OxBlog

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

# Posted 5:51 AM by Patrick Porter  

JUST WHEN I'd forgotten why I have drifted away from the British Guardian a little lately, some of their columnists gave a timely reminder.

Praise for the Taleban, whom we musn't 'demonise.' Which seems now to mean criticise, complain about, object to, get angry with, or any other shudder word for objecting to their crimes.

And now, nostalgia for Saddam and a general defence of dictatorships. Some choice quotes:
The people of China seem in no rush to jettison a regime that holds out the prospect of prosperity at the expense only of liberty.
Only of liberty? And as long as the majority are happy, who cares about that Chinese minority, (and the malcontent Tibetans), who are less patient with the one-party state?

What's more, tyranny is good for the soul:
Living under tyranny may not be ideal, but it is not impossible. In the Soviet Union, life took on a character of its own, in which the human spirit managed to flourish in spite of the political constraints.
Bet that cheered them up in the gulag. Or in the famine-devastated regions. Or the areas on the brunt of Stalin's ethnic cleansing.

And literally, living under tyranny is now almost impossible in North Korea. Its also very dangerous for anyone, or their family, to try and leave.

And then this, David Cox's aesthetic case for totalitarianism:
The literature generated in those conditions can still inspire us.
One of the defences of Soviet communism, the 'eggs/omelettes' defence, was that the suffering of some was ultimately justified by the long-term goal of building a utopian workers paradise.

David Cox has lowered the bar a little. Now its justified by the writing of fine books.

Guardian Unlimited. Indeed.
(25) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
a regime that holds out the prospect of prosperity at the expense only of liberty

These are British subjects writing things like this?
 
His point is that Iraqis were better off under Saddam than they are now.

Most Iraqis agree with him, don't they?
 
The irony is that while some might write and think this about tyranny over there, we have writers in Australia complaining about the tyranny they experience there. By all accounts, Patrick, I am living under an elective dictatorship, and you are lucky to have escaped one.
 
elvis,

his point was that we should rue the fall of Saddam, and to make light of the suffering of people under dictatorships.

P
 
No, Patrick, that was not his point.

His argument is that the only remaining justification for removing Saddam is that Iraqis are now "free," but they are worse off now, less secure than they had been.

To wit: "why are the Iraqis better off without him? The only answer available is that now they are "free". Well, we all value freedom. Some value it more than life, and those who do certainly go on about it. Nonetheless, they are probably a minority." That is, as awful as life under dictatorship might be, it is not meaningless; the subjects of dictatorship are not better off dead.

I have never read Cox before, and doubt that I would agree with him about much. And this is a strange way to make the argument that the Iraq invasion hasn't been an unalloyed success. I'd argue that Iraqis are not, in fact, meaningfully free, even if their government is nominally better now, due to the security situation.

To note that people find meaning in life despite the depredations of their leaders is not to make light of their suffering.

Now, admittedly, maybe if I were more familiar with Cox, I'd roll my eyes at him the way I do at Steele's claim that the Taliban was "demonized." That's roughly like saying that Satan was demonized.
 
Summarizing Cox, his point is that life is better under a tyranny than it is under a failed state, that W has made things worse in Iraq. Patrick then misreads Cox badly when he paraphrases 'tyranny is good for the soul.' Cox means that life is possible under a tyrant rather than that life is preferable.

Another way to make Cox's argument is that by making such a hash of the war, W has succeeded in making Saddam look good.
 
I'm not sure W or Rumy are actually responsible for f*ed up people blowing themselves and others up in order to prohibit Iraqis from having a voice. In other words, the constant violence of the insurgents and terrorists is to blame for Iraq's current situation. Could the Americans have done better with security - perhaps, or perhaps it is impossible.

The last time the world saw this kind of radical/suicidal mentality, it was only stopped by the introduction of the A-bomb. So come up with an option that will work instead of lazily blaming "W".
 
Cox's point is wrongly stated. His point is this: The insurgents, funded by foreigners, have done the impossible -- they have created an environment that many Iraqi's prefer to Sadam's tyranny.

