Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When one's opponents have no arguments

There are two major political discussions going on at the moment (now that we have all accepted that the world is not going to die of a Japanese nuclear "melt-down"): one rather parochial about that wretched EU referendum campaign or two, the other rather wider about our involvement in Libya. Interestingly, I am not getting good arguments on either of those issues from any of my opponents who become mildly personally abusive very quickly. Only mildly, though. I suspect it is because they (the various opponents) are not too sure about their stance. How different from the beginning of the Iraqi war when the war in Afghanistan was still the "good war" - the abuse then was virulent though the arguments just as lame. Basically, people were against the war in Iraq because they hated the idea of an American-led coalition while Bush was president. Everything in those circumstances was evil as far as they were concerned and even Saddam Hussein acquired the patina of a martyr. That alone convinced me that there were no good arguments against that war though there were many good arguments against the way the occupation of Iraq, particularly by the British, was conducted.

Let's get the referendum out of the way because that is a thoroughly boring subject and is unlikely to bother us for much longer. We are still at a stage when journalists suddenly announce that the campaign for a referendum is the best thing since sliced bread, that nothing like this has ever been thought of and that all those who are unhappy with aspects of the EU and Britain's membership of it are going to support it. After all, what kind of a eurosceptic would not support an in/out referendum on Britain in the EU? (To be fair, Kavanagh's article is not about the referendum campaign and is mentioned only in passing.)

The answer is, of course, any eurosceptic who refuses to go along with the latest slogan, does not think that the support of such luminaries as Caroline Lucas, Keith Vaz and Bob Crowe is an inducement and does not believe that the in/out referendum will be won by us as we are wasting time, money and resources on stupid campaigns. None of these problems are dealt with, mild personal insults are strewn around and the best argument we get is public opinion is bound to move our way. Brilliant strategy. Marlborough, Frederick the Great, Napoleon, Wellington and numerous World War II generals would be envious.

As to Libya, my opinion that this is not in Britain's interests but is, on the contrary, a poorly thought out emotional response, manipulated by President Sarkozy and Secretary of State Clinton for their own political purposes, is hardening. It is hardening because the supporters of this intervention can produce no arguments except Boys' Own slogans and mild, very mild, personal abuse. There are ridiculous references to the thirties from people who have no clear understanding what was happening then, let alone of the fact that the parallels are not altogether real. I have even been accused of "blimpism" though, I suspect, that was a joke. Or near it.

The reason for the accusation was my refusal to acknowledge that Libya presented a particular security risk to Britain or, even, the EU. I noted that the country that was most at risk, Italy, was merely cheering from the sidelines. If the French, I added, want to indulge in political adventurism, let them do so. What has it to do with Britain or the United States. Answer? Blimpism. I suggested another viewing of the great Powell and Pressburger film.

It is interesting to note that support for this war by any other name is patchy to put it mildly on both sides of the Pond and many of the problems stem from the ill-defined aims. The New York Times is mostly against it though, obviously as this is not Bush's war, they are ambivalent.
Pentagon officials are eager to extract the United States from a third armed conflict in a Muslim country as quickly as possible. But confusion broke out on Monday among the allies in Europe over who exactly would carry the military operation forward once the United States stepped back, and from where.

In Washington, lawmakers from both parties argued that Mr. Obama had exceeded his constitutional authority by authorizing the military’s participation without Congressional approval. The president said in a letter to Congress that he had the power to authorize the strikes, which would be limited in duration and scope, and that preventing a humanitarian disaster in Libya was in the national interest.
The countries that abstained on that UN vote are now openly speaking up against the military operation, which was bound to go beyond whatever anybody thought were the limits. That would not matter if we did not have a President in the United States and a Prime Minister in Britain who believe in the efficacy of transnational rule.

The Arab League's support, much touted before the operation started is, unsurprisingly, doubtful.

None of this is surprising any more than the fact that "Europe" does not speak with one voice is surprising. How could it? On the other hand, if the Americans are looking to hand over the operation to some other participants as soon as possible, the difficulties could become enormous.

However, there are somewhat more surprising opponents of this operation and they are not simply against it because it is led by President Obama or, possibly, Secretary of State Clinton who appears to be gambling her political future on Libya.

George Friedman on Stratfor thinks that this coalition's intentions are unclear and there are too many political complications in Libya and the whole area for a rather simplistic venture to be successful.

Victor Davis Hanson argues from an impeccably conservative (he has even been called a neo-conservative by those obsessed with that group and completely ignorant of it) point of view.
What are we left with? A mission that is part Black Hawk Down, part the twelve-year no-fly zone in Iraq, part working with insurgents as in the 2002 removal of the Taliban, and part Bill Clinton’s various air campaigns over the Balkans. So far, no one has agreed on any objective other than that Qaddafi should not be killing his opponents.

Is he to be gone? If so, how soon and replaced by whom or what? The Libyan military? Westernized intellectuals and professionals? “Secular” Muslim Brotherhood types? Former jihadists whose experience was killing Americans in Iraq? Or is American success defined by rendering Qaddafi impotent and a rebel enclave safe, in the same way that for over a decade the Kurds carved out sanctuary from a closely monitored Saddam?
Most unexpectedly, Caroline Glick (together with other writers on Jewish World Review) is critical. In fact, her argument is similar to this blog's only about the United States, not Britain.
Traditionally, states have crafted their foreign policy to expand their wealth and bolster their national security. In this context, US foreign policy in the Middle East has traditionally been directed towards advancing three goals: Guaranteeing the free flow of inexpensive petroleum products from the Middle East to global market; strengthening regimes and governments that are in a position to advance this core US goal at the expense of US enemies; and fighting against regional forces like the pan-Arabists and the jihadists that advance a political program inherently hostile to US power.

