Archive for the 'war on terror' Category
Traffic has recently gone through the roof at the ironically-named Socialist Unity Blog, as Andy Newman has been giving us all invaluable blow-by-blow coverage of the split in the Respect coalition [now here and here]. And having built up a huge readership for the blog, it can finally turn its attention to the issues that matter — so Tawfiq Chahboune has been brooding on the issue that bugged me here and here, concerning Martin Amis, camels and wheels. Continue over the fold for the relevant portion, or visit the original over here.
Back when I was a student some time in the early 1990s, I remember discussing with a friend our impatience with the transformations then underway in the economic policies of the Labour Party, then led by John Smith and with Gordon Brown as the Shadow Chancellor. And we joked that we wouldn’t mind the shift to the right so much if the substance of the new policies could be presented to the electorate in properly Marxist language, labour theory of value, declining rate of profit, calculations of relative surplus value and all the rest.
And, as so very often, be careful for what you wish for, just in case it comes to pass. The very same Gordon Brown, freshly arrived at the top of the greasy pole, has just been calling for “vigilance“. So, see over the fold for the entry on “Revolutionary Vigilance” from R. N. Carew Hunt’s indispensable Guide to Communist Jargon (1957), pp.143-5…
More post-election analysis from Mel P, over here.
Helena Puig Larrauri, who’s the President of the Student Union here in Oxford, went back home to Spain last week to be with her family in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings and to vote in the general election. She wrote an account of four very hectic days on Monday, which I’ve just published over at The Voice of the Turtle. It’s very interesting. Go and read it.
(Actually, the barking’s been going on for quite a while now, and the echo-chamber’s becoming quite oppressive.) Over on the other side of the Atlantic, MaxSpeak reads drivel so you don’t have to. Below are a few links to some of the more diverse contributions from the right-wing Brit-bloggers…
Leading the way, Andrew Sullivan: “BIN LADEN’S VICTORY IN SPAIN: It’s a spectacular result for Islamist terrorism, and a chilling portent of Europe’s future…”
Laban Tall, by contrast, reckons it was a “Victory for Murder“: “Whether or not the Madrid bombings turn out to have been the work of Islamic terrorists, the results of the Spanish elections will undoubtedly be seen by Al Quaeda as a sign that Western democracies don’t have the stomach for the fight”.
For Peter Cuthbertson, on the other hand, it was “A terrible day for democracy” Why? Because “The aftermath of mass murder ought to be a time when ordinary, decent people recover their inherent sense of moral absolutism and feel an unshakeable determination for the ruthless assertion of justice.” OK. And what does that make the Spanish electorate? They are “selfish, myopic dupes”.
And, finally, Melanie Phillips, of course, is a commentator who is well-known for her balanced, nuanced judgements. She calls it a “Victory for terror“. “The Spanish general election result is a disaster. The Spanish have reacted to the atrocity in Madrid by dumping a government that was committed to fight terror and replacing it by a government that will appease it. Eleven million Spaniards took to the streets last weekend to show their solidarity in the face of terror, and two days later voted to abase themselves before it. Al Q’aeda could not have more perfectly choreographed a result that serves its cause…”
UPDATE [10.30pm]: Graham (see comments) points us all towards this very useful site which might one day replace Sullivan, Tall, Cuthbertson, Phillips et al. Thanks, Graham.
UPDATE [16.3.2004]: Peter Cuthbertson rightly notes in the comments that he only ever said that those “who let the events of 3/11 swing their vote in favour of the party they thought would antagonise Bin Laden less” were SMDs, not the entire electorate. Apologies.
Isn’t the simplest explanation for what happened in Spain just that the splendid response of the population — with eight million on the streets in protest against last week’s bombings and in defence of Spanish democracy — had the effect of raising the electoral turnout; and that when turnout rates rise in the context of a general democratic mobilisation, Left parties are more likely to benefit, given that it’s the poor, the unemployed, the working class, the less well educated and so on who are, other things being equal, those who are less likely to cast a ballot? And that all the witterings about whether the Socialists are craven defeatists in the struggle against terrorism (they probably aren’t) or whether Mr. Aznar was opportunistic in attempting to pin the blame on Eta for short-term electoral reasons (he probably was) pale into relative insignificance beside this fact?
I conclude that yesterday was a great day for Spanish democracy.
UPDATE [17.3.2004]: Chris Lightfoot has crunched a few numbers, and the provisional conclusion to draw is that I’m barking up the wrong tree here. The data’s very imperfect, however. On the other hand, as Harry is pointing out, there’s some evidence that the PSOE was moving ahead of the PP even before the bombs went off.
