Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Memory Hole Watch

At about the time of day that Dave struggles out of bed toward the end of the Today Programme, massages his aching calves and struggles upstairs for a bowl of Pritikin-friendly Coco Pops, the Watchers are on their first teabreak of the day, having already been up and at 'em for three hours.

It is "move along, nothing to see here" mode today, as Dave tries to convince us that Sy Hersh is one of those hacks who blows stories out of all proportion (see Kettle, Martin) and the New Yorker is basically a supermarket tabloid that prints a lot of poorly sourced material. Or alternatively, that the possibility of nuclear war in Iran is not really newsworthy, and what we should really be thinking about is ... dunno. Something about the WCPI, probably.

Anyway, I have no real time to Watch this article properly, so if anyone wants to take over, go for it; there is a lot of vintage and rather subtle Aaroism in there. I have no time to do it because I spent said tea break looking up some of what Aaro said in the run up to the Iraq War, when he was writing for the Independent. Did he have a spot-on, laser-like accuracy when it came to assessing the influence of the neocons and the Rumsfeld/Cheney strategy? Or not? I try to summarise the good and the bad below:

Way back in 1998:

The corollary, then, to the relaxation of sanctions, must be an increased "rather than a diminished" willingness to use force should the Iraqis begin a weapons build-up. In other words, we would be more "not less" likely to have to send in the planes at the first signs of enhanced weapons production. That could be why, right now, we're sending more planes and ships there. And we'll also want (I presume) to increase our use of covert operations to support the Iraqi opposition, though which of the 57 varieties we will back is a rather fraught question. There are two alternatives to this new low-sanction, high- military, encourage- the-opposition strategy. The first is the one that some Tories appear to be canvassing, and that is a land-based invasion of Iraq, the removal of Saddam and (in some of the more ingenious variations) the division of the country into three separate states. This, as even Michael Howard knows - his impatient bluster about a "get-rid-of-Saddam" objective notwithstanding - could be a complete diplomatic disaster.

Immediately post 9/11, on Nov 23, 2001
RIGHT. WHO'S next? The MP George Galloway says that "senior" people in the Iraqi government (and George knows a few) expect it to be them. This view seemed to be backed up by yesterday's editorial in the New York Times, which stated that "there continues to be an intense debate within the Bush administration about the next phase of the war, including whether to take it to Iraq and try to defeat Saddam Hussein." […]Still, all the options not only look bad, but they are bad. Saddam cannot be toppled by proxy. We lost our chance to do that when we failed to help the anti-Saddam insurgents who rose against him in 1991. The opposition forces are weak and divided. Nor can we engineer a coup d'etat from the outside. Nor do we know, in the event of such a coup, who would take over. The moment disappeared, too, for mounting a broad coalition, invading Iraq and installing an interim government to be replaced, eventually, by an elected one. Though I think that, if this were to happen, there would be such joy in the streets of Baghdad as we haven't seen anywhere since 1989. Recent scenes in Kabul remind us that people rather like freedom, even though some of us tend to forget it.

Sabres start to rattle byAug 8, 2002 but Dave still does not think war inevitable:

This is the man who refused to budge from Kuwait between August 1990 and January 1991 when the air war began, and then refused to budge when the ground campaign started. When retreating, he set fire to the oil fields. We could probably do the Iraqi people no greater favour than removing Saddam and giving them a chance to build again.
But we can't. And we can't because the church people are right. Wars are very particular things and civilised nations can't just have them when they feel like it or when they feel they have run out of options. Wars have to be justified, overwhelmingly, by a conviction that the alternative to war is actually worse. And that conviction must be widely held, as it was after 11 September in the case of Afghanistan.
We do not have that conviction. We do not believe that Saddam is behind world terrorism and we have not seen convincing evidence that he is making and may use a weapon of mass destruction. As Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford, has said, we have not met the conditions for starting a war, in which we are certain to kill civilians. This knowledge is causing a crisis of legitimacy that encompasses not just Britain and, say, Schroder's Germany, but will, I think, affect the US.

In the run-up to the publication of the dodgy dossier: Aug 30, 2002 (rather hilariously entitled "I'm all for war in Iraq; but only if I see evidencethat Saddam is a threat; note that the Decent Tardis has been to work on Aaro's subsequent war rationale)

