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.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Your Bed, Sir

Okay, I'll field this one, if nobody else fancies it.

The following doesn't all hold good for James himself but a lot of it really does, and it'll do fine to illustrate the broad range of Oh-No-Why-Does-The-Left-Say-(x) type pundits throughout the land.

So, why is nobody asking questions about Jeremy Corbyn's worrying connections?

1) Because you can only shout about large lupine predators so many times before people just automatically assume that there is no wolf. 

Many people, myself included, have spent years repeating variations on the following points:

If your reaction to every war or military occupation and so forth is to completely ignore the mounting bodycount and to instead focus on

- Poring over the internet in the hope of tracking down photos of anti-war protesters waving swastikas and the like, because you just know that they're all secret Nazis, and

- Snuffling out whatever seven-degrees-of-separation horseshit you can root out to denounce any and every medium-profile public figure who has the temerity to say that they don't much like wars or military occupations...

...then sooner or later, people are going to assume that you are a hack and that your opinion isn't worth listening to, even when you're right.

This is problematic, because there are occasions when people really should pay attention to you, if you're making an important point.  These occasions might include, say, if it turns out that a popular political figure has previously defended one of the country's more obvious wacky racists.

If you've previously expended most of your credibility by using really shitty and smeary arguments to e.g. defend or distract from a whole string of insanely violent and ridiculous wars however, lots of people are not going to be inclined to listen to you, no matter how important your objection is.

- Similarly, if you've spent many long years barracking respected NGOs for minor offences and non-crimes - especially if you restrict the barracking to organisations that tend to publicly disapprove of your pet causes - then lots of people are, once again, going to ignore you, even if you eventually hit a target or two.


2) If your mainstream, centrist politics include acceptance or endorsement of any of the following:

- Supporting far nastier policies on asylum and immigration, because it plays well with nastier sections of the electorate;
- Arming Middle Eastern human rights abusers to the damn teeth;
- Being photographed planting sloppy kisses on, say, Colonel Gaddafi or Hosni Mubarak, or the King of Saudi Arabia's corpse;
- Talking out of both sides of your mouth when e.g. the Egyptian military starts shooting protestors and executing its political opponents; 
- Bombing, invading and occasionally occupying other countries for no sane reason, or
- Detaining people without trial in black jails and torturing the piss out of them...

...Amid a very wide variety of similar forms of bullshitty excuse-making for bad behaviour that you'd never let your opponents away with, lots of people are quite likely to dismiss any reasonable points that you make now.  Because you have beshitted your own reputation, see?

Now, saying all this, we should remember that it really is a problem in left wing politics, if something like Jeremy Corbyn's comments on nutty racist propagandists doesn't seem to ring any alarm bells.

That said, it's worth noting that part of the reason why nobody can hear alarm bells ringing now is that quite a lot of less-than-entirely-honest people have spent the last fifteen years or so ringing bells like a crowd of coked-up campanologists on a three-day blowout.

Why, it's almost like actions have consequences, or something.

And to repeat myself, repeating myself - none of what I'm saying here should be news.  Lots of us have spent quite a lot of time issuing long and boring warnings along these lines, to precisely no effect.

Well.  Your bed, sir - you have made it, and now all of us have to lie in it, for good or ill.