Tuesday, April 11, 2006

It's much ado about nothing, it's not so simple, so calm down

Judging from his recent output, David Aaronovitch's main purpose now is to persuade people not to worry about what governments might be doing (when he's trying to be serious, that is: his attempted rib ticklers are, like almost all examples of columnists seeking to demonstrate their satirical abilities, not worth remembering).

Last month began with a bid at making out Guantanamo to be far more complicated than human rights-crazed simpletons will allow. After irrelevant sniping at Rowan Williams's silence on Darfur, he moves on to a critique of improbable plotting in Michael Winterbottom's film on the "Tipton Three”. He doesn't say he thinks they were guilty, just that they look like maybe they could be.

We're told the apparent innocence of the inmates discredits their case, because if there were a good, or at least simple, case against Guantanamo it wouldn't hinge on inmates' innocence. One might think Rowan Williams had already made such a general argument, not contingent on any inmate's innocence, in the comments Aaronovitch quoted at the beginning of his article:

“any message given that any state can just override some of the basic habeas corpus-type provisions is going to be very welcome to tyrants elsewhere in the world”

But no. For Aaronovitch, nonsense about fundamental juridic principles and their worldwide impact is irrelevant; the only argument against Guantanamo worth addressing is one he suggests is made implicitly in a film about three individuals. Why? Because then he can mask his basic, crude, argument – that we should detain without trial anyone on vague suspicion of guilt – with a pretence of fairness and nuance.

His next attempt at governmental exculpation was even vaguer. “In the end,” he announces after some pseudo-sophisticated padding about a theatre trip, “I think it's unlikely that much – if any – influence was bought, or much policy bent by donors to political parties.” So that's OK then. Except the accusation was that peerages, not influence or policy bending, had been bought.

But “is this absolution for Mr Blair? Absolutely not.” He's guilty of being “hypocritical and myopic”, apparently – damning charges. This hypocritical myopia innocently led him to nominate friendly creditors for peerages: the only question is how he could have missed how bad it would look. And besides, “democracy costs”. “Getting the message out costs.” So we should accept corruption, basically, unless we're prepared to hand taxpayers' money to political parties. It's part of the “messiness of democracy”.

Curiously Aaronovitch seeks to portray such whitewashing as brave, via the device of complaining that if he had attacked the government he'd have received congratulatory letters on his bravery. “There is nothing safer for a writer than being told by everybody just how brave one is,” he says, boldly eschewing this course for some edgy defence of a right-wing government in a right-wing newspaper. He stands alone as a voice of sanity, prompted by “the misunderstood little boy in me”, pluckily standing up for the government.

Dave “voice of reason” Aaronovitch is back today, asserting, as ever without actual evidence, that Bush won't attack Iran and that Seymour Hersh's widely-reported New Yorker piece was wrong.

While he doesn't have evidence, he does have insinuation. Not everything Seymour Hersh has said previously has been right. One quote, about Bush being “messianic”, might have come from a “political opponent of Mr Bush”. Hersh doesn't name all his sources, Aaronovitch reveals, as if this were a new or surprising phenomenon. “How [Jeremy] Bowen knows whether Hersh's sources for this are good or not is anyone's guess”, he intones. “The problem here is that we simply have to take Hersh and his judgment on trust.”

And who would trust one of the world's most successful investigative journalists, with all his sources and concrete claims? Who would bother considering the US covert operations reported to be already underway in Iran? Or the government consultant “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb”? Or the Pentagon adviser recounting the White House view that “the only way to solve the problem is to change the power structure in Iran, and that means war”? Or European diplomats or the IAEA? (Not to mention the fact that claims of an impending Iran attack are hardly confined to Seymour Hersh.)

None of it matters, because a multi-chinned former NUS president has pronounced: “My own uninformed guess,” he says, “is that there's a lot of contingency planning going on about Iran, just as we plan for the unlikely eventuality of an avian flu pandemic.” So there.

(For a helpful rundown of Aaronovitch's strangely naive position on the Iraq War, see here.)

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