Someone cross e-mailed me yesterday and asked me, contemptuously, whether I would be at the next anti-war demonstration. When Saddam has re-admitted the UN weapons inspectors unconditionally, that's when. And why doesn't the anti-war movement agitate for that?
But war? Show me the evidence first. Don't just tell me you have it, tell me what it is. Convince me that the consequences of inaction outweigh the consequences of action. Publish the dossier. If I am going to have dead kids on my conscience, I have to know that the alternative was worse.
This is not the course that the hawks have followed. Instead they now seek to bully the sceptical into war. In so doing they have begun to convince many round the world that they have decided on conflict no matter what the pretext or the consequence. That is a genuinely disastrous perception. I wonder if they know, over there in DC, for example, just how catastrophic it is every time Kenneth Adelman, a Reagan arms-control spokesman and currently member of the Pentagon's Defence Policy Board advisory group, snaps his beak at the microphones?
Mr Adelman is a key member of the US "swivel" tendency. If people abroad don't like what the administration plans to do, then that just tells you how fundamentalist/weedy/unimportant they are. Mr Adelman espouses world re-ordering in five easy stages. First a quick war. Second a democratic regime in Iraq. Third, a mass revolution in Iran (good outcome guaranteed). Fourth, fundamental (nice) changes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Fifth, a Middle East agreement. Mr Adelman runs a motivational programme for businesses entitled Movers & Shakespeares, in which he and his wife "select the most apt Shakespeare play to fit the program's purpose". For leadership and ethics it's Henry V; for risk management and diversity, Merchant of Venice; and for crisis management, Hamlet. The next sentence reads: "No prior knowledge of Shakespeare is required."
This Iraq argument now resembles a dark forest in which huge grunting animals crash about - never engaging, but trampling on anything that's in their way. Both sides make the rest of us, with our scruples, look puny. But we're right.

And right at the end of his Indie tenure, Dec 20, 2002 (entitled " It will take a great deal more proof of Iraqi duplicity before I can support war"):

People have been getting a bit overexcited. The unfavourable comments about Saddam's arms declaration coming from London and Washington do not yet amount to a case for war. Colin Powell has said that the dossier is "troublesome", our own Foreign Secretary argues that the declaration is not "complete, full and accurate" and Hans Blix, the UN's chief weapons inspector says that there are unanswered questions, an absence of supporting evidence and remaining gaps. So far, then, we do not have Blix without Straw. […] But here's the second complication. Campbell's real worry is that the world will believe that the US is set on war no matter what the material facts are. You will certainly find enough people to argue this case in any pub in Britain, and some US hawks have gone out of their way - for some strange psychological reason - to confirm this impression. If the US begins to set impossible standards for the inspectors, judging them by their success in, say, luring Iraqi scientists out of the country, and then acts without a UN resolution, the consequences could be dire.

Shortly after this, Aaro left to join the Guardian, and published Why the Left is wrong on Saddam :With or without a second UN resolution, I support action against Iraq.

My conclusion from the above extracts is that Aaro at the Independent regularly showed quite good judgement on the situation in Iraq and the likelihood of disaster if war was carried out on the terms on which it actually was carried out. He has, however, shown infallibly bad judgement in his assessment of the bellicosity and sanity of the current US government. Watch on ...


Blogger Matthew said...

Not forgetting of course That Prediction, although as was cycling in this morning I thought in many ways That Prediction has a claim for being the most accurate of all time. Aaro claimed that he, and no-one else in the world, would believe anything the US/UK governments said again if there were no WMD in Iraq, and in 6,499,999,999 times out of 6,500,000,000 he was right.

4/11/2006 08:25:00 AM  
Blogger StuartA said...

You might, or might not, be interested to see this on Aaronovitch's latest (from my blog):

Dave “voice of reason” Aaronovitch is back today, asserting, as ever without actual evidence, that Bush won't attack Iran and that Seymour Hersh's widely-reported New Yorker piece was wrong.

While he doesn't have evidence, he does have insinuation. Not everything Seymour Hersh has said previously has been right. One quote, about Bush being “messianic”, might have come from a “political opponent of Mr Bush”. Hersh doesn't name all his sources, Aaronovitch reveals, as if this were a new or surprising phenomenon. “How [Jeremy] Bowen knows whether Hersh's sources for this are good or not is anyone's guess”, he intones. “The problem here is that we simply have to take Hersh and his judgment on trust.”

And who would trust one of the world's most successful investigative journalists, with all his sources and concrete claims? Who would bother considering the US covert operations reported to be already underway in Iran? Or the government consultant “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb”? Or the Pentagon adviser recounting the White House view that “the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war”? Or European diplomats or the IAEA? (Not to mention the fact that claims of an impending Iran attack are hardly confined to Seymour Hersh.)

None of it matters, because a multi-chinned former NUS president has pronounced: “My own uninformed guess,” he says, “is that there's a lot of contingency planning going on about Iran, just as we plan for the unlikely eventuality of an avian flu pandemic.” So there.


4/11/2006 01:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

pretty good stuff Stuart although not really fair on the chins issue; Aaro has lost a lot of weight and his Times byline photo is very unflattering

4/11/2006 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

Ah, well I did agonise about the chins. Aware that David had been to fat camp, I checked the bloated byline picture against the goateed blog one, and concluded that the chin problem was irreversible.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I didn't see a picture large enough to be sure. Has the marathon running soaked up the jowls? I wouldn't want to give the man the benefit of the doubt.

4/11/2006 02:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DA - file under Groucho Marx's famous line: 'Who do you believe: Me, or the evidence of your own eyes?'

4/11/2006 03:44:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home