Notes From the Margins…

Last Flight of the Liberal Bombardiers

  • September 09, 2013
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Liberal interventionism is a serious business that requires tough, decisive men who are ready for the long haul, not sissies or whimps.   No matter how many disasters unfold, no matter how many times the outcome of these interventions departs from their original predictions and expectations, such men must always ready for the next one,   in the hope that success will wipe away the memory of all the others and that they will ultimately emerge triumphant and vindicated, hoisting tattered flags of moral superiority like the Marines on Iwo Jima.

Cometh the hour, cometh the men.     With Team Obama pinned down by a sceptical and disbelieving world under a hail of its own lies, contradictions, and inconsistencies, and with his  key ally temporarily neutralized by that previously dormant and acquiescent instrument, the British parliament,   some of Britain’s most hardened and fervent liberal bombers have once again felt the bracing and intoxicating impact of moral combat, and roused themselves from restaurant tables and liquid lunches to hit the keyboards in an   attempt to mobilize public opinion for another exemplary display of imperial violence.

These are pundits with pedigree and experience, grizzled veterans of the combat zones in Afghanistan,   Iraq and Libya,   men with an endless array of dictators in their gunsights, always ready for new monsters to slay, and new wars for other people to fight and die in, for whom every new war is an opportunity to do battle once again with those enemies of freedom and justice who come within the generic label ‘the left.’

Clearly sensing that their latest adventure is in deep trouble, these freedom fighters have in the last week launched what appears to be a collective strike or a journalistic equivalent of the US military tactic of swarming.   First up was David Aaronovitch, the credulous pundit who once predicted that Iraqis would welcome Coalition troops with flowers and swore that he would never believe his government ever again if WMD were not found.

In a  vitriolic attack on Ed Miliband in the Times (subscribers only), Aaronovitch railed against last week’s vote,  and asked ‘How has Labour ended up in situation whereby a major attack with chemical weapons could happen without a significant response by this country in concert with its allies?’

The answer, Aaronovitch concluded,   lay in Miliband’s personal character and a lack of moral compass that meant that he was nothing more than a ‘political vulture’.   This position was supported by Blair’s biographer John Rentoul, still shuffling along in his master’s footsteps, with a sneering piece in The Independent praising Cameron for his principled condemnation of ‘peacenik jaw jaw’ and accusing Labour of bad faith for opposing military strikes

In his blog Rentoul more overtly supported his comrade-in-arms Aaronovitch, and described Miliband’s supposed pusillanimity as ‘ deplorable’ and ‘ extraordinary and spineless.’

Then there was Niall Ferguson, swooping low over Damascus with a piece in The Guardian that accused the left of an ‘irrational fear of American intervention’.  According to Ferguson when faced with human rights violations in Syria and other countries, leftists are ‘ deeply reluctant to will the means to end the killing, for fear  of acknowledging that western meaning, in practice, American military power can be a force for good.’

Ferguson does not even begin to explain how bombing Syria can ‘end the killing’,   nor does he address the possibility that opposition to American military power might in fact be rooted in the experience of previous interventions, rather than political zealotry or irrationality.

Ferguson’s main target was Obama, not Miliband.   Never one to hide his light under a bushel, he  praised himself for his ‘predictive power’ in previously describing Obama as a vacillating president, whose ‘addiction to half- and quarter-measures’ he describes as ‘complacency’ and ‘callousness.’

Whatever you can say about Obama,   there are few commentators on the Middle East who are more callous or complacent than Ferguson, who has never shown any willingness to reflect on the catastrophic ‘interventions’ he supports so avidly.     For Ferguson, bombing Syria has less to do with human rights than it does with bombing Iran, in order to stop ‘the mullahs’, as he calls them, from acquiring nuclear weapons.

This is a man who earlier this year described a putative bombing campaign as ‘creative destruction’ and has repeatedly proved himself to be a pitiless advocate of imperial violence.  The liberal bombardiers completed their raid on Sunday with an attack on Miliband’s lack of ‘moral leadership’ piece on by Nick Cohen in The Observer, in a piece that even by his lowly standards, was shrill, hollow, manipulative, and intellectually dishonest.

Cohen uses words like ‘moral’ a lot when it comes to supporting US/British wars,   but he increasingly resembles an angry toddler, brooding in his sandpit and pulling pieces off   strawmen and the ‘ assorted creeps, kooks, crackpots, conspiracy theorists, collaborators and criminals on the planet’ who are, for him, the only people who do not think it is a good thing for the Imperium to blitz Syria or any other country that it chooses.

