Are anarchists demanding the impossible?

GoyaMasson.jpg

Sophie’s Masson’s compares the terrorism of 19th anarchists with that of Al-Qaeda today. Many of those sympathetic to anarchism object to this kind of comparison and I can understand why. But if you read her post carefully you’ll see that Sophie is also making a more interesting point about the practical consequences of anarchist ideas.

Many years ago anarchist Alexander Berkman argued that:

…many Anarchists who at one time believed in violence as a means of propaganda have changed their opinion about it and do not favor such methods any more. There was a time, for instance, when Anarchists advocated individual acts of violence, known as “propaganda by deed.” They did not expect to change government and capitalism into Anarchism by such acts, nor did they think that the taking off of a despot would abolish despotism. No, terrorism was considered a means of avenging a popular wrong, inspiring fear in the enemy, and also calling attention to the evil against which the act of terror was directed. But most Anarchists today do not believe any more in “propaganda by deed” and do not favor acts of that nature.

No one denies that people who called themselves anarchists engaged in terror. But as anarchists would argue, governments have also deliberately practised terror.

What were Hiroshima and the fire bombing of Tokyo if not attempts to inspire fear for political ends? Anarchists might argue that violence and oppression are essential features of the state while their opponents argue that terrorism is inseparable from the practice of revolution. Propagandists will always try to define their opponents in the most unflattering way possible. In Quadrant Stalin becomes the exemplar of leftism while in Arena classical liberalism is a precursor to fascism. Aside from the propagandists, most commentators would agree that the majority of today’s anarchists are non-violent – some to the point of vegetarianism.

Anarchists like Berkman did advocate revolutionary violence but also warned against senseless acts of destruction. Berkman argued that while existing social conditions would need to be swept aside: "conditions are not destroyed by breaking and smashing things. You can’t destroy wage slavery by wrecking the machinery in mills and factories, can you? You won’t destroy government by setting fire to the White House." I think this makes these anarchists different to groups like Al-Qaeda.

But returning to Sophie’s post, I think Sophie was interested in making a deeper point about the practical consequences of anarchist thought. Conservatives (like Sophie?) tend to see crime and violence as symptoms of a breakdown in authority. Conservatives believe that all human beings have evil and destructive desires. The fight against evil isn’t always a struggle against something alien – it’s a struggle we fight against our own natures. Evil needs to be controlled from the outside. Individuals need to learn discipline and restraint and societies need to set and enforce norms.

Anarchists see the world quite differently. For them crime and violence are the result of an oppressive social structure that warps a human nature which is essentially good. Without the destructive influence of oppressive corporations and governments human beings would live in harmony. Just as natural wilderness flourishes most when human beings interfere the least, anarchists argue that human beings and their communities will only be able to thrive when oppressive authority withers away.

For conservatives, this idea is naive and dangerous. If anarchists succeed in destroying structures of power and authority they create a vacuum which will be filled by something even more oppressive. I think that this may have been one of the points Sophie was trying to make. And even if you don’t agree, it’s an interesting argument don’t you think?

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Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Nice pic. Sophie being fired on by a squadron of Mark Barnischs. Knew she was hot. That’s Fyodor over there, isn’t it, covering his eyes?

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

Saw this article on the Mises blog, which presents another angle on Anarchism:

http://www.mises.org/story/1778 (the article)
http://blog.mises.org/blog/archives/003410.asp

wbb
wbb
2022 years ago

I must admit I have no idea what anarchy might represent itself as today, but I’m with you and that Jesuit you linked to on the definition of terrorism.

“Our country is in massive denial about Hiroshima. We have never dealt with it. Instead we ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen. Tomorrow we will try to look deeply at Hiroshima, to meditate on it, to see it as the ultimate evil, and to recognize that everyone of us has to take responsibility for it, that we can no longer be neutral or silent or quiet about it. As I reflect on Hiroshima, I realize we can no longer just try to be good, with this much evil in our backyard. We have to speak out against this institutionalized evil; otherwise our silence is complicity. We have to break through the culture of nuclear terrorism and the necessary silence that allows it to flourish.”

In fact I once wrote a little post on the subject myself, comparing Hiroshima and the beheading of Nick Berg. Both bad, but only one an effective use of terror.

