Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What is this, the missing chapter of "Voodoo Histories"?

Longtime readers will recall how annoyed and appalled I was that Voodoo Histories (£17.99! in all good bookshops, somewhat cheaper on Amazon, Alan Beattie's "False Economy" is probably a better read for the money) didn't deal with the Iraq War, and specifically didn't deal with how it fits into Dave's worldview about government dodgy-dealing, general non-existence of. Here we get the Happy Shopper version.

Apparently opponents of the war are "implacable in their interior knowledge of the wrongness of the conflict". Oh Dave. Oh Dave, Dave. At this late date, are you really hoping to convince anyone that the Iraq War wasn't a bloody horrible mistake? The bed is shat, it cannot be unshat, and in five minutes the hotel manager will be here and there will be no reasoning with him that shitting the bed actually represented a better outcome than the alternative possibilities.

Fair do's for mentioning the very obvious point about the fact that there was a conspiracy (under any reasonable meaning of the term) to trick up the war into happening (credited to Jon Snow at the Hay Festival, although it was also the key point of Johann Hari's review). But having set the hare running, Aaro signally fails to catch it. He waffles about the Hutton and Butler inquiries, and then sets out as his main argument ... that everyone believed what the government said in 2002, so they couldn't have been lying? I really don't get it here and suspect that the copy has in some way got mangled.

What clearly went on in 2002 was either that there was intentional deception, or that the government believed that Saddam had WMDs, and therefore because it believed this, thought it was a gamble worth taking to portray the evidence as much more conclusive than it was. That's the sort of thing that people go to jail for if they do it in a set of accounts; if this isn't "lying", then there were no liars in the executive suite at Enron.

Aaro himself, notoriously, was persuaded by the government case to make a massive investment of credibility points into a decidedly subprime vehicle (the parallels between the September dossier, in which poor quality underlying material was layered, structured and given the imprimateur of a supposedly neutral agency to create the illusion of AAA status, and the CDO market, are perhaps fertile ground for someone more desperate for a column than myself). Unlike the investors in Bernard Madoff's funds, however, he seems determined to defend the very people who swindled him. Nice one.

And then we end up with the old chestnut, "errors of postwar planning". As if any inquiry into the Decent doctrine of "war first, plan later" is going to come out looking good for the reputations of those people and pundits who kept telling us that the Iraqis were crying out to be invaded?

Basically, my point here is that Thomas Friedman already wrote this column, three years ago.

25 Comments:

Blogger Sarah Ditum said...

The financial analogy for beliefs is a good one - I read a very interesting post about the boom-and-bust movements in baby names (http://blackbeardblog.tumblr.com/post/128697277/baby-bubbles). Economics seem like a very good language for a lot of non-financial investments.

It's awful watching Aaro go on like this though. Like seeing someone wiring the last grand of savings through to Nigeria in the desperate hope that the payoff will finally come.

6/24/2009 09:10:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

It's all over the place, isn't it? As you say, the Snow point is left hanging, and is never really addressed. I think Aaro must have either witten something slightly longer, that built a crescendo of reasons why Snow was wrong, but in the published version it doesn't work.

I think the oft-repeated 'zingers' from Cook and Campbell are meant to prove that even teh stoppers believed in WMDs, but his garbled accounts of Hutton and Brockwell leave the zingers falling rather flat. Not as flat as the ones abot the war's illegality, of course, but that's by the by.

Weirdest of the lot is that he seems to be trying to paint people who opposed the war as conspiracy theorists. This was always likely to be the bar-room product of the book - a fake psychological checklist to be used against one's opponents - but it really doesn't work:

Some of the most exalted and popular opponents of the war are implacable in their interior knowledge of the wrongness of the conflict and of the perfidy that led up to it. No facts or interpretations that they could possibly hear would ever change their minds

A shame, then, for Aaro that despite all the fake caveats ('it can be understood'), he still seems to believe unquestioningly in the cause of Iraq, and also, apparently, in the existence of WMDs... and if you rewrote that paragraph to be about people who still believe despite everything to the contrary, it would describe him to a (david?) T.

Sir David Manning, his foreign affairs adviser and later Ambassador to the US told me that Mr Bush had agreed with Mr Blair that, were Saddam to comply fully with international obligations, there would be no need for invasion

Wasn't there something in the paper the other day about Bush having bombing plans lined up months prior to the invasion? How the hell does that count as irrefutable evidence?

