Thursday, October 19, 2006

SW's lightweight political commentary

  1. I liked Richard Woolcott's comments on the Iraq debacle, here.

  2. Something else elicited a raised SW eyebrow in another SMH article, on Bush's comment that there are similarities between Iraq and Vietnam. The White House spinners tried to cover up thus:
The White House later sought to put the comparison in context.

"The full context was that the comparison was about the propaganda waged in the Tet offensive ... and the president was reiterating something he's said before - that the enemy is trying to shake our will," Dana Perino, a Bush spokeswoman, said in a statement.

"They know that we're a caring and compassionate people and that we're deeply affected by gross violence," she said.

"The president also believes the American people understand the importance of beating our enemy who is determined to kill innocent freedom-loving people."

1) "They know that we're a caring and compassionate people and that we're deeply affected by gross violence." Is middle America really so vapid as to swallow that?

2) "...innocent freedom-loving people." I can't believe they're still trotting out that bullshit. "Freedom-loving" -- please!

That's right. The insurgents in Iraq hate people who like "freedom" (whatever that is as defined by Bush et al) and who use violence as tactic because their enemy is caring andc ompassionate and hence deeply affected. It's that simple, people. No nuances to worry about. They hate freedom and we love it. We hate violence so they USE IT AGAINST US. Oh, the inumanity.

(I thought propaganda had become more sophisticated than vacuous statements devoid of evidence to support them. Please tell me the average US citizen doesn't swallow that.)

Do they (the Bush administration and associated spinners) really truly believe that the US hasn't perpetrated any violence in Iraq. I don't know what'd be worse -- that they believe their own rubbish or they have so much contempt for the populace that they think they can win people over with insipid utterances. Or that they've so far succeeded using this method.

It's sickening that people who endorse this crap have so much power.


Blogger Lone Gopher said...

"It is not a lie if you believe it" - George, Seinfeld

4:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, this is the type of propaganda you get in all sides of conflict.

The fact is that the bulk of violence in Iraq is not simply anti-occupation, but is sectarian - the extent of which was obviously not expected.

There's no doubt the US got the planning and expectations wrong in Iraq (not to mentioned massively bungled the PR), but do you remember the first Gulf War? Remember how the Left was arguing that the Coalition didn't go *far enough*? That leaving Saddam in power (and free to slaughter Kurds and Marsh Arabs) was akin to leaving Hitler in charge of Germany after the war, with the gas camps still running?

Incidentally, it's been suggested that Hussein has killed more muslims than any other single person in history...

8:32 am  
Blogger secret wombat said...

But i still disagree with the US occupation. At this rate, it would've been better just to let SH die of old age (which will probably happen before the US extricates itself, if he isn't executed first). My main point, though (in this instance) is that I'm genuinely sickened that something like the Iraq situation can be brushed over with simplistic propaganda and, apparently, very few people really question it. To me, it's symptomatic of a lot of the world's problems today -- eg an inability of those in power to conduct rational(ish), nuanced discussions that take into account complexities and shades of grey. Also, I still think analysing / questioning bullshit propaganda is worthwhile even if it is par for the course (the BUSHWOOD course).

9:54 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Deluded: whoever thinks the motivation for invading Iraq was to remove a man who allegedly killed more muslims than anyone else in history.

Latest toll: 65,000 Iraqi civilians dead as a direct consequence of the invasion.

This is patently not the type of propaganda you get in all conflict. Propoganda is almost ALWAYS more intelligent than this...unless, this propoganda is intelligent in the sense that middle America is indeed dumber than I feared and the spin doctors know how to tap into that. In either case, SW is right. We should shudder.

10:47 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glib: suggesting I said the motivation for the invasion was Saddam's (proven) genocide.

And what was the motivation, Anonymous? Let me guess, the USA wanted to take Iraqs oil to drink while eating babies, right?

Wrong. The motivation was national security. The idea was to create a democratic 'beacon', and see a domino effect of democratisation over a region which is nearly completely autocratic. The reasoning being that democratic states are historically far more peaceful.

65,000 people dead in Iraq. And who has killed most of them? The Amerikkkans? Or hardline Sunnis bent on preserving the power structure which existed before the regime was deposed - a regime which saw Shias oppressed thoroughly, Kurds and Marsh Arabs slaughtered, Iranians gassed - in the *millions*. A country which was called by Noam Chomsky, before the Gulf war was on the cards, 'The worst Terror State in the world'. Of course he didn't repeat that once the US revealed plans to actually do something about it, no, that description was reserved for back when Iraq was a US client state.

