All about oil?

by Chris Bertram on August 2, 2004

There’s an article in today’s Guardian by John Laughland , warning us that the Tony Blair’s humanitarian concern about Darfur is just a cloak to mask his desire to launch another oil-resource grabbing war. Of course, the facts should speak for themselves, but I’m not above a bit of ad hominem , especially when it comes to wondering where the Guardian gets its op-ed contributors from these days. Thanks to Google, it is possible to read an earlier Guardian article denouncing the Spectator as bonkers , partly on the grounds of a John Laughland interview with Jean-Marie Le Pen, that same, highly sympathetic interview , a review by the Virtual Stoa’s Chris Brooke of a book by Laughland (“read the whole thing”), and Laughland’s views on Zimbabwe , Slobodan Milosevic (one representative piece, google for more if you like), John Kerry (more of a warmonger than Bush), Blair and the Euro , and Cyprus . Readers may find that Laughland’s views on this issue or that coincide with their own, but, taken in the round, a certain picture emerges. (UPDATE: This Laughland article , about recent events in Georgia, is a particularly fine example of his work. Scroll down for his speculations about why Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić remain at liberty!)

{ 38 comments }

1

benj 08.02.04 at 8:21 am

If you haven’t already, why not email the Guardian’s letter page?

2

John Quiggin 08.02.04 at 8:44 am

Here’s a link to Laughland’s article.

Also, at the beginning of the Iraq war, I had a go at the all about oil story regarding Iraq.

[Thanks John, I’d inadvertently missed the actual link out of my post – doh! – amended now. CB]

3

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.02.04 at 8:57 am

Yes, no genocide here. Please ignore the river of blood on your left.

4

Scott Martens 08.02.04 at 9:21 am

I reviewed Laughland’s book on A Fistful of Euros sometime back too. He is a crackpot. Fortunately, he’s not even our crackpot. He’s an old style nationalist with 19th century beliefs about economics and foreign policy. This is the kind of guy who finds the Tories too liberal. What the Guardian is doing by giving him a platform for his weirdness is beyond me.

5

MFB 08.02.04 at 10:00 am

None of this, of course, proves that he is mistaken.

By the way, in the old days the UN defined genocide as killing off about a tenth of an ethnic grouping. By this standard, Darfur remains a horrible thing which all should rightly condemn, but genocide it ain’t.

6

Andrew Brown 08.02.04 at 10:08 am

It’s known as balance: you find some absolute nutter to represent the people you dislike, and give them space. Also, it’s August.

7

David T 08.02.04 at 10:25 am

I should add that John Derbyshire (the NRO one) rates him:
http://www.nationalreview.com/derbyshire/derbyshire200407130830.asp
As does the Bruges group:
http://www.brugesgroup.com/mediacentre/comment.live?article=27

As you can see I’d also googled Laughland, and come to the conclusion that he was some form of freewheeling state-sovereignty anti-interventionist type: perhaps a bit like the Cato Institute people.

I’d thought about following up Harry’s post with something about this fellow, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say, other than “how odd”.

I’d looked for obvious links – for example, to Chris “Libertarian Alliance” Tame’s PR outfit which lobbies for the Sudan government, or to the RCP (who share similar preoccupations with Laughland). But I drew a blank.

His (non-academic) employers are a consultancy outfit who also claim to do private banking, the Sanders Research Institute

http://www.sandersresearch.com/

which is linked to

http://www.solari.com

These organsations have an impressive mix of business, industry, and financial services personnel on their boards. Sanders’ preoccupations include opposition to GM foods(http://www.soilassociation.org/web/sa/saweb.nsf/0/850890534fff779d80256dc5004eedad?OpenDocument), scepticism about 9/11 and so on. Oh, and the price of gold. It is related to http://www.solari.com, which is worried about corruption and narcotics. Interesting, but not completely zany stuff.

