Ah, The Economist, so serious, so
sober, so centrist… and always so incredibly tumescent for more war. It was
entirely predictable, and therefore probably not all that noteworthy, that the
magazine would call for more
war in Iraq—and in Syria, too. But the way they’ve gone about it is such a
textbook version of everything George Orwell discussed in Politics and the
English Language that I couldn’t help being fascinated. Are the people who
write this shite so committed to propaganda that they don’t mind coming across
as mindless tools? Or, as Orwell suggested, have they lost any such
I don’t know. But
let’s have a look…
AMERICA’S last two presidents have got
things wrong in Iraq in opposite ways. George W. Bush went into the country in
2003 guns blazing, with 148,000 soldiers and too little thought of how to
stabilise it after Saddam Hussein had been defeated. The consequences were
I guess the editors made a trip to the memory hole, because The Economist was gung-ho for that war, and offered
no more thought than Bush about post-war stabilization. Though really, does anyone believe that with just a little more thought America’s invasion and occupation
of Iraq would have been a success?
that question. Of course The Economist
believes that. If you’re infatuated with war, you only question whether a
war might have been better executed, never whether there’s anything
wrong with war itself.
Barack Obama took a different approach.
Americans, he reckoned, were not capable of bringing peace to this complex, violent
and distant place. He allowed the troops’ mandate in the country to run out
with insufficient attention to what might follow, and then applied the same
logic in Syria where he did little to support moderate opponents of Bashar
Assad. His policy aided the rise of the Islamic State (IS), a Sunni terrorist
group, that has taken territory in Syria and Iraq.
other failings (and
there are many), he isn’t the one who “allowed the troops’ mandate to run
was his predecessor. Among things to which The Economist is addicted is the notion of balance, and they know
in their bones that if a Republican did X, then a Democrat must also have done
the mirror image of X. They know it so well they’ll see it even when reality is to the contrary.
Also: anyone who
focuses on whatever Obama did or didn’t do that might have aided the rise of
IS, without at a minimum also mentioning the, you know, invasion and occupation
that destroyed the country before Obama took office, is, if not breathtaking
ignorant, then again blinded by a neurotic addiction to war.
Now the prospect of a caliphate run by
extremists bent on attacking the West has persuaded a reluctant Mr Obama that
he cannot walk away from the Mesopotamian mess, and he is trying a new
tack—combining modest military force with hard-nosed political brinkmanship
Given conditions in the region, the chances of success are limited. But they
are better than those offered by any other approach.
There you have it:
military force, the tool that’s better
than any other approach. The only appropriate question is, “How much
military force?” But the notion that military force itself might be the wrong tool is, to The Economist, apparently inconceivable. Certainly the possibility
is never even considered in their article.
A politically stable Iraq is needed, run by
a government that is broad-based and popular… The one headed for the past eight
years by Nuri al-Maliki, a member of the Shia majority, was nothing of the
kind… Mr Maliki has been an awful prime minister.
Mr Obama’s gamble has been to withhold all
but minimal military support in order to force political change in Baghdad.
That strategy has come at a cost.
Wars don’t have
costs. Only policies short of war have costs.
There are dangers here: if American bombing
caused many civilian casualties, the extremists would have more chance of
portraying themselves as protectors of Sunnis against a hostile Shia-led
government and its infidel allies.
Pro tip for The Economist: even if you don’t care
about the innocent human beings your latest war cheerleading will blow
up, burn, maim, cripple, mutilate, and orphan, (sorry, better to just use the
dry term “civilian casualties,” as Orwell foretold), for form’s sake it’s a
good idea to at least mention those horrors, even if only in passing, as one of the “dangers” you’re
concerned about. Just so people won’t come away with the impression that
you have a near sociopathetic disregard for the suffering of brown people.
The jihadists’ ambitions to establish an
Islamic caliphate cannot be tolerated.
If The Economist really were as Serious a
publication as they like to fancy themselves, this would have been the topic
sentence of the whole piece and they would argue it with logic and evidence.
Instead, it’s just a thoughtless and passing cliché.
Can’t be tolerated
why? The west has managed to tolerate all sorts of “intolerable” things. And if
such an outcome were in fact “intolerable,” it would mean the west must be
prepared to do anything to prevent
it, no? Is that what The Economist is
It’s almost... almost as
though they deliberately prefer not to say!
But an all-out assault may bolster Sunni
support for IS and risk the disintegration of Iraq.
Well, that doesn’t
actually sound so bad. Because anyone paying attention knows Iraq has already disintegrated. Which is
good news—it means we don’t need any more war to further it!
A break-up of the country could lead to
bloodshed on an unprecedented scale.
Did you notice that
the only time they use a word or phrase with any real emotional impact—bloodshed—it’s to
argue that less war is what would
cause it? I don’t think even Orwell saw that twist coming.
Also, it would have
to be a lot of bloodshed indeed to exceed the hundreds of
thousands killed by America’s war there. But why mention that? After all,
everyone knows those deaths were all really the result of bad Iraqi governance.
doesn’t kill people. Only too little war can do that.
In all events, Western leaders must prepare
the public for a lengthy military engagement in this part of the world.
Ah, a “lengthy
military engagement.” Well, preparing the public for that should be easier than
preparing the public for something like, say, a “very long war.” War is an
upsetting word and therefore best avoided when a magazine does its patriotic duty and assists in preparing the public. Military
engagements are ever so much drier. I mean, after all, engagements, in other
contexts, are actually happy things!
political speech and writing are largely the
defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in
India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on
Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for
most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the
political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism,
question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded
from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle
machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants
are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than
they can carry: this is called transfer
of population or rectification
of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in
the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is
called elimination of unreliable
elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without
calling up mental pictures of them.
That raises an uncomfortable truth for Mr
Obama. His judgment is that the jihadists can be properly dealt with only by
creating long-term stability in Iraq. A similar situation exists in Syria. Yet
the president has long resisted intervening there, and been backed in this by a
war-weary American public and Congress as well as international lawyers. Still,
in the long run America is unlikely to be able to destroy or even contain
militant jihadism without involving itself in Syria.
Does bullshit get any more mealy-mouthed than this? What,
other than an absence of candor and integrity, is preventing The Economist from plainly acknowledging
that what they’re calling for is America to go to
war with Syria?
Mr Obama’s new approach in Iraq seems to be
working. But more decisive action against the jihadists will be needed. The
Americans are back on the ground, and they will be there for a while.
I can’t figure out
why this all sounds so familiar. Oh, wait:
When one watches some tired hack on the
platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of
the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling
that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling
which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's
spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind
them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of
phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The
appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved
as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is
making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be
almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses
in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at
any rate favorable to political conformity
Here are a few questions for The Economist:
If an air traffic
controller had, over time, crashed multiple jets into the tarmac, would you
want him kept on the job? If a surgeon had killed dozens of patients in the
operating room, would you want her to continue performing surgery? If a restaurant
poisoned patron after patron, would you want them to go on serving food?
And if a magazine
continually called for wars that again and again turned out to be catastrophes,
would you take that magazine’s calls for yet more war even remotely seriously?
Or would you surmise that the magazine in question is suffering from an
unhealthily neurotic attachment to war itself, an attachment so profound the
magazine can’t help resorting to breathtakingly Orwellian circumlocutions,
along with frequent trips to the memory hole? And would you then surmise that the
sane and dignified route for such a magazine would be—at a minimum—to write
about topics on which the magazine is other than demonstrably unqualified to
I ask because, if
you can manage to take the personalities out of it, you’ll see the magazine in
question is you.