Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away

I guess the thing I've enjoyed most about the Tony Blair "We didn't cause Iraq crisis" row is the scope.  I mean, sure, there's been at least a vague reckoning with the 2003 invasion and occupation and their terrible consequences, but even that vast, idiotic catastrophe isn't really the whole story, is it?

The fact is, the US and the UK, with sundry hangers-on, have been bombing Iraq on and off since 1991.

Can I put this in perspective?  I'm 36 years old, so I was 13 when we first started blatting Iraq with missiles.  When the first new drone strike hits Iraq, we'll have been attacking the place for almost two-thirds of my lifetime.

When our long war on Iraq began, Queen were still releasing records featuring a Freddie Mercury who was actually alive at the time.  Nobody had yet heard that hideous Brian Adams song.  Norman Lamont had just been made Chancellor.  People were eagerly anticipating Ghost being released on VHS, and a sequel to The Terminator at the cinema.  

Or to put it another way - when we started bombing Iraq, the very oldest player at the current World Cup had only just moved up to high school and around half of all the players you've seen so far were either toddlers, babies or unborn.  Czechoslovakia were still playing internationals and would for another two years.

I mean, perhaps it's a coincidence that Iraqi society is in a state of utter collapse after 24 years of foreign bombing, sanctioning, invasion, occupation, market experimentation and partition.

Or, you know, maybe there's a link.


organic cheeseboard said...

All very true and can't add much. though I would just note the weird 'logic' of Blair and the many others who seemingly blame this on a lack of anti-Assad intervention...

For a start, the only 'intervention' suggested there (at least in theory) were a small amount of missile strikes designed to 'punish' him for using chemical weapons (and it's not like we didn't do more or less the same thing in Falluja, or Israel in Gaza, with white phosphorous - but anyway). It wouldn't really have changed anything - which is I think one of the reasons the motions in Parliament and the US failed so pitifully.

More to the point, though, an intervention against Assad would have meant that the strongest enemy of ISIS in Syria would have been toppled - which would either mean that ISIS were less tangled than before in Syria, leaving them free to yomp off to Iraq, or alternatively, if the occupying forces got them on the run, would see them move to - er - Iraq.

The bombing-fans are continually wanking on about the need to consider the 'consequences of not intervening', but they seem remarkably optimistic, to the point, of stupidity, about the consequences of intervening.

It would really help the interventionists if they could find someone different, and new, to make their arguments too. James Bloodworth doesn't quite cut it.

Gotta hand it to our Tone, though, it takes some chutzpah to point out supposed 'double standards' over the West attacking Gadaffi and not Assad - from a bloke who's ultra keen to bomb Assad but praises Sisi, Mubarak, and the Saudis...

flyingrodent said...

It wouldn't really have changed anything - which is I think one of the reasons the motions in Parliament and the US failed so pitifully.

That's entirely it, and it's odd that you don't often see this said. If you go to Parliament with a highly dubious proposition and can't even begin to explain what it will achieve or how it'll achieve it, in even the sketchiest outline, then your proposition should fall. That's Parliament doing the job that it's supposed to do, and all the bitching in the world shouldn't change its decision.

The bombing-fans are continually wanking on about the need to consider the 'consequences of not intervening', but they seem remarkably optimistic, to the point, of stupidity, about the consequences of intervening.

Pretty plainly, all of this chaos has given some of them their mojo back, and their ideas appear not to have evolved at all since 2003. This "consequences of not intervening" malarkey, which is at heart just a painfully obvious way of saying It's folk who don't want to blow lots and lots of people up with missiles who are the REAL mass-murderers, really is the sum total of the development in their thinking in the intervening period.

These latest outbursts about how we can help Iraqis by killing lots of them brings to mind a couple of cultural references - Walter White maybe, only becoming more certain that he's doing all this for his family with each escalating atrocity, and every individual act absolutely justifiable if you look at it in isolation and ignore the utterly damning whole.

Or Moby Dick - even that roaster Dan Hodges has managed to spot Tony Blair as a latter-day Ahab: "Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!"

Anonymous said...