Other competing interests have periodically interfered with US Middle East policy. And these have to greater or lesser degrees impaired the US's ability to formulate and implement rational policies in the region.

These competing interests have included the desire to placate somewhat friendly Arab regimes that are stressed by or dominated by anti-US forces; a desire to foster good relations with Europe; and a desire to win the support of the US media.
Under the Obama administration, these competing interests have not merely influenced US policy in the Middle East. They have dominated it. Core American interests have been thrown to the wayside.
In other words, how are American interests advanced by this adventure? How are Western interests advanced? Has anyone thought about it beyond those, admittedly terrible, pictures on TV?

Mutatis mutandis we must ask the same questions here. I am ready to change my mind if I hear reasonable arguments on the other side.

Diplomad2.0 weighs in.


  1. Clinton enforced a no-fly zone over a Muslim country (Iraq), from when he took office in 1993 until he left in 2001. He also dropped bombs on the same country (Operation Desert Fox, '98). But that was all beyond reproach because he was a Democrat. One could argue – whatever one thinks of tranzi outfits based in New York – that Bill had less clear-cut UN permission for his no-fly zone than Dave 'n' Barack enjoy for theirs.

    The UK will not get an EU-membership referendum. The eurosceptic cause will, thank the Lord, be saved from a huge unforced error (see 1975 - nothing has changed, except the "yes" side has got richer).

  2. (By the "yes" side I mean the one that favours remaining in the EU.)

  3. http://thediplomad.blogspot.com/2011/03/libya-this-doesnt-make-sense.html
    Diplomad obviously far from gruntled about US involvement

  4. Interesting about Diplomad. Joining the chorus, I see.

    The no-fly zone over the Kurdish part of Iraq was a controlled operation with an obvious aim. The Libyan imbroglio is not. The fact that they are both Muslim countries is not so important in my opinion.

  5. The dumb thing is Lybia seemed to be moderate and opening up, perhaps it is a Persia situation here and when it is over and the nasty man (sarc off) has gone we will be treated to an extreamist government and terrorists on the EU doorstep. If you have good well informed points and you get insults it likely means you are not wrong!

  6. Helen, you'll probably find that people like Caroline Lucas, Keith Vaz and Bob Crow are not designed to appeal to people of your political persuasion, as people of your political persuasion _alone_ on the issue are clearly not sufficient to deliver the necessary pressure for change on the EU. The People's Pledge campaign, more so than the other one, seems a bid to do something different. And one might approach that with an open mind, given we presumably agree that what has gone before has not got us very far. cheers, Mike.

  7. As a matter of fact we have achieved a certain amount, Mike Hanlon, but not enough. As I have pointed out before (once or twice or a dozen times) an important reason for that is the allocation of resources to stupid campaigns which achieve nothing. As things stand, if we have an in/out campaign we would lose it. By we, I mean people who want to be out of the EU. The reason for that is that the debate is never allowed to move very far forward before somebody decides to set up another pointless campaign. How is that going to deliver change on the EU, whatever that might mean?

  8. I always thought that the fact that you can impose supposed freedom and democracy on a nation was a very good reason for not going into Iraq or Afghanistan. Such a view was voiced by Peter Hitchens back then - he being a Burkean conservative. The culture (stemming from Islam in part) is not conducive to western liberal democracy. I feel it's unfair to tarnish all those who argued against the war as have 'no good argument'.

  9. Sorry, that should have read 'cannot impose democracy'.

  10. Well actually, it worked in 1945 in Germany, Italy and Japan, Chris. Peter Hitchens was off beam as so often. But most arguments against the war did not even have his sophistication. They were paeans of hate against America and Bush. Nothing else.

  11. Helen, I am not saying that there was not much anti-Bush and American tied up in the anti-war movement. But you were very clear and specific that you had found 'no good arguments' against the war. Peter Hitchens was no in fact the only person to present such an argument.

    Regarding Italy, Japan, Germany etc. Was freedom and democracy really imposed or in the case of Germany restored? Germany did have a functioning democracy before the rise of Hitler. Japan has ended up with the same party governing practically uninterrupted since the war...

  12. A bit like Sweden, then, Chris. Japan, I mean. And Iraq had a form of constitutional order, which was almost democratic before the Ba'athists took over.

  13. Helen @ 00:29 - I don't doubt we would lose an in/out referendum if one were held tomorrow. You are right, but only on an academic point. Since the act of demanding one today will not cause one to happen tomorrow.

    The key point, it seems to me, is whether there is also a plan alongside the referendum campaign to ensure we win that referendum should one happen ultimately one year or more in the future.

    As far as I understand it, groups supporting the referendum / pledge campaign will continue their anti-EU campaigns also, possibly even in a better-funded way.

    I can see that is how change may well be delivered. Having taken the trouble to enquire, before coming to a view, this is why I'm perhaps rather more accommodating about these new events on the EU campaigning scene than you appear to be.

  14. Can you have democracy without adversarial politics? I'd say not - but that is another topic for another discussion. As for Iraq, almost, but still not. We might be able to pick one or two isolated and questionable instances of imposition - but that seems to be getting away from the fact that you very specifically stated that you had found 'no good arguments' against the war(s). Clearly you were aware of Hitchens' (et others) argument, so are you prepared to accept it as a good argument (though different to your own opinion) or not? If you do, fine. If not, at least we shall know in future.

  15. What will you know in future Chris?

  16. Well, nothing if you never answer the question put to you...

  17. All quiet on the western front I see...