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Goodness me, Don. The pic is er..interesting. I’m flattered to be in Goya (that’s what it is, isn’t it?)
A very interesting post, and thank you for engaging seriously with my idea. You’re right, I think, re anarchists (or revolutionary socialists, or whatever you like to call them) seeing people as good, and social structures as the evil things forcing them to be bad-that, as I pointed out in my comments on my original post, is the ‘gospel’ of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and further back, it’s a kind of Pelagianism. It is a superficially attractive doctrine on the face of it–it seems optimistic and is the opposite of the pessimistic old Augustianian doctrine of original sin, with humans being basically bad except that the grace of God helps them be good. Trouble is–these things are two-faced. If you believe people are all good and that only society is bad, you can also be completely bewildered by the fact people will not respond to your wonderful idea, and as quickly slip into the idea that these people then are unreconstrutctedly evil, non-human or enemies of humanity and deserve to be killed, destroyed, exterminated. Pelagius preached that because people were born without original sin, they had the free will to choose good or evil. If you chose evil, it was because you were irredeemable. The augustinian idea of original sin may be extremely unpleasant but on the other head Augustine said that all people could be redeemed, if they truly repented, no-one was cast into outer darkness.
Now I don’t follow either tendency, really, I do believe that we are a mixture of good and evil, or creative and destructive, if you will; I do believe that most people do try to do the best they can in most circumstances; but that some deliberately do not. And I think that evil is mostly internal and must be fought against, but when it reaches a critical mass, it expresses itself externally, as with regimes such as the Nazis, Fascists, Communists, Saddam, Milosevic, etc. I also think that sometimes societies and regimes are oppressive and need changing, if possible by reform(which I admit isn’t always possible)
I am not a ‘conservative’ in terms of thinking authority is always right; in fact, often I think it’s not. I do believe in people thinking for themselves. Where I am conservative is in the wish to preserve my way of life, my family, all the myriad things I’ve chosen, without having it violently wrested away from me by someone who thinks they know better, bysomeone who commits an act of murder to free ‘humanity’! If you like, that is the conservatism of a woman with children whom she wants to see grow up into a world that won’t try to kill them, harm them, brainwash them or browbeat them. Terrorism is not about despair, but is about sheer wilfulness–an extremely high-handed, wilful and arrogant way of trying to impose your philosophical point of view–especially when you say it’s about peace and harmony!
I think that sometimes action is necessary; but that these actions sometimes drag consequences in their wake that may not be predictable at the time, but that later we may be able to see.

bill
bill
2022 years ago

“Sophie being fired on by a squadron of Mark Barnischs”

I thought I recognized the hat!

Mark
2022 years ago

I don’t own a hat like that!

I also object to the imputation that I was Sophie’s antagonist in the discussion linked. I actually didn’t take that big a part in it!

Mark
2022 years ago

On the other hand, the hat is cool – where do I get one?

Don, I think your characterisation of the different interpretations of social order/disorder is spot on.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Don and wbb,

I think a distinction needs to be preserved between the use of terror and terrorism. Over at Mark’s I suggested the following tentative definition of the latter:

“Terrorism is the deliberate targeting, by an individual or group (or a state, absent a condition of declared or ‘understood’ war), of non-combatant civilians with the clear and conscious objective of killing and maiming as many of them as possible, not to achieve a tactical military objective, but to either (1) create a climate of fear, confusion and defeatism in the targeted community, hopefully resulting in an act of surrender by the state; or (2) for the purpose of maximising publicity for his, her or their cause, and thereby, among other things, attracting more adherents; or (3) both of the above.”

By non-combatant civilians I mean those who are not armed representatives of the state and authorised to use lethal force on its behalf. In liberal democracies that role is limited to the armed forces and the police.

The fire-bombing of Tokyo, the London blitz, the carpet bombing of the Ruhr, Horoshima and Nagasaki strike me as examples of the military use of terror. The activities of the KGB, the Gestapo, SAVAK, the rumoured extra-judicial operations of the British security forces against the IRA, Robespierre’s Committee of Public Safety and its much-loved guilliotine – the political use of terror.

But it seems doubtful to me at least that any of the above can be described as ‘terrorism’ unless you conflate the terms terror and terrorism to the point where both cease to have any useful descriptive purpose.

(Sophie, sorry about the tasteless ‘hot’ remark. For a moment there I must have thought I was over at Tim Blair’s.)

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Add ‘indiscriminate’ to ‘deliberate targeting’, perhaps.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

“If you believe people are all good and that only society is bad, you can also be completely bewildered by the fact people will not respond to your wonderful idea, and as quickly slip into the idea that these people then are unreconstrutctedly evil, non-human or enemies of humanity and deserve to be killed, destroyed, exterminated.”

This is what I see as one of the major flaws of the Left. At its extremes, such an attitude created Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.

In less extreme circumstances, this attitude that opponents are deliberately evil can be seen in such places as the Democratic Underground discussion forums.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I probably shouldn’t do this but anarchism’s detractors and advocates alike could do worse than wander over to Tim Blair’s place and follow his ‘Visions of hell’ link to the Anarchist Bookfest.

Even allowing for some RWDB image selectivity, Goya’s Sophie they ain’t.

Actually, dammit, here is the link:

http://www.zombietime.com/churchill_in_bay_area/churchill_sf_anarchist_bookfair_march_26_2005/

Enjoy.

wbb
wbb
2022 years ago

“Where I am conservative is in the wish to preserve my way of life, my family, all the myriad things I’ve chosen, without having it violently wrested away from me by someone who thinks they know better, bysomeone who commits an act of murder to free ‘humanity’!”

Sophie, I am the same sort of conservative. Is why the murder of so many in Iraq by the invading armies of the West appals me.

EP, it is a major flaw of cultural and market imperialists that at their extreme they will act as though the deaths they cause either never happened or doesn’t count.

