The Sting – You’re Next
In a remarkable article in last week’s Guardian entitled, “The war’s silver lining”, Jonathan Freedland wrote:
“Tony Blair is not gloating. He could – but he prefers to appear magnanimous in what he hopes is victory. In our Guardian interview yesterday, he was handed a perfect opportunity to crow. He was talking about what he called ‘the ripple of change’ now spreading through the Middle East, the slow, but noticeable movement towards democracy in a region where that commodity has long been in short supply. I asked him whether the stone in the water that had caused this ripple was the regime change in Iraq.
“He could have said yes, insisting that events had therefore proved him right and the opponents of the 2003 war badly wrong. But he did not. Instead he sidestepped the whole Iraq business… But if he had wanted to brag and claim credit – boasting that the toppling of Saddam Hussein had set off a benign chain reaction – he would have had plenty of evidence to call on.” (Freedland, ‘The war’s silver lining – We need to face up to the fact that the Iraq invasion has intensified pressure for democracy in the Middle East,’ The Guardian, March 2, 2005)
The prime minister – more properly, the prime suspect – could have +insisted+ that opponents of an illegal war of aggression, one that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead and injured, had been proved “badly wrong”. How so? Freedland explains.
The invasion of Iraq has “changed the calculus” in the Middle East. US pressure is the key: “That pressure carries an extra sting if Damascus feels that the latest diplomatic signals… translate crudely as ‘You’re next’.”
Freedland describes this as “the silver lining” of the attack on Iraq. It’s an interesting argument. One dictionary definition of ‘terrorism‘, after all, reads: “A mode of governing, or of opposing government, by intimidation.”
Freedland, then, is here celebrating as a “benign chain reaction” the results of intimidation generated by state terror. He is suggesting that there is “plenty of evidence” to justify a major terrorist leader “gloating” over the results of his war.
Consider the irony of Freedland’s words in 2002:
“But what of those who are not themselves terrorists, but who lend tacit support – those who did not hijack the September 11 planes, but cheered the 19 men who did? There are millions like that, across the Arab and Muslim world but not only there: witness the Latin American opinion polls which showed remarkable ‘understanding’ of the 9/11 attacks.” (Freedland, ‘Use brains, not brawn,’ The Guardian, December 4, 2002)
What could be more “understanding” than Freedland’s own willingness to find a “silver lining”, no less, to state terror, to the slaughter of more than 100,000 innocent civilians?
And consider that this is the same Freedland who wrote in 1999:
“Future historians will spend long hours and write fat books working out this phenomenon. Why have the Serbs not risen in outrage at the unspeakable horrors committed in their name?… the likeliest explanation is that the Serbs know – and refuse to know. That, like so many oppressor nations before them, they are in a state of collective denial.” (Freedland, ‘A long war requires patience, not a search for the door marked “Exit”‘, The Guardian, April 14, 1999)
Perhaps the Serbs failed to rise in outrage because they believed they would one day be “gloating” over a “silver lining” to their own pool of blood, one that we would all “need to face up to“.
In a 2003 article, Freedland wrote:
“We learned this week that Colin Powell and even Condoleezza Rice were happily declaring that Iraq posed no threat and had no weapons of destruction as recently as the spring of 2001. But 9/11 came along, the hawks won the upper hand and the decision was taken.” (Freedland, ‘Why gather intelligence if our leaders deliberately ignore it?’ The Guardian, September 24, 2003)
Surely, then, by Freedland’s own logic, there is now a “silver lining” to the September 11 attacks – the results of the Iraq invasion prompted by them. We asked Freedland if he agreed with us and we will discuss his response in Part 2.
Toppling The Twin Towers – The Silver Lining
In a September 19, 2001 appearance on the David Letterman show, ABC journalist John Miller stated that Osama bin Laden had told him in an interview several years earlier that he had three major grievances against the West: “the US military presence in Saudi Arabia; US support for Israel; and US policy toward Iraq.”
On April 30, 2003, the Guardian reported that US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, had signalled “a transformation in the US military presence in the Gulf region” by announcing that all but a handful of American troops would be pulled out of Saudi Arabia by the end of that summer. (‘America signals withdrawal of troops from Saudi Arabia,’ Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, April 30, 2003)
Despite vociferously insisting that the US was not “pulling out” of the country, Rumsfeld’s announcement “amounted to that“, the Guardian noted. The Prince Sultan air base, built at great cost to the US, was to be largely abandoned, with none of the 200 American planes remaining by the end of August 2003.
This was part of a ripple of change being felt throughout the region. A week earlier the Guardian had reported that the Pentagon had also been reducing its presence in Turkey. (US ‘to keep bases in Iraq’, David Teather and Ian Traynor, The Guardian, April 21, 2003)
Imagine if, in response to these events, a journalist had written an article entitled “September 11’s silver lining”, with the subtitle: “We need to face up to the fact that the 9/11 attacks intensified pressure for freedom in the Middle East.” Imagine if the author had continued:
“Osama bin Laden is not gloating. He could – but he prefers to appear magnanimous in what he hopes is victory. In our Guardian interview yesterday, he was handed a perfect opportunity to crow. He was talking about what he called ‘the ripple of change’ now spreading through the Middle East, the slow, but noticeable movement towards freedom in a region where that commodity has long been in short supply. I asked him whether the stone in the water that had caused this ripple was September 11.
“He could have said yes, insisting that events had therefore proved him right and the opponents of the attacks badly wrong. But he did not. Instead he sidestepped the whole 9/11 business… But if he had wanted to brag and claim credit – boasting that the toppling of the World Trade Centre had set off a benign chain reaction – he would have had plenty of evidence to call on.”
Can we even conceive of the national and international outrage, the vast furore, that would rightly have been caused by remarks of this kind?
Imagine if the author had added “we ought to admit that the dark cloud of 9/11 may have carried a silver lining“, but that “We can still argue that the attacks were wrong-headed, illegal, deceitful and too costly of human lives…”.
Does not the implicit judgement contained in the five words “too costly of human lives” suddenly become very clear? Would we argue that Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was “too costly of human lives”? What about the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan? How can we say any act of illegal mass murder was “too costly of human lives”? And yet Freedland claims to be opposed to the war.
What would we have made of the above arguments in response to the killing of 3,000 human beings on September 11? And what do we make of Freedland’s comparable arguments in relation to the killing of not less than 100,000 human beings in Iraq?
Part 2 will follow shortly…