Some friends have been staying nearby on a boating holiday so for the last few days, rather than pottering around the house, reading and writing, I have been having a real holiday, sailing round the Pagasitic Gulf. Whilst I am not sad enough to actually prefer being in a shuttered room with a fan and a laptop, I have missed catching up with my Internet habit, restricted though it is by a slow dial-up connection.
Now I have a chance to get back on line, what caught my eye most was the article by Johan Hari taken apart by Oliver Kamm here, Eric here, and Norm here. This was based on an earlier book review of Nick Cohen in Dissent, which, in my view, seriously distorted Cohen and drove Oliver Kamm to post an even more vigorous rebuttal. There is little to add to the authoritative savaging Hari has received but I will pick up on a few additional points that irritated me most.
First, there is a level of carelessness about history in his review. The most egregious is that he uses unspecific references to give an air of historical authority to his statements (the emphases are mine):
“if you talk, as virtually all serious scholars of jihadism do, about the role the US played in smelting jihadism”
“There is a near-total consensus among historians that the Versailles Treaty helped to create the trough of national humiliation and grievance in which the fungus of Nazism could grow”.
I would like to know precisely who these ‘serious scholars’ and ‘historians’ are. My suspicion is that his use of such unspecific terms is merely a rhetorical cover for his own lack of rigour.
(In fact, Hari has distorted both the views of Keynes, who he cites approvingly, and of historians on the rise of Fascism. They were less concerned with ‘national humiliation’ than with the economic consequences of Versailles. Of course, the event that precipitated the disastrous rise to power of the Nazis was the Wall Street Crash and not the Versailles Treaty. However, Hitler would not have come to power without the mistaken collusion of von Papen and here Cohen’s strictures on apologism and accommodation with irrationalist forces would seem highly apposite. In addition, that Versailles posed problems for a nascent German democracy was obvious, what it didn't do, as Hari seems to imply, was to bring forth Nazism as a necessary response.)
Secondly, in his tiresome rehashing of ‘it is all about oil’ (as if control of vital resources by a malignant dictatorship did not constitute a genuine concern), Hari ignores the fact that strategic interests and political and humanitarian principles are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Those moments when they combine are often the ones when action is often most purposeful, the Second World War being a prime example. There is another dimension too. The second Iraq war was an attempt to resolve an existing conflict. Sanctions and containment were having a disastrous impact on the Iraqi people. The Oil-for-Food programme was seriously flawed and a way had to be found to end the existing situation. There were two choices. The first was to come to some accommodation with the regime to keep Saddam in power in return for oil concessions. The second meant regime change. The choice of the latter was hugely to the credit of the US administration, to execute that change so badly was hugely to its debit.
Finally, Hari’s assertion that everyone is still stuck in 2003 and only concerned with Galloway is so ludicrously without empirical foundation as to be laughable. True the grotesque Galloway always makes a pleasing target, but just read the output of those associated with Euston and beyond and you will find an impressive discussion of all that Hari says is being ignored and more besides. Just take the example of Christopher Hitchens. He has certainly raised his sights from Galloway; he is now taking on God.