Faith, reason and foreign policy


5:43 pm - August 22nd 2008

by Conor Foley    


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Someone once defined “faith” as being “a passionate belief in something that you know to be untrue”. Without wishing to offend anyone’s religious sensibilities, it does strike me that “faith-driven politics” has been one of the biggest weaknesses of the British left when it comes to foreign policy.

Putting to one side the Trotskyist fringe, one of the most fanatically driven group of “believers” were the Blairites who remodelled New Labour into what was initially such a successful political machine. What marked out Blairites from old guard Labour right-wingers, and the “soft-left” of the Labour party, from which they emerged, was a genuine belief that they had found a new political ideology.

It is no coincidence that so many of Blair’s lieutenants had Leninist backgrounds. There is a certain mind-set that wants to fit the complexities of the world into a set of rigid dogmas and battles between good and evil (with flinching cowards and sneering traitors thrown in for good measure).

Martin Kettle, who today asks why there has not been a million-strong march against Russia’s invasion of Georgia, sums up the attitude in many ways. Like many Blairites he comes from an orthodox left background and repented this dogma as he embraced New Labour which he hoped could “redraw the political map”.

New Labour’s triumph in 1997 was seen by many believers as proof that it had discovered the political equivalent of the philosopher’s stone – rather than a normal phase of the political cycle. But, having made their peace with capitalism, these were left floundering for a belief-set, which is probably why they embraced the humanitarian narrative with such enthusiasm. Out of the messy realities of the crises that had shaken the world during the 1990s they fashioned a new story complete with a set of heroes and villains created in their own image.

Blair’s Chicago speech, during the Kosovo crisis of 1999, set out the manifesto of what came to be known as the doctrine of liberal interventionism, which was subsequently used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

It is still difficult to understand why anyone on the liberal-left supported this invasion, but there is some internal consistency to the position of those like Nick Cohen and Christopher Hitchens. As Ali Eteraz has noted, they supported the use of American “muscle” to effectuate the “liberation” they had always dreamed of the left bringing and do not really seem to have thought through most of the rest. The crisis over Georgia has brought these arguments back into debate.

Martin Kettle explicitly links the Russian invasion of Georgia and Czechoslovakia to Labour’s current unpopularity – and starkly concludes that the party now faces “terminal eclipse”. His article conveys a sense of moral outrage, although it is difficult to see quite who its target should be, combined with an apocalyptic imagery that is a regular feature amongst political commentators of his political background. Denis MacShane adopted a similar tone a few days ago.

The reason why a million British people are not marching against Russian intervention in Georgia is because they know that Britain cannot do much about it. The reason why so many did oppose the invasion of Iraq was because they thought it was a stupid idea. These are fairly simple pieces of common sense and those who do not understand them really need to get out a bit more.

David Milliband should get a better handle on this as well. As I argued before, he is right to condemn Russian aggression, but needs to be a bit clearer about what he realistically proposes to do about it. Supporting a “structured route map” to Georgia’s eventual membership of NATO as he did in the Times on Tuesday is one thing, but contradicting NATO’s own Secretary General about what was agreed in a meeting on the same day is not so smart.

British foreign policy needs to be based on Britain’s actual place in the world, as a relatively minor player that can only use its influence in partnership with others. Britain’s natural allies are its European partners, although it clearly also has a long standing and valuable relation with the United States. Unfortunately, over the last eight years, US foreign policy has been driven by one of the most uniquely destructive Presidents to have ever governed the country.

Of course we should reject knee-jerk anti-Americanism, for all the reasons that Neil Robertson outlines, but the faith that Blair displayed in George Bush as a force for good in the world has also been discredited. The cold war is over and so is the uni-polar world of US hegemony. The economic rise of the BRIC block (Brazil, Russia, India, China) has yet to translate into an equivalent political influence, but its component parts are beginning to exert themselves in particular parts of the world. This poses a new set of challenges, which do not even seem to be on the mainstream left’s political radar screen yet.

Martin Kettle recounts how the crushing of the Prague spring in 1968, shattered a generation’s misplaced faith in one ideology. It is a tragedy that so many of his co-thinkers swapped one set of illusions for another.

