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Sunday, October 31, 2004


It is better so it is good – perverse utilitarianism

Iraq is better than it was under Saddam, so the actions taken by the US and UK governments were good, right? Well, no. Accepting, for the purposes of debate, the first part of that argument, the second only necessarily follows if we adopt a crude utilitarianism as our moral guide.

The following thought experiment might offend. It is designed to ask us to consider the ‘good’ involved in actions so immoral that they whip many reasonable people into apoplectic ‘hanging’s too good for ‘em’ mentalities.

A baby has been abandoned in the forest. It is wintertime, the snow is heavy on the ground and the family does not have enough to eat and cannot support the new arrival. Infanticide by exposure. This is not the moral dilemma of this thought experiment. I will not be asking; what would you do, but rather, how do you understand and judge the events that follow.

Now, living in the forest is a paedophile. In keeping with the Hansel and Gretel scenario, and the hysteria and witch-hunts that define popular discussion of these modern day bogeymen, this paedophile may well live in a gingerbread house deep in the forest. He finds the baby, rescuing it from the snowdrift in which it lies. He feeds, clothes and shelters the baby.

Now, I need not illustrate my point to vividly, and I am sorry that I have asked your imagination to fill in the gaps in my experiment. But the baby is alive. It is fed. It is warm and sheltered. In this thought experiment it will grow into an adult. The baby is in a better position than it would be had it died.

But the actions of the paedophile are not good. They are, as best can be put, wicked. The motivations of actors are important in judging their actions and the resulting consequences. And the defence of only carrying out a lesser crime is not sustainable in situations, as in this one, where the lesser crime was not a necessary condition of preventing the greater crime.

Okay. Some will complain that this is not an accurate depiction of the psychology of child abusers or their victims. Fine, but that is not the point. You could also imagine a vigilante who mugs the people he saves, only he allows them to keep their credit cards whereas the original muggers would have taken the lot. Or a lifeboatman who saves only the women, leaving the men to drown despite having spare capacity in his rescue boat. All these people produce a better result than had they not been in existence. But their actions are still immoral, even wicked.

If Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Blair want to argue that they are good because the consequence of their actions are better than what had gone before, they need to argue that they acted in the interests of human rights, democracy and freedom. These, if they come, are collateral benefits of the War in Iraq, a smokescreen of a defence for men who acted in bad faith, for wicked reasons.


John Negroponte and Ann Clwyd – a post for Halloween

I have been thinking recently about John Negroponte. I still struggle to understand how he has been placed in the position of Ambassador – de facto Governor - of Iraq, and how on earth his appointment has not caused more of a stir among the pro-war left and liberals. His record precedes him, and ought to scandalize all those who supported the War on Iraq for human rights reasons.

People like Ann Clwyd MP have had a long, principled history of opposing the human rights abuses carried out by Saddam Hussein. The people in charge of the war did not. In the run up to war she famously delivered tearful speeches making the human rights case for war and regime change. I believe those tears were genuine. But given that, what can we imagine were her emotions when she took stock of the attitude towards human rights taken by some of her friends. Is her public silence on the actions of Cheney, Rumsfeld and their associated cold warriors, actions taken at the same time as the worst of Saddam’s atrocities were taking place, a result of political expediency? Does her role as Special Envoy on Human Rights in Iraq adopt a definition of human rights that is very far from universal?

John Negroponte, a man who managed the torture, rape and murder of Latin American opponents of oligarchy, plutocracy and gangster capitalism, is Ambassador of Iraq. Iyad Allawi, a Ba’athist hardman, is the interim Prime Minister of Iraq. Estimates of the number of civilian deaths resulting from the War in Iraq range from 15,000 to 100,000. In the next few days there will be a renewed assault on Falluja. Where are Ann Clywd’s condemnations of these men, or these actions? Perhaps her understanding of human rights depends of the situation, the abused, and the abusers, despite her referencing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Saddam is to stand trial for the crimes of his atrocious regime [.pdf file of UK government dossier], and of that I am glad. But it is possible for us to bring many other human rights abusers, active, like Saddam, in the 1980s, to trial. We would not need a war, we would not need shock and awe. We would simply need to political will to arrest the men and women who walk free in our societies, and in some cases occupy positions of global importance. Speak out, Ann Clwyd.

But she will not, will she? Despite Tony Blair asking the British public to use reason and not emotion, denigrating the principled opposition to war, and then using emotion – though I do not feel that emotion resides in a place separate to reason – to make the case, Ann Clwyd’s tears are genuine. But they have been used to shame the opponents of war, the opponents of handing human rights abusers the power of life and death over millions of people.