Kim
Kim
2022 years ago

“someone who commits an act of murder to free ‘humanity’!”

Or, someone who goes to war to bring “freedom and democracy”.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Watch me go OT.

I love google image search. The original for Sophie’s head is probably at http://tinyurl.com/65r27, while the Goya could come from http://tinyurl.com/5w6u6

Nice bit of photoshop to liven up the wordiness. My point is this:

it is amazing the difference in the effect of the whole painting just from replacing Goya’s anguished face. I partly realise how well he caught it from seeing how the new face gets the moment so wrong.

The brightness and contrast is different too, but that is not nearly so important.

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

I do disagree with you re the war in Iraq, Wbb–I supported it, albeit reluctantly(and the reluctance was precisely for the reason you’re against it), just as I would have supported the war against Hitler or, if it had happened(and I wish it had) a war to stop Stalin’s campaigns of terror; just as I supported the Vietnamese when they marched into cambodia to put an end to Pol Pot’sregime and the Tanzanians when they put an end to Idi Amin’s. Unfortunately sometimes there is no other way, though I wish some other method could have been found–and re Iraq, I think it should have been done long ago. That it wasn’t is terrible; yet that doesn’t mean you should do nothing. Yet I know too full well that if I was an Iraqi mother who had lost her children in the bombing, I would hate those who had done it, no matter what motives they’d come from..
Human life is horribly paradoxical, and not at all ideological.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

“On the other hand, the hat is cool – where do I get one?”

Down by the executioners’ commissariat, just past the wooden bullets counter. No charge, just pitying looks.

wbb
wbb
2022 years ago

Sophie, I agree that something might have been done about Saddam Hussein et al. Unfortunately doing anything is not always better than doing nothing. The bloody invasion was hardly an improvement on what was already in place.

If the USA had the motives you seem to ascribe to it, then it would have gone about the whole process very differently.

For example it wouldn’t have spent months and months vilifying the country as being possessors of WMD and of being in league with international terrorism.

Instead it would have said out loud and clear so that all the Iraqis could understand, that we are coming in to rescue you from Saddam. In that case
they would have been seen as liberators. That would have made the whole insurgency less potent. There could be no confusion in the people’s minds that perhaps the USA had ulterior motives and that they should stand up to foreign aggression.

The whole invasion was sold on such a mixed set of msgs that we all believe what we want to about why it occurred. Recipe for disaster. And for far too many deaths.

All that said, I believe that it’s only about oil. But even if I am wrong the US botched it and so have actually harmed and killed many many Iraqis.

On Stalin, by the way, there was a fearful war. It didn’t succeed. Tens of millions died. War is always clumsy tool. (I am not against all war, however.)

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Don, you have put your finger on one of the essential features of the difference between anarchism and conservatism, according to my admittedly limited understanding of these isms.

According to Andrew Heywood’s “Political Ideologies” (2nd ed 1998) a leading feature of conservatism is its distrust of human nature. He sees conservatism as based on the idea that humans are “both imperfect and imperfectible.”

One thinks here of the notion of the ‘thin veneer of civilisation.’ Left to ourselves our animal nature would take over leading to the law of the jungle. We are saved from this by authoritarian discipline, the rule of law and retributive justice or so conservatism would have it.

Modern conservatism has, it seems, been permeated with liberalism and hence its view of human nature has perhaps softened somewhat.

Heywood sees anarchists as viewing human nature in highly optimistic terms. But he sees them as tending to divide into two categories, one having “a powerful inclination towards sociable, gregarious and cooperative behaviour” and the other more individualistic in orientation. The first leans toward, or is more compatible with, socialism while the second fits better with liberalism.

He thinks anarchism as a movement, in its various forms, has long since run its course. Nevertheless the ideas are far from dead, but act as an infusion into other movements and systems of ideas. As such anarchism is not restricted to what may be termed left or right.

Heywood does address the issue of anarchism and violence, suggesting that it was most prevalent in the 1890s and the 1970s. He is quite definite, however, that violence is not intrinsic to anarchist ideas. Rather, anarchism is more in tune with pacifism:

“In practise most anarchists see violence as tactically misguided, while others, following Godwin and Proudhon, regard it as abhorrent in principle. These latter anarchists have often been attracted to the principles of non-violence and pacifism developed by Leo Toltstoy (1828-1910) and Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), both of whom, if in different ways, expressed ideas that were sympathetic to anarchism.”

On the issue of human nature, in the 1950s Florence Kluckhohn identified what she called five basic value orientations. One of the five focussed on our “innate predispositions” which she saw as (1) evil (2) neither good nor bad, or (3) good.

Each of these three was seen as either mutable or immutable.

A slightly mis-aligned table of her schema may be found at:

http://nw08.american.edu/~zaharna/kluckhohn.htm#Table

I tend to see us as neither good nor bad OR both good and bad, depending on whether you need that particular frame, and definitely mutable, but not infinitely so.

Florence herslf has no preference but states a little oddly that “all dimensions of all orientations NOT ONLY ARE BUT MUST BE present at all times in the pattern structure of every society.” (emphasis hers)

I’m still scratching my head over that one, though it works better for the other four value orientations.