Somewhere under the surface of the chatter of proponents of interventions in Iraq and Syria are two beliefs. One is that The West has to show itself strong and determined, and crack the whip, and this will stop terrorists terrorising or whatever. Thus there was a belief that the USA was attacked in September 2001 because it was perceived as weak because it hadn't overthrown Saddam 10 years before, so overthrowing Saddam was an appropriate response to 9/11. Thus also the belief 12 years ago that attacking Iraq would make it easier to negotiate peace in Palestine and the current idea that dropping a few bombs on Assad's troops would have a demonstration effect (even on his enemies). Proponents of this idea don't seem to realise that this kind of demonstration effect won't work with terrorist groups and that the perceived arrogance of this approach helps recruitment to terrorist organisations.

The second belief is that an intervention can be engineered that gives The West complete control over a region and thus snuff out terrorist groups (even if they were enemies of the regime that you've overthrown). The experience of the invasion of Iraq shows how difficult it is to engineer complete control over a region; the risk is that a failed state is created that opens up opportunities for terrorist groups. I also think that the US and UK military don't look favourably on extended military occupations of a region of the Middle East.

Parliament did not approve bombing Syria because there was no clarity about the effects of such bombing. Parliament also probably feared that it was being subjected to Stone Soup tactics; that they would later be asked to approve escalating involvement in Syria when the original involvement did not have the desired effect, and to justify the sunk costs of that first involvement. There are still some though, like the chair of the FAC and Blair, who think it would have had a demonstration effect.

It is easy to spot the fallacies in both these beliefs if you spell out the assumptions. For that reason they rarely get spelt out and continue in a Zombie-like existence.

(BTW I think that Michael Portillo made a speech in the Commons and wrote a piece in the Guardian in 2002 and 2003 that was relatively explicit in saying that we had to invade Iraq so as to show that the West wasn't weak. I haven't found it yet but I did find this Guardian article.

The LibDems, SNP and Labour Left warned that the invasion of Iraq would undermine the fight against Al Qaida; Blair and the Tories rejected this. Which hypothesis has stood the test of time?)


organic cheeseboard said...

Guano - I think the new Blair line is that dictators are fine as long as they're anti-Islamist. Of course that means Saddam himself was ok but hey.

Wow - this is really something from Rentoul.

in order he says:

1. No, I do not accept that the decision to take military action against Saddam Hussein was a mistake, because no one can know what would have happened had the invasion not taken place.

(On Twitter someone said - it can still be a mistake. JR said:"the alternative course of action would have turned out more disastrously.")

JR seems to think the only other course of cation was to do nothing. But wasn't there an option to, for instance, allow weapons inspectors further time? didn't blair just ignore that? Wasn't there an option to actually get a second resolution? In fact wasn't that Blair's own policy, until it became clear there wouldn't be another resolution since the whole bullshit thing was built on a foundation of bullshit?

His other response:

2. It has turned out disastrously, but the decisions were made for responsible and even noble reasons. No one lied, apart from Saddam, and the only organisation that “sexed up” the truth was the BBC, afterwards.

This is itself a lie of course. All that yellow cake stuff? the US admin repeatedly claiming Saddam was linked to al-Qaeda? Our being otld unequivocally that Saddam had WMDs?

I really don't understand how he can possibly take this stuff seriously. Being that kind of political fanboy just seems so bloody silly.

Rob said...

"but they seem remarkably optimistic, to the point, of stupidity, about the consequences of intervening."

They're unbelievably optimistic, there's just something about them that really winds me up.

flyingrodent said...

this is really something from Rentoul.

And he's still at it this morning. It'd be an odd thing to see - a man just insisting that it is, because it is, because it just is, if you forgot about stuff like this...

...In which the same guy asserts that Tony explicitly backing dictatorship over democracy must be the right thing to do, because just is, and anyone who says otherwise is just wrong and stupid, alright?

And this kind of thing is fine, if you just announce you're a partisan who operates from pure belief. It's less credible if you've previously set yourself up as the acme of considered, rational analysis, which JR most certainly has done.

It is easy to spot the fallacies in both these beliefs if you spell out the assumptions. For that reason they rarely get spelt out and continue in a Zombie-like existence.

They continue in this zombie-like existence, I imagine, because there are simply no serious consequences at all for being ridiculously and disastrously wrong. Beyond Tony Blair himself, who lost public trust for both his Iraq lunacies and for other reasons, there's just no appreciable penalty for politicians or commentators taking the most ludicrously aggressive and inane posture that they can - if anything, there are plenty of rewards.

