Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

This time we need the complete truth

New Statesman Leader (April 17 2006)

With a conventional, if not nuclear, strike in prospect, we have an absolute right to know the extent of Iranチfs weapons capability

Courage takes many forms. It can be the journalist going against the grain. It can be the civil servant risking jail in order to expose malfeasance by the state. This week the New Statesman provides a platform for these two sets of people passionate about matters of war and peace.

As attention turns again to the prospect of US-led military action, this time against Iran, it may be apposite that a group of journalists and thinkers who supported the Iraq war, in the face of opprobrium from their peers, has chosen this moment to set out a manifesto for what they believe to be the true path of an internationalist left. Their choice of the NS, which has led the public discourse in opposition to the Bush-Blair adventure in Iraq, might seem curious. Perhaps this awkwardness makes the debate all the more welcome on our pages. We publish the full text on our website: .
We are keen to hear all points of view in response.

There is much to commend in this manifesto, whose genesis and thesis are set out by Norman Geras and Nick Cohen on page 14. It espouses the principles of democratic elections, freedom of speech and assembly, and fundamental human rights as codified in the Universal Declaration. It supports equality in all its forms, and declares the need for reform of international institutions to ensure a more equitable outcome from free trade. It advocates a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which guarantees the right of self-determination for both peoples.

So far, so good. We can all agree on the above. At this point, however, it becomes trickier. The authors of the document claim among their number several people who opposed the Iraq war. That may be the case, and ours is not to question those people's reasons for aligning themselves in this way. But the impetus that has driven many of those involved in recent years has been a mistrust of the anti-war movement. This manifesto, for all its merits, cannot resist retreating into the rhetoric of the angry minority. Critics of the Bush administration should not be blithely accused of anti-Americanism; similarly, condemnation of the often violent expansionism by a right-wing Israeli government should not be cheaply labelled anti-Semitism.

It really should not be hard to disentangle these issues. Judging by its internal political structures, Israel is a democracy, and its right to exist must be unarguable. At the same time, particularly when criticism of Israel is extremely rare in the cowed US media, it is incumbent on the rest of the world to try to ensure that Israel withdraws in full from the territories it illegally occupied and that, if it wishes to erect barriers, it does so within the internationally recognised boundaries.

On Iraq, time and again, the pro-war "left" fell back on polemic rather than argument, whipping itself into apoplexy when its views were challenged. It simply will not do to level accusations of appeasement against those who provided evidence to show that the case for war had not been made.

These self-styled progressives should now surely admit that, whatever the theory underpinning humanitarian intervention, on its execution in Iraq they got it spectacularly wrong in just about every respect - to the long-term detriment of the internationalist cause they profess to espouse and which we, in the broadest sense, support.

This matters less for the past than for the future. If there is to be military action against Iran (and we desperately hope there will not), the least we can expect of our leaders, as the whistleblower Katharine Gun points out on page ten, is that they should be open and truthful. It is not for the government to conceal from us the state of affairs. It is not for commentators to provide an imprimatur for politicians' half-truths.

With a conventional, if not nuclear, strike in prospect, and with Iran keen to boast about its technological advances, we have an absolute right to know the extent of Iran's weapons capability and why it is that some states are given carte blanche to develop a nuclear capability, in violation of the non-proliferation treaty (Israel, Pakistan, India), while others are not. Get the facts out, however awkward, and unlike last time a proper and respectful debate can be had. For that to happen, all involved will need to show genuine courage.

Copyright New Statesman 1913 - 2006

Bill Totten


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