Monday, November 06, 2006

New Fisk

This was a guilty verdict on America as well


Fisk is playing fast and loose with the truth.

He talks about the Iraqi use of gas and claims that the British and Americans didn't want to know. I remember a huge feature spread from Time (I think) showing the photographs of gassed Kurds. The American media brought this massacre to the attention of the world.

And that is the problem with his whole thesis. He doesn't recognise that western institutions are superior in that they try to do the right thing, and seek to stop and punish those who do not. Yes the west is imperfect. But to suggest that it is morally equivalent to Saddam is bizarre.

He is quite willing to blame us all for the failings of our governments, but gives us no credit for the success of our institutions. He is morally inconsistent.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/06/2006 08:48:00 PM

so KD, the US and UK supported Saddam in his war against Iran; supplied his weapons, conventional, chemical and biological; blocked action against him in the UN; and provided militaty intelligence to his army. and that makes the US and UK more moral than Saddam, does it?

Posted by Anonymous : 11/06/2006 11:32:00 PM

Let's just step back from the America bashing. The USSR/Warsaw Pact and China supplied around 80% of Iraq's weapons throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but where is the call for damning Russia, China and the Czech Republic? Apparently the end of the Cold War has cleansed the history of those countries, but not the West.

KD is right. The nonsense that the US is morally equivalent to the Saddam regime is equivalent to saying the UK was morally equivalent to Nazi Germany because of the Dresden bombings and Munich agreement's appeasement, or the US is morally equivalent to militarist Japan because of Hiroshima.

Saddam was supported by the west and communist bloc, including China, against Iran because they all feared Islamist rule for their own reasons. All were wrong for supporting Saddam in hindsight, but none of them supported Saddam oppressing his own citizens (and you can be sure China/USSR cared less than anyone else).

Posted by Libertyscott : 11/07/2006 01:31:00 AM

The difference between Fisk and yourselves is that he retains his capacity for outrage (and therefore humanity) by focussing on behaviour - both Saddams and the West's, and asking whether it is right or wrong.

Whereas you spend your (blogging) lives trying to perpetuate some ridiculous notion of goodies and baddies through rationalision, distraction and ploys of moral equivalence.

If a state knowingly and willingly supply an oppressive dictator with the precursors to chemical and biological weapons, then they are complicit when he produces and uses the goods. End of freakin story.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/07/2006 08:17:00 AM


Follow your logic. The global economy means demand and trade in all these things is inextricably inter-twined. All its participants are guilty, including you.

So are you happy to have Fisk's opprobrium heaped on you as well? Or do you think it is unfair because you are arguing against these behaviours, trying to do the right thing, and are not as guilty as other? Well - this argument applies to many people and many of our institutions.

Anybody who thinks Saddam's Iraq was morally equivalent to the USA might like to consider where they would prefer to live. Or is it alright to enjoy the benefits of western institutions while bagging them? Sound like hypocrisy to me.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/07/2006 08:29:00 AM

Interesting that you see the same arguments comming up time and time again. Surey the last 50 times anonymous mentioned US and UK suplying iraq with eapons a comment similar to LS's (sometimes with more detail) followed straight after?

Posted by Genius : 11/07/2006 08:46:00 AM

>his capacity for outrage

to fisk outrage seems to be a knee-jerk reaction. So outrage from fisk looses it's impact (everything is a disaster and everything is everyone's fault).

> If a state knowingly and willingly supply

did they do it both knowingly and willingly? Maybe they should be more careful, but I’m not sure it is as insidious as you make out.

Still, I expect NZ has probably exports 'biological weapons' (as medical samples) to many states and export thousands of tones of precursors to chemical weapons (just mix it with the right thing!). it depends on how one defines these things - so it could be easy to get outraged over nothing - or conversely to not be outraged over something you should be upset about.

Also if you think Saddam was better than the current situation (as many people seem to) then supporting Saddam isn’t all that evil a thing to do. Not supporting him (and resulting in the fall of his government to an invading force such as the Iranians or to a civil war) might well have been the "evil" thing to do. (Cheers china and russia!)

