Media Lies

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Martin Kettle - "I'm not Blair's spokesman"

There is No Alternative to Tony Blair's Iraq Policy

The title of this Guardian article by Martin Kettle pretty much describes his status as 'absolutely not Blair's spokesman. Really!'.

From David Bracewell

Dear Martin Kettle,

Based on -

- the actions of the West to quell democracy in the Arab world in the last half century,
- US actions under Bush in regard to Venezuela and Haiti, exposing a loathing for democracy,
- US-imposed radical economic restructuring and privatisation of Iraq's commons against international law,
- the deaths of vastly more than ten thousand people, mostly civilian - the list of US/UK actions showing nothing but contempt for Iraqis is so so long,
- Blair's failure to follow through on similar puffy commitments regarding Afghanistan which is sinking anonymously beneath US-backed warlordism,

can you please point me to any material - Blair's actions, US or UK policy recently or in the past, it's your choice - that would suggest that "freedom, sovereignty, tolerance, prosperity and human rights" are things we've actually put on the table?


David Bracewell
Nelson BC

p.s. Here, for your perusal is the November 2001 statement by Blair in relation to a country he rarely mentions now -

"We have to show the same urgency in helping to create a broad based Afghan government and the same commitment to the long-term reconstruction of Afghanistan as we have done in our military strategy.

We have an obligation to the Afghan people perhaps especially to the women in Afghanistan that we should not and most not run away from but that we must fulfill."


From Martin Kettle


I'm not Blair's spokesman, and those were his words not mine. The whole point of my piece was to dissociate my views from these vapid generalisations.

But I think he would probably reply that Sierra Leone was a modestly encouraging example of his approach working quite well. The difference in SL, of course, is that Blair wasn't playing second fiddle to Bush.



From David Bracewell


The Sierra Leone 'UN' intervention stands in the grand imperial tradition - the UK furthering its control over resources charading as mid-term humanitarianism. The key to British motivation is in Sandline's role in returning huge diamond deposits to foreign control. But there is also the lustre of the UK taking its place alongside France in West Africa - again. Let's honestly place much of the disaster there at the door of the UK's 'ethical', explosive arms policy in the 1990s and its corrupting meddling since 1961. If Blair were acting in good faith it would be by way of minimal restitution, not a humanitarian helping hand. Yet it's not in good faith. It's just good for business and chock full of prestige for the UK. You can tell him that from me.

Of course, SL is an example Blair would probably give, not yourself. I think I understand. You're not his mouthpiece here.

However, these were your words - "It is indeed vitally important that the outcome in Iraq should be freedom rather than fundamentalism". They precisely echo Blair's. In this case, you do seem to be his mouthpiece. The fundamentalism referred to is 'Islamic' fundamentalism, I'd suppose, not the fundamentalism of Western violence and corporate domination amounting to outsourced imperialism; and the freedom is surely that which is promised by Bremer, US corporate carpetbaggers and Iraqi exiles, the leader of whom is a thieving felon: the freedom to sell off your commons at bargain basement prices and host hundreds of thousands of your enemy in 14 huge military bases. A bargain difficult to refuse. By the way, on what basis would you think that a very sophisticated and secularised people are faced with Islamic fundamentalism absent our guiding hand?

Iraq surely can do better than to give the US and the UK another, yet another, a whole nuther, chance to bring it the joys of 'freedom' - as we call it now, since democracy seems a long way off. The US/UK have been the most murderous influence in the 20th C history of Iraq, the Iran-Iraq war supporting rather than negating this.

It takes enormous cultural obtuseness to think we are suddenly offering better than we've given for nigh on a century. Isn't nearly a century of murderous work by Anglo-Saxon 'fundamentalists' enough to make you think that perhaps the best solution is that we get the hell out of there and let the Iraqis sort it through with themselves and others they, the overwhelming majority, choose to trust? How can the logic of allowing a chronically violent bunch of goons any control over their longstanding victims seem appropriate to you?


David Bracewell


Thursday, April 15, 2004

Love to Johann Hari...

It’s all over, bar the shooting. John Simpson, the BBC’s man in Baghdad, is rarely comfortable without a flak jacket around his estimable girth and the ringing of distant bullets in his ears. He evinces such intimidating worldliness that when he and his camera crew were fired on and seriously injured by US jets during the first phase of the war on Iraq, he was able to flash his glittering eyes at the camera and announce that it was no more than a scratch. Such is his comportment on the news of late. Laconically, he explains that the situation (in Iraq) is really quite calm. There is sporadic gunfire, but nothing like a few days ago. People may be intimidated by the recent spate of kidnappings, but it’s nothing he can’t handle. The ebullient Mr Simpson is inured to war and turmoil, and one imagines blasts of shrapnel that could down a rhinoceros bouncing off his leathery hide.

"It's all pretty quiet, really."

I recall similar optimism about a year ago when Simpson appeared on Ruby Wax’s morning BBC show (in an indecent moment, the Beeb decided that daytime television could also be entertaining). He described Afghanistan’s recovery following the American ouster of the crazy Caliphs of Kabul. Would the Taliban make a resurgence, Ruby wondered, eyes agleam with fear of the bhurka-botherers. No! John laughed, with demonic mirth. They’ve gone. Like post-war Germany, no one has ever been a Talib, no one knows one, and few would deign to say they’d met one on the flight to Kashmir. He then recounted a surreal, but traumatic encounter with make-up wearing Taliban fighters who clacked toward him on high heels, pointing Kalashnikov rifles. Women wore the burlap sacks while their theocrat masters wore the eyeliner and spike heels, brandishing weapons and mascara as certain San Francisco dwellers are known to do. And suddenly, with a magical poof, they had disappeared into a thousand tanning salons and manicurists.

