Sunday, October 29, 2006

In which Nick does not get away with murder

This week's Sunday Nick is a bit shorter than normal - dunno why. It's also a more or less straightforward Harry's Place knockoff - again, dunno why. As far as I can see, the reaction of the Decent Left to the collapse of the Iraqi project has been to redouble the effort on the "shameful silence of the Left" in Darfur. Have they become any less belligerent or any more inclined to think of the consequences of their actions as a result? That would be a no, and for this reason I for one am going to point out that the 650,000 deaths (and counting) which resulted from the Iraq invasion are their fault, in a very important sense. Bush couldn't have fought the war he fought without support from Blair, and Blair couldn't have provided that support in the entirely unconditional way in which he provided it if there hadn't been constructed a substantial block of left-wing support within the Labour party. Them's the facts.

And now we have to put up with Brian Brivati calling the view that intervention will make things worse rather than better a "shameful moral evasion" and Nick Cohen calling Jan Pronk an "accessory to mass murder" while simultaneously using him as a stick to beat Kofi Annan with. Well, lads, why don't you come in, sit down next to the fire, take your boots off, and I'll put the kettle on and we can all have a nice warm cup of shut the fuck up. You failed the exam. You don't get to have an opinion on the next disaster before you can explain why you got the last one so badly wrong and how you're going to avoid repeating your mistake.

Anyway ... on with the CohenWatch. He has one really bad factual error in there (email duly sent to Readers' Editor). Jan Pronk was not thrown out of Sudan "because he had been 'abusive' about human rights abuses". He was thrown out because he had said, on his weblog, that the Sudanese Army was losing major battles and suffering from serious morale problems in North Darfur (the military issue appears to be that they can't use their helicopter gunships, because the National Redemption Front has got access to some very nifty little shoulder-launched missiles, probably via al-Qaeda in Eritrea). There is a rather important difference, obviously.

There is also one characteristic Decent error of analysis. The UN has, of course, been sponsoring peace talks for the last six months. They have a major humanitarian relief effort going on. The International Criminal Court has been gathering evidence for the last year. But of course, the UN has "done nothing", because they haven't sent an army. Nothing except war counts as "doing something".

And of course, the whole story of Darfur is a Decent fairy tale - the ethnic and economic conflicts, the civil war, all reduced to a single story of racist Muzzie Arabs killing poor lickle helpless "Black Africans" (NB: all of the Sudanese are Africans and all of them are black. "Dar-al-Sudan" is Arabic for "Land of the black people") But the most important thing is the miasma of bad faith hanging over the whole thing. So the UN doesn't throw people out for war crimes, doesn't make the distinction between victim and aggressor and doesn't hold people to account, Nick? How do you think your favourite war would score on those categories? The Decent obsession with saying that the UN is useless is the very definition of chutzpah - it was them and their mates that broke it, and if it hadn't been broken then the prisons of the Hague would be overflowing with Decent icons.


Blogger Matthew said...

The Henry 'Scoop' Jackson Society has spoken. And its reached the level of quoting Churchil.

10/29/2006 09:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fallhammer say:

Quite revolting, that Sidwell piece.

The idea that the Iraq invasion was right but the post-invasion implementation was incompetent is building up momentum (as if that wasn't obvious three years ago, or before the invasion when the post-invasion "plans" were revealed, or in 2002 when one applied a moment's thought to the real motives for the invasion). Respected elder statesman of the SDP Doctor Death was peddling the meme in Saturday's Guardian. This is convenient because it means that none of the Decents themselves made any mistakes, and when Rumsfeld is finally sacrificed on the cross of lucrative retirement all decentist sins will be forgiven.

I predict NC to sit at the back of the bandwagon doing steering wheel actions and "brumm-brumm" noises.

Anyway, cock on, BB.

10/30/2006 03:10:00 AM  
Blogger Marc Mulholland said...

Though Norman Geras doesn't descend to actually mentioning those he has declared persona non grata, I suspect his recent screed - complete with an attempt to popularise 'dumb left' as a riposte to 'decent left' - is an angry retort to DSquared's 'Coment is Free' peiece wondering when the Decents will start the 'Keep the War Going' demo's. Anyway, it's a characteristically dishonest posting, lamentably mischaracterising his opposition.