Posted by Genius : 11/07/2006 09:03:00 AM

Thanks genius for illustrating my point so well. Many of the things you postulate are, indeed possible. It’s also remarkably unlikely that significant quantities of biological and chemical precursor exports past through US cutoms en-route to Iraq without scrutiny or knowledge by the US intelligence community, and understanding of the probable intention and consequences.
Thus the great rationalising machine assigns evil intent to baddies and malign or misintended action to the goodies. Saddam was clearly an evil dalek masquerading as a human being, whereas the overseers of exports to Saddam were kindly, well-intentioned individuals either distracted, disjointed or duped by a madman.
It’s plainly ridiculous.. the drivers to evil action on the part of Us of Them are generally identical – greed, lust for power, arrogance, laziness.

Donkey – more intellectual obfuscation from you. Am I in any possible way responsible for oversight of exports to Iraq and thus of Fisks opprobium? Umm, no.
And it is you, not Fisk, who is trying to establish (or refute) any moral equivalence. Fisk is pointing out the hypocrisy and complicity – there is no need to establish equivalence to establish complicity.
Invoking the spirit of free trade and magic of the markets doesn’t spirit away the stench either. Governments have export controls and trade embargoes by which they can and do direct trade. And in this case it highly probable the US govt chose to look the other way.

OTOH, am a slightly complicit in supporting the Chinese regime if I choose to purchase Chinese goods? Well yes, and I’m mindful of that in exercising choice. I’m also clear exactly how much power I do and do not have in influencing Chinese policy.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/07/2006 01:55:00 PM

Huskynut (I do like that name).

But who is responsible for oversight of exports to Iraq? Surely no more than (say) 50 people have a hand in it. We cannot equate those 50 people with the land of America.

If by moral equivalence, you are referring to USA/Saddam. To me, it is crystal clear and uncontroverial to say: There Is No Moral Equivalence. I think Fisk is a bit of a weasel here, as in other areas. He likes to imply it, but not state it, presumably so that he can hide behind the ambiguity.

If by this you were referring to my claim that he is morally inconsistent - well he seems to have distorted the truth about western responses to the gassing to tell a better story. So is it okay to practice deception in the pursuit of truth?

Posted by Anonymous : 11/07/2006 02:53:00 PM

dead right.
plausible deniability is a winger's best friend.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/07/2006 02:56:00 PM

The greater probability almost always lies with incompetence than evil.

You have a vastly overrated opinion of the US intelligence services (or their ability to act with a single mind) considering they didn't even know if Saddam was lying when he said he had Weapons of mass destruction (and then said he did not). In fact they effectively bet that they had NOT noticed any going to Iraq.

i think this personifying of organizations is a key problem in political analysis. An organization is not the same as some huge person.

> Thus the great rationalizing machine assigns evil intent to baddies

I haven't assigned 'evil' intent to anyone (even saddam), that is what you seem to be doing.

> Am I in any possible way responsible for oversight of exports to Iraq

who is responsible for making sure the Iraqi’s don’t get medical samples and industrial chemicals? And if they are responsible the leftist critique should surely be "who died and made them the boss?"

> I’m also clear exactly how much power I do and do not have in influencing Chinese policy.

I tend to say 'actions speak louder than words. If you say you want to quit smoking and don't it means you didn't REALLY want to quit, what you really want is another smoke in a few hours.

If you oppose china but your actions support, it you don’t really oppose china - you like the fact thy make you cheap stuff more than you dislike their human right's record or that they will one day be telling us what to do.
that's honesty.

Posted by Genius : 11/07/2006 03:12:00 PM

The greater probability almost always lies with incompetence than evil
plausible deniability is a winger's best friend.

they didn't even know if Saddam was lying when he said he had Weapons of mass destruction (and then said he did not). In fact they effectively bet that they had NOT noticed any going to Iraq.

parallel (rumsfeldian) universe, perchance?

