Sunday, May 23, 2010

Preponderance

The Professor doth protest too much, methinks.

I wonder if she [Decca Aitkenhead] knows the meaning of 'preponderance'.


Well, readers. let's find out.

When the invasion of Iraq was first debated, one couldn't fail to notice the preponderance of left-wing men of a certain age who came out in support of the war.


Preponderance: "the quality or fact of being greater in number, quantity, or importance" (Apple dictionary).

Professor Geras then goes on to name those he thinks refutes this theory: himself, "Hitch [Christopher Hitchens whom Ms Aitkenhead interviewed], but also with such other of the lads as David Aaronovitch[,] Nick Cohen[,]... Michael Ignatieff[,] Paul Berman[,] Adam Michnik[,] Václav Havel[,] Ann Clwyd and Julie Burchill.

Why yes, that is a preponderance of men of a certain age. The presence of two women doesn't disprove the claim, rather it shows that Ms Aitkenhead chose the right word.

What gained my support for the war wasn't the fact that Saddam Hussein was a foul tyrant whose regime had presided over genocide, torture and other crimes against humanity; it was, rather, a concern about the size and potency of my penis.


Oh right. But Saddam was was all that before the 1991 one invasion. It's a shame that Professor Geras didn't start blogging until July 2003 (at least one reader may find that link amusing or embarrassing now), so we don't know his views on the Gulf War or indeed on Iraq between the wars. Ann Clwyd at least had consistency: she vocally opposed Saddam before the Marines arrived to back her up. But the Hitch? Not so much.

[Iraq] has been strengthened externally by her support for revolutionary causes and by the resources she can deploy. It may not be electrification plus Soviet power, but the combination of oil and ‘Arab socialism’ is hardly less powerful.


I'm not convinced by the argument that it's about virility. It seemed to me at the time that it was odd how men when they were younger had no bellicose convictions suddenly developed same when even the most desperate recruiting sergeant would sadly shake his head. Some may think it a tragedy to suddenly hear the call to arms when too old to take them up. Others may call it convenient.

56 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair to Normi, blogging wasn't an available way of communicating one's views in 1991 as the medium didn't exist.

5/23/2010 08:44:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Good point. Should have put that better. I *meant* that though he's written on Marxism and history, I'm not aware of any particular interest in Iraq until it became the latest craze of Tony Blair's.

God, I'm really struck how many old links on my blog (pre, say, 2007) are broken. People who gave up blogging, papers that don't archive past a certain point. Anyway,

The siren song in any war on terror is ''let slip the dogs of war.'' Let them hunt. Let them kill. Already, we have dogs salivating at the prospect. A liberal society cannot be defended by herbivores. We need carnivores to save us, but we had better make sure the meat-eaters hunt only on our orders.

Michael Ignatieff. How many "wars on terror" have there been for him to generalise like that? Chilling, hopelessly naive stuff. I summed him up as We should tolerate, even welcome loss of freedom: it’s for our own good. I'm sure Ignatieff was a 'herbivore' when he presented the 'Late Show' (or was it called 'Late Review'? something like that) despite his lycanthropic looks. Besides, he seems to think that the 'meat eaters' are a sub-species, like Morlocks.

5/23/2010 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

The general view that "Progressive principles are for pussies and wimps" is one that IIRC Julie Burchill has specifically endorsed in print (she now has a column in the Jewish Chronicle which is quite absurdly embarrassing). I may be misremembering, but I think she has specifically made the link between support of a pro-settler policy in Israel and penis size.

5/23/2010 10:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think old gorgeous George unearthed some piece by Dude Hitchens from the mid 80s singing the praises of Saddam, saying that he was a good thing for socialism or something. Mind you Galloway might of made it up.

We will wait and see how much Ignatieff manages to shit on his own reputation in the future, when or if he becomes PM of Canada next year.

5/23/2010 11:03:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Most of what I've read by Aitkenhead has been rather silly but I had to chuckle when I read this piece, mainly in anticipation of the snorts of indignation from assorted pro-war types.

Like CC I'm not convinced by the virility argument but I think that KB Player in the comments at HP put it well

And if she’s suspicious about armchair warriors getting excited about the thought of war, that’s not without reason. I can remember the cries of admiration that Seumas Milne and George Galloway uttered when the Russians marched into Georgia. Whatever their politics, a lot of men do seem entranced by aeroplanes and tanks and guns, as long as they are on the right side.

5/24/2010 06:55:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

By the way, I've just come back from holiday and read about AW's impending demise. It'ss a shame - there is a good combination of contributers and commenters here and even if watching the Decents is maybe less of a priority nowadays it would have been good to see you instead broaden the scope of the site. Some of the most interesting discussions have been when the topic has digressed from decentism itself.

