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July 04, 2008

Comments

JimmyB

Congratulations on the new job. You will forgive me for being somewhat surprised, however, as I was under the impression that "Kamm is now pretty much blacklisted by the media".

Tom Foster

Congratulations. I'm so delighted about this developed that I felt the need to explain it to the only person within earshot; a rather a-political colleague. He is now thoroughly befuddled, and I am no less enthusiastic.

Mike

Wow.

For those who don't know, The Times has the most prominent leader articles in the media, situated on page 2 where nobody can miss them.

Congratulations.

Mike

The Times is already the most influential newspaper in the country, so anyone who contributes to their leader columns is effectively one of the most powerful journalists in the land.

David Duff

Congratulations, Oliver, just in time to catch the boat as Rupert steers hard a' starbord away from Labour and towards the Tories.

David Boothroyd

Congratulations - given that Times editorials are unsigned, I hope you insert references to your 'usual suspects' so that those of us in the knowledge will identify them.

Fabian from Israel

Congratulations, Oliver!

Michael

Will you be continuing your campaign of criminal harassment of David Lindsay through the Times' leader columns?

(Actually, I bet Lindsay will interpret pretty much everything you write in precisely that light, regardless of what you actually say...)

Jackie Danicki

As someone who read your blog from the very earliest days, this is good news indeed. I could only take greater delight if it were the Guardian whose readers you would be paid to enlighten and wind up...

Tim Newman

What Jackie said. I've been reading your blog from the beginning, it's by far the best place to come for commentary on politics and modern history, particularly Cold War history. More than a few books on my shelf were purchased after being positively referenced on here. Congratulations!

Benjamin

Was it the support for cluster bombs that won it?

Jamie

Well done, Oliver. Like others who have commented, I've been reading from near the very beginning. I hope a move to a British newspaper will allow you to resume some long overdue Lib Dem bashing.

Mark

Congratulations on taking the Murdoch shilling on a more permanent basis.
Does this mean the final curtain on the golden age of the hedge fund ?

wardytron

There must be some mistake. I read on David Lindsay's blog that you were all but unemployable as a journalist. Maybe the gap between being all but unemployable and being actually unemployable is bigger than I'd thought. I look forward to hearing Mr Lindsay's views on this development, and on other matters, of course.

Kellie Strøm

Congratulations.

I wonder do the people happy to write off anything appearing in a Murdoch paper find his kind words for Obama disorienting?

Daniel Simpson

I wonder do the people happy to write off anything appearing in a Murdoch paper find his kind words for Obama disorienting?

I think they were more disorienting to the people who thought Obama's "yes we can" didn't mean them rather than him.

Who reads leaders, incidentally (whatever page they're on)?

Andrew Halper

As someone who has often enjoyed and agreed with your comments, I will look forward to your work in the Times.

However, I -- and I think others as well -- will also look critically, following your recent piece asserting that George Bush Jr had left the world a safer place. That continues to sit, in my view, as a serious misjudgment. And no, I am not a knee-jerk anti-American (I am in fact, in the words of Bernard-Henri Lévy, "un anti-anti-Américain").

Oliver Kamm

Thanks, all, for the kind comments - much appreciated.

Andrew Halper, I hope you will continue to exercise a critical eye on what I write, as the issue you raise will be central to political debate for many years. I stick with my view that, for all my ideological differences with the Bush administration and my horror at the gross mismanagement of Iraq after the fall of Saddam, the President has got one big thing right. He recognised early - not as early as Tony Blair did, but straight after 9/11 - the nature of the war launched against the western democracies, and that till then only one side had been fighting it.

I do not believe that the military campaigns waged by our side since then have been "wars of choice"; confrontation with terrorist groups and the regimes that harboured them (as Saddam's certainly did) was in our future. It is also to Bush's credit that when our side appeared to have lost in Iraq, he ignored the recommendations of Baker-Hamilton to seek a negotiated solution alongside Iran and Syria, and instead appointed Gen Petraeus with a mandate to make Iraq secure.

At last, our side arrived at an effective counterinsurgency strategy, with the result - as Marie Colvin reports in today's Sunday Times - that "American and Iraqi forces are driving Al-Qaeda in Iraq out of its last redoubt in the north of the country in the culmination of one of the most spectacular victories of the war on terror". This is of enormous importance - for Iraqis, for us, and for the values of democratic and secular politics.

