Thursday, March 11, 2010

A very strange argument indeed

Thanks to Justin McKeating's brilliant tweet:

One for @MalkyMuscular this: http://bit.ly/aaWJKk. Someone's been and borrowed the Decent Tardis (http://bit.ly/bonDqd).


The good thing about borrowing a Tardis is that one can bring it back at the very moment one took it, so the owner need never know. Still, it would have been nice to ask. (Taking this metaphor a bit literally, aren't we? - Ed) If those links don't work for you, the first goes to John Rentoul: The moral case for the Iraq war (that is, John Rentoul wrote it on the Independent's livejournal). Rentoul:

Fine analysis of the moral case for the invasion of Iraq by Nigel Biggar, regius professor of moral and pastoral theology at the University of Oxford, in today's Financial Times. He begins thus:

The surfeit of moral certainty among the commentators is suspect; the zealous clarity of their moral waters needs muddying.


The professor, in muddying those waters, does not shy away from the terrible death toll that followed the invasion. But he deals with it in a clear-minded way, asking how one can judge whether it is disproportionate.


Granted, I'm hostile to theologians generally, but it seems an odd approach to an argument to call for lack of clarity. You have facts and reason, damn you! (But this may be how theologians always argue. That's certainly the impression I get from Andrew Brown in the Guardian and Thought for the Day. Reason and logic are the enemies of religion.) Not only does John Rentoul (who surely qualifies as a Decent) call this a 'Fine analysis', but Norman Geras says, "Guardianistas be on your guard! It may contain more complexity than you can handle." It contains more something than I can handle, though I wouldn't call it complexity.

Maybe critics of the war view with equanimity what might have happened without the 2003 invasion, trusting that the secular rationality of Realpolitik would have prevented the rivalry between Iraq’s atrocious Saddam and Iran’s millenarian Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad from turning catastrophically nuclear. In this age of suicide bombers, however, such faith is hard to credit.


I don't know anyone who has argued that we invaded Iraq to prevent conflict, nuclear or otherwise, with Iran. Given that Iran and Iraq had already fought a long and pointless war, and neither side had gained from it, another conflict seems very unlikely. And, assuming this war had happened, would it have been nuclear? Even if Iran is developing nuclear weapons now, no one claims that it has a working bomb.

Now add the concern about weapons of mass destruction. This was sufficiently grave to rouse the UN to litter the period 1991-2003 with 17 resolutions calling on Saddam to disarm permanently. Given the shocking discovery in the mid-1990s of Iraq’s success in enriching uranium and coming within 24 months of nuclear armament, and given the regime’s persistent flouting of the UN’s will, there was good reason to withhold benefit of doubt and to suppose that it was developing WMDs. It was not just Messrs Bush and Blair who supposed this. So did Jacques Chirac, then French president, and Hans Blix, the UN’s chief weapons inspector.


Is anyone prepared to argue that this isn't a complete list of Security Council Resolutions (SCRs) involving Iraq [1991-2004]? There may have been resolutions on the floor of the UN but if these weren't made by the Security Council (the only body capable of enforcing disarmament), they wouldn't have been anything other than hot air. And does anyone know what "the shocking discovery in the mid-1990s of Iraq’s success in enriching uranium and coming within 24 months of nuclear armament" refers to? Osirak was in 1980 and 1981 and it doesn't seem fanciful that, if Iraq came close to nuclear armament again, both Israel and Iran would take pre-emptive action again. And Iraq couldn't stop them when it was fighting a war with Iran and receiving backing from the US. Oh and what does Hans Blix say now? Hans Blix answers Tony Blair's '2010 question'. "Iraq was, as I said, on its knees in 2003..." Does "coming within 24 months of nuclear armament" even matter when Iraq was subject to sanctions and US flyovers?

We now know this reasonable supposition was mistaken and that the problem was less urgent than it appeared. But it was still urgent. Saddam was intent on acquiring nuclear weapons and support for containment was dissolving.


Oh really?

Who knew, back in 2003, all the things the invasion would achieve? Looks at Alastair Campbell. I'm really disappointed in you, Alastair, why didn't you tell us it was all about stopping a nuclear war? Oh, you'd have looked ridiculous and the NHS may have struggled to treat all the hilarity induced injuries. That's actually a good reason.

17 Comments:

Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Oh pooh. I left out how silly "this age of suicide bombers" was. If there is an 'age', it started in 1983 with the Beirut barracks bombing which Iran may have aided. If Iran wanted to use suicide attacks, it would have used them in the Iran-Iraq war (come to think of it, I think it did); it didn't need to be shown how by 9/11.

3/11/2010 08:10:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Malky Muscular aka Flying Rodent has a point by point deconstruction on Twitter.

3/11/2010 08:25:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Taken in conjunction with Aaro's recent column and Norm's endorsement, I can only assume that the muscular liberals have heard the Mothership's signal and are preparing to be beamed up into the heavens.

I mean, seriously - this argument that if everyone thinks Iraq was a hideous disaster, that must be snooty groupthink and probably untrue... I invite Nige to test his suspicions about the utility of popular beliefs by disproving the urban myth about how pissing on the third rail is dangerous.

God knows why Norm thinks it's "complex" though. Let me summarise...

