Saturday, September 07, 2013

Liberties


So Tony Blair was apparently on the radio this week explaining that "trust" isn't as big an issue over Syria as it was over Iraq, since we know that the Assads have and use chemical weapons.

A neat point, but one that won't wash with those of  us who'd be against a war, even if Tony produced an authenticated clip of Bashar himself sneaking around Damascus like Dick Dastardly with drums of  poison.

Why? Well, if your basic position is like mine, then one of the many reasons to disown any future wars is precisely that our political class has repeatedly proven that they can't be trusted not to do something insane the second they get what they want.

They request an inch, and take a mile.

You'll look long and hard through Hansard before you'll find a parliamentary vote on the invasion and twelve-year occupation of Afghanistan.  Nor will you find any clips of Dick Cheney telling the press that the US intended to invade Iraq, topple its dictator and turn it into a laboratory for lunatic free-market experimentation under a bunch of locally-despised exiles.

You won't find these, because the official excuses for these wheezes were "killing or capturing some very specific terrorists" and "finding some theoretical weapons".

You might say well, circumstances forced us to reassess, but let me suggest that "what our leaders did" may well have been influenced by "what they had always intended to do".

Our last war was little different: having secured permission to patrol the skies of Libya to "protect civilians", we miraculously ended up bombing fuck out of everything that looked like it might have been useful to the regime. Thus did a mission that was sold on the protection of the people of Benghazi end with the people of Benghazi blasting hell out of urban centres with the very artillery that was once trained upon them.

Like a gaggle of miniature Douglas MacArthurs, these people simply can't be trusted not to deliberately abuse whatever trust is placed in them.

God only knows what they have planned for Syria, but I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to paint the place pink and puce or appointed Rolf Harris as King.

They create a dessert, and they call it peas.

This determination to grab whatever can be grabbed is one thing, but their tendency to lie brazenly about their activities is just plain insulting your intelligence.

Readers will be familiar with this behaviour so i won't labour the point, but who can forget Barack Obama's insistence that our bombing campaign in Libya wasn't even a war, or fail to be suspicious when he says the same of our upcoming Syrian adventure?

Who doesn't feel nostalgic about that time when David Cameron and William Hague furiously denied   targeting the Gaddafi clan, while Liam Fox was simultaneously telling anyone who would listen that hell yeah, it was open season on dashiki-wearing thugs and their offspring?

These are entirely minor examples and readers will have their own favourites.  Perhaps it's Condaleeza Rice babbling about mushroom clouds or claiming to hear the "birth-pangs of a new Middle East" in the bombed-out ruin of southern Lebanon, or maybe President Bush assuring the world that America doesn't torture the people that it does in fact torture.

Whatever - the fact is that our leaders are entirely comfortable with all manner of crazy shenanigans, and are quite willing to entirely lie about it if caught.

They mistake their own propaganda for facts

More or less the only way to understand a character like Tony Blair, for instance, is to assume that he entirely believes the insane things he says.

I'm quite certain that to this day that he believes he told us all the truth about the invasion of Iraq, and this is because he's incapable of realising that a PR campaign easily tips over into outright porkies.

Lynx deodorants, for instance, would think you were mental if you accused them of fraudulently selling armpit-sanitizer as Viagra.  MacDonalds don't much fret over their responsibility to be straight with the public, and nor should they.

Wars, on the other hand, are a bit more important than burgers. They present unique challenges and acute moral dilemmas, ones that can't be overcome with daring acts of creative imagineering. There really is a responsibility to level with the public, if you intend to send their kids into harm's way and deploy the might of the nation among the houses of women and children.

Consider: is John Kerry being honest with America when he tells the people that "Assad has killed 100,000 Syrians"? That would, after all, imply that regime forces haven't taken any casualties at all. When he makes grand claims about damage to American prestige caused by failure to blam Damascus with missiles, is that a real and important thing, or a bunch of PR horseshit?

If it's the latter, then how far can anything he says be trusted?

They're so very fucking bumptious about it.

And we'll finish with a minor point - our politicians are so keen to cast their own actions as vitally important and historic that it's difficult to avoid concluding that they're victims of narcissism.

Take Iraq, for instance. Even if we believe the government was sincerely concerned about terrifying weapons of massive destructiveness*, then the invasion was surely a regrettable but essential endeavour rather than a moral crusade.

And yet, recall the soaring rhetoric of the era, which existed purely to cast as noble and virtuous an action which, by its own architects' admission, was only necessary.

Echoes of this can be heard in Michael Gove's lunatic rants after last week's vote, as he reportedly accused everyone within earshot of appeasement. Yo, Mike - this isn't 1938 and you sure as hell aren't Churchill - you are, at best, a twat.

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So, you get the idea. If I carried any clout at all - which I definitely don't - my bottom line would be "no more wars until you've proven that you won't take the piss".

Of course, none of us can see the future and it could well be that five years from now, Angela Merkel will hoist the Swastika and invade Poland.

Until that point though, I'd say it's best to err on the side of caution.



*"WMD" itself being a term of art, designed to make the public worry about nuclear warheads when it really means "some nasty poison gas".


Sunday, September 01, 2013

Gentlemen, You Can't Fight In Here!

