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Blind in Basra

The British Army is gearing up to pull out of Iraq, specifically from the southern area around Basra where they've been unsuccessfully trying to contain the local Shi'ite militias.

Leaving aside the pros and cons of a decision to quit Basra, one of the more disturbing aspects of the withdrawal will be what happens to the interpreters who have been working with the British. The Foreign Office, it seems, is unwilling to grant asylum to the 91-odd interpreters (and their families) who have been working for the British Army, and who can expect to be treated as collaborators and traitors by the militias once the army pulls out. It's a high risk job in the first place; meanwhile Defense Secretary Des Brown is saying that up to 20,000 Iraqis have been working for the British since the invasion in 2003, and that trying to help them is "impractical".

I have to admit that I'm conflicted over calls to cry "shame!" at our ministers for this wonderfully spineless display of pandering to the worst instincts of the Daily Mail.

On the one hand, a reasonable and impartial observer might think that the British government owes a debt of honour to the civilians who have, at great risk to their own lives, assisted them in their mission to pacify Iraq.

On the other hand, let's play devil's advocate: what if the British government, in a craven fit of short-term electoral calculation panders to the instincts of the pull-up-the-drawbridge little-Englanders, sticks up two fingers at the wogs, and says "thanks, now fuck off"?

Doubtless the sight of collaborators' heads on sticks will provide much food for thought to any residents of failed states who are asked to throw in their lot with the next brutal and illegal imperialist invasion. And insofar as making it harder for the bastards to rape and pillage other countries is a good thing, might not the lives of 91 translators — hung out to dry by their soi-disant employers — actually be a cheap down-payment?

Here's my considered advice to the British government: if you think there's even the remotest shadow of a chance that at some future time you'll need to send troops overseas, let all 20,000 of your collaborators (and their families) in. Full right of residence and/or British citizenship, plus a golden handshake sufficient to buy a crappy little Barratt box in a new town somewhere in the midlands: nothing less will do. Because if you don't, you're going to find it a hell of a lot harder to buy quislings and spies eyes and ears on the ground the next time your Dear Leader decides to play Sancho Panza to some doomed quixotic adventure.

Or, if you want to go all-out to win that October surprise election you can sacrifice them on the altar of Paul Dacre's immigrant obsession. That's okay; what's another 91 lives on top of the hundreds of thousands you've killed and the millions you've exiled already? Accept that you're not going to be able to dance the force projection fandango in future, write off the Neocon invasion fantasies as a bad wet-dream, and get back to the serious business of corrupt PFI deals and running your own little banana republic. That's my advice, incidentally. You don't even have to worry that anybody will think any the worse of you for it — we already know you're a bunch of hypocritical little shits with about as much moral sense as your cousins from Enron, and a tasteless habit of masturbating over recon photographs of cluster bomb attacks on wedding parties.

Do I sound angry? You bet I'm angry. So that's enough for now ...

62 Comments

1:

Aside from the attacks on the personal morals of the politicians (I'm not all that well informed on British Politics), seems like a reasonable evaluation of the situation.

2:

They eat kittens, too.

On toast, raw.

3:

(On the "impractical" thing: the UK has just undergone the biggest wave of immigration in 30-odd years -- over a million immigrants from Poland in about 24 months. Which doesn't sound like a lot in US terms unless you bear in mind that the UK population is only 60 million. That's the equivalent of the US suddenly acquiring, oh, five million Venezuelans in two years. You'd notice it, right? So to dismiss as "impractical" the idea of adding 2% to that number -- the maximum estimate of collaborators -- is, well, the most appropriate word I can think of is disgusting.)

4:

western governments and politicians have great power around the world. With power comes the feeling of superiority, with almost absolute power, comes the feeling of absolute superiority.

No wonder that our politicians treat the people of the non western countries as 2nd grade humans because they are so superior.

I have the feeling that it will even become worse...

5:

Charlie, I think your comments about the Daily Mail are ill-informed.

A quick search of their site shows their articles on the subject of the Iraqi interpreters, and the comments left by readers, are generally sympathetic to their plight. (who the hell wouldn't be, except our spineless government?)

Assuming the DM's opposition to uncontrolled immigration means they are in favour of shafting people who've put their lives on the line for us is just plain silly. The Mail prints a load of nonsense sometimes, but I think you're trying to hang them for a sheep they didn't steal...

