Saturday, March 22, 2008


Swings and roundabout, Jeeves, swings and roundabouts.
Indeed, sir.

B2 hasn't got round to the exchange of views between our Dave and Matthew Parris. Some bright spark in the employ of Rupert Murdoch decided that letters between Thunderer comment writers over Iraq would be a good idea. Thus we have an exchange titled "The Great Divide: Times writers present the arguments over the conflict that are still splitting the country". (If the arguments are 'still splitting the country' who are they being 'presented' for? Martians? Sun readers?)

Using the Times own search facility, this seems to be the order of exchange Parris: We have damaged ourselves (MP1 from now); Aaro: The sanctions were failing, people were dying (DA1); Parris: Neocons and their supporters have lost the argument (MP2); Aaro: The future is where all the judgments must be made (DA2). Note that DA2 contains a link to MP1 when it is actually a reply to MP2. I'm sure this is some techy's or subed's fault, but it doesn't make for clarity.

I don't intend to review all four missives thoroughly. I've given links so commenters can add insights (or correct my prejudices) if they wish.

I'll start by quoting MP1's opening paragraphs, because the tone of the exchange is set here.

I was wrong about Iraq. Though undeviatingly opposed to the invasion I believed it might succeed within its own terms. In February 2003 I wrote in The Times:-
"I am not afraid that this war will fail. I am afraid it will succeed. I am afraid it will prove the first in an indefinite series of American interventions. I am afraid it is the beginning of a new empire that I am afraid Britain may have little choice but to join."

Later, in 2005, your defence of the war in The Times was anchored in your claim that in that column I had said that “I'm against war because it will antagonise moderate Arab opinion.” I had said the opposite: that such a view was wrongheaded.
An honest misreading, no doubt; not least among the collateral damage caused by this conflict has been a media rancour born of intense feeling on both sides.

By 'sets the tone' I mean this: although MP allows DA a getout with 'an honest misreading', DA does not mention this - he does not defend it or apologise for it. He ignores it. MP1 contains a really great paragraph:

The damage we did ourselves, however, was avoidable. The casualties have been heartbreaking. Domestic trust in our political class has haemorrhaged. Good faith has been questioned. A premiership has been ruined. Billions have been squandered. Our Armed Forces have been put on the rack in an unpopular war. Afghanistan has been neglected. European relations have been soured.

I agree with every sentence - the 'billions' referred to are British money, which is considerably less than the trillions of dollars the US has spent.

Before I get to Aaro's response, a fact: David Aaronovitch studied History at Oxford then Manchester. You may wish to keep this in mind.

Isn't it exhausting -- this merry-go-round of argument, always in motion, but never going anywhere? I sighed to see ancient quotes, long repudiated, pressed into weary service yet again.

"Ancient quotes" does he mean his misunderstanding of Matthew Parris? Long repudiated by whom? How? Were they written by Times subeds and published under our man's name? What does he mean? And doesn't that opening sentence sound just like an apologist for Stalin attacking British or American democracy, What we need, comrades, is action, all this so-called democracy gives is hot air.

Let me repeat: had I known, at the beginning of 2003, when I took my own decision to support an Iraq invasion if it happened -- that the human cost was going to be 150,000 dead Iraqis and that the political cost would be the discrediting of the doctrine of interdependence -- then I would have argued hard against it. I would have said then that it wasn't worth it. It had little to do with weapons of mass destruction (WMD), though dangers seemed to me always to be attendant on tolerating genocidal dictatorships (there, I know, we differ).

I believe there is a study by the Lancet (PDF ) which suggested half a million more Iraqi casualties. Now we have to ask, what did our Dave study during his Oxford and Manchester years? Feminism and the rise of agriculture? Pottery making and the development of monotheism? It doesn't seem to have be wars or any of that brutal stuff which history is mostly about - power sloshing from one thug to another.

In that bloody prediction in his former paper, the Guardian, Dave wrote:

I was never in favour of this war mainly because of the threats of terrorism or WMDs. Getting rid of Saddam (and therefore the myriad afflictions of the Iraqi people) was enough. But the weapons were the pretext on which the invasion was sold to a lot of people in this country, and was attempted to be sold to the people of the world.

I'm now curious to know when our Dave abandoned Marxist history ('myriad afflictions of the ... people' come from class war surely) for the 'great man' of Carlyle. And why, if 'getting rid of Saddam ... was enough' was it not simpler to break international law with an assassination rather than with an illegal war? Dave went on:

These claims cannot be wished away in the light of a successful war. If nothing is eventually found, I - as a supporter of the war - will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again. And, more to the point, neither will anyone else. Those weapons had better be there somewhere.

Maybe it was unfair of me to expect one man to know about all the slaughter in history. Perhaps his family's ideology protected him from all the nastiness, and concentrated on knitting circles in the Ukraine rather than the tanks in the streets of Czechoslovakia. But Dave is an intelligent man: he should know his own mind at least, and he remains as credulous as ever.

Here I'm going to sign off for now. I've written enough and it's starting to bore me. But I'll say one thing: David Aaronovitch supported the illegal war against Iraq. 2003 was 12 years after the Gulf War. A second resolution was possible. Saddam could have been deposed legally and without the 'discrediting of the doctrine of interdependence'.

Update just after hitting 'post'. See also: Jim Henley via Jamie and Crooked Timber. Short DA: "Wow, war seems to be a lot like hell." Gosh, it's not like anyone ever made that observation before.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

150,000? Quite a bit more than that:

3/23/2008 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

An Oxford history graduate writes: taking that particular course is, to put it mildly, no guarantee that the student acquires any particular knowledge of history, or the ability to study it, or the ability to learn anything from it. What it normally teaches you is the ability to write a short essay based on a minimum of reading,. If it teaches you more than that, it - a few Marxist dons notwithstanding - teaches you how to accept most of the atrocities of history as understandable given the values of the times in which they took place, while taking a resolutely different view of rebellions and revolutions.

3/24/2008 05:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saddam could have been deposed legally and without the 'discrediting of the doctrine of interdependence'.

Can you expand on this? This would be real ammunition against the war-mongers!

3/24/2008 09:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was pleased when I saw MP writing that he wasn't going to "move on". Quite right too! The Decents are obviously going to continue to support the doctrine that the West can interfere in other countries' business as much as they like so why should those who question it keep quiet.


3/27/2008 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

To the first Anonymous, sorry for the delay, but I meant accepting the 'Robin Cook position' ie the Second Resolution. FWIW, I have no doubts about a) Saddam was a total bastard and b) intervention is sometimes for the best. However, I am not a natural dictator: I consider the opinion of the majority (whether I like it or not) to be binding. The UN (which usually has a lot of smart people in attendance) had the opportunity of a vote. I'd have taken that as binding.

3/29/2008 10:43:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home