Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Back to basics

And back to business as Aaronormal. We're actually a week in arrears now because I want to say something about his latest on trade policy, but let's clear the backlog a bit; viz this column, where one ends up wanting to say that "A thing can be true even though David Aaronovitch says it".

Professor Falk is indeed wildly unchoosy about the books he writes forewords for. And I would tentatively advance that a man who acts surprised about the political reaction to Israel/Nazi analogies is an idiot, whatever he is Professor of. And in general the fact that some of the minor UN human rights talking shops are so bloody, bloody keen on passing meaningless and unenforceable resolutions about Israel is a bit of an embarrassment that somebody who takes the UN seriously ought to do something about. Perhaps one might want to consider why it is that so many countries who agree on almost literally nothing else might agree so unanimously on the subject of the Palestinians (worldwide and virulent anti-Semitism being only one of a number of possible explanations). And perhaps one might also wonder whether the constant passage of anti-Israel resolutions has anything to do with the fact that these resolutions are known by all involved to be definitely consequence-free, and whether the totality of this state of affairs is really all that good for the world. But withal, with all of this, the UN always has the chance to not make an arse of itself and ought to be criticised for not taking that chance more often. So the gut instinct of AW is that in this case, Aaro is on the right track.

Except, except ... we are old and wise in the ways of Aaronovitch Watching, this blog is older than the cheese in my fridge. And the number one principle has always been that Aaro is often at his most dangerous when at his most superficially sensible. And indeed, I find myself struggling to deliver that pat on the back. Consider the career of Steven Milloy ...

Milloy is the proprietor of "junkscience.com", a website devoted to uncovering the junk science used by political hacks to push specific policy agendas. He cut his teeth exposing the junk science linking cigarette smoke to lung cancer, has moved on to exposing the junk science of global warming, is a big critic of the junk science which holds that mosquitoes develop resistance to DDT and so on. In other words, a deeply worthless man, who has produced some of the worst works of corporate "sound science" hackery in a pretty horrendous canon.

But of course, it would have been possible for a smarter operator than Milloy to have achieved a lot of his goals without ever having written a single thing that he could be criticised for. If one were to simply constantly attack and critique methodological flaws in scientific papers on one side of a controversy while ignoring similar or worse flaws on the other side, one could end up creating a very misleading impression of the state of science, without ever having written a single paper that was itself dishonest. Milloy, of course, wasn't smart enough to do this.

Aaro, in a different field, is. I somehow missed his article about John Bolton, or about Dick Cheney, or about any of the nuts, imperialists and maniacs on the side of American unilateralism. Of course I missed them because they weren't there. Aaro is, as always, working the frame[1]. He's defining the acceptable terms of who ought to be taken seriously on matters of international human rights as having a left edge somewhere around Joe Lieberman, and a right edge practically nowhere. Often this is preliminary to presenting a Blairite party line as the sensible middle way between two extremes, but not always; in this context, the general weakening of the credibility of international institutions is an end in itself, and if the UN wants to stick its dick in a van der Graaf generator, Aaro is only happy to help turn the crank. So .... not a bad article in and of itself, but remember that rule one of Watching is to watch.

Update: I would have thought that the other theme of Aaro's column – the policing of the borders of what it is and isn't acceptable to say about Israel (basically, left edge is a long way to the right of Ha'aretz and right edge is a micron to the left of Melanie Phillips) – was so obvious as not to need mention. I am personally so confused about how one might discuss the economic and social grounds of the Palestinian intifada that my policy is to avoid the subject whenever possible and to speak bluntly when unavoidable; I do wish someone like Aaro would produce a style guide. Bonus points for claiming that the Darfur resistance doesn't kill civilians, by the way.

[1] I am assuming that this is the case; a still less charitable interpretation would be that Professor Falk is simply a talking point of the week somewhere.

9 Comments:

Anonymous shake said...