The Taliban, of course, are not gone. Instead, they fight pitch battles for control of the country with the old warlords, the very same who made the Taliban seem like a good idea in the first place. The lesson was clear. Words like “stability” are always relative terms, especially when uttered by someone who drifts to sleep to the gentle lullaby of conflagration. I feared a similar Panglossian streak had befallen Johann Hari until his recent confessional for The Independent. As it transpires, Hari has been tortured by doubt and worry, like a lapsed Catholic - he is nothing if not reflective. Hari reports that his decision to support a US invasion was consolidated in Kerbala in 2002, where he witnessed some of the bizarre cruelty of Saddam’s power. (I recall him telling an ITV news magazine show that he had known Iraqis who were ready to commit suicide if the war didn't come soon. I hope he knew a few who now no longer have that choice.) Having formerly believed that Bush was on the imperial road to Damascus, paved with malign intent, he now believed that liberation worked in mysterious ways. Whatever the motives, war would bring peace, and occupation would bring emancipation. Come 2004, the citizens of Kerbala are hearkening to a new redemption song. Armed and blessed, the Shi’ites of Iraq are belatedly giving Bush his devoutly wished for uprisings. Hari is aghast. The exact same square in which he had been touched by epiphany is now the scene of riot. The level of security and welfare is just south of that in Beirut during the wild heyday of Israeli expansionism.

Johann Hari: Glum.

Hari confesses his doubts to some Iraqi friends, ex-pats working for the Iraqi Prospect Group . One of them, a “feisty” lass, admits to similar feelings but cheerfully dispenses a pat formula for Hari to put in his column. You see, supporting the invasion doesn’t necessitate support for every US concoction and confection in Iraq. It has been, says Hari’s friend, an ABC in how to breed terrorists. One may be angered, depressed, appalled by what the United States has done to Iraq since emancipation yet still support the invasive surgery that cut out the cancer. Since the Iraqi Prospect Organisation was, according to Hari, "set up to convince the world that the Iraqi people wanted and needed Saddam's regime to be overthrown, even if that meant an invasion" and to "persuade people that the anti-war movement did not speak for the Iraqis or Kurdish people" it is not difficult to sympathise with this ideological gesture.

Would that it was so simple. Unfortunately for the imperialist internationalists of the liberal press, the consequences of this invasion were predictable to all but the congenitally purblind. The uneasy separation of motive from outcome, which Hari blithely assumes in theory, is inoperable in practise. Hari is disgusted by the extremist neo-liberalism being imposed on Iraq – the same, he notes, which has decimated much of Latin America and Africa. But did not the aggressors announce this intention quite plainly (hidden in plain view, as it were)? Hari is depressed by tales of US brutality in Iraq – should he really be cheering this on? He would like to say he doesn’t have to, but I’m afraid it is a well-established hallmark of imperial occupiers that they exert brutal authority over conquered territory if the population is not sufficiently compliant. These lessons were available in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia – the crucial difference being that there hasn’t been much of a resistance of any kind to the occupiers in these countries. Hari’s favoured outcome of a peaceful, post-war Iraq depends on Iraqi servitude.

Stay In Line, Motherfuckers.

Hari then stuns us with some “facts” which he hopes will save him from absurdity. No chance. He cites a claim from the Human Rights Centre in Khadimiyah that Saddam Hussein would have killed 70,000 people in Iraq over the next year if he had remained in power. They’ve found documents, you see. And since the occupiers have not managed to kill a total of 70,000 people over the last year, lives have been saved. Apparently, Saddam sat in his palaces, surrounded by courtiers, and with evil cackling crossed out names from the census. Further, extensive records were kept on who was to be murdered this year. We're in doubting mode, and strange to relate, I doubt Hussein’s murderous state catalogued its own sins, much less recorded exact figures for intended killings over the next year. I further doubt that if this figure is a statistical projection it has anything beyond speculative validity. I'm not saying that 70,000 is above Saddam's touch. But it would seem to contradict a trend toward diminishing human rights violations noted by Human Rights Watch recently. And it would certainly be a conspicuous jump on the previous year. (I did e-mail Johann while composing this article and asked him if there was any way of reading a first-hand report, or even an explication of these figures in some depth. He repeated that the figures had been "calculated by going through the newly opened Ba'athist archives". I had similar trouble getting answers out of John Sweeney when he made outlandish claims about Iraq's dead babies - he invited me to visit Iraq, which I took to be somewhat in the spirit of the spider inviting the fly to supper.) Still, taking the statistics at face value offers no help at all. Even if it is true, and "lives have been saved" in that dilute sense, we have yet to see what awaits us. It took a day for the US forces to kill approximately 400 in Fallujah - and the scary thing is that records are made to be broken. The trouble with utilitarianism, especially in such a heavy-handed guise, is that we are never done with consequences. The reductio ad absurdum of such a stance is the vapid phrase-mongering of Chairman Mao who, asked about the outcome of the French Revolution, said "It is too soon to tell".

Hari’s extreme utilitarianism sets him up for yet another pratfall. He reminds us of opinion polls taken in Iraq in which a majority of Iraqis say that their lives have improved since the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime. He suggests that the polls cannot be blighted by public apprehension of the coalition, forcing them to attenuate their criticisms of the new imperial masters because, after all, they do say a lot of bad things about the coalition. It would be odd if conditions didn’t improve somewhat upon the release of strangling sanctions. And, it is true that colonial despotism is more liberal than Ba’athist tyranny - sometimes. These axiomatic truths, Hari says, ought to be confronted by the anti-war Left. Of the former one need only say that it is over a decade too late. Of the latter, one is inclined to wonder if Iraqis might not have been better placed to liberate themselves in more propitious circumstances had the US not blocked their insurgency in 1991, then subjected them to a genocidal sanctions regime (quite on purpose, as DIA documents reveal).