The point about these value orientations is that they are deeply embedded in our thinking, our feeling and how we see the world and how we process information. It’s worth thinking about.

Sorry to have been so longwinded (again).

zoot
zoot
2022 years ago

Sophie, why are we doing nothing about Burma, Zimbabwe and North Korea (to name just three)?

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Doing nothing? I think we’re working on them in other ways, impatient zoot. Diplomacy and such.

squawkbox
squawkbox
2022 years ago

Zoot, I for one couldn’t say for sure. Possibly because if and when we (whoever “we” are in this context) do something effective about those three countries, the same people complaining will simply move the goalposts and ask “But what about Syria, Uzbekistan, and Burkina Faso?”

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Why do you say this, wbb?

“All that said, I believe that it’s only about oil.”

I’ve never understood this argument.Why should the US fight a war costing tens of billions of dollars and thousands of young Americans in order to acquire something it’s always been quite happy to buy? Even during the oil embargo of the mid-1970’s the US simply coughed up what OPEC was asking. I just don’t see the logic.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

And this:

“On Stalin, by the way, there was a fearful war. It didn’t succeed. Tens of millions died. War is always clumsy tool. (I am not against all war, however.)”

The only power that fought a war against Stalin was Nazi Germany, which abrogated the cosy non-agression pact between the 20th century’s two worst dictators as part of its war aim to enslave the Slavic peoples (‘inferior races’, in Nazi terms) in the service of Greater Germany. This made it an unlikely ally of the west in its fight against world fascism and tragically paved the way for its colonisation of Eastern Europe.

Sophie’s quite right. If ever there should have been a war it was the one that should have been fought by the liberal democracies against Stalin. It would have spared the people of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, etc. from a lifetime of tyranny, misery and servitude.

The two great mistakes of the liberal democracies in the 1930’s were that they did not act quickly enough against Hitler, and did not act against Stalin at all.

Kim
Kim
2022 years ago

“Doing nothing? I think we’re working on them in other ways, impatient zoot. Diplomacy and such.”

Not good enough, Rob. What about Darfur and Sudan?

Kim
Kim
2022 years ago

I mean forgive the scepticism but it was apparently urgent to invade Iraq but we’re happy to wait for *UN processes* to sort out Sudan while genocide goes on. The Guardian asked recently if we’d be watching “Hotel Darfur” in 11 years and it’s a fair question!

sophie
sophie
2022 years ago

Don’t want to stray too far OT, Kim, wbb. But I in fact think something _should_ be done about both Zimbabwe and Burma–and North Korea. I am only sorry it does not seem to be seriously thought of as a possibility for anyone–and remember, it’s not the US only who should be thought of as ‘doing something’ . In Cambodia’s case, it was the vietnamese; in Uganda’s, the Tanzanians. In East Timor’s case, it was Australia(very, very eventually and slowly.)
However, I don’t think that’s a good enough argument for doing nothing about Saddam. One vile tyrant is gone, his ghastly dynasty destroyed forever, and the Iraqis now have a chance they never had before.
Oil, it seems to me,can hardly be a prime motive; it would have been much cheaper and less trouble to buy oil from Saddam. That would have been realpolitik. Look, my own motives for supporting the war was because of the calvary of the Iraqi people, whose terrible suffering under that cruel police state would have no end under Saddam’s sons as well as the man himself. I don’t think the motivating factor in the USA’s invasion was that(though I do believe that entered the calculus, as part of a new understanding the realpolitik of the past could no longer guide their hand in dealings with the ME). It was done out of self-interested motives, however–I think the motivating factor was a very real fear that came from the fact they’d been caught napping over OBL and Al Qaeda’s potential. Because Saddam was a mortal enemy of the US Administration, i think they felt–and with good reason–that he might well join up with them, or at least help them. And as he’d bluffed the whole world–incl the other Arabs and the UN–about his supposed possession of WMDs–it was felt they couldn’t wait any more.
The consequences are not clear yet. We don’t know if these actions will in fact usher in real, widespread democracy for the ME, or be just the precursor to some other, more dangerous new situation. Like the nations of the early 20th cent(or any other time, come to that), we have no way of knowing what may lie in the future, just yet. I’m hopeful, but still hedging my bets. But there is a very clear gain–the end of Saddam.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Sophie and wbb, I think there were multiple motives for the US going into Iraq and Wolfie was probably right in saying that WMD was the only one they could all agree on.

Oil was definitely a big part of it IMO. The US see it as a strategic resource and are not simply satisfied with buying it. There were at least three things getting under their skin. First, the relationship with Saudi Arabia was fragile, and as Jack Strocchi said over at Quiggin’s at the time the US wanted to ditch the Saudi’s and hitch Iraq to ensure access to oil and miitary bases.

Secondly, Saddam was increasingly doing oil deals with the French and the Russians and others.

Third, shock horror, he was starting to trade oil in euros rather than the dollar.

