So it turns out Norm Geras has died. To be honest this wouldn’t matter to me one way or another, if not for the fact that his death has caused otherwise sensible people to behave as if a great intellectual has passed away (reaching dizzying heights here). It’s a repeat of what happened when Hitchens died, with even less justification.
Even the backhanded compliment flyingrodent gave that he “can’t imagine blogs without the Professor — Normblog really should be seen as the archetype of the form” is giving him too much credit. What Norm Geras did is no different from what the rightwing and “decent left” US warbloggers did and do: smear, lie, distort to manufacture outrage. The only thing Geras added was to play up his seventies marxist credentials to imagine how Marx and Engels would’ve totes supported the War on Iraq. Oh, and of course a certain sort of (imagined) upperclass English loquaciousness (e.g.).
In short, my opinion of Geras remains unchanged after his death, a bullshitter who used his writing talents to help make the world slightly worse, though only a minor offender compared to people like Hitchens.
Well, yes, I do, as my old one died two weeks back. That was Sandra’s old computer, Id bought for her from a co-worker in 2008 or so and the hard disks just gave up the ghost. Its been through the wars before and she had already lost the data that had been on it a long time ago, so no great loss. Might buy a cheap new harddrive and get it fixed anyway, just for kicks. The new computer is great and I’m well in the honeymoon phase of owning a new computer, except for having to reinstall all my old favourite programmes and settings, which is always a chore. Not of great interest to anyone but me, I know, so have some Alexei Sayle.
Humphrey is increasingly of the opinion that we are witnessing the USA’s ‘east of Suez moment’ at which the US is faced with the same strategic challenges that all empires are faced with. The legions will be recalled from Europe soon, and this is going to leave a major series of security and other challenges that need to be filled.
Which would make the War on Iraq something like what the Suez Crisis was for the UK: a point at which America’s military capabilities outreach its political power. It was capable of invading and winning battles, but its military might did not help America reach its wider goals. The War on Iraq was the quintessential late imperial war, one not waged for a concrete, achievable goal, but more to show that the aggressor is still an empire, still top dog. It didn’t quite work out that way, which means the empire is still looking for another enemy to defeat to make everything right again, hence the confrontational stance with Iran.
It doesn’t matter that Brian Haw was hanging around with D\avid I\cke kooks too much at the end of his life or that his death was posibbly hastened by putting his trust into quackery rather than proper medicine, nor do questions of how effective an anti-war protestor he was. After all, none of us managed to prevent the Wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, while the War on Libya has proved we haven’t even learned anything from those disasters. What mattered was that Brian Haw had the courage of his convictions to camp out in front of Parliament for years, serving as a living reminder to the fuckers who had voted for these wars that no, the people of Britain did not agree with them and thought them wrong.
He did this so well that the then Labour government created and implemented a law designed specifically to stop him demonstrating in Parliament Square. In typical New Labour fashion, they did this so ineptly that the resulting law applied everybody but him, as he was grandfathered in. (The law only allowed demonstrations to take place if at the start of a demo it had police approval, but Brian Haw had started his demonstration years ago, so…)
Somebody who managed to get under the skin of Blair and co to such an extent that they had to change the law to get rid of him (and failed) and who did so for all the right reasons, deserves our deepest respect.
In the middle of a comment thread on liberal Conspiracy on the desirability of a no-fly zone over Libya, Sunny Hundal says:
I’m happy for people to make valid points, but if the only response is IRAQ IRAQ IRAQ!!! – then frankly one should join Stop the War coalition and hang out with Lyndsey German. That is about the extent of your political nous.
Sunny Hundal is one of the founders of Liberal Conspiracy as the name implies a soft left blog that over the past five years or so has become one of the more important UK political lefty blogs. Sunny has his heart in the right place, but also an eye firmly on a possible political career so sometimes tend to let conventional Westminster wisdom overrule his own intelligence which makes him sound much dumber than he really could be. As a prominent leftist, even a soft leftist, Sunny has also been a frequent target of rightwingers and Decentists, and as with many people who are subjected to such hate campaigns he has internalised some of their assumptions. Put the two tendencies together and you have an explenation for the above quote.
For those of us who can remember as far back to the runup to the Wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s quite clear that “Lyndsey German” (sic) and the Stop the War Coalition were right to oppose them, that all our fears about what these wars would be have been fully justified and that in fact far from the outcast fringe group Sunny paints them as, millions of ordinary people were smart enough to share their views and march with them in opposition.