Brian Henry from Toronto

Congratualations, Oliver.
This is wonderful news. I agree with you more often than not and even when not I admire your clarity of thought.

Andrew Halper

I don't agree, but there are a number of entangled strands which make up or under-gird your reasoning, so I hope you (and readers of this blog) will be patient as I seek to unpick and disentangle them. (And who knows? If I can turn you around on this or at least broaden your perspectives on this before you take your place at the editorial table at the Times, it will have been worth my while writing this.....)

It is of course good that Bush recognised that we were fighting against what together with Hitchens I would term Islamo-facism (which I readily accept is not synonymous with "Islam"). Good for Bush that he realised that: certainly many - especially on the left - failed to grasp that truth (we all remember the shameful commentaries in the London Review of Books issue immediately after 9/11.....)

But recognising the nature of the danger is not the same as taking effective action against it, nor does it equate to "leaving the world a safer place". One can recognise the danger and still take ineffectual action, or only tardily take effective action or acts, and along the way make sufficient errors to end up either leaving the world less safe, or at least have failed to demonstrably left it safer. That, in effect, is the correct set of conclusions to draw.

We needed to confront this danger of Al-Qua'eda, and "the regimes that harboured them", but frankly, Iraq's support for AQ was small beer compared to the support it received from important elements within the Saudi and Pakistani state apparatuses. And Bush hardly lifted a finger against them.

Then there is the maladresse with which he prosecuted the war in Iraq (which I am on record as having supported, with caveats about waging it properly, with sufficient force and with proper post-victory planning and administration). This resulted in a huge increase in avoidable civilian deaths, massive destruction (post-victory) of infrastructure, and the inflow of large numbers of AQ supported or inspired "insurgents". (I trust readers are beginning to wonder with me when we are going to get to the "safer world" stage.....)

Then there is the issue of war crimes (Abu Ghraib etc) and other human rights abuses (Guantanamo etc), none of which makes the world particularly safer, especially for our troops now and going forward who have to incur the risks of capture. I have no illusions about the whole world following the niceties of the relevant Conventions but this behaviour from the West's largest democracy will not have made our world safer.

I really should stop because this is getting very long.....but to summarise, I emphatically agree that Islamo-facism has to be confronted and wherever possible and necessary (yes, both), this should unflinchingly be manu militari. I also agreed (although this is really a separate issue) that Saddam's criminal regime needed to go - and I am not persuaded that doing so was against international law (I am a lawyer and former diplomat, for what that is worth).

But none of this adds up to having made the world a safer place. Nor, of course, can one prove that Bush made it more dangerous. But that is my assessment. I think you are mixing up (a) recognition of certain dangers, (b) willingness to take action to parry them, and (c) whether the actions taken really do make the world safer.

It's not an exercise which readily lends itself to quantifiable analysis, but you are confusing your convictions with the efficacy of Bush's actions. Bottom line: your convictions are right, his acts have been more blunder and harmful than helpful.

Regards

Andrew

smb1971

Oliver Kamm wrote: He [George Bush] recognised early [...] the nature of the war launched against the western democracies, and that till then only one side had been fighting it."

Yahoo.com > Directory > Society and Culture > Mythology and Folklore > Folklore > Folk and Fairy Tales > Authors > Oliver Kamm

Stuart

Andrew Halper, I think that you are in somewhat closer agreement with Oliver [and, on this issue, with me] than you might care to admit!

Oliver's assertion [and Oliver, please excuse and correct my somewhat ineloquent substitute for your own words] was not that the world was the safest it could be, nor that it shouldn't be safer than it currently is. We are all in agreement that the conduct of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly the former, have been deeply flawed. Had President Bush prosecuted those wars properly, as well he could and ought to have done, the world would be a safer place than it is today. Even apart from the [considerable] innate moral offence of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and the like, these also represent important mistakes in terms of a political campaign against Islamism.

In spite of all of those mistakes, though, President Bush at least took the one most important and fundamental decision: to start fighting back in a war that had started without us. You are quite right that much has been done wrongly, and that we should now be safer than we are. But Oliver's suggestion is that the world is safer now than it was then, on account of President Bush's decision. And it is certainly safer than it might have been, had we been subject to a President Kerry. On at least the former of those two, I suspect there is comparatively little disagreement between us.