5/24/2010 07:02:00 AM  
Anonymous magistra said...

I don't think it's about virility so much as moral superiority. Once you get to middle-age, if you're honest, you realise that morally you're not that wonderful. You've abandoned some of your fine principles, you've treated friends and people badly etc. What is more rejuvenating than to find someone who is unquestionably morally worse than you, whatever you do? And then anyone who can be painted as supporting those who are morally evil is also automatically your moral inferior as well, regardless of their actual behaviour. I think the classic expression of this was Martin Amis' getting annoyed because an audience didn't stick up their hands when he asked them if they were morally superior to the Taliban. The fact that Hitchins wrote a whole book to denounce Mother Teresa while never doing anything to help poor people himself may show the deep roots of such a tendency.

(And as a meta-comment, I myself am guilty of moral superiority here, but at least I realise that trying to be a better person that Christopher Hitchins is not in itself a sufficient moral target).

5/24/2010 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

The nob gags are a bit childish and I'd even say mildly disreputable. If they were funny I might be a bit less earnest about it. Geras does indeed seem rather defensive though.

And he seems just to repeat and elaborate the theme, without providing any absurdity by way of refutation. Sarcasm without irony?

I think he might be onto something with the 'proponderance' thing though - depends what subpopulation:population ratio you're looking at. men:all; leftwing men:all men; leftwing men:all others; leftwing men supporting war:the total population?

Maybe she meant 'protuberance'?

-----

BTW agree with aa, shame to see it go. I only came here to find out if Nick was Ratbiter but found it compulsive loitering. Still none the wiser about RB.

As dead links were mentioned with mild asperity, can we assume the site's web presence will be maintained for posterity?

5/24/2010 10:12:00 AM  
Anonymous darkhorse said...

"The siren song in any war on terror is ''let slip the dogs of war.'' Let them hunt. Let them kill. Already, we have dogs salivating at the prospect. A liberal society cannot be defended by herbivores. We need carnivores to save us, but we had better make sure the meat-eaters hunt only on our orders."

This reminds me of the speech made by the main character of at the end of Team America, having foiled the Actors Guild of America's plan to give a peace award to Kim Jong Il (and Kim Jong Il's plan to attack the US, or something)

However, it contains language far too fruity to post from work, so you'll have to google it yourselves...

5/24/2010 11:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

I wouldn't want to defend precisely what Aitkenhead was saying, but at risk of labouring a point here surely it's something like this: there were plenty of people who had long wished to see the back of Saddam, many of them didn't support the war. A small group of middle aged men (and Ms Burchill) decided in the early 2000s that US military might was the solution with rather gung-ho relish, dismissing objections as lily-livered or worse. They have continued with this line to this day, even as the predictable problems came to pass. This seems to dovetail with a frankly repellant feeling that somehow they missed out in not being able to test their moral fibre in combat. Few politicians now have seen active combat - it was striking that those who had (from Benn to Chirac and others) were profoundly dubious about the war.
Anyway, it will be sad to see this site go - DA seems relatively reasonable by Decent standards these days, but I can appreciate that picking over NC, MacShane et al must become wearisome and pointless by now.

5/24/2010 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Vinny said...

I wouldn't take any notice of Julie Burchill. I've been reading her stuff since her first article in the NME in 1976. She is (to paraphrase the late Tony Banks on the Thatcherite Terry Dicks MP) "living proof that a pig's bladder on a stick can get regular columns in the media.

She has a morbid fascination with judaism. At the NME she used to pretend to be jewish, despite the fact that all the others journos knowing she wasn't. She is also very anti-racism except if you happen to be an Arab or Irish.

During the '80s she said she was a Thatcherite while also expressing her admiration for Stalin and the Soviet Union. She is also a Eustonite and now a born-again christian.

As for armchair warriors. Martin Amis, no less, has said Hitchens has never had any qualms when the bullets start flying and the bodies building up, whereas this is were Amis starts to get queasy. And he thought it may be due to Hitchens Leninist past.

Amis has said the clue to Hitchens is "...he has to have an ideology; till 1989 it was communism, in the '90s Alcoholics Anonymous and now this" (neo-con-ism

Amis says Hitchens loves it when the whole audience is jeering him and he can sneer: "yeah, look at you all, like sheep"

As for "liberal-interventionism" I am with the columnist the late Alan Watkins who died earlier this month. Watkins opposed all Blair's wars and used to refer to Blair "the young war criminal"

Watkins used to write: "if we still had National Service we would not get involved in these wars because the children of the middle class would be in the army"

Quite.

(BTW Jacques Chirac, who had seen active service in the Algerian War in 2002 tried to describe the horrors of war to Blair.

'Leo will not thank you if you take Britain into war.'

Later on, according to Wall, Chirac argued strongly that 'while Saddam Hussein could be overthrown, the subsequent consequences would be disastrous'.