His attempt to express the mirror image of this is just wrong-headed, and he probably doesn't accept the general logic elsewhere. For example, he would not argue that the Patriot Act creates security for Americans at the cost of a minor loss of liberty.
 
My mistake ... "an environment that many Iraqi's believe is worse than Sadam's tyranny".
 
And how, pray tell, do The Guardian's writers know that the Chinese people are content with their government? I don't recall any recent open elections or opposition political groups--surely in a country of over a billion people there would be some not entirely satisfied with the current political situation.

They scream bloody murder at any erosion of their own liberty, real or fancied. I guess for those Chinese, hey, oppression is part of their culture. They probably wouldn't know what to do in an open society.

And yes--millions upon millions of people killed or deliberately starved to death, millions more oppressed, a polluted enviornment and an economy which hardly fulfilled the promises made for it, plunging almost the entire country into want.

On the other hand, we have "Dr. Zhivago," "Life and Fate," and "The First Circle." Well, I'd consider it a fair trade but I wonder how many Russians would.
 
I'm not sure W or Rumy are actually responsible for f*ed up people blowing themselves and others up in order to prohibit Iraqis from having a voice.

Let me see if I can clarify your uncertainty. W and Rumy are responsible. This was Colin Powell's pottery theory observation: you break it, you own it.

So come up with an option that will work instead of lazily blaming "W".

Since W isn't good at taking responsibility -- the buck doesn't stop there anymore -- yes, we are blaming him.

BTW, W wants one last big push in Iraq. Don't worry. It won't actually happen. Instead the Democrats and the Bakers (aka, the Adults) will stop it and then W will be able to say that they almost won in Iraq but the liberals stopped them just short.
 
"Cox means that life is possible under a tyrant rather than that life is preferable."

a crass observation, given the impossibilities, and mass killings and famiens, many dictatorships have imposed on people.

Elvis, allowing for the argument that it is more dangerous in Iraq now than under Saddam, he was building on this reality to make more ambitious points than you allow.
 
I believe in liberty. I am also impressed by the massive reduction in dollar-a-day poverty in China in recent years. Does that make me a bad person?
 
anon,

of course not.

but why would admiring reductions in poverty and valuing liberty be such a contradiction? Opening up China's markets, I agree, is a good thing. But it doesn't mean that Tibetans should be jailed for their religion or for advocating independence.

what I'm trying to caution against is uninformed nostalgia or affection for dictatorships, without acknowledgement that for many of their victims, life was/is scarcely possible.
 
Ask the IRaqis to define better, and the answer is illuminating; thet answer I get from most Iraqis is that better was defined as less terrorist violence, and stability, until one ran afoul of the regime. Even in the heart of the Sunni triangle, I have met few Iraqis who wish for Saddam to return to power.
 
Crass observation or not, people are interested in personal security, what a failed state lacks, before they are interested in political freedom, what a tyranny lacks. Potemkin elections are still further down the road.

Realism is full of crassness.
Neoconservatism is full of crap.
 
the difficulty with that argument, anon, seems to be that dictatorships have so often in the past failed to ensure that personal security. despotism was one of the most predatory threats to human security in the last century - death by government.

I agree that it is more dangerous and insecure for many people in Iraq now than before, and that a catastrophe is unfolding. But we shouldn't allow that to create a false impression that dictatorships generally guarantee security and stability, which is where Cox was driving.
 
Cox was driving in no such direction. He wasn't saying that a tyranny is good. His point was that W took a tyranny and instead of going north to a democracy instead went south to a failed state. Things got much worse not better.

Yes, tyrannies like Russia, Libya, Cuba, Myanmar, ... are bad places. But the undemocratic Islamic Court Union (theocracy?) improved things over the failed state in Mogadishu. Venezuela is an imperfect democracy as is Australia, but the US does a lot of trade with Venezuela, much more than with Australia. Iran is an imperfect democracy but they will be a partner in any settlement in Iraq.

