Euston, We Have A Problem

by John Holbo on May 1, 2006

I finally got around to reading the Euston Manifesto. Something of the sort used to be me. Here I am, back in Feb 2004, recollecting 2002-2003: “I did a Hitchens, basically. But I’m better now. Really, I feel fine.” Well, I was never worse than a sort of nail-biting queasyhawk, squawking about threatening storms. But good thing that Belle has been upholding the family honor with her ongoing ‘why I was wrong’ series. Apart from the fact that Belle accidentally logged in as me to make the first post, I never openly endorsed them. Usually I do that at dinner. But maybe a few words now about this Euston thing.

The whole ‘Decent Left’ thing, starting with Walzer’s original “Dissent” piece, is about post-9/11 US foreign policy. It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that it’s narrowed to be about the Iraq War, and everything feeding into it and flowing out of it. Whether you are still on the Decency bus depends on whether you are still, to some degree, on the Iraq bus. [UPDATE: Russell Arben Fox points out, in comments, that Walzer has been consistently anti-war. But is a Euston signatory. This does compel me to revise somewhat, but I’m not exactly sure what way would be best. Except clearly the implication that Walzer was pro-war must be scrubbed.] Which means it’s weird to get stuff about how we “support the open development of software and other creative works and oppose the patenting of genes, algorithms and facts of nature.” Thus do we stand against that influential sect of leftists who opposed the war but favor patenting facts of nature? But letting such failure of focus slide, consider this:

We are also united in the view that, since the day on which this [the invasion of Iraq] occurred, the proper concern of genuine liberals and members of the Left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, to create after decades of the most brutal oppression a life for Iraqis which those living in democratic countries take for granted — rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention.

Yet:

Drawing the lesson of the disastrous history of left apologetics over the crimes of Stalinism and Maoism, as well as more recent exercises in the same vein (some of the reaction to the crimes of 9/11, the excuse-making for suicide-terrorism, the disgraceful alliances lately set up inside the “anti-war” movement with illiberal theocrats), we reject the notion that there are no opponents on the Left. We reject, similarly, the idea that there can be no opening to ideas and individuals to our right.

You are interested in practically everything under the sun except for the arguments, pro and con, concerning the thing you are arguing about? This hands Michael Bérubé his punchline on a platter: “It’s like, “Everything changed for me on September 11. I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, I’m outraged by Chappaquiddick.”

It’s actually quite simple to shift the conversation off of the arguments about intervention, if it comes to that. If you truly, sincerely want to be forward-looking in this regard: admit you were wrong – wrong in terms of how it has turned out (obviously); wrong on the intellectual merits at the time, since there were those who correctly predicted how it would turn out, and produced – in advance – arguments against the war that we now know were basically sound. This second point is admittedly more complicated, but that some people opposed your bad arguments for the war with bad arguments against the war is, indeed, a pile of rubble not to be picked over at this time. Everyone who argued for the war was wrong about what Iraq was probably like, what it would probably be like post-invasion; and wrong about the character, motives and basic competence of the Bush administration. It was pretty hard to be pro-war without being wrong about at least four of those five. So do not attempt to make out how having been wrong puts you on double super-secret morally superior probation, somehow. It isn’t so hard to admit you were wrong. People make mistakes. You don’t have to shut up and never express an opinion about politics ever again. You just have to not persevere in putting lipstick on the pig you rode in on. Because it’s a pig. (Yes, of course, we STILL have to decide about the pig now it’s here. Fair enough.)

Maybe it would be a good idea to think about how the Decent Left exhibits self-lacerating impulses, with regard to the left as a whole, analogous to those the left as a whole is alleged to suffer from, with regard to society as a whole: to wit, a tendency to focus on the mote in one’s own eye rather than the beam in thine enemy’s. To adapt Walzer’s original article: “Maybe festering resentment, ingrown anger, and self-hate are the inevitable result of the long years spent in fruitless opposition to the global reach of American power to a small number of really stupid but vocal Ward Churchill-types, who really tick you off.” It is significant that ‘the Decent Left’ is, largely, an academic phenomenon. I think this is due in part to the fact that certain varieties of theatrical nonsense, not to put too fine a point on it, afflict segments of the leftist professoriat. This is well worth criticizing, especially if you are an academic. But you also have a duty not to get confused and think these people have influence outside the academy. There is no sense tilting against them, by handicapping arguments about Iraq in Bush’s favor, to compensate for inconsequential bits of academic weirdness. (And really, usually, that’s all it is. Mostly lefty academics who say really outrageous stuff are posturing. We academics know that.) If you are a Decent Left academic-type: consider whether you are reacting locally, and mistaking that for thinking globally. As to those many Euston signatories who are journalists as opposed to academics, I dunno. I have no diagnostic insight.

It might also be a good idea to meditate on how, the last time out, some of us got preoccupied with the subtle and wonky satisfactions of trying to forge a “nuanced, sophisticated middle-ground position.” This sort of Higher Broderism resulted in us getting played for chumps. (Not to mention people have died.) So we should, as Matt says, “be prepared” to not get fooled again.

But really maybe the best option is to extend a friendly invitation to these decent folks, who really are on the same side with us: just admit you were wrong and adjust accordingly. The fact that your manifesto attempts to skirt around arguments for and against the war shows that you are genuinely, intellectually, uncomfortable with what you have thought in the past. Come clean. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? Some lefties will gloat mildly for a few days. But mostly they’ll just be glad to have you back.

I’m genuinely dismayed by what looks to me like sheer stubbornness on the part of these Euston folks. So many smart folks. So you made a mistake. Own up. Formally apologize, for what it’s worth. Get on with it. Get yourself straightened out and pushing in the right direction, figuring out what to do next. Which surely isn’t writing manifestos that play into the hands of Max Boot when he is asking for something especially unreasonable. It is the fact that so many of us on the left generously gave the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt – again and again – that is such a retrospective embarrassment. So, if this is you, don’t get utterly bent out of shape the next time someone on the left says something stupid. Don’t get baited into a ‘no enemies to the right’ posture. Just think: I’ve said stupid things myself. Because if you supported the war in Iraq, you have probably said some stupid things in your time. And then, by all means, tell the other leftist he or she is being stupid, which is perfectly possible.

{ 118 comments }

1

P O'Neill 05.01.06 at 8:59 pm

Headline in Sunday’s Washington Post

Merits of Partitioning Iraq or Allowing Civil War Weighed

I hope the decents are glad.

2

Russell Arben Fox 05.01.06 at 9:21 pm

Since you bring up Walzer’s original piece, John (which, really, we should have talked about more at APSA…), it’s worth noting that 1) Walzer never supported the war in Iraq (and certainly hasn’t changed his mind about it), and 2) Walzer has signed the Euston Manifesto. I haven’t taken the time to closely read the manifesto, and I probably won’t anytime soon, but those two points alone suggest to me that your claim that “the whole ‘Decent Left’ thing…[has] narrowed to being about the Iraq War, and everything feeding into it and flowing out of it” really can’t quite be true.

3

Michael Bérubé 05.01.06 at 9:37 pm

What Russell said. Also this: while I think the yoostabee phenomenon in the US is far more widespread than the “all power to the Iraqi maquis” phenomenon on the fringe left, there’s no reason why a decent leftist shouldn’t criticize the latter along with the former. Also this, too: I don’t think the phrase “decent left” should be hijacked by, or attributed to, the liberal Iraq hawks. If anyone wants to talk more about Michael Walzer’s work in 2001-02, as well we should, it’s worth looking at this timely essay of September 2002 (published in, of all places, The New Republic). That’s the essay in which the “just war” theorist argues that “change of regime is not commonly accepted as a justification for war. The precedents are not encouraging: Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia all reflect the bad old days of cold war ‘spheres of influence’ and ideologically driven military or clandestine interventions. Regime change can sometimes be the consequence of a just war–when the defeated rulers are moral monsters, like the Nazis in World War II. And humanitarian interventions to stop massacre and ethnic cleansing can also legitimately result in the installation of a new regime. But now that a zone of (relative) safety has been carved out for the Kurds in the North, there is no compelling case to be made for humanitarian intervention in Iraq. The Baghdad regime is brutally repressive and morally repugnant, certainly, but it is not engaged in mass murder or ethnic cleansing; there are governments as bad (well, almost as bad) all over the world. . . . The administration’s war is neither just nor necessary.”

Pretty decent stuff, all in all. So much for George Packer’s claim that opposition to the war could be attributed to the work of “second-rate minds.”

4

John Quiggin 05.01.06 at 10:05 pm

I think there’s a big difference between the US and British signatories to the manifesto, and the interpretation depends on which group you focus on.

The signatories who oppose the Iraq war are mostly American and they seem to take the claimed neutrality of the manifesto seriously. By contrast, the British signatories are nearly all pro-war, and can be assumed to rely on the barbed clause about “picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention” to limit the possible positions on the war to (a) vociferous support and (b) silence.

Which reaction you have depends on which group you pay most attention to.

5

Randy Paul 05.01.06 at 10:12 pm

I think that the most offensive comment is this:

The violation of basic human rights standards at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and by the practice of “rendition”, must be roundly condemned for what it is: a departure from universal principles, for the establishment of which the democratic countries themselves, and in particular the United States of America, bear the greater part of the historical credit.

Talk about having it both ways and defining deviancy down: calling the Bush administration’s contempt for the Convention Against Torture “a departure from universal principles” while crediting the United States for having helped establish these principles!

6

John Holbo 05.01.06 at 10:21 pm

That’s a good point, Russell. I think an update is in order to make clear that Walzer himself isn’t pro-war. (I misremembered that he was initially pro-war.) But it does leave me genuinely puzzled as to why he would sign the manifesto. I guess I need to look more closely at one or the other or both.

7

Russell Arben Fox 05.01.06 at 10:38 pm

“I guess I need to look more closely at one or the other or both.”

Ditto. I know Walzer’s arguments fairly well (thanks for the reminder of that 2002 TNR piece, Michael), but I’ve let the Euston thing mostly pass me by. I suppose it’s possible that Walzer’s (and some others’) affiliation with it is driven at least in part by, as John suggests, something peculiarly American. Perhaps something complicated in the respective genealogies of the British and American lefts; perhaps something as simple as the fact that British “decent leftists” have to sort out their feelings regarding the perplexing (and still war-supporting) Tony Blair, while American DLs only have to deal with the comparatively simple problem of their position having been tainted by Bush?

8

Daniel 05.02.06 at 12:00 am

If Walzer genuinely believes that “change of regime is not commonly accepted as a justification for war” then he needs to be a lot more careful about the manifestoes that he signs, because the Euston one seems to pretty explicitly say that when a regime is “appalling” (in a not very precisely defined way) the “responsibility to protect” kicks in, and this looks from context like it means war.

9

abb1 05.02.06 at 2:20 am

This is so sweet, so touching… I think I’ll cry now.

Yes, we all are good, decent people, maybe not the journalists, but certainly the academics; well, except for those vocal Ward Churchill-types, of course, they are simply despicable. But those of us who facilitated the ongoing mayhem, destruction of international system of collective security and murder of hundreds of thousands of people need not be ashamed because their motives were pure. Yes, I can see it. Thank you, John.

10

John Holbo 05.02.06 at 2:35 am

Sorry, abb1, why should those who were wrong not be somewhat ashamed? (Is it possible that your tears are blurring your view of the screen?)