History will be kinder to President Bush than we have been since 2001, largely because history is written with rather more consideration than is afforded by BBC sub-editors.

peter

Andrew wrote: "But recognising the nature of the danger is not the same as taking effective action against it, nor does it equate to "leaving the world a safer place". One can recognise the danger and still take ineffectual action, or only tardily take effective action or acts, and along the way make sufficient errors to end up either leaving the world less safe, or at least have failed to demonstrably left it safer."


An additional problem for policy decisions about military actions in democracies is this: The tactical and strateic effectiveness of military action can depend crucially on military morale, which in turn can depend crucially on whether the military feels supported (morally and/or financially) by the wider community from which they come. Support by the wider community in a democracy for a military action can in turn depend crucially on whether that community feels it was adequately consulted in the decision-making process which led to the military action. In other words, the effectiveness of a strategy can depend crucially on the process used to arrive at it. This is the real lesson of Vietnam for the USA.

A decision may be wise, the military action appropriate, financially-supported and tactically effective, and yet the policy may still fail because the citizenry believe that they were not part of the decision-making process. They may believe this even when they support the actual decision taken. For a US President to say publicly, as George W. Bush did, that he need not explain his decisions, shows just how little he understood about winning and sustaining public support for his policies, and thus how little, ultimately, he understood about military effectiveness in a democracy.

As George Packer, writing in The New Yorker on 4 July 2005, noted:

"In the fall of 2002, it still might have been possible for President Bush to construct an Iraq policy that united both parties and America’s democratic allies in defeating tyranny in Iraq. Such a policy, however, would have required the Administration to operate with flexibility and openness. The evidence on unconventional weapons would have had to be laid out without exaggeration or deception. The work of U.N. inspectors in Iraq would have had to be supported rather than undermined. Testimony to Congress would have had to be candid, not slippery. Administration officials who offered dissenting views or pessimistic forecasts would have had to be heard rather than silenced or fired. American citizens would have had to be treated as grownups, and not, as Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew Card, once suggested, as ten-year-olds." (page 54).

Kellie Strøm

Except of course that both US parties were more united in 2002 than some were prepared to remember in 2005, and international unity would only have come at the price of taking the invasion option off the table.

I don't think George Packer's opinion pieces are always quite up to the high standard of his reporting.

Jeff Landaw

I should have said mazel tov when I first saw this. Let me say it now.

Samuel Coates

Congratulations Oliver, an inspired choice. Recently read anti-authoritarianism. Brilliant book.

Jeff Lewelling

The Monday morning quarterbacking here is sickening (that is probably too strong a word for the collegial atmosphere here so I apologize but do not retract since it is my sincere reaction). Please ANY of the scholars of history commenting here(Mr. Kamm included) please cite the well, nay perfectly executed strategy to over throw a ME dictator who terrorized his country of multiple ethnicities for 30 odd years and replace it with a stable self governing political entity.

"This resulted in a huge increase in avoidable civilian deaths, massive destruction (post-victory) of infrastructure, and the inflow of large numbers of AQ supported or inspired "insurgents". (I trust readers are beginning to wonder with me when we are going to get to the "safer world" stage.....)"

This is the rambling of a spoiled brat sitting comfortably in his armchair declaiming on the stupidity of those with the courage to take on the enemies who would literally torture him and his loved ones to death if they got the chance.

It has only been what, 5 years? since the decision was made to over throw the only current unstable dictator who had actually USED WMDS and had a documented history of developing them in secret. The cost in lives and treasure to the US is great in the sense any such expenditure on a destructive activity is great but is relatively, even extraordinarily, small in any historical sense.

Now I am rambling. I also am an early reader of this blog and congratulate Mr. Kamm on the position at the Times.

Cheers,

J. Lewelling

peter

Well, Jeff Lewelling, some of us (including some of us who supported action against the Hussein regime) were arguing for a better explanation and justification for US military action in Iraq well before the invasion. I guess that makes us Sunday morning quarterbacks!

Andrew Halper

Two points:

First of all, in response to Stuart's comment that "In spite of all of those mistakes, though, President Bush at least took the one most important and fundamental decision: to start fighting back in a war that had started without us. You are quite right that much has been done wrongly, and that we should now be safer than we are. But Oliver's suggestion is that the world is safer now than it was then, on account of President Bush's decision. And it is certainly safer than it might have been, had we been subject to a President Kerry."