6:

As the policies of most western nations become increasingly driven by the short-term electoral agendas of their politicians (whipped along by the even shorter-term Murdoch news cycle) and quarterly results dominated corporations, they fail to understand that large numbers of people inhabit regions of the planet operating on much longer time scales. Often centuries long; they don't forget, and they hold grudges. Unfortunately it's in those regions of the world that most of the oil resides...

7:

GC: Never mind, the Daily Mail are just a bunch of alarmist, racist, wannabe fascist groupies -- but like a stopped clock, they're sometimes right by accident. Doesn't mean you should set your watch by them, though.

8:

martin t @ 4

I would say they treat people of non-western countries as 3rd or 4th grade humans, since they treat their own citizens as 2nd or 3rd class.

9:

Mr. Stross,

I don't often agree with what you comment on in this blog, but as a Soldier that serves in Iraq and other places, the fate of those that work with us is an especially real and poignant issue for us. Those that would ignore their fates are the absolute most vile and souless creatures to walk the planet. Thanks for writing on this matter.

Chris

10:

Why do people in the 3rd world take those sweat-shop jobs we pretend to be so concerned about (but completely forget about whenever we're clothes shopping)?

Why would someone collaborate with an occupying regime, taking a bet with their lives and the lives of their families?

Because, and here's the fun bit, those are the best choices available to them. They considered all the available alternatives, and made a choice.

So, respectfully, I disagree with both sides of the false dilemma you've created, Charlie.

Even if a 100% successful campaign to kill all the "collaborators" was an absolutely certain consequence of withdrawal, that would neither lessen nor increase the number of people willing to make that choice in any future invasion. No matter how risky, it would still be the best of all alternatives for plenty of locals in any conceivable occupation.

And, on the other side, moving some portion of the "collaborating" Iraqi population (20, 200, 2000, 20000, pick a number) to Britain would not lessen even by that number the consequences of the bloody struggle for local control that will follow withdrawal.

In the debate about Iraq, the greatest tragedy is that "stay the course" and "pull out now" are equally unethical and immoral positions, and yet little airtime is given to possible "third" paths, save for possibly the most bloody potential "solution" of them all, the movie of which could be titled "Partition II -- The Killening".

11:

The Poles, from another EU country and well-educated, are politically useful to the neocon capitalists. They put us in fear for our livelihoods, and make us afraid to criticise our employers. They're even running Human Resources departments in companies--the ultimate bogy-men of the employment market.

These Iraqis, on the other hand, are brown and can never go back. They're seen as unlikely to compete with the uppity middle-classes. And they're easy targets. This government sent one refugee family back to Pakistand, from Grimsby. The husband was a trained lawyer, and was one the Board of Governors of the school where his children went. The kids hardly spoke their native language any more. They were Christian. The last I heard, they'd vanished into a world of Islamic mobs and murder.

(And, looking at how the Conservative Party are talking, it looks like another Lib-Dem vote from me. Which is a pity, because the local MPs are far better than their parties deserve.)

12:

I'm up there with #5 in re the Daily Mail. The only place (apart from the government) where I have seen anyone say that the interpreters should be left to die is Neil Clark's utterly disgraceful Comment is Free column from a couple of weeks ago (a column by the way that was criticized by just about everyone).

Even little Englander Daily Mail readers understand the concept of honour and responsibility and not betraying people who helped you. What Daily Mail readers don't want in the country are the guys that G Brown asked to rescue from Guantanamo despite the fact that they aren't British citizens and seem to have spent very little time in the UK once they received their permssion to live there.

13:

I wish you were right Charlie. This sounds too much like the "let it get bad enough and then everybody will vote for us" political calculation that never seems to pan out. The next time "they" (and Walt Kelly was right about "them") need some collaborators in a glorious adventure, they'll find them. Destroy enough infrastructure, disrupt the local economy, allow enough lawlessness and people who need to feed their families will come running. It's not like we're offering them a choice. I don't think there can be any conflict: push for them to bring the collaborators to the UK.

And the idea that it would be impractical is, as you say, absurd. Curiously, as an immigrant I've had opportunity to deal with the Home Office over the past two plus years. My queries were mostly simple and I presume that being an incredibly pale American makes them a bit less twitchy. But I've found my interactions with their staff to be amongst the most trouble-free and helpful customer service experiences I've ever had. I'm sure they could do the paperwork.