But the policy aide reveals: 'Tony Blair never paid any attention to what Chirac said...He'd kind of come out rolling his eyes and say: "Oh dear, dear old Jacques, he doesn't get it, does he?"...')

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2007/feb/25/iraq.france

5/24/2010 01:27:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

Haha just remembered this: My response to Decca's piece was to dream that a friend and I encountered Hitchens in a dank and gloomy underground room, very drunk (he was, i mean). He greeted us with gratingly oafish bonhomie and then pissed himself, extremely spectacularly. Just a dream, of course; means nothing at all.

5/24/2010 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Tim, what nob gags? On Harry's Place. I gave up trying to find humour there ages ago. I don't follow your point about subpopulations: Prof Geras is kind enough to name some of those he thinks Ms Aitkenhead is thinking of - they are overwhelmingly male, and all are middle-aged at least. So men of a certain age preponder (if that's a word, and my Mac thinks it isn't) in said group.

I don't think it's a virility argument per se, it's just something that appeals more to men. And, as Magistra says, middle-age is also a factor.

Vinny's point is very good about Chirac is very good. I'm sure George Bush I and John Major could have taken the time to explain why they didn't topple Saddam (clearly a crazy bastard by then). As I understand it the reasons included 'war is too horrible to endure any more of than you absolutely have to' and 'coming out again is going to be very hard and expensive and take a lot longer than anyone expects'.

I sort of feel sorry for Burchill. She was a sort of troll (avant la lettre) in the NME days. Now, looking at her on the Jewish Chronicle, she's "writing" pieces of 312 words where she has to quote from her fridge magnets for ideas. I'm not sure she really understands elections either. I have no idea what Norman Geras sees in her.

Is it me or is much of the anger at HP because Hitchens is less heroic than they'd like, rather than the interviewing style or anything like that? I would have liked a question about Nick Clegg, just out of personal interest. And he could have fought his popular media image by drinking water and saying, "I haven't sold out, but I've leant my person to a new brand of designer water. It's called Eau Contraire." I'll get me coat.

5/24/2010 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

This post has acquired an ironic twist given later events:
http://www.normangeras.blogspot.com/2003_07_27_archive.html#105982126023737809#105982126023737809

5/24/2010 03:35:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Andrew Adams: I don't remember either Seamus Milne or GG expressing admiration for Russia invading Georgia. I think that's just the usual HP bullshit.

5/24/2010 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I guess KBP was referring to Georgia is the graveyard of America's unipolar world.

Russia is a regional power and there is no imminent prospect of a serious global challenger to the US, which will remain overwhelmingly the most powerful state in the world for years to come. It can also exacerbate the risk of conflict. But only the most solipsistic western mindset can fail to grasp the necessity of a counterbalance in international relations that can restrict the freedom of any one power to impose its will on other countries unilaterally.

Now, I think Milne was quite pleased that he had evidence that the US did not have the hegemonic grip on the world that certain camp followers would wish it to, but I don't hear any "cries of admiration" in that piece. As for Galloway, well, I don't really care.

I disagree with KBP on the details, but she's sussed out Nick (SA) and others. "this site does sometimes end up like the Dads’ Second XV in the pub, if some woman has written something that pisses them off." How true. (See also Harry's Place's considered reaction to Diane Abbott.)

5/24/2010 04:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ChardonnayChap:

I sort of feel sorry for Burchill. She was a sort of troll (avant la lettre) in the NME days.

...but that's been her schtick her whole career; it's why papers and magazines kept hiring her (she'd be crack-cocaine grade comment bait at Comment is Free), rather than because she has anything of interest to say. It's just that it gets tiresome after a while - and she'll only move on to whoever will pay even more money for the same crap anyway.

[redpesto]

5/24/2010 04:39:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

Something one of JB's early editors said of her (one who very much didn't share her many obnoxious prejudices): she got her copy in on time. to length, and perfectly presented; no need to correct a comma. You have NO IDEA how many sins these characteristics will excuse in the world of deadlined publishing!

5/24/2010 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger Sonic said...

Hitchens

http://althouse.blogspot.com/2010/05/christopher-hitchens-admits-that-hes.html

5/24/2010 05:18:00 PM  
Anonymous KB Player said...

Hitchens chronicles his own journey from opposing the first Gulf War to supporting the Second in his essays. The reason he gives is that the Kurds were overjoyed at the defeat of Saddam in the first and were cheering George Bush the First So he started to re-think intervention against violent dictatorships.

"I'm not convinced by the argument that it's about virility. It seemed to me at the time that it was odd how men when they were younger had no bellicose convictions suddenly developed same when even the most desperate recruiting sergeant would sadly shake his head. Some may think it a tragedy to suddenly hear the call to arms when too old to take them up. Others may call it convenient."

