Sunday, October 22, 2006

# Posted 4:08 PM by Patrick Porter  

IDENTITY POLITICS: in a recent debate on the war in Afghanistan, pundit Peter Hitchens (the Tory and anti-war brother of Christopher) used a dubious challenge to embarass his opponent, Oliver Kamm, namely the argument that only those who fight in wars can support wars. Hitchens argued:
if I believed so strongly in the British mission in Afghanistan then perhaps I ought to volunteer for it myself.
There are lots of things wrong with this ugly gambit.

First of all, Hitchens risks being accused of inconsistency. As he has implied, he supported Britain's Falklands War in 1982, even to the point where he accuses those like Tony Blair who opposed the war of not liking Britain!

Why didn't Hitchens volunteer in 1982 then? He was 30 years old at the time of the war he supported, whereas Oliver Kamm is 43 now. If anything, Hitchens' rule would have applied even more to himself. Or does Hitchens' principle, that only combatants can support wars, apply only to wars he opposes?

Secondly, it is implicitly militarist. If only soldiers, sailors and airmen can vocally support wars, then it follows that only those in the military can make policies about war and send others to war.

This directly undermines the principle of civilian control, in which the armed forces are subordinate to state policy, which is made by elected representatives, whose electorate are able to discuss, debate and vote on their decisions. Its surprising that Peter Hitchens, an outspoken defender of British institutions and values, could overlook such a foundational idea.

Thirdly, it is particularly artificial when Afghanistan was the place which incubated the assailants and planners who orchestrated the attacks on 9/11, attacks on a city (and skyscrapers) full of at least 90 nationalities. It was emphatically an attack on pluralism and on civilians from all over the world. We are all targets, so its not unreasonable for any civilians, to take a view on how to handle the threat.

Fourth, Oliver Kamm presumably pays his taxes, and does so as a citizen of the UK. Part of his taxes is allocated to military spending. He's entitled, therefore, to have an opinion on whether and how the state should deploy forces he helps to fund.

The debate over war is painful and difficult enough without crude identity politics.
(13) opinions -- Add your opinion

Absolutely right. That said, I thought the particular post to which you link was a notably weak one.

The flip side though, involves Christopher Hitchens - I've got a soft sport for Hitch but I was watching one of his US interviews on the net in which he discussed the Sir Richard Dannatt interview and I thought he made a string of pretty appalling comments about Dannatt not being willing to fight. Not only did this mark a fairly transparant sidestep away from the real issues (regardless of where one stands on the matter), for Hitch to accuse a man who supports a more vigorous prosecution of the Afghan campaign and who has won the MC of basically lacking the guts to fight was absolutely shocking.
Hi Anthony,

have you got a link for that interview, would be interested to see!


I'll do my best, but no guarentees - I came across it during and all purpose YouTube trawl.
Alternatively, P Hitchens can't be against the Afghan war unless he's spent a while over there fighting with the Taleban. After what I've learned of his social views from his book, that would not surprise me too much.
Patrick is right that Peter Hitchens' isn't a very effective argument. But the right wing has been particularly aggressive in the use of identity politics in support of Iraq in the US; Afghanistan has been a complete non-controversy over here, but unfortunately it has been similarly mismanaged.

Rather than analyze a bad argument it would seem more productive to analyze the underlying situation. Furthermore, analyzing identity politics inevitably becomes simply another form of identity politics.
"Rather than analyze a bad argument it would seem more productive to analyze the underlying situation."

Possibly, but this blog isn't required to conform to a priority list of issues. We talk about the strategic issues in Afghanistan, we also talk about the nature of the debate.

"Furthermore, analyzing identity politics inevitably becomes simply another form of identity politics."

I don't see how this follows. By pointing to Hitchens record, I am trying to illustrate how identity politics, with its tendency to marginalise people in a debate because of their identity and status, ultimately disenfranchises almost all of us.
I am trying to illustrate how identity politics, with its tendency to marginalise people in a debate because of their identity and status, ultimately disenfranchises almost all of us.

Well, we're probably in violent agreement on identity politics.

I wouldn't phrase the point in the same way as Peter Hitchens, but it is relevant that people vote with their feet and with American troops there have been enlistment shortfalls and forced retentions. This is a similar point but not personalized.

The support that a country (rather than a pundit) gives to a war is relevant.
Actually I don't believe I said that those who support a particular war must fight in it. I merely remarked sarcastically that if Mr Kamm was so keen on this futile, doomed intervention, whose purpose is wholly unclear and constantly shifting, and for which ( whatever the aim is) the troops are shamefully ill-equipped and short of manpower, he should volunteer for it himself rather than urging that other people's fathers, husbands, sons and brothers go off and get killed and maimed there. When, as is inevitable, British forces withdraw having achieved nothing, those who argued for their deployment will already have changed the subject and lost interest. I think it important to remind them at the time that their arguments have real consequences for brave men elsewhere.
I think it ridiculous to elevate this jibe into a general rule that those who support wars must fight in them. You could, I suppose, expand it into a rule that those who send other people into mortal danger - when they don't know what they are talking about - should be taunted in this fashion. The Falklands War had a clear purpose, was a Just War in response to an unprovoked aggression, followed by an oppressive foreign occupation of British territory. It also had a reasonable chance of success. Quite a lot of people who were not there rather wish they had been. I do not think this will ever be said of the ridiculous Afghan deployment. The original attack on Afghanistan was political grandstanding, displacement activity in response to an attack largely carried out by Saudi citizens and mainly in support of the Palestinian cause. This helps to explain the rapidity with which the coalition lost interest in Afghanistan once the initial spectacular was over.
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Dear sir,

I rest my case: when it comes to a war you hotly oppose, supporters of the war are taunted for not fighting. When it comes to wars you support, the rule suddenly doesn't apply. I think your argument here is confused.