BTW, is there a better way for a tax-paying non-citizen to make the point then writing an MP?

14:

Because, and here's the fun bit, those are the best choices available to them. They considered all the available alternatives, and made a choice.

Aren't you lucky that you don't have to make choices like that.

15:

We have an ageing population and a pensions crisis. The Poles are coming in to work, pay taxes and help. These Iraqi's have proven they can get jobs, even in a war torn country. We need them and anyone else who can work, the Poles can't do it alone.

16:

Yeah, the dumb browns had to choose between the options given to them by the invading force. So it's their /choice/.

Shan's a fscking -- "teh stoopud" -- idiot. One who's genes should be selectively bred out of the gene cesspool. Shan -- respectfully, of course -- even goes to the trouble of introducing a red herring: no one is talking about the "bloody struggle for local control that will follow [British] withdrawal". We're talking about retrieving the people who were jeopardized by the British Army's actions.

Being respectful while being an idiot still qualifies as idiocy, dumb fsck.

17:

Alan@15:

These Iraqi's have proven they can get jobs, even in a war torn country.
By collaborating with an invading force. I think there are more deserving immigrants than traitors.

18:

@17 The morally shady but hardworking are ultimately more valuable as taxpayers than the morally upright but unemployed. It's an economic issue, not a morals issue.

19:

@3 It may sound harsh, but the British government is that-- the government of Britain, and responsible first and foremost for the British people. If it's a good idea in the long run to help its allies, go for it. If you need to drop them like a burnt piece of toast, do so.
In fifty years, whether other countries love you or hate you will have more to do with what's good for them right then, their internal politics at the moment, than how much good you've done them in the past. Expecting that you can earn more than convenient and minor gratitude by good deeds is risking a great deal.

20:

The United States is doing the same thing, but not as openly. Instead we are putting out interpreters etc through a byzantine bureaucratic process which is so tangled and slow and capricious one can only imagine its secret orders are to keep as many people out as possible. OTH, we, to, have been undergoing a decades-long wave of immigration, and just as we slammed the door last time that happened, we're doing it again.

I have passed on your comments to some friends under the heading "TOTAL dishonor in the UK." It'll come back to bite us both - and on this side of the pond we're up against the not-very-popular mantra "Everything Bush does is right and if you don't agree you're a Traitor who is Undermining Our Troops."

Pat, who would pray for justice except that karma will do.

21:

GC: Never mind, the Daily Mail are just a bunch of alarmist-racist-wannabe-fascist-groupies -- but like a stopped clock, they're sometimes right by accident. Doesn't mean you should set your watch by them, though.

I love this. Great writing! Is your book done?

Jeff

22:

Jeff: I just emailed it to my agent and editor a couple of hours ago. And started the next one ...

23:

Go Charlie, give those bastards what for!

Unfortunately, my experience has shown that the majority of people probably won't care about the fate of those 20,000, even if they are made aware. People are saturated with tragedy to the point where it doesn't penetrate their consciousness. It can be debated whether this is the fault of the media, the lazy masses, or just a symptom of globally available information but it remains a fact just the same.

Here in the U.S. we have secret prisons and illegal surveillence, we send prisoners to other countries for torture, and generally twist our constitution and laws to suit the purposes of whoever is currently in power. All that said, the average American will still say that we are, "The Freest Country in the World", and say it with pride. Modern Man has been trained not to allow facts to interfere with their conclusions.

24:

Angry, yes. But not, surely, surprised?

25:

I thought we weren't doing ad homs on this site. But perhaps we're "angry" today so gloves are off. Ok.

@14 "Aren't you lucky..."

Yes. And I try to do my bit to make sure that the choices I am fortunate enough to have are extended as widely as I can by taking a variety of actions and making a variety of sacrifices. These are all likely pathetic and worthless, but there it is.

@16 "We're talking about retrieving the people who were jeopardized by the British Army's actions."

Presumably, then, you're suggesting that people were forced at gunpoint to be paid for translating? It wasn't their choice?

Wouldn't you say that any "resistance" worth its name would spare no effort to place members in the corps of translators?

Frankly, in the annals of shame, joining an illegal war, then smashing up a country, failing to do everything possible secure a lasting peace and bailing out, ranks pretty high.

