'battle' against violent Islamic fundamentalism - there seemed to be no pause for thought of critial reflection. Instead they just moved on to a critique of a tiny portion of the English left. Really, if human rights and the global good are their concern, you would have thought they might have written a bit more about Climate Change for example, or the actions of some of our allies, or even just spent the time thinking about how one might pragmatically improve things in Iran. But no, it's all about the SWP and respect, and somehow apparently this tars the rest of the left too...

    Compare this with Johann Hari, who supported the war, who continued to focus on the welfare of Iraqis after the invasion, and who has written strong critique about bush et. al.. And who was open in print about the fact that he was wrong on Iraq (something that Cohen has not done.)

    Neil, as for alternatives this question needs to be broken into two parts:

    1. The threat that Hussein represented outside his boarders.

    and

    2. The threat he represented to his own people.

    In terms of 1, as the complete absence of WMDs showed, the containment strategy was working; moreover, smart sanctions and oil for food removed the worst of the welfare consequences of santions on Iraq's people.

    In terms of 2: given the number of deaths since the invasion, and the number of lives that could have been saved had the money been spent on development elsewhere, the situation pre invasion - as appauling as this sounds - was the lesser of two evils.

    Still I have to admit that I always hoped that there might be a better option still out there. Some potential alternatives were - wait until there was a better US govt. with international support to invade (still a riasky strategy) and also to slowly ramp up the constraints on Saddam's political power (think the no fly Zones over Kurdistan etc. and then let the opening of political space ultimately topple him). Mary Kaldor makes this argument well here

    Since Nov 2006 • 148 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    RE what alternatives there were.

    I'll state at the start that I have no idea what would have been the best way of dealing with Saddam and that the war proved too costly in human life.

    But I do not believe that the pre-war situation was sustainable and it caused its own problems. The sanctions, no-fly zones, US troops in Saudi Arabia - all necessary to contain Saddam - were used ruthlessly for propaganda purposes by bin Laden and Saddam. How long were we expecting the US and Britain to keep this up?

    We now know the degree to which Saddam's rule created sectarian hatred. Leaving him in power would just have made that worse.

    The oil for food money was going straight into Saddam's pockets, not to feeding the people as it was supposed.

    Saddam continued to harass the Kurds in the north and at the first opportunity was going to recapture that area.

    Saddam had two psychopathic sons hovering in the wings to take over.

    As I say I have no good ideas, but it is reasonable to expect in considering the alternatives to the invasion to consider just what the costs of those alternatives might be. So let’s put those alternatives on the table for scrutiny.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Terence Wood,

    Neil,

    Arro watch is hardly obbsessive and creepy. Were it so, it would be highly unlikely that Arronovitch would link to it from his blog under the heading "Good Stuff". It's light hearted mostly, and often slightly tounge in cheek. It's also happy to give Aro credit when they think he has a fair point.

    Since Nov 2006 • 148 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Ok I'll take back creepy. But there critcisim of Aaronovitch over Mugabe I find disturbing. If forceful criticism of Mugabe is now to much liberal inrevention, too Decent Left, then, really, who benefits?

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    To be honest, I think my secular modernism is under more direct threat from the religious fundamentalists of America than it is from Islamists. The Islamists' derangement might be considerably greater, but I don't think they have the power to change the society with which I identify. The other lot just might.

    I suspect that Aaronovitch and Cohen would say, among other things, that the radical Islamic desire to resolve the Jewish question is more troubling than the threat the posed by the US religious right.

    I don't hold far left political views, and I think Cohen may have a point in respect of the debate that has taken place in the UK. I wouldn't take it personally if I were you though:

    HAROLD PINTER last night delivered a stinging attack on Tony Blair and Bill Clinton over the threatened war against Saddam Hussein, claiming the US President had kil1ed thousands of children" by sanctions and accusing the Cabinet of being excited by the prospect of dropping "big bombs" on Iraq. The playwright led mounting opposition to war in the Gulf at a meeting of dissident Labour MPs at Westminster, as Cardinal Basil Hume, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, released a letter to Mr Blair expressing "strong doubts" over whether military targets could be hit without causing "disproportionate harm". Mr Pinter, a long-term critic of American aggression, told The Independent that the close Anglo-American relationship forged between Mr. Blair and Mr. Clinton was "shameful and pathetic". He said: "The USA is a monster. It's actually the USA that needs to be stopped. "Everyone knows that war is appalling but what we lose sight of is that it's been abstracted now and sanitised to such a degree... I said in my speech that Mr Clinton has killed children and he hasn't even noticed it, because they are actually abstractions - they are children dying by his sanctions." War had been sanitised by political propaganda from government with a certain kind of complicity in the media. That was certainly the case in the Gulf War." Mr Pinter added: "I am not a pacifist. I am rational." Addressing an anti-war meeting at Westminster, Mr Pinter said: "Despite continual references to thc solidarity of 'the international community', the United States has in fact held international law in contempt for so long it has succeeded in rendering the concept meaningless. "Madeleine Albright [the US Secretary of State] said the other day "our patience is running out'. I remember a man who used to say very much the same thing in the l93Os. The USA is now a bovine monster out of control. That this government can so glibly ally itself to such a pointless, utterly irresponsible and profoundly dangerous enterprise is lamentable."

    Since Nov 2006 • 797 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I'm not at all mischaracterising the post. That's what they were on about. They took great offence that Aaronovitch should be asking those who fought apartheid to firmly condemn Mugabe. Their reasoning was that such pressure from the South African Govt would surely make things worse in Zimbabwe. Who do you think would actually benefit from such inaction and why do you think that site would be encouraging such inaction?

    Aaronovitch's column concluded with the order "you must get rid of Mugabe."

    I think the point of the blog post in response was that that was an easy declaration to make from London, not such an easy thing to do when you're a junior foreign minister in South Africa weighing up the possibilities of a civil war on your border. As it pointed out, taking the voice of Aaronvitch's former comrade Aziz Parhad:

    I am apparently meant to pull out my magic wand and make everything all right, and the fact I haven't done so means that I am morally corrupt, and have betrayed all the values we used to share and which you, by getting a well paid job on the Times, have maintained and I, by taking a difficult political role in a developing country, have not. Fuck off, David.

    It concludes:

    Look, old comrade, maybe I'm right or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's past time for the diplomatic option and war is inevitable. Maybe a firmer line from us would not be such a huge risk and could achieve something. That's the thing about politics, you never can tell; a point you have often made yourself. But are you really so god damned sure that I'm wrong, that you're prepared to take the pulpit and damn me six ways to Sunday for disagreeing with you? It is not as if your judgement on these things has been all that great in the recent past, is it?

    It might be wrong, but I think the point it makes is a reasonable one.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22834 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Our democratic rights are far less under attack than, for example, those of women in Saudi Arabia, and yet confronted by the dreadful George Bush, we've forgotten our internationalism.

    But "we" didn't elect the Saudi government or the mullahs. We bear responsibility for them only insofar as we buy their oil and sell them weapons. A reasonable response to this would be to depend less on oil and stop selling weapons to unpleasant governments. An unreasonable response is to use this to justify erosion of rights on the grounds that "Saudi is far worse".

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Aaronvitch's point is that South African leaders have been mealy mouthed in their dealings with Mugabe. Yeah, it may be easy to say from London but does that really mean we shouldn't be saying this?

    In the article quotes Desmond Tutu -

    “How can what is happening in Zimbabwe elicit hardly a word of concern, let alone condemnation from us leaders of Africa?”

    I agree. And I find it very troubling that there is such hostility to merely wanting leaders to condemn Mugabe, not invade for god sake, just condemn.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Sonic,

    Someone said earlier that Cohen had admitted that his support for the war was a mistake, I've never seen that in print, has anyone got it?

    On the wider issue of the "decent" left, they do not really care about issues such as Darfur or Zimbabwe, if they did they would do something about them. They use those issues as a stick to beat their opponents, ie, "I find it very suspicious that you are mentioning Israeli war crimes when they pale into insignificance compared to (Insert crime de jour here)"

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 102 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    The oil for food money was going straight into Saddam's pockets, not to feeding the people as it was supposed.