Of course, arresting human rights violators without a war is not particularly profitable. It does not require massive purchases of armaments. It does not require the militarisation of society. It undermines the national myth, and is a demand for justice first. And the Iraq War was never about justice first. Ann Clwyd may take a utilitarian view that it Iraq, and the world, are better now than they were before. I hope that she is right, but I do not think that she is.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Revolutionary football

I enjoyed reading this interesting piece of news in The Guardian, hot off the cyber-press. Apparently, Javier Zanetti, the Argentinean captain of Italian football team Inter Milan, has arranged for the Zapatista rebel movement in Mexico to benefit from the ‘changing room fines’ levied against his team mates, which, in the hyper-wage environment of European professional football amount to a sum considerably larger than the average ‘swear-box’. So far the club has donated €5,000, an ambulance and Zanetti’s shirt, which Subcomandante Marcos is reported to have been photographed wearing.

Inter Milan is apparently committed to sustained support, the team’s revolutionary conscience being stirred by reports in the Mexican media of Army attacks on Zapatista villages. However, a more cynical reading of the situation would see the hand of Massimo Moratti, the former president of Inter Milan and oil magnate, manoeuvring for possible access to exploitation rights to the mineral wealth of Chiapas, the Zapatista governed Mexican state. Which would be a depressing, but familiar, conclusion.

To end this post with a tone of optimism, read this communiqué from the Zapatistas, read at an anti-war march in Italy, February 2003.

Monday, October 11, 2004


Use it or lose it - free speech in public space

I found this site today [thanks to Space Hardware for the link]. Would I have the bravery to be a ‘freeway blogger’? I doubt it, but then perhaps reading Newsmax and following the links into the world of a right-wing American Empire might just get me riled to the point where anger trumps cowardice. I’m sure that there are equivalent sites dealing with UK politics, but without the buffer of an Atlantic full of salt water my head may just explode.

Saturday, October 09, 2004


Hereditary Genius - preview image

Here’s a further preview of Hereditary Genius, the centrepiece story of Tales of the Contrary. Thanks again to Dave Evans, who put out a self-published fan-fiction comic based on the Strontium Dog series of stories. You can order it from him for £2, e-mail whistlerstrip*at*aol*dot*com for more details, or see the preview on his blog, Lost Property.

Friday, October 08, 2004


Withdraw the troops? An addition

Some have argued that withdrawing the troops would end with the Iraqis slaughtering each other. Huw Williams pointed out that this was a standard claim of pro-imperialists/colonialists throughout the past two centuries. But let us say that this claim is true. Whether or not the US and UK withdraw is then a question firstly of whether the troops bring more misery and death than would follow in the wake of their departure, and secondly of whether, under the troops or under withdrawal, we will see a stabilisation of Iraq and what form this will take.

On the first point, the troops bring death and misery both directly, by their own hands, and indirectly, by acting as a focal point of resentful violence from Iraqis. However, with Tony Blair declaring Iraq a ‘crucible in the War on Terror’ and with many members of the Bush administration arguing that the War in Iraq was necessary in order to fight terrorists outside American soil. As it seems that there was very little connection between Al-Qaeda and Iraq prior to the invasion, it is perfectly reasonable to argue that Iraqi lives are being sacrificed to protect what is probably a far smaller number of American lives. Iraq, I suggest, has been deliberately turned into a battlefield where terrorists can be engaged and killed without exposing Western civilians to any great danger. This places the ‘collateral damage’in Falluja and Samarra into a distasteful perspective.

The withdrawal of the troops would therefore remove both the direct and indirect misery and death visited upon the Iraqis. But would this not be replaced by terror and tyranny from the foreign fighters that are at the centre of attacks on US and UK troops? Huw Williams pointed out that Fulluja is a city the size of Cardiff, and it is difficult to imagine that it is the actions of a handful of foreign fighters, hated by Iraqis, that make these cities no-go-zones for occupation troops. This incredible idea is further refuted by the fact that many Iraqi men are armed, enabling them to prevent foreign fighters from hiding amongst them if they so chose. Of course, that statement presumes that the foreign fighters are the ones responsible for the attacks on the troops.

Talk using the term ‘foreign fighters’, or describing the situation as being; ‘foreign elements attempting to influence the future of Iraq’ always amuse me. Especially when the speaker is a US Army media liaison.