11

joel turnipseed 05.02.06 at 2:49 am

Well… as an apology for supporting the war in Iraq, the Euston Manifesto is weak stuff. It was a bad decision on its face & has been handled worse. That said, the Manifesto strikes me as being fairly sound & not at all an implausible thing for Walzer to sign: it’s a good way forward.

By way of expanding this discussion, I’ll present an anecdote & a thought-experiment.

Anecdote:

I was recently having drinks with a pal of mine & I said “I’d have no problem killing an Iraqi insurgent–in fact, I think we should kill more of them, if only we could find an efficient way to do so.” Said pal just about spit out his drink. This reaction marks, for me, a lot of the frustration behind those who wrote the Euston Manifesto (or that moved Walzer to write his essay on the “Decent Left”). If a group of people have decided that they feel free to target civilians in open violence, they have forfeited the right to be free of such violence in return. Whether they are the Al-Qaida attackers of 9-11 or those who explode bombs on the streets of Baghdad (or Jerusalem) doesn’t matter: once you have pledged yourself to murder, you have no right to object to the favor being returned to you. Is this at all a controversial opinion?

Thought-Experiment:

Why aren’t there massive street protests demanding that a U.N. coalition force take over the U.S. occupation of Iraq? We have obviously lost the world’s trust in the handling of that country–but does anyone think things would be better if we just plain pulled out than things would be if we pulled out and 100,000-200,000 international forces replaced us? Of course, even better would be the trust-building exercise of putting 50,000-100,000 American troops under U.N. control, but given the current administration that is entirely unlikely.

12

luc 05.02.06 at 3:24 am

I think it is a mischaracterization to call Walzer anti-war in the Iraq case.

Yes, he didn’t consider the case made by the US for war a just one. He preferred the “little war” of sanctions, no fly zones and inspections under the threat of war over a real war.

But since that wasn’t in the offering, I think this quote from that tnr article describes why I have doubts about his anti-war position:

“And so we may soon face the hardest political question: What ought to be done when what ought to be done isn’t going to be done? But we shouldn’t be too quick to answer that question. If the dithering and delay over inspections go on and on, if the inspectors don’t return or if they return but can’t act effectively, if the threat of enforcement is not made credible, if our allies are unwilling to fight or to threaten to fight, which is what I think is all that would be necessary, then many of us will probably end up very reluctantly supporting the war the Bush administration is much too eager to fight.”

13

Brendan 05.02.06 at 3:32 am

It’s funny that the post above mentioned that ‘most’ of the decents are academics. I think that has an element of truth but it’s only part of the truth. In the UK at least, some are academics, but some are journalists, some are lawyers, some are in ‘thinktanks’ etc. etc. In other words, the decents seem to be a more or less random sample of the ‘white collar’ opiniotariat, the ‘columnists’ and ‘intellectuals’ who all sit about and decide what we all think. And here the key issue is (as I’m sure Abb1 will be the first to point out) class, (and, for that matter, gender….the ‘decents’ are overwhelmingly male, which wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t for the slightly testosterony tone of much of their discourse). (they are pretty much all white, too).

But the real problem I have with this Manifesto isn’t the fact that it’s badly written or even that it is flagrantly misleading, or hypocritical. The key problem I have with it is: what is it for? Like the ‘Unite Against Terror’ petition which preceded it, the key point about it would be seem to be to simply have a petition. It leads on to no political actions. It recommends no concrete policy. It has nothing to say about (e.g.) Iraq except ‘keep on keeping on': i.e. keep on doing what we have been.

Except….in the UK of course this is not entirely true. There is a political ideology that the EM is very clearly associated with (I think this point has not been made entirely clear to people outside the UK). That political ideology is New Labour, and specifically the foreign policy of Tony Blair. Some of the signers of this document are or were actually members of the Labour party (again, I don’t think this point has been fully picked up on by readers outside the UK).

In other words, despite all the fine words, and fulsome rhetoric, the point of this document is purely and simply to get people to vote Labour, and support Tony Blair. The timing is interesting too. As long as the EMers can persuade people that the major issue of our day is Islamic terrorism and not (as a quick look at the British papers would lead you to believe) the impending disintegration of the Labour party at the council elections, then obviously this helps Blair.

The mindless support of the document from the Guardian and the Observer (which, at least in the latter case, is NOT a liberal newspaper) is based purely on the fact that these papers have a blind spot about Blair, based on ’97, and they have been completely unable to face up to his recent failings (especially about Iraq).

In any case, this document will be quickly forgotten. But the people behind it will keep up the pressure, NOT on people who read this blog (who they aren’t interested in) but their real target: the group of people who surround Gordon Brown. The purpose of this manifesto in the short term is to shore up Blair’s failing support, but in the long term its purpose is to ensure that if and when Gordon Brown is Labour leader he will continue to follow in Blair’s golden footsteps and not deviate and ruin his ‘glorious legacy’.

14

abb1 05.02.06 at 3:38 am

Is this at all a controversial opinion?

Probably not. But there’s also this:

The General Assembly, … Reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle;

See, there is a context to this violence, it doesn’t just happen. Perhaps your friend sees this in the context and you don’t. Or maybe you see it in a different context. Then the context is the real issue and not what you feel about any particular group or tactic.

15

joel turnipseed 05.02.06 at 4:00 am

Abb1–Well, yes, this gets to the crux of the argument, vis. Iraq: if you think the insurgents are fighting on behalf of territorial integrity, national unity and liberation–then yes, they have every right to fight back. And to be resisted by those who feel otherwise. This is the sad fact of state power. The question for liberals (and the left, writ large) is: “Whose side are you on?” It’s not at all clear to me that the insurgents in Iraq are on my side–especially as killing of civilians has increased so sharply over the last year or so (that said: we should deeply question the shiite death squads who are on “our” side, too). Certainly Al-Qaida & the Taliban, in the question of Afghanistan, are not on my side or any side I’d like to associate with.

But then, this is why I was quite clearly against the invasion of Iraq to begin with… it presented an unwinnable war, from any sane examination of the outcome (especially given the state of international support at the time–and on the question of the manner of–our invasion).

Brendan — In the U.S., the nearest parallel I can think of is the 1968 election: in which McCarthy (and the New Left) submarined Humphrey as a pro-corporate, pro-war stooge. But can anyone argue that Nixon was a better bargain? Would you rather see the Tories in power again? This is, of course, something of an oversimplification–but it’s a good start at the discussion in question.

16

abb1 05.02.06 at 4:19 am

You don’t need to have ‘your side'; imagine that you’re a Martian.

17

Syd Webb 05.02.06 at 4:45 am

Joel Turnipseed wrote:

If a group of people have decided that they feel free to target civilians in open violence, they have forfeited the right to be free of such violence in return.

Joel, someone less generous than I might think your “group of people” might be a reference to the senior members of the Bush administration. If you are advocating violence against them, including their most senior member, well it’s something about which the Secret Service takes a very dim view.

Think, dear boy, think about what you are typing.

18

soru 05.02.06 at 4:52 am

So you made a mistake. Own up. Formally apologize, for what it’s worth. Get on with it

Given that your basic analysis of the motives and thinking of the Euston signatories has been shown to be off base, are you going to be taking your own advice?

Go back, think for a day or two, and write the whole thing again from scratch.

In particular, consider whether the new information you have learnt justifies possibly coming to a different conclusion about whether to sign or not. Failing that, at least provide a new explanation for why it is you are not signing.

19

Brendan 05.02.06 at 5:15 am

‘Brendan—In the U.S., the nearest parallel I can think of is the 1968 election: in which McCarthy (and the New Left) submarined Humphrey as a pro-corporate, pro-war stooge. But can anyone argue that Nixon was a better bargain? Would you rather see the Tories in power again? This is, of course, something of an oversimplification—but it’s a good start at the discussion in question.’

Well hoooooold on a minute there, tiger. First thing to get straight is that there is an element of truth to the old Republican saw about the Democrats being the party of war: it’s not quite a canard.

The equivalent is certainly true in Britain. Labour (under Blair) has (I think) invaded more countries than any other government since WW2. Thatcher wasn’t even close.

The situation is not as clear as you make out in ’68 either. Now, my understanding is that Nixon went into the ’68 election battle as the peace candidate. His amorphous but impressive sounding phrase ‘peace with honour’ certainly led many people to believe that he would withdraw from Vietnam (and they weren’t entirely wrong….after all, eventually, Nixon did withdraw American forces from Vietnam).

Now Nixon was lying (or at least being economical with the truth) but people didn’t know that at the time. Whereas there was no doubt about the Democrats: Vietnam was their war, they started it, and they would continue it.

In the Britain of today, the fact is that David Cameron (and the Tory party in general) are a kind of joke party. They are a laughing stock. Their main purpose is so that Blair can drag them out of the closet every so often to frighten people who might be tempted to vote against him. You could see it at ‘Harry’s Place’. If you read only that blog you would think that the Tories and Labour were neck and neck and only frenzied canvassing could prevent a Tory landslide. Actually there was no threat: Labour were alwyays going to win and they did (the situation is slightly different now).

Luckily in the UK there are still serious political parties you can vote for that didn’t support the war. The position is much worse in the US: it really doesn’t matter who you vote for, the pro-war people are going to get in, cos they are ALL pro-war. Since, for the meantime, the Democrats and the Republicans are the only game in town (this might not be the case forever, of course), all I can think of is some long term plan to take back the Democrat party, but this might not achieve results for years or decades.

In short, I am extremely dubious about this ‘if you don’t vote Labour then the Tories might get in’. For a start, there are lots of other options. Like ‘If you don’t vote labour then labour’s majority will be slashed and Blair will have to start paying attention to his party.’ or ‘if you don’t vote labour there might be a hung parliament, and the lib dems (and the smaller parties) might be able to put pressure on Blair’s foreign policy.’

20

brooksfoe 05.02.06 at 5:49 am

Euston: “Drawing the lesson of the disastrous history of left apologetics over the crimes of Stalinism and Maoism, as well as more recent exercises in the same vein (some of the reaction to the crimes of 9/11, the excuse-making for suicide-terrorism, the disgraceful alliances lately set up inside the “anti-war” movement with illiberal theocrats)”

What nonsense. Who “makes excuses” for suicide terrorism? Leftists who apologized for Stalin fell into two camps: those who didn’t believe the gulag existed, and those who felt it was an inevitable necessity in the omelette-making process. The former group is not comparable to anyone on the current left because no one on today’s left thinks that suicide bombers don’t exist. The latter group is not comparable because they broadly supported the worldwide revolution and Soviet Communism, while no one on today’s left supports Islamic extremism.

People on today’s left are more likely than people on today’s right to be interested in explaining the causes of suicide bombing, with a view to eliminating said causes in a rational manner. To explain is not to excuse, and to confuse the two is to enlist in the army of vengeful unreason that is the contemporary right.

21

John Holbo 05.02.06 at 5:57 am

soru, your petard hoist technique is earnest but – so far – seems to lacks lift. I have already duly noted that Walzer is a signatory and appears to have been consistently anti-war (although, upstream, some trouble has been made for that proposition.) It’s important not to misrepresent anyone’s position, so I made a hasty correction. But so far this looks to me like a somewhat peculiar data point, off the main line. It looks to me as though it is rather … well, WRONG for someone who is anti-war to sign the thing, for the reasons I have given. It seems to me to signal, at best, a failure to keep one’s eye on the ball (is the kindest way to put it, I guess.) Can you adduce some reason why I am wrong to see this wrongness? (Please note: the terms of the manifesto seem to forbid us getting embroiled in arguments about the pros and cons of the situation in Iraq. Yet that seems to me the way to proceed, if proceed we must.)

