Monday, April 17, 2006

A Curious Manifesto

Lot's of interesting stuff to be found over at Pickled Politics today. There seems to be lots of discussion going on about this Euston Manifesto thing and the schism which the Iraq war caused among "the left".

I agree with Sunni's conclusion.
My suggestion: let’s not assume all the pro-war types want to drag us into the neo-con agenda, while also agreeing not all of those on the other side of the fence have en-masse befriended Hizb ut-Tahrir types.
I try to avoid the first. Not sure how well I do at it but I do try. (Jarndyce is who you want for a considered "pro-war" view.)

Reading the Manifesto, as well as any number of blog posts and other "decent left" opinions, it seems to me that there is a general attempt to promote the idea of the second. As Mike Marqusee put it:
In the first place, there's the dishonesty of treating the Socialist Workers' party and Respect as the totality of the left or the anti-war movement. One of the problems with the "line" they wish to draw is that it obliterates the existence of much of the actual left: which is diverse and predominantly anti-authoritarian.
It's easy, by definition, easy to attack a straw man and this is the big one of the "pro-war left". From where I sit, as one of those people who has been obliterated out of existence, this is indeed dishonest. It seems to me that David Aaranovitch, Nick Cohen, Harry Hatchet and company must be aware that the views they so lovingly mock are minority opinions and are not broadly representative of "anti-war" sentiments in this country. For me, it's hard to avoid the impression that they are only too aware that their arguments are weak and that they deliberately put them up against the weakest minority opinions they can find in order to give their own position a tiny hint of respectability. Perhaps I'm wrong but that's the impression I get. It irks me slightly if truth be told.

Marqusee raises another point which has been seized on with some glee by pro-war commenters.
Huge numbers of people found no difficulty in opposing the war and the regime of Saddam Hussein...
This is true. Count me in.

In one comment to the post, a Mr/Mrs Sledge replies:
Objectively speaking, by opposing regime-change, the Left was an enabler and abbettor of Saddam and his crimes.
This is a somewhat extreme version of a popular view. It the whole comfort of inaction thing. A more mainstream version would be something like "it's all very well to say you opposed military action but you must accept that Saddam would still be in power without it." This is also true. But if you substitute other oppressive regimes, it all goes a bit silly as an argument in support of a particular plan of military action.
It's all very well to say you oppose military action against North Korea but you must accept that Kim Jong-il would still be in power without it.
So, anyone who opposes a poorly thought out military attack on North Korea is a de facto supporter of the eccentric maniac? I think not. Or what about:
It's all very well to say you oppose military action against Uzbekistan but you must accept that Karimov would still be in power without it.
In Uzbekistan, of course, the situation is muddied by the fact that the US and UK government actually were, until very recently, enablers and abbettors of the crimes of a brutal torturing tyrant. That aside, there seems to be very little in the way of calls to arms coming from the "decent left" when it comes to Karimov's regime.

The point is that you can support regime change, as I'm sure many people do in relation to North Korea, without supporting an extremely dangerous, badly planned and badly executed military adventure. This position has been summarized as the "not this war now" position. My feeling is that this is the majority opinion of those who opposed the war.

I'd certainly have supported a considered and competant international plan to free the Iraqi people from Saddam. But I did not support a devisive, poorly conceived rush to war when there was quite clearly no plan for peace. I did not support the bullying, bribing and threatening of other members of the international community in an attempt to build a "coalition of the willing". I did not support an aggressive unilateral action which severely damaged relationships within the international community and which set a dangerous precedent for future unilateral actions which we might not be at all keen on. And I did not support the idea that the military action was motivated primarily by considerations of what was best for the Iraqi people.

Sunny, in a comment to the PP post, hits the nail on the head.
Three years on from the war I’m even more convinced that those who wanted it most cared for the Iraqis least.
I fully agree. Some people might genuinely believe that Rumsfeld, to take a prime example, has finally discovered his conscience. For most people though, I'll wager that the very idea is laughable. I'm not denying that some people supported the war because they thought (indeed still think) it would inprove the lives of Iraqis. I am denying that is was a major factor in the minds of the decision makers who ordered the attack. This fact, sadly, always meant that the Iraqi people were nothing less than a pawn in a much larger geo-political game. Pawns sometimes do become queens. More often, however, they are sacrificed for the "greater good".

Blair, to give him his due, may have been more concerned about the welfare of Iraqis than many in the US administration. He, in his January 2003 conversation with Bush, discussed post-Saddam Iraq.
"As for the future government of Iraq, people would find it very odd if we handed it over to another dictator," the prime minister is quoted as saying. "Bush agreed," Mr. Manning wrote.
Is it possible that this was the first conversation the two men had had about what shape a new Iraqi government might take? The tone of the memo would suggest that it was. Was the whole democratisation thing nothing more than an afterthought? Almost certainly for the Bush administration. but perhaps less so for Blair.

The memo goes on to reveal more about the fateful conversation.
The two men briefly discussed plans for a post-Hussein Iraqi government. "The prime minister asked about aftermath planning," the memo says. "Condi Rice said that a great deal of work was now in hand.

Referring to the Defense Department, it said: "A planning cell in D.O.D. was looking at all aspects and would deploy to Iraq to direct operations as soon as the military action was over. Bush said that a great deal of detailed planning had been done on supplying the Iraqi people with food and medicine."

The leaders then looked beyond the war, imagining the transition from Mr. Hussein's rule to a new government. Immediately after the war, a military occupation would be put in place for an unknown period of time, the president was described as saying. He spoke of the "dilemma of managing the transition to the civil administration," the memo says.
Blair, we know, had been advised that the same US administration was woefully misinformed about what would happen after the fall of Saddam. How sad then that he still gave the President an open-ended commitment which effectively gave away any chance he might have had to have a positive influence of the situation on the ground. From a purely pragmatic point of view, this might have been the biggest mistake Blair made in this whole sorry tale. He could, possibly, have used British involvement as the bait with which to lure Bush into a more sensible policy. We'll never know about that now though.

But to hear Blair, now, talk as if this whole adventure was motivated exclusively by what was best for Iraqis just makes me want to puke. You cannot disassociate yourself from the actions of your allies (warning: graphic images) if you've given them a free hand to operate as they please.

For me, the arguments about British involvement in the Iraq war are not about intervention versus inaction. The argument is about incompetance versus competance. It is about holding to account a leader who did not take the time to fully understand the likely consequences of an action before agreeing to take part in it. And it is about the futility of attempting to build a moral action on a foundation of lies. Until those who have displayed such unforgivable incompetance and dishonesty have been brought to account, there can be no moving on in British politics.

Perhaps "the left" does have to have a debate about the nature of humanitarian intervention and the promotion of human rights in the 21st Century. In fact, I'm fairly sure it does. Let's not pretend that the Iraq war was motivated by those concerns though. You might have supported it for that reason but that was never what it was about.

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