Monday, August 24, 2015

Mea Maxima Culpa

"I was right about the 2003 Iraq war.  I thought it was a bad idea, and it was a bad idea.  For a long time this fact was very important to me.  From late 2002 till the start of hostilities, the prospect of war, and whether it could be averted, was the guiding obsession of my life: I consumed all the news I could, hunting out signs and omens of what was coming".



I can certainly identify with these sentiments and, even if I have some fairly major reservations on much of what Sarah is saying here, there are a few well-aimed home truths that deserve acknowledgement.

Speaking as someone who was in my early twenties in 2003, who's subsequently spent almost ten years running not one but two blogs on the general topic of "Britain's yakking class of angry war-fluffers are dangerously thick and dishonest, and my own opinions are totally awesome and correct", I'm pretty much the person who should be answering the charge.

Let's start with the good points:

"The division between pro-war and anti-war cleaved a sharp line through the world between the lost and the saved.  For the remainder of the decade, I would judge an MP on their voting record on Iraq; a journalist on their coverage of Iraq; a publication on its editorial line on Iraq".

Well, fair enough - I did plenty of MP-and-journalist-judging on this criteria too, and it's probably telling that there are only a few cases I can recall where I now think that I made serious misjudgements.

"The moral certainty of that period was simply blissful. I do not believe I am alone in this: being right about Iraq gave a whole section of the British left a sense of burning, brilliant superiority".

It's absolutely true that I didn't lack for "moral certainty" also and, to take it further, I was a complete prick to lots of people who disagreed about the war.  I'm a complete prick on a lot of topics, including football and TV shows, but I certainly was one on this.

Again, it probably speaks volumes that I do feel bad for being all aggro and high-and-mighty with a few people, but only a few people, and I don't feel that bad, when it comes right down to it.


So it's Mea culpa, and Mea will probably continue to be culpa of this until the day Mea sarcasm glands run dry.

"It’s fortunate that losing felt like home, because losing over the Iraq war was otherwise desperately sad. I remember taking part in the Stop the War march in Sheffield, and I remember it being a drizzly and defeated sort of day as we shuffled around Barker’s Pool, me pushing a pram with one hand, holding my crying baby with the other. I remember thinking, we’re not stopping anything. This has already happened". 

This is pretty much my recollection of the Glasgow event too, minus the baby.  Suffice to say, the Iraq protests aren't events that I look back on with much nostalgic affection.

"I was right, and my being right helped no one, ameliorated no violence, saved no lives".

I think Sarah's actually more correct than she intended, here.  Being right about the war has had very little real-world effect, beyond filling the internet with angry blog posts and giving a lot of MPs sore heads.

Not only did our powerful correctness not stop the war, it also failed to so much as impede the catastrophic occupation, and didn't affect our wacky occupation of Afghanistan one jot.  It didn't keep the UK from bombing Libya into its current state, nor does it hinder the Americans' worldwide video game shoot 'em up, not least because it's that nice Mr Obama that's now in charge.

I could go on, but I'll stick with this: even after the Iraq debacle, a catastrophe with a respectable bodycount for a medium-sized 20th century war, do you know how many MPs voted against bombing Libya?

Thirteen.  Thirteen, against five hundred and fifty-seven in favour.

That doesn't speak of wild success for the anti-war movement, to me*.

---

Anyway, that's the bits I agree with.  There are numerous parts that I don't:

"The legacy of Blair’s tenure is not unmixed, but it is easier – much easier – to be right about everything when you don’t have to enact your policies". 

Call me spiteful and stubborn if you will, but it's also easier to be right about everything - and about one very specific thing in particular - if you don't basically wager your political career on a series of wild exaggerations and half-truths, in the hope that everything will turn out alright in the end. 

"I was right that the case for war was bad, and rushed. But there was a case for war – maybe a sufficient one, maybe not, but a better one than 45 minutes. Saddam Hussein was monstrous. He killed and killed and killed. The choice was never a simple one between the good of non-intervention and the ill of intervention: doing nothing and leaving a genocidal dictator in power was an ill too, and the fact that what was done was done badly does not change that".

Let's leave aside the fact that these are euphemisms for a war of aggression and an extremely violent military occupation of very dubious legal status - which they are - and note that one Vietnam War should surely be enough for anyone.

It's unfortunate that our political leaders wrecked at least one country while they were drunk out of their minds on their grand unipolar moment, but there's a cold, hard truth here: they don't get a rebate on their bodycount, just because they had good taste in enemies. 

I'm not generally receptive to this "these choices are equal, because you would've left Saddam in power" horseshit when it comes from the Rentouls of this world, and I'm no more welcoming now.  If I strongly advise you not to stick your dick in a blender, and you do it anyway, we are not equally culpable for the mess.  Nor will I be much interested in listening to any theories about how much worse it could've been, if you hadn't stuck your dick in a blender.

For the last ten years, pro-war types have always been far more enthusiastic about discussing the general principles of humanitarian intervention than they have been to focus upon the specific case of the Iraq War.  They do this for the same reasons that Jonathan King would greatly prefer to talk about, say, standards of evidence in criminal trials, than he would to address any specific allegations of noncing.

"It would have been better, in fact, to prove ourselves wrong – to divert political energies from stopping the war (or being right that the war should never have started) and into building a plan for Iraq after Saddam".

This is the full Euston Manifesto gambit, I'm afraid.  Okay, you might have thought the invasion was insanely dangerous and irresponsible, but the moral thing to do now that it's happened is to get right behind the occupation and help the Iraqis to pull for democracy.  The difficulty, of course, is that the occupation was even more violent and deranged than the invasion was in the first place. 

Somehow, I don't think that any amount of charity bingo nights or car washes would've made us any more palatable now, if we'd continued to demand that the coalition GTF out of Iraq pronto.

But I think the following is the crux of the matter: 

"It took until 2012 for rape apologist Assange supporters to kill that certainty off in me..." 

"The left is not even nearly done with the comforting confidence of an Iraq-based ethics system – for example, the organisation Media Lens..."

"An aside: over ten years later, I am very sure that if you "question" the existence of Israel, a state that has given refuge to a universally persecuted people, you are in fact an anti-Semite..."

In the UK at least, these are all examples of internet-based phenomena.  I've never met an actual declared Assange supporter; nor have I bumped into anyone from Media Lens, so far as I'm aware.

I've met a lot of crazies over the years.  I've met real people who told me that MI5 are hiding secret oil fields to thwart Scottish independence; I've met more than one who thinks that Labour imported lots of immigrants to dilute the votes of patriotic white people.  I once met a man who thought MI6 had planted a bug in his head to "control his opinions"... but I've never met anyone face-to-face who complained about "Zionists" or theorised about the many-tentacled Israel lobby.

And I live in Scotland, a place where - going by some of the press coverage I've seen over the years - we are infested with rabid anti-Jewish racists, mostly because of the activities of about fifty people that live in Glasgow.  While we can legitimately worry about those people, the total population of Scotland pushes six million.

So when I see stuff like this about, say, Who-The-Fuck-Are-They websites like Media Lens, it's hard for me to get past the idea that what I'm looking at, is basically somebody denouncing their Twitter feed.

And that's fine - I do it all the time myself, as it happens...  But didn't we all just agree that Twitter is a big bubble, an echo chamber, utterly unreflective of the world at large?

---

Anyway, I think Sarah makes some good points and some bad ones.  I think it's certainly true that large chunks of the left, myself included, are intolerable as a result of the Iraq War...  Assuming, that is, that we restrict "the left" here to mean "people on the internet, political columnists and campaigners who never shut up about the Iraq War".   As a nation, we'll never want for volunteers to call people "Neocon warmongers" and the like on the opinion pages of the Guardian.

So Mea maxima culpa.  There are a lot of us to this day, and we have many, many good excuses for being as much of a bunch of pricks as we are about this and many other matters, but that doesn't make us any more charming than we aren't.

As much of a prick as I am though, I like to think that I'm a prick with a sense of proportion.


*At this point, some joker usually pops up and tells us that anti-war sentiment at least kept us from bombing Syria.  Maybe this is even correct, but I prefer to think of it as an outbreak of sanity.   

Recall - what kept us from bombing Syria was the fact that the government's entire plan could fairly be summarised as: "Let's bung a load of missiles at Damascus and see what happens".  Sharp-eyed observers will note that this plan was not notably different from those used by such tactical geniuses as the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.   