Hari says that only 15% of Iraqis support an immediate end to the occupation. Those who marched to End the Occupation Now, he says, are supported by only 15% of Iraqis. He got this little canard from Harry’s Place, where he occasionally romps. True, some Iraqis would prefer the troops to stay until June 30th, or until security is achieved. He does not mention that most Iraqis oppose the planned long-term military occupation, or that in their overwhelming numbers they say the best way to achieve security – the number one priority – is to hand over power to an elected, accountable Iraqi government. (Not the IGC which, an Iraqi tells me, is “rotten to the bore” with corrupt nonentities with less credibility than Saddam Hussein, as Hari’s polls also reveal). But Hari is mistaken about the objection to polling evidence. It isn’t that Iraqis are simply afraid the answer negatively. It is that the poll involves a conditional – namely, the successful invasion and occupation of Iraq. Retrospective opinion polls are not a particularly good way to judge the merits of a war. Hari’s devout fidelity to what he selects as genuine Iraqi opinion becomes quite comical as he ends his confessional-cum-triumphal.

Most Iraqis, he says, don’t want the occupation to end right away. They do want a democratic Iraqi government. They don’t want Muqtadr. But they’d sooner not see him killed either. So, Hari tailors his opinion to fit theirs – or rather, tailors theirs to fit his. He speaks for “most Iraqis”. “Most Iraqis” speak through him. The war has generated good consequences, which over-ride the bad (“accentuate the positive!”). Motives are irrelevant. The occupation should hang in there, ride out the (desert) storm, and hand over the government to a free Iraq. Unfortunately, to draw on a meteorological metaphor, the tornado engulfing Iraq is the result of two fronts colliding. One must vanquish the other. Remaining in Iraq (indefinitely, it now seems) is unlikely to mean anything other than the annihilation of US opponents with extreme force – a fact which court ideologists like Hari must perforce avoid acknowledging. If only I had “doubts” as vanquishable as Hari’s! Like the bewitched Hansel, he takes many wonderful and frightening paths through the woods only to arrive back at the same damn gingerbread house.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

St Barham Salih

The pro-war Left's favourite apostle of intervention in Iraq is Barham Salih, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Sulaymaniyah. Nick Cohen never fails to cite him as the exemplar of international socialism and solidarity, and uses his rhetoric to condemn voices on the Left who object to the occupation of Iraq. Even the Late Christopher Hitchens exudes enthusiasm for this apparently authentic voice of resistance. I have never had much tolerance for such pretenses. The PUK, of which Barham Salih is one of the more senior spokespeople, has sold out its Kurdish comrades time and again through its filthy civil war with the KDP. Jalal Talabani, its leader, has kissed the cheek of Saddam here only to invite the Iranians in to kill his opponents there. In the mid-1990s, in fact, the Iranians were allowed to kill hundreds of their own dissident Kurds seeking refuge in northern Iraq, in return for their support in fighting the KDP.

Inconvenient facts aside, however, Salih has written an article for the Washington Post, and Harry's Place are over the moon about it.

I'll give you a flavour of some of the outlandish claims he makes (this published just yesterday, mind):

"While there is a grave and continuing terrorist threat, Iraq is not the violent disaster that naysayers depict..."

I'll let that one speak for itself.

The interim constitution "is the most liberal in the Islamic Middle East and is an achievement we can all take pride in."

Oddly enough, precisely this interim constitution has been derided as bullshit up one side and down the other by most Iraqis. It has the support of noone and the IGC will fall with its "Law of Administration" into the gutter the second US troops leave.

"More than a million Iraqi refugees have come back to their homeland, despite being told by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees that it was unsafe to do so.

The refugees have returned to a thriving economy characterized by improving services. A year into the new Iraq public health care funding is more than 25 times as much than under Hussein, and child immunization rates have risen 25 percent. The supply of drinking water has doubled..."

The figure for refugees returning to Iraq since the end of the war given by the UNHCR is 10,000 . A million is considerably above that estimate, so I'd be interested to know Salih's sources, or if he's just, well, lying his ass off in the service of the occupation with which he is colluding. The stuff about the thriving economy and health-care funding, even accounting for obvious exaggeration, would be more impressive if it weren't for the fact that sanctions have now been lifted - over a decade too late.

I won't waste your time with any more of Salih's propaganda efforts, except to quote this , also noted in Harry's Place:

"I believe that most Iraqis want the Coalition to stay. This is based on many independent polls. Regrettably, a vocal minority is able to dominate the airwaves-- it seems true that bad news sell better!"

Do you know, I was sure that the last opinion poll showed that 50.9% of Iraqis said they were opposed to the occupation of Iraq, while only 39% suported it .

So there you have it. Salih, an opportunist, a collaborator with an Iranian occupation and now a US occupation, and a propagandist of the most careless order. Right up the warniks' street, then.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Nick's comic book interpretation of Islam

One of the biggest threats to the security of the UK and the wider western world is not of a military nature. Instead it is to do with the wilful ignorance of people who should know better. That threat is ignorance, and in particular the ignorance of Islam, and the Islamic extremists that we are apparently at war with. This ignorance will no doubt hinder our efforts in the war, as it is one of the basic strategic principles that knowledge of the enemy will give you a greater chance of success. However it isn’t my intention to discuss Islamic extremists themselves here. Instead I wish suggest that our ignorance comes from the mass media constructing comic book narratives of Islam and the War on terror that are inaccurate and exclude key elements

One such example of myth making is Nick Cohen’s recent article in the new statesmen. In it Cohen argues against the idea that our terrorist

"….enemies must at some level be reasonable, too. Surely such hatred must have been provoked by the west. Surely the solution must be for western governments to stop being provocative.”