But the closest to “dodgy” I could find was this:

“UNLIKELY ALLY IN BRITAIN DEFENDS LUKASHENKO’S RECORD BY IGNORING IT. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko is not a dictator, and NATO is punishing him for resisting its attempts to exert control and extract cash, contends John Laughland, trustee of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group, in a November 22 commentary published by “The Guardian,” a center-left London daily. Members of the British Helsinki group are notorious for defending Lukashenko. This time Laughland went so far as saying that Roman Catholics and Jews are well treated in Belarus. He ignored Lukashenko’s statements that at various times blamed Jews in the Russian government, news media, and/or the economy for generating antisemitism. He also ignored statements by leaders of the Belarusian Jewish community – and representatives of other faiths outside the Russian Orthodox Church — who fear that the new religion law signed by Lukashenko will create serious problems for minority faiths. “

http://www.fsumonitor.com/stories/112702Russia.shtml

So it is possible that he is simply an Orthodox Church partisan of some sort (that would tie in with his enthusiasm for Milosovic).

How odd.

8

Jimmy Doyle 08.02.04 at 10:29 am

I don’t know about “people you dislike”. I would have thought Laughland’s take on Darfur would be rather congenial to the Groan’s op-ed editor Shameless Milne, who is presumably even now celebrating the bombing of Iraqi churches by the “glorious resistance”.

9

Dave F 08.02.04 at 10:32 am

mfb: oh, well that’s all right then. Move along folks. Perhaps it escapes you, although it shouldn’t evade the perception of any reasonably intelligent person, that what is happening in Darfur, is a programme of genocide.

It just isn’t finished yet, which is why Sudan says 30 days “isn’t enough time” to stop the militias (this after a year of pressure, campaigning, human rights group warnings, UN appeals, US rumblings etc.

Pathetic.

10

Dan Hardie 08.02.04 at 10:35 am

‘especially when it comes to wondering where the Guardian gets its op-ed contributors from these days’…

Ah- that would be something to do with the Grauniad’s current comment editor, Seumas Milne- fellow traveller of the old CPGB, and the genius who denounced ‘British troops killing Sierra Leoneans in their own country’ and praised Slobodan Milosevic, in a thread on the Guardian’s talk pages in 1999, for having stood up to the West’s economic imperialism. Being a Stalinist must be pretty lonely these days, so why not buddy up to the semi-fascist right? (And ‘semi-fascist’ is a polite, restrained description of Laughland, if you’ve read his piece on Le Pen.)

11

David T 08.02.04 at 10:43 am

The other thing worth looking at is this entry on his organisation, the British Helsinki Human Rights Group.

http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/British%20Helsinki%20Human%20Rights%20Group

It is an, erm, somewhat “controversial” organisation.

12

David T 08.02.04 at 10:50 am

and his Le Pen interview is here:

http://209.157.64.200/focus/f-news/673200/posts

13

Anthony 08.02.04 at 11:11 am

Isn’t it about time that The Guardian let Seamus Milne go?

14

David Officer 08.02.04 at 11:20 am

The article of his on Cyprus, which you helpfully link to, is a mish mash of opinion and observation which concludes that the bloody foreigners should just leave the place alone. Dispite a long running inter-ethnic dispute, and the fact that the EU feels a justifiable responsibility to help resolve continued partition (now that Cyprus is a member) all Laughland can muster as, he signs off, is a crude demand for non-intervention by the international community. His arguement seems whole based on prejudice rather than serious arguement. The man is simply a provocateur.

15

John Quiggin 08.02.04 at 11:28 am

One thing that surprises me is how little impact the partial failure Afghanistan and the near-total failure in Iraq has had on support for intervention in Darfur, including my own support. At an intellectual level, I’m marginally more cautious than I might have been a couple of years ago, but only marginally.

Of course, the costs of intervention in Darfur seem likely to be drastically lower than in Iraq and the benefits (or, if you prefer the cost of a wait-and-see policy) much higher.

About the only thing on which I’ve really changed my mind is that in the past I would have welcomed a US-led initiative. Now I think that under no circumstances should the Bushies be put in charge of anything.