Ed Miliband then offered conditional support, if David Cameron could answer a few difficult questions;  questions such as 

"What are you trying to achieve here";  
"Are you sure that this is legal", and 
"Are you dragging us all into another dipshit bloodbath".  

For some unfathomable reason, HM Government couldn't adequately respond to these questions.  Thus, there was no war.  

We might say that this was common sense, or that Ed had an eye on the polls, but you can be sure that if the government had produced a plan capable of standing up to a moment's scrutiny, it would've been Bombs away all over again.

51 comments:

Phil said...

I was 21 at the time of the war, and I still believe that the anti-war Left were basically correct - however few we were, however unpleasant some of our allies were, however eloquently the Labour leader supported it. Fortunately nobody gives much of a shit how eloquently Michael Foot supported anything these days, so us anti-war types don't have to do too much apologising.

Phil said...

Also, the whole "leftist moral superiority"/"comfort of losing" shtick irritates me more than I can coherently say - it's a hop and a skip away from prating about Hard Choices and the Responsibility of Power. Admittedly this is a line of argument which long predates New Labour, but it seems (to my ear at least) to have taken new and nastier forms since Tone: illegal war and megadeath, rather than compromise and delay, celebrated as the mark of maturity and realism. (Which itself is an old Communist trope, ironically enough.) I'll keep my hands clean, thanks.

andrew adams said...

I think you're maybe being slightly uncharitable to Sarah in one respect, and maybe too charitable in another.

Firstly, I do think it's fair for her to say there was a case which could be made for the invasion based on the sheer revolting brutality of Saddam's regime. OK, that case was somewhat overwhelmed by the near certainty of it turning out to be a monumental clusterfuck, and it in no way exonerates those responsible, but I do think it was possible to be in favour of the invasion for honourable reasons.

Having said that, I'm not so sympathetic to the "I was convinced of my moral superiority" argument (at least as far as it is supposed to extend to the anti-war left in general, maybe she was personally completely insufferable). Yes, I'm sure many of us were guilty of being a bit self righteous at times, but on the other side we had those self-proclaimed moral titans of the "Decent" left FFS - there's not really much contest in the self satisfaction stakes there.

And it's interesting to look at the reaction to Sarah's argument from the usual pro-war suspects. You might think that those who applauded the introspective mea culpa nature of Sarah's piece might also say something along the lines of "maybe we all something to learn in this respect". Well you might think that...

flyingrodent said...

Admittedly this is a line of argument which long predates New Labour, but it seems (to my ear at least) to have taken new and nastier forms since Tone: illegal war and megadeath, rather than compromise and delay, celebrated as the mark of maturity and realism.

Yes, the invocation of difficult choices etc. in the context of tens of thousands of needless deaths is the kind of thing that you have to be very precise about, or risk making some fairly whiffy arguments. I don't think there's much precision here.

I do think it was possible to be in favour of the invasion for honourable reasons.

I think it was too, but it's worth noting that

a) That very deliberately wasn't why we went to war, and

b) If we just ignore the weapons justification and focus on Saddam's many horrors, as Sarah does, that leaves us with a brazen war of aggression. There's a reason why this kind of thing is named as the supreme crime from which all others flow, and it doesn't make any difference whether you are very nice, or whether the enemy is very evil indeed - if you're the aggressor, then the consequences are all on you.

I do realise that this point leaves me open to chucklers of the "What, you think it's wrong to depose evil Saddam do you" genus, but really - aggressive war is very, very illegal for many reasons, and one of the main ones is that it's incredibly difficult to put the carnage back in the box once you decide that you're done with it.

I'm not so sympathetic to the "I was convinced of my moral superiority" argument.

It'd be easy to be a lot nastier about that particular argument, and I've been extremely pissy about other people making it in the past, but there didn't seem to be much need here.

Larry Teabag said...

The choice was between being a prick about being right on Iraq and being a prick about being wrong on Iraq, and I'm certainly glad I made the decision I did.

organic cheeseboard said...

Am probably unusual here but I basically supported the war back in the day and came to my senses a fair bit later. Probably means that I'm nowadays (on the net at least) a bit harsher on those who continue to make the case for it than I otherwise might be.

I like Sarah's writing in general but not this piece - I don't liek it at all. It's full of things that need about an extra three paragraphs to work, and it rehashes a lot of very tired ideas, to no great effect. For instance - and aside from the fact that as you say, to present the war in this way means it is a stone-cold illegal war of aggression, versus a very weak dictator whose crimes are dwarfed by those of US/UK allies:

there was a case for war – maybe a sufficient one, maybe not, but a better one than 45 minutes. Saddam Hussein was monstrous. He killed and killed and killed. The choice was never a simple one between the good of non-intervention and the ill of intervention: doing nothing and leaving a genocidal dictator in power was an ill too, and the fact that what was done was done badly does not change that

The choice at the time was not this. It was either to support a war that was being run by people who'd had no problem directly arming Saddam at his most extreme, when he was doing the vast majority of his killing and killing and killing,* or to oppose it it. To claim, as so many have done, that somehow it was possible to support the toppling of Saddam but not anything else about the war and its aftermath is just not a supportable position, it is the ultimate in having-cake-and-eating-it. Either you believed in the pure, noble intentions of utter fuckers like Cheney and Rumsfeld, people who lest we forget had repeatedly and dishonestly tried to link their previous ally Saddam to 9/11, or you didn't. The war and its aftermath was never going to be run by anyone else. You make your choice based on real-world events, not things taking place in imaginary no-civilians-will-be-harmed land. And Aaro, in all his hand-wringing, made That Bloody Prediction, lest we forget. The government never, ever sold the war on this Evil Saddam basis. It wouldn't have worked.

There's also sloppy writing. e.g.:

the part of the left that felt generally alienated by New Labour. Uncharitably, one might describe this as the part of the left that didn’t know how to win.

New Labour sure as fuck didn't know how to win the Iraq war though, did they? They chose the losing side there, and things were never really right with them again. And it was an absolute core of New Labour, and really still is, that you supported that war. To me it seems the absolute epitome of New Labour at its worst - the ultimate fight to pick with your (generally anti-war) base, chosen in part to appeal to traditionally Tory voters and to demonstrate strength and unity with the USA. If it was *really* about Noble Intentions and Evil Saddam, then as I've said there were many, many states far more deserving than Iraq. To support this one cos it looked like it was on the cards - well I refer you to my Cheney/Rumsfeld point above.

* Am I alone in not liking that sentence at all?

organic cheeseboard said...

As Andrew up there said,the article really needed to be balanced, instead of what it is - a barely disguised anti-Corbyn piece.

For a start, it sounds the sweeping 'the left' klaxon right? I mean, as you say, Media Lens (which seems to be an 'organisation', to use Sarah's term, which comprises - er - two people, three at best - even Harry's Place is more populous) is a tiny, tiny thing - I've said this before, but I'd not heard of it until David Toube told me to 'fuck off back' there, and having visited, I never returned - it's pretty much the Chomsky fan's Harry's Place. As for the "rape apologist Assange supporters", I'm sure it's annoying to get tweets from them, as I know it is to get tweets from MediaLens (a friend was on the end of one of their witch-hunts once), but they don't represent 'The Left' at all, and as you say, I'm yet to meet a single 'Assangist', and if you believe Decents, my line of work is overrunning with them.

That's, as others have said, the central problem with the piece. It's inspired by things Twitter-related - it feels the byproduct of the unpleasant online experiences of an increasingly-and-deservedly successful journalist, whose positions on a couple of issues (prostitution and transgender) have a lot of noisy online opponents, though both sides have their noisy and nasty elements. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that these online voices = 'the left' in general. The fact that Corbyn has a few shouty online types seems evidence of this, but all parties and candidates have shouty internet weirdos, and really, Twitter traffic isn't evidence of anything - it's the 2015 equivalent of the 2005 'how many Google hits does X phrase get? this tells us all we need to know' article.

It's genuinely astonishing how many articles about Corbyn - and this is all about Corbyn - fail to even think about the actual reasons for his popularity. It's surely not that his supporters think they're right about everything because they were right about Iraq. It's that his supporters were traditional Labour sympathisers if not members, who were systematically insulted and marginalised by New Labour. And this article is an example of that - the sneering about being 'losers' who 'don't know how to win'.

