Notes From the Margins…

Aaronovitch Administers the Hatchet

  • March 23, 2015
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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 intention of writing a hatchet job, and boy, has he delivered.     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.’   But 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 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’ and that voting against a war is as immoral as selling cluster bombs at an arms fair.

In Aaronovitch’s moral universe, it seems,  (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 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 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,  except for 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 now he has the temerity to ridicule an MP who suggests that war is not the answer to the Middle East’s problems?   And he is the one who says that Lucas lacks the capacity for self-doubt or awareness of her own contradictions?     And Lucas is the naive ‘hippy’ wandering around her head in the clouds?

You must be kidding.


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  1. Daniel

    20th Jul 2015 - 3:23 pm

    An absolutely brilliant article – lucid and intellectually engaging. Even now Aaaronovitch clings to the Serbian Genocide that wasn’t as the fake justification for Blair’s subsequent intervention that he supported. You might be interested in my blog that I’ve recently set up – Would you mind if I publish your article by referencing it to your blog? I’m still new to this and am still finding my feet. I would be grateful for any advice. Thanks in advance. Daniel.

    • Matt

      20th Jul 2015 - 3:40 pm

      Hi Daniel – and thanks. No, of course I don’t have any problem with you publishing my piece as long as you link it back to my blog. Good luck with your own. My only advice – and this is simply a personal preference – is whether it is a good idea to have so many posts visible simultaneously on the same page, rather than in a descending order so that readers can easily determine your latest post.

      • Daniel Margrain

        21st Jul 2015 - 2:49 am

        Hi Matt, I agree with you. The problem is I can’t suss out how to change it.

        • Matt

          21st Jul 2015 - 7:49 am

          Are you using WordPress? If so, in your dashboard you should have an ‘appearance’ tab in your lefthand margin. From there you can go to ‘themes’, which should give you a variety to choose from. Presumably, if it’s not WordPress there should be something different in your blog provider.

        • Matt

          21st Jul 2015 - 7:50 am

          Are you using WordPress? If so, in your dashboard you should have an ‘appearance’ tab in your lefthand margin. From there you can go to ‘themes’, which should give you a variety to choose from. Presumably, if it’s not WordPress there should be something different in your blog provider. ‘Customize’ and ‘theme options’ should give you even more choices

  2. Sackerson

    28th Jul 2015 - 6:06 am

    He can’t even get his comics right. It’s not Fat Freddy’s Cat who farts, it’s Fat Freddy himself.

  3. Bryan Hemming

    28th Jul 2015 - 10:27 am

    Aaronovitch’s articles should be published with a warning that it is inadvisable for those with high blood pressure to read them following the consumption of alcohol, or without having administered any prescribed medication for the condition before commencing. Even those with low or normal blood pressure should consult a doctor or their chemist.

  4. Nibs

    7th Aug 2015 - 12:19 pm

    Yes, yes yes.
    Aaronovitch, like Rentoul, Pollard, Finkelstein, Murray, Cohen, Kamm. Ferguson….they all support new bombings of ME countries even as chaos and mayhem grip those they’ve just finished with, such as Libya. And let’s not be stupid: we ARE involved already in Syria, aiding and abetting “moderate rebels” against Assad. That is why this war is so bloody and lasting so long, because US/UK/EU/Isr/Turkey are all basically aiding the foreign fighters against Syrians.
    And those listed, yes I follow them because you have to know what the enemy is doing, not a peep from them during the Gaza slaughter. During that time DA merely retweeted other people complaining about acts of “anti-semitism” in London (often merely loud criticism of Israel), and trying to make out that the UK in 2014 had suddenly become 1930’s Germany….
    These people are shameless, maybe in the pay of security organizations (see Ulfkotte), but zionists to a man (few women), and shout down anyone with the temerity to point out that Iraq/Libya have perhaps not been great outcomes for the local people…
    And they retweet each other shamelessly like a pack of bullies.
    But it’s good sport for those withn a thick skin !!
    And of course they have it in big time for Corbyn (#jezbollah), and their reasons are quite transparent.

    Keep up the good work.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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