Well, well - we do live in interesting times. Some thoughts on the ongoing fallout of the Syria debacle in the UK, in no particular order:

- It's difficult to understate how badly the government had sex with the hound in making its case for bombing.

To pick a couple of previous PR campaigns, we've had a case full of scaremongering, slightly-true bollocks and magical fulminations on the wonders of democracy (Iraq) and a case that amounted to a series of bald lies about our objectives (Libya).  Both were packed with nonsense, but it did feel like they were at least making a bit of an effort.

For Syria, the government tried the novel tactic of not making a case for war at all. Perhaps it was complacency that reduced the entire campaign to some horrible TV footage and a vague plan to like, bung some missiles at Syria so that the regime would, like, totally know we meant business and shit.

So you can't really blame folk for not buying it. This kind of behaviour looks pretty deranged when it's a bunch of Palestinian yahoos spunking rockets at their neighbours for no particular reason, and it doesn't sound more reasonable just because the guy proposing it went to public school.

- If your plan is so flimsy that it can't even stand up to one guy saying, "Can you explain this in a bit more detail", then it was probably a shit plan in the first place.  This part of war-planning is usually the most insulting phase, as everyone pretends there's an actual debate to be had, beyond how badly we intend to fuck up some foreigners.

After all, it's not like Ed Miliband asked for a detailed twelve-step programme for the elimination of death itself. Labour's quibble basically offered 100% backing for yet another whizzbang firework show, provided Cameron handed over something - anything, any excuse, however feeble - by way of justification.

Frankly, I thought Cameron could've published a war prospectus that consisted of a map of Syria with BOMB HERE written on it and a clip of Tulisa honking on another cock, and he would've been buried under a towering pile of backbenchers' frilly knickers, like Tom Jones. A mere fig leaf to drape over Britain's vast, throbbing war-boner would've been sufficient.

Instead, we were treated to one of the least edifying hissyfits in Parliamentary history, as Number Ten chewed desks, rent garments, spoke in tongues, called down the judgement of heaven etc. and so on. Michael Gove and William Hague looked like they were engaged in a contest to see who could best convey the abstract concept of bollock-torture, through the medium of facial expressions.

Well, it'll probably come to war anyway, but let's just notice for now that all it took to derail these hijinks was for one major politician to say "Hold on, let's have a bit of a think about this first".  Perhaps there, we see where we've been going wrong all these years.

- The most psychotically aggressive human beings in this country aren't soldiers or football hooligans, but Times journalists. For the past fortnight, their opinion columns and editorials all read like they were written by a pissed-up Scrappy Doo.

- And it really is very lucky for our mental foreign policy wonks that all these disasters keep happening in places that they've always wanted to bomb to smithereens in the first place.

- I suspect that most of our war-loving pundits have been in such a state of boiling, omni-directional seethe since that vote, not just because they love those Syrians that we weren't planning to kill so very fucking much, but because

a) Britain chose not to join in with the Americans and the sky has not yet fallen, which teaches the public all kinds of highly inconvenient lessons, and

b) These aren't people who are used to being denied whatever they want. War pundits have been spoilt rotten these last fifteen years, so it's no surprise that they're stamping their little feet and bawling when Mummy tells them that we have to play nice and keep the toys in the box for once.

- Elsewhere, Paddy Ashdown has been telling everyone who will listen that not bombing fuck out of countries whenever we feel like it is some terrifying form of hateful extremism.

Call me nuts, but his wailing about "isolationism" strikes me as hilariously premature. Parliament narrowly declining one war in every ten or so doesn't sound much like a Fortress Britain mentality to me, yo.

Still, let's note that while Ashdown's Fuck 'Em And Feed 'Em Frag Grenades attitude to military adventurism is wildly unpopular with the actual electorate, it places him squarely in the centre of the most mundane mainstream of UK politics.

- Also, somebody needs to send some British journalists a link to the Wiki page for "War", because almost none of them appear to be aware that bombing fuck out of another country is a little bit war-ish.

I mean, sure, these days we only make war on countries that can't meaningfully fight back so the definition is stretched, but the formula is still Attacking a country = War, no matter how many nice press releases you issue while you're doing it.

- And that line we kept hearing, about how "Syria is not like Iraq". I'm assuming that it means "Not like Iraq in 2003", because it sure as hell looks a bit like Iraq in 2007 to my untrained eye.

- It's fairly incredible to me that the press seem to be able to find endless numbers of Syrians who want us to bomb their countrymen on their behalf, but almost none who actually want to be bombed themselves.

You'd think there would be quite a lot of Syrians who'd state publicly that they'd rather not be fragged into space dust by the force of our humanitarianism, but I guess they must be too busy to give interviews.

- Who doesn't love being told that "We can't let Russia or China dictate our foreign policy" by wonks and hacks who are entirely in favour of outsourcing our foreign policy to Pennsylvania Avenue? It's just precious.

- If everyone on Twitter giving it hee-haw about how anti-war types should protest the Russian embassy had actually protested outside the Russian embassy themselves, there would've been a massive protest outside the Russian embassy.

It would've achieved squarely nothing, but it would at least have backed up their tiresome patter with a bit of action.

And finally, whenever the Americans do start bombing Damascus, my money is on "Operation Lightning Justice". You heard it here first, folks - enjoy the display.