In the comments to my earlier piece about Nick Cohen, the excellent Mr Eugenides — whom I take considerably more seriously than Nick Cohen (that might, I realise, come over as a back-handed compliment; it isn’t mean to be one) — raises some points I thought I’d turn into a post. He writes, broadly summarising Cohen’s argument from The Observer:
Cohen’s wider point – he does phrase his description of the anti-war marches deliberately provocatively – is that the same people on the left who opposed Iraq for being an “anti-Muslim crusade” opposed our intervention in Kosovo to protect Muslims from ethnic cleansing.
The impression you get is that there are too many on the Left who will cosy up to anyone who is anti-American. Read the articles on Comment is Free almost daily praising Castro and Chavez, and the apologias for Ahmadinejad, the Belarussian guy (name escapes me, sorry), Hamas, Hezbollah – basically if you are in the Bush Administration’s sights that is taken to be evidence in and of itself that you must be doing something right. This even extends to the grotesque parodies of government currently ruling Sudan and Somalia.
And so we see the hard Left making common cause with regimes, ideologies and movements that it is quite legitimate to describe as “fascist”. Why is no-one marching about Zimbabwe? Why do Darfur marches get hundreds or thousands rather than hundreds of thousands? And how many more people would turn out if the US announced plans to invade Sudan – how many leftist groups would suddenly crawl out of the woodwork to express an interest in that miserable conflict / genocide – express an interest for the very first time?
I can’t speak for anyone else, and certainly not for the hard left, but I didn’t think much of Cohen’s points, I’m afraid. The point about people not demonstrating against Mugabe is a bit of a red herring, since what — in London, at least — would they be calling on the government to do? It’s not like protesting against successive British governments supporting apartheid South Africa, and no one, I hope, is quite so bonkers as to think we might — as I vaguely recall some spectacularly dim MP told Harold Wilson we should when Ian Smith declared UDI — send a gun boat to resolve matters. The solution, if it’s in anyone’s hands, lies with the South Africans, and they’ve got their own problems. Ditto Darfur; what, realistically, would be the point of the demonstration? To demand that Blair send Margaret Beckett to knock some heads together?
I completely agree that talk of ‘an anti-Muslim crusade’ is nonsensical, no matter how much the loonies over at Little Green Foothills would like one. That’s not, though, because of the Kosovo example particularly; that, to my mind, is best understood as NATO and others eventually putting an end to a civil war; the fact that the Albanian Muslims benefited from it was purely coincidental — they were the ones who happened to be getting the worst of it at the time, so the intervention was to their benefit. Indeed, the Serbian nationalists must be cursing their bad luck that 9/11 didn’t happen a few years earlier; in that event, I’m pretty sure we’d have been hearing a great deal about our plucky Serbian allies in the war against terror (and two world wars), the evils of the KLA, and Nick Cohen would have been complaining that people were supporting the successors to the SS Divisions Handschar and Skanderbeg.
As a slight digression, while we’re thinking about that part of the world, I was always rather puzzled by the British left’s enthusiasm for Croatian nationalism, given the late Franjo Tuđman’s politics; anyone know what Nick Cohen made of it at the time, out of interest?
But, anyway, I agree that, despite the rhetoric of both sides, it’s not a crusade against Islam. It certainly suits various people, for their very different reasons, to regard it as one. Clearly, it plays well for the militant Islamists themselves, just as it plays well for the proponents of a War Against Terror; a monolithic enemy, inspired by irrational religious hatred against you and all you stand for, is far easier to rail against than are actual enemies inspired primarily by far more mundane — as in earthly — considerations. ‘They hate our Ummah’ is as much a convenient myth as ‘They hate our freedom’. Being charitable, I can understand the left maybe not wanting to argue the complexities of the point with their Islamist comrades, just as Western supporters of our intervention in Kosovo probably didn’t want to break off to discuss the merits of liberal democracy with the KLA, but I agree they may not always understand them themselves.
