"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Monday, March 20, 2006

Unrepentant and on my way to liberal hell

I have learned this after reading Johann Hari's latest mea culpa over his support for the invasion of Iraq:

"And I think - yes, I was wrong. Terribly wrong."
On reading the piece I think it is clear this was metanoia in every declension of the word - and if anyone should have further doubts, popping over to Crooked Timber's reaction should dispel them. And while having no wish to be rude for it's own sake, I rather agreed with Eric's assessment of this - for their pomposity has reduced them to absurdity.

But while Hari's article was disappointing, I'll refrain from adding to the misery that is the dark night of his liberal soul. I think I'm on record as being reasonably and consistently rude about some of Hari's writing but one has to make allowances - he does work for the Independent, after all. Better instead to explain why I think - in some ways to my own surprise - he's wrong.

I say this because I was never as sure as Johann appeared to be in the early days - lacking the confidence and certainty of his youth, perhaps. I can't say I shared, for example, his enthusiasm for invading North Korea immediately after Saddam was toppled. Yet despite - rather because, I'd argue - of my initially more sceptical position regarding regime-change in Iraq, I find myself completely unrepentant.

With the fashion for recanting going on, you realise that your reasons were not the same as those of others, although at the time you thought they were. For in Johann Hari's case, for example, he seemed to be operating with some kind of time-limited utilitarian justification for the invasion. For after a quarter of a century under Saddam's republic of fear, it takes only three years to declare the removal of this regime "not worth it". Leaving aside what Johann thinks makes it so, and his readiness to accept statistics of some controversy and then add to the totals apparently arbitrarily, I'm left with the question: did all these people who claimed to support the war on a matter of principle really do so because they believed the outcome to be certain? And if this is so, how could the foreign policy that would be commensurate with this be anything other than conservative in the purest possible sense?

If Johann Hari's position is that the unknown possibilities stemming of the removal of a regime of knowable evil are now seen to have been not worth the risk, what possible basis does he have for his criticism of Bush and Blair (and George Galloway, for that matter) for supporting the regime of General Musharraf in Pakistan? What possible answer would he now have if the Americans responded to his criticism for maintaining the status quo in Egypt or Saudi Arabia by saying, "Better the devil you know", when he has just accepted this argument with relation to Ba'athism in Iraq?

The strange thing is, Johann seems to have dropped his previous reliance on opinion poll evidence - which has consistently shown a majority of Iraqis, despite everything, welcoming the ouster of Saddam. That those of us who supported the war might occasionally refer to these is thought dreadfully puerile by the great minds over at Crooked Timber. Roger in the comments of the post linked above (#11), for example, finds it terribly amusing:

"The funniest thing about the Harry's comments is the fetishism of the polls."
Hmmm, they usually find things "eccentric" but funny I can work with. For example, that they are quite happy to wave a poll around that showed a majority disapproving because it has been the only one that supports their position and go to the effort of taking issue with Norman Geras's analysis of said poll - now that really is funny, darlings.

And then there's the whole oil thing Johann can't cope with:

"The Bush administration was primarily motivated by a desire to secure strategic access to one of the world's major sources of oil. The 9/11 massacres by Saudi hijackers had reminded them that their favourite client-state - the one run by the torturing House of Saud - was vulnerable to an internal Islamist revolution that would snatch the oil-wells from Haliburton hands. "They needed an alternative source of Middle East oil, fast."
I'm sorry - my decorum's collapsed. "They needed an alternative source of oil - fast!" What is this shit? The Hardy Boys Discover Capitalism, or something?

There's a more general point here: has anyone noticed the distinct lack of analysis from all those who cried, "It's all about oil"? For opponents of the war who claim to be Marxists can do no other than accept the "anatomy of civil society is in political economy" but beyond some simple-minded rants against imperialists grabbing oil (which they would never dream of touching, of course) there is no discussion of the internal conditions in these societies where the sale of a solitary primary product can earn great wealth for a country whilst leaving intact many quasi-feudal characteristics, which then co-exist with the trappings of the modern state - cities, political parties, modern communications, transport infrastructure, and police forces and armies - all of which have had a much faster evolution than similar institutions did in Europe. But why bother with economic history when you can simply accuse anyone who disagrees with you of being racist?

So we have to make do with the Robert Fisk school of economic history instead. He once wrote, for example, that it was inconceivable that the Americans would be so interested in Iraq if its main export were beetroot.

Is that the sort of breath-taking insight that gets you a job on the Independent?

I should probably speak for myself but I do know that there are quite a few of us who did not support the war because of any misconception over the nature of the Bush Administration; neither did we do so because we thought the outcome certain. And we maintain our position because we are not ready to surrender our belief in the desirability of the overthrow of a tyranny at the behest of those who form a verdict with every passing headline - in artificial deadlines drawn in months and years, rather than in years and decades, as it should be.

And I really will only speak for myself when I say I will never recant because it was and is a position in which I found myself unable to do otherwise. Wherefore, those currently on the trawl for repentance and contrition for supporting the overthrow of one of the most bestial regimes of the 20th century: they are cordially invited to kiss my ass.

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