22

Brendan 05.02.06 at 6:09 am

Could I just add to and emphasise brooksfoe’s point? Regardless how much we might want to condemn those intellectuals who supported the Leninist/Stalinist tyranny or the tyranny in China under Mao, there is no doubt that the vast majority of them did so because they really believed in Leninism/Maoism. They genuinely thought that authoritarian communism might lead to a Utopia where there was no exploitation or war etc.

This is COMPLETELY different from the situation now. Regardless of what one thinks of George Galloway et al, even if one accepts (which perhaps we should perhaps we shouldn’t) that he ‘supports’ certain authoritarian regimes, this is only a contingent phenomenon because they are threatened by the US. Neither Galloway, nor anyone on this blog, nor anyone I have ever met, actually and genuinely thinks that Islamic fundamentalism will lead to a better society.

The reason the ‘decents’ want people to believe otherwise is because then they can create a metaphorical paradigm that they feel comfortable with; i.e. their strange efforts to persuade people that despite what the calender says this is ‘really’ the 1930s, those who opposed the war are ‘really’ on the side of Osama Bin Laden, who is ‘really’ Hitler (or Stalin, or both) and yada yada yada.

23

soru 05.02.06 at 6:21 am

Can you adduce some reason why I am wrong to see this wrongness?

Because it is wrong?

In fact, it is sufficiently completely wrong that it is hard to actually derive a simple relationship between it and the truth, it’s kind of like trying to explain to someone discussing 17C french politics under the assumption that the competing parties were relabelled 20C US Democrats and Republicans exactly where they are going wrong.

24

Brendan 05.02.06 at 6:28 am

‘Given that your basic analysis of the motives and thinking of the Euston signatories has been shown to be off base, are you going to be taking your own advice’.

I think what John was getting at was

a: What specific aspect of his analysis of the thinking of the Euston signatories was wrong? (backed up with quotes please).

b: Why was it wrong?

25

Barry 05.02.06 at 6:36 am

joel turnipseed: “Why aren’t there massive street protests demanding that a U.N. coalition force take over the U.S. occupation of Iraq? “

Perhaps because that just ain’t gonna happen?

26

soru 05.02.06 at 6:54 am

What specific aspect of his analysis of the thinking of the Euston signatories was wrong?

Pretty much the whole thing, as I said, it’s not really engaged enough with the subject matter to qualify as simply wrong. But in particular:

Whether you are still on the Decency bus depends on whether you are still, to some degree, on the Iraq bus.

As well as Walzer, Marc Cooper and Alun Johnson would presumably disagree.

Now obviously, if you think Bush=Hitler, that Saddam was the best available ruler of Iraq, or that he had rightful sovereignty over the people of Iraq, then there’s not much to discuss. But if you think it was a complex issue with valid as well as invalid arguments on both sides, then you can actually have a meaningful conversation about the manifesto. If you do so, bear in mind there are three different arenas of discussion:

1. the actual words and principles as written.

2. UK political strategy.

3. US political strategy.

A discussion in any of those arenas is only going to be productive if you identify at what level you are talking.

27

Michael Bérubé 05.02.06 at 7:29 am

Luc writes:

I think it is a mischaracterization to call Walzer anti-war in the Iraq case.

Yes, he didn’t consider the case made by the US for war a just one. He preferred the “little war” of sanctions, no fly zones and inspections under the threat of war over a real war.

And thereby reminds us why it’s important to criticize the “all power to the Iraqi maquis” left — or, in this case, the George Galloway / Ramsay Clark “let Saddam be Saddam” left. If you were not only against invasion but also against inspections and no fly zones in 2002 (I won’t defend the sanctions across the board, because chlorine should never have been on the dual-use list and because France and Russia had been skirting the edges of the 661 committee for half a decade, so the sanctions managed to kill civilians while enriching the regime), then you simply weren’t taking seriously the history of Ba’athite repression and genocide — and you were probably driving any number of good people into the pro-war camp, as well. I got this treatment full in the face from Ed “Everything You Know About Srbrenica Is Wrong” Herman in late 2002, when he argued that my opposition to war in Iraq was a form of support for war in Iraq. The experience didn’t lead me to join the Packer-Berman wing of Dissent (phew! no academics there), but it did lead me to conclude that one wing of the left had become worse than useless in opposing tyranny.

28

Andrew Reeves 05.02.06 at 7:38 am

Joel, someone less generous than I might think your “group of people” might be a reference to the senior members of the Bush administration.

There is, though, something of a moral difference between someone who deliberately places a bomb on a minibus and someone who orders the bombing of a military target that then misses and hits the minibus. The latter really isn’t “deliberate targeting of civilians.”

OTOH, when starting a war, there is the knowledge that no matter how careful you are, innocent civilians will almost certainly die so in some sense launching any war is a “deliberate targeting of civilians.”

OTOOH, if you take that position, the question of any war at all becomes morally equivalent of deliberately placing a bomb on a minibus, which is not what I think is being argued.

29

abb1 05.02.06 at 7:46 am

The problem with the sanctions had nothing to do with chlorine or France. The problem was combining the policy of sanctions with policy of ‘regime change’.

You impose sanctions to modify regime’s behavior, and that’s the only goal; when you impose sanctions and tell the regime that changing behavior won’t help, then what you’re doing is nothing but collective punishment and terrorism.

30

John Quiggin 05.02.06 at 7:50 am

Shorter Soru: It’s wrong because it’s WRONG.

31

Daniel 05.02.06 at 7:53 am

As well as Walzer, Marc Cooper and Al[a]n Johnson would presumably disagree.

Well no. All three of them seem to agree that

a) immediate withdrawal is out of the question and should not even be discussed

b) no serious domestic political consequences should follow from the Iraq war.

and at times

c) people criticising the Iraq War should pipe down because they are implicitly supporting the insurgents.

That puts you fair and square on the “Iraq bus” in my book.

32

abb1 05.02.06 at 7:58 am

What do you know about this incident with a bomb being deliberately placed on a minibus? Who did and why? Was it indeed deliberate or an accident? Was it, perhaps, an apolitical criminal act? What do you know?

And how do you know that the the guy who you think ordered the bombing of a military target didn’t order hitting the minibus in the first place? You’d just believe anything he tells you, wouldn’t you.

33

Brendan 05.02.06 at 8:16 am

I don’t mean to sound like Sir Bufton-Tufton (retired) writing to the Daily Telegraph, but the thing that strikes me about the EM is that it is the most badly written public document I have ever read. Apart from being humourless, pompous and cliched it also contains sections that appear to be more or less meaningless. The rest of it is mainly made up of truisms or bizarre detours into copyright law.

My favourite section is this:

‘Development can bring growth in life-expectancy and in the enjoyment of life, easing burdensome labour and shortening the working day. It can bring freedom to youth, possibilities of exploration to those of middle years, and security to old age. It enlarges horizons and the opportunities for travel, and helps make strangers into friends.’

Well that’s nice to hear.

My other favourite sentence is this:

‘We have no truck, either, with the tendency to pay lip service to these ends, while devoting most of one’s energy to criticism of political opponents at home (supposedly responsible for every difficulty in Iraq), and observing a tactful silence or near silence about the ugly forces of the Iraqi “insurgency”. ‘

Which contains at least two blatant grammatical (and/or syntactic, depending on your point of view) errors, rending the whole sentence completely meaningless. There is at least one other sentence that is equally devoid of meaning.

I think Orwell’s essay on politics and the English language should be referred to here.

34

Michael Bérubé 05.02.06 at 8:27 am

The problem with the sanctions had nothing to do with chlorine or France. The problem was combining the policy of sanctions with policy of ‘regime change’.

You impose sanctions to modify regime’s behavior, and that’s the only goal. . . .

Interesting point, abb1. But when, precisely, were sanctions combined with a policy of regime change in Iraq? Before 1998? After? And by whom? For that matter, is it true that those of us who supported sanctions against South Africa in the mid-1980s simply wanted a kinder, gentler Botha?

And while I’m unearthing items from my late-2002 archives, Andrew Mack wrote a short and provocative piece on sanctions theory (and its failure in Iraq) in The Nation.

35

abb1 05.02.06 at 8:46 am

If I remember correctly, the ‘regime change’ policy was announced immediately after the war. Then it was briefly dropped by Clinton and then re-enacted, still under Clinton.

Well, yeah, sanctions against South Africa targeted very specific government policies. The goal was to change these policies, not to remove Botha.

36

luc 05.02.06 at 8:50 am

If you were not only against invasion but also against inspections and no fly zones in 2002 …

The key point of Walzer that separated him here from many others opposing the war (and specifically “Old Europe”) is the phrase “under the threat of war” that had to be part of those inspections and no-fly zones.

“The real and only argument for war is not that war is the right choice, or the best available choice, but that there is no international commitment to actions short of war that require the threat of war.”

Walzer falsely assumed that inspections without a direct threat of war couldn’t work.

Or to quote from his decent piece, his leftwing opponents had “no concern for effectiveness and no sense of urgency”.

So he suggested “The right thing to do, right now, is to re-create the conditions that existed in the mid-’90s for fighting a just war. And we must do this precisely to avoid the war that many in the Bush administration want to launch.”, arguing for conditions that make war possible.

And thus separating himself from a large part of the left that opposed the Iraq war. This had nothing to do with who’s serious or who supports who in Iraq or whatever.

If you made the judgement that war and/or the threat of war wasn’t going to be effective nor that there was any necessity or urgency, you were cast out of the Decent Left by Walzer.

Again I wouldn’t call his flirting with war an anti-war position.

37

Steve LaBonne 05.02.06 at 8:55 am

There is supposed to be an argument that the sanctions were in fact instrumental in preventing Saddam from reconstituting his weapons inventory. (I am nowhere near sufficiently acquainted with the facts of the matter to evaluate that argument.)

38

yabonn 05.02.06 at 9:13 am

Michael Bérubé :

because chlorine should never have been on the dual-use list and because France and Russia had been skirting the edges of the 661 committee for half a decade, so the sanctions managed to kill civilians while enriching the regime

It might be me falling for the local french version, but my understanding was that the civilian death toll had a lot to do with the restrictions of the 661 comittee, and less to do with corruption.

I don’t think neither that corruption was limited to these two contries, but it’s another story.

If anything, Russia and France (and this time, the countries, not companies from these countries) were pushing to lighten the sanctions, or at least not tighten them further. There’s a HRW report somewhere deploring the use of these sanctions as a tool for regime change.

So it’s exagerated, in my opinion, to put them on par with the sanctions themselves in the consequences they had on the iraqi death toll during the sanctions.

39

Louis Proyect 05.02.06 at 9:21 am

40

Andrew Reeves 05.02.06 at 9:27 am

Abb1,

Having been in the U.S. military for five years and having a brother who is currently in the U.S. military, I happen to know a little something about the U.S. military’s doctrines and tactics.

And shockingly, U.S. military doctrine does not involve the deliberate killing of Muslims civilians so that we may do the bidding of our fiendish Zionist masters.

You simply do not know what you are talking about.

41

yabonn 05.02.06 at 9:31 am

Hmmhm. Re-re-read.

Maybe you meant the dual-use list doing the killing, and the corruption doing the enriching?

If so, apologies for the lost time, and scrap that stupid post of mine above.

42

JR 05.02.06 at 9:41 am

Joel Turnipseed wrote,“I’d have no problem killing an Iraqi insurgent—in fact, I think we should kill more of them, if only we could find an efficient way to do so.”

