A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Nick Cohen

Some months after a lot of my friends, I've got round to reading Nick Cohen's book "What's Left?"

I was put off by vague memories of Cohen as a rather sneery anti-Blairite in about 1998.

I wish I had read it earlier.

It's highly readable, and powerfully written stuff.

His message of contempt for those on the left who apologise for anti-democratic regimes is preaching to the converted with me, but I reckon this is one of those rare books that would actually cause people to reconsider their views.

I've got to page 248 without finding anything not to agree with. Page 248 includes the gem "the totalitarian left isn't a part of the family of the democratic left, but the enemy of the democratic left because it doesn't believe in democracy."

Buy it and read it now.


Blogger Chris Paul said...

Mmmm. And are you thinking that you are facing down totalitarian lefties within the Hackney Labour cadre at every GC and EC and LGC?

9:02 am, April 26, 2007

Anonymous Matthew said...

Cohen likes to criticise the left for double standards but what about Tony Blair who called Saudi Arabia "a friend of the civilised world"? Or indeed Cohen himself with his awful articles on Colombia that blame the "media elite" for the problems in Colombia without making a single criticism of the US-friendly Colombian Government?

1:00 pm, April 26, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


Is that supposed to be an insult?

Through the looking glass ...

1:03 pm, April 26, 2007

Anonymous Matthew said...

No, not an insult but perhaps a reason as to why the Colombian government is not criticised by Cohen. As you may know President Uribe's Govt is becomingly increasingly implicated in support for the paramilitaries (who are also Colombia's main drug-traffickers). But Cohen just bangs on about The Groucho Club. A line that Vice-President Santos took up in his recent visit to the UK as reported in an even more appalling article in The Sun which blamed Kate Moss for Colombia's problems.

1:10 pm, April 26, 2007

Anonymous Stan Rosenthal said...

A typically duplicitous response from the Matthews of this world. When they are confronted with the unanswerable they simply switch their line of attack. No wonder Cohen has so much contempt for them.

6:30 pm, April 26, 2007

Anonymous Matthew said...

And I suppose I could point out typical of the Stan's and Luke's to totally ignore the points I was making. By the way, just in case you think I am some SWP type, I would like to point out that I have always been Labour and for example support the Iranian left in their fight for changing the regime in Iran.

7:24 pm, April 26, 2007

Anonymous Matthew said...

Is this the same Stan who wrote to The Independent "Sir: Yes, Iraq has been a disaster. But put the blame squarely on the indigenous death squads responsible for the mayhem, spurred on by the defeatist headlines of newspapers like The Independent.


To copy Luke's debating style..

Mad As a Hatter...

8:33 pm, April 26, 2007

Anonymous Gideon said...

Couldn't agree more. Nick Cohen's book really is well done.

One thing I particularly liked is that he tracks the influence of moral relativism at university in arts and humanaties departments, as opposed to universalism. I think he is right that this was very influencial amoungst the media and chattering classes.

Intellegent people can disagee over whether it was a good idea to invade iraq in March 2003, over sound geopolitical considerations and whether there were viable alternative ways of addressing the problem.

I was living in the US at the time, and was always struck by how the british opposition at the time seemed to imply that even if there was a problem, it was somehow illegitimate for the UK to take an interest, and involvement in addressing it, especially with the US. I still find it incredible that people were not ashamed of carrying banners that said 'not in my name'.

Must of the knee jerk opposition and lack of proper engagement with the facts was, and especially now morally bankrupt and seriously inhumane.

5:23 am, April 27, 2007

Anonymous Regrets said...

"Must of the knee jerk opposition and lack of proper engagement with the facts was, and especially now morally bankrupt and seriously inhumane."

Yes, but the war in Iraq has itself clearly been 'morally bankrupt' and 'seriously inhumane'.

(Coming from someone who originally supported it).

8:04 am, April 27, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

"Regrets" says:

"the war in Iraq has itself clearly been 'morally bankrupt' and 'seriously inhumane'."

No - the immorality and inhumanity is the atrocities perpetrated by the various militias and insurgents who have committed acts of terrorism - almost all against civilians - despite living in a state where they can democratically choose the government and have no need to resort to violence.

Without the security challenge of what the far left calls the "resistance", the US and UK would have been out of Iraq by now.

If the Nazi plan for Operation Werewolf - i.e. a terrorist campaign against the occupying powers - had been fully implemented in the period after 1945, would we have judged the defeat of Hitler 'morally bankrupt' and 'seriously inhumane'?

11:35 am, April 27, 2007

Anonymous Regrets said...

Luke, the strategy was doomed from the start. The idea that Western-style democracy could be easily installed into a country with such little history of stability was flawed. The American decision to give redundancy notices to all of the Iraqi army and police as part of 'de-Baathification' without following up with a programme aimed at mass employment and infrastructure repair was obviously going to leave a lot of Iraqi men angry, desparate, and armed. As much as I would love to see a thriving democracy in Iraq it was naive to hope that in the post-Saddam power vacuum (as best exemplified by the weeks of looting) the population would not resort to sectarian politics and that Iran and Syria would not try to intervene. Lessons on the dangers of insisting on holding elections in chaotic circumstances could have been learnt from Western experiences in the Balkans. I'm sure I despise the terrorists and their apologists as much as you do, but it would also be dishonest to neglect to mention the numerous abuses carried out by US (and undoubtedly even UK)troops.