“Provocative” isn’t rather an understatement when describing western foreign policy towards Islamic countries. We have invaded and occupied Iraq after previously killing over a million people with sanctions. All to overthrow a regime we installed in the first place. We have supplied massive quantities of arms to Saudi Arabia – an authoritarian monarchy with a terrible human rights record. We have also placed military bases in the country considered most holy to Muslims. We have given Israel military equipment and refused to condemn its human rights abuses. We have overthrown governments and installed dictatorships across the region. I think “provocative” is an understatement of western actions, and that our policies might just have a little something to do with the anger felt towards us.

Instead Cohen argues that this belief:

“… in a rational motive is an illusion. To sustain the rationalist fallacy, you must ignore vast amounts of evidence. In the Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan and Algeria, millions have died in Islamist wars and massacres that make Srebrenica and the World Trade Center appear paltry affairs. Islamist movements dedicated to persecuting Muslims who believe in the separation of church and state or the emancipation of women are not rational on any terms but their own. This seems a simple point to make. If you pay al-Qaeda and its imitators the compliment of reading what their leaders say, you find a cosmic dream of an Islamic empire dominating the world.”

So instead we in the west are facing an evil villain bent on world domnination, just like in comic books and cartoons, but never fear here is Super George and his sidekick Poodle Tony to save the day. Is it not possible that Cohen’s comic book view of the world is a tad simplistic? It’s certainly true that many across the Arab world would love to see a Pan –Arab state, its perhaps the equivalent of holding the view that a federal Europe would be a good thing. Furthermore whilst the commitment to human rights and the emancipation of women isn’t something high on the agenda of Islamic terrorists, one can hardly say the west has placed these things high on its agenda with regards to its policy towards the Middle East and central Asia. Secondly Cohen’s attempt at blaming the massacres of these wars on Islamic fascism its laughable to say the least. If he were to do even basic research he would find the causes of these wars were cold-war proxy battles, colonial liberation wars, or even the cliché of “tribal” violence.

Cohen goes on to further explain that the Islamic extremists motive is not just the pan Islamic empire, but also that “Islamo-fascism” is also motivated by an irrational belief in anti-semitic conspiracy theories, a belief in the evil powers of freemasonry (allied to the Jews) and that these groups are preventing god’s chosen people (Muslims) from achieving their religious utopia. He then quotes several historians who point out that such conspiracy theories were widely held by European Fascists. Cohen continues:

“I am not arguing that Islamism and Ba'athism are simple replicas of European thinking in the 1930s, however tightly they have embraced fascist ideas. History never repeats itself perfectly. But after what Europe has been through in the 20th century, Europeans ought to be able to diagnose the disease.”

In other words these terrorists are simply mad conspiracy theorists who are fascists, and presumably should be ignored as their motives have nothing to do with western policy. They are merely just cranks who obviously no genuine grievance. It’s certainly true of a few individuals in the movement, but can it really be the case that anyone in the Muslim world with a grievance is just being paranoid? Also notice how Cohen manages to place Ba’athism and Islamism together, still desperate to link the invasion of Iraq with the “war on terrorism” eh Nick ;-).

The linkage of Islamism and Fascism is tenuous at best. So a few individuals are paranoid conspiracy theorists. One can also add some members of the Christian right in the US, the militia movements and Richard Nixon to this group influenced by European Fascism. Perhaps Cohen is suggesting that all conspiracy theorists are influenced by fascism as well. Now I know that we on the left do tend to over-use the term Fascism to describe those holding ideas we disagree with, but Cohen takes such over-use to the absurd using this logic. Perhaps Cohen would think I’m a fascist too for once reading a book on CIA covert operations (Killing Hope by William Blum if you’re interested).

In actuality “conspiracy theorists” are to be found throughout every political Ideology They are a very diverse group of people, as anyone who spent an hour searching for “conspiracy theories” on Google would find out.

Now I’m not suggesting that all Islamic terrorism is a rational response motivated by genuine grievances, in fact I think generalisation of the movement itself is dangerous. However I’m noting that Cohen seems to be excluding the mere possibility that Islamic terrorism might have something to do with the genuine grievances Muslims have. He fails to explore the many different aspects of Islam itself, the many different groupings in the region and the many interpretations of Islam. Instead he opts for the simplistic notion that Islamic terrorists are mad fascists who we shouldn’t listen too.

If ever there was a more ignorant or stupid thing to do it would be dismiss the motives of Islamic Terrorists as irrational. The reality is that Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion, and the military balance of power has changed. Its now easier for non-state actors to engage in warfare, what we call terrorism, and the technology of war is more deadly than ever. If we are to survive the 21st century we are going to have to move beyond comic book and cartoon narratives of war.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Analysis: A Liberal Definition

The Guardian for 6 April includes an “analysis” by Sir Timothy Garden, who is the 2004 Wells professor at Indiana University and a former assistant chief of the UK defence staff. “Coalition forces fight a losing battle to win the peace” contains a number of remarkable ideas about the situation in Iraq. The title itself seems under the impression that peace has broken out there, and in the first paragraph Professor Garden writes that the troops are “trying to bring peace”, as though the war were of anyone's making but our own.

In the second paragraph, Professor Garden writes:

“Politicians and the public expect armed forces to solve the security problem in any trouble spot.”

Professor Garden's acquaintances among politicians and the public must be rather naïve. Armed forces are generally expected to obey their orders. Whether those orders include “bringing peace” or sowing mayhem is up to the politicians who originate them. This elementary fact somewhat vitiates Professor Garden's next point:

“armies can do no more than attempt to hold the ring until there is a political settlement.”

Again, this may be news to Professor Garden, but armies do not wait passively until a political settlement descends, like summer lightning, out of the infinite blue. Armies are one of the ways in which politicians impose their will on people. “Political settlement” is politicians’ jargon for a success in this amusing hobby, and Professor Garden, having worked in the UK Ministry of Peace, surely ought to know this.

