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February 12, 2013



"First, for any strong belief you have, ask: what is the strongest case I can make against it?"

I think for one day a year we should hold "Wonk Saturnalia" (or blogger Saturnalia?) where everyone working in public policy has to write a 400-word blogpost making a compelling, in-good-faith argument for a viewpoint opposite to the one they believe.

It'd be refreshing, it'd broaden people's minds, and it'd be fun.

Churm Rincewind

"...the anti-war left couldn't and still cannot see that there was a case for overthrowing the fascist Saddam Hussein..."

This is an entirely unsupported assertion. Of course there was a case for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. The point in question then, as now, is whether that case was sufficient for a military invasion.

Calling him a fascist is not evidence one way or the other.


Isn't there potentially a conflict between the two methods of counteracting bias? i.e. by reading a lot of badly argued articles in the Telegraph, I become more convinced that all the right wing arguments on the issue must be nonsense.


The trouble I have [as a lefty] with Saddam is that we are supposed to ignore the 'means' if the 'end' works out OK. On ethical grounds alone [forget politics] this troubles me.

Secondly just what were/are the ends?
Saddam get's his comeuppance as the marsh Arabs and Kurds are set free. Whilst on the debit side a million or so died[many of which were civilians]and many more wounded in the aftermath, even as security amongst much of the population is far worse than the pre Saddam era even today.

So in the final analysis the blog is based on a false [or at least misleading] premise. There aren't many lefties who lament the passing of Saddam, just the method of his removal and the predictable tyranny of it's aftermath, quite apart from the motivation which many even on the right have questioned.


You're basing a call for open-mindedness on a post by Norm? I look forward to the follow-up, on the smug self-righteousness and passive aggressive sneering displayed by Owen Jones, Laurie Penny et al. The man's the intellectual wing of Harry's Place.

David Ellis

"...the anti-war left couldn't and still cannot see that there was a case for overthrowing the fascist Saddam Hussein..."

I'm with Churm. At no point did the `left' not think there was a case for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. What it was opposed to was the idea of the people who had built him up could do it in any progressive way.

The imperialist invasion of a nominally sovereign semi-colony could only ever result in the unleashing of a vicious civil war, chaos, utter misery for the people and the imposition in the end of a government and state barely distinguishable from the one it replaces.

The saddest things of all about the invasion is that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who could now be participating in the Arab Spring and the Iraqi National Democratic Revolution against Saddam cannot because they are dead thanks to the invasion and the sectarians and Islamists have the upper hand politically over the forces of secular democracy.

The invasion was a disaster and a war crime.


"why the anti-war left couldn't and still cannot see that there was a case for overthrowing the fascist Saddam Hussein" I thought he was on the left? Is not Saddam more like Stalin? Anti Gihadist and ultra nationalist? With a nationalised oil industry? May be the left had misgivings about handing all the oil to American oil firms and allowing the state to be taken over by Shi'ite Fascists? Who run death squads murdering opponents of Iran and any one who looks Gay? Iraq looks pretty Fascist today with a superficial democratic vaneer. All predicted before it happened. Western Foreign policy seems to result in one bad lot replacing another. Quite often and failing to produce the results that were promised.


"First, for any strong belief you have, ask: what is the strongest case I can make against it?"

I think that is not straightforward. First, I am not really sure what strong beliefs I have, or at least beliefs that influence me. Second, I suspect that the strong beliefs I do have are such ingrained assumptions that they do not strike me as beliefs, and so I would never challenge them. Maybe I need to spend more time with disagreeable people...


Another thing: Blairs main argument for war was it seems "trust me". All the while he and his cheer leaders just ignored the complex arguments about this issue. All sorts of things can and do go wrong in wars and it is by no means a simple matter to decide on. Just saying trust me or it will be ok dear, just is not good enough. Just as saying Saddam is a bastard while true is not the same as an impartial appraisal of all the problems involved in removing him.


I have no idea how many posts I have read of Mr. Geras complaining about the treatment of pro-war commentators by opponents of the invasion. They are, though, far more numerous than the posts that reflect upon its consequences for the beleaguered Iraqis. I am more than willing to believe that good men could support the war on well-intentioned grounds. The apparent priorities of those who spend more sniffing about perceived insults than actual devastation, though, threatens rather than affirming this belief.


"the anti-war left couldn't and still cannot see that there was a case for overthrowing the fascist Saddam Hussein"

This seems to be an idea that still needs getting over, but here we go around the pile of corpses again. Just because something is nice doesn't mean you should do it. Things have costs and uncertainties. Yes, it would be lovely to overthrow Saddam. If we could afford it, without starting a decade-long civil war, without completely fucking up the Middle East, without losing the other war we're involved in...

This is adult thinking. If I spend £20 on beer I can't spend it on anything else. THINGS HAVE COSTS, and you have to consider them.

It's just a pity you chose to have a bout of infantile thinking about a field of policy that kills people, rather than, say, telecoms regulation.

P McMc

"There aren't many lefties who lament the passing of Saddam"

I've certainly never met one. The 'kneejerk anti-Americanism' that bloviators like Norm like to drone on about is not unique to left-leaning people, but the facile "my enemy's enemy" playground logic used to disingeniously infer that lefties must have lurved Saddam since they hated Bush & Blair is seldom deployed outside the world of political hackery.


"Norm returns to a theme of his - of wondering why the anti-war left couldn't and still cannot see that there was a case for overthrowing the fascist Saddam Hussein."

Ironic someone would advocate starting an unprovoked war in the name of anti-fascism. Ethiopia 1935, Poland 1939, Iraq 2003 - what's the difference?


I suspect that what's going on here is a common combination of two cognitive biases - groupthink and sampling bias.

I couldn't agree more agree.

Norm has spent the last decade hearing his own opinions bellowed back to him by Nick Cohen, Oliver Kamm, Harry's Place, etc..

He therefore apparently still hasn't realized that they are largely underpinned by the assumption that that anyone who opposed the Iraq war is basically one of Viz magazine's Modern Parents.

William Baines

Agree with your suggestion about the importance of exposing oneself to opposing views. In the past, I would never have bothered to actually buy the Telegraph etc, but my Google Reader displays RSS feeds from dozens of news sites, so it's easy to find a variety of perspectives on any given topic. Of course, paywalls could put paid to this...


It was exposing myself to the views of William Shawcross, Michael Gove, Simon Heffer and people of that ilk that led me in the second half of 2002 to devote my time to opposing the invasion of Iraq. The logical leaps and the exaggerations were so obvious that I felt that someone had to point them out. It was actually quite tricky back then to find anti-war writing.

I suspect that if I read the Daily Telegraph today something similar would happen. With some exceptions (such as Peter Oborne) few articles would help me to see things in a new light. That is not to negate your first point: Norm, Aaro, Rentoul, Mandelson, Dan Hodges just spend their time referencing each other.


"If you're a rightie, read the Guardian, and if you're a lefty, read the Torygraph"

This doesn't really cut the mustard for me. I'd love to read intelligent, well-thought out, logical right-wingers that are the equivalent of Chris, or Krugman, or even Hopi Sen. But where do you find them? If anyone can link to any I really would be grateful. I'm never going to have my views swayed by the likes of Rod Liddle and James Delingpole am I? The only right-wing writing I've ever loved and related to is PJ O'Rourke, but he's more warm-hearted, soppy liberal sixties hippy than Tory.

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