And another unintentionally hilarious moment:

The irony of the discussion on an open inquiry, is that I think Mr Blair would probably be the star turn, pointing out some of the above

Yes - if only Blair could turn up and read out a really quite crap Aaro column, all would be well. Doesn't Aaro also ignore the Observer story about Blair pressuring Brown into making it a closed-doors inquiry?

6/24/2009 09:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

No facts or interpretations that they could possibly hear would ever change their minds

Taxi for Mr Aaronovitch.

6/24/2009 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew Bartlett said...

"Claims of up to two million dead in Iraq have been bandied about and believed."

Er, because they were 'bandied about' by epidemiologists using techniques accepted as producing the best possible estimate of deaths in conflict zones. Estimates that are unproblematically accepted when used to describe the situation in, say, Congo.

Isn't Aaro engaging in holocaust denial here? If here were to write the line "Claims of up to six million dead in Greater Germany have been bandied about and believed", we'd not accept him into public discussion.

I thought the deniars were the conspiracy theorists - those who argued that there was a conspiracy to make the world believe that millions were murdered in concentration camps - rather those who beleived that the holocaust happened - those who believed that there was a conspiracy to kill millions in concetration camps.

6/24/2009 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew Bartlett said...

And, also, I'm not sure who Aaro is referring to when he says that people are arguing that 2 million have died. My guess is that he's trying to discredit, by exagerration, the Lancet (600,000 as of 2006 - three years ago) and ORB (1 million as of 2008) surveys.

6/24/2009 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I am not, by the way, aware of any claim of 2 million deaths as a result of the Iraq war - the highest estimate I've seen was the ORB one of one million.

6/24/2009 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is now a good chance that Blair will be questioned in an open forum about some of the key Iraq invasion events. He may even be subjected to some quite tough questioning (though there's no guarantee of course). I think therefore we will see some smokescreens thrown up in the next few weeks by the usual suspects to try to create confusion about the key issues.

There was a Times leader last week (possibly by O. Kamm) that said that there was nothing to discuss because there was a democratic decision to overthrow a dictator. When I made the point on a Liberal Conspiracy thread that the Times leader-writer was factually wrong, someone argued that I was rewriting history. The argument, as best I understood it, was that we all knew that WMD was a smokescreen and that Blair had made the case for invading Iraq regardless, so he was justified in saying one thing and meaning another.

I think that there is likely to be quite a lot of these bizarre arguments in the next few weeks. An open Iraq Inquiry will put on the table some difficult issues for the UK political elite (its relationship with the USA, commitment to international law, lying to the public and Parliament, the use of spin, the ability of our elected representatives to have an intelligent debate where they say what they mean) so an outbreak of red herrrings and other illogicalities can be expected.

Guano

6/24/2009 10:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 1 million versus 2 million debate is usually about how many people were demonstrating in London on 15th February 2003. I usually say "at least a million" because that's a lot of people and no-one has denied that the number of people was something of that order.

Guano

6/24/2009 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

To live outside the law you must be honest

6/24/2009 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

"Weirdest of the lot is that he seems to be trying to paint people who opposed the war as conspiracy theorists."

I've blasted Aaro on that point in the SW today . Also plugged Awatch, with their consent I hasten to add! Though the SW fucked up the spelling at the end.

It's been tailored for their needs and a longer review will be going into Red Pepper. My full review is here

Shameless self plug over!

6/24/2009 11:13:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Some of the most exalted and popular opponents of the war are implacable in their interior knowledge of the wrongness of the conflict and of the perfidy that led up to it.

Maybe some facts will come to light which will lead me to revise my opinion of the perfidy prior to the invasion. But the wrongness of the conflict? Will it be within the remit of the inquiry to bring those tens or hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis back to life?

6/24/2009 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

There's a certain effort going on to bring some dead arguments back to life.