On the bright side for Euston, they've managed to snaffle a posting from the First Lord of the Treasury for their website.

10/30/2006 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

Norm's post actually counts as the beginning of a "Start The War Coalition" because, as I am pretty sure he doesn't understand, the actual policy of the US government is that it would be an insane disaster to send troops to Sudan.

10/30/2006 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger wardytron said...

This is all wrong. No offence, but it is. The 650,000 deaths, or however many there were, weren't the fault of some people you disagree with on the internet. That's a very silly thing to believe. You might actually, sincerely and genuinely believe that the Iraq war wouldn't have happened without the support of the smallish collection of bloggers, journalists and academics that make up the Euston Manifesto Group; you might actually, sincerely and genuinely believe that the incredibly wealthy, powerful and well-connected men in Washington who decided to invade Iraq actually required Norman Geras to endorse their project for it to be able to go ahead. I don't.

But even if I did, even if I thought that Norm, and Pootergeek, and Oliver Kamm had such power and influence that they made the war happen, then I'd also believe that it therefore follows that the anti-war bloggers, and journalists, and academics, had similar power, and that when, for example, they praised the resistance, that made them somehow culpable for the bombs and the terrorist attacks.

But I don't believe that. Because it's nonsense.

10/30/2006 12:34:00 PM  
Anonymous bruschettaboy said...

Wardy, will you tell that to all of your mates who keep trying to blame us for Darfur (and, using the Decent TARDIS, Rwanda and Bosnia), then? I really don't see any of this "hey it's only blogging" stuff when it comes to "the shameful silence of the left". For that matter, have a look back at the Harry's Place coverage of the January 2005 elections.

Blair might not have needed Norman Geras specifically, but he probably did need Clare Short to at least keep her disagreement within the Cabinet during the crucial days; another resignation after that of Robin Cook might have seriously altered the balance of power. And he certainly needed Gordon Brown to keep his mouth shut. All of these things were made that much easier by the existence of Labour Friends of Iraq (for example) and their supporters in the media, among which David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen were both very prominent, and both of them have publicly cited the website you contribute to as a significant influence on them.

Left-wing political cover matters for Labour governments; the idea that the Euston Manifesto group had a veto is an obvious strawman, but it's crazy to pretend that the existence of a principled, intellectually rigourous and honest (but hideously mistaken) left wing case for interventionism had no effect at all. It did have an effect, and that effect was to make it much easier to ignore the anti-war coalition. Oliver Kamm is correct in saying that the modern Decent Left provides the same function for current foreign policy as the Scoop Jackson Democrats and the Labour Atlanticists provided during the Cold War. Although beyond this, of course, the analogy breaks down because this isn't the Cold War and George Bush is neither Kennedy nor Truman.

I would certainly agree that, in as much as they have helped to make it politically possible to provide material and financial support for Iraqi insurgents, those parts of the Stop the War coalition which have provided political cover for the insurgents are responsible for the consequences. And that people who give loony organisations a free pass in the UK, and therefore help them to proselytise among bored young men in Leeds, are partly responsible for the terrorist attacks which are a consequence. And, come to think of it, people who allow "anti-Zionism" to take over their entire politics are culpable for the increase in anti-Semitic attacks which is a predictable consequence.

Heck, I'll even admit a bit of responsibility for the Iraq War myself, because me and people like me didn't do a better job of organising the opposition and let a bunch of ineffectual nutters take over. I don't see why you avoid these obvious conclusions.

10/30/2006 01:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point, BB. Although you don't need the Decent Tardis to bring Bosnia into the equation. Remember most of the Decents themselves cite it as a turning point in their personal politics - at least Aaro does, Nick wavered a bit. (Btw, anyone remember if Aaro did or did not support Brezhnev's humanitarian intervention in Afghanistan?)

Now I was against intervention, but there was a reasonable and rational argument that bombing might stop the atrocities, or at least punish some bad people. A lot of people I respect held that position.

