Friday, May 09, 2014


Sometimes I wonder about editorial standards. But when I read the Guardian, I abandon all hope at all. If I had received this article as an undergraduate essay, I would have failed it. The Guardian published it.

It would be easy to fisk the piece, but I have a life. Perhaps the most irritating bit is this:
 ... we also witnessed that old standby "no-fly zone", which actually means "flying-and-bombing zone"
Actually no, it means preventing someone else flying and bombing. For example, it was the no-fly zone established over Northern Iraq after the first Gulf War in 1991 (remember?) that saved the Kurdish people from Saddam's genocidal suppression of their uprising. It was an achievement that has made John Major into a rather unlikely national hero for the Kurdish people.

Instead, the tactic of a no-fly zone is presented here as a capricious excuse made by someone who just likes bombing "people we don't like in the Middle East" for the hell of it (with no attempt to address the reason why we might not like them). Strip actions from context and meaning and you lose precision and all connection with reality. And this obfuscation is in a column about the clarity of language! As for the bit about Syria ... stop it, I have had enough.

I am prone to making big speeches about the difference between cynicism and scepticism. Scepticism is wholly to be welcomed and is based on evidence, investigation and critical thinking. Cynicism is a posture. It is a generalised mocking stance, one that is inherently conservative. That might sound odd, cynicism often has a radical sound. Yet it answers the question, 'what can we do', with one word; 'nothing'. It is a recipe for paralysis and posing. This article is pure, rampant cynicism.

Sceptics see realities with all their risks, complexities and obstacles. But they don't relapse into fatalism. They believe that something can be done. And on occasion that may mean using military force to stop genocide. Cynicism is the fashion of the moment and I wonder how many lives this bien pensant sneering will cost in the long run.


kellie said...

Thanks for this, Peter. I’ve linked to it from

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Being somewhat of a cynic, I have to nitpick: the article in question is an example of the ignorant branch of cynicism, liberally mixed with stupidity. But here the nitpicking stops.

levi9909 said...

According to this Wikipedia entry even the Americans made it clear that the "no fly zones" where not simply protective - - not by any means.

And for all your own insistence on clarity, you fail to point out that the guy you are criticising was actually criticising Blair's recent speech where he flatly contradicted himself in several details and managed more than his usual mangling of the language.

I know you linked to the article you purport to critique here but poor old Kellie can't have realised as a couple of Blair's biggest contradictions were to offer succor to the Assad and al Sisi regimes whilst calling for openness and democracy.

I dunno why you Colonel Blimps can't just admit you the rather hanker for an imperialist world order rather than do all these intellectual contortions, especially the lashing out at perfectly harmless commentary at the Grauniad.

Anton Deque said...

Well, of course, one bows to Wikipedia when it comes to accuracy and veracity. 'Dunno' is, I think, more instructive. But at least – and this must be encouraged – Blair is not given as B.Liar, so some advance in thought if only small.

Otherwise your useful observation Peter ("lashing out" indeed!) on scepticism and cynicism should be read to all first year students in whatever faculty they find themselves.

Anton Blimp

kellie said...

David Low’s Colonel Blimp was a caricature of Little Englander isolationism. Trying to use him to criticise liberal interventionism isn’t very sharp.

levi9909 said...

Neither of you have addressed the point that the US/UK imposed No Fly Zones were used for offensive sorties against targets in Iraq which showed no offensive intent.

And Kellie's use of the term "liberal interventionism" is precisely the kind of mangling of the language the original article claims to be critiquing.

You've also both failed to address the fact that the article Peter claims to be critiquing was itself a critique of Blair's own insane speech to Bloomberg recently where he openly supported al Sisi in Egypt and hinted at support for Assad, both, he claimed, in the interests of openness and democracy.

Re Colonel Blimp, I think of it as a persona rather than an ideology or policy but please, both of you, try rising above the level of insults and pedantry and at least address the points I made.


kellie said...

Wikipedia’s account of offensive sorties refers to Operation Southern Focus, June 2002 - March 2003. This came, (again according to Wikipedia’s account!) after a decade-long history of protective no-fly zones, beginning with Operation Provide Comfort in 1991, replaced in 1997 by Operation Northern Watch, and in the south with Operation Southern Watch which began in 1992.

You seem to try and damn the no-fly zones of 1991 onwards by limiting your view to events of 2002-2003.

levi9909 said...

I don't want to damn no fly zones and I'm profoundly disappointed that Assad appears to have bludgeoned his way to victory over his opponents. No fly zones might have changed everything for all I know as might the direct arming of rebel forces other than jihadi groups.

On the matter of "liberal intervention", there are people who appear or affect to have no idea why many people just don't trust the intentions of its advocates.

I was also pointing out that Peter is not averse to his own exercises in cynicism, which doesn't always mean do nothing but often means do something with a bogus pretext.

Anyway, thanks for an honest response. That's a real rarity on these pro-war blogs.

Anton Deque said...

"Pro war blogs?

"… try rising above the level of insults and pedantry". This from someone who threw in a gratuitous reference to 'Colonel Blimp' at the first opportunity.

I am sorry you object to those amongst us who have noticed that the anti-war ('Stop the War') faction is dominated by personalities and organisations of self declared totalitarian outlook. As has been demonstrated time and again since the turn of the century, these objectively support the aims of the aggressive opponents of the open plural society, purely as a matter of political expediency.

As has now become the norm in such discussions the point of departure for criticism is always and every time the response of the open and plural society to the violent attacks made upon it. There would have been no need for a No Fly Zone (sanctioned by the General Council of the UN) had gross and brutal aggression not already taken place. To accuse the US of instigating this operation as a means of fighting an aggressive war is akin to suggesting Poland attacked Germany in 1939; I am sure I shall live long enough for this "usual mangling of the language" to become an accepted fact if it serves.

levi9909 said...

You're now simply making things up as you go along. There's no such thing as the General Council of the UN and no UN body has authorised any No Fly Zone, as far as I know, anywhere. And you ridiculed my use of Wikipedia. At least I was being honest

I've responded to Kellie on his own blog because he does at least seem to be an honest chap though I do wonder why he offers uncritical praise for an old cynic like Peter Ryley here.

Again, I'm left wondering why you don't just say you want western global hegemony and leave it at that.

Personally I think the best political values are those professed by the west: liberty, democracy and the rule of law but America and the UK have flagrantly breached their own professed values in international affairs particularly in the middle east and it is this that has led so many (with a wide diversity of ideologies) to view their actions in the middle east with suspicion. It also seems to bring the values themselves into disrepute which is very sad but according to you, nothing that a good lethal bludgeoning couldn't sort out.

By the way, I thought "pro-war blogs" was convenient shorthand. I'm sure it's fairer than lumping all opponents of, say, the war on Iraq, together with the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition. I suppose I could say "liberal interventionist". It borders on the cynical but people seem to know what it means.

levi9909 said...

Oops, sorry Anton, NFZs have indeed been approved by the Security Council of the UN but it's by no means clear which ones you're referring to because in both the cases I've just read about the imposers of the NFZ did indeed use them for free range bombing of targets below.

Anyway, it doesn't detract from anything else I said but I do at least like to be accurate.

Anton Deque said...

"At least I was being honest" I am not?

I have come to the conclusion this is an unproductive exchange and will not presume on our host's tolerance further.

levi9909 said...

In other words, like the host here, you can't make a case for your politics so you smear those with whom you disagree.

No surprises there.

Bye then.