Saturday, January 23, 2010

Late Prediction Thread

I'll say that Aaro will go with the Doncaster torture boys. He ought to - it'll give him a chance to Tory-bash (and I still part of his role is to go against the prevailing trend of the rest of the paper; to put it another way, he's the token leftie), the boys' parents were married, the Tory argument is kneejerk, uninformed, hysterical, and risible. Aaro on this sort of thing is usually compassionate but rational - pretty much my definition of a liberal and the polar opposite of the conservative approach to social questions. In short, a wide-open goal and a case worth making. Of course, I've been wrong before.
As for Nick. Well, Enron the play has moved to the West End. Another notch on Nick's occasional theatre reviews? Perhaps, "Haiti: or why Madonna shows us how the Yanks are good"? I think, however, he'll go with Alastair Campbell's recent blog post on 'the wrong lessons from the Chilcot Inquiry'.

30 Comments:

Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

nick can't do iraq 2 weeks in a row, surely...

1/23/2010 09:25:00 PM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

No, last week he did booze. So it wouldn't have been. Anyway, the Obs is out and Nick is doing libruls in general (and Obama in particular) are racist bastards for not bombing brown people more, or something like that.

1/24/2010 08:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick: 'Obama the most reactionary president since Nixon'.

That's as far as I got; maybe you'll manage more.

[redpesto]

1/24/2010 10:14:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

booze was 2 weeks ago - last wek it was the 'anyone who opposed iraq hates teh jews'.

this week is just abysmal. presumably this is a trail for 'traitors'...

In a forthcoming analysis for the Henry Jackson Society

hmm.

He abandoned Bush's missile defence programme in an attempt to charm Putin

dear god, what is nick on?

During the aborted Iranian revolution, brave protesters chanted: "Obama, Obama – either you're with them or you're with us" as the cops beat them up. The dithering Obama couldn't make up his mind which side he was on and insultingly called their country the Islamic Republic of Iran, as if it were the ayatollahs' property.

oh my word. that would be laughed out of the harry's place comments box, it's so miserably half-thought.

He comes from an ideological culture which calls itself progressive, but is often reactionary. Many from his political generation use the superficially leftish language of multiculturalism and post-colonialism to imply that human rights are a modern version of imperialism which westerners impose on societies that do not need them. Scratch a relativist and you find a racist

ffs... and apparently unless Obama sharpens up his act quicksmart, he will remain:

an American president who combines the weakness of Jimmy Carter with the morals of Richard Nixon

there's no point even commenting is there?

it's as bad as the hitchens piece that flyingrodent tore to pieces.

1/24/2010 10:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Dave Weeden said...

I'm with all of you here. I saw it last night, and I didn't get very far. Give up at unemployment. Nick's hypothesis seems to be that a President can fix a severe depression and recreate employment in only a few months. This belief should disqualify him from writing on the subject. (I think journalists living in country A shouldn't write on purely internal matters in country B. The internet really has transformed journalism: I can read Ha'aretz if I want to know about Israel; and I can read US papers and bloggers. Why would I want 2nd hand opinion?)

1/24/2010 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Alex Higgins said...

Presumably Nick is unaware that Obama's foreign policy is actually quite popular among the US electorate?

Or that Iranian dissidents loudly supported Obama's quietist approach? No - he's aware of that one. I mean, he's always talking about how he likes to listen Muslim liberals.

And engagement with Burma - perhaps, just perhaps, he'd like to list the positive results of his preferred policy? Like many who have campaigned on Burma issues, I find it hard not to come to the conclusion that isolation isn't working.

But asking Nick to weigh up real-world consequences of his proposals is not a good use of anyone's time.

And the description of torture in Burma - can anyone think of a US administration who used those exact techniques on prisoners in recent years?

Honduras and Haiti don't figure meanwhile. An opportunity for Nick to explain how the Republican idealists who believe in democracy for the wretched of the Earth go about it, is missed.

This is low-grade, desperately hackish stuff.

1/24/2010 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Quite, Alex. I skimmed a bit of the Burma stuff. (I can't see why, if he feels so strongly about this, he also hates Amnesty who work really hard here.) His position seems to be "if it's not perfect, and the results aren't immediate, I can condemn it completely." I don't know what it is, but it's not politics.