Some people argue that an Iraq without occupying troops would fragment into Kurd, Sunni and Shi’a nations, a process that would involve civil war and ethnic cleansing. The second argument for withdrawal is a question of stabilisation and the emergence of a new, free Iraq. Can we see the emergence of a free Iraq under occupation? Considering the ‘fragmentation and civil war’ point we must point out that Iraq was held together by Saddam by virtue of his repression. What strategy do John Negroponte and Iyad Allawi have in mind to keep Iraq a single nation? Looking at their records I would suggest repression. Has America once again swapped a ‘son of a bitch’ for ‘our son of a bitch’? If that is the case then I suggest the only moral position that can be taken by a supporter of the war is to support the resistance. Unless, of course, they follow a doctrine of American exceptionalism. This might be rational, if distasteful, for an American to hold, but as American exceptionalism is a threat to every non-(or is that un-)American on the planet I cannot cleave to it.

In short, Iraqis die now with occupation troops present, and will die with occupation troops gone. There is no end in sight to the occupation, the occupation seems to actively frustrate its stated goals, and as long as it exists the misery will continue. The presence of ‘foreign fighters’ in Iraq is encouraged by the presence of the occupation troops, and forces Iraqis into bed with groups of people whose ideologies we would hope to contain rather than spread. If the occupying forces left Iraq then the Iraqi people would be able to reject the ‘assistance’ of these ‘foreign fighters’. Given the US placemen currently in position, the only outcome that brings about a stabilised Iraq is one of repression. The only principled position to take against this is to oppose the path that America has in mind for Iraq, not decades later after the violence and terror has served its US purpose, as the American right argue is principled, but now, before and as it happens. And in a democracy that runs on sound-bites, where there is no access for dissenting voices to present complex views and detailed argument, the slogan may have to be ‘withdraw the troops’.


Stop the War (withdraw the troops?)

I attended a Stop the War meeting yesterday evening. Unfortunately the film ‘Why War?’ was not shown for what we might charitably describe as technical reasons, but the talks went ahead nevertheless. The effective cancellation of the 53 minute film gave the audience the benefit of a longer discussion. I might not have felt like a benefit in the heated, chaotic points of the debate, but public meetings should be just that - meetings of people. I have to agree with what Tony Benn said when I saw him speak in York just before the start of the War in Iraq, that public meetings are an important part of democracy, that allow people to take an active part in the debate, rather than simply participate as a passive recipient of information.

The speakers were Huw Williams and Ehab Bessaiso.

Huw Williams is a UNISON shop steward and was number two on the RESPECT list during the recent European Elections. He, quite forcefully, lay out the argument that the US and UK forces in Iraq were an occupying force, and, seen in this light the resistance against such forces is justified.

In my mind, the argument against this case, when not couched in national exceptionalism, of which I can have no truck, is that the motives of the resistance, or terrorists, if you will, are malignant. But if we are to subject the use of force to a test of motives, then we must subject our own soldiers and their commanders to the same examination. And I have always found the leaders of this war wanting. It is hard to believe that men such as Rumsfeld (Special Presidential Envoy to the Middle East 1983-1984) and Cheney, (Chairman of the Republican Policy Committee from 1981-1987) are interested in democracy and freedom for Iraqis any more than they were during the years of a US-allied Saddam. Perhaps they can argue that such an alliance was borne out of the realpolitik of the Reagan-heated Cold War. But an excuse of that kind is easier for Saddam to use (as the ruler of a country of strategic importance, with belligerent neighbours and an ethnically diverse population, repression makes for sensible survival politics) than it does for Rumsfeld and Cheney (members of the government of a superpower, given its power, can choose its friends and exert influence over allies of convenience). That Saddam cannot use the excuse of realpolitik, that he is to be held culpable for the crimes of his regime, drags Rumsfeld and Cheney into the sphere of responsibility. Of course as a last resort we might argue that these men have changed, that they are now fit to lead a war for freedom. But then so might Saddam.

I am surprised that there was no mention of the installation of John Negroponte [and here] as US Ambassador to Iraq. Given this man’s record in a previous ambassadorial role, in Honduras, I would argue that this is the ‘smoking gun’ that implicates the US (and the UK) as villains in a war that quite clearly wasn’t about weapons of mass destruction, admittedly wasn’t about terrorism, and now, with Negroponte in charge, certainly is not a war for freedom and democracy, except in the most perverted senses. A lot of breath was expended discussing interim Prime Minister Allawi, who may very well be a former Ba’athist, a CIA-funded international terrorist and a US puppet premier. As the last accusation implies, it is not his qualities that are all that important. It is Negroponte and his record that we should turn our attention, and the eyes of our democratic leaders, to.

Ehab Bessaiso, the second speaker, a writer born in Gaza, attempted to connect the three conflicts, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and Israel-Palestine. When he was speaking about the US-support of Saddam he was interrupted (by ‘the suit’, an incongruous sight at a meeting of lefties) and asked whether a current government is allowed to make a different decision to that of its predecessor. This caused the meeting to descended into a minor spell of chaos, where the questioner continued to ask Ehab Bassaiso questions, while other people tried with increasing frustration to point out that there was a time for questions at the end.