Groupthink; Hitler; Hitler; Theoretical future magical ponies; Kosovo!!1!1!!; International law is rubbish, ergo bombs away; Everyone thought Sadddam had WMD; OMG Saddam vs. Iran in fantasy nuclear smackdown.

It's a particularly cack-handed reiteration of Decency's least honest talking points, with some hilarious counterfactual history thrown in. If this is the best they can do, I think we can stop worrying about revisionist historians rehabilitating lunatic belligerence.

3/11/2010 08:28:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Ah, yes. I liked it so much, I said it twice.

3/11/2010 08:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Support for containment was dissolving". This is one of those talking-points that has been coming around for the last seven years. What is carefully not said is that it was the USA that was no longer supporting containment.

Strings of talking-points like this also never explain what inspections were supposed to be about.

Guano

3/11/2010 10:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gordon Brown mentioned 14 UN resolutions at the Chilcot Inquiry.

http://www.iraqinquirydigest.org/?p=8171

Now it is 17. Any advance on 17?

Guano

3/11/2010 11:05:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Maybe critics of the war view with equanimity what might have happened without the 2003 invasion, trusting that the secular rationality of Realpolitik would have prevented the rivalry between Iraq’s atrocious Saddam and Iran’s millenarian Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad from turning catastrophically nuclear. In this age of suicide bombers, however, such faith is hard to credit.

Ahmedinejad was a fairly unknown mayor of Tehran in 2003. How on earth is this alternative history working? We also have that millennarian stuff about him being brought up - the same old 'mad mullah' nonsense that is consistently peddled by wingnuts about Ahmedinejad.

It's just another rephrasing of the '9/11 changed everything' bullshit that Blair peddled at Chilcot. As CC says, if Campbell had tried to spin this as about avoiding a nuclear war he'd have been laughed out of the room but cough, cough, 9/11. no matter that this is picking up one of the official conspiracy theories about Iraq - that Saddam was linked to al-Qaeda... mind you the nukes one is nother as the above says.

In any case ran's use of suicide bombers in recent years - by proxy, generally - is entirely (and upsettingly) an example of realpolitik. They don't want an actual war with Israel but they'll help out Hamas and Hezbollah.

These champions od democracy who are 'genuinely concerned for the Iraqi people' seem not to have too much interest in who the Iraqis have elected so far, either. Because the current Iraqi regime is on extremely good terms with... Iran.

I still have a bit of respect for Norman Geras but i cannot understand how quick Decents liek him are to embrace such appallingly counterfactual arguments.

3/12/2010 09:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

What's with "Ahmadi-Nejad", btw? Is it meant to make him sound scarier?

3/12/2010 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

It seems to be the FT's preferred spelling. Knowing nothing about Farsi names, I cannot say why. I wondered about that, too, but it's a sub ed thing, not a quirk of Professor Biggar.

3/12/2010 10:37:00 AM  
OpenID yorksranter said...

The only other person I know who spells it like that is Michael Ledeen, so this is possibly significant.

3/12/2010 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Now we've been told! Michael White's last three paragraphs.

Whether or not Biggar knows what he's doing raising his head above the parapet is another matter. Doesn't he know what happens to people in public life who cross the prejudices of the Daily Beast?

If readers in the quiet streets of north Oxford hear unusual noises just before dawn it may be a freelance trawling through the Biggar family bins on behalf of the Beast. And change your mobile phone number, Prof.


Ooh, that's me bang to rights. Picking apart an argument is EXACTLY LIKE going through someone's bins and bugging their mobile phone. I feel proper ashamed now, I do.

Strange piece by White: direct attack on the Murdoch press and the Mail pretending to be a piece lamenting declining standards in Fleet St. But the Mail's always been bigoted and spun news, and I don't think White is old enough to go back to before Murdoch bought the Sun and News of the World. Why can't he just say that the Guardian has higher standards than some other papers? This would be true, mostly.

3/12/2010 12:12:00 PM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

The Guardian used to spell it that way too but seems to have given up. I think the intention is to try and give a few clues to pronunication and cut down on the "I'm a dinner jacket" effect.

3/12/2010 12:14:00 PM  
Anonymous donpaskini said...

One thing which I found good about Biggar's article is the way it used so many of the arguments from the Decentpedia.

I appreciate the efforts of this post and Malky Muscular on Twitter, but I think this is one Decent argument which didn't need any new counter-arguments:

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/03/13/moral-courage-in-alternative-iraq/

3/13/2010 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Splendid, Don.

3/13/2010 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we start wars because a leader of another country is evil (rather than follow the rules set out in the UN charter) we have to have someone to tell us that that leader is evil. It seems quite likely that only a religious person will be able to tell us if someone is evil, thus dragging religion into foreign relations. And isn't this called a fatwa in another context?

Guano

3/14/2010 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I don't think White is old enough to go back to before Murdoch bought the Sun and News of the World.

Yes he is - he was born in 1945 and Murdoch bought the Sun in 1969.

3/14/2010 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Speaking of the Decent Tardis: The British anti-war Left: proud sponsors of antisemitism since 1900. No prizes for guessing which blog that's on.

3/14/2010 07:45:00 PM  

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