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About the author
Conor Foley is a regular contributor and humanitarian aid worker who has worked for a variety of organisations including Liberty, Amnesty International and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He currently lives and works in Brazil and is a research fellow at the Human Rights Law Centre at the University of Nottingham. His books include Combating Torture: a manual for judges and prosecutors and A Guide to Property Law in Afghanistan. Also at: Guardian CIF
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Foreign affairs ,Labour party ,Religion ,Westminster

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Reader comments


1. douglas clark

I’d have thought this is one of the best posts ever on here. Surprising silence…

Seconded. Absolutely superb article. Good work, Mr Foley.

Indeed: this is very good (and it’s good to see that you have slightly modified your position about Milliband’s recent utterances). A few additional points:-

1) Indeed Kettle and others were in political parties with rigid views so events like the invasions of Hungary and Chzechoslovakia were earth-shattering for them. Their view of solcialism was so mixed up with the USSR that they think that these invasions meant the end of socialism

2) Since then they have been looking for another ready-made ideology, preferably one that could make them electable: neo-liberalism was what they found.

3) Their understanding of their new ideology is quite thin. As Peter Mandelson has admitted, the Third Way really consisted of less than 6 talking points, with large areas unexplored.

4) Globalisation illustrates this. They don’t seem to understand that the word covers a wide range of phenomenon, some of which cannot be changed, some which can be changed, some good, some bad. DfID’s mantra is thus “making globalisation work for the poor” without answering the obvious question “how?”

5) Blair’s speech to the Labour Party in late 2001 also illustrates this. The main theme was that the things that LP members want (end of world poverty etc etc) could be achieved by using US military might because at that post 9/11 moment the US was engaged with the world. This begs vast numbers of questions.

6) Another one is the frequently stated mantra “Britain shouldn’t have to choose between the US and Europe”. This doesn’t answer the question “What do we do when we do have to choose?”

7) To some extent these ideas involve taking things that are opposite to each other and stating rhetorically that they can be brought together. Little thought is given to what happens when some aspect of globalisation does not benefit the poor or what happens when US military might is used in a way that LP members do not agree with. But these ideas try to join together some of the myths of the British political establishment (“punching above our weight” or “standing shoulder to shoulder with the US”) with objectives like reducing poverty. The UK political establishment is not offended while it appears that idealistic goals are being met. There are no answers for when the two are in tension.

8) There are, as Conor says, many challenges that are not yet on the radar screen of mainstream politicians because they don’t fit into the existing framework. There are many illusions about Britain’s role in the world, to be dispelled. No doubt there will be lots of rumblings in certain quarters when it is pointed out that Britain is not a super-power, but it needs to be said.

4. dreamingspire

Surely the near silence is not so surprising: a superb article that we should digest (and maybe do our own research), appearing after close of business on the Friday of a summer bank holiday weekend. I’m nothing like so well read as many appearing here, but have been continually seeking a rational basis for why it was that I began about 6 years ago to feel that the NuLab vessel was in fact empty – bewildering things had started to happen in the public sector by then.

5. Conor Foley

Thanks for the comments, Martin Kettle’s article set me off on a train of thought and I forgot about the time difference between Brazil and Britain and the fact that you have a bank holiday. We have to work on Monday – but at least its sunny!

6. douglas clark

dreamingspire,

Point.

Still and all, I have never seen a piece on here get universal praise before.

I am genuinely interested to know what triggered your change of heart. For my part, it was the ridiculous idea that public sector institutiions should suddenly be required to play by private sector rules. That, in order to maintain or protect their position, they would have to employ lawyers, say. Or management consultants, or any other rainbow of spivs. PR comes to mind, but there are others, are there not?

As above, so below.

We had a government that, for whatever reasons, wanted to take Iraq on, and had no idea of what would constitute an outcome. Enter, stage left, the spin doctors and the lawyers and, no doubt the management consultants.

And what do we get?

A complete utter fuck up.

No, that is not what we get.

We get a lot of chancers paid enormous amount of money for telling the government what the government wanted to hear, or supress, or whatever.

We get lower upper class people becoming rich. Oh! Happy Days!

It is this sort of corruption of what the Civill Service ought to be, compared to what it has become, that made me despair.

7. dreamingspire

Douglas,

The trigger was discovering that the person who handed me a Cabinet Office business card was in fact someone working for PA Consultants. Oh Dear! – they have been in the news again this last few days. In 1999, at the request of the Information Age Government Champions, which was a civil service cross-department group of middle managers, I delivered a technical edit on a policy paper emanating from that group. Subsequent attempts to revise that paper, which was in a fast changing area of ICT, had been done with increasing secrecy, but I tracked down the offender in respect of one leaked draft and he agreed to see me. During the conversation I became suspicious and challenged him…
Soon I realised that the gulf between policy and implementation would not be bridged, and that the dumbing down, not just of technology matters but of much else, was because the NuLab cupboard was bare.
Let’s give Gordo his due: I think that he didn’t like what was happening.