16

Anthony 08.02.04 at 12:51 pm

From Sanders Research:

John Laughland, regular contributor, has a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oxford and has been a lecturer at the Sorbonne and at the Institute of Political Science in Paris. John Laughland is currently visiting professor at the University of Marne-la-Vallée near Paris
In Britain he works as an author and independent columnist, writing for British, American and European papers.

No surprise he seems to be popular in France…

17

Giles 08.02.04 at 12:53 pm

I am some what sceptical about the cost of intervention being low;

First of all the distances involved are huge –which means that unless hundreds of thousands of troops are deployed lots of helicopters will be needed which are expensive to run and, unfortunately for john, this means that the US would need to be involved as it’s the only army, apart from Russia with enough choppers.

The second issue is that, as in the former Yugoslavia, any intervention in Dafur is quickly likely to spill over into a requirement for intervention in South where a civil war and low scale genocide has been going on for years. And unless the western community is prepared to either kick out the nomads in dafur or the Muslims in the south, then they’re likely to have to remain in place for a very long time – just as in Kososvo.

18

Anthony 08.02.04 at 1:09 pm

The head of the Sanders Research Group is still sceptical about who caused 911 and why.

The most amusing thing on their website is a graph depicting the number of times the word “holocaust “was returned for a given calendar time period for documents accessible via the Google search engine. Surprise, surprise they found a rise in the incidence of the use of the word throughout the 1990s. They put this down to an increase in propaganda started by Richard Pearle and an Israeli think tank in order to pave the road to war in the Middle East.

Of course, the fact that few people were uploading documents onto the web between 1948 and the 1980s completely passes them by, but why bother when you can come up with a much more interesting Israeli/Jewish causation?

19

mc 08.02.04 at 1:47 pm

Hang on. What’s this story about military intervention in Sudan? Another humanitarian war coming? Seriously?

20

David T 08.02.04 at 2:00 pm

I’ve posted on Sanders and one particular quote in one of his arguments at hurryupharry.

21

Scott Martens 08.02.04 at 3:15 pm

I doubt that the costs of intervening in Sudan will be lower than in Afghanistan. The US doesn’t really have an allied neighbour to lean on. Chad, as far as I can tell, is less than thrilled at the notion of hosting a tank war and may only be amenable because they’re not enthused at feeding the existing war’s refugees.

Sudan is no more a neat centralised state than the Taliban’s Afghanistan was, and in terms of local political support for invasion it’s even worse. Plus, if the US is bitching about “foreign fighters” in Afghanistan and Iraq now, Sudan borders Egypt, the largest, most grossly overpopulated nation in the middle east and the birthplace of anti-western fundamentalism. And worse, Sudan’s borders are long, unpopulated and way, way beyond control.

I support an intervention in Sudan too, not on the grounds that it will be easy or effective. I’m utterly certain that it won’t be either. I support it on the grounds that there’s at least a reasonable chance that it’ll be a bit less horrible for the people who actually have to live with it than the current mess, and because unlike Iraq I don’t see how intervention in Sudan aids anyone else who I think might be a bigger risk to my health and security.

If they didn’t have xanthan gum, Sudan would have no friends at all. Xanthan gum is a food additive primarily used in soft drinks, and I just don’t find it plausible that the US or UK would invade a country for the soda industry. I’m willing to run the risk that invading Sudan will help Coca-Cola’s bottom line as an incident byproduct.

22

Sebastian Holsclaw 08.02.04 at 5:02 pm

“About the only thing on which I’ve really changed my mind is that in the past I would have welcomed a US-led initiative. Now I think that under no circumstances should the Bushies be put in charge of anything.”

Which, for good or for ill means that there isn’t going to be any strong initiative. The international community doesn’t take much useful action in such situations without serious U.S. prodding. If Europe needs the US in order to act in Kosovo, it is a bit much to expect it to act in the Sudan without the US.

