The Financial Times tells us that Iraq and climate change have thrown the right into disarray. While those of us on the sane side of life would love to believe that, let’s take a good look at the underlying assumptions inherent in every second sentence of this editorial piece.
His description of a monolithic cardigan-clad left can be forgiven, simply because he’s parodying what he considers to be the mind of the average right-winger. Leftists are clearly a bunch of nuts, who were wrong about various things – from privatisation in the ’80s to mad-cow disease. Then, suddenly, this same monolithic group were right about two things: Iraq and climate change.
Damn straight I was right about Iraq. But what exactly does he think that means? He doesn’t give many clues. He refers to it as “the Iraq debacle”, which has cut away at the Reagan-Thatcher belief in military strength and the moral superiority and “exportability” of Western democracy. If the failure in Iraq is the failure to have successfully taken over and occupied a country of 23 million people on the other side of the world, and that Western democracy wasn’t successfully exported to it, then presumably what the left was saying in 2003 was, “It’s too big a job to manage, and you can’t export democracy.”
Obviously, people were saying both of those things. But a bit simpler an objection coming from the left was: “There are no WMDs over there, idiots. And the invasion is illegal.” We didn’t need to wait until 2007 for some insightful editorial piece to tell us, “Hey, you guys were right.” We have never been wrong about the illegality of the invasion, and it didn’t take long to confirm what UNMOVIC were saying pre-invasion: no WMDs.
As for exporting democracy, that’d be great, except that a functioning democratic country wouldn’t illegally invade another sovereign state. Functioning democracies respect the rule of law.
So what lesson has the right supposedly learned from the left regarding Iraq? Apparently, it’s something like, “It’s tough to take over countries and force them into a governmental system of your choosing.” Which simply implies that, hey, if you’d tried a bit harder, it might have turned out okay. The author even suggests that Iraq might “work out in the end”. This implies a fundamental ignorance of the worst effect of the invasion of Iraq.
Big words, really, to talk about worse effects than over 100,000 lives lost, many more ruined, depleted uranium setting up the cancer rates of future generations, etc. These things are terrible. So what’s worse? The undermining of the rule of law. Why is that worse? Because only the rule of law is going to prevent these things from happening again and again in the future. The invasion was illegal. There were no WMDs. Disarmament was the reason Bush and Blair gave for invading. These things have been forgotten, or ignored.
Chomsky on Vietnam:
The Vietnam War is a classic example of America’s propaganda system. In the mainstream media–the New York Times, CBS, and so on– there was a lively debate about the war. It was between people called “doves” and people called “hawks.” The hawks said, “If we keep at it we can win.” The doves said, “Even if we keep at it, it would probably be too costly for use, and besides, maybe we’re killing too many people.” Both sides agreed on one thing. We had a right to carry out aggression against South Vietnam. Doves and hawks alike refused to admit that aggression was taking place. They both called our military presence in Southeast Asia the defense of South Vietnam, substituting “defense” for “aggression” in the standard Orwellian manner. In reality, we were attacking South Vietnam just as surely as the Soviets later attacked Afghanistan.
Similarly for climate change. What have the right learned from the left? Only that concerns about the environment and future generations only become worth considering when enough people believe them that it affects spending and voting. Until “I care about climate change” becomes an effective way to garner votes, politicians will not care about it. But then we’re told of the dual role of conservatives in this new, crazy, left-wing era:
The defensive role is to guard against over-reaction to the emerging consensus on global warming and Iraq. The right was not wrong to spot its old anti-capitalist, anti-western foes in the coalitions that first latched on to these issues. There are radical voices that will try to use global warming to create a world in which nobody takes a cheap flight again – and in which globalisation is put into reverse. It will be up to the right to show that growth and greenery can be reconciled. Similarly, the Iraq catastrophe is great news for anti-Americans in Europe and isolationists in the US. Conservatives need to hold the line against both.
But the right can do a lot more than mere damage control. Many of the most important ideas of the Reagan-Thatcher era – privatisation, trade union reform, the re-thinking of the welfare state – were developed in opposition to the intellectual consensus of the 1960s and 1970s. After a long period of intellectual hegemony, a period in ideological opposition might be just what the Anglo-American right needs.
Ladies and gentlemen, there are radical voices that will try to use global warming to create a world in which nobody takes a cheap flight again! And in which globalisation is put into reverse. Yes, there are anonymously evil people out there who just want nothing better than to ruin your good time. Who the hell are those people? Who exactly is using climate change to further their secret anti-flight agenda? And if there is the odd nut who actually wants this – you can usually find a nut here or there who believes anything – why is the Financial Times giving the impression they’re an influential voice among the “hey, let’s quit fucking the planet in the arse” crowd? And besides, if it turns out that “cheap flights” are directly responsible for consequences that kill people, then yeah, maybe you shouldn’t have them. But if that’s the case, there’s a good reason for it, not just some nutters who lie at the extreme end of the “left” spectrum. Like, “If you go far enough left, you hit guys who just plain don’t want you to be able to fly to Hawaii. So, you know, don’t go too far left.”
“It will be up to the right to show that growth and greenery can be reconciled”! Because apparently the left is out to destroy growth and the mighty right must defend it. And these “anti-Americans in Europe”. People who just plain hate America, for no better reason than that they’re disagreeable people. Never mind that the US keeps fucking with everyone else on the planet. Europeans are racist. And my favourite, “After a long period of intellectual hegemony, a period in ideological opposition might be just what the Anglo-American right needs.”
Why is that my favourite? Because of the feel it gives. It gives you this feel that “the right” have been running the show for a while now, so it might do them some good to have some healthy competition from “the left”. It gives you this feel that “the left” is opposed to “the right”, and that there are no other options or forces at work. And so it helps you forget that “the right” and “the left” fundamentally agree on a bunch of fucked-up things that could do with a little ideological opposition of their own.