Just a last thing:

It would have been better, in fact, to prove ourselves wrong – to divert political energies from stopping the war (or being right that the war should never have started) and into building a plan for Iraq after Saddam.

Ah, the old Ian McEwan move - 'I wrote a detailed plan in 2003 to Tony Blair advising him to shift attention to Afghanisatan, but didn't bother emailing it to him in the end, or mentioming it in the press, until things went tits up'.

What would this 'building a plan' have entailed, that didn't already happen in a lot of Left-wing movements? Bakesales to fundraise for aid? But Iraq war cheerleaders more or less told us that human rights organisations were the enemy, and in any case this stuff happened - yet it'd have been very hard for those organising a bakesale to help Iraq to not e.g. discuss what a clusterfuck Iraq was - and thus how bad a decision it was to go to war there - but presumably all such discussion would render this Unserious. Sending letters to our MPs telling them how to stop the rise of Moqtadr al-Sadr? The MPs had no say - because, to reiterate, the war was being run by the USA, and fairly extreme US politicians at that, and this was made clear from the very outset. The only way it'd work is if it also said a plague on pro-war houses - those who spent the years of post-war devastation playing imaginary interventions in their heads. But of course it doesn't.

If there is a a problem with Iraq still on The Left, it's that nobody is prepared to be conciliatory about it. Sadly this piece is part of the problem rather than the solution.

Tom Barry said...

" If we just ignore the weapons justification and focus on Saddam's many horrors, as Sarah does, that leaves us with a brazen war of aggression."

Post-war prosecutions of Nazis for waging aggressive war were quite often for waging it against Stalin. I'm fairly sure some of the bastards would have pulled the 'well, Joe did have a lot of people shot' defence, but it doesn't appear to have worked.

Alex said...

"That doesn't speak of wild success for the anti-war movement, to me"

And this is precisely why we need more insufferable pricks banging on about the Iraq war and similar conflicts - because, yeah, ultimately (unless Corbyn becomes PM or something) so far all we've had is someone's Twitter feed being a bit annoying, there have been few policy cnsequences as a result. It'd be like someone saying "God, all these Occupy campaigners and Piketty-style economists, banging on about inequality - why can't I just enjoy my obscene wealth in peace and quiet?"

levi9909 said...

Flying Rodent, you've quoted the "aside" re Israel/antisemitism in full:

"An aside: over ten years later, I am very sure that if you "question" the existence of Israel, a state that has given refuge to a universally persecuted people, you are in fact an anti-Semite..."

and yet you've sidestepped what she actually said, missed at least two tricks and raised a bit of a strawman.

She is saying that a} being "universally persecuted" makes Jews a special (as opposed to standard) case for statehood and that b) to challenge that idea is racist against Jews. They're the two tricks without even unpacking the idea of Jews being "universally persecuted".

I think that's what your regular, ejh or @ejhchess, was getting at when he tweeted:
@flying_rodent I think she's in Euston mode already, the Israel/antisemitism line is a total giveaway
https://twitter.com/ejhchess/status/635911891399872513

The strawman involves you saying that you don't encounter any usage of the word "Zionists" as a euphemism for Jews or of the Israel lobby thesis being used as a restatement of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy theory anywhere other than the internet. She doesn't mention these things at all.

I'm sure none of what you did was deliberate but your interpretation of what she said has her exaggerating the incidence of antisemitism when her Eustonite message was to redefine antisemitism altogether whilst asserting a case for specifically Jewish statehood.

flyingrodent said...

...yet you've sidestepped what she actually said, missed at least two tricks and raised a bit of a strawman.

Yes, I saw it geezer, but there's more than enough here on the main topic of the war, without also getting into a very long digression on what is basically a side-issue to the author's main argument.

The point I wanted to make was about how the average politics fan's Twitter feed is wildly unrepresentative of the populace. I did that mainly because I think the author's attitude on the war and The State Of The Left In General has been greatly influenced by encountering a series of really, really angry people kicking off about a variety of different topics. Most of these seem to have related to gender identity, prostitution and pornography and so on rather than Middle Eastern wars, but I imagine she's seen plenty of that too.

Nonetheless, if I don't directly challenge everything that I quote in precisely the terms you'd prefer, you shouldn't take that as an endorsement of them.

flyingrodent said...

Thanks for these points OC, they're all things that I would've said given infinite time and space to strain everyone's attention-spans.

It's full of things that need about an extra three paragraphs to work, and it rehashes a lot of very tired ideas, to no great effect.

It does feel like a lot like a will-this-do column by a tiring Andrew Anthony some time between 2004 and 2006, doesn't it. Maybe this is just how the early stages of the much-mentioned Epiphany present themselves?

The choice at the time was not this. It was either to support a war that was being run by people who'd had no problem directly arming Saddam at his most extreme, when he was doing the vast majority of his killing and killing and killing,* or to oppose it it.

Yes, this is always a curious blind spot. Hitchens was always fond of making this argument, yet it always seemed to pass him by that he was just rehashing and reinforcing some highly dubious propaganda points that had been dreamed up by what was basically the Iran/Contra crowd. Not that Hitchens ever recognised this, or would've cared if he had.

To me it seems the absolute epitome of New Labour at its worst - the ultimate fight to pick with your (generally anti-war) base, chosen in part to appeal to traditionally Tory voters and to demonstrate strength and unity with the USA.

It's notable that there's still no realisation of this from the leading New Labour figures to this day. There's no recognition that - at best! - deliberately misleading your own supporters, then dropping dark hints about their motives, then just flat telling them to shut the fuck up, was any kind of bad political strategy. Not from the politicians, and not from the numerous pundits who delievered variations on the message.

Tony gambled a large chunk of his support on Iraq, and he lost. Whatever else you might think about the various anti-war groups or the general librul elitsts of wherever, this is the situation at brass tacks. The took a risk, and it blew up in their faces and alienated much of their own fanbase. To compound the problem, they then spent a decade telling their former supporters to fuck off and stick their opinions.

Yet to listen to them talk, you'd think that half the country had just lost their damn minds for no reason whatsoever. It's very odd, although given the behaviour of the head Blairite, it's probably not that surprising.

All this being the case, it's very odd to see somebody join in the chorus twelve years later. On which point...

flyingrodent said...

That's, as others have said, the central problem with the piece. It's inspired by things Twitter-related - it feels the byproduct of the unpleasant online experiences of an increasingly-and-deservedly successful journalist, whose positions on a couple of issues (prostitution and transgender) have a lot of noisy online opponents, though both sides have their noisy and nasty elements.

There's certainly a debate to be had about the nastier elements of left wing politics, particularly in its online manifestations.

I think this is an issue that affects you more if you're part of the UK's pundit class, even at a relatively low-circulation mag like the New Statesman. It's worth noting here though that you don't even need to be talking about politics to get deluged with e.g. racist, homophobic or just plain abusive hatemail.

Try publishing a piece on the topic: "Rangers FC did/did not die when they went bankrupt in 2012" in any half-popular medium; or "Him/her off Keeping Up With The Kardashians show is really a man/woman" or, God help us, "Kanye West is talented/not talented". Some of the stuff out there on these topics would turn your hair white.

Look at GamerGate, for Christ's sake. Here's an odd thing too - the post I was most worried about publishing this year was one that made the bold claim "Look at this old video game, it was very good", because there are so many nutters with insanely furious opinions on it.

It took me quite a long time to suss that this is, to a large extent, just how the public interacts with media now that we can - a few people will make a reasonable point or two, and the rest are just permanently angry about everything and nothing.

I see that a lot just having a blog and a Twitter account, but I imagine that's nothing compared to what you get as an opinion columnist. People seem to have some weird ideas about the status and influence of punditry, and I say that as someone who has in the past made some pretty off-the-wall comments along those lines.

It's genuinely astonishing how many articles about Corbyn - and this is all about Corbyn - fail to even think about the actual reasons for his popularity.

This is pretty much the defining characteristic, I think, probably because it's difficult to get a person to understand something when they're quite firmly committed to not understanding it.

Ah, the old Ian McEwan move...

Yes, that one's pretty easy to ridicule, not least because it was the main talking point of the pro-war opinion class for about three years after the invasion went shit-shaped. Odd, that it'd crop up again after all this time.

flyingrodent said...

Christ, just noticed how weirdly passive/aggressive "they're all things that I would've said given infinite time and space to strain everyone's attention-spans" sounds.