Let's get this straight. The invasion of Iraq was a mistake in every way, and Geore Bush is the worst president ever, for failing the ultimate task of that job - PR. The planning and execution of the war have been failures, as most people warned.

But morally, Iraq is not neary as black/white as is portrayed by those purporting to be of 'the Left'.

Wombat - I totally agree with what you said about how few people really question that propaganda, and how disgustingly brushed over it is.

But keep in mind that the republican administration has hit rock bottom in the polls now, over the war. And the point I was making was that one should look at the type of propaganda that Arab countries spew out at their own subjects for comparison - it can be a shitload more simplistic and lying than Western propaganda, mainly because they are dictatorial regimes who need to misdirect their subjugated masses.

3:29 pm  
Blogger secret wombat said...

Digs, agreed re: propaganda. I suspect the internal Iraqi propaganda is about as sophisticated as Reefer Madness. Which makes me think of something else: I guess it's good that the Western peopaganda is so crap. If it was done better, more people would swallow it.

Anyway - whether the world goes to hell or not, I am VERY happy that this blog has resulted in at least one disucssion/debate.

5:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yah, I wasn’t sure, Dig, whether by throwing in that “incidentally” comment you were implying that Saddam’s genocide was part of the motivation for invading Iraq. But I thought some readers, perhaps uncareful ones, might read it that way. And so more than anything, I wanted to block that thought, no matter who thunk it.

On motivations: I wouldn’t have said oil was the prime one, if a prime one there be. So you took out a strawman there, rather than any point of mine. That said, oil was one of many motivations, along with securing the homeland by “spreading liberty” through the middle east, wanting a strategic location from which to further spread said liberty, wanting to grow the American military, wanting to line the pockets of private stake holders, believing that the good American God wanted it this way, etc, etc. Not all involved are motivated by all of these and other factors, and I’m not sure it’s possible to disentangle the motivations at this point. Indeed, in charging with delusion anyone who thinks Saddam’s bad behavior was the prime motivation for invasion, I was making just the point you did: the issue is irreversibly grey and most attempts to sketch it in black and white are not only doomed, but also further retard intellectual progress on the issue. And I think intellectual progress is now a necessary condition for any on-the-ground progress.

Wouldn’t have said it is the “Amerikkans” who have killed 65,000. So another strawman there. The more general point is that the invasion has lead, directly or indirectly, to those deaths--far more civilian deaths than the Bush administration, main stream media, and thus the general American public expected. I don’t much care if this is fewer deaths than occurred at the hands of Saddam because I don’t think humans are enough like poker chips for favorable death toll comparisons to justify anything. I’m not implying you would think otherwise. Rather, I’m clarifying my mention of the dead. My general point is that the numbers are further, and quite striking, evidence of atrocious planning, hoodwinking, and ignorance. Anybody with half an interest in societal dynamics of middle eastern countries knew that there was a real risk of the current anti-sectarian violence. Many experts on these matters made this plain before the invasion. The Bush administration didn’t heed these warnings sufficiently and it is remarkable that they were nonetheless given the moral authority to proceed. Had the warnings been presented to the general public in an even manner, I think even many of the zealous would have thought twice.

But this is just to say what you said: “the invasion of Iraq was a mistake in every way.” So once the strawmen are put aside, I’m not really sure that we disagree about much.

A final point: it is perhaps relevant to some points of debate that “allied propaganda” at least remains better than that of many “Arab countries.” But not relevant, I think, to SW’s main point. In censuring the propaganda, he/she (whatever that shadowy SW be) had in mind standards by which WE should judge propaganda that are loftier standards than those of the Arab countries whose norms of information dissemination we like to think we’ve usurped.

10:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yah, I wasn’t sure, Dig, whether by throwing in that “incidentally” comment you were implying that Saddam’s genocide was part of the motivation for invading Iraq. But I thought some readers, perhaps uncareful ones, might read it that way. And so more than anything, I wanted to block that thought, no matter who thunk it."