Beyond oil, I do believe also that the neocons actually believe in their mission of bringing democracy, ‘freedom’ and American-style capitalism to the Arab/Muslim world.

The reason why the Iraq war was an unjust war is twofold, IMO. First, alternative ways of going about resolving whatever the issue was deemed to be had not been exhausted. Nevertheless, alternative strategies would have involved the significant deployment of US forces to provide a credible threat to Saddam. As some-one at the time observed, US forces tend to decay rapidly if left out in the desert. But hindsight tells us this may have been far more desirable than unleashing their brutal and somewhat indescriminate power.

Secondly, the outcomes were always unpredictable and incalculable. Hence no credible calculation of net benefit was possible. Events have validated this point.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

The US invasion of Iraq was due to post-9/11 trauma, IMHO.

The Bush Administration was determined that nothing like it would ever happen to America again. That’s what the pre-emption doctrine was all about: not waiting until the terrorists struck again, and then acting, but preventing them from even positioning themselves for a strike. They figured that the ‘next 9/11’ would most likely be an attack on the continental US by terrorists armed with WMD sourced from Iraq. So Bush and co. decided to take down Iraq to remove the threat at source.

It sounds crazy, but I think the US was a little bit crazy after 9/11 – understandably, perhaps, but I wonder if a more seasoned, experienced administration would have acted as the Bush White House did.

I daresay it sounds trite, but I think the US simply lost its head. Not but what a deal of good may yet come of it. As Sophie says, Saddam is no more.

wbb
wbb
2022 years ago

“Oil, it seems to me, can hardly be a prime motive; it would have been much cheaper and less trouble to buy oil from Saddam.”

Sophie, but this the point. Saddam Hussein hated the USA. He was busy signing deals with Russia and China, as Brian Bahnisch point out.

He didn’t want to sell oil to the USA. Hugo Chavez is making similar noises at the moment. Oil is a weapon. A Weapon of Market Distortion.

Oil is not a resource you can just buy on the open market. Oil is sold thru preferential trade deals.

That’s the whole reason the USA had to act. I agree they would have preferred to just buy the stuff. But that option ended when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the two countries became enemies.

As Brian Bahnisch also says the USA is worried that Saudi Arabia might go the way of Iran. If that ever happened they had to have an alternative supplier immediately available. Oil is like oxygen. If it is stopped system damage occurs very quickly. The US strategic reserves may hold a few weeks supply.

It is indeed real politik, Sophie. The other strategic advantage of having Iraq under US control is that if Saudi did go under to an Islamic revolution then the Ghawar oil field could be annexed and Mecca and Riyadh left to the blessed with relatively little bloodshed.

The necons were the useful idiots for the Cheney real politik faction which knows which side the USA’s bread is buttered on.

wbb
wbb
2022 years ago

Rob, to explain the invasion of Iraq as the consequence of the USA having lost its head is to severely under-estimate the globe’s most powerful nation. Presumably, though, this means you didn’t support it. The hard-heads in the administration used the fact that most of the country had indeed lost its head to sneak thru this military action.

Rob, you cite the tens of billions of dollars that the invasion/occupation is costing. Why do you think this is a large number? It is not.

The USA consumes 30 billion dollars a month worth of crude oil. The invasion probably adds a few cents to the pump price. But better that than no access to the stuff at all. Look, they are not going to steal the oil. They will pay for it. They are happy to pay for it. But they had to have the opportunity to buy it first.

China and India are actively trying to sign up to energy deals with Iran and Venezuela. They are trying to increase their wealth. They cannot do it without oil and gas. Iraqi oil is now unavailable to them.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

wbb, I agree with some of what you say.

“The hard-heads in the administration used the fact that most of the country had indeed lost its head to sneak thru this military action.”

I think that’s right. I do think that people like Cheney and Wolfowitz, who had been sitting in the wings during the Clinton years, jumped at the opportunity to finish the job on Saddam – not just because of the ‘unfinished’ first Gulf war, but to get even with him for making fools of the US during the years of abortive weapons inspections. There was a time, wasn’t there, when Clinton actually had the bombers inbound for Baghdad then had to pull them back after Saddam did a transparently dishonest backflip at the 11th hour. I think they were sitting there seething, saying ‘Nobody treats the US like this and gets away with it’.

But I’m still not convinced about the oil. I mean, Iraqi oil wasn’t available to the US during the period of sanctions, was it? Also, I know some very senior bureaucrats who went to Washington a few months after 9/11 and they came back saying no-one should underestimate the fury in Washington at what had been down to the US and their absolute determination to punish the perpetrators and ensure that nothing like this ever happened to America again.

As I said, I think that’s the basis for the whole Bush thing about pre-emption, and the invasion of Iraq was an exercise of that doctrine.

No, I didn’t support the invasion, I think it was a huge mistake by a hurt and furious superpower, but was nonetheless undertaken pretty much for the reasons advertised.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I also think Sophie’s right when she says –

“I think the motivating factor was a very real fear that came from the fact they’d been caught napping over OBL and Al Qaeda’s potential”.