8. douglas clark

dreamingspire,

Thanks for that.

Yes, there is a place for the likes of Guido in a world gone completely mad.

9. Conor Foley

Tom Porteous has a good piece on Georgia here – which makes the fairly obvious point that this should not be about ‘taking sides’

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/aug/24/georgia.russia

douglas:

I think there is a silence probably because nobody can take much issue with this absolutely excellent article.

However, if you head over to Cif, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of that! 😛

This is the kind of thing I started reading LibCon for. I’ve Facebooked it in the hopes it will reach others like me…

My what a deferential audience this post has found. Where I would agree with you is that it isn’t realistic to think that much can be done about Georgia. Beyond this though I’m surprised no one yet seems to have found anything in your post to disagree with. I do. For example:

It is still difficult to understand why anyone on the liberal-left supported this invasion, but there is some internal consistency to the position of those like Nick Cohen and Christopher Hitchens.

Really? Yet I recall you writing that after reading Nick Cohen’s “What’s Left” you said that you understood better why people like him supported the invasion of Iraq. Understand it better yet still don’t understand really. Em…

The reason why a million British people are not marching against Russian intervention in Georgia is because they know that Britain cannot do much about it. The reason why so many did oppose the invasion of Iraq was because they thought it was a stupid idea. These are fairly simple pieces of common sense and those who do not understand them really need to get out a bit more.

Perhaps part of the reason why people aren’t getting worked up about Georgia is that because – despite the attempts of the Seamus Milne’s of this world – it isn’t really that easy to blame the US for this one. You might respond that I don’t know the mind of the British people. True. But neither do you – so why are you pretending that you do?

12. douglas clark

Shuggy,

Deferential? No.

Right? Yes.

What annoys me intensely about one trick pony’s like you is that you deny a better world. Nick Cohen is another one trick, jump the fence pony, who now advocates what?

“Oh fuck lets cross our fingers and hope no-one notices that we’ve killed a million Iraqis? Lets pretend this is a success. Lets pretend that if the surge succeeds, we’ll have the moral high ground.”

Excuse me, but no you won’t. Your side of this debate is a land populated with ignorance and lies. A landfill of dishonesty where you put truth out to die.

The reason that folk are not getting wound up about Georgia is because folk see lying liars for the cheap shit they are. And I, for one, would vote for any political party of the left that said they would at least take our interests into account before following the US into another stupid, adventurist, capitalist…you know the rest.

And you do know the mind of the British people. Millions of us marched to tell them. Our moronic masters ignored it, much as you do, even now.

Get real.

A landfill of dishonesty where you put truth out to die.

Ooh I bet you thought this was a clever and profound phrase – rather than what it is, one that makes you look like a pretentious self-righteous moralist fuckwit. Listen, if you want to have a serious conversation – rather than engaging with a straw man and doing some phoney self-righteous posturing – email me or come over to my blog. Meanwhile, here’s a link – you’ll find yourself in there. Follow it quick before the ‘liberals’ who edit this profoundly conformist and illiberal blog delete my comment.

http://modies.blogspot.com/2008/08/georgia-foreign-policy-and-left.html

Shuggy & douglas, point scoring is all well and good, but there is a larger context which needs to be accounted for too.

The point is that to ascribe blame is to fail to take responsibility for prevention, and by trying to point out who is to blame for failings we try to escape accusations of not doing enough ourselves.

Whether I think I did enough to try to prevent the war in Iraq is completely irrelevant because it still happened. Whether I think what is going on in Georgia is bad is completely irrelevant because it was always going to happen unless the diplomatic process had stepped in to resolve the issues before conditions deteriorated.

We can blame the current crop of politicians who inherited these dilemmas for the way they have tried to deal with them, but we should also blame the politicians whose failure to deal with these problems left an unstable legacy. So in the end blaming people is only relevant to the side-taking politicians who wish to enhance and embellish their own reputations at the expense of their opponents and at the expense of the suffering populations.