But the proto-Decents, influenced by Branka Magas and her entourage, were a whole other kettle of fish. Note some of the frankly bonkers stuff Wheen was writing. Does the Darfur thing relate to nostalgia for the first Start the War Coalition? Worth considering.

As a public service, I refer Nick to Hoare junior's game attempts to link the Serbs to AQ. Some more columns along those lines, and Nick could be as entertaining as Peter Hitchens.

10/30/2006 03:45:00 PM  
Blogger wardytron said...

Well, there are degrees of power and influence and therefore degrees of culpability. I could, for example, say that the war having been an inevitability, that you and people like you should have applied the maximum possible political pressure towards ensuring that it was carried out with the maximum level of goodwill and care, rather than simply opposing it and willing it to fail.

I could, if I wanted, blame you for the situation we're now in. I'd feel dishonest if I did so, because I think that we're a couple of blokes on the internet rather than actual powerful perpertrators of anything.

So where are we? As far as I know - and as far as I can read from the polls - the criminally awful occupation is still seen by most Iraqis as being preferable to Saddam's dictatorship, but it remains woefully and disgracefully unable to provide honest and blameless people with the safety and security they need and deserve. That, I think, is where to go next, and shouting the odds at bloggers isn't.

10/30/2006 03:57:00 PM  
Anonymous bruschetta boy, ie dsquared said...

I could, for example, say that the war having been an inevitability, that you and people like you should have applied the maximum possible political pressure towards ensuring that it was carried out with the maximum level of goodwill and care, rather than simply opposing it and willing it to fail

Yes, that would have been a fair enough argument, and I still don't see why you think it would in some way be a completely illegitimate thing to say. I've even worked out a response for it, in three parts:

1. As General Dannatt says, once you have "kicked the door in" and created a failed state, it's not obvious that you can then put the toothpaste back in the tube. I've become less convinced over time by "more troops" arguments.

2. It seemed clear to me from day one that Blair and Bush were never going to pay any attention to criticism from anyone unless they thought that there would be political consequences for them themselves if they didn't. Note that it's only very recently that people have actually agreed that there was a problem here to solve. The FCO still thinks that the Baghdad morgue statistics are accurate and there have only been 60,000 casualties. Until there is some acceptance of the problem at the highest political level, the only thing it makes sense to do is to keep shouting that there's a problem. The fact that it took three years to achieve even this level of recognition was not made any easier by the fact that a lot of "the Left" decided to a) indulge in hack critiques of the 2004 Lancet report b) bang on about BBC bias and the mythical "good news from Iraq" and c) put it in their manifesto that they weren't going to "pick over the rubble" and that they regarded empty expressions of solidarity with unidentified democratic forces as a substitute for serious consideration of what was going on.

Or in other words, in twelve months' time Tony Blair has recognised that Iraq is really badly broken and is seriously considering alternative solutions (one of which would surely have to be complete and immediate withdrawal), but I haven't changed my tune at all, you'll have a point.

3. Further to 2), I made the decision early on that my priority would have to be to try and ensure that there were political consequences, in order to deter future British administrations from joining up with these projects on a similarly frivolous and uncritical basis. I haven't had much success in this so far, but that doesn't mean it wasn't worth trying.

That, I think, is where to go next

Errrm ... what is the referent of "that" in that sentence? Am I wrong in saying that the current default Decent position is that "the troops must stay", and that when they start to come home, it will very likely shift to "the troops no longer must stay"? And if I'm right, how does that differ from a non-policy of simply me-tooing the US State Department?

"Shouting at other bloggers" is more or less the entire hobby and it might even have some salutory effect if it encourages a few of them to consider what they're going to give political support to in future on the basis of its likely consequences, rather than abstract slogans about what it says about "the Left". In particular, I hope that if I mention the consequences of the Iraq War enough, then fewer people will agree with Norman Geras that it's an OK response to an imminent disaster to quietly "withold my support" because you don't like the idea of not getting rid of Saddam.

10/30/2006 04:26:00 PM  
Blogger wardytron said...