23

mc 08.02.04 at 6:04 pm

So, I take it that after Kosovo, it just takes a humanitarian motive to make military intervention legitimate? Is that it? Even before you know what exactly will be meant and entailed by intervention?

24

Anthony 08.02.04 at 7:05 pm

This post, and the complementary one at Harry’s Place by David T, are prime examples of the utility of blogs. Between them Chris and David have totally undermined an editorial in The Guardian, that would previously sat there unchalleneged, except for a critical letter or two.

One can only hope that the Guardian editorial board have read both posts and will perhaps consider more carefully who they invite to write op-eds.

25

Reader 08.02.04 at 8:53 pm

It is customary to have outspoken and foolish op-ed writers. The good old NY times sets the standard with people from W. Safire to Mr. Air Miles.
So the Guardian also runs a few of them. It would be a boring newspaper otherwise.

26

David 08.02.04 at 8:56 pm

Antiwar.com has at least one Laughland piece:

http://www.antiwar.com/orig/laughland16.html

And Pat Buchanan’s magazine American Conservative also has at least one piece by him:

http://www.amconmag.com/06_30_03/feature.html

27

Tom Runnacles 08.02.04 at 9:15 pm

Fascinating – I read Laughland’s piece in the print edition en route to work today, and wondered what on earth it was doing in the Guardian.

Nice digging chaps.

28

Dan Drezner 08.02.04 at 9:22 pm

I was a discussant for a 2001 AEI panel on international law, in which Laughland was presenting. My three word assessment:

Completely, totally, nuts.

29

mc 08.02.04 at 9:42 pm

“So the Guardian also runs a few of them. It would be a boring newspaper otherwise.”

Eh, exactly… since when is the Guardian supposed to be moderate? They’ve published far more debatable stuff. They’ve also published far better stuff.

If I want fair and balanced I know where to turn… er, not. I’d rather take one potential Guardian crackpot once in a while, thanks.

30

abb1 08.02.04 at 11:45 pm

As you can see I’d also googled Laughland, and come to the conclusion that he was some form of freewheeling state-sovereignty anti-interventionist type: perhaps a bit like the Cato Institute people.

Laughland aside, what’s wrong with Cato-style state-sovereignty anti-interventionism?

What do regime-change interventionists have to brag about: Kosovo – is that it? Anything else? Give me a break.

31

reader 08.03.04 at 1:24 am


I was a discussant for a 2001 AEI panel on international law, in which Laughland was presenting. My three word assessment:

Completely, totally, nuts.

That’s easy targeting, Dan.

A short scan of your blog from before the Iraq war get these funny items (besides your connection with the AEI):

– linking to Safire as a source?? That guy is even sillier than the subject here.

– French bashing every other day.

– nice observations like: “Gee, I thought great powers were capable of doing more than one thing at a time. That’s why they’re called great powers.”

An especially relevant observation re. sending troops to Darfur.

That’s the trouble of publishing things. The subject of today might be slightly more eccentric than you, but that’s probably because he spends too much time in France, eh?

32

Jonathan Edelstein 08.03.04 at 3:18 am

By the way, in the old days the UN defined genocide as killing off about a tenth of an ethnic grouping.

Genocide has had a legal definition since 1948, as provided in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

This article is arguably over-inclusive (what does it mean to intend to destroy an ethnic group “in part?”), but overall it isn’t a bad working definition. In order to constitute genocide under the convention, an act (1) must be one of the five prohibited activities, and (2) must be committed with the intent to destroy the target group, either by physically annihilating it or making it cease to exist as a group.

In Darfur, the janjaweed are committing at least three of the prohibited activities, so the question is one of intent. If they mean to destroy the Fur, then they are guilty of genocide; if they intend to drive the Fur into exile and grab their land, then they are guilty of crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. Given the eliminationist rhetoric of the janjawid and the sheer scale of their mass murder, there’s at least a plausible case for genocide; at the very least, they are guilty of multiple crimes against humanity.

