Great Britain

2007 03 28
“Iranian general warns enemy not to make any crazy moves”


I notice that AOTW there appears to be absolutely nothing in the state-run Tehran Times about the British sailors recently captured by Iran. (There is, however, an awesome headline that I have used as the title of this post.) Perhaps that’s some evidence that no one on that side has figured out what the fuck they’re trying to accomplish here, or, relatedly, how to spin what has already happened.

Notice that if Iran had simply released the sailors two days ago, they would have made their point brilliantly. By forcing Britain to talk tough, they’ve now maneuvered themselves into a corner, since the tough talk from Britain means that concessions from Iran at this point will make Iran look weak. Can’t have that, can we?

Anyway, all of this is just another excuse for me to observe that in both private life and international diplomacy, one of the most valuable skills is knowing how to push back without escalating.


Howls of outrage (2)

2007 03 26
Iran and Britain


Regardless of whether the British sailors were in Iraqi waters or not, I think Iran has now made its point. Unless the sailors were up to some very serious monkey business – or perhaps even if they were – continuing to hold them while threatening charges for them makes it extremely difficult for the British to find a decent face-saving solution to the impasse. This is all just bonkers, and very alarming. What the fuck kind of game is Iran playing here?


Howls of outrage (4)

2006 03 04
Blair and God


Natalie Bennett is not impressed with Tony Blair:

Our dangerous, religious, Prime Minister

Tony Blair says “god will judge” his decision to go to war in Iraq.

“If you have faith about these things then you realise that judgement is made by other people. If you believe in God,it’s made by God as well.” His remarks, made in an interview to be shown on ITV’s Parkinson show tonight.

Odd, really – I thought that he had been elected by voters – the citizens and residents of Great Britain, not by a small collection of cardinals, or indeed by the “hand of God”. And since those voters elected him, you’d think he should be worrying about their verdict on his decisions – not some “inner voice”.

I’ve thought for a long time that the messianic gleam all too frequently spotted in Blair’s eyes has been a serious worry, and this only goes to prove it. Such a pity that you can’t just ban religious fanatics from politics.

. . .

Once again the Prime Minister refused to answer when asked if he prayed for guidance before taking the decision to go to war. But given the general tenor of his remarks the conclusion that he did can hardly be avoided. So great, a key decision is made because a voice in the PM’s head told him it should be war. There are other words for that …

As an anti-war atheist, I’m not terribly impressed with Blair or his belief that God will judge the war to have been a good idea. And as a liberal of a certain sort, I do think that providing religion reasons for political positions in the public sphere is a tricky business indeed. Very briefly that’s because religion reasons aren’t the kinds of reasons that we can reasonably expect others to share. In the political sphere we often try to offer our opponents reasons they can reasonably be expected to share, and procede to construct our arguments from that point. At least we do if we’re my sort of liberal. But having said all that, I don’t think that Bennett is right in the bit I’ve quoted.

First, all Blair needs to get his position to fly is the claim that there is such a thing as being right or wrong about an issue independently of what anyone thinks. Since I believe that the Iraq War would have been wrong even if it had had the support of 90% of the people, I’m committed to this claim as much as Blair is. Sometimes unpopular decisions are the right ones. Of course, Blair puts this point in terms of God’s judgement, but in this context that just amounts to saying “really, in fact, right.” God isn’t being appealed to here to back up the claim that the Iraq War was right. Rather, he seems to mean that there’s some other standard for judging these matters than what the latest opinion polls say.

[Update: That needs more care than I've given it. I don't mean that it's just fine and dandy to simply ignore public opinion. But all the same, the fact that public opinion swings against a position also doesn't automatically mean that it's wrong. And sometimes we do admire politicians for taking unpopular positions.]

OK, now what about praying for guidance? Big whup, I say. Decisions like the one that Blair made take their inspiration from all kinds of sources, and it’s pretty obvious that Blair made this particular decision for all kinds of reasons (many quite bad, I’m sure). As far as I can tell, often when people pray, it’s a bit like consulting their conscience or wondering what to do. Prayer can be an expression of humility, or part of an honest attempt to figure out the right thing. Lots of people do it all the time. Surely it’s unreasonable, unfair, and insulting to write off all these people as “hearing voices in their heads.”

(And just to be clear: Of course there’s no God and of course the Iraq War was a terrible idea.)


Howls of outrage (2)

2004 07 11
Iraq, 1919


Discuss amongst yourselves:

Arnold Wilson did not foresee the problems of throwing such a diverse population into a single state. He was a paternalist who thought the British would remain for generations. “The average Arab, as opposed to a handful of amateur politicians in Baghdad, sees the future as one of fair dealing and material and moral progress under the aegis of Great Britain.” He urged his government to move quickly: “Our best course is to declare Mesopotamia to be a British Protectorate under which all classes will be given forthwith the maximum degree of liberty and self-rule compatible with good and safe government.” His superiors in London ruled that out. They preferred indirect rule, something the British had used in the Indian princely states and Egypt. It had the advantage of being cheaper than direct control–an important consideration, especially in 1919. As Balfour pointed out, when the Eastern Committee was talking away about all the glorious possibilities that lay before Britain: “We consider the advantage to the natives, the advantage to our prestige; we consider certain things connected with trade and commerce, and all the rest of it; but money and men I have never seen referred to, and they seem to me to be the governing considerations.” And indirect rule did at least bow in the direction of Arab self-determination and liberal opinion. “What we want,” said a senior official at the India Office, “is some administration with Arab institutions which we can safely leave while pulling the strings ourselves; something that won’t cost very much, which Labour can swallow consistent with its principles, but under which our economic and political interests will be secure.” (Margaret MacMillan. Paris 1919, p. 398)


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