And there is difference between despotism and tyranny. Mobutu was a disgusting despot and a favored guest at the Reagan and Bush White Houses. They really don't get worse. Gaddafi on the other hand is more of a classic tyrant and now an embarrassing but useful diplomatic partner.
 
Silly me, Cox wasn't saying that tyranny is good.

he just said these sorts of things:

that Saddam provided stability and only threatened his internal dissidents and neighbours
('but when he had such weapons, he chose to use them against Iranian armed forces and Iraq's own dissident Kurds, rather than for any purpose that threatened the wider world'.)

that the Soviet Union didn't make life impossible and anyway inspired great literature;

and that the Chinese don't care about freedom as long as they make money.

And its title was 'Saddam: a tribute', which turned out to be not that ironic.

But no, it wasn't apologetic about authoritarian states, or a callous view of their victims. Not at all.
 
irony 1 |??r?n?; ?i?rn?|
noun ( pl. -nies)

the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect : “Don't go overboard with the gratitude,” he rejoined with heavy irony. See note at wit.

• a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result : [with clause ] the irony is that I thought he could help me.

• (also dramatic or tragic irony) a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character's words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.

ORIGIN early 16th cent.(also denoting Socratic irony): via Latin from Greek eir?neia ‘simulated ignorance,’ from eir?n ‘dissembler.’
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
thanks Anon, for the laboured derision. pity you missed some of the positive endorsement of Saddam's regime in his article.

Here are some of Cox's assertions:

Saddam's Iraq was a 'fortress of stability'

'Within Iraq itself, a secular state offered women opportunities unimaginable in nearby countries, and provided a standard of living far from unreasonable by the standards of the developing world.'

'Saddam offered his people a harsh deal. Yet, their lives were at risk only if they chose to challenge his authority.'

'As he goes to meet the hangman, the world has cause to rue his demise.'

I'll leave it to you to interpret the plain meaning of words.
 
Irony Patrick, not derision. Again:

a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result

The irony of the current situation in Iraq is that 'Within Iraq itself, a secular state offered women opportunities unimaginable in nearby countries, and provided a standard of living far from unreasonable by the standards of the developing world.' Compare this with the Sharia being enshrined in the constitution and the opportunity of getting separated out and not kidnapped from the education archives.

The irony of the current situation in Iraq is that 'Saddam offered his people a harsh deal. Yet, their lives were at risk only if they chose to challenge his authority.' Compare this with the raw deal everyone gets from civil war.

The irony of the current situation in Iraq is that 'As he goes to meet the hangman, the world has cause to rue his demise.' Compare this with the low opinion of W for having started this misadventure.

Perhaps you wanted the author to signal his intent with :) or :( ?
 
Does the Guardian article that brought up 'a campaign to demonize' the Taliban add anything to our ability to analyze?

Perhaps it says something about how the far left has gotten loose with its words enough to complain that they've taken their eye off the ball.

Still, it is worth discussing, if only because the article picks up on what may be a blindspot in America's overall approach to solving problems, that the Taliban might *also* be understood as part of a Revolutionary Political movement that is playing for currency, still, within the Islamic world, not just as wacko, 'battlefield non-combattants', or whatever.

Because of the security consequences of that struggle, there are who want to abjectly through themselves into that politics. The Right sometimes think that such a political struggle can be won by condemnation and shaming, which comes off as a rather off-target condescention to 'fundamentalism' too often.

The far Left are ready to suggest that such an interjection (a) can only make matters worse (bring increased failure/risk) (b) cannot make matter better (bring success).

Probably the truth is in between. If one could craft a plan to intervene, one still has to worry about whether such a delicate operation could be implemented successfully. We are obviously in the process of finding out just how blunt a policy can be tried in Afghanistan, as it would be hard to describe the efforts there so far as comprehensive, clever, or subtle.
 
Let's not forget that the Iraqs who helped topple Saddam were also insurgets, funded by foreigners. A A democratic style goverment was the only choice for the original insurgents as the the foreigners that funded them also imposed their (our) form of government on them.
 
Post a Comment


Home