The real madness of the Euston Manifesto

I hesitate to add to the thousands of words already written about the Euston Manifesto. We had two good posts here yesterday, but the best so far is probably this one. Anyway, I hesitate essentially because I only read it today, and the damn thing is deathly dull, a collection of anodyne pronouncements, platitudes, and mostly a whole bunch of self-justifying shite that just about anything with a pulse could sign up to. Wet western wank, as the catchphrase goes.

So, I only stop by to pose one question I haven’t seen asked yet: could one be “pro” the Iraq War, situated vaguely on the political liberal-left, and yet firmly agin’ the Manifesto? Specifically, those bits that deal with war and things, I mean, not just all the other problems with it? The answer is Yes, because that’s me that is.

Like the Manifesto, I don’t have much to say, but unlike it, I’ll therefore keep it brief. I suppose I ought to explain my “pro” Iraq War stance (elaborated in more detail here for all of you with your fingers on the “chickenhawk” trigger: read it first before jumping in). In three sentences: though those with BushHalliburtonHitler fantasies clearly need professional help, I’m also not daft enough to think that Blair and Bush (and Aznar — remember him?) care much about Iraqis. But I do think we owed them big time, in a collective sense, and had the power to do something. It looks a mess now, but it’s too early to tell whether something good will emerge, and I reckon on balance a democratic-ish (federal or tripartite), capitalist-ish Iraq will be a vast improvement over Baathist state tyranny while we await the revolution, or at least until the Uday/Qusay handover (and inevitable bloodbath) sometime next decade. Let’s call this my “law of possible unintended positive consequences” attitude to the invasion. It’s not an “I’m with George” endorsement. More, “on balance it’ll probably be a good thing”.

So, curiously, I don’t defend cluster bombing infant schools or tying prisoners to leashes. I realised Saddam wasn’t on jihad with Osama, but that after the invasion some of his subjects would be. I didn’t condone hoodwinking the UNSC or the fabrication of hyperspace nuclear torpedoes aimed at Cyprus, or whatever it was that a shit-poor country like Iraq was supposed to have been developing. I utterly condemn the disrepute, the lying lies of Blair and his cabal, and so on and on. And, even though I don’t give a hoot about claims, counter-claims and counter-counterclaims of racism-imperialism-neocolonialism, I certainly don’t endorse the gung-ho attitude to international law that the Eustonoids brandish about like a badge of honour. From the Manifesto:

We stand for an internationalist politics and the reform of international law — in the interests of global democratization and global development. Humanitarian intervention, when necessary, is not a matter of disregarding sovereignty, but of lodging this properly within the “common life” of all peoples. If in some minimal sense a state protects the common life of its people (if it does not torture, murder and slaughter its own civilians, and meets their most basic needs of life), then its sovereignty is to be respected. But if the state itself violates this common life in appalling ways, its claim to sovereignty is forfeited and there is a duty upon the international community of intervention and rescue. Once a threshold of inhumanity has been crossed, there is a “responsibility to protect”.

Which is precisely and totally the wrong way round. First we should seek to put in place a legitimate system of international law. We could start with insisting that the hegemon agree to bind itself and its citizens under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. No action ought ever to be encouraged that breaches this general case, barring exceptional circumstances. The duty upon the international community of intervention and rescue, if it is to be valid, ought to be embedded in and conditional upon that. Egg first, then chicken. To seek to grant that permission in advance, to hand out carte blanche for unilateral political violence without any knowledge of the hypotheticals or counterfactuals, is the real lunacy of the Euston Manifesters. Not so much neo-conservative, as utterly passive to hegemonic aggression. It is, as much as it’s anything at all, an objectively pro-war document. And not one I could ever sign.

  1. MatGB said:

    Well said sir. Was against war, because I was convinced that, well, the current mess was inevitable unless they improved their plans; if it had been planned, different story.

    Agree on the law bit. You can’t break it, say it’s broken, then go around proclaiming to the world how great you are, yet make yourself immune from any form of enforcement.

    The ICC may be flawed, but unless the US comes up with something better, it’s what we’ve got. Rank hypocrisy to insist on not being involved.

  2. will said:

    [Abusive, argument-free rubbish]

    Edited by Nosemonkey – disagree with anoyone on here, “will” (with your oh so amusing fake email address), but give reasons for doing so and avoid personal attacks or I’ll happily ban you.

  3. Ah, “will”, would that be some “open source” (Art. 14) dialogue from a “democratic and progressive” (Preamb.) Eustonard? Either say something interesting or intelligent (I’ll even allow funny), or get lost.

  4. Ian said:

    It’s not a document I could ever sign, either. Justin’s post made me smile, but it also got me think it would be worth trying to measure opposition to the Manifesto, especially from those like you and me (although I was anti-war) who might be thought its natural constituents. Yes, I know it’s not scientific, but it’s not very much less so than the Manifesto itself. Register your rejection here.

