Anyone who has read this site will know that I’m not a big fan of the UK’s little band of neocon/liberal interventionist journalists. It isn’t just the fact that I don’t agree with them. I can live with disagreement. It isn’t even their total obliviousness to the discrepancies between their militarist proposals and the actual outcomes of the wars they support. It’s just that they are such a horribly self-regarding, obnoxious and downright disreputable bunch, in their reliance on straw man arguments, cheap smears, condescension, character assassination, and sneering innuendo to dismiss their opponents.
Few people demonstrate these tendencies more clearly than David Aaronovitch. Someone once said of Trotsky’s remorseless debating style that he could take his opponent’s head off and shake it to demonstrate that there was nothing inside. Aaronovitch has a different technique. What he does is construct a papier-mache head to represent his intended target, the cruder the better, and then he stamps on the pieces he’s constructed with a kind of gleeful schoolboy spite, to the sniggering satisfaction of a readership that likes to watch such little spectacles.
Craig Murray, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and numerous others have all been subjected to this treatment. And now Aaronovitch has turned his skills on the Green MP Caroline Lucas, in a review of her book Honourable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change, that is one of the most vitriolically nasty pieces that I have read in some time.
I haven’t read Lucas’ book, but Aaronovitch clearly read it with the sole intention of writing a hatchet job, and boy, has he delivered one. The full piece is subscriber only, but some excerpts will give you a flavour. It begins like this:
‘Lucas is the nice Green female MP from Brighton who, like Nigel Molesworth’s classmate Fotherington-Thomas, skips around saying “Hullo clouds, hullo sky” and loves the scents and sounds of nature.’
Maybe I’m being oversensitive here but I can’t help sensing just a teeny-weeny bit of male condescension in that ‘nice Green female’ parody, which bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Caroline Lucas that I’ve seen. And then there is this
‘It is a tome untroubled by doubt or admission of error and free of anything as necessarily complicating as wit. There is, in short, not a reflective passage in it….It is not as though Lucas is alive to her own contradictions. In fact, she glides over them.’
Anyone familiar with Aaronovitch’s work is likely to find this amusing, in a very, very dry kind of way, because I have yet to see any evidence that Aaronovitch has ever been troubled by doubt or admission of error or any awareness of his own contradictions
As always he maintains the fiction of balance and nuance, praising Lucas for promoting renewable energy and because she ‘ got a manufacturer of cluster munitions thrown out of the morally dubious affair that is the UK arms expo.’ He then goes on to argue that she is wrong, so utterly and absolutely and dismally wrong, on everything else. And she’s also a bit of a phony too because she claims to be an ‘outsider’ even though she was educated at Malvern College.
That’s Lucas owned then, but it isn’t until the end of the review that the real explanation for his spleen becomes clear:
‘ But to me perhaps the worst chapter of the book is when Lucas moves to foreign policy and the “positive outcomes” of the vote not to attack Assad in September 2013, not least that it “spared the Syrian people … the inevitable death and destruction that western air-strikes would have brought in their wake”. Actually it spared Assad’s air force to drop barrel bombs on the people of Aleppo.
Never mind, because Lucas has an alternative for Syria. Which is to “promote a regional process in which those countries with a strategic interest can come together to explore a peaceful settlement that can lead to long-term stability, justice and an end to poverty in the region. That must also include an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine …”
Aaronovitch then gives the silly little woman a demonstration of what wit means:
‘Poot! As Fat Freddy’s Cat farted. This is a hippy formulation in its own way as immoral as any arms fair. “Hullo clouds, hullo sky!” it says, and “Goodbye Syrians!”
Like Fotherington-Thomas, she skips around saying “Hullo clouds, hullo sky” ‘
Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker eat your little hearts out. My first response on reading those lines was that Aaronovitch is even more of a jerk than I ever thought he was, because it really takes a very convoluted conception of morality to dismiss an argument suggesting that war may not be the solution to the Syrian Civil War is a ‘hippy formulation in its own way as immoral as any arms fair’. So voting against a war is as immoral as selling cluster bombs at an arms fair?
It is in Aaronovitch’s moral universe, a universe in which (western) wars are always moral and always beneficial to those on the receiving end, and always waged with no other purpose except to save people from evil dictators, and air-strikes are always intended to save people rather than bring ‘death and destruction’.
A former member of the communist party, Aaronovitch has attached the old ‘can’t-make-an-omelette-without-breaking-eggs’ philosophy from his Stalinist intellectual heritage to the new age of neo-imperialist ‘humanitarian’ war, and the absence of omelettes or humanitarian outcomes has never led him to question his assumptions or regret his choices.
A quick look back on his foreign policy record really suggests a man who ought to be a little more humble in making judgements about other people’s suggestions and proposals. Take his support for the Iraq war, which he once described as ‘ the most difficult and painful judgement he had to make.’ In fact the breathtaking shallowness of his predictions suggests that it wasn’t really that difficult or painful at all. Aaronovitch once predicted that Iraqis would greet the Anglo-American occupation with flowers.
He once cheerily predicted that the Iraq military campaign would be the ‘easy bit’, which it was for him. When it turned out – who would have thought it? – that there were no flowers and that Iraqis actually died during the war and occupation, he rationalised the death toll by telling his readers how many people Saddam would have killed if he had remained in power, as though Saddam killed according to a yearly quota.
The result was the kind of calculus that some white men like to make about brown folk, in which you simply add up how many Iraqis have died in any particular year, then substitute the imaginary Iraqis who you think would have died had Saddam still been in power that year, and if the latter is higher or only a little bit lower than the former, then result! It was a good war after all!
But then the deaths kept rising, to the point when even Aaronovitch was worried that it was higher than supporters of the war like him could ‘reasonably’ have expected. How many dead Iraqis was a ‘reasonable’ figure to make it a good war? Aaronovitch didn’t say. But it definitely wasn’t the 655,-000 to a million calculated by the Lancet and other epidemiological studies, all of which he dismissed.
What authority did he have to question these methodologies? None, but his own unwillingness to accept the horrific consequences of the war that he supported. That, and the fact that the Labour government also refused to accept them, despite the insistence of its own chief scientist that the methodologies used were ‘best practice.‘
Before the Iraq war Aaronovitch said that he would never believe his government again if no WMD were found in Iraq. Yet even after no weapons were found, he has continued to defend the Iraq war and to support every war and proposed intervention since, because like Elvis Presley he just could not stop believin’ everything his government told him.
And this is the man who now has the temerity to ridicule an MP who suggests that war is not the answer to the Middle East’s problems? This is the man who says that Lucas lacks the capacity for self-doubt or awareness of her own contradictions? And Lucas is supposed to be the naive ‘hippy’ wandering around her head in the clouds?
You must be kidding me.