But it was, for reasons that I have pointed out above, a moot question. This is not a different US government from the one that supported Saddam. This is not even simply a government ideologically descended from the one that supported Saddam. This is a government composed of many of the same people who supported Saddam. Even if this were not the case, moral outrage at the actions of Saddam in the 1980s would first have to been turned upon the accomplices and facilitators of these crimes within our own societies before we could consider launching a murderous, destructive war.

The second spell of chaos came when a member of the audience demanded to know what the speakers thought was the alternative to war. He argued that sanctions had been tried, and had not worked. Various people argued that we should have supported the Iraqi people in making democracy themselves. This was pointed out to be a vague suggestion, but some people proposed that sanctions could have been raised. I pointed out that in the vast majority of the dealings the US and UK has with dictatorial regimes the public-facing rationale for dealing (and trading) with such unsavoury governments is that this process makes the people of the country more prosperous, building a strong middle-class that is freed from the day-to-day concerns of survival, able to demand greater civil and social liberties. I pointed out that this was not necessarily my opinion of the effects such policies have on national development, nor did I believe that the public-facing rationale is an accurate indicator of the private rationale behind these strategies. But I did point out that this demonstrates an inconsistency that demands explanation.

On of the people who argued that sanctions could have been lifted was an Iraqi exile who had been in the Army during the 1991 Gulf War. Speaking of another method of deposing Saddam, he told a story of having his gun taken off him by American and French soldiers, who promised him that (1991) Coalition troops were in Baghdad and that Saddam was overthrown. Leaving the soldiers armed would have been the best chance for the Iraqi people to oust Saddam, he argued.

The question, ‘what was the alternative to war?’ returned again. I tried to point out that this question presumed that war was the default option, and that unless an alternative plan, conceived down to the last detail was presented, the tanks would roll and the bombs would drop. But of course, it must be the other way round, and war should be the option of last resort. For war to go ahead, a plan, conceived down to the last detail, must be presented, laying out what will be achieved and at what cost. No such plan was publicly presented, nor privately conceived, as has become apparent. Indeed, the only goals that were stated were vague, nebulous claims of using Iraq to democratise the Middle-East through a domino effect, making suggestions that we should have ‘supported the people of Iraq’ seem like a carefully plotted master-plan.

Ehab Bessaiso was then asked if he supported military intervention in other examples of human rights abuses. He said that he did not understand the question, but the questioner, and several other audience members accused him of dodging the question. I felt that he was wary of falling into a trap – that if he supported intervention in say, Rwanda, he must therefore support military intervention in Iraq. Of course, this does not follow, but I can understand his caution. He began to argue that no war could be justified, when his questioner then argued that in that case the Nazis would not have been resisted. This led to calls from the audience pointing out that Hitler’s justification was the pre-emption of a threat, and that there is a difference between a war of self-defence and a war of aggression. Nevertheless, I felt that the best response to the questioner would have been, yes, I can envisage supporting military intervention, and might have done in the examples cited. But in the case of the War in Iraq, the intervention that I was being asked to support was not being carried out with good (I am not asking for pure) intent, and was not an appropriate response to the current situation. Responding to Halabja cannot be an immediate and sudden cause of war fifteen years after the event, certainly not when the act in question was not condemned (and condemnation was actively obstructed) by the current aggressor nations at the time.

Huw Edwards and Ehab Bessaiso concluded by calling for the withdrawal of the occupying troops. They responded to suggestions that the troops were there to reconstruct Iraq and defend Iraqi civilians by pointing out that the current carnage in Iraq hardly supports the idea that they will be able to do so, and that there presence actively prolongs the misery of the post-Saddam era. I am increasingly drawn to this view, increasingly so now the US has laid its cards on the table and appointed John Negroponte as the man to bring Iraq to heel. I do not go so far as supporting the Iraqi resistance, as some at the meeting did, for the same reason that I did not support the US-led invasion. The only option is not to choose the lesser of two evils. It was not then and it is not now. With regard to the Iraqi resistance I say, ‘not in my name’, but to the occupation I say the same.

Monday, October 04, 2004


Tales of the Contrary - preview post

I mentioned that Dave Evans was working to illustrate an anthology of comic stories, written by me, to be collected under the title ‘Tales of the Contrary’. At just over 20 pages of comic, the centrepiece nine-page story is ‘Hereditary Genius’, a story of the transfer of power to the next generation. Here’s a preparatory image produced by Dave, building an atmosphere of the setting and one of the main characters.


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