  5. Paul said:

    It most certainly is Wet Western Wank. How do you reconcile the following statements:

    1. “Human Rights for all…we reject the cultural relativist view” (page 2)

    2. “We stand against all claims to a total — unquestionable or unquestioning — truth.” (page 5)

    Point one is a statement of objective truth – point two denies that such a thing is possible.

    Also, I am concerned by the constant referral (plea) to people of ‘The Left’. Surely, the vast majority of the people of ‘The Left’ already believe in the underlying principles that are outlined in the manifesto. It seems to me that most of the people who are antithetic to the ideas behind the manifesto are people of the New Right. This is a problem with a lot of normative theories / manifestos – they mainly appeal to the already converted. I see no convincing arguments that might *convert* people to a more secularist and social democratic way of thinking – I think that the manifesto as it stands merely sums up what a lot of ‘progressives’ are already thinking, but even then not convincingly.

    Manifestos should also contain clear policy implications – stating principles and buzz words in and of themselves does not give anyone a clear idea of what such a creed of people would do in power. I am sure George Bush and many Republican supporters believe in ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights for all’ and stand against ‘tyranny’. The key issue is not whether one believes in them or not, but an issue of what the actual substantive nature of these concepts are. So, a “commitment to a democratic process” – what precisely does that entail? EVERYONE in a democracy believes in it – the real question is what they mean by it. What institutional changes are required for the UK to become more democratic for example? This lack of thinking regarding policy runs right through the manifesto. For example: “We support radical reform of the major institutions of global economic governance.” Which reforms? How will this coalition be built? Why are the reforms ‘radical’? Also, some statements seem to be plucked out of the air – for example, “the benefits of large-scale development through the expansion of global trade ought to be distributed as widely as possible” – why should it? See again, merely appealing to the already converted. There are rational and empirical reasons why we should ought to want to redistribute income and wealth but none are mentioned.

    This manifesto creates more anomalies than it resolves by not defining what is clearly meant by each principle and what they mean in terms of policy. As such, it is banal, touchy, feely, flimsy, “progressive” shite.

  6. Jarndyce is about the only Lefty that I’ve ever agreed with about anything: his original post justifying (for want of a better word) the war articulated precisely how I feel about it.

    As for these progressive wars, gosh, what do we say? Well, I’ll just point out that I saw an anti-war march in Edinburgh. Two banners were hung next to each other: the first said something like “End the illegal US occupation of Iraq”. The one next to it said, “Intervene to stop the massacre in Darfur.”

    If anything demonstrates a mild confusion, that does…


  7. Why does it demonstrate confusion?

    It is possible to be against the war in Iraq, but in favour of other actions such as the actions in Sierra Leone. In fact the failure to intervene in Darfur actually proves the point of those who said Iraq was nothing to do with humanitarian motives.

  8. Paul said:

    Planeshift is absolutely right. Intervention is fully justifiable given a humantiarian crisis. The problem with Iraq, as Planeshift notes, was the ill-motive of the US-UK alliance – economically strategic, not of humanitarian concern. And yes, given Iraq was invaded and not Darfur, clearly demonstrates the selfish, strategic motives. We OUGHT to have invaded the Darfur region with International compliance to protect humn rights. We obviously ought not to have invaded Iraq without International compliance. Devil’s Kitchen – where is the confusion in that?!?!?!

  9. Dunc said:

    Also it’s worth noting that “intervene” does not necessarily mean “invade and occupy”. There is a whole spectrum of foreign policy options that lie between “ignore” and “bomb into oblivion from 20,000 feet”. And even if you do go down the military intervention route, there is the option of gaining UN support and authorization, which is what makes the difference between “occupation” and “illegal occupation”. So it’s perfectly possible to support intervention, even military action, in Darfur, whilst nonetheless opposing illegal occupation in Iraq.

  10. By the time that this banner was being displayed, the UN had ruled out intervention: therefore, the only intervention would have had to be unilateral.

    Good lord, Dunc! Are you actually suggesting that we still want to be in Iraq? Or that we intended to be there for any length of time? Why? (And please don’t say oil because you’ll just look silly. If you want to know why, consider the manner in which oil is bought and sold). Let us remember, also, that “intervene” may not mean invade and occupy, but what the UN did in the Balkans is no different to what the US/UK are doing in Iraq.

    And Paul, where exactly is the difference between “intervening” to stop mass-murder by the government in Darfur and “intervening” to stop mass-murder by the government in Iraq? Are you saying that the lives of those in Darfur are worth more than those in Iraq?And how do you know that we would not end up bogged down in the same mess in Darfur as in Iraq? After all, the problems in Darfur are, essentially, sectarian.

    And given how bogged down we are in Iraq, how — logistically — are we supposed to help Darfur? Should we leave that to the African League (or whatever the hell they call themselves)? Must we police the world?