To be clear here, I meant that I have to rein myself in from raising every point and argument under the sun in blogposts, and force myself to focus on a couple of key issues. Comments are great for expanding on these themes, so don't take that as a dig - it wasn't intended to sound weird and pissy. I really do have a way with words, sometimes.

organic cheeseboard said...

Don't worry, I know what you meant - in fact I almost sent 3 responses in a row, but thought better of it. It does rather demonstrate that this stuff needs quite a lot of space to discuss it, and that the topic is pretty ill-suited to a short NS article.

he was just rehashing and reinforcing some highly dubious propaganda points that had been dreamed up by what was basically the Iran/Contra crowd

In a sense Cohen's approach to this is the most coherent - i.e. be taken out for drinks at a swanky club which you'd usually slag off in your columns, and introduced to Important People who you discover are, shock horror, not evil bastards when face to face with someone they're trying to win over, and voila. In a sense it's better to literally paint these dubious types as paragons of virtue than to ignore them completely and pretend they don't exist, and thus Magic Anti-Saddam War.

deliberately misleading your own supporters, then dropping dark hints about their motives, then just flat telling them to shut the fuck up, was any kind of bad political strategy

It was good short-term strategy, but very bad long-term, as they're finding out now. Sarah's piece is quite neat in saying that Iraq was the prism through which she viewed everything else - and I'm sure there ARE people like that - but for a lot of Labour sympathisers it's the (fairly big) straw that broke the camel's back. It's also, obviously, a key part of Brand Blair that he is a pro-American hawk, hence his own reticence to really face up to its implications.

I see that a lot just having a blog and a Twitter account, but I imagine that's nothing compared to what you get as an opinion columnist. People seem to have some weird ideas about the status and influence of punditry, and I say that as someone who has in the past made some pretty off-the-wall comments along those lines.

Yup, and I'm sure it must be awful. Though - and this is NOT about Sarah who tends to handle herself on Twitter quite well - it's very frustrating to see a lot of journalists effectively strike poses of hating all interactivity in journalism, i.e. all that stuff about 'don't read the comments'. The comments, and thus web traffic, are keeping you in jobs, chums, and a lot of the time there are more erudite and interesting points raised in comments sections than in the typical will-this-do Nick Cohen column, for instance.

Equally, though like I've said the above is not about Sarah, she was a blogger before she was a journo and a lot of her posts back in the day were nuanced but often quite snarky attacks on mainstream journos.

Journos (am again using Nick Cohen as my example here) also seem very happy to e.g. retweet every single piece of praise they get on Twitter, yet negative comments = a Mob who are Silencing Them etc. Equally, a lot of journos are seriously bad at keeping their cool on Twitter - I know from experience that internet commentary can get one riled up, but if your Twitter account is a key part of your brand then you should really try to keep a lid on the abuse and anger. This, again, is not about Sarah - it's really just about the inadequacy of Twitter in general.

ejh said...

One point worth making is that if people haven't shut up about Iraq in ten years, it may in part be because the cheerleaders for war in Iraq have kept at it, without a break, ever since, trying to rerun the same strategy elsewhere. They've not as far as I can see amended their views, or engaged in any self-reflection, or suggested that some of the attacks they made on their opponents may have been unreasonable. But mostly importantly, they've kept at it. The argument hasn't been put to bed because it's never stopped.

There is no way to say "let's leave Iraq behind" (a perfectly good idea in principle, as would be for example "let's not talk about Israel/Palestine for a long long time") because it hasn't been left behind. Not by its opponents, not by its supporters, not by reality.

flyingrodent said...

...for a lot of Labour sympathisers it's the (fairly big) straw that broke the camel's back.

I won't pretend to have ever been a committed Labour supporter - more a generally left wing smartarse, as I've said many times before. Still, it was certainly the event that decisively changed my perception of Tony Blair personally from "Dodgy geezer, but his heart's in the right place" to "Dangerously deluded lunatic who would argue black is white", and the party's decision to follow his lead didn't exactly raise it up in my estimation either. I doubt I'm the only one who saw it this way.

Journos... also seem very happy to e.g. retweet every single piece of praise they get on Twitter, yet negative comments = a Mob who are Silencing Them etc.

Yup - that's understandable to some extent, but I can think of numerous hacks who respond to negative feedback or questions as if only an actual crazy person could disagree. I can think of at least two who have finished responses to me with the word "Comrade", like I'm trying to induct them into some Soviet recidivist cult or something.

On a related note - an instructive lesson in Twitter bullshittery today, as Stephen Pollard complains that people have "misinterpreted" a jokey comment that he made asking whether Corbyn is an enthusiast for gender segregation because of "his Islamist friends".

Cue an immediate denial about how he wasn't literally suggesting that Corbyn got the idea from his Islamist friends - he was just, you know, raising questions. Because Stephen is always very receptive to people who are "just raising questions" of this type.

As I said at the time: Here comes a morning full of wails and screams about how unfair it all is and how unreasonable people are. And so it proved to be.

One point worth making is that if people haven't shut up about Iraq in ten years, it may in part be because the cheerleaders for war in Iraq have kept at it, without a break, ever since, trying to rerun the same strategy elsewhere.

This is certainly the reason why I've kept harping on about it - the ideas that led us into the Iraq War have never been renounced nor, for some people, even slightly discredited, and the bullshitty Wilt Thou Not Condemne politics that attended it are just as prevalent today as they ever were. See also, certain party leadership contests.

But I can assure you, drawing on personal experience - there's very little money to be made or kudos to be gained in saying so.

flyingrodent said...

Stop the bus - Nick speaks!

http://standpointmag.co.uk/features-september-2015-nick-cohen-jeremy-corbyn-hijacked-labour

If you can't be arsed to read it, let me summarise - Nick gamely manages to explain how an obscure backbencher who looks like a retired geography teacher came to lead the race for leadership of the Labour Party...

...Without once mentioning the words "austerity", "economy", "benefits", "NHS", "capital", "finance", "Tory", "Cameron" or "privatisation".

He does, however, manage to attribute Corbyn's lead on JC's great love of Vladimir Putin.

Let's just take a moment to appreciate how utterly unhinged, how entirely detached from reality you'd have to be to achieve this feat.

Justin said...
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Justin said...
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Phil said...

Nick's piece is quite interesting as an index of how isolated he seems to be feeling. It goes something like this:

Corbyn says NATO is shit-stirring in Eastern Europe. This demonstrates that Corbyn doesn't care about plucky little Poland and is still seeing the world through a Cold War prism, despite Putin not being a Communist. So basically he's a fellow-travelling Commie-lover who hasn't even noticed that the people he supports aren't Commies. Also, Hugo Chavez - what a bastard, eh?

Something about left-wing anti-imperialism, caricatured as just interpreting everything in terms of what our side's done wrong*.

Lots of people like Corbyn. This shows that the Left is totally dominated by simplistic anti-imperialism and is just full of Commie-lovers without Commies, because why else would they like Corbyn, obviously.

But wait - Peter Mandelson's a bastard too! And Tony Blair. Utter cynical greedy power-worshipping bastards. They just love Putin. (Although not Hugo Chavez.)

So actually there are *two* Lefts - and they're both totally corrupt and useless. Who else is there?

Well, there's me (N. Cohen).

The end.

I wonder if he really does believe - following Orwell - that he's the only real Leftist standing, or if he sees himself as an embattled independent thinker, in among the independent thinkers of Standpoint and the Henry Jackson Society and the, er, Spectator...

*Which actually wouldn't be such a bad thing, if you're thinking of campaigns which have some chance of affecting the government they're campaigning against, as distinct from campaigns which exist mainly to flatter the campaigners' egos. The Decents, of course, deplore campaigns of this second type, although they tend to define them largely by reference to massive demonstrations of opposition to government policy. (What *should* the big Iraq march have looked like? Did we ever get to the bottom of that?)

flyingrodent said...


It is impressive to see Nick still going like the Energizer Bunny, still banging his little drum after all these years.

Labour, what's it for, eh? Well, ticking off foreigners, blowing shit up on the other side of the world, and that's about it. It's certainly not about e.g. opposing the current government's idiocy or trying to think of ways to make British people's lives any better, to go by this.

His attitude to the Blairites is just bizarre too. It seems to be that they're now awful because they're talking about things and focusing on making money, not like they were back when they were invading and basically destroying entire countries for no sane reason, which was awesome.