Joel, I would guess that the reason your friend spit out his drink is the use of the word “we.” You think “we” should kill more of them? Who might that “we” be? You think the US Army should go around the world looking for bad people to kill? Is that why “we” invaded Iraq? Should “we” stay there until “we” kill all the bad people? And where next?

43

Donald Johnson 05.02.06 at 9:46 am

Abb1, I think the goal of the sanctions on South Africa was to overthrow apartheid, which would necessarily mean white racists probably wouldn’t win elections.

The sanctions as actually imposed on Iraq were murderous and at least initially they were intended to cause suffering. (Barton Gellman wrote a piece on this for the June 23, 1991 Washington Post which I cite whenever this comes up.) I think the stated goals shifted back and forth, but my impression was the Clinton Administration never intended to lift them with Saddam in power. I believe Powell started talking about smart sanctions when Bush II came in, recognizing that the US was losing the PR battle over the suffering issue. (And rightly so). Then 9/11 happened and all of a sudden, Saddam was ready to bust out and take over the world with his gigantic arsenal.

44

joel turnipseed 05.02.06 at 10:11 am

“I’d have no problem killing an Iraqi insurgent—in fact, I think we should kill more of them, if only we could find an efficient way to do so.”

OK, a bit more context here… we were talking about, specifically, Iraq and the insurgency & a hypothetical, “What if I were still in the Marine Corps & back in Iraq?” More more context: and that in response to my having just finished a review of Sallah and Weiss’s Tiger Force, the book-length version of their 2004 Pulitzer Prize winning story on atrocities committed by U.S. commandos during the Vietnam War. I had said that it was a shame the Army never got to prosecute the 18 men they’d determined had committed war crimes. There followed a rather glib, “like we’re committing in Iraq right now” comment & off we went to beer spitting. I presented the anecdote because it seemed to me a signal case of two people who more-or-less agree on the stupidity of the war, but where one just couldn’t countenance killing terrorists/insurgents even when they were actively engaged in killing.

So, if you’re asking, “Should we start searching under every bed in the world for terrorists, and if we find them, kill them?” The answer is quite obviously, “No.”

On the other hand, if you’re asking, “If you saw a guy planting an IED would you arrest him–and if he showed signs of violent resistance, shoot him?” The answer is, “Absolutely.” Further, w/r/t “efficient”–the idea here is, “without having to resort to city-clearing operations like Fallujah” & not “with the best nuke we can find.”

FWIW, Andrew Reeves’ comments above seem about right to me (and Syd Webb–would you call me “boy” to my face? A sad bit of rhetoric, that). I have a few other thoughts, but we’ll see how this post develops…

45

abb1 05.02.06 at 10:12 am

Andrew, so now you’re backing off from actual real-life events to the ‘doctrine’. Everyone has a great doctrine, you know. I suspect you wouldn’t judge groups you disagree with by the doctrines they put forward.

“The squeeze will carry on until the people of the country themselves recognize that this is going to go on until they get the leadership changed.”

Chief of British Defence Staff, Admiral Michael Boyce, referring to the ongoing bombing campaign in Afghanistan.

46

brooksfoe 05.02.06 at 10:15 am

Having read the Euston thingummy, I have to say that as a member of the American left, it spoke to me…not at all. It seemed for the most part utterly irrelevant. The only cutting surface on the mostly dull object had to do with insisting on one’s freedom to criticize fellow leftists and make commone cause with, or lift interesting ideas from, people to one’s right. This may seem an interesting or important stance to take in Britain, where leftists trapped in New Labor quicksand are casting about for handholds and wish to be able to grab them whichever direction they appear in. In the US, it is useful only to destructive and idea-bereft Democratic Leadership Coalition politicians like Joe Lieberman, or to a fading clique of contrarian centrist intellectuals like Peter Beinart and Joe Klein who flatter their own egos by supposing themselves more “serious” than other Democrats because they like wars and personal wealth (and favor a Harvey Keitel-like three-day growth of beard).

The important realignments in American leftist politics are taking place on DailyKos and at the Center for American Progress. This whole business of not being afraid to make common cause with our brothers on the right as we stand up for the values of our civilization…is very October 2001. It is a formula that has led to nothing but disaster for the left, and I find it either bland or repellent.

Oh, one other thing: the stuff about having the decency to criticize Islamic extremist atrocities more strongly than Western illegalities – utter crap. If you had to constantly balance every critical statement according to the global scale of total cruelty, every sentence you uttered would be 90% about Darfur. Furthermore, it makes no sense to spend most of your time criticizing people who are not listening to you. I can call for gender equality in Pakistan all I like; no one in Pakistan is paying any attention. If I have a serious commitment to this issue, I need to move to Pakistan and go to work for a gender-issues NGO. It’s enormously telling that virtually none of the war hawks who wax regime-changey over the oppressiveness of the Iranian system would ever actually do anything to promote democracy in Iran, like organizing a student exchange, or going over there and teaching an informal seminar. And that’s the tone that comes through overwhelmingly in the Euston manifesto: these are not people who are serious about accomplishing the goals whose necessity they preach. They are people who like to propound.

47

john m. 05.02.06 at 10:20 am

“And shockingly, U.S. military doctrine does not involve the deliberate killing of Muslims civilians “

I’ve always loved statements like this, highlighting as it does that it’s ok to kill civilians by the truckload as long as you don’t do it on purpose.

Also, having lived there for a while immediately post sanctions, I’m pretty unconvinced it was the sanctions that forced change in South Africa – especially as there was all sorts of fundamental exclusions in things such as the AAA act etc.

48

Brendan 05.02.06 at 10:27 am

Brooksfoe,
I completely agree with what you are saying, but I think your example of Pakistan was slightly unfortunate, given that (like Saudi and Egypt and Jordan and UAE and Kuwait and Algeria, and others) Pakistan is a US/UK client state. Actually there is quite a lot we can do about Pakistan, as Musharraf is currently playing the much sought after role as ‘our son of a bitch’ in the Middle East. Mysteriously, the Euston Manifesto has nothing to say about this, instead choosing to fulminate about cultural relativism, a relativism that is evinced mainly by our political leaders, not that you would know it from reading the EM. But your basic point (that the EMers do not, in fact, do anything to promote democracy in the Middle East, nor would they approve of any concrete actions to promote democracy in the region) is of course correct.

49

brooksfoe 05.02.06 at 10:29 am

John M, you do have to recognize that there is a rather striking difference between American counterinsurgency as conducted in Iraq and Russian counterinsurgency as conducted in Chechnya.

That said, the US military continues to kill far too many civilians, especially because it puts such an absolutely priority on its own forces’ security zones (hence killing innocent drivers at checkpoints etc.). And it pretends that because it makes an effort to minimize civilian casualties, it then bears no institutional responsibility whatsoever for those casualties which do occur. And, more gravely by far, US politicians pretend that they have no responsibility for the civilian casualties inevitably caused by military action, and do not have to weigh those casualties against whatever benefits they (in their tiny deluded minds) think will result from military action.

50

john m. 05.02.06 at 10:34 am

Brooksfoe,

I completely agree with what you said and fully acknowledge my tendency to be glib in comments but space and time allow for little else. And it happily often really annoys people with whom I share no common ground and never will.

51

Louis Proyect 05.02.06 at 10:36 am

With respect to Walzer, the American “decent left” tended *not* back the war in Iraq with the exception of Paul Berman and George Packer (who has now like a rat left the sinking ship.) The Brits, on the other hand, were more bellicose–Norm Geras being the most visible example.

What unites all these people, however, is a Wilsonian conception that the USA has the right to intervene militarily on behalf of human rights, blah-blah. They were all, including Michael Berube and Chris Bertram, *for* NATO’s war in the Balkans.

Now you have the drums beating for a new “humanitarian” war in the Sudan. As was the case with Yugoslavia, the war–if it does occur–will not be about saving lives but protecting profits.

52

brooksfoe 05.02.06 at 10:52 am

As was the case with Yugoslavia, the war—if it does occur—will not be about saving lives but protecting profits.

You lost me there. But I have a feeling I’d rather stay lost, and that you are about to launch into an explanation which will threaten to send me fleeing into the arms of the Eustonites.

53

Louis Proyect 05.02.06 at 11:00 am

brooksfoe: “You lost me there. But I have a feeling I’d rather stay lost, and that you are about to launch into an explanation which will threaten to send me fleeing into the arms of the Eustonites.”

What is so hard to understand? The March 25, 1991 Independent stated:

The irrational and autocratic Serbian leader is effectively preventing Yugoslavia’s federal government from implementing the economic reforms which could rapidly turn it into a thriving country. Although in the past he has shown an interest, at least verbally, in Western-style reforms, Mr Milosevic is now clinging firmly to the old Marxist state system which gives him immense power and support from many people, like pensioners, who would suffer from change. The impact of privatisation and a free market, says Professor Veselinov, “would overthrow Milosevic and socialist ideas.”

54

soru 05.02.06 at 11:02 am

Furthermore, it makes no sense to spend most of your time criticizing people who are not listening to you.

Does that mean no more Bush-bashing?

Seriously, I think the extent to which political conversations cross national boundaries is seriously under-estimated. Especially by americans, who unlike europeans, arabs, etc, generally don’t pay much routine attention to other countries politics.

55

brooksfoe 05.02.06 at 11:38 am

I think the extent to which political conversations cross national boundaries is seriously under-estimated. Especially by americans

I think we’re talking apples and oranges. American political conversations about terrorism carry into Holland, Nigeria or Thailand in various ways, transmogrified by local context. French political conversations about liberal economics carry into America, transmogrified in reverse. But an American intellectual’s condemnation of the latest Islamic Jihad suicide bombing is filtered out by thick walls of non-communication and (mutual) ignorance. It doesn’t mean much. It’s more like a loyalty oath to prove your bona fides to your own national public. And that I find distasteful.

Incidentally, I think Americans vastly OVERestimate the degree to which their parochial political conversations about, say, persecution of Christians will carry over meaningfully into, say, China or Vietnam. Americans are more likely than Europeans to imagine their terms of conversation to be universal, not less.

56

Andrew Reeves 05.02.06 at 11:53 am

I’ve always loved statements like this, highlighting as it does that it’s ok to kill civilians by the truckload as long as you don’t do it on purpose.

So by your system of ethics the law should make no distinction between murder and manslaughter.

57

john m. 05.02.06 at 12:25 pm

#56 A completely meaningless comparison which also handily misses the point I was making. See the final sentence of #50 for further explanation.

58

Andrew Reeves 05.02.06 at 12:47 pm

57. Well, I’m not sure *what* your point was in comment 47 besides making a straw-man version of my statement that intention does matter when it comes to the level of moral culpability of those who kill people.

Let me put it in crystal clear terms. Someone who orders an action that deliberately kills civilians is more morally culpable than someone who orders an action that accidentally kills civilians. If you are unable to see that distinction, I guess you are correct that we are unable to have any further conversation.

59

Michael Bérubé 05.02.06 at 12:58 pm

Thus Louis Proyect the Unrepentant Marxist:

What unites all these people, however, is a Wilsonian conception that the USA has the right to intervene militarily on behalf of human rights, blah-blah. They were all, including Michael Berube and Chris Bertram, for NATO’s war in the Balkans.

Now you have the drums beating for a new “humanitarian” war in the Sudan. As was the case with Yugoslavia, the war—if it does occur—will not be about saving lives but protecting profits.