From the Melbourne Age:
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark was frisked at Sydney Airport for explosives in an incident that has embarrassed the Australian Government.Despite having a NZ security officer with her, Miss Clark was pulled out of a queue on October 28 and given a body scan with a new explosives detection device to make sure she was not a bomb-carrying terrorist, The Age has learned.
Senior Australian Government sources said the incident was an embarrassment. It was not regarded as the right way to treat the leader of Australia’s close ally, they said
“You won’t be surprised to hear the New Zealand Prime Minister was not found to be carrying any explosives,” a spokesman for Transport Minister John Anderson said.
One of the odder political organisations I’ve ever belonged to is the London branch of the New Zealand Labour Party, which was basically run out of Austin Mitchell’s office at the House of Commons, and its infrequent meetings usually took place to coincide with Helen Clark’s visits to London.Happily, she didn’t blow us up on those occasions, either.
[A few words in defence of the "Yes, but..." reaction to the events of 11 September 2001 follow. If you think that no defence is possible, you may want to stop reading now.]
The second anniversary of the atrocities of 11 September 2001 has come around, and there has, of course, been a lot of media coverage. There’s also been a bit of coverage in the media I read (other people’s blogs, really) critical of what we might call, because it has often been called, the “Yes, but…” response to the attack on the World Trade Center from many on the liberal and left end of the political spectrum, at home and abroad.
Many people, it is charged, said things like this, that “Yes, the attacks were awful, but we shouldn’t forget that the Americans have done bad things in the world before then”. And it is often contended that saying things like this has the effect of mitigating the atrocity, explaining it away, excusing the perpetrators, blaming nobody, blaming the victims, and other bad things. These attacks on the “Yes, but…” crowd are often – not always – meant by those who make them to constitute an indictment of what is sometimes called “the Left”, by drawing attention to its moral blindness, relativism, postmodernism, pathological anti-Americanism, and so on (fill in various other failings here).
Amid the more polemical contributions on this subject, there’s some reasonably temperate discussion of the matter today over at the Crooked Timber blog, in response to one of Chris Bertram’s characteristically thoughtful posts, and it is reading this that has prompted me to write this. (His new Rousseau book, by the way, is a fine piece of work: I’ve read a little bit more than half of it, and I’ll have more to say on this subject, probably, soon).
For it seems to me that if we’re to pick over the contextualising “Yes, but…” language that was around — and it was around — in the aftermath of 11 September 2001 (some of it, I am sure, falling from my own lips) we need to do some work in turn to remember the context in which that kind of language was itself used.
In the days following the Twin Towers atrocity, there was an awful lot of talk in the press and from the politicians which had the effect of decontextualising the shocking events of that day: “The planes came out of a clear blue sky”, we were told, repeatedly, as if the attacks themselves came out of the blue; there was a press discourse of America’s “innocence” being shattered by the violent destruction and loss of life; commentators were quick, too quick, to say that “everything changed” on September 11, and so on.
This kind of discourse was politically highly useful to a White House which decided very quickly to reverse its hitherto reasonably isolationist policy and adopt a new and highly interventionist foreign policy stance — one which has brought us the War Against Terrorism, the attack on Afghanistan and, more recently, the war against Iraq (as well as the US Patriot Act, etc.), and all of whose effects, for good and ill, are yet to be felt. The President, furthermore, had his own explanation for why what had happened had happened: “They hate our freedom; they hate our democracy”, he told us, in his speeches which set out and sought to justify this new American foreign policy.
Thus it was only to be expected that those who contested the policy — and there were lots of reasons for contesting the policy, as we all know — also sought to contest the underlying series of claims and justifications underpinning that policy, which included already-politicised claims about the causes of the events of 11 September. Against a President who rested content with over-simplistic (if not entirely stupid) public explanations for what happened, his critics had to explain that things were, as they saw it, a bit more complicated than that. But, in the circumstances, that was something which was very hard to do without saying things that could, either at the time or subsequently, be considered a piece of “Yes, buttery…”, for the “but” marked, as it were, the moment when the speaker began to set out at least part of the grounds of his or her political disagreement with the Administration’s view of things.
And that’s how, it seems to me, that troublesome “but” needs to be understood in most cases: not as the product of a morally defective desire to excuse atrocity, but as part of an (as it turned out) politically ineffective attempt to resist the drumbeat of war.
Of course, in the circumstances, some people on both left and right did say some pretty stupid things, and some people, both for and against the Bush administration, said some things which some of those who heard them found offensive. But that’s what happens in a politics of high stakes, and the stakes were extraordinarily high in September and October 2001.
UPDATE: Marc Mulholland has some sensible words on Yes Buttery, too, over at his Daily Moiders.