Like you say, he really does see himself as the last man standing. I haven't ever seen him justify picking up paycheques for trashing the entirety of left wing politics for the amusement of belligerent right wing idiots, but I imagine it'd go something like: The left has driven me out, but my voice must be heard.

Given the current state of affairs, in which Corbyn is running for leader on a left-of-centre but not exactly radical economic prospectus, Nick really does sound like one of those Japanese soldiers in the 1960s - marooned on some atoll somewhere, guarding a foxhole under the Pacific sun with no idea that WWII finished decades ago.

(What *should* the big Iraq march have looked like? Did we ever get to the bottom of that?)

I think Professor Norm resolved this one for us after he finally admitted that the war had done much more harm than good. Basically, if he could've grabbed a Tardis and gone back in time, it would've been just him standing next to the marchers with a sign that read:

"This war is a terrible idea that will get lots of people killed for no benefit, but I cannot bring myself to oppose it".

An extremely useful enterprise, I'm sure you'll agree.

organic cheeseboard said...

Gawd, that is a dire piece. For someone who must have contacts in Islington Labour, he must simply not listen to them. Talk about Twitter echo-chambers - this is the Decent echo-chamber, where all Lefties are cartoon villains who just hate the west so very, very much, except for Nick, James Bloodworth (who of course agreed with Corbyn's foreign policy ideas til about 10 minutes ago), Kamm, and, um, Douglas Murray.

Kudos to Cohen though for managing to unite, via horrific, nonsensical writing, the Two Cohens - the anti-Blairite and the Blairite Humanitarian Interventionist.

I wonder if he really does believe - following Orwell - that he's the only real Leftist standing, or if he sees himself as an embattled independent thinker, in among the independent thinkers of Standpoint and the Henry Jackson Society and the, er, Spectator...

It's both. Part of the Cohen narrative is that he is a saying of truth to Lefty power, like Orwell was, and that his writing mainly finds itself in right-wing periodicals because the left won't listen to him because they're such horrible anti-imperialists (as opposed to his stuff being one-note ranting that is impossible to take seriously) and in any case, the British Right are the true Left, in terms of foreign policy, which is of course so all-important that, um, the Tories have effectively buried it except for whining about Europe.

The fact that he's so willing to take money from right-wing periodicals is actual evidence that lefties are bad. and Standpoint's editorial standards are such that he can get away with this kind of bollocks:

We have a politician at the forefront of one of Europe’s great parties telling Poles that their country has no right to defend itself against an expansionist Russia.

He's never said that, at all though, has he. He's not 'defending a classically reactionary power' by noting that NATO's expansion was designed to annoy Russia (and given that the pro-USA Cohen has repeatedly called Obama a 'reactionary', he's guilty of this himself).

Just as a note, how rubbish are the Standpoint subs? There's literally nothing in the piece about 'How Jeremy Corbyn's Coup Hijacked Labour'.

organic cheeseboard said...

Apologies or another double post, but there's something else I wanted to mention here:

Whenever I argue with Labour people about Corbyn’s record of support for repressive and reactionary movements, most find comfort in “whataboutery”. What about the West’s support for Saudi Arabia? What about Palestine? I reply that they ought to defend universal human rights and support a just settlement for Palestinians, while fighting radical Islam at home and abroad, by condemning Saudi Arabia in one breath and Russia in the next. But few are convinced. Now that may be because they are so certain of their righteousness they cannot see a double standard when it is staring them in the face. Perhaps they are the left-wing version of UKIP’s little Englanders, who do not care how Venezuelans, Russians, Cubans, Ukrainians and Syrians are treated.

Firstly - it's nothing about being the left-wing version of UKIP Little Englanders. The appeal of Corbyn - and of Cameron in May 2015 - comes from the near-universal idea that politics is primarily about domestic policy - which it obviously is. If it weren't, then Labour would have been campaigning on an Iraq ticket in 2005, and indeed on foreign policy in 1997. I know Nick supported them in 2010 'because of Iraq', but he's the only one in the country who did).

Labour members, also, won't necessarily have been asking him about 'The West's support for Saudia Arabia' - they'd presumably have been asking him about e.g. Tony Blair's support for Saudi, which has not gone away now that he doesn't have to make the Hard Choices of a Statesman (these of course didn't at the time extend to e.g. embracing Iran, a far lesser abuser of human rights). They'd also probably have been asking him why they should continue to put faith in a wing of the party which tolerated Israeli killings of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians when it could, and should, have sorted a ceasefire as quickly as possible. That's not whataboutery - it's pointing out hypocrisy, which is something Cohen is supposedly very keen on.

But that wasn't really the point I wanted to make here - it was instead what is left unsaid in the above, and something I know I bang on about a lot - which is that Nick, whose job it is to persuade people of stuff, is presenting himself here as a genuinely unpersuasive person. It can't possibly be his fault - the way he makes his points, or the logic behind them - it must be that his listeners are Bezerk!

You see these admissions of failure in debate all the time in Decency. From Kamm, who claims to have 'debated Farage' (but the only result of this was headlines for UKIP policies); from John Rentoul, too, who weirdly wears the fact that he badly lost a debate to Corbyn as a badge of pride, because - genuinely - 'politics is too complex for undergraduates to understand'. It's common in lots of Decents - students are hostile to Alan NTM so clearly it's their fault for being nutters. A woman is badly patronised by Aaro on the radio, speaking in her second language, and this means all lefties are awful. Aaro goes to a debate with that Atzmon weirdo, who should be incredibly easy to defeat, and Aaro instead reads stuff he's printed out from Harry's Place and berates the organisers of the debate for allowing Atzmon to speak - clearly that's going to win over an audience who, er, paid to come to hear the debate. Etc.

Anonymous said...

Someone has to raise the bar and it's going to be Nick.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O94_pm56CIQ

gregorach said...

Is Nick's job really to persuade people of stuff, or is it instead to stroke the egos of his readers? I don't think he's genuinely trying to convince anybody of anything they're not already convinced of. He's just soothing his readers with the assurance that, yes, everybody who disagrees with them is an crazed neo-Stalinist and / or idiot.

Journalism in general becomes much easier to understand once you accept that the idea that journalism is about seeking truth, or persuading people via rational argument, is no closer to the truth than the idea that liberally dousing yourself in Lynx deodorant will cause hordes of attractive young women to find you utterly irresistible. It's just a product they're trying to sell.

flyingrodent said...

Standpoint's editorial standards are such that he can get away with this kind of bollocks: "We have a politician at the forefront of one of Europe’s great parties telling Poles that their country has no right to defend itself against an expansionist Russia".

I spotted that one too - it's a barnstormer, isn't it. You know they've got nothing on somebody, when they're pouncing on stuff this weak. If Corbyn (or anyone else worthy of note) had ever indicated that he thinks Poland has no right to defend itself, they'd have a far more damning quote to hand.

It's telling though that in order to pass the "Will You Condemn Putin" test, you literally have to ignore reality. It's not enough just to say that Putin is a gangster and a killer; you have to do it while not noticing at all that Nato policy in the east has been driven by some very, very stupid people.

That's not whataboutery - it's pointing out hypocrisy, which is something Cohen is supposedly very keen on.

Yes indeed, and this is something that I keep harping back to. When I point out our contrasting attitudes to Iran and to Saudi Arabia, I'm not saying that we should be unconcerned by e.g. the Iranians hanging gay people. We should obviously be equally disgusted by both.

I'm saying that, since we plainly couldn't give a shit about the Sauds killing gay people so long as the cash keeps flowing, then it's quite clearly not only revulsion at the killings of gay people that is driving our policy towards either country. And that really does merit a mention, if we care at all about truth, doesn't it.

The idea that this constitutes "whataboutery" is ridiculous.

You see these admissions of failure in debate all the time in Decency.

Rentoul and Kamm are my favourites. I mean, I always hope at least a few people agree with me but I'm aware that I can come across as a bit weird and hysterical at times. These two just have no idea how they sound to other people and assume that all their failures are other people's fault.

In other news, it looks like the rise of Corbyn and the recent prominence of Chilcot has started prompting a few "Iraq was not just a good idea, but was moral and just" articles. There's a humdinger in the Times today, although it is by that joker Nigel Biggar, who only ever seems to be wheeled out to reiterate his "Iraq was moral and just" arguments.

My favourite bit - Okay, Saddam didn't have nukes, but if he'd been left alone indefinitely, he might have made nukes. Ergo, we were right to invade and occupy the place.