I suspect that the Administration felt that even the very best efforts of its various intelligence services had not been able to protect the US from attack, and decided to rely directly on the mailed fist approach instead.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

“It sounds crazy, but I think the US was a little bit crazy after 9/11…”

I agree with that, Rob. I remember on the morning after my wife and I talked to our young son about it, then 14. He said, You know how the Americans are when their own get hurt. Bad things are going to happen.

There is one word for it – revenge. Some-one at the time pointed out that the Americans don’t just defeat their enemies, they annihilate them.

One sane and realistic look at what the US was up to is a piece by Johan Galtung. It is a paper called ‘SEPTEMBER 11 2001 : DIAGNOSIS, PROGNOSIS, THERAPY’ and may be found at:

http://www.peace.ca/September11byjohangaltung.htm

It’s long and the format is a shocker, but it leaves you in no doubt as to the wrong-headedness, the futility and the couterproductiveness of the whole approach taken by the neocons to the War on Terror.

As for premption, I do recall Tim Dunlop being told by an excellent source on the Washinton cocktail circuit that terrorist recruitment had been lifted by 300% through the Iraq war. A suitcase nuke in an American city is probably now inevitable.

I’ll stick with a multi-cause explanation for the US impetus to war. At the time I had a list of 10-12 main causes. But oil is probably a sine qua non. In other words, but for the oil common sense probably would have prevailed. It would have been more honest for the US to say access to Iraq’s oil is essential for our national interest and we are coming to get it.

Andrew Frazer
Andrew Frazer
2022 years ago

“It would have been more honest for the US to say access to Iraq’s oil is essential for our national interest and we are coming to get it.”

It may have been more honest, but it would have been a hard sell!

wbb
wbb
2022 years ago

“It would have been more honest for the US to say access to Iraq’s oil is essential for our national interest and we are coming to get it.”

Jimmy Carter said just this in his State of the Union Address in 1980.

” Three basic developments have helped to shape our challenges: the steady growth and increased projection of Soviet military power beyond its own borders; the overwhelming dependence of the Western democracies on oil supplies from the Middle East; and the press of social and religious and economic and political change in the many nations of the developing world, exemplified by the revolution in Iran.

Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

http://www.jimmycarterlibrary.org/documents/speeches/su80jec.phtml

wbb
wbb
2022 years ago

.. and Jimmy is the boy the Republicans deride as a panty-waist!

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Your point, in the context of the current situation in Iraq 25 years later, being…..?

Obviously Carter was talking about the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He was warning the USSR not to go after the oilfields sater they’d finished in Afghanistan (not that they ever did, of course).

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

It’s very interesting to read in retrospect, some scenerios that were raised immediately post 911.

http://www.edge.org/documents/whatnow/whatnow_sterling.html

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I’ll read it when I wake up or soon after Nabakov but my point is that geo-political realities shift more than somewhat in the course of a quarter-century.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

But the Carter statement still suggests that an oil motivation is plausible. And that the US would use force to defend its access to oil.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Andrew, I don’t think the oil/national interest reason would be hard to sell in the US. I understand the the price of petrol at the pump is about the most politically sensitive price in the US.

Also I understand that defense of national interest is a reason to allow preemption under UN guidelines. The US didn’t sell the WMD thing at all – most thought it was oil anyway. So what’s to lose?

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

One of the best articles, IMO, before the Iraq war began in March 2003 was written by James Fallows entitled ‘The fifty-first State?’ in the Atlantic Monthly, Dec 2002. It is available at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/200211/fallows

It’s a long article but he goes into great detail about the inherent ungovernability of Iraq by the US as an occupying power. Also he rejects the analogy typically made with WW2 at the time and the appeasement of Hitler, arguing that WW1 was a better analogy, because the outcomes were so unpredictable and the world geopolitical map was rewritten in a way that could not be imagined.

In the event some of the more dramatic outcomes did not eventuate, eg Saddam lobbing a nuke into Israel and Israel taking out Cairo, Baghdad and Damascus in response.

But Immannuel Wallerstein in his latest ‘Commentary’ identifies a tectonic shift of world power relations as the legacy of Bush’s international policies and actions from 2001. A new axis has emerged between Paris, Berlin and Moscow and the alienation and separation of the US and the EU has firmed. Wallers sees this as having implications for the World System, specifically the relative strengths of global capital accumulation centres, the weakening of the $US in favour of the euro and the decline of influence on the part of the US. Not what the Bushies intended. He writes:

“What happened after 2001 is that George W. Bush, in his failed attempts to intimidate western Europe and Russia, accomplished the remarkable feat of speeding up the divergence between Europe and the United States to a point where a major fissure is in the process of being consolidated. We shall recognize how permanent this is perhaps only a decade from now. But, when the historians of 2025 look back at this period, they will mark this realignment as Bush’s great geopolitical legacy, the one transformation that will be credited directly to the activities of his administration.”