Thanks, Louis! It’s a dirty job, taking the side of Serbian mass murderers against Bosnian Muslims and then taking the side of Sudan’s National Islamic Front in Darfur, but I suppose somebody’s gotta do it. I just don’t understand why anyone does it in the name of the left. If you’re a big genocide fan, there are so many far-right parties willing to accommodate you. But I suppose for some people, the Red-Brown Alliance is its own reward.

Just one thing: as far as I can tell, the internationalist left believes that broad international coalitions (not just the one with the UK, Poland, and the Marshall Islands) have the right to intervene militarily on behalf of human rights, and we don’t speak of “human rights, blah-blah” in the manner of Pinochet or Rios Montt. We don’t really care whether Milosevic is stopped by the United States or by Sweden, and we wish anybody, anybody at all, had had the decency (cough) to take out the radio station in Rwanda. And sure, we’ll criticize any so-called leftist who argues that what happens in Franco’s Spain is purely Franco’s business.

60

Louis Proyect 05.02.06 at 1:05 pm

For people who want to see Berube in his scary, full-tilt, anti-Chomsky, pro “war on terror” mode, check:

http://www.centerforbookculture.org/context/no10/berube.html

My reply to him and other Cruise Missile leftists can be read here:

http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/fascism_and_war/chomsky.htm

61

Daniel 05.02.06 at 1:29 pm

and then taking the side of Sudan’s National Islamic Front in Darfur, but I suppose somebody’s gotta do it.

Michael, I don’t know about the Balkans and don’t propose to learn but you are dangerously underinformed if you believe that the problems in Darfur are caused solely or mainly by the NIF. The civil war was started by the SLA in West Darfur and then joined by the Islamist JEM. The Sudanese government (which is no longer exclusively NIF, though it is NIF-dominated) started arming irregular loyalist militias (the Janjaweed), and supporting them with helicopter gunships, but the Janjaweed are not NIF members in general and only roughly under the control of the Sudanese government. (Actually, the Janjaweed seem to have obeyed the recent ceasefire much better than almost anyone else, and the most present threat to the Darfurians over the last few months has been a) SLA rebel troops shooting at aid workers and stealing UN vehicles and b) the Sudanese government reneging on their promise to keep a no-fly zone in hunting SLA troops and shelling villages).

The recent Abuja peace talks were not scuppered by the NIF; they were, precisely, scuppered by SLA and JEM rebel leaders who had been led to believe that American popular opinion was on their side (and therefore that they might get their demands to be allowed to keep their weapons for a six year “transition period” rather than integrating into the Sudanese Army). What I’m trying to say here is, we could quite possibly have had a workable peace in Darfur this weekend, but it fell apart and it is hard to escape the possibility that part of the reason why it fell apart was that the pulpits of the USA were ringing to the sound of people blaming everything on the NIF.

62

abb1 05.02.06 at 1:31 pm

It’s a dirty job, taking the side of Serbian mass murderers against Bosnian Muslims and then taking the side of Sudan’s National Islamic Front in Darfur, but I suppose somebody’s gotta do it.

It would be fine and noble to take the side against mass murderers, Serbian or whatever; the problem is that in practice this usually means helping some other mass murderers, like Naser Oric, the KLA or whatever bunch of thugs pass for the good guys in Sudan at the moment. You’re likely to be on the side of mass murderers either way.

Now, the Spanish civil war is a good example; that was a time/place where decent, really decent leftists went to fight as individuals or as members of their leftist organizations. If you are willing to takes arms, go and fight for justice in Sudan – more power to you. If not, well…

63

abb1 05.02.06 at 1:49 pm

Andrew, what do you think about Admiral Boyce’s quote? Here it is again:

“The squeeze will carry on until the people of the country themselves recognize that this is going to go on until they get the leadership changed.”

Or this quote here, for example:

The “Salvador option” would let US special forces train those elements in Iraq who traditionally oppose Sunni dominance of the rest of the country.
[…]
The option is apparently inspired by memories of the Reagan-era fight against Left-wing rebels in El Salvador, which was won with the help of US-trained “death squads”. They killed not only guerrillas, but also many civilians believed to be offering them support.

One military source said: “The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.”

Or read this report by Seymour Hersh.

Does it sound to you like civilians are not being targeted? Well, denial is not a river in Egypt.

64

zdenek 05.02.06 at 1:56 pm

brooksfoe (#20) — to show that leftists have different reasons for making excuses for suicide bombers from the sort of reasons left had and used to support Stalin etc. is patently not enough to answer Eustonite point about excuse making. It is the excuse making that is the issue and not that they are historically strictly related.

Second to invoke the distinction between explanation and justification at this point of the debate is equally lame because the typical move is to *use* such explanations as reason conferring i.e. as justification providing for the act in question.
In short suicide bomber’s actions say ,are shown to be reasonable given his circumstances and hence they are justified.

Euston point is that this sort of inability to focus on the moral dimention and shift and slide towards ‘explanations’ is an indication that this sort of left is not capable of taking moral point of view.

65

Quentin Crain 05.02.06 at 2:07 pm

No, AndrewR, it seems to me that (air) bombing campaigns have shown themselves in nearly every instance to kill many many civilians.
Therefore, when one makes the decision to bomb they are knowingly choosing many many “accidental” death. At which point, for me, they are not “accidental”.

66

zdenek 05.02.06 at 2:42 pm

#65 — “many police actions aimed at rescuing hostages result in deaths of hostages themselves therefore when police decide to rescue given bunch of hostages they deliberately kill hostages . Therefore police action cannot be morally distinguished from the hostage takers actions ; police are terrorists”. What is wrong with this line of thinking ?

67

Brendan 05.02.06 at 2:46 pm

Could I just add one basic point? That seems to have escaped everyone’s notice?

Why are suicide bombers always referred to as suicide bombers in these discussions? I mean, who gives a shit if the guy with the bombs kills him/herself? It’s a free country (well not Iraq, ha ha ha). Suicide is not illegal. If someone wants to kill themselves it’s their business.

The key point is not that they are suicide bombers but that they are bombers. Can we all get that straight?

Or is the addition of the word ‘suicide’ to create a thick psychological wall between ‘their’ bombers and ‘ours’?

Incidentally, Zdenek, one of the many reasons the Euston Manifesto is a piece of shit is that when ‘we’ bomb them, all we get is context, explanation, and justification, as to why we ‘had’ to do it and why it wasn’t ‘really’ a war crime or whatever. When it comes to ‘their’ crimes, however, then all context must be removed, and providing any justification or explanation is to be a traitor.

68

Uncle Kvetch 05.02.06 at 2:52 pm

What Quentin said. I think there’s a pretty big distinction between

“In the process of bringing about [positive result X], we accidentally caused [negative result Y].”

and

“In order to bring about [positive result X], we will need to act in such a way that [negative result Y] will result. But because we don’t really want [negative effect Y] to occur, our hands are clean.”

The latter, I think, is much closer to prevailing thinking in the US. Unless you believe that it’s possible to launch a war in which only the “bad guys” suffer.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that some on the pro-war crowd are calling for a more “gloves-off” approach in Iraq–that is, they’re calling for a policy that pretty much ensures more “accidents.” So the idea that nobody on “our side” wants innocent civilians to die is increasingly untenable.

69

zdenek 05.02.06 at 2:53 pm

brendan- true EM assumes that there is a distinction between right and wrong and moreover that we can know what that distinction is ; something clearly you have a problem with .

70

Brendan 05.02.06 at 3:03 pm

‘brendan- true EM assumes that there is a distinction between right and wrong and moreover that we can know what that distinction is ; something clearly you have a problem with .’

No I have no problem with the principle. I also have no problem with the principle that I can tell the difference between right and wrong.

About the EMers I am less sure.

71

Brendan 05.02.06 at 3:14 pm

Incidentally, Zdenek, since you are quite the philosopher, you might care to look up the logical fallacy of ‘Circulus in demonstrando’ in which one’s conclusion is smuggled into one’s initial premise(s). This fallacy is rife everywhere, but it is more rife amongst the decents than almost anywhere else at the moment.

The key point you guys want to prove is that ‘we’ are more moral than ‘them’. And that, for example, when ‘they’ bomb ‘us’, then this is an act of pure unmotivated evil, but when ‘we’ bomb ‘them’ then it’s a perfectly reasoned act of blah blah blah.

Now this may be true or it may not. But in in case it is a proposition and evidence must be produced to demonstrate its truth (or not).

But the EMers (and the ‘decents’ generally) invariably act as if this argument has been proven (you do so yourself, above). Actually they tend to act as if anyone who doubts it is insane or evil. But this disproof of moral equivalency is of course what they set out to prove in the first place.

I would guestimate that about 80-90% of the decents argument is based on this logical fallacy and is therefore simply meaningless rhetoric.

(Note: incidentally, the fact that it is a fallacy in this form doesn’t prove that it is therefore false. It may well be the case that insurgent actions are immoral in a way our bombing of Fallujah (e.g.) is not. But either way, this is a proposition that must be argued for or against. You can’t simply assume its truth, and then walk around repeating your ad hominem (another fallacy) attacks over and over (yet another fallacy, Argumentum ad nauseam) in the hope that this will sometimes make it true.

72

brooksfoe 05.02.06 at 3:14 pm

zdenek, you didn’t understand my point. It was important for the anti-communist left to oppose the pro-communist left from the 30s through the early 70s, because the pro-communist left of that time was pro-communist. Attacks by current center-leftists on those further to their left have no such moral standing, because today’s left is not pro-terrorist or pro-radical-Islam. In the US at least, attacks by center-leftists on those to their left are part of a selfish game of political maneuver by center-leftists themselves which at this point is serving the interests of the GOP.

On your second point: The next step after exploring the underlying factors which lead to terrorist bombing is never to “justify” that bombing, though it may appear that way in the feverish and violently self-righteous imagination of right-wingers. The next step is to look at what the implications of those underlying factors are for security, human rights, political stability, and intelligent policy. If you are claiming that leftists think terrorism or deliberately slaughtering civilians are justifiable, you are slandering the left.

73

abb1 05.02.06 at 3:14 pm

Committing suicide while bombing is just wrong; that’s not how decent people bomb.

74

roger 05.02.06 at 3:20 pm

Since we are going through the ever popular topic of sanctions versus invasions, why not throw in the obvious — that a system of dual sanctions that included Iran was never going to work to bring down Saddam Hussein. The pressure Saddam H. felt, to the very end, came from his East — from the Iranians — and, according to everything we’ve learned from the documents we’ve captured, to the end Saddam kept up the pretense of having WMD for fear of the Iranians. Now, perhaps he was just a mad old man, or perhaps … he was right. Perhaps the fact that all the viable Shi’ite parties in Iraq are seriously hooked up to Iran shows that detente with Iran in the nineties, and certainly after Iran’s enemies in Afghanistan became the U.S.’s enemies, should have been a no-brainer.

But, so it goes. The main problem with the Euston manifesto is, obviously, that it doesn’t address cutting American military spending, which is shameless and should be cut by about 4/5ths, nor does it address the increasing use, by executive branches in the U.K. and the U.S., of dictatorial power to enact vanity project interventions. The Boston globe’s sunday story about Bush’s astonishing 750 “signing statements” is an indication that untrammeled executive power, allowed to run riot in foreign policy, soon runs riot in the domestic sphere. University of Chicago sociologist Saskia Sassen warned about this in 2003, here:
http://www.refuseandresist.org/rnc/art.php?aid=1695.