Indisputable facts:
- Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives (exact number unknown as the situation is so anarchic the authorities cannot be sure).
- Living standards for Iraqis have collapsed since the Coalition invasion/liberation.
- The establishment of a parliament has not ushered in an era of peace and stability as hoped.
- 1000s of Coalition soldiers have died, with noone obviously benefiting from their sacrifice (no WMDs found to protect the West from, no improvement in lives of Iraqis).
- The US and UK do not seem to have an exit strategy. The Western military in Iraq does not appear to have clear long-term objectives. The situation is worsening, the presence of our troops is not improving the situation, but still our leaders insist on maintaining them in Iraq.

For all this I think it can be argued that the war in Iraq has been morally bankrupt and inhumane. Remember I'm saying that as someone who supported the war initially on the grounds of human rights and anti-totalitarianism. But I find it hard to believe that any Labour supporter does not now wish that Blair had taken inspiration from Harold Wilson and declined the American invitation to go into Iraq.

12:19 pm, April 27, 2007

Anonymous Regrets said...

"If the Nazi plan for Operation Werewolf - i.e. a terrorist campaign against the occupying powers - had been fully implemented in the period after 1945, would we have judged the defeat of Hitler 'morally bankrupt' and 'seriously inhumane'?"

Well no, but if Western actions in post-Hitler Germany had failed to improve the lives of German civilians, had resulted in a bitter power struggle between internal factions and had failed to stop the rise of a Nazi-inspired terrorist campaign I would also criticise the Allied strategy. But I think it's not a useful comparison anyway. Germany did not have anything like the longstanding tensions of Sunni/Shia/Kurdish antagonisms. Germany was not a Muslim country in an age where virtually the entire Muslim world is full of anti-American hatred. Plus I would also say that Germany did not have a tradition of resistance to 'imperialist occupation'. So it's a rather silly comparison that distracts from the point.

12:30 pm, April 27, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I have the quaint old-fashioned belief that democracy is not a western concept that only rich white people can handle but the only morally justifiable system of government for all countries anywhere. If India can make democracy work despite extreme poverty, 150 years as a colony and then a bloody partition process, why not Iraq?

The presence of our troops is a lot better than the alternative - a full scale civil war.

I agree that the US screwed up the key immediate post-war decisions - but that was incompetence not immorality.

12:31 pm, April 27, 2007

Anonymous stan rosenthal said...

Nice replies, Luke. As for Matthew's comeback i would like to thank him for digging up one of my old cuttings, which is as relevant today as as it was then. Headlines about their dastardly handiwork are just what the insurgents want. Congress hs already given in to them and they no doubt feel that just a few more high profile atrocities after Blair goes will tip the balance in their favour. In the old days blanket coverage of allied setbacks such as those listed by "regrets" was regarded as giving comfort to the enemy but the unthinking and immoral left seem to be blind to such considerations these days (or they just don't see market- place bombers as the enemy!).

1:33 pm, April 27, 2007

Anonymous regrets said...

"I have the quaint old-fashioned belief that democracy is not a western concept that only rich white people can handle but the only morally justifiable system of government for all countries anywhere. If India can make democracy work despite extreme poverty, 150 years as a colony and then a bloody partition process, why not Iraq?"

No need to get all self-righteous, as you know I wasn't suggesting that democracy is exclusively suitable to the West. China is a disgusting totalitarian regime. Numerous human rights abuses take place there, much of the populations lives in poverty and oppression, and it has aggressive militaristic tendencies. Do you think we should invade to try to install a democracy there? Are you consistent in your 'bombing for democracy' views? I doubt it. Invading China would be strategically insane for obvious reasons, and therefore we don't even contemplate it. For the same reasons, I would argue that invading Iraq has caused more problems than benefits for both ourselves and the Iraqi people. For the same reason that the West doesn't invade China in the name of democracy and progress, we should not have invaded Iraq. It wouldn't have meant that we didn't want to see a democratic human rights-based regime in Iraq, rather that we recognised that a military strategy was not viable and another course should have instead been pursued. I'm not convinced that the military and foreign office was 100% behind the Iraqi invasion - there seems to be evidence of deep misgivings. Only Blair appears to have been driven by an idealistic conviction of the merits of spreading democracy by force. After all, liberal interventionism was quite successful in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan (at that point). I trusted him, as the government did, but I think he was wrong. Labour would undoubtedly be in a stronger position now if he had refused to go along with the Americans. 'Sometimes you have to do what is right rather than what is popular' I can predict you saying. Well, that's one view. But if we accept that, for example, this Labour government's taxation policies will not pursue a radical redistribution of wealth because it would be electorally unpopular (something that as a pragmatic moderate I accept) we should equally have decided that war in Iraq was not a wise policy decision. Morality is a tricky concept to argue over, but I would still argue that such a staggering level of incompetence which has contributed to the deaths and misery in Iraq deserves to be vilifed as, if not immoral, than certainly inhumane.

Stan - I'm fed up with the Indie being a middle-class viewspaper instead of a newspaper, but if you think the insurgents in Iraq care about what the Independent's headlines are then you are bonkers.

12:52 pm, April 28, 2007

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