I can do this too - Okay, Saddam didn't have nukes, but if he'd been left alone indefinitely, he might have pulled an Ebola-spraying firehose out of his anus, or formed a boyband and achieved chart-topping success.

Easy, eh?

Anyway, I broadly welcome these types of arguments. It'll do people good to see that few of these high-profile fannies have reconsidered their foolishness, even after everything, and that might just focus minds a little.

ejh said...

Aaro goes to a debate with that Atzmon weirdo, who should be incredibly easy to defeat

It's the weirdos who are hardest to defeat. I learned that watching Pete Atkins get trounced by Russell Grant debating horoscopes on Newsnight once.

andrew adams said...

In other news, it looks like the rise of Corbyn and the recent prominence of Chilcot has started prompting a few "Iraq was not just a good idea, but was moral and just" articles.

And where else...

http://hurryupharry.org/2015/08/27/the-iraq-war-not-illegal-not-immoral-and-not-over/

andrew adams said...

It's the weirdos who are hardest to defeat.

Yeah, they tend to have both that absolute certainty in their position which can appear superficially convincing to those who aren't so well informed, as well as the willingness to just make shit up in order to support their argument (David Cameron in the election debates was a prime example and he's not even that weird) It's actually quite hard for normal, reasonably honest people to compete with that.

flyingrodent said...

And where else...

I'll be interested to see how firmly this "It was never about nukes or anthrax, that stuff was never important, it was all about Saddam being a monster" thing catches on in politics and punditry in the next few weeks.

If it catches on hard, I'm going to take that as a sign that a few political figures have had warning that Chilcot is going to dismiss the WMD nonsense, and that everyone's now getting their ducks in a row on a new justification.

Phil said...

On Twitter, the usual suspects have been monstering Peter Jukes of Byline, who is not happy about it. He pointed out to Jeremy Duns that a Jewish pro-Palestinian activist had grown up in Israel & hence might know a bit more about that country than oh say e.g. for example Jeremy Duns; since the activist in question was on the "anti-Zionists who absolutely totally are anti-semitic take our word for it" list, wackiness ensued. (Because, after all, who would take the word of an anti-semite over that of a Committed Fighter Against Anti-Semitism?) It's all getting a bit Father Ted - "I hear you're an anti-semite now, Father?" Jukes isn't happy.

In other news, I got taken to task by Tom Owolade of the Gerasites blog for suggesting that Corbyn, in bigging up a pro-Palestinian activist* despite this person being a homophobe, might be nothing more than 'compartmentalising' - particularly given that nobody's even suggested that Corbyn's unsound on gay rights. Tom didn't like 'compartmentalising' at all - “‘Compartmentalising’ is a pretentious way of saying ‘hypocrisy’.” (Which had seven RTs within the next five minutes.) I thought this was daft - ridiculously unworldly. Who is this Owolade person anyway? I wondered, and googled...

"Tom Owolade, a south London 18-year-old on his gap year"

(From a piece on first-time voters in Spiked, of all places.)

Hmmm.

*Gosh, it's them again. Those pro-Palestinian activists always seem to be up to something, don't they?

Anonymous said...

"Everyone's now getting their ducks in a row on a new justification."

Yes, I think that this is what is happening. It's interesting to note though, that none of the protagonists used the "moral" or "liberal intervention" justification when they were up in front of the Chilcot panel. They must have guessed that the panel would have said "Are you sure that's legal?" or "So - a few weeks after New York was attacked by terrorists you decided that you had to overthrow someone because they massacred trade unionists thirty years ago?" This "moral" justification isn't used in front of high-powered public forums like an Inquiry. So if someone says that Chilcot forgot the "moral" justification, tel them that this isn't surprising because nobody used that justification with Chilcot.

Guano

flyingrodent said...

...the usual suspects have been monstering Peter Jukes of Byline, who is not happy about it.

Struggling to work out what the hell Dave et al think they're up to there. This game of poke-the-Twitter-racist is all well and good when you're dealing with some anonymous berk with no impulse control - more commonly known as "angry member of the general public" - but it's a different matter altogether when you try it on somebody who a) clearly is not racist and b) is more than clever and eloquent enough to answer back.

It was quite fun watching it slowly dawn on Jukes that none of the people having a go at him about it were interested in anything other than hurling mud and seeing how much they can get to stick, though. It took him quite a while to work it out.

I got taken to task by Tom Owolade of the Gerasites blog for suggesting that Corbyn, in bigging up a pro-Palestinian activist* despite this person being a homophobe, might be nothing more than 'compartmentalising' - particularly given that nobody's even suggested that Corbyn's unsound on gay rights.

Yes, it's funny how it's very easy to understand concept like this when it's e.g. David Cameron flogging torture devices to Saudi dungeons for use on imprisoned dissidents, but it becomes impossibly complex and suspect when applied to some guy you don't like who spoke to someone else who you don't like.

They must have guessed that the panel would have said "Are you sure that's legal?" or "So - a few weeks after New York was attacked by terrorists you decided that you had to overthrow someone because they massacred trade unionists thirty years ago?"

That's interesting, not least because the old "Saddam was a baddy, he had to go" thing is probably the strongest card they have to play against public opinion.

Or at least, it is as long as you're playing it against people who don't realise it's not actually strong enough to justify elective war, which is the kind of thing that is supposed to land you in the Hague to answer some difficult questions.

I'll bear this in mind for when the report is published, and we find out exactly what mistakes were made, and the extent to which they were made in good faith.

organic cheeseboard said...

It's interesting to note though, that none of the protagonists used the "moral" or "liberal intervention" justification when they were up in front of the Chilcot panel.

Didn't Blair do something quite similar?

I see Cohen on his Twitter feed is restarting the age-old 'if you say that overthrowing a dictator by force is illegal then you are saying that dictatorship is legal' thing, which has never managed to convince anyone before - probably because when you apply it to, er, anything else, you end up with some pretty unsupportable positions.

He's now clarified it, bless him, to encompass 'overthrowing those who have committed genocide'. Of course, the fact that Saddam was a UK/US ally at the time he was doing said genociding, funded by the people who then wanted to overthrow him, is inconsequential, because according to Cohen, "once the killing is over a genocidal dictator is safe". Thus ANY aggression against Saddam was a-ok, because he was bad in the past. That's it - that's his view. And to think he complains that people aren't won over by him in debates.

Funny, too, to see Cohen saying this:

If Labour's clowns make Corbyn leader after this speech from Cooper, they deserve every defeat he will bring them

But he ignores the main problem which is that Cooper made this speech about 2 months too late. A lot of voters have already cast their votes by now. She had a chance to lead on this stuff, along with so much else, and didn't take it. Blairites might 'know how to win elections' - but not, seemingly, leadership elections.

Also funny to see e.g. David Miliband suddenly getting involved in the pro-refugee stuff. given his job that's not a surprise, but I'm sure this goes hand in hand with him, Kendall, Will Straw etc saying that Labour in May 2015 needed 'a clearer line on immigration' - i.e. they weren't hard enough on it. The Ukip voters I know - according to Blairites, the people Labour need to win over? - would not have been very fond of this new 'we love refugees' stuff.

just back to the anti-Corbyn stuff. It's telling that, when Rentoul et al are forced to admit that e.g. Corbyn on Bin Laden is entirely fair comment, we end up with the mantra 'But why was he on Press TV in the first place' thing. Again proving your point that he will never be able to do enough (and that journalists are fine to go on it e.g. Gilligan and Kamm). Yes, being on Press TV and RT exhibits bad judgment, but when you're left with 'when does he ever criticise Iran on Press TV - a station I incidentally never watch and rely on the anti-Corbyn Jeremy Duns for clips from?' as your main line of attack, you're really struggling.

I just found this by chance, back to my earlier thing about Decents being dreadful in debate. Am not a fan at all of George Galloway but he doesn't even try hard here and gets Rentoul immediately saying that the decision on whether to sell arms to Saudi is 'finely balanced', before immediately saying the Q of arming Saudi and training their soldiers should be 'taken on its merits' because they're an 'important ally':

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1D6hco2cFk

Of course, Rentoul gets back to 'George loves Saddam' asap. it's just amazing how bad these people are in debate. Rentoul's first retort being essentially 'you're too stupid to understand these finely-balanced things' says everything about the power of the anti-Corbyn lot to convince.

organic cheeseboard said...