Imagine that tomorrow the decision is made to accept all 20,000. Does anyone actually think that would enable Britain to say "At least we left Iraq with a little bit of honour?"

No. I didn't think so.

The whole population of Iraq was "jeopardized by the British Army's actions" so in fact we ARE "talking about the "bloody struggle for local control that will follow [British] withdrawal""

26:

Partition *can* be done without too much bloodshed - the Greeks and Turks managed it back in the day, and if American airpower were used to splatter anyone getting too lively with the genocide I imagine it *might* go smoothly, though Mosul or Kirkuk could get complicated.

27:

Shan @25

First off, ad hominem is only a fallacy if your main intent was not to attack an individual. Some people need to be attacked.

I think you need to ask youself why risky choices are the best available to some people and why you have more choices. I'd bet it has much less to do with your own sterling qualities and more to do with random circumstances of birth. It's easy to judge people who have it worse and it's easy to be abstract about the lives and fortunes of people you don't know and will never have to face.

You can argue all day about what is "best" for the U.K. but in the end, advantage without morality is failure. Why should anyone, citizens included, care what happens to the U.K. if the entity in question increases human misery. Sometimes you have to make an effort that you're a member of the Human Race, not an arbitrary group protecting its pile of bananas. Then again, maybe you don't.

28:

@27 "Why should anyone, citizens included, care what happens to the U.K. if the entity in question increases human misery."
Because if that other human misery happens to make your own citizens happy, what good politician would refuse to do so? They elected you to represent _them_, not the entire human race.

29:

"doomed quixotic adventure"

That got me thinking. Are you saying the whole thing was foredoomed because brown people can't understand the white man's democracy?

Thinking back I find it odd that all the stated arguments (hidden agendas notwithstanding) for the Iraq invasion were inherently Liberal arguments in the the tradition of Woodrow Wilson (making the world safe for democracy) and John F. Kennedy (we will pay any price and bear any burden). Bush's foreign policy is Liberalism on steroids.

It used to be that conservatives were the isolationists. Have the political poles shifted, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned?

30:

"Presumably, then, you're suggesting that people were forced at gunpoint to be paid for translating? It wasn't their choice?"

No, they were forced by hunger and their family's hunger to find whatever work they could. Aren't you lucky not to have to make such choices. Pray you never will.

And before you intervene with another of your crass comments - our invasion destroyed whatever was left of the economy that sanctions hadn't destroyed before it. So we're responsible for that as well.

31:

> Are you saying the whole thing was foredoomed because brown people can't understand the white man's democracy?

@29,

I start to suspect democracy is not something that you can force on others at gunpoint. They may pretend they play by your rules as long as people with guns are around and give money, but unless democracy is something they chose on their own, it is just not going to happen.

They can understand Western democracy. Just give them chance to choose it. It will happen slower, but will not go away as easily.

32:

That got me thinking. Are you saying the whole thing was foredoomed because brown people can't understand the white man's democracy?

Nope: I'm saying it was foredoomed because only a fuckwit would believe that invading a country -- shattering its institutions, separating its citizens into rival groups pitted against each other along ethnic lines, and then being surprised when they start shooting at each other and at you -- was a good way of installing democracy.

Incidentally, you've got a really short memory if you think you can blame Kennedy and Woodrow Wilson for this; it's in a long line of interventionist thinking that was articulated clearly by William Gladstone (remember him? Prime Minister of the world's #1 superpower back int he day?) in the 1870s, and somewhat less clearly by Napoleon Bonaparte.

It used to be that conservatives were the isolationists. Have the political poles shifted, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned?

Watch my lips: the people who planned this atrocity are not "conservatives" in any meaningful sense of the word. "Trotskyite revolutionaries in conservative drag with an ideology articulated by Leo Strauss" I'll grant you. But conservative? If those folks are conservative, then I'm the Queen of England.

33:

> Trotskyite revolutionaries in conservative drag

Good point. The first thing I remembered after I heard about Bush idea of spreading democracy was Trotsky idea of World Revolution.

(IMHO, we are lucky Stalin chased away Trotsky and executed his followers. USSR headed by Trotsky would be scarier).

34:

Brian @17: I think there are more deserving immigrants than traitors.

Such as those who collaborated with thuggish theocrat warlords or a quasi-fascist dictator?

