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Sunday, September 21, 2003
Disagreement (for lack of a better title)
In a Spiked column from last Tuesday entitled "Pre-emptive inaction?", Brendan O'Neill labels the argument that Great Britain, the United States and/or whomever should not go to war because such a war will increase the threats to that country or group of countries as "cowardly" and "deeply prejudiced, buying into the argument that the real problem is the terrorists 'over there' who might be stirred up if we take irresponsible, risky action. It is an anti-war argument concerned more with saving ourselves than anybody else."
O'Neill is correct on this, although it would be nice for him to acknowledge that other people have other reasons for doing things that he may disagree with but are nonetheless reasons.
That said, O'Neill goes significantly off-track at two points. The first:
According to a report published by the Intelligence and Security Committee on 12 September 2003, Blair was told in February that the collapse of Saddam's regime might allow terrorists to get their hands on Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and to launch assaults on 'Western interests'. For the anti-war lobby, this shows that Blair took us into war, not only against our wishes, but against our 'best interests' and 'safety' (1).Actually it is a perfectly legitimate line of reasoning to say that Government X lied about Matter Y but if they had been telling the truth about Matter Y then Outcome Z would be a possibility that they should be concerned about since they still claim to have told the truth about Matter Y.
And then there's this about how these prejudicial self-interests:
...were much in evidence at the anti-war protests against the Arms Trade Fair in London last week, where protesters pointed the finger at Britain and America for selling arms to 'irresponsible' regimes, some of whom have 'ties with terrorists' (5). Comedian Mark Thomas argues that Britain has helped to arm just about every 'crazy fucker' in the third world. The anti-war demand is clear: Western elites should behave more cautiously, and avoid arming and antagonising those crazy natives...I can't vouch for the politics of Thomas or any of the protesters in question but there is nothing cowardly or illegitimate about pointing out that "Western Elites" are inconsistent about their application of the principles they purport to hold in the "war on terror." In fact this is an excellent way of saying that if you actually believe what the likes of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush say about the threats in the world, then you shouldn't have any faith in their ability to protect you from those threats.
More importantly, criticizing the fact that Great Britian is willing to sell weaponry to oppressive governments does not necessarily mean that one, in O'Neill's words, "accepts that the main problem on the world stage is 'over there', in the shape of crazy terrorists and ruthless regimes waiting for an excuse to attack London and Washington." It could just as easily be a demand that Great Britian and the U.S. stop aiding and abetting others as they harm people in other countries.
O'Neill often rails against how anti-war activists advocate some form of Western interventionism so it is a bit disappointing to see him needing to criticize activists when they are advocating that Great Britain not sell weapons to other countries, an act that is nothing if not an intervention.
I agree with much of what O'Neill writes and am glad that his voice is out there, but sometimes I get the sense that his primary position is disagreement.