Just as an extra, in my Cohen obsession I see that he's currently writing an article on "why it will be right for Labour MPs to refuse to work with Corbyn'. Presumably this will be based largely on shouting 'Press TV' over and over again, and will go alongside other gems in the annals of 'Cohen's Political Advice' such as 'Labour in 2010 should immediately get rid of Gordon Brown and run on an anti-Gordon-Brown ticket or face a Tory landslide': http://standpointmag.co.uk/node/2608

Yes that would be the exact 'we admit we overspent' line that's proven so damaging. Kudos, comrade Cohen.

flyingrodent said...

...it's just amazing how bad these people are in debate.

I've made an arse of myself in this manner in the past, by basically assuming that because a person says (x), then they must also believe (y) unrelated thing.

It's quite an embarrassing mistake to make publicly, but I'd like to think that the difference between me and Rentoul is that I learned from the experience and didn't just carry on assuming that I knew everything that there was to know about people, based upon one particular opinion that they hold.

I think Rentoul's main problem is that his whole worldview rests upon the idea that people who don't like and/or share the views of Tony Blair must be insane, and must hold (x), (y) and (z) mental views also. Anything that suggests that Rentoul might be wrong, is merely more evidence of our deep craziness.

And, if I can immediately violate this piece of homespun wisdom with a wild bit of psychologising - I actually think that Rentoul's views on issues like e.g. should we back the Sauds, is pretty much based upon whether Sensible People say we should.

Who's Sensible? Tony, his mates, and all JR's mates. Thus anyone who disagrees with them is not Sensible, and is in fact probably insane.

There aren't many pundits that I'd say this about, but I really don't think there's much in the way of deeper thought than this.

back to the anti-Corbyn stuff. It's telling that, when Rentoul et al are forced to admit that e.g. Corbyn on Bin Laden is entirely fair comment, we end up with the mantra 'But why was he on Press TV in the first place' thing.

Kamm had a good one in the Times yesterday, in which he announced that Bin Laden could've surrendered whenever he liked, including during the raid where they finally got him, so it was all his own fault that he got shot.

Which is fair enough, really - it was. And there I'd leave it, if OK hadn't then followed this up by announcing that anyone who'd have preferred the US to arrest, try and convict Bin Laden is actively taking the old shitebag's side. Seriously, he actually ended it with the following argument (and I paraphrase):

Anyone who believes that a modern western democracy has to justify itself to theocratic medieval murderers is not fit to lead the party or the country.

Because preferring to apply the judicial process, rather than just shooting criminals, is very much a characteristic of modern western democracies, or something.

flyingrodent said...

...in my Cohen obsession I see that he's currently writing an article on "why it will be right for Labour MPs to refuse to work with Corbyn'. Presumably this will be based largely on shouting 'Press TV' over and over again...

Almost right - it seems to be almost entirely composed of that, and variations upon "It's our ball and you bloody far lefties can't play with it".

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/09/labours-centrists-hold-white-flag-surrender/

Note that Nick considers it utterly unacceptable that Labour members and MPs might have to toe the line to a leader that they don't like, who doesn't much like them in return.

Why, it's almost as if Labour Party members would have to pretend to agree with a leader that they privately disagree with! And swallow policies that they themselves might not think are very good ideas!

Utterly unprecedented events in the party's history, I'm sure you'll agree, and exactly the kind of complaint that will inspire great sympathy for the plight of New Labour types. It certainly doesn't sound at all like the Blairites aren't saying that if they can't win, then nobody can play.

See also - the list of Corbyn's insane, unacceptable policies that Nick can't stomach, on:

Britain’s membership of Nato
Britain’s membership of the EU
Unilateral nuclear disarmament
The tax regime for business

Now, I may be hopelessly naive here, but I do notice that JC has only made concrete pledges on one of these issues and has, if anything, made a lot of noise about his willingness to compromise on the others.

And who knows? Maybe Corbyn will immediately demand Nato withdrawal and so on, and mercilessly persecute the party's Nick Cohens. I don't think it would be politically wise, and I imagine JC knows this too, but it may happen.

It's noticeable though that when Nick reaches for the actual policy propositions that put Corbyn beyond the pale, he can't find all that much to quibble with, and has to resort once more to his assumptions. Again.

flyingrodent said...

(Actually, scratch that last point - it's Umunna's comment, I think. If Nick was my only guide, I'd assume that Corbyn's entire policy platform consisted of thinking Hezbollah are well sexy, and that's about it. Which is probably not correct).

organic cheeseboard said...

There aren't many pundits that I'd say this about, but I really don't think there's much in the way of deeper thought than this.

Yup. It stems partly from Rentoul's fanboy worship of Blair but also from an Aaro style 'I've decided these people are clever and important ergo everything they do and say is correct'.

Nick on Corbyn is so funny - well it would be if it weren't so sad. So his advice to Chuka is:

argue for social democracy and take on Corbyn, not only because he is unelectable but because he is immoral

So Chuka is meant to 'argue for social democracy' by - er - doing what exactly? As you note, apparently Chuka is opposed to Corbyn's stance on 'the tax regime for businesses' which Corbyn is proposing. Does Nick seriously agree with Umunna on this? I think not. So Chuka is meant to 'argue for social democracy' by - er- publicly attacking his party leader as being anti-business. That'll work - as will publicly attacking him for being unelectable. Genius advice this.

What I like best about Cohen is the way he slips so easily into casual Tory propaganda. For instance:

they elect as their leader a man David Cameron or even Nigel Farage would expel from their parties for: [appearing on Press TV and Russia Today, and for the various things James Bloodworth argues badly]

So Cameron, who didn't even sack Andy Coulson or Liam Fox, would expel Corbyn for the far lesser things he's done, such as, er, appear on a TV channel? Farage won't expel actual racists, but would expel Corbyn for being on Press TV - where Farage features frequently (if you google 'Farage Russia today' you can find a whole bunch of clips)? It's just not true.

Also:

Chuka, baby, don’t you get it?

??? Am of the opinion that Nick wouldn't use this phrasing if Chuka were either female or white. He certainly doesn't say stuff like this often.

Labour should get down with the kids, ‘celebrate’ the Corbyn-supporting yoof, ‘embrace’ them and ‘harness’ their energy to revitalise Labour.

This whole 'the only people who like Corbyn are idiot young people' thing again demonstrates that Nick's only experienced him and his supporters online and in passing. Even the photos I've seen of Corbyn rallies have a load of old people there. Corbyn is not just a 'yoof' phenomenon - and even if he were, politicians not taking young people seriously is one of the most depressing things about politics in my lifetime.

Also Cohen mentions 'Shadow Chancellor Diane Abbot' - I mean really. Do people actually take his guff seriously?

Anonymous said...

And at the Staggers, the return of Alan "I was never a minister" Johnson.

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2015/09/no-jeremy-corbyn-not-antisemitic-left-should-be-wary-who-he-calls-friends


Guano

flyingrodent said...

So Cameron, who didn't even sack Andy Coulson or Liam Fox, would expel Corbyn for the far lesser things he's done, such as, er, appear on a TV channel?

And as Nick himself has repeatedly pointed out, the Tories aren't exactly short of far-right racist lunatic allies, in Europe and at home.

Chuka, baby, don’t you get it??? Am of the opinion that Nick wouldn't use this phrasing if Chuka were either female or white. He certainly doesn't say stuff like this often.

To be fair to Nick, it may just be that Chuka is younger and trendier than your average MP is these days. Although we are talking about the same geezer who made that bizarre "Isn't it great that he's black" comment about Barack Obama, presumably on the implication that young right-on kids think black people are like, cool, or something.

This whole 'the only people who like Corbyn are idiot young people' thing again demonstrates that Nick's only experienced him and his supporters online and in passing. Even the photos I've seen of Corbyn rallies have a load of old people there.

That's a very good spot, a point I hadn't noticed before. I doubt Nick would have trouble changing his tune to whine about old Trots and so on instead, but it does show a very fogeyish kind of contempt, doesn't it?

Also Cohen mentions 'Shadow Chancellor Diane Abbot' - I mean really. Do people actually take his guff seriously?

At this point, we should probably be glad that he didn't write "Shadow Chancellor Hassan Nasrallah" instead.

flyingrodent said...

And at the Staggers, the return of Alan "I was never a minister" Johnson.

Yes, and he's brought the old banjo with him, to play some of the golden oldies.