6/24/2009 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Everyone believed what the Government said in 2002"

Well I didn't, so I wrote to newspapers, MPs, Blair, Straw, individual journalists, my local Labour Party. My main points were that

- the stuff being said about WMD was assertions backed up by very poor evidence

- the other stuff were non-sequiturs ("everything changed with 9/11" and "Iraq has already invaded 2 countries" aren't really arguments for invading Iraq in 2002)

I never got any real answers to my questions. I got some letters from MPs and the FCO about WMD (all very similar and all proved to be wrong). So I remain "implacable in my interior knowledge that the conflict was wrong", because I was right in my assessment that the WMD stuff had a lot of Viagra added to it, and no-one has been able to give an urgent reason why we should forget international law, and take our eyes off Afghanistan and international terrorism, to invade Iraq in 2002 or 2003.

If the majority of the House of Commons (and the commentariat and members of the Labour Party) believed what the Government said, this indicates a problem with the critical faculties of these individuals; a serious problem of group-think in those institutions. An open Inquiry will be an opportunity for them to begin to come to terms with these problems, but it will also throw up plenty of smokescreens to avoid that.

Guano

6/24/2009 12:57:00 PM  
Anonymous john fallhammer said...

I think a very small number of people have tried to claim 2 million dead by measuring from 1991 and indulging in a lot of hand-waving. Indicating that war opponents widely believe it as applying to events from 2003 is the mark of an utter shit.

He's incredibly cavalier on the differences between actually having significant amounts of WMD - the supposed justification for invoking the Kuwait ceasefire resolution - and e.g. having "the strategic intention of resuming the pursuit of prohibited weapons progammes". I remember such distinctions being quite significant in arguments in that period.

"No facts or interpretations that they could possibly hear would ever change their minds."

Igor, prepare the quote-a-tron!

6/24/2009 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Re the supposed consensus on the existence of WMD, is Aaro expecting us all to forget the rather effective blockade that had been imposed on Iraq after the first war? To any remotely rational person, while they may or may not have suspected intent in Saddam, his ability to produce weapons of any meaningful threat was, shall we say, somewhat circumscribed.

6/24/2009 01:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Defence of the Iraq War is becoming more and more like those crap BBCtv series like "Torchwood" and Bonekickers" in which zombie scripts are raised from the dead and somehow revivified to hobble and gibber across our unbelieving screens screeching and groaning with gobbledegook.

johnf

6/24/2009 05:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Everyone believed what the Government said in 2002"

I didn't. In Jan 2003 I printed out some Blix reports on three derelict Iraqi sites, and a Hansard report from Sept 2002 where Tony B claimed that they were bomb factories, and took them along to my MP - the only time I've ever done something like that. It would have worked, too, had he not been too busy drinking himself death to make something of them.

Chris Williams

6/25/2009 10:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

had he not been too busy drinking himself death

It's customary to provide a TheyWorkForYou link on these occasions (although in this case apparently he didn't).

6/26/2009 06:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In this case it's more of a 'They used to work for you'. Twas Jim Marshall, whose death was the cause of the Leicester South by-election.

CW

6/26/2009 08:48:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Everyone believed what the Government said in 2002

... except for the million people on the anti-war march ...

6/26/2009 08:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I'm sorry to say I'd never heard of Jim Marshall, but he certainly sounds like one of the good guys. From Andrew Roth's obit:

As a northern working-class, leftwing Eurosceptic, he was out of sympathy with the Blair project, furiously denouncing to me a parade of the incoming prime minister's cheerleaders in 1997 as a "bloody shower".

We could do with a few more like that.

6/26/2009 09:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marshall was in theory a good guy, if you like that kind of traditional hard left antiEuro position (and while by no means perfect, it's rather better than most of the alternatives). In the end he voted against the war, and he rebelled on a number of other key issues.

But what he was never prepared to do was to get up off his arse and do a little bit more: he acted like as long as he was lobby fodder for the right side of the argument, that was OK, and he had discharged his duty and could get back to the Royal Mail.

CW

6/26/2009 11:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS. It's a pub. Was a pub. Now the corner of shirt-losing development, next to Leicester station. Most of the pubs that I used to drink in have since been demolished, which tells you a lot about me and them.

CW

6/26/2009 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

What is, or was, that triangular-shaped one on the corner of two diverging roads? I went there once on the way to Filbert Street. Bound not to be there now, as indeed Filbert Street is not.

6/26/2009 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the corner, yes, but you'd only be going in there if you were radically heading in the wrong direction for Filbert Street. I think that you're thinking of the Wellington, now the Lizard Lounge, which is on the way, kindasorta.

6/26/2009 12:47:00 PM  

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