35:

C @28
"Because if that other human misery happens to make your own citizens happy, what good politician would refuse to do so? They elected you to represent _them_, not the entire human race."

The funny thing about your concept is that every politician behind this doomed venture has claimed that the goal was to improve the lives of Iraqis. You will never hear a (successful) American politician state (or admit) that their policies are meant to benefit Americans to the detriment of foreigners.

Maybe if American foreign policy weren't based on the claim that we're taking the moral high ground I wouldn't expect our government to consider the welfare of non-citizens. Until then it's only fair to hold them to their word.

Besides, the idea that evil is ok if it benefits your own tribe is just plain silly anyway. I can't believe I took the time to even respond.

36:

Earlier this month a group of Gurkhas went to court over here for the right to settle in Britain. At the moment, Gurkhas who retired from the Army before 1997 don't have an automatic right to settle here - it's left to the discrimination of immigration officials, and quite a large number of applicants have been refused because they don't have `strong ties' to Britain. One of the Gurkhas involved in the case served for 13 years in the British Army and was seriously wounded in the Falklands. Yes, his ties to Britain are that weak.

I'm not sure whether the case is over yet, but if we treat our servicemen like this, how surprising is it that we're content to accept the services of Iraqi civilians and then drop them when they're no longer needed? I despair sometimes, I really do.

37:

"I start to suspect democracy is not something that you can force on others at gunpoint."

The post-WWII Japanese and Germans may disagree. As would post-ACW Blacks, and later when Ike used regular Army troops to begin the end of segregation at Little Rock. Mao was only half right when he said that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Freedom does too.

"and then being surprised when they start shooting at each other and at you -- was a good way of installing democracy."

That sounds an awful lot like post-ACW South, where assorted terrorists and regime die-hards (aka The Klan) continued to wage ethnic violence against Blacks. The continued their campaign of bombing, terror and murder well into the 1960s almost 100 years after the war ended. Were we wrong to fight the ACW?

"you've got a really short memory if you think you can blame Kennedy and Woodrow Wilson ...the people who planned this atrocity are not "conservatives" in any meaningful sense of the word."

You contradict yourself. If they aren't in the liberal tradition and if they aren't conservatives, what exactly are they?

My point remains, Bush's foreign policy is essentiall a form of muscular liberalism completely at odss with traditonal American conserative non-interventionism and isolationism. Bush's idealism takes the idealsm of a Wilson or a Kennedy to the next level.

38:

Etal: they're Trotskyite-style global revolutionaries fighting a class war with fire and the sword. There's precious little of Burkean conservativism in their world-view -- and the liberal tradition they lay claim to (or not -- they'd deny being liberals) is one that modern liberals have long since let go of.

39:

@23
Freedom is not all it's cracked up to be. It has a tendency to turn into a dictatorship as people react against the abuse of freedom. Sort of like the end result of pure capitalism being monopoly.
I prefer order, with a lot of freedom. We fought a war about that once, must be the Canadian in me.

@26
Partition of peoples is never bloodless. The cost of the migration of the Turk and Greek minorities into the countries where they were majorities was thousands of dead, and economic catastrophe for the individuals involved. I'm sure many of them talk about their "land" that was stolen from them. The same can be said of the German peoples in Eastern Europe.

That being said, I think that the results of the separation of those peoples has resulted in a higher level of stability and long term happiness than any other solution.

The Turks and Greeks still hate each other's guts, but at it's least harder for them to get at each other, and their neighbors aren't as likely to suffer the side effects of ethnic cleansing next door.

40:

#37 Its only recently that Japan has been approaching a democracy. Granted they have elections and to an ignorant observer it looks like democracy, but it was still a one party state. America worked pretty hard at keeping it that way as well.

And given a choice between food in their stomachs and freedom, most people will take food. Modern Russia is proof enough of that.

41:

Etal,

I've often thought the ACW/Klan analogy is apt but I'm not so sure that war opponents would take it to automatically agree that the carnage of the ACW was worth the end of slavery. And it may be worth remembering that, while the KKK of that day was destroyed, its political ends were accomplished after the North ended its occupation.


Charlie,

On the question of "food for thought to any residents of failed states who are asked to throw in their lot with the next brutal and illegal imperialist invasion," I don't think it matters that much.

