Have you seen the piece that Jonathan Steele had in the Guardian about
It repays a close reading. The overall tone is a fatherly lecture to the kind of idealists who just think that something ought to be done.
Steele’s contention is that it would be counterproductive. Yet, you don’t really find out why until near the end of the article. Indeed, he doesn’t even pretend that the humanitarian question should be his prime concern when writing about this issue. He starts by hinting that any intervention would simply provide cover for some imperialist regime change project.
He hints (but provides no rebuttal) that humanitarian pressure groups are exaggerating the scale of the problem or inventing new dimensions to it (he mentions slavery specifically). He suggests that things aren’t as simple as they appear and that all sides in the conflict share the blame.
And there’s plenty more pilgevision in there, bulking out the heart of his article. But only near the end of the article – the penultimate paragraph – do you get the claim that….
"No foreign peacekeepers, whether AU or UN, can monitor all the vast terrain of
Now, this is, potentially, a powerful argument. Anyone who argues for ‘humanitarian intervention’ – as I often do - has to be aware to the huge elephant trap in their own position: That the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That you shouldn’t start something that you can’t finish.
And, for fans of counterintuitive arguments (I'm one) I'd be interested to hear of any substantial arguments on how an intervention in Sudan, at this moment in time, is a nice idea in principle, but one that won't work in practice. Personally, I've no idea on how much of the suffering in
But Steele presents no such argument, because he's quite prepared to offer his undergraduate understanding of national sovereignty (ask Norm if you want that nonsense shredding for you) as a reason why nothing practical can be done to stop civilian slaughter on a huge scale.
There are no facts of any substance presented to contradict the ..er... contention that armed peacekeepers, provided by countries that are capable of providing them, are likely to be useful in stopping armed groups that already have an impressive track record in murdering hundreds of thousands of people because of their ethnicity, or that any alternative strategy that might offer a better outcome. Only a contention in the penultimate para. An unsupported, unsubstantiated, contention.
For instance, we could ask…
- Does Steele know the geography well enough to write with any authority on this?
- Does he have any expertise in peacekeeping?
- Does he have any idea of the numbers and ordinance required to do such a job properly (and can he contrast this figure with the numbers that the perfidious ‘international community’ are prepared to offer)
And so on. You know the kind of stuff you'd ask him about if you were an editor considering one of his articles for publication. If I were making the argument that it isn’t practical, then I’d bulk out my article with this kind of information rather than the yesbuttery that makes up the bulk of this 1200-word dungheap.
Such is his lack of confidence. This ‘impracticality’ contention of his should be seen for what it is: nothing more than an arse-covering exercise. Given that tens – maybe hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake on this issue, it would be impossible to write an article such as this without at least making such a contention. It is simply indecent not to actually substantiate what should be a central claim.
Given the lack of substantiation, we can only conclude that this waffle is supposed to be arguing that humanitarian intervention is wrong in principle – no matter what the circumstances or how many lives are at stake.
So we get lots of pseudo-granularity instead. The little details that show that what is happening in
Barely any mention anywhere in Steele's article of the hundreds of thousands of murders unless he adds a bit of pilgeresque qualification. "But the rebels also committed atrocities, a fact that was rarely reported since it upset the black-and-white moral image that many editors preferred." Sound familiar? Well, if you'll remember, Serbian nationalism wouldn't have existed without the KLA?
Of course, it wouldn't occur to him that the need to stop it from happening might take priority over the apportioning of blame or the integrity of his unreconstructed Vietnam-demo worldview. You have to wait for the penultimate paragraph to get a passing reference (cloaked in the fog of war, of course) that...
"...many of The ambivalence is breathtaking. One simple unqualified reference to the central issue - that of civilian murder, ethnic cleansing on a monstrous scale, and the need to put an end to it - would quite simply blow Steele's entire argument out of the water. That's why the scumbag hasn't the decency to address it properly.
Simplification - such as this, and the clarity that we should have the right to expect from someone who is paid to write - are, it seems polar opposites in hands such as these. And, in years to come, articles like this one by Jonathan Steele (waived through by a shit-for-brains section editor, and put on the page without a dozen questionmarks in blue pencil from a sub-editor) will be held up as textbook examples of the applied idiocy that has infected left-liberal commentary at the start of the twenty first century.
Update: Freemania picks up a few strands that I decided to leave out, for the sake of .... er.... brevity.