  11. roger said:

    It is actually pretty easy to be liberal and against the Euston manifesto. The lies that you mention in the runup to the war, and its continuation now, are symptoms of a legitimacy crisis in the democracies that the Manifesto not only does not address, but advocates exaccerbating. The crisis is manifested in the divide between what the elites want – the European Union of neoliberalism, the invasion of any country George Bush picks out on a map — and what the populations want. The crisis stems from allowing the executive branch (in the U.S. and Britain) way too much foreign policy power, the kind of power that even monarchs did not have back in the 18th century. And, as the war economy has institutionalized in the superpowers — I’m lookin’ at you, Uncle Sam, and your endless cold war ways! – there seems to be no limit on the production of weapons, the creation of independent armies jumping to the unconstrained dictate of a president or a prime minister, and the creation of a perennially aggressive culture. You want to intervene in Africa? Try seizing the patents on various drugs needed by poor Africans and allowing their free manufacture. Try contributing, I don’t know, ten percent of the GDP of the Western countries to make the continent happy.

    Well, as we know, that isn’t going to happen. We aren’t even going to cut down on the kind of emission of greenhouse gases that are probably at fault for the droughts in Kenya, and the changing monsoon pattern in India. But we will invade those or other countries, if we are feeling moral about it and shit. Although no ‘we’ will do it — a volunteer army tempted to enlist by substandard economic opportunities supplemented by a host of government encouraged private militias, ie mercenaries, will do it.

    I think your happy outcome has to be balanced against an unhappy one for you to even make the argument. The unhappy argument is that as Basra goes, so goes Iraq — a state with the humanity and democratic leanings of the Taliban. And unhappy outcomes seem to be springing into action all over — as per the increasing unrest in Afghanistan. I accept being attacked as a justification for war, which is why I supported the Americans going into Afghanistan — with the goal of eliminating Osama Bin Laden. That Bin Laden has not only not been eliminated, but has been put on tap in a country that the US is bankrolling strikes me as another typical effect of institutionalized war on the democratic structures of the U.S. — the overwhelming temptation for the executive is to always keep an excuse at hand to use troops, and what better one than the terrorists he has no intention of rooting out?

    If the Euston crowd had addressed the legitimation crisis that is the salient feature of the Iraq war, they might have been onto something. They pretended, though, that it never happened — and this is why they can never, ever be trusted. They don’t care – as long as the end is good, screw it if you have to lie, cheat and support crooks like Chalabi to get there. Except that kind of enterprise will always fall apart — these intellectuals might support democracy, but they don’t have a clue how it works.

  12. Your reasons for supporting the war are all nicey liberal, but you sort of gloss over the fact that your reasons for supporting the war are not their reasons for starting it. In other words, you ignored the realities of the Iraq wars for the fantasy version.

    Seems to me you’ve got little call to accuse others of being crazy.

  13. your reasons for supporting the war are not their reasons for starting it

    Isn’t that the darndest thing about unintended consequences?

    you ignored the realities of the Iraq wars for the fantasy version

    …which is about as close to 100% inaccurate as you could be, as even a cursory reading would tell you. I’ll happily take crit. of what I actually wrote but boilerplate anti-“Decent” stuff is completely irrelevant.

  14. Chris B said:

    so because they want to solve the problems now, rather than wait for China (for a start) to agree to make themselves irrelevant in the UN, you can’t sign?

    Your realism started well, you seemed to be seeing the world as it is rather than as you’d like, and then it deserted you totally at the end of the post. So you get to feel morally pure, but without posing any kind of a realistic alternative. thanks for your input.

  15. Except I already suggested one. The US must agree to bind itself to existing international legal norms, scant though they are. At a very minimum.

    Except, it’s moving in the other direction entirely, just at the moment the Eustonards are throwing their “leftist” support behind it.

  16. Typically I have a third way position. I was against the initial invasion of Iraq but supported Blair’s decision to support Bush and I am against the EM because it assumes that you can’t reject Galloway etc unless you accept Bush’s policies, which is rubbish.

    I’ll explain;

    The invasion has worsened terrorism and there were obviously no WMD. Blair’s decision didn’t make a difference one way or the other to whether the invasion went ahead so I have no problem supporting his pragmatic position of influencing the US. British involvement may actually have reduced deaths in Iraq because British troops were (initially at least) more respected by the Iraqis and British troops were probably less trigger happy than US troops. Also (the hope of mine was that) Blair would win influence over Bush and stop his worst excesses (bombing Al Jazeera?? etc?) and maybe advance the Israeli-Palestine peace process, Climate Change, debt relief for Africa. This looks wishful thinking on my part but history will judge Blair on this.

    I also accept that although I opposed the invasion, the people of Iraq (hopefully) will eventually be better off in the long term without Saddam. The civil war at the moment makes it difficult to make that claim as yet.

    The problem is the benefits of removing Saddam quickly don’t seem enough considering the boost it has given to world terrorism.