In the next paragraph, we read that

“Few seem clear on the process by which the administration will gain legitimacy”

The reasons for this lack of clarity could do with some analysis, not least in the Guardian’s own leaders, where the assault on Iraq is routinely described as “unwise” (the choice for 6 April) or with some similarly anodyne synonym. It’s been said so many times already, but apparently it bears repeating: The main reason why the process of legitimation in Iraq is unclear is that the present administration in Iraq is the result of an illegal military assault. It is always rather difficult for an illegal administration to gain legitimacy, since lack of legitimacy is the very definition of illegality. You can’t run a country legally when you haven’t a leg to stand on.

“Attacks from residual Saddam loyalists have been more sustained and effective than predicted,” mourns the professor. This seems to imply that all the attacks on the occupying forces in Iraq have been by “residual Saddam loyalists”. If that is what he meant, I wonder how he knows. If it is not what he meant, I wonder which attacks have not, in his opinion, been by “residual Saddam loyalists” and how he accounts for them. One hears a good deal these days about the villainous machinations of militant Iraqi clerics, such as Muqtada al-Sadr – hardly the kind of people who are likely to resent the coalition for removing Saddam Hussein. It seems just possible that some Iraqis may resent us for one or two other things, like starved families and depleted uranium; but Professor Garden has more important matters to discuss. The Allied forces are in a difficult position:

“They must help the ordinary Iraqis to feel safe. But they need to protect themselves, and take on the attackers.”

Well, after all, it’s hardly our fault if, having been bombed, starved, bombed again and invaded by those same Allied forces, the ordinary Iraqis are too stupid to feel safe in their presence. Of course, the Iraqis have been rescued at last from that evil tyrant whom we propped up through the 1980s; but it seems that this also is too subtle a blessing for the poor things to understand.

As so often, though, life’s little ironies can have unpleasant consequences:

“If the insurgency provokes the coalition forces, then the steady progress to a peaceful democracy in Iraq will be halted.”

That would certainly be too bad. It could have been worse still – for instance, if any steady progress to a peaceful democracy had been detectable there in the first place. It would be interesting to learn why the good Professor writes in terms of the insurgency provoking the coalition, rather than the presence of a foreign invader provoking the insurgency. The answer to that, it seems, is only a couple of paragraphs down:

“As with much of recent Iraqi history, it is easy to say how it could have been done better.”

This is certainly true. “Don’t do it at all” is so easy to say that most of the world managed to say it, one way or another, before the invasion even started. “Get out” is just as easy to say, and doesn’t take half as long. The difficult part in both cases is in inducing the Ministry of Peace to pay attention.

Professor Garden's final paragraph is a wonderful farrago of evasion and euphemism. “With each twist of the spiral, it becomes more difficult to be optimistic for the future” – notice that lovely abstract phrasing, as though the occupation and its consequences were somehow out of human hands. “The military will do their best to keep a window open for the diplomats” – see above, under “holding the ring”. The final sentence, “[A]ny withdrawal in the middle of the year would ensure that the current guerrilla actions turn into civil war” quietly exonerates the US/UK forces from any responsibility for the violence their presence provokes, and simultaneously provides an excuse for them to stay.

And that’s what the Guardian calls “analysis”.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Christopher Hitchens' "Existential Despair".

In a rather foolish and self-flattering article for the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal the Late Christopher Hitchens makes interesting meat of the Fallujah atrocities. Yes, these pictures are "Dantesque", but after all, "a broken and maimed and traumatized Iraq was in our future no matter what", because of the way that Saddam and his regime had been "playing off tribe against tribe, Arab against Kurd and Sunni against Shiite", thus preparing the way for "a Hobbesian state of affairs". (The language of Hobbes in this context is rather revealing, since that is exactly the language of neocons like Robert Kagan who like to pretend that the US is the vanguard of order in a disorderly world. Does Hitchens now believe this?)

And Hitchens plays seer:

"[W]ho knows what the death-throes of the regime would have been like? We are entitled, on past experience, to guess. There could have been deliberate conflagrations started in the oilfields. There might have been suicidal lunges into adjacent countries. The place would certainly have become a playground for every kind of nihilist and fundamentalist. The intellectual and professional classes, already gravely attenuated, would have been liquidated entirely."

Hitchens: "I'll Kick Saddam's Fucking Teeth In".

Who indeed knows, Christopher? Who besides Hitchens would have the chutzpah to bewail the conditions of an imaginary future (apparently unavoidable except through war) which already exist in the present, thanks to the war? Hitchens also has a complaint about the fact that we may no longer cite WMDs as a valid pre-war concern:

"Prescience, though, has now become almost punishable ... Given Saddam's record in both using and concealing weapons of mass destruction, and given his complicity--at least according to Mr. Clarke--with those who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 and with those running Osama bin Laden's alleged poison factory in Sudan, any president who did not ask about a potential Baathist link to terrorism would be impeachably failing in his duty."

The point would be more impressive if all Bush had done was ask relevant questions. But the administration did not simply ask. They concocted, they confected, the colluded in a miasma of deception and exaggeration. They bluntly stated what they knew to be fiction:

"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
Dick Cheney, Speech to VFW National Convention, August 26, 2002.

"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
George W. Bush, Address to the Nation, March 17, 2003

"We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."
Donald Rumsfeld, ABC Interview, March 30, 2003.

Rumsfeld: "I Asked Him, 'Is That A WMD In Your Pocket, or Are You Just Pleased to See Me?"

"I'm not surprised if we begin to uncover the weapons program of Saddam Hussein -- because he had a weapons program."
George W. Bush, Remarks to Reporters, May 6, 2003.

(All quotations owed to Billmon .