Give it up – the reason why there are so few comments here is because so little can be added to any positive effect. If you notice, some of us aren’t shy about disagreeing where we think it is beneficial to the flow of discussion.

15. Conor Foley

Ah be nice to Shuggy, if he turns up for a debate and conducts it in a reasonable way then so should we. Remember your manners people.

I think the point that I made about Nick Cohen after reading his book was that – although he comes across as a crazed right wing neocon loon – he is actually inspired by a strange form of leftism
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/aug/01/trottingouttiredcliches

I have been out of British politics for a long time (so Shuggy is right to say that I have no real way of knowing what British people think) and was not familiar with this particular strand of thought at the time. In fact the first two articles that I ever remember reading by Nick Cohen were the ones where he called for terrorist suspects to be deported to places where they could be tortured and demonstrated a spectacular lack of understanding about what the Genocide Convention actually means. Harry’s Place and the Drink-Soaked Teachers have educated me in the interim.

I have noticed that most of the British left do not really get foreign policy, in the post-cold war age, though, and that is probably why they have such problems with the concepts and practicalities of humanitarian interventions .

Shuggy, your comments only get deleted when you swear at others or your ‘mates’ from the other group blog turn up… to swear at others. Please don’t play the victim card – it really doesn’t suit you.

Now, on to the topic at hand.
Shuggy says:
Perhaps part of the reason why people aren’t getting worked up about Georgia is that because – despite the attempts of the Seamus Milne’s of this world – it isn’t really that easy to blame the US for this one. You might respond that I don’t know the mind of the British people. True. But neither do you – so why are you pretending that you do?

Its rather sad Shuggy that you’ve become a parrot of the ‘anti-Americanism’ crew. Were the million people + who marched in 2003 anti-American? Is that why they marched? That must surely mean that the SWP is rather more popular than a lot of you lot give it credit for.

Back to planet earth, I may suggest that a million people marched because it was obvious our country was going to go to war on false pretexts and make the world a more dangerous place. Lo and behold. They were not motivated by anti-Americanism, but rather altruism.

Its funny that for a person who goes on so much about the need for the left to come back to reality, you’ve just dismissed the anti-war majority in this country as being motivated by anti-Americanism. Sheesh. Make your mind up. Are the far left that you’re obsessed by a small contingent or the dominant political force 5 years ago?

Conor – good article. You say:
The cold war is over and so is the uni-polar world of US hegemony. The economic rise of the BRIC block (Brazil, Russia, India, China) has yet to translate into an equivalent political influence, but its component parts are beginning to exert themselves in particular parts of the world.

I think we have a while to go before people truly understand the implications of a more powerful China and India.

17. Conor Foley

Thanks Sunny.

“I think we have a while to go before people truly understand the implications of a more powerful China and India.”

Well and Brazil as well. It is the world’s biggest producer of food and also the biggest producer of steel. It sits down with China – which is now the world’s biggest consumer of steel – and the two of them set the market price for the rest of the world to follow.

I expand a little bit about the importance of BRIC in my current piece at Comment is Free (which grew out of the above article) and one of the links in it is to Times article, which is worth reading.

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/markets/russia/article3941462.ece

I have yet to see any signs that much of the British left understands how the balance of power is shifting in the world at the moment.

18. douglas clark

Shuggy,

I edited the sweary words out of my post. I appear to have missed a shite, right enough.

Just so’s you know. I am fed up to the back teeth with tick tock neocons who talk the words of Marx and pretend that killing millions of folk is strong and good and true.

It is not. It is murder.

And it is joyous is it not? Oh, the true pleasure of exerting death from an armchair.

Who said, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”? Well Apocylypse Now has been replaced on a big screen near you with Iraq The Movie. Movies turned into reality, who’d have thought it?

Historians who sit on there bahookies and pontificate about contemporary politics and attempt to place it into a “framework”, just make complete idiots of themselves. There is very little historical context for Iraq War 2 that is actually useful, is there?

What, the strongest power on the planet beat one of the weakest ones? Well, whoop de doo. And they dragged their fearsome ally, the UK into this debacle. Clearly there are historical precedents. So what?

A landfill of dishonesty where you put truth out to die.

Well, no actually. I didn’t think about it at all. I typed it, thought it was so so and left it in. Though I am now extremely glad that you didn’t like it. Too close to the bone?

Frankly, the ideas of the Euston Manifesto group died out a while ago. And they put the ideas of liberal interventionism on life support.

Which is a tragedy.