There are also implications for middle powers such as India, Brazil and South Africa, who have emerging leadership potential in other geographic zones. It’s worth a look at:

http://fbc.binghamton.edu/commentr.htm

So the Bushies’ strategies to retain and strengthen American leadership and hegemony may have the reverse effect and usher in a genuinely multi-polar world. This can only be for the good of all, especially if the US comes to see itself properly as just one amongst a number of leading powers.

Andrew Frazer
Andrew Frazer
2022 years ago

Brian, I think in the short term it may have been possible to sell the idea of invading Iraq fot its oil domestically in the US. It wouldn’t have sold at all well internationally. I’m not sure that even John Howard could have got away with justified Australian support for an invasion based on securing US rights to Iraqi oil. Would the US have been able to muster the regional support in the ME if oil was the stated reason for the invasion?

I think that it also goes against the grain of the American narrative. It seems to me that Americans need to feel at some level that they’re the hero of the story, that they’re the ones spreading ideals and democracy around the world (no doubt we have a similar narative in Aus, but we tend to not use such high-falutin’ language to express it, and we necessarily have a much more realistic view of what we can actually accomplish). By arguing that they were going into Iraq for the oil, the US would have immediately lost that moral high ground.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Yeah, Andrew, you’re right. If they were honest there would have been no COW and self-delusion is essential to the American narrative.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

The invasion of Iraq was no more about oil than the invasion of Afghanistan was about controlling the heroin trade. The oil in Iraq or Kuwait for that matter, could equally have been an Eldorado of gold, which in any dictator’s hands could ultimately be used to further their power aspirations and inevitably, their expansionist aims. The West dealt with Saddam’s aspirations and expansion in Kuwait swiftly, but it was Sept11 that would concentrate its mind on the general possibility that dictators and ME oil wealth were a lethal brew that could ultimately poison us all. Saddam, with his stated goal as pan-arab leader and his track record, made him the logical ‘regime of interest’ for many in the West. As well the demise of communism, allowed a fresh focus on any other potential threat. In this sense, Western liberal democraciies are the ultimate rational, pragmatic conservatives. Live and let live Chamberlainism, until the obvious rears its ugly head. Notice how Churchill could not get the Allies to take up his perceived threat of Stalinism, immediately after WW2, even when the cost of ignoring dictators, was so fresh in their minds. Another long history lesson for them would ensue, although with little direct harm done, save the odd bloodied nose in places like Korea and Vietnam and the guns or butter tradeoffs inherent in a Cold War arms race.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall the West basked in the warm inner glow of, if not a moral superiority then a practical outcomes one. Free, secular, democratic capitalist societies were the model for peace and prosperity for the greatest number it seemed. Bollocks! It may also depend on good men and their beacons of light. Let’s see how shall we?

Suppose we all took the luvvies advice and tut-tutted and passed some more UN motions condemning Saddam for ‘annexing’ his historic claim to Kuwait. Same with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Indonesians in ET and Yugoslavia was none of our business either.

While we Chamberlains basked in the warm inner glow of more UN motions and sanctions the ME landscape changed dramatically. One by one the ME states fell to fundamentalist Islamic regimes and the Madrassas sprung up everywhere churning out new converts and recruits for their growing military machine, funded by a new theocratic OPEC. Initially this OPEC would be used to gain nuclear arms from Pakistan and NK, although it used its oligopolist supply muscle to gain nuclear reactor technology from France, for all its members. Under Saddam, it increasingly used oil as a bartering chip in international politics. Oil revenues were sunk into furthering the economic and theocratic fortunes of Islamic countries. If India wanted some oil, it would accede Kashmir to Pakistan. Malaysia and Indonesia were IF states, to which Australia increasingly was turning a blind eye to Indon. atrocities and expansion in PNG. More lebensraum for the Islamists, just like the acquiescence of Russia to the expansion of IF into the former Soviet states. France could buy time(or oil) by acceding to demands for more islamic migration and customs. China, like India could remain neutral and gain oil in exchange for trading with the IFs. The US and the rest of the West could not, unless initially they traded their technology for precious oil al la France. With the rise of IF, the EU shut up shop on Turkey entering their ranks. Tired of this Turkey threw in its lot with the rising power of the IF OPEC countries and let in the Madrassas, after Attaturks democratic dream failed. In Africa, Islam was on the march, with the model of the Janjawheed, followed by the new settlers and their Madrassas. Ditto in Yugoslavia. While the infidel West was slowly strangled as its free market oil supply was turned off, the war drums in Saddam’s new Mordor were beating ever louder, as the West faced increasing unemployment, approaching Depression levels.

Implausible scenario? Who knows, if Saddam and the Taliban had been left to their own devices? What some of us are asking ourselves is- At what stage would the luvvy, anarchist, socialist dreamers of utopian swamps, ever get out of their cloistered monasteries and off their well padded arses, to get their hands dirty and deal with any dirty big snapping alligator?

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Err, on second thoughts change those well padded arses to well oiled ones ;)

harry
harry
2022 years ago

The plans for invading Iraq were drawn up in 1991. Sept11 was a very convenient trigger for those planners. Colin Powell gave a press conference in early 2001 where he was adament that Saddam posed no credible military threat to anyone – let alone the United States. Have a look where the US has bases on foreign soil – if it has oil they have a base or it’s on the list. Iraq was the next country in line. If the US upper eschelons were so fired up by wanting to bring democracy and freedom etc to oppressed peoples then Afghanistan would be in a much better shape than it is now: a series of Fiefdoms.