I think that is harsh. These guys aren’t pacifists. In their fighting age youth they admired the Viet Cong and would have liked to have had the chance to fight in the Spanish Civil War or even throw bricks in Cable Street. I think also that those of the generation who did not fight in a war though their fathers did wonder if they would have measured up if they had lived through those times.

Re Galloway & Milne’s breathless excitement at the sight of rolling tanks - one of those things I remember reading at the time. GG is happy to tell freedom fighters in their ragged sandals that they are writing their names in the stars with their Kalishnikovs so I guess he gets off on fighting as well - as long as it's on the right side.

5/24/2010 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

she got her copy in on time. to length, and perfectly presented; no need to correct a comma.

I had heard (and should have realised it was too good to be true at the time) that there was often a problem with respect to JB columns in that she would deliver the correct word length, but that this would somehow fail to fill the allocated space, because the word "I" was used so much more often than in normal copy.

5/24/2010 06:50:00 PM  
Blogger Dr_Paul said...

A friend of mine once said that Burchill is a schiksa version of the Jewish communist turned Zionist who once sought his Jerusalem in Moscow, but has now found his Moscow in Jerusalem.

One thing I noticed about Burchill is that the reasons she likes Jews are remarkably similar to the same reasons why anti-Semites hate them: they both think Jews are witty, successful, sharp, etc, etc. In short, both base their attitudes towards an ethnic group upon attributes supposedly applicable to all members of the group.

As for why Hitchens and other former leftists go weak-kneed at the sight of the US military aeroplane or tank, it's not so much about discovering in their dotage a love for warfare, but the fact that they once thought that the working class was a force powerful enough to reshape society, but we've so disappointed them in our inability (so far) to do it, so they now look to something big and powerful that can make changes in the here and now.

5/24/2010 08:03:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

KB, you're right of course, that was nasty. (I should have refrained from the dig at Nick (SA) on the Diane Abbott thread too, but I didn't. I don't learn.) Hitchens was certainly anti-Vietnam (he left the Labour Party over it, IIRC), that is, to be clear, against the Vietnam War, he didn't want the whole archipelago or whatever it is sunk beneath the China Sea. I don't know if he admired the VC so much, if he did, I rather fear that he was wrong to do so. They were more right that the Americans, but that's not saying a whole lot. I don't know what they were like at the start of the war, nothing like as scary as goggle-eyed anti-Communists (including Nixon and JFK) portrayed them, in all likelihood. By the end, well, the Khmer Rouge was practically a dress rehearsal for the Taliban. How an poor and ignorant nation is corrupted by the steamroller of a haughty superpower. (Needs work, but this is a blog comment, so it won't get it.)

But there were battles to be fought. I'm not keen on Peter Hain, but he fought Apartheid fairly effectively, and that was worthwhile. That was a big thing for South Africa.

Hitchens, I think correctly, viewed his talents as lying in reportage, which he has done very well on occasion. He did bring back news of oppression, of struggle, of moral, as well as mortal, combat. It's absolutely normal to wonder if one would be brave in combat. (I have wondered, briefly, and decided that experience came to a verdict long ago: no.) But it's too late for Hitchens to change his mind and decide he'd rather be in the fight. As for the rest, I don't know. People have done brave things even when there wasn't some great Promethean struggle between the West and the rest. There was a really good, moving story in the FT this weekend about a concentration camp survivor who was complicit in torture and murder who "personally eliminated polio from nearly 100 miles of the Kenyan coast." That was a worthwhile - and brave and demanding - thing to do. I don't believe this stuff that the post-war generation didn't have the breaks that, say, Orwell had.

5/24/2010 08:18:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Dr Paul, I think that's right on the nail. I went through an adolescent phase of wanting to be Jewish, for pretty much those reasons. Ethnically Jewish rather than religious, as all the Jews I admired (and still do, although some, like Harlan Ellison, have waned in my opinion a bit) were scientists or writers or comedians or that sort of thing. I had no ambitions of going into wholesale. I understand where she's coming from, but I had cowpox to her smallpox, and, besides, I was just a kid and a nebbish.

Here's Jools from towards the end of her Guardian tenure:

I can't help noticing that, over the years, a disproportionate number of attractive, kind, clever people are drawn to Jews; those who express hostility to them, however, from Hitler to Hamza, are often as not repulsive freaks.

They don't half hate some Jews at Harry's Place: Walt and Mearsheimer, Chomsky, Malcolm Rifkind, the Saatchi Brothers (IIRC), Roman Polanski, Gilad Atzmon, (and for Michael Ezra at least, Karl Marx), and many more as K-Tel adverts used to say. She's not entirely wrong about "people who express hostility" - the thing is, it doesn't matter which group it's to. Personally, I loathe Melanie Phillips, but that's because I think she's a bigot, not because she's Jewish. (Weirdly, I rate her husband, who is actually the sanest blogger on Standpoint. Against very weak competition, I admit.)