So, I will not be talked down to by Shuggy, who chose the wrong side, the wrong arguement and the wrong philosophy.

19. douglas clark

Sunny,

I marched against the war just because I did. I have zero history in left wing politics and I hope to keep it that way. From what I am led to believe, I am now supposed to be involved, at least as a statistic, in minority left wing political groupiscules.

I can assure you I am not.

I consider what I did that day to have had nothing at all to do with left wing politics and has a lot more to do with an Amnesty International / Liberty perspective.

Harry’s Place and the Drink-Soaked Teachers have educated me in the interim.

Eh? About what? If you are in some way accusing either myself or anyone at the Drink Soaked Trots of being soft on torture, I’ll give you the opportunity to withdraw it now or be publicly accused of slander. For what it’s worth, I also had a go at Nick Cohen for what he wrote – a post that was linked by one of Sunny’s mates at his own blogs, as it happens. Don’t you also remember linking another post of mine condemning torture in an article you wrote for Comment is Worthless? This was also posted at DSTPFW – a blog that has never carried a post making excuses for torture. One could be forgiven for thinking you’re doing a guilt by association here. Which is not to say that you aren’t misrepresenting Cohen’s position here – you are. I didn’t agree with him but he was not advocating the use of torture. As for HP, they can speak for themselves. You might not have noticed but there’s been a mild disagreement between these two group blogs.

Unclear, btw, what the reference to Drink-Soaked Teachers is supposed to be about? GeorgeS used to be a teacher but happily has found something more sensible to do for a living. I’m the only one, as far as I’m aware, that is currently employed in this line of work. Do you have some kind of problem with this?

I’m glad you concede that in contradiction to your earlier point you have decided after all that you do not, in fact, know what was in the mind of people who marched against the invasion of Iraq. However, it is nonsensical to say that this is only because you have been out of the country. By definition all we know about the marchers is that they were opposed to the war – beyond this we can only guess, which brings me to Sunny’s point:

Back to planet earth, I may suggest that a million people marched because it was obvious our country was going to go to war on false pretexts and make the world a more dangerous place. Lo and behold. They were not motivated by anti-Americanism, but rather altruism.

You can suggest it if you want but as I think we’ve already established, you have no way of knowing. I conceded in my original comment that I didn’t either but since we’re all playing the guessing game here, I feel I should join in. I’ve said on more than one occasion that I have no quarrel with people of good faith who marched against the war. Hell, I’d even be prepared to accept a grain of the touching naivety you display when you attribute this to ‘altruism’. Let’s put it this way: there’s a well of goodwill out there – into what repository is it poured? Can you, can anyone in this space, really be suggesting that it found a home in the antiwar movement based solely on the merits of the case? Can’t you even consider – jeez even for the sake of argument – that one of the things that formulates people’s views on these matters is the coverage of the issues? And if you can bring yourselves to carry this thought forward, has it really escaped your attention that the coverage of the Georgia thing in the pages of the liberal press has been characterised by an ambivalence that was conspicuously absent with regards to Iraq? I could go on but this comment is rather long already. Couple of further points though:

Shuggy, your comments only get deleted when you swear at others or your ‘mates’ from the other group blog turn up… to swear at others. Please don’t play the victim card – it really doesn’t suit you.

I’ll concede in advance that this’ll have a whiff of the playground here but it isn’t playing the victim card to point out that the last time I got into an argument on this space, as well as letting your long-winded contributor who names himself after a character from a goddam comic dismiss my comments with the sort of extraneous crap we’ve seen from douglas clark above (usual crap – ‘noecons’, ‘decentism’ blah blah) but you also allowed some vile ‘anit-zionist’ to abuse me in various ways without doing anything about it. Swearing was, in my view, an appropriate response. Or to put it more briefly, your friends started it. I have to say for a blog that has previously advocated giving a platform to Holocaust deniers and fascists, to be so anal about swearing strikes me as being a rather perverted sense of decorum, if you don’t mind me saying so.

Aaaaaand finally:

douglas clark: I’d respond to your comments, if it weren’t for the fact that you are a hopelessly ignorant moraliser who isn’t worth talking to.

conor: Ah be nice to Shuggy Don’t patronise me – I can look after myself. Be as rude as you like. But whatever you do, don’t swear. Advocate giving David Irving a platform, or the BNP – but swearing? Now that really would be offensive.