1/24/2010 12:27:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Just a quick thing - the dalai lama. Given that China has the USA pretty much in its pocket, what else was Obama meant to do? Bush very ostentatiously overpraised the Dalai Lama purely to piss China off (does Nick think Bush gave him his medal because Bush was ideologically committed to the Tibetan cause?); the 'missile defence system' was designed, again, purely to piss off Putin. scrapping those missiles was a good thing - it takes someone with serious skills in misreading to skew it into 'appeasement'.

But overall - what does Nick mean by 'reactionary'? Has he forgotten Bush, or does his being behind Iraq mean that he can't possibly be labelled a reactionary? I mean, his stem cells and Terry Schiavo stuff was pretty fucking reactionary. What does Nick mean by the word? The nearest we get is the same old horseshit about Obama's relativism, but Nick hasn't even bothered to attach that to an example from Obama's policy, it's just an off-topic rant about 'the school of thought Obama comes from', which you could throw right back at 'left-wing Nick' surely - it's that disconnected from the truth.

And - again - Nick has just plain ignored anything that goes against his nonsenical premise. Haiti, Honduras, Cuba... I can't help thinking that Kamm (HJS hat tip, after all) has once again started to infect everything Nick writes, just like he did back in the What's Left days; Nick's research on former US presidents reads suspiciously like it was 'borrowed' from the reading of somethong fairly partisan, as does his current ranting about Chomsky...

1/24/2010 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex Higgins said...

Nick: True, in his Cairo speech to Muslim countries, he said he believed in "governments that reflect the will of the people" – which was big of him – but did not mention the oppression of women.


And er... this is from Obama's Cairo address that doesn't mention women:

"The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

'I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the west that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

'Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

'Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams."

1/24/2010 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I think there are legitimate criticisms to be made of how Obama's soft-pedalled a few of these issues and actually the Burma one is about right. But I'm simply not interested in hearing Nick's views, or those of the H'S'JS on them, because they're so completely tainted and so obviously in bad faith (missile defences, ffs). I think it was Jamie Kenny who coined the excellent phrase "Let's have a major and far-reaching debate, not including you".

1/24/2010 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

the women's rights stuff - heh, what was that last week about making sure you've done your research? Equally, once again our noble truth-teller and campaigner against libel laws makes a basic factual error.

Obama's not been brilliant; I never really expected him to be. i just expected him to be much better than Bush, and he's certainly been that. And who was it telling us that once Obama started doing stuff we didn't like that we'd go overboard in criticism, to the extent of comparing him unfavourably to almost every other recent US president...? was it not, er, Aaro - and maybe nick as well? It is a bit of an indictment of Nick's judgment that he seems to think that McCain/Palin would have been better for the USA and the world; and that he seems to think that all these problems are entirely Obama's fault. As you say, one can have criticisms but this is in ridiculously bad faith - the missiles point being a microcosm of the entire argument. I think this is part of nick's new self-identification as a contrarian polemicist.

I'd have thought a far more major criticism than Obama's dealings over Burma would be the way he's fudged Israel/Palestine. Nick doesn't mention that. But he doesn't mention the main recent US foreign policy move - Haiti - either.

1/24/2010 05:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

I think that the Decent confusion between 'realism' as a foreign policy doctrine and 'realism' by its dictionary definition has been discussed here previously. As before it's not clear that Nick understands the difference.

1/24/2010 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Simon - The Decent confusion between 'realism' as a foreign policy doctrine and 'realism' by its dictionary definition

which the term was, of course, introduced to encourage. Realism in the colloquial dictionary sense being a heavily approbative term, and correspondingly light on plain non-evaluative description, it's a great one to appropriate as a general label for, well, whatever you get up to.

Chardonnay - I can't see why, if he feels so strongly about this, he also hates Amnesty who work really hard here.

Yes, it's almost as if one day he just decided that AI are a bunch of lying, antisemitic, terror-loving scumbags.

organic - nick's new self-identification as a contrarian polemicist.

I don't think he is or considers himself 'contrarian' (in the sense of contrary for the sake of it).

I think he's found (1) intellectual shelter with fellow back-slidden lefties, (2) interest group (Israel/neocon/GWOT, etc) whose influence can give his stuff support, relevance, and a place to get published, and (3) an overarching approach (teh Enlightenment/science/reason/universalism) which with a bit of edge-nibbling and grouting seems to unify these themes.

The parodied 'enlightenment' schtick also offers grown-upness, widespread superficial acceptability and a chance to take the piss out of Continental-style handwaving (relativism and that, innit).