Hitchens avers:

"It's becoming more and more plain that the moral high ground is held by those who concluded, from the events of 1991, that it was a mistake to leave Saddam Hussein in power after his eviction from Kuwait."

Indeed, siezing "the moral high ground" has proven something of an obsession for Hitchens as neophytic imperialist. (Ever since the Blumenthal fiasco, in fact). But I wonder if Hitchens seriously expects educated readers (which obviously doesn't include the bulk of WSJ readers) to accept that the decision to leave Saddam in power was simply a "mistake"? Could it have been related to the fact that the US preferred an Iraq that was united under Saddam as a counter-weight to Iran to a perhaps federated Iraq with a pro-Iranian government? Isn't this the reason why the US government acted so swiftly to thwart an uprising it appeared to have triggered? Why, for example, General Schwarzkopf allowed Iraq to fly helicopter gunships in areas with no coalition forces, effectively freeing them up to crush the uprising. And General Sir Peter de la Billiere obviously understood this when he said:

"The Iraqis were responsible for establishing law and order. You could not administer the country without using the helicopters." (Ibid.)

John Major put the matter even more succinctly:

"I don't recall asking the Kurds to mount this particular insurrection. We hope very much that the military in Iraq will remove Saddam Hussein."(John Major on ITN, 4 April 1991)

Or, as General Brent Scowcroft had it:

"We clearly would have preferred a coup. There's no question about that." (Interview on ABC news 26 June 1997 quoted in Sarah Graham-Brown, Sanctioning Saddam. The Politics of Intervention in Iraq (London: I.B. Tauris,1999), p. 19.).

Hitchens is on even better form when defending the neocons, somewhat recycling the line Anne Clwyd tried some days ago:

"People like Paul Wolfowitz are even more sinister than their mocking foes believe. They were against Saddam Hussein not just in September 2001 but as far back as the 1980s."

If this is so, perhaps Hitchens would care to explain why Rumsfeld was busy shaking Saddam Hussein's hand? Why Richard Perle as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reagan between 1981 and 1987 offered no rebuke to the flagrant support for Saddam's atrocities? Or why Paul Wolfowitz himself was busy assisting a tyrant with perhaps an even worse record than Saddam Hussein in Indonesia? If mass murder and oppression really is his concern, I mean?

Instead of pondering the transparent (if not lucid) problems of his own position, Hitchens would rather throw some questions at the antiwar movement:

"I debate with the opponents of the Iraq intervention almost every day. I always have the same questions for them, which never seem to get answered. Do you believe that a confrontation with Saddam Hussein's regime was inevitable or not? Do you believe that a confrontation with an Uday/Qusay regime would have been better? Do you know that Saddam's envoys were trying to buy a weapons production line off the shelf from North Korea (vide the Kay report) as late as last March? Why do you think Saddam offered "succor" (Mr. Clarke's word) to the man most wanted in the 1993 bombings in New York? Would you have been in favor of lifting the "no fly zones" over northern and southern Iraq; a 10-year prolongation of the original "Gulf War"? Were you content to have Kurdish and Shiite resistance fighters do all the fighting for us? Do you think that the timing of a confrontation should have been left, as it was in the past, for Baghdad to choose?"

Very well. The answer to the first question is no. The second question is therefore rendered null. The answer to the third question is that I did know this and, oddly enough, it has absolutely nothing to add to the American case. The apparent story is that Saddam wanted to build North Korea's missiles for them - but the North Koreans stiffed him. The only remaining mystery to be cleaned up is how such a production facility could have possibly avoided detection by American sattelites? The answer to the next question is that I can't possibly say, although I'm sure that neoconservatives like former CIA director James Woolsey and Laura Mylroie of the American Enterprise Insititute are in no way ideologically motivated when they attempt to attach Saddam Hussein to this attack. In answer to the question of no-fly zones, I don't see what difference it would have made. They had become all but irrelevant in southern Iraq following the US backed suppression of the Shi'a uprising, and in the North following repeated incursions by both Turkish forces and Saddam Hussein's army (invited in by Barzani's Kurdish faction). As to our contentedness with allowing Shi'ite and Kurdish forces to "do all the fighting for us", I don't know how much worse this would be to have them do all the fighting against "us". Indeed, many Shi'ites now longer have that choice because "we" have slaughtered them and their families while wrecking their country through sanctions and war. The last question presumes a positive answer to question number one, which I have already declined to give.

So, answering him thus, what might he reply?

"I hope I do not misrepresent my opponents, but their general view seems to be that Iraq was an elective target ... This ahistorical opinion makes it appear that Saddam Hussein was a new enemy, somehow chosen by shady elements within the Bush administration, instead of one of the longest-standing foes with which the United States, and indeed the international community, was faced."

And let us give Hitchens some merit here. It is, of course, not the case that Hussein suddenly became an enemy in 2001. No, that happened in 1990. But the circumstances of the choice to wage war are revealing in that respect. The Project for the New American Century, a far right think-tank for whom Hitchens may consider writing some time, was screaming for an invasion as far back as 1998. Indeed, the first thing Donald Rumsfeld, a signatory to the PNAC, did when confronted with the destruction of New York and the Pentagon was to exploit it for such political capital:

" ... best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. at the same time, not just UBL ... Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not."

Irony abounds at Hitchens' expense. Hussein had indeed been a chosen target of neoconservatives for some time, and they were content to usurp the agony of 9/11 to accomplish their geo-strategic goals. It was, in other words, "an elective target".

And Hitchens finishes with the sort of depraved casuistry he is always so eager to spot in his opponents:

"Fallujah is a reminder, not just of what Saddamism looks like, or of what the future might look like if we fail, but of what the future held before the Coalition took a hand."