And I beg to differ on your ahistorical claim that

'The original attack on Afghanistan was political grandstanding, displacement activity in response to an attack largely carried out by Saudi citizens and mainly in support of the Palestinian cause.'

Actually, the Saudi citizens were acting as envoys of the Taleban state in Afghanistan that harboured them. If its a just cause for Britain to reclaim territory that was wrongly attacked by another aggressive state, then its a just cause for the United States to defend itself against a state that was deliberately providing sanctuary to the movement that attacked it and killed many more Americans (including Moslems) than the Argentines killed Britons in the Falklands.

And their outfit, Al Qaeda, has a slightly broader agenda than the Palestinian cause.

Hatred of the infidel, the restoration of the Caliphate, the creation of an Islamic world state, these are some of their central aims. Things that would lead, as you might say, to the abolition of Britain.

I think its a little crass to reduce the state sponsored murder of citizens on 9/11 to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It might be difficult to explain why they formed alliances and networks with jihadist groups operating in Indonesia, Nigeria, Kashmir, Germany and China if their only grievance was Palestine.

I would encourage you to read Mary Habeck's study of their ideology, 'Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror.'

I should describe the above as 'non-responsive'. I support sensible wars with limited and achievable objectives, fought according to the rules of Just War established for centuries. I oppose stupid ones with unlimited and unachievable objectives, which ignore the rules of Just War. Of course it's reasonable for me to jeer at supporters of such stupid wars. They set themselves up as being superior to the acquired wisdom of centuries, and so it's pretty much inevitable that they will fall flat on their faces. the trouble is, it is other people who die as the price of this hubris. Don't like the mockery? Too bad. It's MUCH nicer than a Taleban bullet in the gut. What's not reasonable is for those thus criticised to pretend that I'm creating a general rule that if you support a war you must fight in it. I didn't say that. I don't believe it. Argue with what I actually say, why don't you? Well, of course, I know the answer. You prefer not to address the point.

Mr Porter shares the usual neo-conservative inability to grasp the significance and importance of the Israel issue in the Muslim world. And I speak as a convinced Zionist. The September 11 outrage followed immediately after the Durban UN conference on 'anti-racism' where both Israeli and US delegations were subject to the vilest treatment and walked out as a result. The actual massacre in Manhattan, which I believe to be the direct sequel of Durban, was greeted with delight throughout the Middle East, especially in the West bank and the Gaza Strip, where there was (literally) dancing in the streets at these innocent deaths. Why pretend otherwise? Mr Bush plainly understood it. While it was meaninglessly bombing Afghanistan, the supposedly 'tough' US administration responded to this by a) paying off all the UN dues it had rightly withheld for years because of that ghastly organisation's anti-US and anti-Israel nature, so recently confirmed at Durban b) sending first Anthony Zinni and then Colin Powell to seek a deal with Arafat c) formally committing itself to support of a Palestinian State -support for which Hillary Clinton had only recently got into quite serious trouble. You guys just don't pay attention, or alternatively you just leave out facts that don't suit you.
As for 'Al Qaeda', what is this thing? At one moment it's a tight-knit centralised organisation, the next it's a nebulous global force. As Jason Burke repeatedly tries to point out, it's actually an ideology, not a formal organisation. Lumping together disparate Muslim grievances round the world and pretending that they're all the work of some great centralised octopus is silly and self-deluding. And what are its objectives? The target of the September 11 attacks wasn't the 'freedom' that Muslims supposedly 'hate'. They may well dislike our way of life ( I don't think much of mass divorce,freely available narcotics, pornography and general moral decay myself) but hijacked planes are a poor weapon against that. Establishing Islam in formally Christian countries may be rather more effective and is advancing rapidly while neo-conservatives largely encourage the open borders that make it possible. It was the US-Israel alliance that they were aiming at. In this they were initially highly effective (see above for the rapid and major appeasement of that cause by Mr Bush) , and if it hadn't been for the great cunning of Ariel Sharon and the usual obdurate stupidity of Yasser Arafat, it would have ended in a second Madrid. They achieved one other objective, too - the withdrawal of US forces from Saudi Arabia.

Now, as to the comparison with the Falklands. The issue is not the number of deaths. We kill more people in Britain each year on the roads than died on September 11, but it's the nature of the deaths that distinguishes one from the other. Argentina unilaterally attacked the Falkland Islands, illegally and against the wishes of their inhabitants. Britain pursued diplomatic means to persuade the Argentines to leave, but failed, and only then resorted to military means. Britain never attacked the Argentine mainland, bombed Argentine cities or took any actions except against Argentine armed forces. The war had the clear'limited objective of recovering the Islands, and ended when that objective was reached. There is, quite simply, no comparison with the Afghan war.
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