21. douglas clark

Shuggy,

Lost it again, didn’t you?

douglas clark: I’d respond to your comments, if it weren’t for the fact that you are a hopelessly ignorant moraliser who isn’t worth talking to.

Nope sunbeam, you are the ignorant little Napoleeon around here. You are the sweary person, the person that can’t argue your way out of a wet paper bag and someone who makes a complete utter fool of themselves every time they post. It’d be quite sad if it wasn’t so funny.

I’ll ask you again. How many Iraqis’ died? You know what I mean. I’d expect even you might think it was way to many, for a humanitarian intervention, like.

Your absolutist morality or politics or religious beliefs or whatever the heck you think justifies a million deaths. Let me be quite clear about this. I am not joking. Your morality is totally messed up.

You are a moral reprobate, and a complete utter idiot.

By the way, given your lack of any sort of moral compass whatsoever, It would be impossible to patronise you. At least beyond your natural ability to patronise yourself.

22. Conor Foley

Shuggy: I know that you are opposed to the use of torture because – as you say – I linked to a piece that you wrote taking issue with that appalling article in Democratiya which Norm so warmly endorsed. I don’t quite know why you are accusing me of misrepresenting Cohen’s position though. He very clearly wrote that there are circumstances in which torture may be justified and said that the UK needed to find a way around the protections of Article 3 in the European Convention. Read it again:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/nov/05/comment.terrorism

You will probably remember that Alan Johnson wrote something similar a couple of months back, to which I responded at the time.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/apr/22/coughcoughmumble

My political education has been in the internal logic of the “pro-war left” – which is actually a little bit difficult to understand. As you know, I left Britain to work in Kosovo in 2000 and have hardly been back. I was initially quite baffled about why people who proclaim themselves “pro human rights and humanitarian interventions” should spend so much time criticising human rights and humanitarian organisations. Or why people who call for “the reform of international law” seem to be so completely ill-informed (and uninterested) in what it actually says or means. I think I get where you are coming from now, though, but it did take me a while.

Oh, I agree with you on no-platform by the way.

I’ll give you the opportunity to withdraw it now or be publicly accused of slander.

Heh, You write for a blog where the main idiot declares he wants to shoot people in the back of the head, and you’re getting obsessed by ‘slander’? That’s real funny.

Hell, I’d even be prepared to accept a grain of the touching naivety you display when you attribute this to ‘altruism’

A grain of truth eh? Since you admit you’re pissing in the wind with regards to public motives, I’d say that grain of truth is rather worthless. For fuck’s sake man, a million people have died in the country and the United States have monumentally fucked it up as people thought it would. And yet, desperately, you and your ilk are still hanging on to the tired old argument that the people who marched against the war were naive and your little pro-war contingent were the real fearless lefties opposed to tyranny. The rest of us are still beholden in some way to terrorism I suppose? And here I was, thinking that going by your post in response to this you were a man who wanted to connect to ordinary people. Try stepping out of the blogging world once in a while and ask those people why they marched instead of throwing around stupid playground insults on a blog.

Or to put it more briefly, your friends started it.

Thanks for making my point.

I have to say for a blog that has previously advocated giving a platform to Holocaust deniers and fascists

I see you’ve caught that well known disease of twisting around people’s words and including in the word ‘fascist’ just so you can feel smug about your holier than thou attitude. Well done. That didn’t take long.

But I’ll answer your other points anyway:

Let’s put it this way: there’s a well of goodwill out there – into what repository is it poured?

Anger against Tony Blair. The Labour party bleeding votes. If it was genuinely about buying into the SWP’s arguments, you don’t think somehow Respect would be doing better in the polls or that the SWP would be more popular? Jeez, you really are having a stupid weekend aren’t you?

has it really escaped your attention that the coverage of the Georgia thing in the pages of the liberal press has been characterised by an ambivalence that was conspicuously absent with regards to Iraq?

Go on shuggy, tell us. What should the liberal press be arguing for in this case? Shall we invade Russia? Praise the Georgian govt? Go on. Tell us. What line would you take to cut through all this ‘ambivalent’ crap.

24. John Meredith

“What line would you take to cut through all this ‘ambivalent’ crap.”

