« Pricing job satisfaction | Main | Hutton, Keynes and pensions »

November 24, 2005



I would have thought that regime change could only be justified by expected benefits to the subjects of the regime. The nature of a regime in another country is irrelevant to whether it poses a threat to me. I might well, for example, have argued to remove Mussolini as Duce in 1930 out of solidarity with the Italians, but I couldn't make the security argument because until they were bounced into it by Hitler the Fascisti were no threat to anybody in Britain, or indeed to their interests, since British trade with Ethiopia was trivial.

On the other hand, the outcome of a war for security may, but doesn't necessarily, result in regime change. If it does, that's an incidental: Louis XV didn't abdicate in the aftermath of the Seven Years War, nor did he fire all his ministers.

The problem with OK and his more intelligent co-thinkers is that they conflate these two causes, or regard them as interchangeable.

Bush the Elder fought a security war in Iraq because he felt that US interests were threatened by the annexation of Kuwait. Bush the Younger couldn't (honestly) fight a security war in 2003, because at that time Saddam presented less of a threat than Mussolini ever did, having been comprehensively beaten ten years before. He therefore disingenuously tried to modify his casus belli in the run-up, leading to the present unjustifiable mess.

The point is that if you want to fight a war of regime change, you have to fight a very different, more honestly political, war than you have to if your goal is simply to neutralise a threat and you regard the survival of the enemy leadership as incidental. It should have been clear to the meanest intelligence that in early 2003 the US nd its allies were not remotely prepared for such a conflict, even if they were capable of launching a war of security. I despair at the volutaristic naivety of those like Kamm who fail to grasp this.


He's writing for people who already agree with him but suspect their beliefs are in need of justification; in other words, he's writing to reassure, not to persuade. Cf. Chomsky (on whom, ironically, young Oliver is rather good).


To justify the Iraq war you have to justify that particular war: that enemy, that timing; indeed, that strategy, those tactics. Justifying a category of war won't do.


If OK doesn't make the case for why the war in Iraq is potentially good for Iraq it doesn't necessarily mean the case isn't there to be made. Of course he should have used Iraq as a case study to back up his thesis, which would involve looking at the kinds of issues you raise (don't forget Iraq didn't live in a perfectly safe bubble before the intervention, surely any cost/benefit analysis would also bear that in mind?). Woolly abstractions are only good when that's all they are, if they're being carried out in the world as you speak it looks like you're ignoring the reality in favour of the theory.

I take Phil's point about OK writing for a partisan audience, but comparing him to Chomsky is a bit unfair is it not?


"All this raises a question. If this book fails to convince me of the case for war, for whom is it intended?"

People who already supported the war/support such wars. Think of it as shoring up the base.

Backword Dave

Did you see this? http://www-hjs.pet.cam.ac.uk/folder.2005-07-29.4748121255/event.2005-09-23.6730910455 I love the arrogance of Where: Peterhouse (under a globe and for a society named after an American politician) -- because everyone went to Peterhouse. (We're for democracy and self-rule -- except by plebs who went to other universities. Twats.)


To be honest, you have to start with the real reasons for the war, rather than beginning with the presumption that it was a well-motivated act and then asking whether or not it was wise or worthwhile (which is not to discount those important questions).

In the first place, one should ask - why is it that such an apparently "noble" act (Kamm has the tendency to provocative exaggeration beloved of the undergraduate contrarian) should have been promoted, carried out and justified subsequently by such an extraordinary series of lies? How can such a persistent and imensely dishonest enterprise be good?

Secondly, one should note the historical point that just because an advanced liberal democracy makes war on a backward tyranny, it does not follow that liberalism, advancedness, backwardness or tyranny were in any way at the root of the conflict. It's quite normal, indeed almost the rule, for colonialist depredations to be carried out by nations whose home society and domestic politics are rather more advanced than those of the societies which they invade and place under their will. Britain was far more advanced (and free) than most of the states which were incorporated into its Empire: so, for that matter, was the USSR in relation to Afghanistan. That made, and makes, no difference to the purpose of the war.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad