Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nice one Conor

Conor Foley on UTV News:

I have worked in a dozen or so war zones and I am constantly struck by the total divergence between how the situations get debated in British politics and what I see with my own eyes. I am not a huge fan of George Orwell, but one thing he got right is that the liberal-left intelligentsia simply does not understand what war, with all its attendant horrors and hypocrisies, entails. They are prepared to accept even the most outrageous propaganda and exaggerations if it helps them to build emotional superstructures around their own myths.

In Afghanistan, for example, Nick Cohen first warned, in October 2001, that military intervention would lead to a death toll somewhere between the 25,000 who died in Dresden and the 300,000 killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Six years later, in November 2007, he claimed that the Taliban was being "beaten on the battlefield" and lambasted aid workers for their "risk-averse culture".

Cohen had changed his mind about the conflict and re-fixed the facts accordingly. As Orwell observed, history gets written "not according to what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various party lines".

46 Comments:

Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

And of course the official line on any conflict is repeated uncritically even by newspapers critical of e.g. the War on Afghanistan. So the resistance to the US/NATO presence in Afghanistan is "the Taliban" even where it isn't and reporting takes place in this official reality.

6/10/2009 07:28:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

...and for example Iraqi resistance to the invasion. They can't be called the resistance as that has too many connotations about freedom. Terrorists is too loaded, so it's insurgents.

6/10/2009 07:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Precisely! Of course domestic stories get written in a way that reflects previous political agendas, but when events happen a long way away (and in war zones where it is almost impossible to safely look for the facts) there is a greater tendency for this to happen.

Guano

6/10/2009 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

one thing he got right is that the liberal-left intelligentsia simply does not understand what war, with all its attendant horrors and hypocrisies, entails

Why isn't this just another broadbrush use of the "left", "liberal" and "intelligentsia" to make a general point which, as a general point, doesn't stand up? How is, for instance, Nick Cohen any more a member, or any more representative, of aforesaid liberal-left intelligentsia than, say, Conor Foley?

6/10/2009 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Why isn't this just another broadbrush use of the "left", "liberal" and "intelligentsia" to make a general point which, as a general point, doesn't stand up? How is, for instance, Nick Cohen any more a member, or any more representative, of aforesaid liberal-left intelligentsia than, say, Conor Foley?


I think that's why it is so funny. Conor is utterly confused but in his confusion he has drawn Nick into the quagmire. Imagine you're Nick reading it. Suddenly he's thinking "Hang on a minute, which side am I on here?"

6/10/2009 09:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

ejh - my own thoughts entirely. Conor makes some good points (or at least generally has me nodding along), but he will insist on using this term "liberal left". As far as I can make out he's using it to mean "Trot-hating lefties who bang on about TGISOOT" - which is a bit confusing given that Nick, who seems to have brought the phrase into British usage, uses it to mean "Trot-friendly lefties who don't believe in TGISOOT". But either way it's irritatingly fuzzy.

6/10/2009 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger Sarah Ditum said...

@ ejh I agree that lumping "liberal intelligentsia" together and then condemning that group on the basis of Nick Cohen isn't very super. But there is a logic in holding professed liberals to their word: liberals claim to care about human rights, liberty, safety. Liberal hearts allegedly gush bloody buckets at the sight of suffering.

For someone (like Cohen) to claim to be a liberal, and then go on to support disastrous wars - and support them to the extent of telling or accepting lies about those wars - shows some terrifying cognitive dissonance. That's worth calling out.

Also, nice to see someone who can avoid treating Orwell like a holy relic to be waved towards whatever cause he believes in, and find the critical purpose in the essays.

6/10/2009 09:16:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

The main point is very sound - war is hell and eople who vociferously support it often don't realise that, in fact they often have no experience of it at all. They're often the ones who loudly preach about how essential the teaching of history is in schools, too.

EJH's point is however important, and much as I admire him, Foley has form here - in a recent article on Liberal Conspiracy he made exactly the same kind of broad-brush-stroke-with-no-real-proof 'liberal-lefties don't take antisemitism seriously enough' point you'd expect to see someone like Cohen making.

Kerching, but HP Sauce is brilliant on the BNP. apparently to be a true anti-fascist you have to spend all your time whingeing online about people who actually go and try to take action against the BNP...

By the way - I flicked through Aaro's book in a shop yesterday (in the 'Philosophy of History' section, scarily). The conclusion is truly odd. He seems to have skimmed a fairly old book by Elaine Showalter on hysteria, then in a really dodgy act of appropriation he says 'conspiracy theories are the male version of hysteria' or some such. This is really dodgy ground and looks like a very cursory reading of Showalter - I doubt she'd appreciate the appropriation and he seems to be reading 'hysteria' in its contemporary-media usage... also, even if Aaro is right, he doesn't go any further than making the fairly obvious observation that conspiracy theorists tend to be male. yes, and...?

6/10/2009 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

he doesn't go any further than making the fairly obvious observation that conspiracy theorists tend to be male

which point he fucks up btw - Kathy Olmsted's book is really very interesting on the female face of conspiracy theory - a *lot* of the original Kennedy assassinologists were women.

6/10/2009 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

IT's really a Guardian article

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jun/09/war-lies-liberal-left-humanitarian-aid

6/10/2009 09:51:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

I'm not sure that I'm totally comfortable with the word "resistance" WRT Iraq when so often they are killing other Iraqis rather than the occupying troops. I think "insurgents" is about right.

On the subject of Iraq though a good example of Conor's point about people doggedly sticking to their chosen narratives is the absolute, almost religious, belief among supporters of the war in the success of the "surge".

6/10/2009 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Fair point about Conor's rather sweeping use of the term "liberal left" though. To hold up Nick Cohen as an example when he spends his whole time bemoaning the moral degeneracy of the liberal left is a bit odd.

6/10/2009 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Maybe it's meant to be ironic - trying to wind Nick up ...

6/10/2009 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Ha ha, yes that would be particularly apposite.

6/10/2009 12:41:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Bit of an in-joke, though.

6/10/2009 03:09:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

a *lot* of the original Kennedy assassinologists were women.

I'm fairly sure that belief in Diana and Da Vinci Code conspiracies is not the exclusive domain of men either...

6/10/2009 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

... and the "Jersey Girls" 9/11 inquiry pressure group - also the initial publication of the "Gemstone Files" was IIRC in "Playgirl" magazine.

6/10/2009 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

I'm not sure that I'm totally comfortable with the word "resistance" WRT Iraq when so often they are killing other Iraqis rather than the occupying troops. I think "insurgents" is about right.

Just to clarify.

I was suggesting that the word “insurgence” is much more comfortable for the invading forces and its use of the media in demonstrating their position. An analogy would be the birth of the phrase “war on terror” construed by the White House shortly after 9/11. Initially they wanted to frame their vocabulary and next actions to the attacks as a “crusade” until close diplomats pointed out that a “crusade” with all its implications would send out the wrong message to the “muslim world” for a whole host of reasons.
If I was an Iraqi faced with bombardment during the Second Battle of Fallujah for example, I’d be understandably peeved if the language of my resistance were to be couched under the terms of the invaders as insurgence.

The last refuge of a scoundrel in terms of an occupation is to label resistance against it as terrorism.

The ANC, French resistance, IRA would always be conveniently called terrorists as this enables the bad guy able to dispel (at least linguistically) their opposition.

6/10/2009 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Arguably the aim of journalism is not to please one side or the other. Insurgents - people who fight to overthrow the political system of the state they live in - gets it nicely, without buying into either side's propaganda. Guerrillas is good as well, as it simply describes a strategy.

6/11/2009 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

It certainly is as neutral a word as the media can get to.

But if this definition is correct from the OED: Insurgent "One who rises in revolt against constituted authority", who was the authority?

In the case of Fallujah (for example) on the surface and in legal terms the authority was the U.S appointed Iraqi Interim Government.

So legally and morally they could justify atrocities because they had the legal framework to back it up.

It's interesting because it sounds like semantics but it is really important.

6/11/2009 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Freshly Squeezed Cynic said...

Off topic, alas, but Minister for Decency Denis MacShane is off telling the Yanks how the reason the Euro left lost is that it's too anti-American and anti-business.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/200054/page/1

6/11/2009 02:59:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

MacShame is on topic, and his article is relevant to the general topic of Decency but shit, I really can't bear to respond to that dreadful article. maybe at the weekend, if I am drunk.

6/11/2009 03:09:00 PM  
Blogger Freshly Squeezed Cynic said...

It is a rum little thing, isn't it? After all, it's obvious that the European left should reflect Blair's modernising program; after all, look how well the Labour Party are doing... right... well, ehm.

6/11/2009 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Well its well writen in the sense that he manages to mostly avoid two gaping holes in his argument:
1) The "Left" were recently in power in Europe, so they're obviously not that irrelivant.
2) The "Left" have been moving steadily to the right in exactly the fashion he's arguing is necessary...

It beggers belief that one of his examples is France, given that Royale lost becuase she was seen as too right wing by prospective voters.

6/11/2009 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger Sangiovese Fellow said...

Predictably risible material from MacShame, and fairly typical Blair-Decent stuff: when left parties are doing well (as was already the case in British polls when Blair took over Labour in 1994) then they would do even better by being more right-wing, and when they are doing badly then this also means they would do better by being more right-wing. Fabulous. I especially appreciated these gems though: "Today's social democrats must also... acknowledge that their parties still claim to speak for the working class but have become small university-educated elites, composed of full-time professional politicians". Hmm, remind you of any British political groups that you're connected with, Denis? Recall anything about how the Labour Party became New Labour and wound up just like that, or about which politicians advocated and cheered on the process? Then there's this: "The left must embrace the goal of strong economic growth... social democracy has to learn to become pro-business". Well yes, of course. At a time when hefty doses of scientific opinion warn that climate change and biodiversity loss are causing foundational changes whose impacts on human wellbeing will dwarf the financial crisis - see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7662565.stm for one example - and even the US President is trying to go a bit greener, it's obvious good sense to say that the primary agents causing these ecological threats should be given a completely free pass, that left policies should be yoked to economic goals that totally fail to qualitatively differentiate between defensive expenditures and positive investment in wellbeing, and that sustainability should be ignored in favor of presupposing infinite growth in a finite environment. The alternative would be intelligent egalitarian redistribution, and we can't have that, can we? No, the path to left renewal must be one that "puts economic growth first and redistribution second" - and if New Labour's record is anything to go by, in an ideal world it should presumably never get around to the second task at all. After all, the white working class has never, ever voted for widespread redistribution of wealth has it? Dear me, what an utter prat the man is!

6/11/2009 05:27:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Explaining why open trade, a.k.a. globalization, is good for European social democracy is a task most on the left shrink from. It is easier for them to go misty-eyed about Venezuela under the red beret of Hugo Chávez. The latest fashion is to admire China as a successful market economy run by the left, with little notice of Chinese gulags or the harassment of democracy activists. Like those who admired Stalin for building socialism in the 1930s, many of today's social democrats tend to admire the wrong people for the wrong reasons, undermining their standing with mainstream voters. They campaigned against the Iraq War, and saw voters reject the war's opponents, like Gerhard Schröder, and reelect leaders like Blair or Berlusconi, who fought to remove Saddam Hussein and let Iraqis hold elections.

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry.

6/11/2009 05:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that the narrative the MP for Decency is hinting at is that New Labour is unpopular because of Gordon Brown and his inability to sell the "project" and not because of the "project" itself. For people like MacShane it is axiomatic that Labour has to keep on moving rightwards, so it must be a problem with the salesman and not the product.

It is true that politics seems easier if you keep on moving rightwards and don't contradict powerful people and organisations. That's what most of the New Labour stuff about being electable, and not going back to the debates of the 80s, is about. However I guess that there are plenty of people who prefer to stay at home on polling day unless there is a party points out that powerful people and organisations are often wrong and acting out of their own self-interest.

Guano

6/11/2009 05:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued by MacShane's reference to Berlusconi. There really is a Blairite blind-spot for the man, isn't there? Even some parts of the right-wing press, like the Economist, are very critical of him. The pro-business orientation of New Labour doesn't seem to be tempered by any understanding of Adam Smith.

Guano

6/11/2009 06:13:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

I thought that Joan Smith had said that Denis was too upset by the iniquities of the expenses witch hunt to leave home.

6/11/2009 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Heh, so now the Iraq War was popular?

I'm reminded of Michael Moorcock's observation that you can believe anything at all in London as long as you stay in the right places.

Not just London, Michael.

6/11/2009 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

BIG NEWS GUYS!!! Through the offices of a regular reader and friend of the blog, we have secured a guest review of "Voodoo Histories" by a genuine expert. I will put it up tomorrow. Febrile speculation is encouraged.

6/11/2009 06:29:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

On which subject I've been negotiating with the Socialist Worker about a blast at Aaro (via a Voodoo Histories review).

It's an abridged version of a much longer 5,000 word piece I've been touting around New Left Review etc. I'll send the link to AWatch if and when it's published but I'll be putting the abridged version on my blog soon.

6/11/2009 07:01:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Marina Oswald?
Dick Cheney?

6/11/2009 07:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

The latest fashion is to admire China as a successful market economy run by the left

Obviously he can't come up with a single example of this, because like all the Decents he never actually bothers to read the people he's condemning. But my god, was he awake during last summer? Is he aware of Richard Nixon's party affiliation? Is Rupert Murdoch a socialist now?

