May 27, 2004 | Unknown

In dialogue with a LIberal or Gary replies to Graham

Ok Graham, let’s have a dialogue. Let us try and reach across the gulf between a radical and a liberal.
Point One – the “ War is brutal” argument
You said:
Where I am coming from is this. War is a brutal business, and things like this happen. That isn’t to justify them, just to accept that when you start a war they will happen. In fact, when you imprison people, they will happen. Having accepted that, the issue is how you deal with them when the do happen.
This is so wrong Graham. Let me reiterate my point. What happened in Abu Grhaib was functional. It was an integral part of a low intensity operation. The Americans weren’t simply sticking thinks up Arab ass holes to teach them the joys of democracy, though no doubt the sicko who did that might have got off on it. Nor did they allow trailer park trash like Lynndie England to laugh at Arabs jerking off because they knew she would like that. They were after information about the insurgency and they needed to “soften up” the prisoners.
I have cited General Massud who defended his use of torture in Algeria on the grounds of its necessity. I could also have referred to ‘Colonel Roger Trinquier, a French paratrooper, [who] argued that torture is to “modern war” what the machinegun was to World War I.’ (William R. Polk, May 6, 2004, (, retrieved 26.5.04.
Of course what Massud and Trinquier were arguing was for the necessity of war crimes. War is horrible, yes, but certain forms of war are outlawed. Ask Mr Milosevic, if you do not believe me Graham. We should be very clear here. The argument ‘war is horrible’, should not be allowed to weaken the case against torturers. We should not be fooled into agreeing with the likes of Massud and Trinquier, nor the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, who almost certainly approved the use of torture first in Afghanistan, then Guantanoam Bay and out of desperation in Iraq.
I score that Gary 1, Graham 0. Let’s proceed to the second point.
Point two The clock metaphor
You wrote:
I did not support the US moving troops to Iraq in the first place, but they did, and I do not live in a world where you can just turn the clock back.
This could serve as a neat illustration of the traps inherent in thinking in metaphors. Is calling for the USA to stop the butchery, like trying to wind back the clock? Of course not. Let me prove my point here.
Let us change to another metaphor. Let me say ‘The USA is digging itself into a deep hole in Iraq’. If one accepts the digging a hole metaphor, then it is perfectly reasonable to say ‘The USA should stop digging’.
Ok let us move beyond metaphors and try some simple English and say ‘The USA should stop slaughtering Iraqis.’ Is not that a demand one can make in this world?
The score is now Gary 2 Graham 0
Point Three The mysterious but apparently arguable case
You wrote:
I do accept that they had an arguable case for doing what they did.
My reply to that is what is the case you are referring to? Was it the WMD case? Was it the links with Al Qaida case? Was it to get rid of the dictator case? Was it to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq case?
None of these cases are even remotely defensible then or now. But maybe you have another ‘case’ in mind.
I doubt it so I score it now Gary 3 Graham 0
Point Four: You know what academics are like
You wrote
I do not accept Professor Cole’s assertion that “America will never recover in Iraq”. I am used to academics in Australia, particularly in the social sciences, having a distorted understanding of the areas in which they are supposed to be expert, why should it be any different in Iraq?
Non sequitur, Graham. Just because the set of academics you know distort understanding does not mean Juan Cole r all academics do. One has to judge the pudding by how it tastes here. Cole is an Arabist with a very distinguished publishing record. Moreover his views would certainly qualify for liberal or moderate. The point however is that he works in the USA so unlike an Australian liberal he is not doomed to the circle of sycophancy. He can actually criticise his government.
The score is mounting. It is now Gary 4 Graham 0.
Point Five Why are they over there?
You wrote
I find it hard to find empirical support for your charge that we are there for the oil.
Why am I not surprised?
Gary 5 Graham 0.
Point 6. Bush versus Pol Pot
You wrote
…in my universe there is no way that George Bush can be compared to Pol Pot, one of the worst genocidal mass murderers in recent history.
Of course I do not defend Pol Pot. But Bush is chalking up quite a few deaths too. And if we take the line of American presidents, and say think of LBJ in Vietnam, then we do have a mass murderer who is worthy of comapriosn with Pol Pot.
In any case I did not say Bush = Pol Pot. What I did say was that he is slaughtering Iraqis and dare I say it the news from the empiriacl world confirms this.
Gary 6 Graham 0.
Point 7 – Neo-liberal plans for Iraq.
You wrote
What neo-Liberal imperatives are we supposed to be reconstructing the Middle East for? Surely Democracy hasn’t become a bad, or respect for human rights?
Ambassador Bremer has already outlined his plans for the advanced privatisation of the Iraqi economy.
What democracy, Graham? What respect for human rights can you detect in Iraq?
Gary 7 Graham 0.
Point 8 when is conquest not conquest?
You wrote:
How can you talk conquest? What has been stolen?
I admit this had me stumped Graham, until I remembered the war and the bombing and the killing of 10, 000 citizens and the speech on the aircraft carrier saying “Mission accomplished.’
You want to know what has been stolen? Try thinking ‘a whole bloody country” or go to the Al Jazeera web site and read about the gold and the jewellery and money ripped off by the USA army in their raid on Iraqi homes. These thefts were not denied by the US btw.
We are ahead by Gary 8 Graham 0.
Point 9. Gary Supports Saddam if he critics the USA.
You wrote
I’ll balance my support for the US invasion against your presumed support for the Hussein status quo.
I have never supported Saddam. He butchered the Iraqi Left. Of course Donald Rumsfeld supported him and helped armed him.
Final score
Gary 9 Graham 0.

