Friday, 20 November 2015

Shawcross and his unfashionable views

This book, by William Shawcross, who is an intellectual and (kind of) a part of the Establishment in the UK - I know there are many who do not like his writing, but I do - was published rather a long time ago, after 9/11 and after the invasion of Iraq by the US-led Allies, but not long after. It took some work to track it down once I became aware of its existence. The views and ideas it contains were unfashionable at the time, and not only among the complacent chattering Guardianistas, who unfortunately are still with us, but broadly unfashionable in every sense, which is why the book sank without trace. I think I paid about a euro for it from some obscure book dealer, after Amazon tried to tell me it was unobtainable. A pity. I don't like buying second-hand books, especially if the author is still alive, as the creator of the work gets nothing from it, and Lord knows it's hard enough to get paid to write anything at all. But it is worth reading this book, I promise you, even if your prejudices, fully formed beliefs, intellectual worldview, whatever, compel you to think he is wrong.

It starts this way: "The Arab narrative of the 'Fallujah butchery is ... pernicious nonsense." About 270 were killed in Fallujah, almost all of them fighters, almost all of those former Iraqi army officers under Saddam. He quotes the Iranian journalist Amer Taheri on the killing of the American hostage Paul Johnson at that time: "Paul Johnson was killed by lies spread by Arab elites ... he was killed by the over 1,500 Arab lawyers who have volunteered to defend Saddam Hussein but who were nowhere to be seen when he was engaged in genocide against the Iraqi people." Shawcross says "Saddam may not have been an immediate threat but he was an inevitable one." He notes (in his preface to a later edition) that the Arab Spring had its harbingers here, in 2003.

UN weapons inspectors were banned from Iraq in 1998, and the Allies bombed Iraq that year. Remember that? Remember the millions marching against it? Nor me. One member of my local Labour Party at the time timidly approached me to express disquiet about the bombing of a sovereign nation. But only one. UNSCOM's final report on this, in 1999, said that vast numbers of WMDs could not be accounted for. Shawcross goes so far as to give the need to contain Iraq in the 1990s as the reason for the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia.

Shawcross is good on the humbug there is about the "neocons". At the time of that liberal hero JFK's presidency, in 1962, a legal opinion given by the Justice Department noted "the UN Charter does not prohibit the taking of unilateral preventive action in self-defence prior to the occurrence of an armed attack." No. It did not so prohibit then, and it does not now. Shawcross concludes "Surely everyone would agree that it would have been better if the United States had pre-empted 9/11 by confronting Al Qaeda and the Taliban before September 2001. There was ample cause." Yes.

Very few European intellectuals saw 9/11 as a threat. One who did was Ralf Dahrendorf (contrast the late Gunter Grass) who said that first, Western values do exist; second, power is needed to defend them; third, defence might have to be done by force of arms. Michael Ignatieff and Bernard Kouchner were two others who took this view.

"The Iraqis could not change their own tyrannical government; only outside intervention could do that. There was no better case in the world for such intervention. Tony Blair himself put the issue succinctly later when he told the House of Commons, 'When people say to me, why are you risking everything ... on this issue? I say I do not want to be the prime minister at whom people point a finger back in history and say: 'He knew perfectly well that the threats were there and he did not do anything about it.'"

I cite this book, and quote from it, to indicate that what "everyone" knows, and what "everyone" thinks do not really exist. What you think, and what I think, may differ. We may both find equally sound and convincing bases for our views, and argue them effectively. But a plurality of views there always is, and this must continue. At this time, soon after the savagery of the killings in Paris, and as I write in France under a state of emergency, there is a dismaying chorus of voices, at least in English, informing us what "everyone thinks" and what "everyone knows" - usually that such killings are the fault of "the West". That the Bataclan murders are France's fault for conducting air strikes on Islamic State. Leave them alone and they'll leave us alone. Idiocy. they have already declared war on "us". Hoping they'll leave us alone is like feeding a lion, in the hope that it will eat you last.

The West is at war,whether it wants to be or not. That war started a long time ago. It was formally declared much later, in the 1990s, and Bill Clinton did more or less nothing about it. It was stepped up in 2001, and it has been going on since. You and I cannot save ourselves from attack by Islamist terrorists. But if we shut up, if we blame the West for the attacks, if we say in Nick Cohen's ironic words "Kill us, we deserve it", we are complicit in the ultimate victory of the death-loving barbarians.

As I write there is a hostage crisis in Bamako, Mali. It is taking place at the Radisson Blu hotel in that city, whose guests are not that likely to be Malian farmers or workers. There are signs that it is about to be resolved without the bloodletting we saw in Paris a week ago. I hope so. But hey, that's only over there in Africa.

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