One of the most reliably amusing things in modern politics is watching the market-obsessed right tut-tut at those who oppose one of the last Communist dictatorships. The right's indulgence of China really shows up the trade blockade against Cuba as the completely meaningless gesture that it is. I'd hate to think there was someone out there who was unaware of this entertaining phenomenon. Go on, Denis, give the Times business pages a read. We all need a laugh.

we have secured a guest review of "Voodoo Histories" by a genuine expert... Febrile speculation is encouraged.

Is it John F Kennedy? That would be a scoop.

6/11/2009 07:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

If you mean Robin, I've read it. (Excellent review, mind.)

6/11/2009 07:14:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

It is Lyndon "Baines" Larouche.

6/11/2009 07:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin Ramsay, at a guess. Phil D'Bap

6/11/2009 07:29:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Is it... "The Smoke behind the Grassy Troll: The Internet and Conspiracy" by Nick Cohen and Oliver Stone?

6/11/2009 08:12:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Way to kill the febrile speculation buzz Phil. Yes it's Robin Ramsay. A genuine god of conspiracy research (although I actually do disagree with him on the subject of the Kennedy assassination - I personally think that potentially the connection between one the one hand a Cuba-obsessed nutter whose last main political contacts were with a Cuban militant group and with Cuban intelligence, and on the other hand a Cuban leader who had recently sworn vengeance for assassination attempts against him, might possibly be the more fruitful line of inquiry[1])

[1] unless, of course, you are anticipating that if your inquiry were to find a connection to Cuba, you might set off a chain of events that would end up with a military conflict with Cuba and potentially trigger "a war that could kill forty million Americans in an hour", to quote LBJ's words in persuading Earl Warren to chair the Commission. That might discourage you, just a little bit, from chasing up the Cuban connection too vigorously.)

6/11/2009 10:24:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

I personally think that potentially the connection between one the one hand a Cuba-obsessed nutter whose last main political contacts were with a Cuban militant group and with Cuban intelligence, and on the other hand a Cuban leader who had recently sworn vengeance for assassination attempts against him, might possibly be the more fruitful line of inquiry


Just out of genuine interest Bruschetta, and this is not a trap or anything.

Are you going down the path of Oswald as fucked-up double-agent being used by the military/CIA that had instigated the Bay of Pigs to find out out to their dismay JFK was soft on commies?

6/11/2009 11:10:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Talking of narratives, I think there's one we're likely to hear a lot of in the months (and more) to come. It will go like this:

"Blair was a proven election-winner who would have saved Labour from defeat and humiliation had he not been driven from office by middle-class environmentalists and peaceniks who thought getting revenge for the Iraq War was more important than listening to what real working-class people thought about bread-and-butter issues like crime and immigration".

6/12/2009 06:13:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Way ahead (kerching) of you, ejh...

It was always likely the Blairites would end up inventing that 'narrative'. But it's weird that people who were never Blairites - who indeed spent a lot of time criticising them, once upon a time (ie Nick Cohen) - would appear to be lining up behind the idea. and all of this free-market stuff - has he (and indeed everyone else who's advocating it in the Labour party) forgotten the cause of the latest recession? Or is that, as Nick Cohen seems to think, comprised of two words - 'Gordon Brown'...?

Oh and I've also noticed that all the usuyal suspects are hammering the phrase 'social democracy' too - Toube, MacShane, Cohen, etc etc. Where did this come from? Google is pretty clear that it's largely been adopted by Cohen and HP Sauce in the last year or so, and MacShane only seems to have used it consistently in the last year too...

Just to back up Der Bruno:

The latest fashion is to admire China as a successful market economy run by the left

yeah I've not seen anyone making that argument. But since when has decency been about reality?

6/12/2009 06:45:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Are you going down the path of Oswald as fucked-up double-agent being used by the military/CIA that had instigated the Bay of Pigs to find out out to their dismay JFK was soft on commies?

Not really - more like the "this guy may have looked like a Communist nutcase and Cuba sympathizer, but in reality he was a Communist nutcase and Cuba sympathizer". I was convinced by Kathy Olmsted's book. Oswald did have a lot of interesting CIA connections, but most communist nutcases do.

6/12/2009 07:16:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

I think that the Decents' attitudes towards the working class (or their notion of them) is worthy of a post of its own. Which reminds me, how's the Decent racism post coming along?

6/12/2009 07:21:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

cough, mumble

6/12/2009 09:15:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

blame it on the gaussian copula, dude!

6/12/2009 10:18:00 AM  

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