19 April 2004


Scott Lucas writes:

With respect, I think the dangers in a general acceptance of intervention, and indeed its specific application in a case like Iraq, emerge in consideration of your second point.

No, I don't think we should construct artificial "parallels" between the movements that you cite. Ba'athist Iraq was a secular regime; al-Qaida came out of Wahhabi Islam; the Taliban included many Wahhabis but developed locally in response to the conditions of 1980s and 1990s Afghanistan rather than as an implementation of Wahhabi doctrine. That's before you try to stretch these to European, largely secular movements in Germany and Italy which had a much different conception of political, social, and economic structures. European fascist movements were expansionist in foreign policy; the Taliban was not. All the movements you cite find a base in the state apart from the important exception of al-Qaida.

Paul Berman threw these movements together because he wanted to find the cause for aggressive action against Islamic movements and regimes that he did not like. I don't like some of these movements either, but the conflation of them has consequences. To give you some obvious examples: link Saddam and al-Qa'eda to get a war on Iraq that is also a war on terror; overthrow Saddam and you actually give a boost to terrorist activity, including that of al-Qaida. Here's another: link the Taliban and al-Qa'eda and you miss the opportunity to get Bin Laden handed over to the west both before and after 9/11.

And, of course, the conflation leaves out a vital element in the consideration of "intervention". Who is to intervene and to what end? There is no attention to this in your second point and, I would argue, in the points often made by supporters of intervention to US strategy. That strategy, proposed in 1992 and developed in the second Bush administration, is based not on an extension of US power against any country or group of countries. The particular foe is defined not on the basis that you set out but on American strategic interests that were defined before any specific consideration of the evil of Saddam/al-Qaida/Taliban. That's why the US was quite happy, up to summer 2001, to talk with the Taliban. That's why other evils like the Uzbek regime are now valued allies in this supposed war on terror.

In no way do I want to present an "anti-American" argument. I think Kosovo was a critical case that took us beyond right and left and I think the case for intervention there was not based primarily on this extension of US power. And I suggest that it is precisely because we need a considered and effective "intervention" that we should, as George Monbiot has recently argued, seek an intervention that is international rather than national in nature.

On your first point. Yes, the writers you've cited have caricatured opposing arguments over intervention and have avoided confronting the core of these arguments. When did any of these writers acknowledge, let alone respond to, Jonathan Freedland's argument that opposition to the war on Iraq carried the burden of defining an acceptable alternative? When did any confront Matthew Parris's February 2003 call to any opponent of war to think carefully how he or she would justify that opposition if WMD were found and if Iraqis welcomed liberation?

On your third point, there were 1.5 million who marched in February 2003. My observation is that few of them were there because they supported the specific position of the SWP or (Nick Cohen's caricature) the Muslim Association of Britain. And few of those who have written of their opposition to the war have presented an SWP "party line". Katha Pollitt took apart Hitchens in October 2002 when he tried to reduce the American anti-war movement to Ramsay Clark and ANSWER; I don't see why the same shouldn't apply here. If proponents of intervention really want a serious debate on complex issues, then acknowledge the complexity of opposition as well.

(A side point on John Pilger - in the writings of those who caricature the Left, opposition seems to be the words of George Galloway, Tariq Ali, Pilger and no one else. That said, to label Pilger's current opposition to intervention/occupation stemming from a "classical Leninist revolutionary defeatist" position is to misrepresent or ignore his presentation of the past/current situation in Iraq. Instead of tagging him with a label which has no meaning other than to rule out consideration of his argument, deal with his specific contentions on the cost of war, while putting in your points on the benefits of war, and on the possible long-term consequences.)

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