Monday, 18 January 2010

The mental deformations of appeasement

For the record, I was against the Iraq war at the time, but for pragmatic rather than moral reasons: like Barack Obama, I thought it was a huge distraction from the key priority to defeat al-Qaida and their Taleban allies in Afghanistan and risked undermining the wave of global goodwill that followed 9/11. Nevertheless, I've always found myself in greater sympathy with those who supported the war for good, anti-totalitarian reasons, than with those opponents who didn't seem able to envisage any grounds for removing a murderous tyrant.

That purblind and obstinate refusal to accept that there might possibly have been a moral case for ending Saddam's cruel reign seems to have infected British media coverage of the Chilcott enquiry. As Nick Cohen wrote in his brilliant and necessary column yesterday: 'The inability to accept that a policy they honestly opposed still had moral virtues is producing levels of dementia unusually high even by the standards of British public life.' The reporting of Alastair Campbell's appearance at the enquiry last week was shameful for its lack of balance and inattention to what the man was actually saying. Goodness knows what kind of lynch mob awaits Tony Blair when he appears later this week. (Incidentally, am I the only one to find somewhat distasteful the decision to give free tickets to relatives of service personnel who died in Iraq? The implication seems to be that Blair, rather than Ba'athist and Islamist insurgents, was somehow responsible for their loved ones' deaths, and they have the right to see him brought to account.)

Here's the core of Nick's argument:

Consider the response of liberal Europeans to the last 40 years of Iraqi history. From 1968, an authentically fascist state confronted them, complete with the supreme leader, the unremitting reign of terror, the gassing of ethnic minorities and the unprovoked wars of conquest. America and Britain had, to their shame, been complicit in the oppression, but in 2003 they overthrew the tyrant thinking that he still possessed the weapons he used against the Kurds and the Iranians. He didn't and the occupation turned into a disaster as the followers of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Ruhollah Khomeini began a campaign of mass sectarian killing.

Anyone who believed what Europeans said about their determination to make amends for Nazism and communism would have expected a principled response. However much they loathed Bush and Blair, surely they would have offered unreserved support for Arabs and Kurds struggling to escape totalitarianism. The British bore a heavy responsibility, as our army was effectively defeated in Basra. With too few troops to fight, it allowed clerical death squads to take over the city. British commanders had to suffer the humiliation of seeing the American and reconstituted Iraqi forces charge in to stop the violence they could not control.

And yet mainstream public opinion has never been interested in offering solidarity to the victims of Ba'athism and Islamism. Instead of talking about what happened to Iraq either before or after the invasion, it has remained stuck in the groove of spring 2003, endlessly scratching the record for a conspiratorial explanation for Britain's decision to invade.

As for the endless attempts to prove that the war was 'illegal':

However vigorously they seek to parse UN resolution 1,441, the use of "illegal" demonstrates that Tony Balir's lawyerly critics believe that the Ba'athist regime, which was guilty of genocide and under UN sanctions, remained Iraq's legitimate government, entitled by law to treat the country as its private prison.

Cohen refers to the prediction by Sir Oliver Miles, former British ambassador to Libya, that the enquiry would be a 'whitewash' because two of its members were Jewish, and he concludes:

He's not alone. I have had an allegedly left-wing journalist say the same to me. Once, he would never have allowed Jew obsessions to infect his thinking. Now, his battered mind was wide open to racial fantasies.

The mental deformations appeasement brings should not be underestimated. People don't just placate their enemies, but become them by adopting their ideological mannerisms and foibles. For years, we've had the notion that democracies are the "root cause" of every Islamist atrocity accepted in polite society. You must now prepare yourself for the return of the Jewish conspiracy theory to supposedly honourable discourse. Indeed, if you look around, you will find it is already there.

More from Norm, Mick and Oliver.


Minnie said...

Hm. You can't accuse the buggers of blaming everything on democracy/ies on one hand, and then use the other to impose democracy upon them by force: if the former is true (or perceived by said Bs to be so, which amounts to the same thing in practice), then its obvious that the latter just won't work.
Also the fact that Israel is a democracy contributes to the overly-emotional & reductivist reaction amongst its enemies - crudely: if I is a democracy, then democracy must be wrong.
Already aware of much of the factual background, so fascinated by all the logic and reasoning here; but put plainly, it's probably fair to say that the majority of Brits do not believe that our country's primary function is to serve as junior global policing partner to the USA.

ModernityBlog said...

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