Hiroshima was a powerful message. The Americans chose a relatively untouched target to see how effective the bomb really was. The people they were saying “Look at this!” to were not the Japanese but the Russians. One of the strongest advocates of the atomic bombings was Churchill, specifically to give the Russians pause for thought. The whole “soft underbelly of europe” attack through Italy was Churchill getting into the south of Europe before the Russians did. And he had to argue the case for liberating the country of initially an enemy (Italy) before that of an ally (France). Churchill lost the next election, the people were war weary and they voted that way.
Italy was strategic positioning.

The US bases on foreign soil, including Iraq, is strategic positioning on such a scale.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

What harry said.

Observa, by 2003 Saddam’s pan Arab aspirations were as dead as the dodo. I recall that at the time none of his six neighbours saw him as a serious threat anymore.

I can’t answer the rest point by point, but in this passage and the following it seems to me that you metaphorically leap on your horse and ride off in all directions:

“Suppose we all took the luvvies advice and tut-tutted and passed some more UN motions condemning Saddam for ‘annexing’ his historic claim to Kuwait. Same with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Indonesians in ET and Yugoslavia was none of our business either.”

We were talking about Gulf War2 not Gulf War1. I think most of the “luvvies” would have supported Gulf War1 in general terms.

The other cases are all quite separate. I recall most lefties at Quiggin’s supporting the ousting of the Taliban from Afghanistan. I wasn’t one of them, but the point is that lefties have brains and sometimes they use them to discriminate between the different circumstances surrounding different calls for intervention.

One of the problems is in the muscular way that the US projects power. In the AFR Review section of 1 April there was a fascinating article by Mark Leonard ‘The Power of Transformation’. He is the Director of Foreign Policy at the Centre for European Reform and the author of a book “Why Europe will run the 21st Century”.

He argues that the European project transforms countries within it and around it, creating a zone of peace and human rights. It currently contains 25 countries and 450 million people. Around it and increasingly subject to its influence are another 84 countries and 1.5 billion people.

We in the Anglo countries seem to snort a bit about Europe rather than take it seriously. But by any measure it is a considerable achievement. It will be interesting to see how far it goes, but Wallerstein (as I referred to above) believes it is now firmly adrift from the US hegemon, a signal achievement of the Bushies.

I’m think we should take them a bit more seriously.

To get back to Arthur’s topic, one of the problems Wallerstein sees with the World System which has prevailed over the last 500 years is that it depends on the nation state to provide order (and other services) so that capitalism can flourish. Unfortunately capitalism also tends to weaken the nation state, so putting the system in jeopardy. The European project may be one way that the system can morph into a new form in which it is at least as congenial for us to live as we have been accustomed to. I would be grateful for that.

To save you looking the article is not on the net. Shame, Fairfax, shame!

There is an interesting review of Leonard’s book in Timesonline at:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,13130-1496747,00.html

a short Guardian one here:

http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/politicsphilosophyandsociety/0,6121,1431243,00.html

and an even more cautionary one at:

http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/politicsphilosophyandsociety/0,6121,1441008,00.html

and a note from uncle Will (Hutton) here:

http://www.britainineurope.org.uk/inyourarea/wales/news/why-europe-will-run-the-21st-century

and perhaps the most balanced from the New Statesman here:

http://www.jkampfner.net/articles/ns280205.html

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Yeah, what harry and Brian said. To which I’d just add a few dots you can join yourselves.

Recent George Kennan obituaries collectively paint an interesting picture of US geo-political thinking, about the time they found themselves to be the first 20th century superpower.

“Why go war over oil when you can just buy it?” But so can China, India and a Brazil changing up gears and they’re buying more and more of it. So whaddya do if yer the world’s biggest consumer of a resource vital to yer way of life, and yer biggest clout is now military not economic?

The internet is so successful because it was designed to be decentralised and so evolved as a stew that just kept getting richer and enhancing its user functions as more users joined. Sure it’s messy and out of control but that’s its appeal to so many. Which nations, geo-political or trading blocs can you say the same of today?

If a nuke went off in Washington DC tomorrow, the US would erupt into a 800 pound psycho headless chicken and then start tearing itself apart into factions as industrialists, the military, regional socia-political groupings and powerful local pollies all started jockeying to set up a new centralised command structure or break away and defend their regional enclaves. But if you nuked Brussels or a key city like London or Paris, the EU would behave more like the internet, swarming and redistributing around a decentralised C3I political structure.

The most successful (ie: most honoured by signatories and best delivering on its aims) multilateral convenant since World War 2 is the Antarctic Treaty System. That’s the canary in the coalmine. When it breaks down and unilateral resource extraction really starts there, it’s time to start stockpliling canned food and crop seeds in Tasmania

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

No, what observa said. More later.