For one thing, there were several reasons for the war, and knowing we couldn't install a democracy might not have prevented the invasion. Rumsfeld didn't even intend to stick around in Iraq for very long.

One complication to this moral exercise is that the people in Basra were some of the most opposed to Saddam.

Leaving aside moral principles, it would matter less that the British military might abandon translators. Planners of future wars could always position unpopular forces to where that's not as much of a problem. IIRC, I think the problem of history is why they're in Basra in the first place.

British unpopularity was also considered in WWII's invasion of French North Africa when Americans hoped to be greeted as "liberators" (they weren't). Some British forces wore American flags on their uniforms.

One thing your post leaves out is any possibility that there might one day be a war you'd like to win. That invasion of North Africa is a case in point. Some of those in favor of that operation were American communists who has only 18 months earlier been opposed to U.S. involvement in the war. They used terms like "imperialism" then, too.

42:

@26, @39, Regarding Partition:

I was surprised two years ago when I saw a parade going south on University Avenue in downtown Toronto. Various cars and floats were festooned with pre-1918 Hungarian flags. One of the cars had a big map of Hungary's pre-1918 borders.

The parade was to protest the 1918 Treaty of Trianon that carved up Hungary among its neighbours. Although the ethnic Hungarians in those territories were a minority in 1918 (and I suspect are even fewer on the ground today) these people wanted what they perceived as their country's land back.

Sorry if this is OT, but it goes to show you: even 87 years later in a completely foreign country, old resentments still fester.

43:

"and the liberal tradition they lay claim to ...is one that modern liberals have long since let go of."

So when did Liberals become isolationists?

44:

It's not conservatives that are isolationists, Americans are.

45:

@39Partition of peoples is never bloodless. The cost of the migration of the Turk and Greek minorities into the countries where they were majorities was thousands of dead, and economic catastrophe for the individuals involved. I'm sure many of them talk about their "land" that was stolen from them.

For sure there are still Greeks whining about Const^HIstanbul. Never said it would be bloodless, though they didn't have American airpower available for oversight. But thousands of dead might be a price worth paying for an end to the carnage - thousands are dying every month as it stands AFAICT. Individual economic catastrophe doesn't seem to be in short supply either - a popular one is where they kidnap a family's main breadwinner, get them to borrow heavily to pay a good-sized ransom ($5000 or so), and then leave his body in the street. Speaking purely personally, loss of face (and if possible, career oblivion, though one shouldn't aim for the moon) for the nimrods who took us into this idiocy would be a small price to pay for not having to read about things like that any more.

@42 Sorry if this is OT, but it goes to show you: even 87 years later in a completely foreign country, old resentments still fester.

Long as they're not throwing bombs it's just nostalgia IMO.

46:

@37 The post-WWII Japanese and Germans may disagree.

Bush himself has come out with this one, which should be a red flag. The Germans and the Japanese were behind their leaders big time for years, and took a collective stomping for it from which they emerged with widespread pacifist instincts. Not *exactly* the case with the Iraqis, who we claimed to be going in to *rescue* from Saddam.

47:

About democracy: I sometimes suspect that you will only find democracy established in countries, where the social structure allows the ("undemocratic") leaders of a country to establish a democratic constitution *and* still be sure to be reelected and stay in power.

(Germany too was gouverned by former politicians after WW2. Some lower ranking former nazis, others from the Weimar Republic era (before 1933), a lot of them anything but democratic in anything but their officially stated role.)

Naturally you'll have a stable government in most states (because of surviver bias). Representative democracy, to be stable, requires mass media and a measure of either social stability or public sedation. By its very nature, democracy is not sustainable in socially unstable conditions. (And so is any other kind of leadership.)

(Once more pre 1933 Germany is a good example with countless reelections and not a single government lasting it's full term. During that time, Germany was having all kinds of social trouble, payments as a result of WW1, having to deal with inflation in 1922-24 that puts that of Zimbabwe to shame and of course the old aristocratic elite that lost its power in the 1918 Revolution. Plus the economic crisis of 1929 and following years. The first government to last a full term was elected in 1933, headed by a guy with a funny little beard, enjoying an upswing of the economy and merely bad social conditions.)