Over at the normblog, Norman Geras writes (among many others) these words:
It may be worth pointing out that I don’t only mean, here, criticism from those who opposed the war. I mean also from those of us who supported it. For any deliberate misleading of the public that there was (if there was), so far from strengthening what was already a good case for war, would have detracted from it. It would have detracted from it via the implication that there weren’t sound enough reasons for a regime-change intervention, when there were. There were on human rights grounds, because wherever the proverbial pale might be thought to be located in this matter, the Baathist regime had long been beyond it. And there were sound reasons, as well, because of what was taken as established knowledge about that regime’s record on WMD (of both possession and use of these) ï¿½ a point not too well remembered by the war’s critics in the last couple of months ï¿½ and of what it had yet to account for to the world community. By attempting wilfully to deceive the public, if it should turn out that this is what either or both of them did, George Bush and Tony Blair would have done a disservice to the case for war by the implicit suggestion that, in their own minds, the case wasn’t good enough already – which it was. Deliberate public deception by democratic politicians is in any event a vice not to be taken lightly.
And in one of his ever-interesting Daily Moiders, Marc Mulholland argues along these lines:
I paid a fair amount of attention to the run up to the war. Nevertheless, I have no recollection that WMD being deployable in 45 minutes was ever a real issue. Certainly no pro-war people I know paid much attention, nor did anti-war people waste much effort in trying to cast doubt on it. … The open casus bellum was that Saddam was defying, even if only in detail, UN demands for disarming. This implied another casus bellum, suspicion of Saddam’s motives and aims. The unofficial ambition of US / UK was to detroy a repugnant regime. The hope was that they could create a reasonably pliant regime in the region that, nevertheless, would act as a democratic beacon undermining the corrupt old mainstays of western influence, particularly Saudi Arabia, not to mention Iran & Syria. It is a reversal of the old tradition of bringing down radical democratic (or at least populist / nationalist) regimes by sponsoring a coup.
The 45 minute issue is a bizarre diversion from all of this..
I’m putting these two extracts together because they seem to me to miss more or less the same point, which seems to me to be an important one. On Planet Geras, there were some good reasons to go to war, but Mr Blair perversely chose to focus instead on some bad reasons, and, by trying to make those bad reasons appear better than they in fact were, may have misled the public. On Planet Mulholland, by contrast, there were both open and hidden reasons for war, but neither set of reasons has much to do with the so-called “45-minute” claim which has been gripping the British media in general and the Independent newspaper in particular for the last few months.But in both cases we need to remember why Mr Blair was trumpeting these bad reasons for war so often and why these bad reasons were so important to him that (at the very least) he and his minions encouraged the dissemination of various misleading and false claims to the public, the media and the Labour backbenchers whose votes were crucial in the parliamentary division of 19 March about the actually-existing threat which Iraq posed to the UK.
First, Mr Blair wasn’t prepared to be seen to tear up existing international law altogether in the run-up to the war by demanding “regime change”, which would directly threaten both of the fundamental pillars of the international legal regime: state sovereignty and non-intervention; indeed, the Attorney General produced a solemn (but not yet published) memorandum explaining why he reckoned, implausibly, that the Government’s behaviour was fully in accordance with international law.
Second, the claim that the US and the UK were acting to uphold the will of the UN was quadruply and terminally undermined by (i) the text of the relevant resolutions, which did not use the standard codewords (“all necessary means”) to authorise war, (ii) the failure to get the all-important (to Mr Blair) “second resolution” through the Security Council; (iii) the obvious opposition of most UN member-states to the war; and (iv) the fact that the UN’s own weapons inspectors in general and Hans Blix in particular made it reasonably clear that they were coping pretty well and that they didn’t really welcome further military intervention in Iraqi affairs.
The reason Mr Blair fell back on telling porkies about the kind of threat that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed to the UK is that (for whatever reasons: take your pick from the above list, or from any others that take your fancy) he had decided he wanted to go to war, and he didn’t think he could get enough public and political support to sustain him through the conflict if he was patently undermining both international law and international opinion.
So Norman Geras is right: he did go out on a limb to emphasise some appalling reasons for war; but this wasn’t just a silly error of reasoning on his part: he exploited those appalling reasons because he judged (almost certainly correctly) that the better reasons weren’t going to be politically effective in getting him the war he wanted to fight. And Marc Mulholland is also right: no thoughtful observer of the politics of the build-up to the war should have taken the so-called 45 minute claim seriously, and no-one was especially interested in it, but it’s important to remember why it, and the various other claims like it in the silly dossier on the Iraqi threat, were stitched up into an important figleaf for Mr Blair and why (horribly to mix a metaphor) it’s not at all bizarre that the media should now want to shine a spotlight on that figleaf in the way that they are doing.