The reason for this should be obvious, I think - since there's effectively no anti-war movement in the UK of consequence, there are no consequences for being belligerently pro-war. Thus, the next war is never far away.

flyingrodent said...

And actually, while I'm at it, the key to understanding how Tony's supporters don't see the case for war as "lying" is this - they don't regard "public relations" and "advertising" as species of untruth, and the WMD nonsense was nothing more than a PR campaign for a larger product, i.e. the war itself.

Basically, they see no difference at all between "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" and "45 minutes from destruction".

organic cheeseboard said...

With the 'PR and Advertising' thing in mind, I wonder if the really obsessive focus on trying to deny that Blair is a 'liar' might be exactly do to with that. I mean most of us outside Westminster would agree that politicians lie all the time. It's funny that his supporters should be so keen to dispel the 'liar myth' above all else; the only reason I can think of is that it's again about PR - to admit that he lied about the reasons for going t war in Iraq (and he obviously did) is to admit that Blair actively misled the country in order to join the US in a war whose actual motivations were, well, soemthing else. It undermines all their arguments about their, and Blair's, morality being pure, good intentions, etc etc etc.

Yet like you say, they also claim to be rational thinkers. And it just doesn't make sense. Blair wrote the foreword to the Dossier and provided the 45 mins claim ffs.

Anonymous said...

Basically, they see no difference at all between "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" and "45 minutes from destruction".

Or "Omo washes whiter". They're selling a product, they're making their own reality and whether it is true or misleading is neither here nor there. And they live in a sheltered world where there are no consequences for producing misleading statements. There is a whole world of strategic communications in which experience of "shaping the narrative" is sought.

Take this bloke for instance.

He seems to have a nice job at an American think-tank doing strategic communication. You might notice from his CV that he has worked in the UK. The CV doesn't tell you that he was involved in both of the disputed dossiers and in 2002/3 was working at the CIC (Coalition Information Centre - a perception management outfit at the FCO but reporting to Alistair Campbell and working in coordination with the Americans). That the dossiers involved staff from the CIC, which was a joint outfit with the Americans and had a remit to make a case for policy) tells you a lot about the dossiers.

CIC was closed down in a hurry ahead of the Hutton Inquiry and Hamill went to Baghdad and Kabul, where presumably he attempted to manage perceptions of what was going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. As far as I know Hamill hasn't given evidence to any of the Inquiries and the CIC doesn't seem to have even been mentioned. And there appear to have been plenty of career moves available.

Further reading


Ken Eadie, the Prince of Strikers said...

You have to read this.

organic cheeseboard said...

On that Rentoul/Egypt hilarity, it's lovely to see Tony's best mates in Egypt locking journalists up for 7 years on obviously bogus 'terrorism' charges. I notice Rentoul's not said anything on that yet, nor indeed Nick 'i love teh press freedom' Cohen.

Anonymous said...

A few months ago Rentoul did express doubts about what Blair had been saying about Egypt.


organic cheeseboard said...

Well, yes, but only once he'd been called out for unthinkingly and unquestioningly parroting Blair's line about the free and fair elections, how Sisi is great, etc.

And now, rather than actually criticising Blair over this obvious instance of utter hypocrisy, which undermines any pretence Blair had of having ethical beliefs, he just says 'I sort of disagree with TB and don't really know much about it anyway'.

I'm not sure what's worse - the fact that he's such a toady he can't even bring himself to properly criticse Blair, or the fact that he's admitted knowing nothing about the issue - thus also admitting being a literal mouthpiece for whatever Blair wants him to say.

Off topic, but when I get the chance - in about a year maybe! - am planning to put something together on Nick Cohen's recent articles in which he berates disabled people because they don't understand that calling them spastics is actually a good thing cos it's common use of language, or, er, something, FREE SPEECH FTW.

Tied to the bigger issue of 'when people call out Decents for saying something stupid, rather than apologise the Decents proceed to berate those calling them out as lacking in solidarity and also stupid'.

Anonymous said...

".. he just says 'I sort of disagree with TB and don't really know much about it anyway'"

I agree. Rentoul realises that he cannot say that a military coup was good, but that just leaves him with a whole lot of other contradictions. I also notice that Rentoul recommended a CiF piece by John McTernan, which in turn said that Blair's utterances were spot on: so Rentoul hasn't given this much thought, to say the least.