I tend to suspect the last of these might actually be a proxy for 70s-style Marxism, allowing all those ex-lefties the chance to put the boot in and get some emphatic closure after having abandoned those cliques only gradually and ignominiously, without a new home to go to.

(see also Finkelstein on C. Hitchens' 'apostacy', me on P. Hitchens on Nick and the 'Eustonians').

1/24/2010 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

OCD corner: Hitchens's, not Hitchens'.

1/24/2010 08:39:00 PM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

Holy piss, if this is a trailer for Traitors then it might even be worse than What's Left?. Nick seems to have returned firmly to the Kamm orbit, and quoting the Scoopies is a seriously bad sign.

Since Nick is quoting the H'S'JS again, it may be worth mentioning Scoop's early advocacy - quite a while before Nixon - of engagement with Maoist China as a counterweight to the Soviet Union. And if he views a society named after that odious racist pork-barreller as representing genuine leftism, he really is beyond hope.

1/24/2010 08:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I think rhetorical honours are about even between 'realism' and 'idealism' in foreign policy; if it's self-evident that reality is where we live, it's just as self-evident that ideals are good things to have. What I find more interesting in Nick's column is the rather half-chewed bit about how "Obama has stood the [realist/idealist] distinction on its head" - which I think is almost true. I mean, Obama in power clearly is more realist than not, if by 'realist' we mean viewing foreign policy in terms of advancing the US's legitimate interests within a world of other nation states which also have legitimate interests. This isn't very surprising, and (for those of us who prefer less war to more) it's not very disappointing, either. What Nick misses is that the US Right has been fiercely idealistic ever since Reagan (it's interesting that the realist bad guys he harks back to date from the 1970s). Iraq is a very idealist war (the word doesn't have to be used in a good sense). If anyone stood that distinction on its head it was the PNAC and its fellow-travellers, from the H'S'JS to Euston.

1/24/2010 09:06:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I think Obama may recognise that you can't do what you can't do, which is liable to irritate people who think that you can do what you say on the internet ought to be done.

Hitchens' is perfectly acceptable to my mind.

1/24/2010 09:12:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

> What Nick misses is that the US Right has been fiercely idealistic ever since Reagan

I'm not going to disagree with that, except to say that IMO neither Cheney nor Rumsfeld (who date from the 70s, when Rumsfeld was the senior one) are idealistic at all. I don't doubt that Cheney has a philosophy and could give talks or write papers on same, but he's not an idealist nor an ideologue. Most of the right in the US do talk like idealists. Like idealists everywhere of course, this is cut with vary degrees of hypocrisy. And god knows what those ideals actually are. Federal power is bad? They're not against the military which is federally funded; they didn't object to conscription in Vietnam. It's a very strange idealism.

1/24/2010 09:30:00 PM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

What Justin said. Also good point from Phil about the recognition that legitimate US interests have to be pursued in a context where other states have legitimate interests too. I would add that "legitimate US interests" is not the same thing as "demands that HP posters have just pulled out of their arse".

When we talk about realism/idealism (leaving aside Decent magic realism) it's important to realise we're talking about a spectrum. In re Burma, Obama no doubt realises that Jim Webb's shuttle diplomacy may not work, but Hillary Clinton threatening to bomb the shit out of Burma is not necessarily going to work either and actually may make things worse. But Nick wants Obama to go around rattling a big sabre, because that would be less gay.

No, the Iraq war was thoroughly idealist, and also a completely insane policy. See also Democratic Kampuchea for an example of utopian idealism getting total control of state power.

1/24/2010 10:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

They're not against the military which is federally funded; they didn't object to conscription in Vietnam. It's a very strange idealism.

That's partly my point - there's nothing warm and fuzzy about idealism in foreign policy, it simply means that your starting-point is how you want the world to be rather than how the world is (see also ejh's comment). Idealism in this sense often is accompanied by what we'd usually call idealism, in more or less hypocritical and reality-averse forms, but it doesn't have to be. In the limited, foreign-policy sense Cheney and Rumsfeld absolutely were idealists - they had no interest in how the world was, they just wanted it remade. Ditto the Scoopies.

1/24/2010 10:51:00 PM  
OpenID yorksranter said...

Martin Amis makes another weak effort at being provocative and just succeeds in being offensive.

When there's actually been a BBC docudrama, five or so years ago, on your outrageous statement, it's probably time for your martini and medal. Mr. A is not very young.