So if Sunny and co want to argue that a no-fly zone in Libya is urgently needed and that this time, western military intervention will work, that calling for it is done for more substantial reasons than just wanting to show how morally upright and brave you are, that it’s needed in this particular occasion and not say in Ivory Coast for more substantial reasons than that Libya is on the telly, they need to do more than get hysterical. Some choice quotes:
Sunny: If the Libyans rebels want some support against Gaddafi, then I’m afraid the arguments against helping them fall apart.
We definitely need some way to stop Gaddafi massacring his people and its a shame some on the left want to just sit back while it all happens in front of our eyes.
Galen10: Doing nothing is only an option if you have no conscience.
Sunny again: Gaddafi’s son Saif Al-Islam says the time has come for full-scale military action against #Libya rebels – Reuters
Clearly, the correct response is to sit by and vent outrage on blogs and twitter while people are killed in their hundreds.
This sort of posturing and emotional appeal reminds me more of the prowar “debate” in the runup to Iraq than anything opponents to the no-fly zone proposal argued in that thread. It’s an attempt at emotional blackmail by people who will never ever have to suffer the consequences of their advocacy. Or more succinctly:
Ok. I hereby announce the formation of the Free Libyan Legion. Since we all care so much, we’re going to follow in the footsteps of Byron in Greece and Orwell in Spain and get ourselves over to Benghazi and actually fight for Libyan Freedom. In person.
Matt Yglesias was one of the earliest liberal blogging “superstars”, still a student at Yale when he first started blogging, bright, wonkish and always comfortable inside the Beltway, looking to be a Washington insider himself before too long. A centrist by nature, he gets along well with both Democrats and sensible Republicans, not afraid to go against established opinion on his own side. Analytical rather than passionate, he’s not very ideological and approaches politicals rationally. In short, Matt was the perfect candidate to be suckered by the Bush administration into supporting the War on Iraq. Unlike some however, he’s been big enough to admit his mistakes, so I feel a little bit bad picking on him still, but then his recent post explaining why he made that mistake was such a perfect example of how very stupid an intelligent guy can be:
1. Erroneous views of foreign policy in general: At the time, I adhered to the school of thought (popular at the time) which held that one major problem in the world was that the US government was unduly constrained in the use of force abroad by domestic politics. [...]
2. Elite signaling: When Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, Joe Biden, John Edwards, etc. told me they thought invading Iraq was a good idea I took them very seriously.[...]
3. Misreading the politics: [...] I figured Bush wouldn’t be doing this unless he said some reasonable plan for extricating our forces and stabilizing the situation.
4. Kenneth Pollack: The formal case for war that I found compelling was Kenneth Pollack’s “The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.” [...]
He also adds that “being for the war was a way to simultaneously be a free-thinking dissident in the context of a college campus and also be on the side of the country’s power elite” which is an obnoxious motivation but honest of him to admit that. What’s clear from Matt’s explenations is that he just didn’t think things through at the time, letting others (Pollack, elite Democratic politicians like Clinton or Daschle) do his thinking for him, relying on their honesty, assuming the reasons the administration and its supporters gave for the war where the real reasons and there were no ulterior motives. This lack of critical thinking is shown even more in reason one, in which he reveals how uncritically he swallowed the myth of American reluctances to get involved in foreign adventures.
The common factor in all these errors is I think a lack of ideology, of being able to look beyond a given issue to the greater framework in which it takes place. He would’ve done better had he reflexively rejected the cause for war rather than to try and judge it on its merits, as he wasn’t smart enough or suspicious enough to reach the right conclusion. His supposedly rational approach to politics and the war blinded him to the real interests of those promoting it. It’s a trap any of us can fall into if we think we’re more clever than we are: rationality has its limits and you can’t reach the right conclusion if you don’t have all the facts.
Because there was of course an ideology driving the war, just one that was never stated explicitely. If you buy into the idea that America has the right to invade other countries if it decides they have trangressed the international order, then the only question is whether or not the reasons for invading Iraq are serious enough, with the more fundamental question of whether it’s right to do so not on the table. And sinces the cause for war was built on lies, it became impossible for those who like Matt took those lies seriously to reach the right conclusion. Matt’s arrogance, combined with his naivity ensured that these lies were swallowed.