Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Conclusively Vindicated

Just in case anyone forgot, the Iraq War was not just about bringing democracy to Iraq: it was going to transform the whole Middle East. Oliver Kamm (we can't avoid him, I'm afraid) supplied the standard laundry list of achievements in his rambling Anti-Totalitarianism (p 67). It was, in Fouad Ajami's words, an "Autumn of the Autocrats":
Quite suddenly, in the spring of 2005, demand for political reform coalesced in a part of the world so far resistant to constitutional democracy.

Despite intimidation and murderous incursions by groups inaptly dignified by media commentators with the term 'insurgents', nine million Iraqis voted in the country's first post-Baathist election in January 2005. Protests in Lebanon led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops after a 29-year occupation. Elections in May registered a decisive rejection of Syrian influence. Saudi Arabia conceded municipal elections (though with an all-male franchise). Egypt laid plans for competitive presidential elections.
Yasser Arafat even obliged the Americans by dying, as he did so "precipitat[ing] a warming of relations between the Palestinians and Israel". "The prospects for a negotiated territorial accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians... suddenly looked brighter than at any time since the Oslo Accord." (p 68)

The reality hardly needs pointing out. The Iraqi government is not in control of most of the country, regardless of how many people voted. Lebanon's democratic flowering was promptly trampled by Israel, and the country now stands on the edge of civil war. Saudi Arabia's municipal elections, while a cosmetic step forward for a country without even pretence of democracy, involved no transfer of power from the ruling family. Egypt's "competitive" presidential election was won by the 24-year incumbent, the competition only between carefully selected candidates, amid boycotts and various electoral violations. Needless to say, a new Oslo moment did not dawn for the Palestinians (not that Oslo should serve as a model for anything).

But for real nostalgia let's turn to what Hitchens had to say exactly two years ago, in a cosy chat with Andrew Marr. His prognostications were approvingly quoted by Kamm at the head of his "Regime Change" chapter:
I think Iraq will be remarkable. We're going to live to see great things. We already have Lebanon. We're about to, I think, in Egypt, with the reopening of the Egyptian democracy. The Baath party in Syria, in my judgement, will not be there in two years' time. And there will be extraordinary, are already extraordinary, developments in Iran, which I have just come back from. And so the essential point of the Blair-Bush policy, which is to change the balance of power in the Middle East — that has already been conclusively vindicated."

BBC Radio 4, Start the Week, 30th May 2005.


Blogger Matthew said...

There's still 5 hours 20 mins to go!

5:41 pm  
Blogger Ian.Henderson said...

Interesting article on Hitchens here: Finkelstein on Hitchens

12:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ollie's mother was the English translator of the Asterix books. I think Ollie fell into a cauldron of magic potion when he was a baby so he indulges in a lot of magical thinking. Remove Saddam, Iraq becomes a peaceful democracy, this spreads through the Middle East, the people of the Middle East then start loving the West, problem solved. Meanwhile back in the real world where there are no magic potions ........

7:59 am  
Anonymous ichomobothogogus said...

"And there will be extraordinary, are already extraordinary, developments in Iran, which I have just come back from"

i assume one of the "extraordinary developments" hitchens waxed lyrical about was the election of the fundamentalist hardliner ahmadinejad and the derailing of the Iranian reform movement which happened about a month later. now either hitchens foresaw this and finally decided to out himself as a supporter of hardline shi'ism, or he's a pig-ignorant twat who assumes he knows everything about Iran because he went there on holiday once. I can't for the life of me decide which one's more likely.

2:37 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

Yes. While Hitchens's baffling optimism regarding Syria is his most obvious mistake, I find his comments regarding Iran more amusing.

It seems entirely believable that Bush's sabre rattling, combined of course with his war in Iraq, helped along recent events in Iran. In this sense Hitchens is right, as you point out.

It's interesting that only two years ago these sort of fantastical pronouncements would, if not taken completely seriously, at least pass as plausible comment.

And of course there has been no retraction or apology from Kamm or Hitchens, who continue to expect us to treat their views as realistic. Presumably they would blame Iranian intransigence on weak-kneed European interference, but it's a harder sell even than the "we was robbed", Rumsfeld-incompetence, excuse for the Iraq disaster.

2:59 pm  
Anonymous darkhorse said...

Is it true that Kamm's mother translated Asterix? Shocking to think that an author of such witty and inventive translations could bring up a smug longwinded bore of a school prefect like the Kammster

3:10 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

Yes, shocking. I used to enjoy Asterix.

I didn't know until it was raised here. Kamm has posted about it, ever keen to flaunt his cultured background.

I like the "school prefect" description. He has the air of someone straining, just too hard, beyond his abilities, to please those higher up the ladder. There's the smug, "look at what I did", boastfulness, and the contempt for anyone not in power.

6:08 pm  
Blogger Steven said...