1/24/2010 11:39:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Haven't read Nick's column and feel lttle inclination to do so, but this realist/idealist thing is interesting.

To me, realism in foreign policy is just a code word for Machiavellian pursuit of 'national' interest, while 'idealism' just meant a less convenient approach which involved some ethical constraints.

I don't think there were many takers for the role of self-described 'idealist' which term surely does carry a connotation of head-in-the-clouds - unrealistic - aims or expectations, especially when contrasted with 'realist', which thus in the context does have the rhetorical upper hand.

I'm no expert, but wasn't 'realism' in policy accompanied by an approach to the 'science' of international relations which posited that all states acted in 'realist' fashion? Excuse scarequotes, but it's a bit like the enabling role of economics, the 'non-evaluative' 'science' that, with heavy and unearned condescension, rules out various swathes of policy as basically childish, ill-informed and hopelessly unworkable.

Phil - The preceding suggests that advancing the US's legitimate interests within a world of other nation states which also have legitimate interests is a rather uncritical description. Also unclear that a starting point/endpoint distinction can ground a substantial non-evaluative component in the meaning of realism/idealism.

I mean, how would this actually work? Surely making any plan involves having both start and end points in view, and involves trying to trace a path from one to the other. The difference surely isn't that one approach regards the inability to trace such a path as no obstacle to implementation, nor that the other disallows paths of more than a certain length.

Is it just a matter of how ambitious ones' goals are? However I try to frame some such difference in approach, it always seems to come down to: realism says don't try what won't work, idealism says, er, something else.

Realism wins: hardly surprising because its guiding principle (supposedly) is 'don't be unrealistic'. 'Idealism' has no such tautologously affirming formulation. If they were called 'ethical' and 'unethical' that might be different. But they're not - at least not by Nick and his allies.

1/25/2010 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Robin Cook notably did use that terminology, though it's not clear how well he stuck to it, and it certainly didn't do him much good personally. Still, at least all that happened to him was he was sacked as F Sec at the request of the Cheney/Bush administration.

Which reminds me for some reason of that other idealistic Walter Mitty character, 'Dr' David Kelly, who is still making a nuisance of himself. Being a realist, I wouldn't mind, but he's causing me a few problems myself.

I mean, obviously murder only happens among down and outs, criminals, provincial solicitors, the aristocracy, etc. and definitely not in the world of high stakes global politics, war, money, power, deceit and covert operations. That much is clear.

Trouble is, the credences aren't coming out right. I can't seem to get mine below about 80% for murder. Still, some comfort: at least not too much more recalcitrant evidence should be turning up in my lifetime, so I have 70 clear years to tweak parameters and rerun the Bayesian models in pursuit of a more sensible result.

1/25/2010 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

To me, realism in foreign policy is just a code word for Machiavellian pursuit of 'national' interest, while 'idealism' just meant a less convenient approach which involved some ethical constraints.

We're more or less agreed on realism...

wasn't 'realism' in policy accompanied by an approach to the 'science' of international relations which posited that all states acted in 'realist' fashion? Excuse scarequotes, but it's a bit like the enabling role of economics, the 'non-evaluative' 'science' that, with heavy and unearned condescension, rules out various swathes of policy as basically childish, ill-informed and hopelessly unworkable.

...although I don't think the "nation state as rational actor" model does exactly the same work in IR as its counterpart does in economics. I think its main contribution to IR is to bracket out economics, ironically enough. I mean, homo economicus is reductive because people act for lots of reasons other than individual self-interest. FP realism is reductive, not because nation-states act for lots of reasons other than self-interest, but because there are lots of other actors out there. If economic individualism is too materialistic, FP realism isn't materialistic enough.

The preceding suggests that advancing the US's legitimate interests within a world of other nation states which also have legitimate interests is a rather uncritical description.

I'm not a big fan of nation states in general, but I think that's the least worst that a nation state can do: try to advance what are consensually recognised as its own interests.

Basically we're working with very different conceptions of 'idealism'. You seem to see it in terms of "let's end apartheid!" or "let's cancel Third World debt!". My point is that "let's roll back Communism!" and "let's establish permanent US superiority!" are also variants of idealism, and much more influential variants at that.

Also unclear that a starting point/endpoint distinction can ground a substantial non-evaluative component in the meaning of realism/idealism.

The difference is the existence of a big-picture endpoint. Realism is a "let's just get through the decade" philosophy.