As noted, there's certainly plenty of room to criticise and ask questions of Corbyn for the various headbangers that he's hung about with in the past. Most of this, I put down to the old willingness to speak at the opening of a can of lager tendency - basically, being happy to speak anywhere they'll have you - but that's not really a very good excuse. So, it's fine to do the whole "Oh, we're not saying he's a racist, but questions must be asked" routine, to a certain extent.

It is very notable though that while we've now had three weeks-worth of "asking questions" about Corbyn's supposed insensitivity to racism, the current government's policies on asylum and immigration are literally contributing to thousands of needless deaths.

That's to say, the government's deliberate decision to cut rescue operations in the Med is actually helping to immiserate and/or kill large numbers of men, women and children right now, and all this is the direct consequence of the dominant racist and spiteful bile in Parliament and the press over a period of around twenty years.

Meanwhile, the actual, real-world effect of Corbyn's supposed racism-tolerance is that some racist nutters - people who were mainly racist nutters before the Labour election and will continue to be so afterwards - have sent some foul tweets to Hugo Rifkind and Stephen Pollard.

Let me point out here that while both of these situations are terrible, one is considerably more terrible than the other; and that the considerably more terrible situation has actually arisen with the complicity of mainstream politicians, commentators and members of the public in exactly the way that the anti-Corbyn camp claim to be very alarmed about.

Again, people absolutely shouldn't send racist tweets to journalists, or harbour racist conspiracy theories. Fuck those people, I say, get 'em into the dock and let them face justice for their crimes.

But it's really, really obvious that as a nation, we've spent most of the month freaking out about the supposedly terrifying racism of a man that even his accusers don't claim is racist, while an actual humanitarian catastrophe has emerged directly out of the very mainstream of British politics.

This should, perhaps, give us some much-needed perspective on the matter.

ejh said...

It is very notable though that while we've now had three weeks-worth of "asking questions" about Corbyn's supposed insensitivity to racism, the current government's policies on asylum and immigration are literally contributing to thousands of needless deaths.

I'm sure back in the old days I occasionally used to bore on about how one of the characteristics of the Decent Left was to give ideology, or if you prefer Things People Say, more importance than reality, or if you prefer Things They Actually Do.

organic cheeseboard said...

I noted you two both decrying the near-immediate 'we need more war' responses to the refugee crisis on Twitter - and also the way in which the tories immediately dispensed with that line, having road-tested it with George 'Charisma' Osborne. Just to add to this, I saw someone yesterday - Ian Dunt (who he?) - saying that 'none of this would have happened if we'd only helped Syrian moderates at the beginning'. Nick Cohen genuinely blamed Ed Miliband for this - clearly demonstrating that Decents thought that the 'limited anti-Assad bombings' mooted in 2013 were in fact some kind of 'moderate-assistance' rather than the Assad-punishment they were specifically sold as, and equally demonstrating that, rather than hold the people in charge of the UK to account when the Arab Spring started, he prefers to attack the leader of the opposition for er things.

It's one thing to be a 'foreign policy realist', it's another to actively ignore everything people say about wars and just make up your own truths.

Again, continuing an obsession:

there's certainly plenty of room to criticise and ask questions of Corbyn for the various headbangers that he's hung about with in the past. Most of this, I put down to the old willingness to speak at the opening of a can of lager tendency - basically, being happy to speak anywhere they'll have you - but that's not really a very good excuse. So, it's fine to do the whole "Oh, we're not saying he's a racist, but questions must be asked" routine, to a certain extent.

Of course, as was pointed out ad nauseam on Aarowatch, Decentpedia, here etc, if you use Decent logic in your approach to Decents, they start to look equally dodgy. Witness Alan NTM and that american 'life in the harem' headbanger; witness our Nick speaking at that conference that coincidentally featured Tommy Robinson, where our Nick is certain not to have insulted his hosts til later, thus failing his own test, along with his continuing hard-on for Douglas 'anyone brown-skinned is not really British' Murray; witness Left Foot Forward hosting far-right white power propaganda (which opposes e.g. rap music); Ollie Kamm repeatedly appearing on Press TV 'because he hated Tony Benn'; Geras and Gates of Vienna; Harry's Place and all sorts of bullshit; etc. All of this motivated by the same (admittedly dubious) enemy's-enemy-is-my-friend stuff that they're so upset with Corbyn for.

As another aside, I see James Bloodworth yesterday presented himself as 'extremely litigious' and is threatening libel action against someone who claimed that he thinks Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-semite. Nice to see that The Campaign Against Britain's Repressive Libel Laws marches on eh.

Also Bloodworth claimed that Corbyn pointing out that the West is the ultimate provider of a lot of the weapons ISIS are currently using is 'odd'. Surely it's not at all odd - it's a fact...?

organic cheeseboard said...

Just on the 'yoof' thing, this wins the prize or 'worst article yet written about Corbyn':

http://www.politico.eu/article/jeremy-corbyn-dreamers-labout-leadership-race-supporters/

Things it does:

1) blame corbynmania on, yet completely misunderstand, hipster culture, while being illustrated by a photo of 2 people who clearly aren't hipsters but most likely are student politicians and who are at a Corbyn rally surrounded by old people

2) provide stats that show that Corbyn is the chosen candidate of all ages of Labour voters and say nothing about that, focusing only on the 'yoof' because they 'don't remember 1980s Islington Labour politics'

3) uses dubious stats relating to Facebook 'likes' to demonstrate that corbyn-lovers are, shock horror, probably people whi dislike Tories

4) bullshit about how Liz Kendall 'says what she believes' when in fact she's prepared every single opinion to appeal to swing voters - and even presented herself as such - and offer absolutely no comment on why she's doing so fucking badly, and should have bowed out months ago

5) claim that Corbyn supports Hamas and Sinn Fein and obsess over the latter when most young people probably haven't even heard of the IRA

etc. dear me

Al Roth said...

'witness Left Foot Forward hosting far-right white power propaganda (which opposes e.g. rap music)'

When was this?

'As another aside, I see James Bloodworth yesterday presented himself as 'extremely litigious' and is threatening libel action against someone who claimed that he thinks Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-semite. Nice to see that The Campaign Against Britain's Repressive Libel Laws marches on eh.'

Yeah, well, Bloodworth probably learned this approach from Douglas Murray

organic cheeseboard said...

I was thinking of this. maybe went a bit far but it's still a dodgy article i reckon:

http://leftfootforward.org/2013/11/black-supremacist-rap-music/

ejh said...

Yeah, well, Bloodworth probably learned this approach from Douglas Murray

I'm far from sure I should be interested in this, but is admiration for Douggie Murray the way one tells the real Nick Cohen fan club from the rest, or am I misinformed?

flyingrodent said...

just to add to this, I saw someone yesterday - Ian Dunt (who he?) - saying that 'none of this would have happened if we'd only helped Syrian moderates at the beginning'. Nick Cohen genuinely blamed Ed Miliband for this - clearly demonstrating that Decents thought that the 'limited anti-Assad bombings' mooted in 2013 were in fact some kind of 'moderate-assistance' rather than the Assad-punishment they were specifically sold as, and equally demonstrating that, rather than hold the people in charge of the UK to account when the Arab Spring started, he prefers to attack the leader of the opposition for er things.

Yeah, that's about the size of it. There's not much I can add to assist with people's understanding of the situation.

as was pointed out ad nauseam on Aarowatch, Decentpedia, here etc, if you use Decent logic in your approach to Decents, they start to look equally dodgy.

All this is right, and in Nick's case specifically, we can also add the fact that the Spectator has recently

- Published Taki defending the Greek Nazi Golden Dawn organisation;
- Published the convicted child molester Jonathan King's snarky remarks about the abuse allegations industry, or whatever he called it, and
- Published Rod Liddle, who's been specifically named by the UK's pissweak press authorities for peddling racism. Never mind Melanie or Douglas Murray.

Now, there's a valid point to be made here about how Corbyn is about to be made Labour leader and Nick is just a columnist, and about how there's an issue of relative proportion here, but still.

It was Nick that drew up these rules, not us.

Anonymous said...

"None of this would have happened if we'd only helped Syrian moderates at the beginning'. Nick Cohen genuinely blamed Ed Miliband for this"

The people to blame for Cameron losing that vote in 2013 are Cameron himself and the Tory backbenchers who didn't support him. If you cannot convince your own backbenchers you shouldn't blame the leader of the opposition.

Gauno