David Aaronovitch’s own “magical thinking” on Afghanistan

The Times columnist has, as usual, his hawkish head in the sand

Uber-Blairite and leading liberal hawk, David "Bomber" Aaronovitch, takes a potshot at the New Statesman's leader last week in his Times column today.

Accusing those of us who oppose the war in Afghanistan, and advocate withdrawal, of retreating "into the dopey bubble of magical thinking", Aaronovitch writes:

The New Statesman magazine a week ago reminded its readers that it had opposed the invasion of Afghanistan back in the autumn of 2001, but failed to remind them of what it had advocated instead.

Perhaps a mythical surgical strike to take out bin Laden somehow but otherwise leaving Taleban-ruled Afghanistan alone? Perhaps nothing at all other than a change in Western policy is sufficient -- as if by magic -- to placate the forces now rising in the region?

For others the implication is that we could have gone in, done for al-Qaeda and come out again -- almost precisely mirroring the policy of neglect that followed the Soviet defeat, when we countenanced the country's descent into warlordism, followed by the Taleban, followed by al-Qaeda.

First, there is nothing "mythical" about taking out bin Laden with a "surgical strike". As Michael Scheuer, retired chief of the CIA's bin Laden unit has repeatedly pointed out, "his agents provided the U.S. government with about ten opportunities to capture bin Laden before Sept. 11, and that all of them were rejected. One of the last proposals, which he described to the 9/11 Commission in a closed-door session, involved a cruise missile attack against a remote hunting camp in the Afghan desert, where bin Laden was believed to be socializing with members of the royal family from the United Arab Emirates."

Second, Aaronovitch's own proposed solution involves carrying on with the current doomed military campaign in Afghanistan. He proposes no new tactics, no new strategies, no new ideas - and, as I blogged earlier this week, this will not do. The burden is as much on the supporters of the war, as it is on its opponents, to justify and explain the consequences of their policies, proposals, actions and arguments. Every sane observer of the conflict in Afghanistan - from diplomats to generals to aid workers - acknowledge that the war in Helmand is not being won, so "more of the same" pro-war propaganda from Aaronovitch and co is simply not good enough. Does David perhaps think he is playing the role of General Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth? He talks repeatedly of "we know it's hard" and "we may not succeed" and "we have to do it" - but which "we" is he referring to? Has the Times columnist suddenly joined up with the British army, which is losing so many of its brave young squaddies in the Afghan quagmire? Are his own kids preparing to ship out to Helmand? Which "we" does he refer to from his armchair in London?

Third, Aaronovitch shows almost total ignorance of actual events on the ground in Afghanistan. He reminds us, rather predictably, of the Taliban's "reduction of women to the status of slaves" while convieniently overlooking the status of women in Afghanistan today: Senator Humaira Namati, a member of the upper house of the Afghan parliament, says it is now "worse than during the Taliban". He accuses doves of advocating a "policy of neglect" towards Afghanistan when it is in fact his own beloved war in Iraq, in 2003, which led to post-Taliban Afghanistan losing the much-needed attention, support and resources of the international community. He points out that Canada "has lost a third more soldiers than we have", in relation to population size, but forgets to inform his readers that the Canadian government, unlike our own, has set a date for full withdrawal of its troops - 2011.

Incidentally, Aaronovitch and his fellow "Blitcons" often claim to be driven by a desire to spread democracy at home and abroad - but, on this particular issue, he curiously ignores the will of the people, at home and abroad. The most recent poll suggests that the majority of the British public wants our troops home by the end of the year; the majority of the Afghan public, in a 2007 poll, wanted all foreign troops out of their occupied country within three to five years. Afghans, unlike Aaronovitch, don't want, nor can they afford, a war without end.

Finally, in his piece in the Times, Aaronovitch says the New Statesman, in our leader last week, failed to remind readers what we had advocated as an alternative in 2001. Our position on the eve of invasion is spelled out here in great detail but, since we're reminiscing, here is David Aaronovitch's own position in 2003 on that other Blairite war - Iraq - in which he famously declared:

If nothing is eventually found, I - as a supporter of the war - will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again. And, more to the point, neither will anyone else. Those weapons had better be there somewhere.

Remember those words, David?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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