Hitchens could do with a drink and a reminder that this is what the present looks like under conditions of apparent success. It is a direct result of a successful war, which ended with the successful over-running of an entire country, the appropriation of its political command and its economy. This was not an inevitable future, as he alleges, but a fact of life under the occupation. "Credit belongs", Hitchens suggests, to those who "accepted ... this long-term responsibility". Indeed, those who shoulder the white man's burden do "veil the threat of terror" even when "sloth and heathen Folly/ bring all your hopes to nought". They do "reap his old reward:/ The blame of those ye better,/ The hate of those ye guard". Credit to them, indeed. Credit them with Fallujah, with Baghdad and Najaf . Credit them with ten thousand ghosts . Credit them with a cluster of atrocities here, and a rifle of killings there. Why not, indeed. Credulous where it's due.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

The Unbearable Liteness of Being An Idiot.

I Can't Believe It's Not Imperialism!

Not without justice, you might think, Michael Ignatieff dubs America an “Empire Lite” in his eponymous book on the theme of humanitarian intervention. True, it has no colonies, no Raj, no satraps and no armies breaking open markets (well, leave the last one to linger). But, it does exercise global domination of unprecedented scale through its economic and military power, strictly ordering the international division of labour in its own image. It exercises regulative rather than constitutive power, determining the destiny of nations from afar but without the burdens associated with imperial tutelage. Now, for Ignatieff, this is no rebuke. He claims he has no interest in the use of the term ‘empire’ as an epithet, but only as a descriptive term enabling a sensible discussion of American power and its limits. The key question, he avers, “is whether empire lite is enough to get the job done”. Precisely what that “job” is becomes apparent in the rest of the book. (Introduction, Page 3).

Lite Headed.

Focussing on three fronts of American power – namely Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan – Ignatieff seeks to draw out some of the ways in which a modern empire, even one in denial as America is, is compelled to dispose of its power for the general good. His style is that of reportage, getting down on the ground and talking to the people who make it all happen. So, in Kosovo he has a chat with Bernard Kouchner, the former head of Medicin Sans Frontiere, and current proconsul to the region. He acts, Ignatieff reports, as an imperial governor, quelling disputes here, banning newspapers there when they threaten a revival of ethnic tensions, trying "to create political trust where none exists; to create democracy where none has ever taken root before”. (Page 72). Kouchner’s history as a soixant-huitard and then as a Socialist Party man as discussed perfunctorily. His courtship of the media is considered as an extension of his humanitarian work, while his work for the state is treated in light of his doctrine that humanitarianism cannot be divorced from politics and government.

A heroically sympathetic treatment of Kouchner as a humanitarian functions as a displacement for actually discussing the empirical imperial reasoning behind the Kosovo intervention, and the actuality of the occupation in Kosovo, which is only discussed in apologetic terms. Yes, there are problems but, as Kouchner complains, the media are only interested in failure. (Page 75). If everything were working fine, there would be no cameras in Kosovo. Indeed, the thought that simply asking the “imperial governor” for his opinion on the matter might not provide the most balanced or insightful view of the situation hardly seems to have occurred to Ignatieff. The reason for this is not mysterious. Ignatieff was one of the most passionately exercised liberals in favour of that particular intervention, and presumably has no particular desire to depict it as having led to a dysfunctional hotbed of nationalism, ethnic cleansing, corruption, child prostitution, and racist murder. Indeed, Ignatieff simply takes the Nato case for granted. The Nato bombardment "stopped Milosevic" and put a halt to his ethnic cleansing, even if the facts say otherwise. (Page 52). It was "the use of imperial power to support a self-determination claim by a national minority". (Pages 70-1).

Never mind. Kouchner "is a doctor, an MD, and in this case, his patient is a rugged, south Balkan province the size of Connecticut that remains on life support a year after the Nato intervention". Yes, Ignatieff really does write like this. And yes, the comparison with Connecticut really is for an American audience. According to Ignatieff, Kouchner has done a creditable job under the auspices of the UN. They have provided "shelter" for returning refugees, established a national currency (the Deutschmark) and restarted the schools. (Quite whether this reflects at all well on Nato and the occupying powers is another matter. At the end of the war, the World Bank assessed the damage to Kosovo as being worth $1.2bn . The bulk of this is almost certainly urban damage to housing and schools caused by bombing.) Where the occupation has failed has been in exactly that area in which it has exerted most energy, and in which it's primary justification has lain - getting "Kosovars to live with the remaining Serbs", a "significant embarrassment". (Page 51).

Kouchner Loves Up The Media.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Ignatieff's segment on Bosnia acknowledges what he later seems to deny - that Nato intervention in Yugoslavia has "always been an imperial project" attempting to "integrate the Balkan peninsula - eventually - into the architecture of Europe, and, in the meantime, to reduce the flow of its three major exports: crime, refugees and drugs". (Page 32). Now, this explanation may seem much more compelling than those offered by Western spokespeople at the time, but it also omits the major explanation offered by Clinton for the Kosovo venture - Nato's "credibility". In fact, what Ignatieff does instead is expend several pages relating the story of a bridge being built in Mostar. It's sort of a symbol, if you like, for the attempt to build a bridge "between Croats and Muslims, a bridge between the internationals and the locals, and a bridge between the Muslim world and Europe". (Page 38). Its rebuilding will give Bosnia the "happy ending" it needs. (Page 39). Ignatieff doesn't go into much detail on the order of Bosnian rule, merely mentioning the threat of corruption here, the intervention of a "viceroy" there. There is no sustained analysis to speak of, merely impressionistic detail woven into a narrative of tedious detail and worthless prose. Consider this passage, where Michael talks to the French architect seeking to rebuild the bridge:

"So, I say, gesturing at all the loose stone gathered on the river bank below the bridge, you were going to put these back up exactly where they were? Pequeux looks disappointed. I have clearly understood nothing at all. 'We are not going to use the old stones. It's not going to be the old bridge. It's going to be a new bridge.'
'A new old bridge', I venture."
(Page 42).