As to the wider point about
if you are in the Bush Administration’s sights that is taken to be evidence in and of itself that you must be doing something right,
I have a rather different take on this. The late President Reagan used to joke,
The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’
and they are, I think, no less terrifying when spoken through an interpreter at a press conference given by someone from the US State Department than when they’re spoken to a US citizen by any other American civil servant. I tend to distrust the Americans when they get directly involved in helping other people run their own countries because, over the last 40-odd years, they’ve not really had a particularly brilliant track-record.
Because of the country’s history, American governments are understandably worried about being seen — not least by their own electorate — to have an empire, rather an unfortunate phobia in a military and economic super-power. Consequently, they’ve tended to pick whichever local satrap looks most likely to look after American interests and do what he’s told, and then back him to the hilt. Perfectly understandable; it’s pretty much what we did in the Princely States in India, after all, but the Americans don’t always seem astonishingly good at choosing their friends — Saddam, General Noriega, The Shah, President Marcos, assorted thugs and ruffians in South Vietnam and Latin America — it’s a pretty gruesome bunch, to my mind.
I’m sure they don’t deliberately pick stinkers; the problem is, I think, that because they can’t too obviously be seen to be exercising their imperial role, they have to justify their initial involvement because it’s a crisis — often it is, of course — that requires a strongman who, fortuitously, is much-loved by the locals, or at least all the locals other than those crazed by Marxism-Leninism or, nowadays, Islam and back him to the hilt. This sort of thing tends to bring out the stinker in people and, unfortunately, since the Americans can’t be seen to have their equivalent of the British Resident tell the chap that he’s got to buck up his ideas or the Raj will put his cousin or younger brother in place (the chap’s in power because he’s a freedom-loving type, much loved by the locals, or, at least, the decent ones, after all), things just go from bad to worse. Sometimes they manage to remove him, or can be persuaded to let the locals remove him, and he’s replaced by someone rather better. Sometimes — as, notably, in both Iran and Iraq in their different ways — it all goes horribly pear-shaped.
No, to my mind it’s not so much that if you’re in the Bush administration’s sight’s it’s evidence you’re doing something right as that if the US government decides to help your country towards peace and freedom, things are likely to get even messier than they and and it’s maybe time seriously to consider emigrating somewhere safer.
Let’s take a hypothetical example, close to home. No one — British or Irish — could, I think, truthfully say that he believed either the American people or successive American governments had much of an understanding of the complexities of Northern Ireland during The Troubles. When I lived in California for a couple of years during the 1980s I frequently found myself, God help me, having to defend Margaret Thatcher’s policy towards NI, not because I had a great deal of sympathy with it (rather the opposite) but because otherwise well-informed and intelligent people were recommending to me the most absurd policies which, if implemented, would assuredly have resulted in complete chaos both north and south of the Border. And the US goverment weren’t much better half the time, being mindful of their own public’s somewhat ill-informed opinion (it frequently came as quite a surprise to people that the Protestants are, in fact, the majority in NI — I well recall listening to the consternation on a radio phone-in when someone pointed that out, and that was in the days before the shock-jocks).
Now, given that, who — whatever their politics — thinks it would have been a good idea, no matter how bad things became — to ask the Americans to solve the problems in NI for us? I’d sooner ask the French to do it, for heaven’s sake.
And most Americans are considerably better informed about, and feel more warmly towards, Britain and the Republic than they do towards somewhere in the Middle East or the Horn of Africa they almost certainly can’t find on a map without difficulty.
No, I think the prudent citizen of any country whose problems the US government takes an interest in resolving would be best advised to treat the offer with the same suspicion I treat offers with domestic repairs from a great chum of mine who fancies himself as a builder; I don’t suspect his good intentions for a minute, but I’ve seen examples of his handiwork. He can, quite rightly, point to some successful jobs he’s done for people, but still…