Any piece that begins with a sentence like ‘It would be dishonest of me to try to out-Jew Ed Miliband’ is going downhill fast, and it isn’t long before Cohen declares that Miliband’s reluctance to bomb Syria in response to the Ghouta chemical weapons incident means that the Labour leader no longer has the moral right to criticize the Holocaust.

Readers of this blog will know that I’m not a particular fan of Ed Miliband.     But I do believe that he showed political courage in not allowing himself to be dragooned into military action. Contrary to what his attackers are saying, he has not in fact ruled it out completely, but only referred the debate back to the United Nations and made it dependent on the UN Inspectors report.

Neither Aaronovitch, Rentoul or Cohen have asked any questions about the eagerness of the US and Britain to undermine and ignore that report, or manipulate the flow of information from Syria, or the numerous inconsistencies and holes in the Obama administration’s case against the Assad regime regarding chemical weapons, or the constantly shifting narratives between ‘deterrence’, ‘degrading’ and ‘regime change’ that have accompanied the US propaganda offensive.

None of them appeared to have weighed up the potential consequences of military action for Syria or the region, or considered any other response except to bomb.   But then it was exactly the same for all the other wars that they supported, with virtually identical arguments.

One test of intellectual honesty and integrity is an ability to change one’s mind when presented with new facts or information.   None of the liberal bombardiers have ever done this.     They simply assume that their position is ‘moral’ and then insist that the interventions they support are moral too, and that anyone who takes a different view somehow lacks any   morality except for kneejerk ‘anti-Americanism.’     They create cardboard caricatures and charge at them like Don Quixote attacking windmills.

Worst of all, they believe and recycle every piece of information they receive from above without even questioning it, and then they have the temerity to accuse those who take a more critical view of being ‘conspiracy theorists.’

Contrary to what they believe, I don’t really find anything ‘moral’ or ‘brave’ about that.

And even though it is possible to respect one’s political opponents or people you don’t agree with, I’m afraid I can’t summon up any respect at all for this disreputable shower.

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  1. Richard Carter

    9th Sep 2013 - 10:21 am

    One more name you might have added to the List of Shame is that of Paddy Ashdown. In the aftermath of Parliament’s rejection of Cameron’s absurd rush to war, Pantsdown penned this piece in the Guardian:

    Amongst other silly and dishonest claims in the piece is this: “There is a dangerous mood of isolationism running in our country,” and he also poses the question “Why then would we need the world’s fourth most expensive defence forces?” without drawing the obvious (to anyone not blinded by the punching above our weight argument) conclusion.

    • Matt

      9th Sep 2013 - 11:31 am

      Yes I could have mentioned him, but time and space…You’re absolutely right though, Ashdown was not remotely interested in considering other possible answers to the question he posed.

  2. Niall C

    9th Sep 2013 - 3:00 pm

    Just came across this gem of a quote over at
    and thought you might appreciate it.
    Samantha Power arguing that an intervention would bring the Assad regime to the negotiating table: “This operation combined with ongoing efforts to upgrade the military capabilities of the moderate opposition should reduce the regime’s faith that they can kill their way to victory.”

    After all only western interventions can ever kill their way to victory.

    • Matt

      9th Sep 2013 - 3:33 pm

      You said it. But this quote is yet further proof that Obama & Co don’t really know what their ‘operation’ is going to achieve. I mean they aren’t even sure about the intended consequences, and they certainly don’t seem to have a clue about the potential unintended consequences…

  3. Richard Carter

    10th Sep 2013 - 10:46 am

    There was a very interesting juxtaposition in last night’s Evening Standard. Firstly, John Kerry was bleating about the use of chemical weapons in Syria: “What the United States is seeking – not alone but with others, an increasing number – is to enforce the standard with respect to the use of chemical weapons.” (

    All very laudable, but what’s this? On page 28 we read that British surgeons have just spent two weeks helping Vietnamese children “who are battling serious ailments caused by the herbicide Agent Orange. The chemical was sprayed by the US soldiers during the war … 150,000 cases of birth defects can be linked to its use.” Furthermore, Da Nang has the highest incidence of congenital deformity in the world. (

    Kerry himself fought in the Vietnam war so he hardly claim to be ignorant of the huge use of this chemical weapon by his own country’s forces. What nauseating hypocrisy!

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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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