Friday, January 26, 2007

There moral, and there's moral

Nick Cohen has written a book called What's Left: How Liberals Lost Their Way about ... well, what the title says (but in American - how come?). He wonders how so many of the well-intentioned could march in their millions to defend a brutal dictator, how they could give support and succour to any group, no matter how inimical to their purported values, as long as it opposed the US.

There is a long excerpt from the book here and it is well worth reading. The only problem I have with it is that his argument is entirely 'surface moral' (I'll explain that later). Saddam Hussein was a very bad man and it was a good thing to get rid of him. Agreed. But it wasn't Saddam's badness that induced us to help the Americans spend immense quantities of blood and money in getting rid of him. It was in our interests to get rid of Saddam. Just as it is in our interests to support a stable, relatively democratic Iraq.

It is also in the interests of Iraq and much of the rest of the world, though I wouldn't claim that benevolence had much part to play in the decision. Nevertheless, the possibility that a stable, untyrannical and non-theocratic state could be established in the Middle East was in the interests of virtually everybody who is not a Jihadist. In a region that is a perpetual social disaster contributing nothing to the world but its unrest and violence, a state that broke the Middle Eastern mould might make a big difference.

It may yet turn out well, after a generation or two. But, for me, the saddest thing is what happened here. Our leaders found it necessary to hide behind the loincloth of WMD, and they did so because they didn't believe the comfortable public of the democracies could live with the role of enforcer of world order, with the strategic vision which imposes that sometimes those that can, must. They were probably right. A public narcotised by the present tense sentimentalism of television images of suffering is not only incapable, but unwilling to look a little further ahead and take on the responsibilities of power. It doesn't bode well for our ability to keep power.

The decision to take down Saddam was moral but in a deeper, long-term sense than that of his 'badness'. Yes, he might have done even worse, but, more importantly, it was what Iraq could be that made this important. I'm not saying that it's going to work, but it might. And if it does, it will be to the benefit of all of us.

As a society we may be spoilt children, but on the other hand, it does mean that we have the image below to treasure forever.

One group of SWP stalwarts were joined, for the first march in any of their histories, by their mothers.

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