There's always a slight danger in taking a short break from polemic, lest it be interpreted as a desire to evade discussion rather than defer it. I was sorry to see, in this context, that one of my readers, the Guardian diarist Jon Henley, feels let down by my stated intention not to update this site in the month of December. I thus hasten to reassure him and any who share his feelings.
Mr Henley graciously brings my opinions to the attention of Guardian readers from time to time, and I certainly appreciate his efforts. While I've written a couple of op-ed columns on foreign policy for the newspaper this year, and a couple of additional pieces for its Comment is Free site, Guardian readers will obviously find a much fuller account of my political views on this site. As I consider those views to be in the traditions of liberal and social democratic thinking on international affairs - and thus also in accord with the values of the Guardian itself - I'm glad to have my blog commended to the newspaper's readers, especially in the unjustifiably generous way that that Mr Henley described it in yesterday's paper:
But what with the excellent Iraq Study Group finally publishing its long-awaited encomium to Mr Tony's action-packed Iraqi adventure and all, we would imagine this column's favourite hedge-fund-trading leftist and staunch advocate of the war, Mr Oliver Kamm, will be mighty relieved he's already pledged not to update his important and influential blog for the whole of December. A shame, really; we were rather looking forward to Ollie's condemnation of the report's misguided authors as a pernicious bunch of Chomsky-reading Muslim-huggers.
It's probably not true to say that this blog is important and influential, but it is accurate to identify me as a leftist and a supporter of the Iraq war. In my defence against the charge of reticence, I should say that I accepted an invitation to discuss the Iraq Study Group report on BBC television on the day of publication, and - despite my sabbatical from blogging - summarised on this site immediately afterwards what I had said. I hope that that post, while abbreviated, will stem Mr Henley's disappointment. In the meantime, I will undertake to write at least occasionally in December, rather than abjure blogging altogether as I had originally intended.
Mr Henley's prognostication about my views on Baker-Hamilton is not accurate, but he does raise an important issue. It is unlikely that the report's authors are readers of the political works of Noam Chomsky. But one point we liberal-democratic internationalists have made, not just since 9/11 but since the end of the Cold War, is that there is a curious and increasing convergence in the views of 'realist' and 'progressive' opponents of US foreign intervention. For example, in an article I wrote for Prospect magazine last year about Chomsky, I recalled:
In The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many (1994), Chomsky considered whether the west should bomb Serb encampments to stop the dismemberment of Bosnia, and by an absurdly tortuous route concluded "it's not so simple." By the time of the Kosovo war, this prophet of the amoral quietism of the Major government had progressed to depicting Milosevic's regime as a wronged party: "Nato had no intention of living up to the scraps of paper it had signed, and moved at once to violate them."
Chomsky's opposition to Western intervention against Serb aggression was cast in classically realist terms. (I quote in my book Anti-Totalitarianism the full passage from Chomsky's 1994 interview. Chomsky's argument was that intervention would have all sorts of destabilising consequences - almost all of which, as it happens, turned out to be purely imaginary once the West belatedly did intervene militarily.) Similar arguments were put by many left-wing opponents of regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq.
To my mind, it is bizarre that James Baker - James Baker - should be seen as a model for how to think about foreign policy by liberal and left-wing commentators. I do not share Mr Henley's judgement that the ISG report was excellent. The report appears to me - and I read it in full on the day of publication - more like a reassertion of a foreign policy school that has over several decades damaged both the moral standing of the Western powers and our long-term security.
I have written so many words on this subject, here and in my book and in other publications, that it would be tedious - especially for my readers - to repeat them. But I'll point in any event to the fact that such a policy was exemplified in the notorious tilt by the Reagan administration to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. So far from securing a stable balance of power in the region, our shoring up the position of Saddam made him eager to repair the self-inflicted damage to Iraq's economy by invading and annexing Kuwait. Baker's service as Secretary of State under the first President Bush extended to presiding over a criminal indifference to the fate of Kurdish and Shi'ah insurgents under Saddam's tyranny immediately after the first Gulf War. The West encouraged that uprising, yet did nothing to intervene when Saddam slaughtered in a single month (March 1991) scores of thousands who took part in it. That non-intervention was a moral catastrophe, and a threat to our own long-term security.
I fear that Baker's recommendations regarding Iran and Syria follow the same pattern. Of course we should stand ready to engage, and even negotiate, with our enemies. But the notion that we should do so without preconditions - overlooking Iran's nuclear deception and Syria's murderous attacks on Lebanese politicians - makes a mockery even of the diplomatic efforts of the European Union and the United Nations, and not only the interventionist policies of the Prime Minister, of which I have long been a strong supporter.