Stuart, the fact that Bush took a decision to start fighting back does not mean that he has therefore left the world a safer place. This is to mix up intentionality with effect. In my view to say that is simply to abandon our critical judgment. Maybe an analogy will help. Let's take the landing at Dieppe (1942). This was intended to...well, what? Defeat the Nazis, because it involved an assault on Nazi positions? I guess that was the intention but in fact it was a bloody poorly conceived and negligently planned disaster, and Mountbatten's military ability should have been judged accordingly.

Your other point, Stuart, is to assert that
the world "is certainly safer than it might have been, had we been subject to a President Kerry." Hang on: "certainly" safer than it "might" have been under Kerry?! What happened to probative logic? In addition to which, there is absolutely no evidence that the old slander against Democrats (that the cannot be trusted with wars) has any foundation. At least he fought in Vietnam.....more than Bush did.

Finally, J Lewelling: the "rambling of a spoiled brat"? I would urge you to adopt civilised standards of debate, and avoid ad hominem arguments against someone you don't even know!!

Jeff Lewelling

Finally, J Lewelling: the "rambling of a spoiled brat"? I would urge you to adopt civilised standards of debate, and avoid ad hominem arguments against someone you don't even know!!

That is a fair comment. I apologize for descending into what I see clearly now to be a childish taunt.

If I can be forgiven that indiscretion let me say to those who were looking for a better explanation as to why the President invaded Iraq: well what more than the numerous UN resolutions and an act of Congress authorizing the invasion? Indeed UN Resolution 1441, which summed up the serious nature of Saddam's defiance and the dangers to the world it entailed, (though it did not itself give the UN's imprimateur to using force the way, say, the Act of Congress did for the US legislature) rhetorically is decisive in explaining why a country like the US would see reason to use force. Sunday morning quarterbacking? I simply can't see how through all the vigorous debate in the US and around the world one could then say they needed "a better explanation and justification." If the explanation and justification worked for Republicans and Democrats, Labor and Conservative at the time not sure what you were holding out for.

Of course if after 5 years in, it turned out to be quite a painful struggle then...

But as I pointed out above, the "disaster" " fiasco" or as Mr. Kamm puts it: "my horror at the gross mismanagement of Iraq after the fall of Saddam,etc." (quel horror!) A horror, fiasco etc compared to what exactly? It appears now that after a mid course correction the Iraq war may be a significant victory against a violent, savage enemy of civilization which by the way rescues the hopes and lives of countless Iraqi's today and generations to come who otherwise were looking at an existence of misery and tyranny. Quite like most successful wars that I can think of and its attendent "horrors" in relation to other wars not of the stand out variety (which isn't to say terrible things happened. But the point is terrible things ALWAYS happen in war. What perspective is being utilized to fetishize the horrors of Iraq? No Katyn massacre for instance)

What method, strategy had been implemented more successfully than the Iraq war? Please enlighten me as to the military intervention against such a distiguished foe of modern civilization that did not have horrors or casualties to the extant seen in Iraq? I would argue NONE. Though if someone can provide an example by all means.

Jeff Lewelling

andrew halper

Jeff Lewelling has been embarrassed into toning down his splenetic and silly rhetoric, but he is still missing the point. This debate has been about the soundness of Oliver's judgement that GW Bush, whatever mistakes he made, has left the world a safer place than he found it. It has not been about the justification for going into Iraq to unseat Saddam and install a different form of government.

As "Peter" posted above, some of us (I am one of them) who argue that Bush did not leave the world safer also supported the idea of unseating Saddam (whether for WMD violations, or on the basis of an acceptance or advocacy of humanitarian intervention, or both).

This issue of Bush's legacy is not a mathematical or quantifiable exercise, nor is it an experiment in which, as a "control" we can observe two alternatives: 2000-2008 with Bush, and 2000-2008 without him. Rather, it is a question of political and historical judgement. My own judgement is that Oliver's original assessment was far off the mark...or maybe just a question of going one step too far out of a desire to counter those who offered no real alternative to the continued rein of what Christopher Hitchens has rightly termed "Saddam's psychotic crime family". But I still think Oliver was wrong on the Bush point!

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