Posted by Unknown at 5:14 pm | Comments (6) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Point 1. So you believe it is possible to have a war where no-one on “our side” will ever commit an atrocity. Pretty unlikely I would have thought.
    Point 2. The current alternatives are to try to work out some reasonable resolution of the current situation or just to pull out and let all the local thugs go for each other and any of the innocent public that might get in the way. Do you really suggest the second alternaitive?
    Point 3. I can’t speak for Graham, but if the USA announced a general policy of working through all the murderous regimes in the world one by one, I would be disposed to think that was a good thing. The main criticism is that they’ve been selective and supported some (including Saddam in the past) while opposing others.
    Point 4. The views of academics are often interesting and relevant, but ultimately it’s only what plays out in the end that will give us real insight (in retrospect) to what’s going on now. An academic analysis during the London Blitz in WWII would probably have confidently predicted the downfall of Britain and the triumph of the Nazis in Europe.
    Point 5. I’m sure oil is a factor, but not in the sense of anyone “stealing” it. It is in the interests of most of the world (including Australia and Iraq) for the trade in oil to be conducted in a peaceful and businesslike manner. This will maximise benefits for all. It isn’t a zero-sum game. We can all benefit.
    Point 6. The difference is: I doubt if American troops would be firing many shots at anyone unless people were shooting at them. Pol Pot’s lot deliberately went about murdering people if they didn’t fit the mould. There isn’t just a difference in quantity – it’s a qualitative difference.
    Point 7. Was it possible for people to peacefully protest against Saddam’s regime and remain out of jail/alive? No. Is it possible to protest peacefully against the American occupation and remain out of jail/alive? Yes
    Point 8. The USA is desperately trying to construct an exit strategy, even using the once despised UN. Opposition to the occupation is rising in the USA. By their hamfistedness, the Americans have stuffed up their chance of making a lot of friends. That doesn’t seem much like a conquest.
    Point 9. Donald Rumsfeld did show support for Saddam in the past but certainly not recently. A charge of inconsistency only really bites when a person changes from a more acceptable to a less acceptable position. Do you really want everyone who espouses bad polices to stick to them through thick and thin? – far better if they see the error of their ways and repent!