There is a solution, at least in the U.S. — go back to the Constitution. Eugene Kontorovich, reviewing John Yoo’s book for the conservative Policy Review (Yoo’s book, with its wholehearted defence of torture in the service of democracy as long as the executive says it is okay, is like a little blueprint of the Euston Manifesto in action), wrote:

When the Constitution was ratified, the federal army numbered fewer than 700 men; there was no naval establishment. The state militias accounted for the bulk of the nation’s military capability.

The Constitution makes clear that Congress, rather than the president, controls the “calling forth of the militia.” Thus, the commander in chief, at the time of the founding, had no means with which to start a war without prior action by Congress. It would be odd if the decision about whether to wage war were placed solely on the shoulders of an official so ill-suited to
ensuring its success. … In Yoo’s model.Congress’s decision to create a military ready to meet any contingency allows the president to do what he will with it.”

Let’s get back to the Congress having to declare war officially if America goes to war. This would actually put a brake on the British, who are pendants of American foreign policy anyway.

75

brooksfoe 05.02.06 at 3:22 pm

Or, zdenek, let’s put it this way: nothing is easier or more pointless than for western Christians and Jews to “take the moral point of view” regarding the actions of Mideastern Muslims while talking to other western Christians and Jews. This accomplishes nothing. There is some meaning to “taking the moral point of view” regarding Islamic terrorism if you’re speaking on Al-Qaeda; there is none whatsoever if you’re speaking on Fox News. Again, there’s a difference here between the US and Britain, in that Britain has home-grown jihadists, so the domestic debate is to some extent the debate with Islamic extremism. In the US, it’s just talking to ourselves.

76

Pithlord 05.02.06 at 3:26 pm

The distinction between acting in a way that someone foreseeably dies and deliberately setting out and killing them is not just a convenient distinction. Its part of how all people think about justifications for violence, as the various fat men facing trolly cars in a nearby thread found out to their dismay.

77

zdenek 05.02.06 at 3:27 pm

brendan- what you are saying is that if I say that torturing children is morally wrong I beg the question ( this is the fallacy you are talking about ) against the guy who says that torturing children is ok . In other words the burden of proof acording to Brendan is with the first guy . If this is what you think then I was correct to ascribe some sort of moral autism to you.

78

abb1 05.02.06 at 3:43 pm

The discussion about morality is pointless: if you feel that you have to fight the suicide bombers or little green men or those who torture children – go and fight, no one is stopping you. That’s entirely up you; don’t feel discouraged, it’s your right and your obligation. Just live Brendan, me and other moral monsters alone to do our things, we won’t torture children, I promise. Just go, please.

79

abb1 05.02.06 at 3:44 pm

“leave” that is. Yes, leave.

80

zdenek 05.02.06 at 3:48 pm

brooksfoe# 72 – I think I understand the point you are making , I just think its a red herring because

1) its irrelevant when it comes to the question whether left as a matter of fact provides excuses for islamist terror. To point out that radical left is ideologically opposed to Islamist program is irrelevant because it can be ‘ my enemy’s enemy is my friend ‘ fenomenon.

2) the sort of left that EM has in mind anyway is essentially post modern and here the support for terrorists is motivated by well understood opposition to the hegemon and sympathy for the victim .

Your second remark about justification doesnt work because if you dont take morality seriously in the first place ( and the categories we invoke are just eurocentric power moves ) it is questionable to say the least that we get some sort of moral assesment of the situation after we have provided explanation of why the action occured. On this left view that EM is criticising therarapy at best is what you get .

81

brooksfoe 05.02.06 at 3:50 pm

brendan: It may well be the case that insurgent actions are immoral in a way our bombing of Fallujah (e.g.) is not.

This would be a very long case to make, and every plank of it would be rather obvious. A precis: 1. The Iraqi insurgency deliberately targets noncombatants, and, yes, this is more evil than targeting combatants and unfortunately killing some civilians too (the case against nuclear weapons e.g. being otherwise flimsy). reese’s comment on murder vs. manslaughter is apposite. 2. Violence carried out in an arbitrary fashion by ill-regulated secret groups who admit no legal authority and do not state their intentions is more evil than violence carried out by well-regulated and identifiable groups which declare their intentions and submit to legal boundaries on their actions. Some US and British soldiers have been prosecuted by their own forces for violating laws which safeguard detainee rights; some have violated those laws but not been punished; the vast majority have obeyed those laws. This places them on a different moral plane than insurgents who kill in an arbitrary fashion without explaining themselves. The rule of law is good; anarchic violence is bad. 3. Obviously, the Iraqis cannot be expected to magically coalesce into orderly police forces; the advent of insurgents owes a lot to the Coalition’s dissolution of the Iraqi army and its failure to establish order. Still, anarchic insurgents are worse than regular police or armed forces, absent some strong moral cause which the insurgents are fighting for and the armed forces are fighting against. 4. The best case you could make for an insurgent would be a nationalist who targets US troops. I would think of such a person as misguided, not evil, since driving US troops out of his country is not going to accomplish anything positive at this point. 5. The invasion of Fallujah was a bad thing. But it’s debatable how much reckless disregard for civilian lives there was; and even reckless disregard for civilian lives is a big step up from deliberately slaughtering civilians.

And for abb1, yes, suicide bombing is scarier than plain ol’ bombing. I don’t want to get into why, but try for a moment to just accept your own natural obvious reactions rather than “interrogating” them all the time.

82

zdenek 05.02.06 at 3:54 pm

abb1 — just making a point about Euston point of view which is the topic if I am not mistaken ?

83

zdenek 05.02.06 at 4:05 pm

brooksfoe# 81 — I am sitting here and smiling because you sound like you belong with us the decent left.

84

Uncle Kvetch 05.02.06 at 4:08 pm

Join them, Brooksfoe! Next stop, Teheran! Be on-board the slaughter train or be an apologist for evil!

85

abb1 05.02.06 at 4:13 pm

Well, Brooksfoe, it may feel scarier to you, and that’s between you and your shrink. Rational people find the guy launching missiles from the safety of his bunker much more dangerous.

86

joel turnipseed 05.02.06 at 4:26 pm

brooksfoe –

You took the words from my very own mouth: the only thing you forgot to add was the move to the question of international order, vis., “The Decent Left” claim to the right of humanitarian invervention vs. Louis Proyect’s “All interventions are inherently capitalist ploys for world domination and exploitation of the worker.”

Now, history hasn’t been kind to anyone wanting to disagree with Proyect’s view, though it’s gotten better (if only a little)–I find it implausible that Bosnia, Afghanistan, and, should it come about (it won’t, but if it should) Sudan could be classed as imperialistic profit-making exercises. But… it’s a healthy debate for liberals/the left to have as to whether or not the idea of humanitarian intervention is on the table, and if so, when.

As a non-supporter of the Iraq invasion, I felt it fell down because beyond the fundamental dishonesty in making the case for WMD, Al-Qaeda links, and beyond the flouting of the world diplomatic community, and even beyond the likelihood that there would be a bloody insurgency that might be very difficult to suppress (and whose suppression would further deteriorate our standing in the eyes of the world)… there was the some dishonesty as to what and how we might accomplish by such an invastion and absolute dishonesty as to the costs: militarily, financially, and morally.

As anyone who’s served in the military knows (especially who’s served in war), there are a cream of sane, professional leaders among the officer and non-commissioned officer corps, a mass body of committed, but merely competent, and a dreg of incompetent, aggressive, semi- or entirely psychopathic assholes who think very little about the human lives involved–whether of their own men or of the combatants and non-combatants they face in the war zone. War is also quite-famously an activity of great uncertainty. When that uncertainty and the dregs of your military meet, bad, bad things are bound to happen. War crimes are almost certainly going to be committed.

Even to the extent that you can limit this last, war & military intervention is a brutal business. As my little brother said when serving in Panama, “You can talk all you want about what a bad guy Noriega is, but when a 155 shell goes through the walls of an apartment building and kills half their family, all it says to them is ‘Made in U.S.A.'”

So–with speeches like that of Rumsfeld at Aviano AFB in Italy in February 2003 (they’ll hand us roses, it’ll be cheap, and we’ll be gone in six months), you just knew you were dealing with chuckleheads here and there was no way they were going to pull an epistemological rug from beneath your moral judgement against the Iraq war by making a smashing political success of it.

But it doesn’t seem to me that, if a sufficient number of the world’s nations deem it necessary to make a humanitarian intervention, and they are honest enough to their own people about the various costs/risks of such, it should be entirely off the table–or, in the case of Afghanistan, if a group of people has openly declared war on you, and the state harboring them has openly embraced them, that you don’t have the right to unilaterally attack.

87

Uncle Kvetch 05.02.06 at 4:38 pm

In case I wasn’t clear, my snark in #84 wasn’t really directed at Brooksfoe (with whom I largely agree).

88

Brendan 05.02.06 at 5:35 pm

‘brendan- what you are saying is that if I say that torturing children is morally wrong I beg the question ( this is the fallacy you are talking about ) against the guy who says that torturing children is ok . In other words the burden of proof acording to Brendan is with the first guy . If this is what you think then I was correct to ascribe some sort of moral autism to you.’

WTF?????

Er…no.

I don’t really no what else to say. Just…..no.

I might also add, incidentally, that some people (e.g. brooksfoe) seem to think that intent is
a: of huge importance and
b: easy to demonstrate.

Actually the difference between manslaughter and murder isn’t as huge as is implied….I mean they don’t let you off with a slap on the wrist. It’s still a major crime.

But another point is that intention ain’t that easy to demonstrate. For example you would think that action

a: to deliberately target civilians and

b: to deliberately engage in actions in which you know that civilians will be killed

are wildly different activities, completely different, could drive a bus through the gap.

You might want to try this in real life. Try burning down a crowded theatre and explain to the judge that your intent wasn’t to kill the people inside but to burn down the theatre, even though you knew for a fact that the people inside would be killed. See how well it goes down.

89

soru 05.02.06 at 5:56 pm

Again, there’s a difference here between the US and Britain, in that Britain has home-grown jihadists, so the domestic debate is to some extent the debate with Islamic extremism.

Finally someone gets it.

What’s more, in the UK there actually is a link between the far left and Islamic extremists, often converts, typified by Respect party candidate Yvonne Ridley.

Now we have established the actual political context of the Euston manifesto, can we have a sensible discussion of it? Or would people rather go on talking about how the principles imply torturing children, or whatever?

90

Brendan 05.02.06 at 6:06 pm

Yeah Soru, let’s talk about appeasing Islamic fundamentalism and cultural relativism and stuff.

‘JEREMY PAXMAN:
So there is a distinctive British foreign policy. Does it have an ethical dimension still?

TONY BLAIR:
Of course it does, yeah.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
How then can you publicly endorse a country which bans political parties, bans trade unions and uses institutional torture?

TONY BLAIR:
The country being?

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Saudi Arabia? You called it a friend of the civilised world.

TONY BLAIR:
Yes, but it is also important to realise that if we want a secure progress in the Middle East, we should work with Saudi Arabia. I don’t decide… Ethical foreign policy doesn’t mean that you try to decide the government of every country of the world. You can’t do that.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
You called it a friend of the civilised world.

TONY BLAIR:
It is….

JEREMY PAXMAN:
It chops people’s arms off. It tortures people.

TONY BLAIR:
They have their culture, their way of life.’