I ought to stress that I don't have the faintest idea what the current Decent position is. Anything I say at any point is solely what I think at that point; I have no idea what Norman Geras or David T or whoever thinks at any point.

Anyway, I think I was going to say something else, but I have to make dinner. So quickly, in a nutshell, Norm didn't make the war happen, Lenin didn't make the insurgency happen, none of us has enough influence to be blamed for anything, we're all pretty useless. Yell at me if you like, I won't yell back because I know that all of these events would have taken place anyway.

They might have been better managed, but again, it was beyond our reach.

10/30/2006 05:42:00 PM  
Blogger Marc Mulholland said...

All this endearing modesty from the Decents is rather oddly timed on the day that Tony Blair posts at the Euston site!

Anyway, I'd be more concerned to see the Left salvaged from twin forms of 'anti-realism' - the 'anti-realism' of a completely abstract 'duty to rescue', and its analogue of un-discriminatng 'anti-imperialism'.

Hitch is such a loony now that I don't think he has traction on either left or right, so he can be left to his own foamings.

10/30/2006 05:57:00 PM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

Wardy, I don't want to yell at you personally, because I don't think you've ever actually accused me of being an ally of Saddam Hussein in the way in which many of your mates (and Nick Cohen, in particular, who is the decent who is ontopic for this blog) have.

But I don't like this idea that we can pretend to be among the little people and that our actions have no consequences. Brian B, and Nick Cohen, and Norm etc are right on this one. Things happen in politics because they have political support. If you're part of that political support, then there is an important sense in which you've taken ownership of the policy, and therefore of its consequences.

That doesn't mean that you or I were the decisive factor behind any particular event happening, and had we never existed the world would have indeed carried on in more or less the same way. But I don't like this extension of the Voter Paradox to everything one does or says. It isn't a massive smirch on our character that's going to stop us from going to heaven or send us to hell, but politics can't be a no-stakes game; there has to be something which matters enough to make you think about the choices you make. There's an important truth in the slogan "don't blame me, I voted Gore".

(and yes, I do intend to wear the consequences of this one if I turn out to be disastrously wrong about Darfur. Which is a genuine possibility).

10/30/2006 06:10:00 PM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

(and further to my parenthetical comment above, I am acutely aware that in the very likely event of a massacre in Darfur, my position that invasion would have been worse will rest on a counterfactual, which followers of Hitchens' justifications of the Iraq War will recognise as a very weak foundation)

10/30/2006 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger wardytron said...

Well of course I won't yell back. There's a peculiar tendency among bloggers and blog commenters to treat their opponents in cyberspace as if they were one's actual opponents, which of course you're not.

This is part of my point, by the way: you're not an ally of Saddam Hussein; I'm not an ally of Dick Cheney. Even if I was - even if I spent hours on his behalf, it would scarcely matter. Anyway, you're suggesting that we're not meaningless, powerless, pointless and otherwise crappy and insignificant (I think we are).

But if we're not, if we're actually able to influence events, if we have power, and are worthy of blame, then YOU FUCKED UP. Because we are where we are, and either you had no influence in that, or you did have influence, and it brought us to this shitty place. Notice that I don't crow, I don't gloat, I don't demand an apology.

10/30/2006 06:45:00 PM  
Blogger Sonic said...

Wardy, you are obviously a good bloke, someone we could all have a beer with. However you have to accept that ideas have consequences.

This war was probably the first when ex-lefty journalists like Nick, and David had a real influence in selling the case. Lets not forget how close the vote in parliament on the eve of war was. If there was no lefties giving Labour MP's a defensible left-wing case to vote in favour of war how many may have switched sides? and if they had, could Bush have went totally alone?

I'm not quite saying that many of your decent chums have blood on their hands, but they have a responsiblity no doubt about it, and we are certainly allowed to comment on how wrong every single prediction they made turned out to be.

10/30/2006 09:00:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10/30/2006 10:01:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I'm not convinced that bloggers or proper journalists had much influence, I have to say. I think if the Euston Group didn't exist everything would be basically the same. I think Tony Blair had some power, which is why he should face the consequences. Even then though I think if the UK hadn't joined in the US would have gone ahead regardless, and as by and large they have better armed forces than we do, I doubt it would have made much difference.

