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Even when it was the bears, I knew it was the Stoppers … July 23, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Middle East, Palestine.
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It was almost too good to be true: Nick Cohen, writing in today’s Observer, with a straightforward column making a reasonable point (in this case pointing to the contrast between pro-interventionist sentiment in the Balkans in the 1990s and the current reluctance to intervene in the crisis in Lebanon) that wasn’t just another rehash of his ‘aren’t the anti-war left so terribly terrible’ fixation.

Oh dear – let’s not celebrate just yet. The old Nick Cohen hasn’t returned.  Apparently the hesitation of Blair and others about calling for intervention is, once again, all the fault of ‘the left’. Cohen writes:

Iraq has had a further consequence that I hear echoed in every discussion about war and genocide but find harder to pin down. George W Bush so enraged mainstream opinion that liberal-minded people trashed their principles and cut the ground from under their own feet. The legacy of their failure to support Iraqi democrats is a growth of conspiracy theory and a furious indifference to the suffering of others. Intervention in Lebanon, the Sudan or anywhere else would be ‘all about oil’, an ‘illegal’ war or a neoconservative plot. However just the cause or pressing the crisis, there are plenty who are primed now to shout that most solipsistic slogan of consumerist politics: ‘Not in my name.’

It’s odd, to say the least, that Blair is in such thrall to the ‘not in my name’ lobby now, when he didn’t seem all that concerned about them three years ago when a million people marched through London. It’s even stranger when one bears in mind he’s not even reacting to anti-war sentiment (I certainly haven’t heard a non-intervention argument coming from Cohen’s old enemies) – he’s apparently afraid of the potential ‘it’s all about oil’ slogans he might face.

Cohen, once again, is completely missing the point.  The reason there isn’t any appetite for military intervention in the Lebanon is exactly the same as the reason why Western powers used military force in the Balkans, Iraq and elsewhere: not because Nick Cohen wanted them to, or even because it was the right thing to do, but because it was in their interest, or perceived interests to do so.

Unfortunately Cohen is still rather slavishly following the Paul Berman line (his references to Bernard Kouchner and the Islamist ‘love of death’ are giveaways, lifted straight from Power and the Idealists and Terror and Liberalism respectively).  Berman, like Cohen, is loathe to examine to reasons why a military action might be carried out, if he supports that action in the first place.  At the risk of sad, self-promotion, I’ve made this point about Berman before, and won’t repeat myself.  Most simply, though, Berman and Cohen fail to distinguish between the benefits of a particular action and the motivations of the actors (to be fair, this is something many opponents of the invasion of Iraq, for example, also refuse to recognise).

It takes a particularly blinkered worldview to argued that the responsibility for the current inaction in Lebanon can be laid at the door of the ‘anti-war’ movement, yet fail to mention that the United States (one of the possible agents of intervention Cohen suggests) are actually opposed to a ceasefire and support the actions of Israel (at least for the moment).  Isn’t it possible that the stated policy of the US might, at least, have as much bearing on their position as their fear of being accused of imperialism?

It’s also unclear what kind of intervention Cohen is talking about.  At one point he cites the UN forces currently stationed in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor (reminding us that any states which involves its troops in a humanitarian expedition to Lebanon should be prepared to stay there for the long haul).  What he doesn’t point out, though, is that those UN troops are in place to maintain an already agreed settlement, not to impose such a settlement in the first place.  There’s no point even thinking about such a solution in Lebanon for the moment – the ceasefire and agreement would have to come first.

If, on the other hand, he’s talking about an immediate military intervention then perhaps the analogy with the Kosovo action (which he and Berman seem to see as a high point of ethical foreign policy) is a interesting one.  There, as in the current situation, a large military offensive was launched in the face of provocation from a smaller, guerrilla/’terrorist’ group in a neighbouring region, bringing about a massive humanitarian crisis.

The analogy shouldn’t be pushed too far.  Israel, for all its flaws, is not Serbia and the actions of the IDF in Lebanon are not comparable to the actions of the Serb military in Kosovo (although they shouldn’t be minimised with the ‘they don’t directly target civilians’ point).  What should be recalled is what military intervention in Kosovo actually involved.  Is Cohen suggesting that NATO or other Western forces target IDF troops and military installations? Or that British missiles should be launched at Tel Aviv until the IDF offensive is called off? Surely this would be the consequence of any policy which tried to impose a solution on an unwilling Israeli government?

Cohen seems to have painted himself into a corner.  He’s spent so long defending Western governments in military interventions he supports against sections of the Left he so clearly despises that he can’t seem to bring himself to criticise those governments when they are genuinely at fault.  Ironically, he’s fallen into the old fallacy of thinking that my enemy’s enemy is automatically my friend – which is just what he accuses the likes of RESPECT and the rest of the Stoppers of doing.

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Comments»

1. WorldbyStorm - July 23, 2006

This is very puzzling stuff from Cohen. As you say, he seems to entirely miss the point of why there is no intervention in Lebanon, which is also in part due to the US is dragging it’s heels waiting for Israel to complete the interdiction against Hezbullah (not that that the IDF end goal appears in any real way feasible, although the Hezbullah ability to attack Israel may be somewhat diminished in the short term).

In fact, paradoxically, the anti-war left is caught on the opposite cleft stick to that which Cohen appears to propose since de facto it appears to want Bush and Blair to intervene by forcing the Israeli’s to stop – which of course is – er…intervention. Surely that is the message to take away from yesterday’s march in London.

I also think your point regarding what form any intervention might take is well made. Allied aircraft over Beirut? Anti-aircraft defences deployed to stop the IAF?

This is a mess, but pointing the finger at the wrong people (in this instance) isn’t a way forward.

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2. lisa - July 24, 2006

Just because there are not as many people dying, doesn’t mean it isn’t the Hollocaust all over again. The whole thing is just gross.

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3. mbarihogun - July 25, 2006

Um, no, it isn’t “the Hollocaust” all over again. It’s careless bombing, going in two directions, with the Israelis killing more civilians. This sort of thing has happened hundreds of times in the last several decades, and is hardly comparable to the Holocaust.

Why is that every injustice Israel is involved with is another Holocaust? Is it because quasi-left wingers are trying so hard to find irony in current events? Or is it a subtle attempt at undermining the unique horror that was the Holocaust?

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4. EWI - July 27, 2006

the actions of the IDF in Lebanon are not comparable to the actions of the Serb military in Kosovo (although they shouldn’t be minimised with the ‘they don’t directly target civilians’ point)

Hello, Qana?

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5. Starexplorer - October 25, 2006

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised…

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