5/24/2010 08:38:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

CC: It sounds out of character for GG, who has many faults (and a few virtues), but I can't see him getting googly eyed over Russian tanks. Milne is SWP, so that sounds really unlikely.

5/24/2010 10:35:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

"Milne is SWP, so that sounds really unlikely."
He most definitely isn't. He used to be involved with the Straight Left grouping within the CP, so he could have got emotional over Russian tanks, although any speculation on whether he did or not would be accompanied by the usual caveats that would go with an assertion by a Decent based on "one of those things I remember reading at the time".
Incidentally, in fairness to Norman Geras (not a phrase I particularly like to employ) he did support the 1991 war with equal enthusiasm and, if I remember rightly, resigned from the New Left Review editorial board over it.

5/25/2010 04:32:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

i'm not sure i agree fully with any of the arguments about masculinity. But as the kb player quote from hp sauce demonstrates, those who dislike such reductive ideas are more often than not guilty of the exact same thing. If geras mocks the idea that his principled opposition to tyranny was actually all about his penis, maybe he needs to take a look at ideas like, i dunno, principled opposition to war crimes is actually all about anti semitism or a secret love for fascism.

5/25/2010 08:04:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Oh okay. I think I'm relying upon a HP Sauce post for his political background, and I probably misremembered it. I don't particularly like Milne, just don't remember him cheering the Russian tanks. I do however remember HP Sauce accusing anyone who didn't 100% support Georgia in that conflict of being Russian apologists.

5/25/2010 08:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

OC - Norm would never say that principled opposition to war crimes is actually all about anti-semitism - merely that an unbiased observer would be bound to note the failure to disown ideas which have an undeniable affinity with...
[READERS: fall asleep]
Whereas on the other hand
[READERS: Wha? What time is it?]
Whereas on the other hand it would surely be appropriate for a principled and consistent leftism to identify the fundamental progressive cause which, however imperfectly realised, clearly underlies...
[READERS: zzz]

It's all penumbral cases with Norm, everything's a shade of grey. It's just that there are white-ish shades of grey and black-ish shades of grey, and some of us are consistent and principled enough to know which is which.

(Captcha: 'judgest')

5/25/2010 08:44:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

As it was me who brought it up, I don't think that in mentioning Milne and GG KB Player chose the best examples to illustrate her point but I think the general point itself was a good one and that what what I wanted to highlight.

5/25/2010 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

There probably are examples, but I can't actually think of any. Hezbollah's defeat of Israel possibly, but then there's an element of David and Goliath there.

5/25/2010 11:59:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

I must admit that Aitkenhead's artice was rather delicious. She certainly didn't pull any punches in delivering a pretty devastating takedown. On the other hand if one wanted to see an example of an individual delivering a devastating takedown on himself, and not even realising it, you could do a lot worse than enjoy that Michael J Totten article. Its a total gem. Full of arrogance, self-righteous bombast, and a complete lack of reflexity or even awareness of how others see your own actions. Its a great encapusaltion of many of the key problems of the Decent approach to Iraq.

I will be very sorry to see this site close and would really like to thank all the moderators for keeping the site going. There isn't really anywhere like it on the internet and I am probably going to be at a loss to find a interesting left wing blog to keep an eye on. Phil mentioned the fact that LibCon and PP do the we're thoughtful enlightened liberals, not like those nasty leftistses act a bit too often for me which is a sentiment I'd agree with. Recently one of their moderators in discusing the Labour leadership campaign commented that the one thing that Labour shouldn't do is move to the Left. My heart sank but then again its pretty symptomatic of the aridness of debate within the PLP. I fear they are destined to make the same mistakes as they did post '87 when Bryan Gould and his research led them into an ideological cul-de-sac and ripped the heart out of the party.

5/25/2010 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger johnf said...

I'd like to add that I'll miss this site too.

johnf

5/25/2010 12:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely the events in the 13 years post Gulf War 1 would have informed and influenced Geras' (and others) attitude towards the 2003 conflict?

The debacle and betrayal of the Shia uprising. Somalia. Rwanda. Bosnia...

And the small matter of September 11 2001...


I was pro Gulf War 1 - and wanted the yanks to go all the way to Baghdad, remove Saddam and set up a democracy. But then I've always been a hopelessy naive "Decent".

But after all the geo-political events listed above - along with the 12 years of sanctions which had contained Saddam but been a disaster for most Iraqis (the Kurds had enough autonomy not to be affected by Saddam's rorting of the oil for food scam) - it was clear the status quo was not an option.