Once conditions for any kind of goverment are met and the government is established, the percieved legitimation of the government leads to more stability, until the basis for this perception crumbles to pieces. An example here is China, where leaders claimed that they had a mandate in heaven that would justify their power. In 1838 or so it turned out, that ships with guns where somewhat more powerful than a mandate in heaven and the old order crumbled to pieces. (Although it took some 80 years to be replaced by a republic, some 30 years to change to a peoples republic and another 30 to whatever you would describe the current government struggling for stability by economic growth.)

Not only do I believe, that the necessary condition to establish a democracy in Iraq are not met, but I also believe, that the current legitimation for the representative democracy in the west either has or is in the process of crumbling to pieces, as leaders are a far cry from representing the people - turning "democratic governments" into "governmental regimes with elections every 4 years".(Please note that elections may be part of democracy but do not constitute democracy itself - even though current regimes try to spread that belief.)

48:

Dave Hutchinson @ 36

I'm not sure whether the case is over yet, but if we treat our servicemen like this, how surprising is it that we're content to accept the services of Iraqi civilians and then drop them when they're no longer needed?

Government without morality or ethics will do this to anyone; they'll use a tool until it's no longer useful, then toss it away, never caring that the "tool" was a human being. The US is doing the same thing to its own servicemen just now; surely you've heard about the way wounded veterans are treated? Now tell me, why should citizens be loyal to governments that aren't loyal to them? Just because they say they are?

That's why we should care about morality even in international affairs, why we can't just say "He's not one of us, screw him." It's simply immoral to throw those translators to the wolves, because we've accepted their loyalty, and have to give ours in return. Sure it's easier to walk away from them; should we always do what's easy?

By the bye, to all those who say that Bush invaded Iraq to spread democracy, and couldn't have known how badly it would go, I call bullshit. There was plenty of public disclosure of advice from the people the President is supposed to listen to, that showed he and his closest buddies, like Rumsfield, ignored and derided advice because they "knew" better. They were told they were wrong, and so it proved.

49:

I don't think the published reasons for invading Iraq had any connection to what was happening in the festering minds of the Bush administration.

They lied to get their putrid little "short, victorious, war", and failed completely to plan for an aftermath.

This puts the British Army in a Vietnam situation, much as the Australian Army was, with a corrupt, or non-existent, civil administration, and no control at tjhe strategic level. In Malaya, for instance, we had the authority to make a deal which knocked away one of the key parts of the insurgents' political platform.

When the civil administration, and your chief non-Iraqi ally, are both running torture chambers, the media shock at apparent brutality can seem a little misplaced. There's far worse things than being beaten up by a bunch of squaddies. But it's not good.

And if anyone thinks that the Chanecllor of the Exchequer doesn't have any say in a decision to go to war, and is a magical new broom when he moves into the Prime Minister's office, I've got a house on a flood plain to sell to them.

50:

"and took a collective stomping for it from which they emerged with widespread pacifist instincts"

Are you saying that we didn't bomb Iraq enough?

51:

Dave @49: I'd go a little further, and say the whole situation puts the British Army in much the same role as Mussolini. The lies and spin circulating around the White House's pre-war propaganda campaign in 2002-2003 were strikingly familiar to me at the time: if you've ever read William Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", the account of the vindictive miasma emanating from the Reich propaganda ministry in the summer of 1939, prior to the attack on Poland.

(I'm not normally one to go on anti-war marches, but I can take a hint: when they're borrowing Goebbels' speeches, it's a sign that they're planning something for which there is no real justification, because if there was some actual hard evidence of, say, WMDs, why not show it? And the pattern of propaganda was eerily familiar: make some baseless but alarming allegation, implying that Iraq was an actual positive threat to the west, then as soon as people start asking for evidence, switch to a different allegation without bothering to respond.)

It should be no surprise now that the remaining apologists for the war sound eerily like German civilians in 1943-44.

52:

Usually when people start throwing in comparisons to Nazi Germany it means that their arguments are floundering and they're reaching for the hyperbole in an attempt to keep afloat.

In this case, the more I read not only about Germany, but about all those European countries who collaborated with it, the more parallels I'm seeing with our current situation: the propagandising, the creation of an 'other' that we can blame (attitudes towards immigrants are startling similar to the way the Jews were seen by a number of the European countries during the 1940s - thankfully we haven't reached the point of trying to exterminate them, but the hysteria being generated is too close by half).