    Comment by Alex McConnell — May 27, 2004 @ 10:55 pm

  2. Why did you score points without letting Graham the chance to reply to your argument?

    Comment by matt — May 28, 2004 @ 10:16 am

  3. Ah, Gary – Your voice is the thing I’ve missed most from the _Neighbourhood News_. I never would have expected the nice polite liberal boys here at National Forum to invite you into their clubhouse. I hope they can stand the heat.
    warm regards,

    Comment by g.shine — May 28, 2004 @ 10:30 am

  4. Despair is close and so too are some marking deadlines. (Pardon me striking that life of an academic note.)
    But let us charge once more against the forts of folly. Just one point Alex and I will get to the rest over the weekend.
    You wrote:
    “Point 1. So you believe it is possible to have a war where no-one on “our side” will ever commit an atrocity. Pretty unlikely I would have thought.”
    Alex this reminds me of the prison governor in Shawshank Redeption – You know the scene where Tim Robbins accuses him of being “obtuse”, and Tim ends up in solitary for his pains.
    You aren’t getting it Alex and neither is Graham. I know war is horrible. I know atrocities are committed in war. But we do have the Geneva convention. We do put people on trial for war crimes. Think Milosevic, Alex.
    Is it possible to have a war without a war crime being committed? Perhaps not, but that is not the point at all. We do not condone torture. We do not permit war crimes. We can not. We dare not. That way lies the total destruction of the human race.
    War crimes are being committed by the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq. You Liberals will not face up to that. You have abandoned your morality in the name of some specious pragamtism – “These things happen”; “War is horrible”.
    This is just cant to hide from the fact that you support the side of the torturers.
    Of couse now Lynndie England will be put on trial. She may well go to jail. And Graham has the absolute effrontery to suggest that this will demonstrate to Arabs how serious we are about liberating them.
    Will Sanchez go to jail. No? Will Rumsfeld go to jail? NO. Will Bush be impeached? NO.
    Does anyone on this forum think for a minute that Lynndie England set out interrogation policy for the US military in Iraq?
    She and her fellow perverts were used and now they will be discarded. Just as long years ago Breaker Morant was used and then put on trial and shot.
    You know in your heart Alex and Graham knows too, that this is not an instance of a few bad apples. You know that Lynndie England and her cohorts have done the dirty work of American Imperialism.
    Yet you all turn round and say you stand for personal liberty. Moreover Graham came into this forum and said people were being “hysterical” about Abu Ghraib!
    How can one respond to such a version of liberalism?
    The score for just this one point, I hear you ask. Well modestly put it is
    Gary 10 Alex 0.

    Comment by Gary MacLennan — May 28, 2004 @ 12:51 pm

  5. Gary,
    First, may I excuse myself from the epithet “you liberals”. As a long term and fully paid up member of the ALP, I think I deserve more respect!
    I don’t think either Graham or I has supported those who commit war crimes and I myself would certainly agree that the consequences ought to exend up the chain of command, probably to Rumsfeld.
    On the other hand, the body politic ultimately responsible for the Iraq intervention is quite literally the American people. I simply refuse to believe that the American people expected Lyndie England to do what she did to further their imperial designs, so you cannot talk about her being the agent of American Imperialism. It is appearing increasingly likely that they will remove the commander in chief of their armed forces at the end of the year at least partly because his lack of control of the forces has brought disgrace on their country.

    Comment by Alex McConnell — May 28, 2004 @ 2:38 pm

  6. Replying to Alex.
    Alex takes umbrage, fairly mild I admit, at being described as a liberal and him a paid up member of the ALP.
    Won’t apologise, Alex because I know enough about the ALP to know that membership does not make one a socialist even of the social democratic variety. The truth is, also, that one is lucky to find a liberal in the ALP. How would one describe Bob Carr for instance? There was nothing particularly liberal about Wayne Goss either. Trust me I could go on and on.
    Now you are still wrong Alex about American imperialism. Worse you are wrong about the American people. I do not blame them for the actions of their government. They have little or no control over their “democracy”.
    I have just read a long piece by an Iranian Marxist telling of his torture under the Mullahs and also giving a response to the pictures from Abu Ghraib. Unfortunately I cannot cut and paste to this forum, but it would humble us all to actually listen to the authentic voice of someone who has been tortured. We might think twice before using the word hysterical.
    I have stayed with this torture thread, even though I know you liberals are anxious to move on to such weighty matters as cricket tragics. But I insist that Abu Ghraib is a mirror which shows the rotten hypocritical nature of the society you right wingers have built. You cannot run away from the fact that you have dominated politics both with ALP and Liberal Govts and this is the world you have built.
    Abu Ghraib is and was a moral test and you all have failed it. Shame on you. Shame on everyone of you.

    Comment by Gary MacLennan — May 28, 2004 @ 5:22 pm

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