Tuesday, February 21, 2006

BLOG WATCH Episode 3 Harry's Place


Less of a blog and more of a Leviathan for the Modern Liberal Consensus is Harry’s Place. This website is administered by a handful of contacts and carries frequent rolling missives. The site also allows for a combative, much visited comments section.

HP's particular need is to shore up left wing support for US / UK foreign Policy. Superficially draping itself in liberal socialist rhetoric, the site pairs poor quality analysis with damning invective. Harry's bloggers follow the trends of educated liberals like Nick Cohen and Oliver Kamm, producing arguments which hinge on a series of easily dismissable false dichotomies.

HP's frame of historical reference appears to date back to the mid 90's (after the rise of doyen Tony Blair). This is an imagined year zero purged of old Tory and Labour reactionaries, where the lessons of the past have no bearing. Falling for the seductive patter which promoted a market friendly Third Way, this liberal generation decided that the chief enemies of global democracy were in fact a loose collection of powerless leftists, whilst turning a blind eye to the disastrous impact of previous Western machinations.

HP paints a picture of the idealistic Blair, fresh from the perceived humanitarian triumph of his tour of duty in the Balkans, seeking a new crusade. Emerging from the desert our hero encounters a totalitarian and genocidal Middle East. Vicious state systems have developed out of the blue, taking root from the Mediterranean, across the anarchic badlands of Terror all the way to the Arabian Sea. For HP the dichotomy is simple, the virgin power of the West should be deployed to cleanse the region of tyranny, to oppose this enterprise is reactionary at best and traitorous at worst.

In truth, of course they call for more Western intervention in an area long ravaged, corrupted and subverted by Western intervention. Blair is merely following older footprints in the desert sand going back to the Edwardian era. To suggest that the administrations of the US / UK have had a Damascus style rebirth defies belief and evidence. Besides, regardless of supposed lofty motives, the unpredictable ongoing trauma of war traditionally debases any noble posturings that such ventures espouse. Events have a way of spiralling out of control, and they did during the first British adventure in the region. Whilst the advocates of war enter an ever-degrading cycle, justifying more and more heinous crimes.

It is clear from anyone who claims to support human rights from the so-called Left, Libertarian or Socialist that one would have had no option but denounce that Iraqi policy. Genuine sympathisers with the Iraqi cause would have campaigned to nurture the legitimate grassroots, unified revolution outlined by Jalal Talabani before the invasion. Pointedly, Talabani and others accused US intervention of being an obstacle to an overthrow. Talabani repeatedly called for US policy to support an uprising "politically, financially and morally" and pleaded with the superpower not to oppose them. Talabani realised that "outside conspiracies cannot liberate Iraq, we believe that active oppositions should emanate from the homeland and should be ready for democratic changes in the Iraqi nation and not be a tool of outside conspiracies whether it is American or others."

The vast financial expense of the present occupation throws Talabani's 1999 outline into stark relief, exposing how single minded the Bush administration were in guaranteeing a stake in future Iraqi proceedings. It would have cost a fraction of the price to support an autonomous and considerably less destructive overthrow of Hussein by unified Iraqi groups including the military (a viable option that Talabani visualised). Paul Wolfowitz outwardly opined such a strategy in 1998 but it was critically undermined by a resolve for the United States to be "ready to defend the Iraqi opposition with overwhelming force".Wolfowitz revealed his true motives stating of France and Russia that "instead of lucrative oil production contracts with the Saddam Hussein regime, they would now have to calculate the economic and commercial opportunities that would come from ingratiating themselves with the future government of Iraq." In other words we were to witness yet another episode in the Great Game and yet more dangerous meddling.

Surely those at Harry's Place understand that US planners simply would not allow genuine autonomous decision making in Iraq because it was in direct conflict with their stated strategic objectives. Hence the decision to reject requests for merely "moral and political" support, and instead embark on an aggressive unilateral strategy. US policy makers were prepared to tolerate huge casualties on all sides to retain the controlling hand in Iraq's affairs. Pre-war risk assessors using the corporate model concluded that regardless of the traumatic consequences, the economic and strategic benefits would far outweigh these costs.

Meanwhile, having been elevated to President of Iraq by these circumstances, Talabani now desperately stresses Iraqi unity and "principled compromise" whilst making hopeful predictions of US /UK troop withdrawal. As Iraqi life collapses ever further into an abyss of violence, caught between numerous warring factions and the world's largest superpower, Talabani is essentially making the best of an impossible job in a situation that he didn't ask for.

HP's self styled left wing instincts must be significantly hampered not to recognise the enterprise in these terms. And it takes effort for such proflic writers on the Iraqi occupation to ignore Iraqi voices such as these, these, these and these.

It seems Harry's team have forgotten the famous paradigm of US Army Major General Smedley Butler when he concluded in 1935 after thirty-three years in active service that he spent most of his time "being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism." If the bloggers from HP believe that Butler's lament is no longer relevant, and that his age-old narrative has inexplicably ceased, then they may need to prepare for a long future of contrition.

Harry's Place also rails against what they describe as middle-eastern "islamofacism" in all its protean forms. Again the analysis is poor often confusing Islamist movements with its middle eastern rival, Arab Nationalism. Whilst Jihadist movements have no place in any democratic future HP fails to understand the factors which fed such politics.

For many inhabitants of what amounted to a subservient feudal world the post-war World Order was constructed to subdue their interests. By the time the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 almost all Muslim-majority regions were either violently consumed or repressed by proxy at the hands of larger foreign powers. Various Arabic movements attempting to redress this balance have come and gone to little avail. As the secular Pan-Arabism of Nasser failed to deliver emancipation that movement deteriorated, throwing up an array of increasingly repressive regimes steering a line back towards Foreign interests.

Such failures were the breeding ground for the oppositional Islamist movement. A lurch towards appealing reactionary ideologies is a typical consequence of marginalised populations reduced to economic squalor with no legitimate political route. No one would doubt, for instance that the bizarre Nation of Islam (unrelated) ideology which developed amongst some African-Americans in the last century was in large part a reaction to years of social and economic oppression. Yet those at Harry's Place would have us treat middle eastern Islamism as a spontaneous and inexplicable explosion of hate, with no reference to what Muslim Brotherhood figurehead Sayyid Qutb described as "the guilt he felt when he realised that there were people in his immediate environment who were very poor, living dreadful lives". It is as though Khomeini's Iran or the Afghani Taliban sprung from the earth like menacing monoliths freezing over what were once peaceful havens, rather than being the grotesque backlashes to years of foreign mismanagement that they truely were.

Many mainstream middle-eastern muslims are now democratically opting for Islamic solutions, Clerical rule has returned to Iran, Hamas triumph in Palestine whilst Grand Ayatolla Al Sistani is to rule by proxy in Iraq. Only fools would deny that this increasing Islamism is in response to present US policy. Islam is now being viewed as the only road towards freedom from foreign intervention, not just by a handful of Egyptian fanatics but by large sections of the global community. Throughout history such policies have pushed populations into cycles of behaviour we find find increasingly abhorrent. And throughout history the focus is predictably on the abhorrence and never on the policies.

It may already be too late to counter an increasingly irate Muslim minority with reasoned reconciliatory gestures, that ultra-violent genie seems out of the bottle now. But the fault for this tragedy lies with successive Foreign policies, not leftist show-ponies like George Galloway. As with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the only policy from the West that can bring genuine liberty is one which altruistically supports emancipation "morally and politically" from afar and does not repeatedly obstruct that process with unilateral interventionism. Rather than braying at the likes of John Pilger or Robert Fisk shouldn't HP be mobilising their readers to demand this from our policy makers?