Hang on a minute. Whilst I wasn't saying it was *the* motivation (which was your implication with the 'deluded' comment), I do think it was *a* motivation. I am convinced that Tony Blair in particular saw an international obligation to stop Saddam Hussein's regime from continuing its murder and oppression of ethnic and religious minorities, a motive much the same as that which drove interventions in Kosovo, Somalia, and Bosnia in the 90s. This is not to deny the strategic regional stability value of removing him - but realistically, when is this not a consideration? Somalia was a non-strategic intervention, and after the US got burned, who else is stepping up to deal with similar issues? When has France or Russia offered to intervene in the genocide in the Sudan for example?

You may not be aware of this, but the US-NATO bombing intervention in Kosovo in 1999 was *not* approved by the UN Security Council (Russia vetoed it). It was thus every bit as 'illegal' as the Iraq invasion. The consensus now is that Kosovo nonetheless was a success, it staved off a regional conflict from spiralling into serious bloodshed. A key difference was one of public relations - Bill Clinton was much more adept at persuasion that Dubya.

(btw, what's with this comment: "I wanted to block that thought, no matter who thunk it."? You didn't mean that literally, I hope!)

Anyway, apologies for the straw-men, but I actually think we *do* have a difference of opinion. I believe that there was a strong moral case for intervention in Iraq. I do not think that a lack of 'legality' was relevant, if the sole measure of legality is the UN Security Council - body of pure and frequently craven vested interest.

And I think there is a very serious double-standard which has been displayed by the Left over Iraq. They who most loudly denounced the US for supporting Hussein's regime before 1990, for arming him, for maintaining support while he gassed Kurds etc, are the same people most shrilly denouncing the decision to actually do something about his regime.

What many people on the Left don't realise is that failure in Iraq means a step *backwards* in
US foreign policy, - back to the bad old days of the 'realism' of Henry Kissinger. His outlook was that there should be a 'balance' of regional power. This meant that regional 'strongmen' should be supported in order to maintain an equilibrium.

The 'neo-conservatives' on the other hand believed in a 'democratic peace' thesis, that democratic states rarely go to war. Thus, 'strongmen' - ie murderous dictators like Hussein, should *not* be supported, but overthrown. This became particularly attractive post-September 11, and who can blame the US for considering long-term security from further such attacks, as a reasonable motive?

I think it's important that we do not entangle the USA's failures in planning and execution with the moral case. I think the lies in particular over WMD were thoroughly reprehensible, and combined with the use of Dubya, a strategic disaster.

As for the propaganda issue, I was not condoning it, but putting it into context - it's nothing new or worse than has been around before, nor is it any worse than Arab state's propaganda (which are worse, much much worse - watch some Iranian children's television and observe suicide bombing cartoons).

9:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“Hang on a minute. Whilst I wasn't saying it was *the* motivation (which was your implication with the 'deluded' comment), I do think it was *a* motivation.”

Again, the deluded comment was meant as a check on anybody who thinks *the* US’s motivation for invading and pulling Saddam from power was the The Fact, let’s call it, that he’d “killed more muslims than any other single person in history...” Your intentions with that comment were unclear. A reader could certainly read as I did, and I meant to check that.

Moving on from *the* motivation, let’s deal with whether The Fact was *a* motivation. A motivation for Blair? Certainly. I would never have disagreed on this. This is why I supported Blair’s position when many didn’t. This may have been vain hope. I think the motivations (which need to be clearly distinguished from the possible consequences, on which more below) of the US were far from morally sound, but like to think Blair saw that a) he nor anybody else was going to stop the US or cleanse their motivations and moral character anyway, and b) with some intelligent shepparding, the US’s immorally motivated actions could be made to yield outcomes with at least some moral worth.

Now, was The Fact *a* motivation for the US? This is unclear, I think. As a motivation, I doubt it was nearly as significant as others I mentioned previously, regardless of the motivations that were sold to the American public pre-war. But I’m also more skeptical than I suspect you are of the neocon’s motivations for the broader democratic peace thesis. One common interpretation of that thesis is that it reflects *enlightened self interest*. That is, it is simultaneously motivated by the potential for good outcomes in both the US and the middle east. Another common interpretation, especially by soft headed conspiracy theorists on what you like to call “the Left,” is that the self interest is hardly enlightened, and if so, this is only accidental. I fall somewhere in between. I imagine that neocons who hold that thesis are warmed somewhat by the prospect of better lives for those in the middleast. But I think their interests in the homeland far outstrip their interests in the middleast. And it is only because those two types of interests are often connected and mutually reinforcing that the self-interested motivations of neocons have a prayer of leading to *moral* outcomes for all involved. But I fear that prayer has less a chance of being answered when it relies on connections that we hope exist between the interests, rather than on an actual genuine interest in the middle east. This reflects my broader worries about consequentialist (as opposed to intention-based) theories of morality. Let me clarify this a little.