But what is also interesting is that there is no mention of Kamm's father in his Wikipedia entry. I am sure if he were someone special Kamm would never let us hear the end of it. Was he some wife-beating drunk? Or is Ollie a case of virgin birth?

11:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best that Google will do is Kamm's custard shop "Serving frozen custard in Asheville, NC". That cannot be anything to do with our Ollie, can it?

2:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is now clear that there wasn't a concrete plan for even the first stage of this scenario - what to do after the invasion of Iraq. Why does anyone take these people seriously?

2:51 pm  
Anonymous Tim Holmes said...

There was an important leaked report from the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research which stated pretty much the same thing in the face of Bush's rhetoric in March 2003. The report was revealingly titled (in a reference to Bush's "domino theory" of Middle East democratisation), "Iraq, the Middle East and Change: No Dominoes."

And lo, it has come to pass as they foresaw.

Rather pertinent to recall Washington's real attitude to democracy, though - as manifested in their reaction to Hamas's election. It was along the lines of, "screw you, you're not the one we wanted", as I recall. So much for the renaissance of Palestinian democracy flowing forth from the hands of Bush ...

Indeed I was intending to do a comparison at some point of Kamm's reaction to that election with his earlier "Israel is democratic, so leave off" cheer-leading nonsense. I don't think I've ever seen a better example of the Orwellian flip.

2:14 am  
Blogger StuartA said...

That's an interesting point. It almost always seems to be the case that, whatever line the US administration promotes ready for credulous parroting by Kamm et al., there will be some internal report from the State Department or CIA or their UK equivalents contradicting it. The same was true of the effect of the Iraq War on domestic terrorism.

Not, of course, that the authors were benign in their motives. I notice that among the author's concerns was that "Electoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements." Still, as usual, interesting things do seem to fall out of these debates about how best to exploit the world.

P.S. looks like it's going well these days, but it seems to be down at the moment.

6:35 pm  
Anonymous Tim Holmes said...

Yeah, sadly our server can be very temperamental at times. We may look into finding a different provider at some point. And maybe even some funding, who knows ...

12:18 am  
Blogger Lord Straf-Bollinger said...

...Lebanon's democratic flowering was promptly trampled by Israel...

You conveniently don't mention the Shi'ite incursion and the Syrian devastation of the process of governance in the country.

Compared to these, the Israeli activities are of minor significance.

8:18 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

What "Shi'ite incursion"? The only serious "incursion" I'm aware of since May 2005 is the Israeli one.

The "democratic flowering" was supposed to have occurred after Syria had been ejected. Kamm claims "[e]lections in May registered a decisive rejection of Syrian influence". Any claim that Syrian influence since 2005 is responsible for the deteriorating situation in Lebanon undercuts Kamm's claim that Bush's "autumn of the autocrats" transformed Lebanon.

After the much-hyped "Cedar Revolution", Israel invaded, weakening the Siniora government whose installation was the supposed outcome of Bush's far-sighted vision for the Middle East.

How, given this, can you suggest that the Israeli invasion was of "minor significance" compared with the preceding Syrian "devastation". Whatever ill effects Syria had on Lebanon, if we believe the Kamm-Hitchens-Pollard line, they had been brought to a halt by Bush's celebrated strategy.

If you insist on considering Lebanon's history before 2005 (which wasn't what I was talking about, and is irrelevant to Bush's supposed rolling democracy programme) you are confronted with repeated invasions, tens of thousands of casualties, support for brutal Phalangist sectarians, and a 22 year occupation — all the work of Israel. Among other consequences, Israel's attacks were the reason Hezbollah came into existence. It is hard to argue these activities were of "minor significance" in stifling Lebanese democracy historically.

11:39 am  
Anonymous Tim Holmes said...

Just one more comment - here's Chomsky in 1989:

"In fact, even +Iraq+ is sometimes described as "moving towards moderation": Iraq is probably the worst terror-state in the world - death camps, biological warfare, anything you like." (Understanding Power, Vintage 2003, p. 44)

Little seems to change over the years ...

12:55 pm  
Anonymous Johnathan Pearce said...

I find Oliver Kamm mildly insufferable at times; I recall his recent denunciation of bloggers, despite his own activities in that direction.

However, he pisses off the Chomskyite, Blame-America firsters, so he has his good points.

5:20 pm  
Blogger StuartA said...

However, he pisses off the Chomskyite, Blame-America firsters, so he has his good points.

Regardless of whom he annoys, he's a proven hypocrite who distorts his source material. It's entertaining that his fans are utterly unphased by this. This point stands independently of his relentless promotion of state power.

To answer you and Perry de Havilland (since I appear to be banned by your comments system):

There is nothing on this blog that states, or implies, that I think smoking should be banned. For the record, I'm against the banning of any drugs. I also smoke.

However, that doesn't mean I have any sympathy for a gaggle of the self-declared "politically incorrect" who apparently enliven their tedious lives by pretending the switching on of a garden heater is a political protest.

5:48 pm  
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