Or was it?

5/25/2010 01:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But after all the geo-political events listed above... - it was clear the status quo was not an option.

To clarify:

By "status quo not being an option" I mean that it was impossible to hold the exact same opinion Iraq 2003 that one did of Iraq 1990/91.

You either felt strongly that Intervention should take place OR felt strongly that it shouldn't and we should just walk away.

I'm not suggesting either opinion is more right or wrong than the other.

5/25/2010 03:49:00 PM  
Blogger Dr_Paul said...

Further to my earlier comment, I think that Decency is often a form of power-worship; after all, the US military machine is very powerful, and can deliver a strong punch. I wonder sometimes if some left-wing intellectuals liked the idea of socialism because, despite the actual anti-élitist nature of socialism, it meant that in practice the existing élite would be replaced by another one made up of themselves. This they hid, consciously or unconsciously, under the name of 'leadership'.

This is one of the reasons I believe that the Soviet Union became popular during the 1930s with intellectuals, because it seemed that the new élite under Stalin was doing very well.

I'm not saying that all left-wing intellectuals are explicit or implicit power-seekers, but certainly some have been. When one considers that Decency, made up of disappointed socialists, now sees progress as emerging principally by way of military action, that is, by the violent activities of what are the closest to totalitarian organisations in the world, their support for invasions and bombings are a vicarious form of power-worship.

To move on to their support for the Iraq War, I am not an expert in Middle East studies (my expertise, such as it is, is elsewhere), but I was not at all surprised at the way things have turned out there from 2003. I expected the sectarian strife and internecine murder and mayhem, social collapse with the dismantling of the Ba'athist state, the rise of intolerant forms of Islam, the rising oppression of women, gangster political organisations in power, and the rest.

And Decency did not? Or were they so in awe of the US armed forces and Bush's rhetoric that they decided not to expect them?

It seems to me that Iraq is the only country in which al Qaeda, as opposed to nasty indigenous Islamicist terror groups, has managed to build a successful base for itself. And that's a direct result of the US policies that Decency supported.

5/25/2010 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Actually I never thought it would be as bad as it was. My theory was either that they'd kill lots of people and put Saddam 2.0 in. The scale of the incompetence surprised me, and I suspect a lot of international governments also.

5/25/2010 08:21:00 PM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

In re the above, I distinctly recall a Burchill column from the late 1980s on the general theme of why Jews all have huge dicks. She was married to Cosmo Landesman at the time, so read into that what you will, but it's striking how some philosemites use essentially the same sort of thought process and rhetoric as antisemites, but just put a plus instead of a minus. See also Workers Liberty, Modernity Blog, and most of the goyishe contributors on HP Sauce.

5/25/2010 09:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

scintWhen one considers that Decency, made up of disappointed socialists, now sees progress as emerging principally by way of military action, that is, by the violent activities of what are the closest to totalitarian organisations in the world, their support for invasions and bombings are a vicarious form of power-worship.

Firstly, I was never a socialist and I've always been what you'd describe as a "Decent". You're too fixated on the likes of Hitchens, Aaro and Cohen - once socialist activists all (disappointed or otherwise) - because they are the intellectual and prominent voices of a disparate movement of people who consider themselves "left" but have been ostracised by "liberal progressives" for supporting the liberation of Iraq...

...just as we'd supported the liberation of Afghanistan, and before that East Timor, and before that Sierra Leone and before that Kosovo etc etc...

Only this time - Iraq - supporting a movement for National Liberation was NOT a "left/liberal/progressive" thing to do. It was a Neo-Con thing to do. It was about Oil or revenge or US hegemony, even Israel - the one thing it COULDN'T be about was the principle of liberating a subject and brutalised population from a cage which we had helped put them in.

THat's where Norm Geras came from. As did Johan Hari. And many many others. The "disappointed socialists" you refer to were barely involved in the Euston Manifesto. It was always a much broader grouping of people who simply decided that Western military power should be used to stop genocides as a matter of principle not self-interest.

5/25/2010 09:16:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

it's striking how some philosemites use essentially the same sort of thought process and rhetoric as antisemites, but just put a plus instead of a minus. See also Workers Liberty, Modernity Blog, and most of the goyishe contributors on HP Sauce.

Quite - and not forgetting Chas Newkey-Burden

I remember a former colleague, a white guy whom you could tell desperately wished he was black because it would presumably confer him with some kind of street cred (this sounds a bit harsh, he was actually a nice guy). I guess this is a similar kind of thing. Certainly the non-Jewish pro-Israel fanatics are worse than the Jewish ones.

5/25/2010 09:31:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

It was about Oil or revenge or US hegemony, even Israel - the one thing it COULDN'T be about was the principle of liberating a subject and brutalised population from a cage which we had helped put them in.