Broadly speaking Aaro is right but these two points grate:

other “resistances” (Tibet, Darfur?) seem to have avoided the “only means” of suicide bombing aimed at civilians

But not in Sri Lanka, of course. and there's the Decent cry of 'TIBET' again.

The UN Human Rights Council doesn't give a toss about the human rights of the Palestinians in the sense of wanting them upheld. Its majority is far more interested in using Israel as a stick to beat the US with, or - in the case of Islamic states - as a bogeyman to dampen down domestic discontent.

Which is fine, but it's a two-way street, and the pointless and unjust US focus on Cuba in far more powerful parts of the UN is the natural counterpoint, entirely designed to 'dampen down domestic discontent'. But Aaro doesn't mention it.

4/23/2008 08:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'other “resistances” (Tibet, Darfur?) seem to have avoided the “only means” of suicide bombing aimed at civilians'

The KLA had - and still have - a grisly record of killing civilians through more traditional means, although I don't recall Aaro withholding support from the Kosovars on this basis.

'The UN Human Rights Council doesn't give a toss about the human rights of the Palestinians in the sense of wanting them upheld'

The obvious reason that all resolutions concerning Israel lack any practical component is that the USA would veto any such resolutions, unlike those concerning Iraq.

James O

4/23/2008 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

I'm not sure that there's any real evidence that Hamas used suicide bombings in 1993 to undermine the Oslo accords. More likely is that it was the latest tactic in their escalating use of violence against Israel, chosen because of Hezbollah's successful use of it (they used a truck bomb).

And to try and counter "Palestinian resistance gradually ran out of military options, and suicide bombers appeared as the only means still available" with "And thirdly, other “resistances” (Tibet, Darfur?) seem to have avoided the “only means” of suicide bombing aimed at civilians" is stupid. What military options are available to the Tibetans, and how effective are the civillian options exactly? And I'm not convinced the Darfur rebels are any better simply because they kill civilians using other means. The "suicide" part is not the problem, its the killing of civillians mate.

There are better arguments against suicide bombing, though they're the same arguments against killing civillians. They don't generally work, unless you go down the Syrian route. Any more than Israeli terror tactics against Palestinians have been particularly successful. And one might equally argue that Israel created the suicide bombing problem by assassinating peaceful Palestinian leaders, and firing on peaceful protesters (or kids throwing stones - very dangerous that) in the first infitada. But I don't suppose Dave remembers that.

Not that any of this matters - unless Steve Millroy is right, the place is going to be uninhabitable in 100 years anyway.

4/23/2008 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

Isn't anyone to the left of Joe Lieberman part of the extreme right? I'm sure there's a Nick Cohen article saying something like that somewhere ...

4/23/2008 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I personally supect that the "whydontyou" defence in relation to Israel is running out of steam precisely because it is deployed so often - that is to say, almost always. And I wonder what Aaro thinks the West used to say about the Palestinians in the not-very-short interval between the Nakba and the first suicide bombings.

4/23/2008 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

One of the Kurdish groups has used suicide bombings against tourists in Turkey (Workers party at a guess).

4/23/2008 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

Um, the above was me.

Cian

4/23/2008 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We also seem to have missed Aaro's in-depth analysis of the extensive works of Richard Falk because (I guess) such a thing doesn't exist. Which is odd because Falk analyses phenomena that ought to be of interest to any decent Decent: postmodern geopolitics, international law, how it might need to be changed to deal with mega-terrorism etc etc.

Well perhaps it isn't odd. Decents are mostly scribblers who pass on somebody else's talking points, It seems unlikely that they have read much of Falk's writings or, if they have, know where to start taking issue with him. It is easier to criticise Falk's vocabulary than to read how a Professor of Law came to the conclusions that led to those words.

4/24/2008 01:27:00 PM  
Anonymous shake said...

Orwell prize winners are in:

Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks wins Book Prize

The Independent’s Johann Hari wins Journalism Prize

4/25/2008 08:52:00 AM  

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