There is plenty of room to argue about what should be done, but surely it is obvious that current events in Georgia are an example of imperialist aggression by Russia? Why is the press and the left in general being so mealy mouthed about calling it what it is? If this were the US in, say, Cuba, I doubt there would be so much ambivalence or ‘nuance’. It surprises some of us that not a smidgeon of the outrage that was sparked by an invasion to depose a vicious, fascist dictatorship in Iraq is to be found in the face of the invasion of a democratic ally by an authoritarian, imperialist, expansionist neighbour with a recent history of staggering brutality.

I feel it is necessary to interject here again.

We’ve previously discussed what played out in the anti-Iraq war marches and how when various groups attempted to turn it into a generic anti-war movement it collapsed.

That being said, the war in Iraq was not popularly opposed because any of the reasons given for it were not justifiable, but because none of those three reasons given (regime change, spreading democracy, tackling terrorism and WMD) for intevention in this case stacked up against each other.

So instead of attempting to explain the other side, it would be more helpful to describe one’s own experiences.

I was against THAT war because it was an adventure motivated by partisan aims, not a necessity motivated by humanitarian aims.

I am against military intervention in Georgia at this time for the same reasons: diplomacy must come first.

Sadly, I notice there isn’t much enthusiasm for diplomacy on this thread.

It’s perfectly fair to say that, in some quarters at least, there’s been a slight ambivalence displayed towards Russia, which partly stems, I think, from an inability to apply the same scepticism that is used regarding the USA to other nations. The idea that Russia – who has attacked Chechnya on the same basis of ‘provocation’ – would have some altruistic concern for the people of South Ossetia is absurd.

Oh, and I can’t honestly say that when I protested against the Iraq war I was entirely motivated by concern for the Iraqi people – I think that there was an additional, and pathetic, wish to ‘dissent’.* Then again, when I had a slightly more – sorry to use the term – ‘decent’ attitude towards the politics it wasn’t entirely motivated by compassion – pomposity and a tawdry attempt at ‘contrarianism’ contributed as well.* It’s led me to realise that one shouldn’t merely consider one’s views but also the motivations behind them. That means, more happily, that I can now think about people rather than the next stage of argument, and know what the hell I actually mean when I talk about ‘neocons’, ‘Blair lies’ and ‘fascists’.

Ben

* Immaturity is really my only excuse, and this only applies to me, not a million marchers.

Faith – that’s the key to the puzzle. Tony Benn once said that the lanour movement in Britain wasn’t influenced by political ideologies like marxism but rather by Christian movements such as Methodism (e.g. the Welsh mining unions, etc..). This “protestant ethic” definitely permeated the labour movement of the 70’s and 80’s – how many “Nuremberg declarations” were habitually nailed to the doors of NUS, TUC and Labour Congresses? A multitude of groups would come to ask if you were against points 1 – 10 and for policies 1 – 10. Any variation meant that you were not one of “us”.
Along with this Christian impetus came the idea of Good and Bad and the “Calvinist” influence led people to believe that “sinners” must be punished. One of the posters above pointed out that many of Blair’s advisers came from a “leninist” (which I take to mean a British far left) background. Not surprising therefore that when ex-leftie “calvinists” met up with US Bible Belt Calvinists a certain chemical attraction occurred and so Serbian “sinners” had to be punished as well as the Iraqi “sinner” Saddam.
The problem nowadays is that the old Soviet Union was (despite everything) never listed as one of the “sinners” by the various left factions – it was merely a question of whether comrade Stalin or comrade Trotsky had made a “mistake” (also punished by a pickaxe through the head) and a ton of leaflets and books came out to argue the finer points. Russia is not the Soviet Union – it is now a grasping merciless neo-capitalist oligarchy – but there’s still a bit of red in the flag and ex-leftie hearts still warm to the sound of the national anthem. Maybe we’re still hoping that the Russian Red Army is still there to protect the workers of the world!?
I hope this site will bring about a real debate and real analysis based on objective facts as against the “puritan moralising” which has led many of us in lots of strange directions.

Surely the reason some people on the left are somewhat equivocal in their condemnation of Russia and take a more nuanced view is that they instinctively support self determination for the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Andrew Adams – you mean liberal nationalism? I didn’t realise Bismarck would be set for a revival here!

30. John Meredith

“Surely the reason some people on the left are somewhat equivocal in their condemnation of Russia and take a more nuanced view is that they instinctively support self determination for the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”

But not for the people of Iraq? And hands up who thinks South Ossettia will now be self-determining rather than becoming a de facto province of the Russian Empire? And why should South Ossettian self- determination require Russian tanks in Georgia?


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