I don't doubt that many people who supported the invasion of Iraq were motivated by that concern. If the people who actually planned and ordered it had been as well it may have been more successful.

5/25/2010 09:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

but I was not at all surprised at the way things have turned out there from 2003. I expected the sectarian strife and internecine murder and mayhem, social collapse with the dismantling of the Ba'athist state, the rise of intolerant forms of Islam, the rising oppression of women, gangster political organisations in power, and the rest.

Is this really true? You expected all of this?

Weren't you even a little bit surprised by the brutality of the "resistance"? The deliberate targetting of markets full of woman and children whose only crime was to be Shia? The massacres of Shia pilgrims... Destruction of Shia mosques and holy sites...

You weren't slightly surprised by Iran brazenly interfering and fomenting civil war, even to the extent of supplying arms and training in IED's to the same Wahhabi fanatics who were blowing Shia children to pieces (at least IED's targetted US forces!)

YOu speak of the "rise of intolerant forms of Islam" but if you expected all of this then you must have been aware of just how vicious the Sunni reaction to losing power to the majority Shia Iraqis would be. This would suggest "intolerant Islam" was there from the beginning.

As for expecting "gangster political organisations in power" - what on earth do you think Saddam's Ba'ath were?!?! At least now the Shia majority is better represented!

And Decency did not? Or were they so in awe of the US armed forces and Bush's rhetoric that they decided not to expect them?

I don't think anyone expected the brutality of the Wahhabi attempt to start a civil war in Iraq. In fact I don't think most people even understand it. This was one sect of Islam annihlating the women and children of another sect of Islam - yet, somehow, people talk about Iraq as a US attack on "muslims"...

As a "Decent" I supported the Liberation of Iraq. Nothing more, nothing less. When the UN - read: France and Germany (the ones who mattered) refused to enforce its own sanctions I figured the US was free to do whatever it wanted -

The worst outcome being the installation of a "our bastard" Hardman.

Instead the US went through with Democracy. All the way. Despite the Iranian influence over powerful Shia parties. Despite how much easier and cheaper it would have been to cut and run.

I wonder how many people expected that?

5/25/2010 10:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't doubt that many people who supported the invasion of Iraq were motivated by that concern. If the people who actually planned and ordered it had been as well it may have been more successful.

You don't think Blair was, at least partly, motivated by that concern?

Anyway, it's in many way beside the point.

The context was a determined US President with a history of Isolationism, post 9/11, faced with the prospect of Rogue State aligning with game-changing terrorist ideology.

Saddam was finished the moment the planes hit the WTC. The only question was "How"?

I still find it surprising that the US committed to Iraqi democracy so extensively. They certainly weren't given that mandate by the peoples of the Western World who never once marched to insist the United Nations act in concert against a brutal dictator who defied UNSC resolutions until the very end.

If I knew the US were going to install a puppet Hard Man and fuck off as quickly as they could I would've marched against THAT.

I supported the use of military force and Regime Change in Iraq on the condition that democracy would be supported both militarily and financially. I wished the United Nations would act as one.

They didn't.

5/25/2010 11:00:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

If I knew the US were going to install a puppet Hard Man and fuck off as quickly as they could I would've marched against THAT.

going against the usual ignoring of those who post anonymously - can you please tell us what happened to the first elected leader of Iraq, post-Saddam?

5/26/2010 08:06:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

... faced with the prospect of Rogue State aligning with game-changing terrorist ideology ...

WTF. Straight from the mouth of Rumsfeld.

Anonymous troll. It was transparent to anybody with a half-educated reading of the full background that this was a neo-con fait accompli from the moment the planes struck. Everything else was arranged around the inevitable invasion.

You don't think Blair was, at least partly, motivated by that concern?

Insouciant would be the word that I would use.

5/26/2010 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

So it was everyone else's fault. Brilliant.

Weren't you even a little bit surprised by the brutality of the "resistance"?

No, it was a war. War's are very brutal, and brutal people are the one's who prosecute them. Are you a child? Do you really believe that wars are fought by the Marquis of Queensbury rules by gentleman on a well defined battlefield?

I think another word for Decent's would be "naive".

5/26/2010 09:00:00 AM  
Anonymous dd said...

...just as we'd supported the liberation of Afghanistan, and before that East Timor, and before that Sierra Leone and before that Kosovo etc etc...

I see that you've got the keys to the Decent TARDIS.

5/26/2010 10:35:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

faced with the prospect of Rogue State aligning with game-changing terrorist ideology.

as someone up there has said, that was never the prospect - at least not if the leaders involved had paid any attention to intelligence about Saddam and al-Qaeda.

5/26/2010 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

You don't think Blair was, at least partly, motivated by that concern?