33

Jack 08.03.04 at 4:16 am

Reasons why calls for intervention in darfur might not deserve the skepticism apparently necessary after Afghanistan and Iraq (not necessarily conclusive):

Novelty of the cause: Even after a year the issue is new so there is no timing puzzle. With Iraq it is not clear why intervention was not earlier, eg after first Gulf War, during the subsequent uprising or later after building a consensus and allowing the inspectors to do their work. In some sense the problem is being pursued as it arises so there need not be a hidden extra ingredient in the decision.

Pure motives: Mission accomplished only when the killing has stopped rather than when the Taliban is ousted or Saddam toppled.

No alternative: If nothing is done then there will be genocide and famine so ohw could it be worse?

Redemption: Intervention in Darfur would prove that our (Angloosphere) motives at least really do live up to our rhetoric.

Not sure how convincing these are but I think they are real differences.

34

informant 08.03.04 at 6:02 am

The US is currently net-gaining a new person every 11 seconds. There are 293 million people here today. So in less than 3 years we’ll hit 300 million.
The world population hit 6 billion on October 12, 1999. It’s now at 6,384,241,104.
In less than 5 years the world has gained enough people to fill the US one and a half times over.
This has nothing to do with available land or water, or any other quantifiable essential resource. It has everything to do with a moral system that is baselessly anthropocentric and delusionally confident in its own superiority, self-deifying and hopelessly incompetent.
Without space travel as a safety valve there’s only abrupt reduction in human population worldwide ahead. Even with it. That’s the real issue.
This is superficial kindness hiding ruthless manipulation. We can’t let all these people die, from hunger or disease, or let them kill each other, and yet we can’t feed them, and the burdens of human overpopulation are making it impossible for anything other than humans and their symbionts to survive, and then only in increasingly artificial environments that have no longevity.
It’s the refusal to accept the responsibilities of the godlike powers of life and death we hold. We save lives and then abandon them to the inevitable consequences of millions of other saved lives.
It’s cowardice. Bogus morality and a steady attrition of human character. At the same time there’s a rise of callous viciousness, an adolescent nastiness that is crueler than any 19th century eugenicist’s dream of utopian efficiency.
Are we going to be nice to the people around us now, or to the ones who come after us? Economically we’re taxing our children, taking money from them to support a way of life that’s heedless and selfish. Environmentally we’re taxing life itself, feasting on it like feudal barons, without a thought for tomorrow, or next year.
It’s tragic to see those deaths in Darfur. Are we seeing the bodies of the women and children of Faloojeh? Are we seeing the traffic statistics here in the US? Cars still kill more children than any other single cause. We have this godlike vision, but we don’t see everything, and what we do see isn’t in perspective.
What’s the perspective for Darfur? What’s the perspective for anywhere, for anyone? The power of all this information is being wielded by infants, who just want the bad things to stop, and they don’t want to have to think about the consequences, of what happens when you keep saving people’s lives in a finite world.
The knee-jerk response is to say -well, what should we do then? I can only suggest that if you’re going to be gods, then be gods. Don’t get halfway into it and decide you’d rather be children.

35

David T 08.03.04 at 11:43 am

Laughland aside, what’s wrong with Cato-style state-sovereignty anti-interventionism?

Nothing. I was just trying to place this guy and his organisation on the political map. Now, I think, I have.

36

David T 08.03.04 at 11:43 am

Laughland aside, what’s wrong with Cato-style state-sovereignty anti-interventionism?

Nothing. I was just trying to place this guy and his organisation on the political map. Now, I think, I have.

37

David T 08.03.04 at 11:44 am

Laughland aside, what’s wrong with Cato-style state-sovereignty anti-interventionism?

Nothing. I was just trying to place this guy and his organisation on the political map. Now, I think, I have.

38

David T 08.03.04 at 11:45 am

Laughland aside, what’s wrong with Cato-style state-sovereignty anti-interventionism?

Nothing. I was just trying to place this guy and his organisation on the political map. Now, I think, I have.

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