Posted by Anonymous : 11/07/2006 04:35:00 PM

“The greater probability almost always lies with incompetence than evil”. You make a false distinction.
I assume you’re referring to the hoary “never attribute to malice that which can be explained by simple incompetence”, but malice and evil are in no way the same thing. A person’s negligent actions which cause or contribute to great suffering or harm are an obvious example of evil without intention.
Have Google define evil and most of the definitions returned centre on evil’s moral bankruptcy rather than intentionality. One can absolutely commit evil unintentionally and through incompetence.

“But who is responsible for oversight of exports to Iraq? Surely no more than (say) 50 people have a hand in it. We cannot equate those 50 people with the land of America.”
Where those people fulfil roles representing the US (or any other country) – in this case export control and/or intelligence – they certainly are representatives of their country. And the degree to which the systems of that country will call and hold people to account is significantly reflective of the countries core morality.
Personally, I don’t think “America” is evil at all (there’s a huge percentage of the population who reject what their country does in their name), but I do think a significant number of the actions as products of it’s foreign policy over the past few decades could reasonably be called evil actions, judging by the predictable harm they have wrought.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/07/2006 04:50:00 PM


> plausible deniability is a winger's best friend.

who's a winger? you?

> parallel (rumsfeldian) universe, perchance?

what part of it?


>You make a false distinction.
I assume you’re referring to

"evil" is a lazy term. In normal conversation it is applied to a group you don’t like in order to signal that you are not going to try to negotiate or understand them.

At the same time very few people see themselves as evil (even sadam or bush or Osama I presume) - and being evil says very little about what you would do (in itself).

> most of the definitions returned centre on evil’s moral bankruptcy

moral bankruptcy is not usually used in the context of accidental error - but if we are debating terminology we can just change the words we are using.

Posted by Genius : 11/07/2006 07:54:00 PM

So if we seek evil in moral bankruptcy, the question becomes - which governments are not evil.

I'm sure people will line up to accuse every New Zealand government since independence as morally bankrupt at some point.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/07/2006 08:16:00 PM

The whole US policy operates on the incredibly stupid notion that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend.'

Sorry, that's NOT good enough. Sometimes the enemy of your enemy is ALSO *your* ememy as well & there is no excuse for it.

We were just as wrong to support Stalin back in WWII just as we were wrong to support Saddam, the Taliban & OBL.

No, that doesn't put the US on the same moral plane, but it's pretty damn close enough.

An accomplice to a murder may not be guilty of MURDER per se, but that's not to say the accomplice is therefore innocent.

Fisk is just calling a spade a spade. SOMEBODY'S got to-- Bush & Co. certainly aren't going to do it...

~ Josh

Posted by Anonymous : 11/10/2006 03:27:00 AM

It is easy to be idealistic when you don’t have to make the tough decisions or be responsible for their consequences.

I the US (& allies) had gone to war with Stalin as well as Hitler they would have LOST.

Roosevelt or whoever would be considered the most incompetent leader since Nero, and despised the world over.

Already historians will talk very cynically of the US's late invasion of Europe in order to weaken the Russian army, that they had to rush to catch up with the Russians, and that they considered attacking the Russians and fighting their way to Moscow (which also would have made them despised in the history books)

OBL says he didn’t see any support from the US so I’m not sure that one counts but if the US had not supported the resistance to the soviets (which was to be the taliban) that would have been more or less the same as supporting them (since they would have overrun afganistain). Something you also don't seem to like.

And if Russia and China (and the US) had not supported Iraq against Iran, Iran would have overrun them. Iran was quite ambitious back in those days (messing with the internal politics of various countries trying to spread the revolution) and it could easily have turned into another big mess (or not - but these are the dangers one faces).

However after it became clear he was gassing people (which is of course some time after he actually did it, although I think congress were the only ones complaining for a while) and iran was not fighting anymore, the relationship went south and all those countries stopped thinking very much of him.

Pity the Russians and Chinese didn't use their psychic powers before hand to determine he was going to use chemical weapons. Rather like how the US faled to use their psycic powers to see that some associate of agroup that formed from a group they supported was going to bomb their building decades later.

Posted by Genius : 11/10/2006 07:19:00 AM