The distinction I’m concerned with is that between motivations and consequences. If anything said by philosophers working on moral psychology is right, the moral values of related motivations and consequences can be and often are distinct. I’m concerned with the moral values of both motivation and consequences, but more so with the former. This is because we are in more direct control of our motivations than we are of consequences. Prediction of consequences is inherently risky, as the US is now discovering in Iraq. Yet, as a rule (that surely admits of exceptions, yes), morally praiseworthy motivations tend to lead more often to morally praiseworthy consequences than do suspect motivations. And besides, there is something to be said for the primacy of moral intentions and motivations even when they don’t lead to moral consequences. Hence my concern with the US’s motivations.

Given this, you’ll understand why I’m still confused that it is by appeal to a distinction between “planning and execution” and “the moral case” that you wish to draw a difference of opinion between us. I’m concerned with the moral case, as you are, so I’m not sure your distinction supports our difference of opinion, whatever that is. Perhaps the additional distinction between moral motivations and moral consequences that I draw does illuminate a difference in our views though. You think the US invasion had the potential for morally praiseworthy outcomes. I agree that this may be so, but think that in any case the US began with morally deplorable motivations. And this decreased the odds of reaching the morally praiseworthy consequences. And those decreased odds are now being realized. This is where the moral issue begins to make contact with the planning and execution issue, even though they remain distinct. Without proper motivations having initiated things, it is unsurprising that the planning and execution were not as ideal for people in the middle east as they good have been, and not surprising that the planning and execution isn’t delivering the moral consequences.

A point of clarity: when arguing for your moral case, you grouped some nasty stuff, such as lieing about WMD, in with “bad planning and execution,” presumably hoping thereby that it didn’t infect the distinct moral case. Since when is lieing—especially as significant a lie as that—outside the realm of the moral?

To sum so far then, I don’t see that there was a strong moral case to be made for the US’s invasion of Iraq. And whatever moral worth it had at all came from the few who attempted to play something like Blair’s role.

You introduce a few facts about the Kosovo conflict and the illegality of invasion. I’m not sure these are all that relevant to our discussion. I’m not concerned with the legality of the invasion and nothing I’ve said commits me to such concern. Indeed, I think the law is often immoral, i.e., some illegal invasions are indeed moral (whether the moral issues should trump the legal is a further issue, though I think such trumping is sometimes justified). I’m inclined to think this of the Kosovo incident, but not the Iraq incident. So nothing about the morality of the US’s position in Iraq follows from the morality of its position in Kosovo.

And the jabs at France and Russia are not relevant. One reason why Russia is hesitating in the Sudan is because it owes MiG-29 fighters to the Sudanese (and other African nations) for which it won’t get paid (a lot of money) if it doesn’t deliver. These are bad motivations, distorted by self-interested consequences. Whether Russia is prone to this type of behavior is a separate issue. In any case, the US is behaving similarly in Iraq, regardless of what it did in Kosovo. And it has behaved similarly before (just google “history of American arms sales”).

The stuff about the Left and doublestandards is interesting but I hope you don’t mean to imply that it illuminates my position at all. I’m skeptical that it is even coherent, and am certain that it is dangerously misleading, to sketch political disagreements in terms of Left and Right. These are meaningless and polarizing simplicities that distort the complexities at hand and result in the intellectual paucity that SW originally was scolding. I’m not being a sophist here. I’m saying that I’m not on the Left because I don’t know what that means in general, and so I hope you don’t think any position of mine suffers along with problems for the Left more generally.

Finally, regarding propaganda issue. You say “it's nothing new or worse than has been around before.” This is misleading vague. The deplorable state of the US propoganda may not be a first, nor the worst ever. But the point remains that it is worse (e.g., destructive of intellectual progress) than most North American/European propoganda, by North American/European standards. For SW’s point, I still think the comparison to Arab propoganda as perhaps interesting but not that relevant. And in any case, is Iranian children's television that delivers suicide bombing cartoons really any different than Christmas songs on mainstream American radio that say tell the misguided to observe “Jesus fucking birthday, boy,” or he’ll beat your dirty turban ass?

11:55 pm  

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