Now instead of the (more or less) fantasy links between the ‘far left’ (which does exist but is far less significant than you suggest, as is the far left in general), let’s talk about the real links between New Labour, Saudi, Jordan, UAE, Pakistan and Egypt. Let’s talk about collaboration between the US and the proto-Taliban in Afghanistan. Let’s talk about gun running alongside (probably with, and possibly to) Bin Laden by the CIA in the ’90s. Let’s talk about Israeli support for Hamas.

Or is that not the ‘sensible discussion’ you had in mind?

91

soru 05.02.06 at 7:06 pm

That’s a fine discussion to have.

Lets’s start by you saying whether you agree with the Blair quote or not. Would you say that what he said is a consequence of the manifesto principles, or a contradiction of them?

92

John Holbo 05.02.06 at 8:38 pm

soru, you seem to take the view that the Euston Manifesto is of a piece with British domestic political concerns/maneuverings to such an extent that it is, quite literally, unintelligible to your average American – such as myself. (For example, I only think about Gordon Brown once a week, on average, when the “Economist” shows up.) If you are right, wouldn’t it be better for the manifesto to come with some sort of warning label attached. WARNING: will be unintelligible to most Americans who think they are interested in these questions, but don’t happen to be seeing them through a peculiarly UK-centric lens?

93

Martin James 05.02.06 at 10:55 pm

John Holbo,

Haven’t you read enough fantasy literature to know that war is an end and not a means?

The great success of the Iraq war from this North American resident’s point of view is that its Over There. All the people that want a piece of Uncle Sam know they don’t need to come over here to get in a fight.

94

ASteele 05.02.06 at 10:59 pm

I’m just trying to figure out why when we bomb a house that is filled with civilians we all assume that it was some sort of mistake, but when the insurgents blow up a bomb that kills civilians it must of been not only on purpose in that paticular instance, but must also reflect on the insurgency as a whole. Or are how our war crimes are the result of a few bad people, and don’t taint our entire side of the conflict, but somehow we know that couldn’t be the case for their side.

I would just like to see some evidence for this. (for the insurgency, not for osama’s peeps)

95

abb1 05.03.06 at 1:20 am

What’s more, in the UK there actually is a link between the far left and Islamic extremists, often converts, typified by Respect party candidate Yvonne Ridley.

I haven’t heard about Yvonne Ridley, but as a general concept, I am just curious: does it make sense to isolate Islamic (any any other kind of) extremists or to bring them to the political process?

In the US, for example, there is a link between various white supremacy/nationalist groups and the Republican party; on one hand it gives them legitimacy, on the other hand it makes them feel represented, so that they may decide against blowing up some building one of these days.

What’s the rule here?

96

abb1 05.03.06 at 2:01 am

Besides, I don’t know any details about the British ‘decents’ but their American counterparts have no problem in linking with Zionist extremists; they wrote a memo advocating destruction of the Oslo Accord (which was a part of Islamic extremists’ platform as well). And these extremists aren’t even a domestic group, and it’s a much smaller group world-wide, and far more dangerous and lethal (being heavily armed and in possession of WMD).

If you want to discuss (and condemn, I am sure) far-left groups links with extremists, why not discuss it in this context?

97

Brendan 05.03.06 at 2:26 am

‘Would you say that what he said is a consequence of the manifesto principles, or a contradiction of them’.

Insofar as I understand the Euston Manifesto (and as I’ve pointed out, it’s an inherently ambiguous document) then it’s against them. Blair’s comments (especially the ‘culture and way of life’) comments are also blatantly culturally relativist.

However, I also read Harry’s Place, and David Aaronovitch. I have read Christopher Hitchen’s note that Blair (apart from the railways (!)) is doing a great job and Nick Cohen remarking that New Labour is ‘doing about as good a job as anyone could’ (not a direct quote, but the real quote, in ‘Unite Against Terror’ isn’t much better).

I know all these people are Blair-ites in other words (and no they didn’t all used to be. But they are now). They are ideologically and institutionally committed to New Labour foreign policy.

I also know (and I do know this, incidentally, and could prove it at tedious length) that there is almost literally nothing you could not say about George Galloway that you could not say, in the broadest sense, about Blair. Except worse.

Mollycoddling foreign dictators? Check. Financial corruption? Check. Bending UK foreign policy to that of a foreign power? Check. Lying to Parliament? Double check (i.e. the Blair government). Embarassing appearance on Big Brother? OK I’ll give you that one.

The difference being of course that RESPECT is a tiny political party probably going nowhere and Galloway has no real power and is not likely to ever have any, whereas Blair runs the country.

Therefore I infer that the EM is a hypocritical document.

Also, as the old saw has it, it is both an original and good document, but where it is good it is not original and where it is original it is not good. As someone pointed out once, in order to find out whether something is a truism, reverse the statement and see how it sounds.

For example, according to the EM there are plenty of people who would argue:

‘We try to make excuses for, and to indulgently “understand”, reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy — regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so.’

But there are no such movements. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of people who do it (most of all new Labour) they don’t proclaim it. In making this statement, the EMers are saying nothing but providing a political truism that anyone could support.

The problem is not the general principles, which are truisms. The point is the particular case. For example, the next sentence goes: ‘We draw a firm line between ourselves and those left-liberal voices today quick to offer an apologetic explanation for such political forces.’

Such as Tony Blair for example?

Now, to use your beloved George Orwell. Orwell wrote that he could not objectively prove it, but he nevertheless knew for a fact that the Catholic Church was on Franco’s side in the Spanish Civil War. Likewise, I cannot actually objectively prove it. Nevertheless, I know that the EM signers (certainly the people who wrote it) are Blair-ites, and that they wrote it because all their talk of human rights and so forth sounds much better than writing ‘We stand fully behind Tony Blair in his attempt to introduce an ethical foreign policy to the Labour Party. We draw a firm line between Tony Blair, on the one hand, and those who attack him on the other….’

Meaning is use. Those pro-Soviet writers in the ’40s and ’50s wrote a lot about human rights and democracy too, but everyone knew that their real goal was to get everyone to support the foreign policy of the Soviet Union, and they knew it because they attacked everyone’s foreign policy except that of the Soviet Union.

Likewise the goal of the EM writers is to get the Left to support Tony Blair, and until they provide some (or any) criticism of Tony Blair’s foreign policy I will continue to believe that that is their real purpose.

98

Elliott Oti 05.03.06 at 2:56 am

Brooksfoe wrote:

1. The Iraqi insurgency deliberately targets noncombatants, and, yes, this is more evil than targeting combatants and unfortunately killing some civilians too

Kill a civilian and it’s evil. Stick an AK-47 in his hands and all of a sudden you get to shock and awe and drop daisy cutters on thousands of them without any problems. The best thing of all is that you get to call everything else you kill or destroy “collateral damage”. And as long as you don’t outdo Hitler or Stalin in bloodthirstiness it’s actually exemplary behaviour.

In such a moral universe Abu Ghraib is a far worse moral evil than an unprovoked invasion resulting in the direct deaths of 40 or 50 thousand people, the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure, lawlessness and civil disorder, and a hundred thousand or so excess deaths, because presumably somewhere in the latter chain of events “combatants” were involved.

2. Violence carried out in an arbitrary fashion by ill-regulated secret groups who admit no legal authority and do not state their intentions is more evil than violence carried out by well-regulated and identifiable groups which declare their intentions and submit to legal boundaries on their actions.

This is the kind of reasoning that really floors me. Saddam started two wars, one against Iran and one against Kuwait. They both resulted in the deaths of at least a million people, widespread misery, and economic and infrastructural devastation spanning two decades. And that makes Saddam less evil than, say, a bunch of Iraqi thugs kidnapping a journalist and sawing his head off on camera?

What is this, a cartoon universe where evil is determined by the ick factor?

And for abb1, yes, suicide bombing is scarier than plain ol’ bombing. I don’t want to get into why,

You have got to be shitting me. You’d rather be on the receiving end of a sustained USAF bombing campaign than sitting in a cafe in Haifa? What, you think the odds are better?

99

soru 05.03.06 at 3:21 am

Therefore I infer that the EM is a hypocritical document.

That’s quite a stretch of interpretation, given that the document itself doesn’t actually even mention any of the concepts you are arguing about.

Now, if you wanted to say that some of the supporters of the document were hypocritical, you might in some cases be right, and in others you might be wrong. Just as the document has probably been signed by some people who don’t pay for their round, or breathe with their mouth open, and some people who don’t.

92. suggested that the document was incomprehensible to non-Brits, and there is something in that, if you are one of the people who tend to instinctively read things as if the subtext was always short-term political strategy.

95. gets close to the heart of that strategy sub-text, in the differing ways US and UK political parties have managed their extremists.

In principle it might be a hard question as to which approach was actually better, if it wasn’t for the proven fact that the US left-liberal party is the one that would lose an election to a semi-trained incontinent chimpanzee, and if it did somehow win, would be unable to implement a single policy Attila the Republican would disagree with.

100

Brendan 05.03.06 at 3:26 am

‘That’s quite a stretch of interpretation, given that the document itself doesn’t actually even mention any of the concepts you are arguing about.’

Yes I know it doesn’t mention them. That’s my point. My point is that it ought to.

My other point is that I have been flagging up the idea that the EM is Blairite document at HP and other places for some time now, and nobody has denied it.

And what about you, Soru? Of all the political parties that are available for you to vote for in the UK, which one’s views are most congruent with your own, as regards foreign policy?

101

abb1 05.03.06 at 3:40 am

Violence carried out in an arbitrary fashion by ill-regulated secret groups who admit no legal authority and do not state their intentions is more evil than violence carried out by well-regulated and identifiable groups which declare their intentions and submit to legal boundaries on their actions.

Interesting, a lot of people have exactly opposite opinion on this (Leo Tolstoy, for example). They think that violence perpetrated by governments is 100% evil as its only purpose usually is oppression, while violence perpetrated by ‘angry people’ (rebels, insurgents, etc.) is only half-evil, as it’s usually a natural reaction to oppression.

And it’s not true that insurgents don’t state their intentions, they always do. Most of them want foreign troops out Iraq; some also want foreign troops out of all Muslim countries, yet others want all western military/ political/ economic/ cultural influence out of the Muslim world altogether. Somewhere along this line there must be a point of compromise that a large majority of them would accept. That’s all there is to it.

102

soru 05.03.06 at 3:53 am

Of all the political parties that are available for you to vote for in the UK, which one’s views are most congruent with your own, as regards foreign policy?

Of those available, Labour, though a more Eustonite Labour, one that made less excuses for allied dictators, would be better. How about you?

103

Brendan 05.03.06 at 4:11 am

‘Of those available, Labour, though a more Eustonite Labour, one that made less excuses for allied dictators, would be better. How about you?’

Well I don’t know. Probably the Lib Dems.

But the point is that you are not exactly providing a crushing refutation of my argument that the EM is (‘objectively’, as the Marxists used to say) a pro-New Labour document.

104

soru 05.03.06 at 4:33 am

Labour, New Labour, and Blairite are all rather different things. Which one are you claiming?

And which elements of Lib Dem foreign policy go against the manifesto, and do you support them in doing so?

Not being an expert on every aspect of lib dem policy, the only example I can think of is Jenny Tonge, and that comment got her sacked.

105

Syd Webb 05.03.06 at 4:44 am

#28 Andrew Reeves wrote:

There is, though, something of a moral difference between someone who deliberately places a bomb on a minibus and someone who orders the bombing of a military target that then misses and hits the minibus.

Hypothetically. In practice, the author of the orders to hit military targets which has resulted in the killing of tens of thousands of innocent civilians is also the author of orders that have targeted innocent civilians.