I do think that for Blair it was at least partly a concern, but I don't think he had much control over either the decision to invade or the strategic decisions thereafter. I was really referring to Bush and his cronies.

5/26/2010 11:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Mordaunt said...

You weren't slightly surprised by Iran brazenly interfering and fomenting civil war, even to the extent of supplying arms and training in IED's to the same Wahhabi fanatics who were blowing Shia children to pieces (at least IED's targetted US forces!)

You mean that you were surprised when the government of Iran took an interest in the outcome of a power struggle in the country right next to them, which had been occupied by the United States, a country with which Iran has had consistently bad relations since 1979.

Naive doesn't begin to sum it up. What did you think the Iranian government were going to do? Hold a vicarage fete to raise money for Democratiya?

5/26/2010 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

The context was a determined US President with a history of Isolationism, post 9/11, faced with the prospect of Rogue State aligning with game-changing terrorist ideology.

Saddam was finished the moment the planes hit the WTC. The only question was "How"?

That second paragraph is absolutely true, and also very telling given the complete lack of any connection between Saddam and 9/11.

As I understand it Bush was very much focussed on Saddam from the moment he moved into the White House (unfinished business from his father's administration), as much if not more so than with the threat from Al Quaeda.
Of course 9/11 made it easier for him to get political backing for action against Saddam, even if it meant misleading his people about Saddam's connections with Al Quaeda. Likewise the invasion provided him with an opportunity to flex his muscles in the "war on terror" and so do no harm to his re-election prospects. It was a "double whammy" so to speak.

That's not to say there were not other motives involved and I can see why the US would prefer to see a democratic government in Saddam's place. A part of that may even have been the fact that it would be better for the Iraqi people. But my judgement at the time (and now) was that the motivations for the invasion were largely the wrong ones and although that in itself might not be sufficient grounds to oppose the invasion given the undoubted good of deposing Saddam, such actions are more likely to end badly than actions carried out for the right reasons. And when they are carried our by bad people (and I say without any apology whatsoever that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove etc were bad people) then they are doubly likely to end in tears.

5/26/2010 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I note that a disaster is being prsented as some sort of democratic triumph. I wonder if it may be because that was the level of honesty and self-deception that surrounded the invasion from the off that so many people were so distrustful of its motivations.

Speaking with my student-of history hat on, I consider it extremely sound procedure to be distrustful of any claims made by politicians about their reasons for going to war: if more people followed this advice a great deal of loss of life - not to mention many mountains of stupidity - would be averted.

5/26/2010 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Re: the middle-aged men debate, I think (as someone who's probably close to that phase if not actually there already) that the point about many men like that is that they become extremely stubborn and operate almost entirely in terms of grudges. You basically spend all your time getting the same old bastards for the same old things over and over again, in more and more accentuated form, while naturally spending no time whatsoever critically examining yourself (though naturally a lot of time is spent creitically examining one's younger and better self).

It can't be avoided that drink, and mates of a smiliar age and hue, are often critical components and indispensible aids to this process.

5/26/2010 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

You weren't slightly surprised by Iran brazenly interfering and fomenting civil war, even to the extent of supplying arms and training in IED's to the same Wahhabi fanatics who were blowing Shia children to pieces

I would be interested in the source of this claim; Iran supported Shia militias, not Sunni. Which specific Sunni group are you claiming to have been financed, trained or supplied by Iran/ AQiI?

5/26/2010 01:37:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I think the 'grudges' thing is definitely a big part of it. I also think a lot of it is based in having been uncomfortable with a lot of left-wing orthodoxies in the past, when reason and/or political loyalty overrode the ability to truly speak one's mind. Thus an awful lot of people in this movement are vocally pro-nuclear, and definitely did not used to be so; a lot of them scorn multiculturalism and even seem willing to ignore some fairly clear instances of racism; a lot of them are very vocally pro-Israeli govt when they almost certainly never used to be.

This is I think truest of Cohen and clothes for Chaps, who both seem to be arguing with a caricature of their former selves most of the time.

the drink thing - well it's clearer in some cases (Amis and hitchens in particular, both of whom seem to be fairly clear examples of functioning alcoholics) than others (Cohen might occasionally appear sloshed in public but there's no evidence he's anything like as addicated as the former two), but the mates thing is if anything more important; as you get older so you tend to socialise with smaller groups of people, leading to a misguided belief that dinner party conversations with people who work in the media, most of whom one knows very well, and a cursory look at a couple of blgos (ie in decent eyes, cif for the swivelling loonies and HP Sauce for the voice of reason) reflect the various poles of opinion in the nation as a whole.

5/26/2010 01:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Freshly Squeezed Cynic said...

"At least now the Shia majority is better represented!"

Dude, that tea's so weak the bag didn't even get dunked in.

5/26/2010 11:57:00 PM  

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