    Well this is simply untrue. Saddam certainly profited from the arrangement but the amounts were peanuts compared to his profits from illegal oil trading with Turkey and Jordan. Oil for food basically fed the entire country (unless you think all that wheat he bought from Australia 'lined Saddams pockets' somehow).

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • James Bremner,

    The description of the SWP is very similar to International ANSWER, a nasty bunch of creeps that is at the vanguard of the anti war movement in the US. ANSWER actually sent money to Zarqawi to support him and his head hackers when they had their base in Fallujah.

    ANSWER et al get their knickers all in a bunch about a few meatheads on the night shift at Abu Graib doing some stupid stuff to some prisoners, during which no one was injured for which the soldiers were punished, while they actively support violent misogynistic head hackers for whom blowing up civilians & children is just another tool of war, and "Well yes, but so what".

    Old Red Ken Livingston cozies up to some pretty nasty Islamists who want Sharia law in England, with all the oppression and loss of human rights that this entails and this is just fine?

    It seems that those who pride themselves on being tolerant are so tolerant that they will tolerate extraordinary intolerance, all in the name of tolerance, of course!! And the rest of us are just supposed to go "Okay, that's cool, what a good idea!” Maybe not.

    People and groups that protested for woman's rights, gay rights social justice etc. find themselves working with or effectively supporting Islamists who have no concept of woman's rights that we would recognize, stone to death woman accused of adultery who are actually victims of rape and think gays should be killed. I have to say that it all looks all very strange, from the outside looking in, kind of like a bad Monty Python sketch. I wish Graham Chapman would jump in and say "And now for something completely different!!", and we could forget all this nonsense, but unfortunately I don't think that is going to happen anytime soon.

    NOLA • Since Nov 2006 • 353 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    People and groups that protested for woman's rights, gay rights social justice etc. find themselves working with or effectively supporting Islamists who have no concept of woman's rights that we would recognize, stone to death woman accused of adultery who are actually victims of rape and think gays should be killed.

    While there's some who are doing that, there's others who aren't. The 'left' is a very broad and diverse place, and there's a heap of nutters there just like everywhere else.

    And just because people support governments/peoples etc that are a long way from perfect, doesn't mean they support everything they do. My government pisses me off several times a week, but they're better than the alternative IMHO.

    Just because there's no perfect government in the Middle East, doesn't mean people shouldn't engage with the region and voice their opinion about their country's foreign policy. The alternative is to keep your head in the sand, and there's enough of that in the world already.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Danyl, OK an overstatement but my more general point was that through the sanctions system Saddam and his cronies grew rich while the population suffered. And Saddam (and Galloway etc) made great use of that suffering for propganda.

    Generally I'm for sanctions but with Iraq they went on for 12 years and looked set to contunue for some time. The difficluty was finding some solution to Saddam that could mean ending the sanctions.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    ANSWER et al get their knickers all in a bunch about a few meatheads on the night shift at Abu Graib doing some stupid stuff to some prisoners, during which no one was injured for which the soldiers were punished

    james... if there was ever any doubt that you are a troll, that statement has dispelled it.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    Yes, that and the excrutiatingly long sentences that wended their weary way to...

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    doing some stupid stuff to some prisoners,

    Well, when the Iranians do the same to those British sailors, that'll be just fine, won't it? It's only stupid stuff.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Hannah,

    It seems that those who pride themselves on being tolerant are so tolerant that they will tolerate extraordinary intolerance, all in the name of tolerance, of course!! And the rest of us are just supposed to go "Okay, that's cool, what a good idea!” Maybe not.

    Dude, when you're tolerating homicide and claiming that it didn't hurt anyone, you're sort of undercutting your argument.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 228 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    sonic, that's funny given the discussion over Aaronovitch getting rapped over the knuckles for suggesting doing something over Zimbabwe.

    But if you’re interested, over at the Euston Manifesto site you can be part of an email campaign in support of union rights in Zimbabwe.

    And Head Decent Tony Blair is threatening force over Darfur.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    The Euston link should be this

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

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