OTOH, when starting a war, there is the knowledge that no matter how careful you are, innocent civilians will almost certainly die so in some sense launching any war is a “deliberate targeting of civilians.”

Yes. There is, perhaps, a moral question about how good one’s intentions are. They make a good road-surface on the road to Hell.

In fairness, credit where credit’s due. The USA has fought some of her wars of the past 60 years with a reckless indifference to civilian casualties. With Korea it was a re-hash of the strategic bombing of WWII. In Vietnam Nixon used widespread bombing of the North in an unsuccessful effort to change Hanoi’s negotiating stance.

These days the US armed forces take greater care to avoid civilian deaths. As a consequence the Iraqi civilian death toll is only, say 100,000 – the US military’s actual figure is a secret, than say 1 million. Clearly 100,000 deaths is better than 1 million. Whether 100,000 deaths and a trashed country is a good outcome is a question best left to those closer on the ground, say the Iraqis themselves.

106

Syd Webb 05.03.06 at 4:58 am

#44, Joel Turnipseed wrote:

“I’d have no problem killing an Iraqi insurgent—in fact, I think we should kill more of them, if only we could find an efficient way to do so.”

OK, a bit more context here… we were talking about, specifically, Iraq and the insurgency & a hypothetical, “What if I were still in the Marine Corps & back in Iraq?” More more context: and that in response to my having just finished a review of Sallah and Weiss’s Tiger Force, the book-length version of their 2004 Pulitzer Prize winning story on atrocities committed by U.S. commandos during the Vietnam War. I had said that it was a shame the Army never got to prosecute the 18 men they’d determined had committed war crimes. There followed a rather glib, “like we’re committing in Iraq right now” comment & off we went to beer spitting. I presented the anecdote because it seemed to me a signal case of two people who more-or-less agree on the stupidity of the war, but where one just couldn’t countenance killing terrorists/insurgents even when they were actively engaged in killing.

Thanks for the context, Joel. So you weren’t talking about the morality of killing bad people in general. You were speaking about a soldier’s duty to follow instructions and apply an escalating use of force in a war zone.

In this context you would of course not be killing your Commander-in-Chief, irrespective of any greater moral culpability he might have vis-à-vis your viable targets.

and Syd Webb—would you call me “boy” to my face?

In a face-to-face meeting we would be in an actual country. So it would depend. In a country like Japan I’d use the tone befitting an elder instructing a younger person. In the USA, with her sad history of racial conflict, I’d avoid using a loaded word like ‘boy’.

Here we are in cyberspace, Joel. And in cyberspace, unless you use block capitals, I can’t hear you scream.

107

Brendan 05.03.06 at 5:02 am

Just to make it clear, I don’t really know much about Lib Dem foreign policy, which is why I answered your question ‘I don’t know’. I’ll find out more about it before I vote in the election.

‘Labour, New Labour, and Blairite are all rather different things. Which one are you claiming?’

However, I thought my accusation to YOU (and the EMers in general) would have been crystal clear. My accusation is that the document represents that wing of the Labour party most strongly associated with the foreign policy of Tony Blair. I’m perfectly aware that in terms of domestic policy, the EMers tend to lean ever so slightly to the left: they are probably Brownites more than Blairites.

But in terms of foreign policy, I am unaware of any aspect of Blair’s foreign policy that the EMers have any problems with (or at least that any of them have criticised).

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soru 05.03.06 at 6:40 am

I am unaware of any aspect of Blair’s foreign policy that the EMers have any problems with

Let me see:

1. the war in Iraq (all of it for some people, some of it for all).

2. being polite about Guantanamo, Saudi Arabia, etc.

3. failure to secure an international treaty governing the arms trade

4. not coming up with some arrangement to allow the cultivation of heroin poppies legally in Afghanistan

I think those are the major ones. Which do you think could usefully have been pushed further in the manifesto?

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Brendan 05.03.06 at 7:58 am

Hmmmm….I don’t doubt that YOU have problems with these things Soru (although these must be viewed in the context of ‘Q: Of all the political parties that are available for you to vote for in the UK, which one’s views are most congruent with your own, as regards foreign policy? A: Of those available, Labour.’).

However, I am unaware of online texts in which Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Oliver Kamm (et al) questioned the war in Iraq, let alone ‘failure to secure an international treaty governing the arms trade.’

However if they do exist please let me know and I will retract this statement.

(ps while looking for such statements you might also want to check out the following references: ‘http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,1072-1860681,00.html’, http://politics.guardian.co.uk/columnist/story/0,9321,1451279,00.html, http://www.unite-against-terror.com/whysigned/archives/000028.html, http://www.slate.com/id/2117328/. It is not difficult to find pieces by most of the major proponents of the ‘decent left’ viewpoint engaging in slavish genuflection at the altar of Saint Tony).

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brooksfoe 05.03.06 at 9:07 am

You have got to be shitting me. You’d rather be on the receiving end of a sustained USAF bombing campaign than sitting in a cafe in Haifa? What, you think the odds are better? – Elliot Oti

I would rather be on the receiving end of a sustained USAF bombing raid than on the receiving end of a sustained bombing raid by suicidal pilots who aimed to kill as many civilians as they possibly could. I would rather be on a street in Gaza with the IAF trying to target a car carrying a Hamas leader than in the World Trade Center with Mohammed Atta aiming his 767 at me. Yes, “the odds are better”. First equalize the level of force; then ask whether the suicide terrorist or the uniformed soldier is scarier.

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brooksfoe 05.03.06 at 9:24 am

Interesting, a lot of people have exactly opposite opinion on this (Leo Tolstoy, for example). They think that violence perpetrated by governments is 100% evil as its only purpose usually is oppression, while violence perpetrated by ‘angry people’ (rebels, insurgents, etc.) is only half-evil, as it’s usually a natural reaction to oppression.

Tolstoy was an idiot on such questions. Rebels and insurgents are for the most part aspiring dictators or mafiosi. There are of course exceptions. The rebels and insurgents least likely to be mafiosi are those most likely to dress their troops in uniforms, have well-defined orders of battle, rules, and command structures, and internal systems of justice and taxation in the territory they hold – i.e. to be the most like governments. See Ho Chi Minh, George Washington, William of Orange, Fidel Castro, etc. If you would rather be behind the lines in a chaotic ill-organized zone where bunches of guys have just grabbed their rifles to shoot at the Americans or whoever else they dislike, than behind the lines in a well-organized disciplined armed revolt like the Nepalese Maoists with clear rules and lines of command, then you’re nuts.

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abb1 05.03.06 at 10:20 am

Suicide bombers you’re so afraid of are not aspiring anything, by definition. They are simply very angry and deranged people.

And I don’t think aspiring dictators and mafiosi would risk their lives fighting overwhelming military force with little or no hope to survive, let alone win; there are much easier ways to become a mafioso. You can find suicide bombers’ stories on the internet, try wikipedia. Try Mohamed Atta or something.

As far as where I would rather be – that’s just silly, sorry.

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Elliott Oti 05.03.06 at 10:41 am

I would rather be on the receiving end of a sustained USAF bombing raid than on the receiving end of a sustained bombing raid by suicidal pilots who aimed to kill as many civilians as they possibly could. I would rather be on a street in Gaza with the IAF trying to target a car carrying a Hamas leader than in the World Trade Center with Mohammed Atta aiming his 767 at me. Yes, “the odds are better”.

Meanwhile in the real world, not the world of contrived analogies, victims of conventional bombing outnumber victions of sucide bombings by 4 or 5 orders of magnitude.

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Elliott Oti 05.03.06 at 11:00 am

The rebels and insurgents least likely to be mafiosi are those most likely to dress their troops in uniforms, have well-defined orders of battle, rules, and command structures, and internal systems of justice and taxation in the territory they hold – i.e. to be the most like governments.

In the 20th century, State instigated and perpetrated violence was responsible for de deaths of roughly 200 million individuals.

Uniforms, armies, arsenals, vertical control structures, and revenue collection make it easier, not harder, to kill people.

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joel turnipseed 05.03.06 at 11:59 am

Syd–Not really an all-caps (or screaming type) & I was making an even more limited claim than I think you (or others) suspect. It’s just this: if a soldier or Marine in Iraq kills an insurgent, it’s not (outside the horrible nature of killing, per se) troubling to me as a matter of justice & moreover, I think that if they’re following the rules of war/rules of engagement (e.g., they’re not psychopaths or otherwise out of control, or prone to use methods that guarantee non-combatant casualties–and I should point out here that the Marine Corps, for its part, specifically limits the use of long-range artillery/airpower in counter-insurgency doctrine for precisely this reason), I don’t put U.S. and allied troops in Iraq on the same moral footing as Al-Qaeda/Ba’athist insurgents.

Which is to say: Iraq is an unjust war, stupidly entered and badly led (Gonzalez torture memos, Rumsfeld’s browbeating of U.S. generals into an untenable fighting position, etc.), but that even within that framework, there are those who have fought the war justly and those who have been (and will be killed) whose deaths are justified (that is, the Iraq war is not wrong because it involves the killing of insurgents, but for a whole host–and it’s quite a list!–of other reasons).

Brooksfoe–Have you ever participated in a sustained USAF (or even USMC close air support) bombing? Having done so at both Twenty-Nine Palms and in the Persian Gulf, I can tell you that there are few things you’d rather avoid than this. Out on a limb here, but I think stupidity like this is something the movies are somewhat responsible for: when Hollywood shows even artillery exploding, it blows puffs of smoke or knocks someone off their feet or takes branches off a tree–but a 155mm shell has a kill radius of 50 meters and a casualty radius of 100 meters & will destroy a 6-8 inch concrete wall; a single MK84 bomb makes a crater 50 feet wide, 30 feet deep, and kills to radius of 400 meters (or: more than a quarter-mile). Which is why they just shouldn’t be used outside of total warfare (or even: ever against civilian targets). The use of incindiary/HE bombs–much less nukes–in even WWII was, to my mind, totally uncalled for for this very reason: when you get a sense of the scale of destruction involved (between 40 and 90 percent of Japan’s major industrial cities), it’s just not possible to countenance (and here I’m really looking forward to reading Grayling’s new book, which I haven’t seen reviewed anywhere in the States).

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soru 05.03.06 at 12:11 pm

However if they do exist please let me know and I will retract this statement.

30 seconds with google gets:
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,552763,00.html

In the 20th century, State instigated and perpetrated violence was responsible for de deaths of roughly 200 million individuals.

The vast majority of which was instigated by people (Hitler, Mao, Lenin/Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam, …) who fought their way into power by use of non-state violence. Stopping that kind of thing happening seems more feasible than disbanding and disarming all states.

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Brendan 05.03.06 at 1:40 pm

Sorry quotes from Cohen circa 2001 don’t count. Still to come was his aggressive statements against the invasion of Afghanistan and his slightly more muted statements against the Iraq war. Cohen’s Pauline conversion to the strange mystical cult of St Tony occurred sometime about 2004-2005 (just about the time the rest of us were starting to come to our senses).

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soru 05.03.06 at 3:00 pm

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,958255,00.html
Why Britain continues to allow Saudi Arabia’s corrupt ruling house to get away with murder

http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2005/09/29/monitoring_bush_saudis_off_the_hook_again.php
Last month I noted that the Bush administration had failed to act as required by law after designating Saudi Arabia as a country which severely restricts religious freedom.

http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2003/12/06/why_are_we_arming_the_saudis.php
Why are we arming the Saudis?

Was that worth the 5 minutes of my time it took? I’m betting not.

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