Comment is superfluous.

Mostar Bridge Before Its Destruction.

In Ignatieff's prose, deadpan observations pass for wit, platitudes pass for solemn vows, impressionism passes for insight. And that, literally, is the height of his narrative on Bosnia. For the truly curious, I suggest David Chandler's book Faking Democracy After Dayton.

Afghanistan: "Be Allah you can be".

The warlords may run huge swathes of Afghanistan as their own private fiefdom, and commit multiple acts of brutality but they "don't threaten the cohesion of Afghanistan as a nation. They don't threaten its existence as a state". (Page 83). But, according to Weber's definition, a state exerts hegemony over a specified territory by virtue of its monopoly of violence. "By that rule of thumb, there hasn't been a state in Afghanistan since the Soviet Union invaded in 1979 and the war of resistance began", and therefore the answer is to get "the guns out of the warlords' hands" and open up "space for political competition free of violence". (Pages 83-4). This won't happen as long as America is shoving money into the warlords' hands, but that doesn't detain Ignatieff. The trouble, as far as he is concerned, is that there aren't enough US troops in Afghanistan. "Imperial presence is the glue that holds Afghan deals together, but there is precious little of it to go around. Bosnia, which would easily fit into a couple of Afghanistan's thirty provinces, has 18,000 peacekeepers" while Afghanistan has none outside of Kabul. (Page 88).

The natives are insufficiently terrified, Ignatieff notes. "Nation-building lite looks too lite in Mazar to be credible for long. Authority relies on awe as much as one force, and where awe is missing, as it was in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993, Americans die." What a lament! "The British imperialists understood the power of awe", he complains. The only thing that "keeps the peace" in Afghanistan now is "the timeliness and destructiveness of American airpower". (Page 89). Aside from the ugly racism of the remark about Mogadishu (thousands of Somali deaths merit no comment), the ideological service this provides is unmistakeable. The trouble isn't too much bombing, but not enough bombing! The problem is that America will not provide "the illusion of permanence" so central to the survival of an empire. (Page 90).

Washington ought to "help Karzai, and the only help that counts in Afghanistan is troops", Ignatieff says. (Page 92). Interestingly enough, Karzai has had a few words himself to say on what "help" would count in Afghanistan. $27.5 billion would help , especially as "the country [is] still largely in ruins and plagued by a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency and militias run by regional warlords responsible for a worsening opium cultivation problem." Naturally, little help of the kind requested has been forthcoming. Plenty of American money is going to Afghan warlords , the kind Ignatieff thinks America is insufficiently terrorising.

Naturally enough, there is little analysis of worth in Ignatieff's discussion. Once again, it's all about chats he has had with this or that diplomat, things he has seen, a few significant details from aid organisations. But the fundamental assumptions of the book come out in the course of discussion. For example:

"Imperialism used to be the white man's burden. This gave it a bad reputation. But imperialism doesn't stop being necessary just because it becomes politically incorrect ... Nation-building is the kind of imperialism you get in the human rights era, a time when great powers believe simultaneously in the right of small nations to govern themselves and in their right to rule the world." (Page 106).

Perhaps there were other grounds for objecting to imperialism other than the racist modes of legitimation that went with it? And, Ignatieff's condescdending attitudes to the locals suggests that racism is not entirely gone from our lexicon:

"It would be too much to say that the brickmaker wants us infidels here, exactly, but I would venture that he knows he needs us..." (Page 108).

Who "us" is merits some thought. Ignatieff, posing as something of an intellectual, a daring liberal willing to stand apart from the government and challenge its insufficient dedication to the causes it espouses, in fact identifies with that state to the core. His vulgar apologetics for imperial hypocrisy crystallises the point somewhat:

"The fact that empires cannot always practise what they preach does not mean they do not believe what they preach ... Those who regard imperial attachment to human rights as entirely cynical might ask themselves what price consistency?" (Page 111).

Anyone with half an education could, with time and effort, compose an encyclopedia of examples in which it would be devastatingly simple for the US government (or other imperial forces) to honour stated commitments to human rights. Namely by not colluding with the terror. Say, if the US withdrew its present support for Colombian right-wing militias, or if it had not colluded with the Turkish regime as it bludgeoned the Kurds in the South. Or perhaps if Britain had not provided Suharto with a great list of names to start his killing machine. Just off the top of my head. But this does not matter. Those examples would surely, in the mind of an Ignatieff, be constructed as "liberal good intentions", as in the case of the Vietnam war:

"What defeated the Americans in Vietnam, among many other things, was a failure to understand that liberal good intentions, even when equipped with helicopter gunships, are no match for the aroused power of modern nationalism ... Vietnam was a titanic clash between two nation-building strategies, the Americans in support of the South Vietnamese versus the Communists in the north." (Page 117).

"Liberal Good Intentions".

Delay for a second your automatic internal dialogue. The cognitive dissonance between your knowledge of basic fact and this offensive bit of fiction is understandable, but stay it for a while. Think of fluffy clouds, and deer skipping over a brook. Think of sea gulls larking about over the rocks and cliffs. Think bunny rabbits, chocolates and Valentine Cards. Calmer now? I want you to take Michael Ignatieff for his word. I want you to learn this lesson once and for all, and don't you ever forget it:

"Liberal good intentions" means mass murder.

It's official now. Ignatieff may have failed to write an single intelligent sentence in this book. He may have made unconscious mockery of his own case. And he may have been disgustingly racist in the process. But he has unwittingly made plain what only a few radicals and Marxists have hitherto suspected. For this, at least, I shall forever cherish his tawdry little polemic. Dog-eared, rambling, depositing nuggets of shit everywhere, it truly is man's best friend.