It seems to me that the kindest thing that one could say about Mr Blair is that he’s an incompetent Machiavellian. If you think (and, to clarify, I do not now and did not think then) that the case for military intervention was so compelling that any political leader should have been perfectly prepared to commit, all things considered, relatively minor acts of public dishonesty so to intervene, then Mr Blair’s only crime is to have been found out.
But since incompetent Machiavellians are probably the last people by whom we should wish to be governed, it’s not a terribly strong line of defence after all.
UPDATE [31.8.2003]: Norman Geras replies.
Please consider adding your name to the following statement. If, after reading it, you like what it has to say, please take a few seconds to visit this page and add your name to the statement. The statement was released on March 27, 2003, and already more than 2697 have signed on!
“I stand for peace and justice.
I stand for democracy and autonomy. I donï¿½t think the U.S. or any other country should ignore the popular will and violate and weaken international law, seeking to bully and bribe votes in the Security Council.
I stand for internationalism. I oppose any nation spreading an ever expanding network of military bases around the world and producing an arsenal unparalleled in the world.
I stand for equity. I donï¿½t think the U.S. or any other country should seek empire. I donï¿½t think the U.S. ought to control Middle Eastern oil on behalf of U.S. corporations and as a wedge to gain political control over other countries.
I stand for freedom. I oppose brutal regimes in Iraq and elsewhere but I also oppose the new doctrine of ï¿½preventive war,ï¿½ which guarantees permanent and very dangerous conflict, and is the reason why the U.S. is now regarded as the major threat to peace in much of the world. I stand for a democratic foreign policy that supports popular opposition to imperialism, dictatorship, and political fundamentalism in all its forms.
I stand for solidarity. I stand for and with all the poor and the excluded. Despite massive disinformation millions oppose unjust, illegal, immoral war, and I want to add my voice to theirs. I stand with moral leaders all over the world, with world labor, and with the huge majority of the populations of countries throughout the world.
I stand for diversity. I stand for an end to racism directed against immigrants and people of color. I stand for an end to repression at home and abroad.
I stand for peace. I stand against this war and against the conditions, mentalities, and institutions that breed and nurture war and injustice.
I stand for sustainability. I stand against the destruction of forests, soil, water, environmental resources, and biodiversity on which all life depends.
I stand for justice. I stand against economic, political, and cultural institutions that promote a rat race mentality, huge economic and power inequalities, corporate domination even unto sweatshop and slave labor, racism, and gender and sexual hierarchies.
I stand for a policy that redirects the money used for war and military spending to provide healthcare, education, housing, and jobs.
I stand for a world whose political, economic, and social institutions foster solidarity, promote equity, maximize participation, celebrate diversity, and encourage full democracy.
I stand for peace and justice and, more, I pledge to work for peace and justice.”
The co-authored essay which produced this statement is here, with a list of the initial signatories.
LJUBLJANA, March 27 (Reuters) – The United States mistakenly named Slovenia as a partner in its war against Iraq and even offered it a share of the money budgeted for the conflict, the tiny Alpine nation said on Thursday.
One day after hundreds of Slovenians hit the streets to protest the inclusion of their nation in Tuesday’s U.S. war budget, Prime Minister Anton Rop said Washington goofed.
“When we asked for an explanation, the State Department told us we were named in the document by mistake as we are not a member of the coalition against Iraq,” Rop told a hastily arranged news conference.
Slovenia was one of the states named in the $75 billion U.S. war budget which must be approved by Congress and includes grants to partners in the U.S.-led military action. Slovenia was slated to get $4.5 million from the budget, which Rop said will not be forthcoming.
“We are a part of no such coalition. We are a part of a coalition for peace,” Rop said.
Thanks to Richard for this gem.
2. The Onion‘s war edition is out, with Bush Bravely Leads 3d Infantry Into Battle, Dead Iraqi Would Have Loved Democracy (“Baghdad resident Taha Sabri, killed Monday in a U.S. air strike on his city, would have loved the eventual liberation of Iraq and establishment of democracy, had he lived to see it, his grieving widow said…), and a handy Point/Counterpoint: This War Will Destabilize The Entire Mideast Region And Set Off A Global Shockwave Of Anti-Americanism — No It Won’t.
3. The best recent entertaining-if-true-but-it-probably-isn’t story comes in the reports that Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary may be in Amman en route to Baghdad to be a human shield. (UPDATE: Or is it the other Cheney daughter, Elizabeth — the straight daughter who works for the Administration — who is in Amman in order to begin ceasefire negotiations?)
4. In the beyond parody category, we should place Andrew Sullivan’s confession that “I cannot read the New York Times right now”, together the decision to award Dick Cheney’s Halliburton a big juicy contract to fight oilwell fires in Iraq without even putting it out to tender…