Equally there are very obvious similarities between America's attitude towards the rest of the world and Republican Rome's - so expect them to be invading Gaul by the time the century's out.

53:

Charlie: wind your neck in, right now.

Not everything the army does or will do is raping and pillaging other countries. (Bosnia. Kosovo. Sierra Leone. Cyprus. Even the Falklands, for heaven's sake.) There will be times when we will need to go to other countries and operate there - entirely morally and legally, with the UN behind us. We'll need to recruit locals as interpreters. They may be threatened - and our jobs will be a lot easier if we can credibly say to our locally-recruited personnel that we will protect them and their families. That's the practical argument for protecting Iraqi personnel - that a reputation for looking after your own is a very valuable thing to have.

54:

@52 "Usually when people start throwing in comparisons to Nazi Germany it means that their arguments are floundering and they're reaching for the hyperbole in an attempt to keep afloat."

I was waiting to see that one. To that I say, "Remember the Maine!" Or, if you don't like that, read up on the Mexican-American War. As Iain Gibson says, "the creation of an 'other' that we can blame" is always an element.

55:

@35 "Besides, the idea that evil is ok if it benefits your own tribe is just plain silly anyway. I can't believe I took the time to even respond."

You might call it silly, but that's been the building philosophy of most large governments throughout history.
And for heaven's sake, you're surely not so narrow-minded that you think that humanism is the only philosophy on the planet, are you?
"All humans are equally valuable" or even "All humans are valuable" are not universally-held opinions, and are even more rare in practice.

56:

@53 "That's the practical argument for protecting Iraqi personnel - that a reputation for looking after your own is a very valuable thing to have."

Good summary. I would argue (and have tried to) that the British Army doesn't have this reputation, never had it, and wouldn't gain it even by shipping all "20,000" home.

So let's think of another reason. But when you start doing that, you start lifting the damp, rotten floorboards off the roach nest that is Immigration Policy (among other things).

"Fixing it" so that 91 (or however many) people can magically come home for "humanism" or "honour" or "pick a reason" requires major structural change.

This is what I've been trying to say: the real issues, that need to be urgently solved, are the bigger ones.

@30 "And before you intervene with another of your crass comments - our invasion destroyed whatever was left of the economy that sanctions hadn't destroyed before it. So we're responsible for that as well."

I totally agree with everything after the dash. Which is part of what makes the hostility before the dash so puzzling.

57:

@50Are you saying that we didn't bomb Iraq enough?

The actual prerequisite I had in mind was for Iraq to have made as plausible (and widely supported) an attempt at hegemony over their neighbours as the Germans or Japanese did, in which case we might have had an excuse to bomb them enough. I realise for some people the difference between Saddam's attack on Kuwait and Operation Barbarossa is a subtle one, though.

58:

SpeakerToManagers@48 - I have indeed heard of the disgraceful situation at Walter Reed and other military hospitals, and it pains me to say that similar things have happened here.
As for the rest, you'll get no argument from me.

59:

Apparently, Mussolini was against Nazi Germany for a few years, and his actions may have delayed the German invasion of Austria.

But the military adventurism of Ethiopia and Spain pretty well wrecked any hope of Italy being allied with the rest of Europe against Germany.

Thinking about it, Mussolini is a rather good example.

And, O joy, the RAF is intercepting Russian aircraft again.

60:

I, for one, welcome our next round of Iraqi restauranteur overlords.

61:

C.S., Big Congrats on the accommplishment. Just started The Family Trade.

Jeff

62:

Charlie, I tend to be opposed to the use of military force for very different reasons than you are. That includes "humanitarian interventions" and the like. Why is best discussed over beers.

So even though my own opinions are drawing ever closer to pacism, there's something wise in Obama's phrase: "I'm not opposed to all wars, just to dumb wars."

It's simply very hard to visit places like Panama, Grenada, the Dominican Republic, Liberia, parts of Afghanistan, and (I'm told) some places in the Balkans and retain a cold assurance that foreign military intervention is always a bad idea. That's true even when the killing is in order to undo a previous crime --- viz la Pi񡠤e Panamᮠ Moral certainty dissolves, and even visits to hospitals and cemetaries can't fully reclaim it.

In other words, Ajay seems to offering some very good advice.

(Say, your software is very English --- it has problems with accents and tildes, it seems.)

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on August 20, 2007 9:43 PM.

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