[same comment as above but spelling corrected!]

10/30/2006 10:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

It is worth remembering specifically on the weblog front that Geras and Kamm weren't actually blogging before the invasion happened and that Harry's Place had only been going a few months. I actually found Nick and Aaro's columns around the time of the war quite persuasive - Nick in particular, given that he hadn't yet shown any other symptoms of his long descent into Decency - and they certainly influenced left-wing opinion to the extent this was and is represented by the readership of the Guardian; in my hazy recollection, opinion on the war among this demographic was pretty monolithically anti in its early planning stages in 2002 (with overtones of "bloody hell, are they really going to do this?") but swung quite notably towards support in the immediate run-up to the invasion proper, albeit never to a great enough extent to form a majority. The parliamentary Labour Party also played its part, of course, but none of its membership made the case for war with as much polemical force as Nick and Aaro did, so I'd say they played quite a major role in forming the left-wing coalition in favour of war.

As for Geras and Harry's Place, well, the internet is a good meeting place for people with unusual hobbies, and even six months after the war ended being one of the "pro-war left" was getting to be a fairly unusual pastime. It just so happens that arguments about politics are also the main interest of broadsheet newspaper columnists, which is why Geras and HP have been mentioned in the Guardian while the Battlestar Galactica newsgroup hasn't. The direction of influence is pretty weak.

10/31/2006 01:27:00 AM  
Anonymous bruschetta boy (dd) said...

Well, as a minor fan of Gunter Grass, I'd be the first to agree that one's culpability in these things depends on how early you signed up, how enthusiastic you were about the whole project and how much of a dick you were to people who didn't agree (actually the last one probably just determines the appropriate level of embarrassment to have about the whole thing). As Simon says, Nick and Aaro themselves were in from day one, all chips in the pot. But there were other episodes in which the presence of the Decents emboldened Blair. We could at various stages have a) spoken up about the bombing of Fallujah b) not handled Sadr in such a studiedly mindless way c) not believed our own publicity about the number of shots that would be fired in Helmand province, etc. I don't even think it's much of a stretch to put the Decents on the hook for our horrifically supine policy with respect to the Lebanese bombardment - Geras was just about the only one who got off that boat before it sailed, and several Decent sites were entirely concupiscent in spreading right wing propaganda.

10/31/2006 07:20:00 AM  
Blogger wardytron said...

I don't remember Aaro being quite as gung-ho as that - not to anything like the extent of eg Christopher Hitchens. I remember him writing a piece where he described himself as neither a hawk nor a dove, but an owl.

He didn't specify whether it was barn or tawny.

10/31/2006 01:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

Wardytron: I was thinking in particular of this article, which I believe was his debut as a Guardian columnists. I also remember though that he was a lot more uncertain six months before, when he still wrote for the Independent, so perhaps it's more accurate to characterise him as one of the waverers who came on board late on. (Though once he had got on board he certainly persuaded a few others to do so, including me, almost.)

10/31/2006 05:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick and Dave were very influential in getting us into the Iraq quagmire. They opened up the whole second front, the idea that it was OK to invade Iraq without a second UN SC resolution, the idea that we should invade a country to change its regime (see the link given by Simon to Dave's article in the GUardian in January 2003). At Xmas 2002, Blair was in real difficulties: he had boxed himself into a corner because he had said that it was all about WMD and Iraq being a threat, that he would get a second resolution, that he was committed to keeping Bush on the UN route. Nick and Dave came to Blair's rescue by creating a new line of argument that distracted attention away from the growing illogicalities in Blair's position. They made it easier for Blair to later hop from one justification to another as the need arose and as WMD stubbornly refused to be found

There has been a longer-term, insidious effect. It is now common to see references to the principle of humanitarian intervention, without any recognition of the fact that it is against international law and that it's just a nice idea, not a principle that can easily be operationalised.

11/02/2006 01:19:00 PM  

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