1/25/2010 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous magistra said...

Surely what discredited Kissinger style 'realism' was its tendency to think that 'the interests of other nation states' could be reduced to 'the interests of the dictators controlling other nation states'? There is a difficult balance in foreign relations to be struck on how you deal with states that are less than democratic, but simply propping up corrupt leaders because they're on 'our' side has not been very successful as a policy. (Which is why it's depressing to see that's exactly what's happening in Afghanistan now).

1/25/2010 11:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

magistra - you're conflating two different issues. Treating corrupt dictators as legitimate is actually one of the great strengths of FP realism (although perhaps not its greatest selling-point). You start with the simplifying assumption that the world consists of X number of states, and whoever is in charge in any given state at the moment is the person you deal with. You may choose to deal with them in ways which make it less likely that they'll be there in ten years' time, but the main concern is to secure a continuing supply of what your state needs - which is more likely to be met by peace than war.

Propping up dictators because they're on our side is another matter. I think FP idealists are just as guilty of this as realists - Reagain thought Rios Montt was doing a grand job in saving Guatemala from Communism. Realists are more likely to prop up dictators (or anyone else) for as long as they're useful, then dump them.

As for how you deal with states that are less than democratic, I actually don't think there are many situations where foreign policy can do any good at all. FP realism comes a hell of a lot closer to passing the Hippocratic test than idealism can.

1/25/2010 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

@Phil: I'm not going to argue re 'ideological' - for me, it means something like 'fascist' did to Orwell in 'Politics and the English Language' while 'pragmatic' means more or less the opposite; to Nick, as far as I can tell, these definitions are reversed. I think Nick's an eye-rolling Utopian, and he probably thinks I'm some sort of blithe Panglossian.

Has anyone else noticed the dog that didn't bark? Take one of the core ideas (as I understand them, of course) of Decent neo-liberalism: that there are legitimate states and non-legitimate states. Further, that this is binary (yes or no) rather than analogue (a matter of degree). What makes a legitimate state? ie one that our leaders can do diplomacy with without censure? The US was founded in revolution. So was modern-day Iran. How do we decide which is legitimate? The US in 1776 didn't let women vote. Was Bush's 2000 victory legitimate? The Decents chorus "Of course; it went through the courts in a modern democracy". Was Hitler's? Er... And so on.

Nick may be right about Burma (as B2 says), but for the wrong reasons. Roughly, in programming terms, the Decents claim to generate a list of "Who is my mate?" by running the algorithm "Who is democratic and/or legitimate?" but really they're generating a list of "Who is democratic and/or legitimate?" by running the algorithm "Who is my mate?"

1/25/2010 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Goooooal!

1/26/2010 06:18:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Well played!

What's even weirder about the dog that didn't bark in al of this - legitimacy vs non-legitimacy - is that it's the crux of cohen's 'argument' that the Iraq war was legal, as voiced in the Obs the week before this piece.

But as a few of us said then, legitimacy is usually in the eye of the beholder. I mean Cohen is convinced that Chavez is an illegitimate dictator despite all evidence to the contrary; despite his earlier reservations, he now seems to think George Bush was a really good president, but if an Iranian had been 'elected' in the manner Bush was first time round, I'm sure Cohen would look on it unfavourably. how does Bush's propping up Mubarak and the Saudis tally with Cohen's anti-Obama rant? He's just picked, and interpreted, his examples to suit his prejudice. I can't be bothered to look but I'm sure a lot of this will have come from the pre-election, anti-Obama pieces in Standpoint.

On Iran in general - the real result of the election wasn't much more than 50/50, was it? would it *really* be a good idea to be bombing the fuck out of them for a debatable 'nuclear threat'? and has Obama actually been 'seen of' like Cohen seems to think? His only source for this is someone writing for the HJS which is as partial as you can get. And as FR points out, Republican sabre rattling against Russia over Georgia didn't actually achieven anything more than making the rattlers look really stupid (Cameron, a man cohen seems ot inexplicably admire, was all over that, lest we forget).

The hand of Kamm is all over this stuff; and it'll doubtless be all over 'Traitors' too. Sadly it won't get the demolition it deserves in the press.

1/26/2010 09:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Alex said...

Well it seems you predicted Aaro's choice correctly, but I wouldn't quite describe the column as "liberal" or "rational", considering it essentially calls for horror films to be banned at the end.

1/27/2010 02:26:00 AM  

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