Friday, June 27, 2003


A rightist blogger provides links to a series of articles related to a John Sweeney "J'accuse" against John Pilger. I responded as follows:

Sweeney is an utterly contemptible and debased figure. I can cite you personal correspondence with the man that proves he is an absolute liar and completely untrustworthy. Moreover, his evidence is feeble, his attempts to associate his nemesis John Pilger with dictatorship utterly pathetic. Sweeney, I suggest, and the following will confirm it, is simply pursuing a vendetta against the man who has made a fool of him more than once. In particular, John Pilger was slandered mercilessly by Sweeney during the Balkans war because Pilger said the figure of 10,000 Kosovars killed by the Serb authorities was almost certainly inflated by the West. In Philip Knightley's book on war journalism, "The First Casualty", we learn that not only is the evidence on Pilger's side, but US officials publicly admitted that the figure was much lower.

However. To the sanctions and the DU.

The evidence that Sweeney adduces to suggest that John Pilger 'cheated the public and favoured a dictator' is that he hired as his researcher a woman named Felicity Arbuthnot, a journalist for the Scotsman, who had said in a previous article that ‘By early 1992, doctors in Iraq were bewildered by the rise in birth deformities — some so grotesque and unusual that they expected to see them only in textbooks and perhaps once or twice in a lifetime. They compared them to those recorded in the Pacific Islands after the nuclear testing in the 1950s. Cancers, too, were rising, especially among the young, the most susceptible to radiation.’

Now, at no point has John Pilger stated that the cancers started happening exclusively because of the West's bombings, or that they began in 1992. In fact, Pilger makes this explicit in his e-mail to Sweeney. Indeed, what John Sweeney says - while entirely credible - in no way militates against anything that Pilger himself has said or written. So, the 'art' is all on Sweeney's side. He wants Pilger to make proclamations about the verity of points made in an article by Felicity Arbuthnot simply because he once used her as a researcher.

Sweeney's other point is that Pilger has not had a great deal to say about the impact of Saddam's own actions on the population. One would have thought that the reason for this is that he wanted to avoid too much of the obvious. It isn't as if we, in the post-Gulf War climate, are ignorant of Saddam's brutality. On the other hand, many people remain ignorant to some level of the extent and depth of Western involvement and complicity with crimes in Iraq. John Sweeney has not had a single word to say about this. In his BBC 2 'documentary' on the matter, he paused to give us footage of George Galloway uttering some obsequies to Hussein - even though it was not even vaguely connected to his subject matter - but never once showed the photographs of British government ministers shaking Saddam Hussein's hand, or perhaps the infamous one of Donald Rumsfeld (linked below) greasing the hand of the Big Moustache.

So, if you encounter someone who spends their time making false claims about the writing of an anti-war critic, who spends their time trying to hold them accountable for the words of others and who disseminates false information (more to follow on that in a post-script), you can't really call them modern day Zolas. But you could call them 'apologists'. Apologists in the most devious and dubious sense of that word - smearing, lying, cynically distorting the truth. Such people, of course, can always find a home in the pages of the Spectator and the Observer.


Sweeney's record of handling evidence on the sanctions is dubious to say the least. His 'documentary' on BBC 2, which is very much part of this argument, alleged that far from the sanctions crippling Iraq, Saddam had been receiving more than enough money, that he had staged mass baby funerals and had tortured babies himself. He also alleges that the UNICEF figures which show sanctions having a devastating effect on the children of Iraq were propaganda from the Ba'athist regime.

Here's how he does it.

He says "I report by getting on the road and listening to people. All of the Iraqis in our film spoke their own words. We did not script them. Northern Iraq is the only part of Iraq where people can speak freely. They spoke about Saddam and what his regime did."

Which means to say, he gathers anecdotal evidence from people with every reason to be hostile to the Southern half of Iraq. Anecotal evidence is important, and its credibility has to be weighed. But one would hope he doesn't expect us to rely on such stories alone.

Moreover, his sources include a taxi driver, a representative of the PUK and a doctor. And that's 90% of his information.

He doesn't interview Hans von Sponeck or Denis Halliday. The reason he gives me is:

"Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck are not Iraqi."

Neither is he, of course, so I don't know why he expects us to rely on him for information on Iraq. Unless, of course, his point is a worthless evasion.

Perhaps the more empirically sound method of gathering statistics and constructing a general idea of the situation would seem more appropriate.


"On the UNICEF figures, if a government tortures children - and Saddam's
- then is it impossible to imagine that it doesn't torture figures? The
data came from the Iraqi Ministry of Health."

Apart from being a rather tasteless joke, this is blatantly untrue. The figures were gathered by UNICEF who went out into Iraqi communities and households and conducted their own tests. Sweeney is either ignorant or a liar, but whichever he is, he is an apologist for mass murder.

Why does he address only the figures of UNICEF? There are countless aid agencies, human rights agencies and so on who have conducted their own studies and found... Well, for example:

"Most" excess child deaths between August 1990 and March 1998 were "primarily associated with sanctions"? (Garfield, 'Morbidity and Mortality Among Iraqi Children from 1990 Through 1998: Assessing the Impact of the Gulf War and Economic Sanctions', March 1999, available on-line at this website ).


The death rate of children in Iraq is unique, as "there is almost no documented case of rising mortality for children under five years in the modern world". (John Mueller and Karl Mueller, 'The Methodology of Mass Destruction: Assessing Threats in the New World Order', The Journal of Strategic Studies, vol.23, no.1, 2000, pp.163-87)

Or he could have cited Save the Children Fund UK, who have described the economic sanctions against Iraq as "a silent war against Iraq's children"? (Quoted, Voices in the Wilderness UK, March 2002: click here )

Or indeed The Catholic Relief Agency, CAFOD, who have described the economic sanctions against Iraq as "humanly catastrophic [and] morally indefensible"? (Ibid)

Additionally, Human Rights Watch, who have said: "the continued imposition of comprehensive economic sanctions is undermining the basic rights of children and the civilian population generally" and "the [Security] Council must recognise that the sanctions have contributed in a major way to persistent life-threatening conditions in the country"? (August 2000, ibid)

In short, Sweeney accumulates details based on rumours, counterposes them to comprehensive factual analysis based on UNICEF's detailed and methodological work, and then libels UNICEF as auxilliaries to a dictatorship by claiming they got their figures from the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

And John Pilger is supposed to take lessons in morality, accuracy or journalistic responsibility from THIS man?

Thursday, June 26, 2003


The Late Christopher Hitchens has had a book published under two different guises. One, the American version, is a triumphalist neocon story of the West's civilising mission in Iraq. The other, although it has all the same words on the inside, is carefully prepared for the British market. So that while in America, his book is called "The Long Short War; the delayed liberation of Iraq", in Britain it gets the more neutral title "Regime Change". The blurb offers only hints as to what awaits the reader - "Christopher Hitchens cuts through the spin and slogans", "was Tony Blair really a poodle, or is he a principled man?" etc...

For some odd reason, which he has yet to satisfactorily explain, Christopher Hitchens does not read my online writings or consult me before unleashing another torrent of drivel on the world. So, being the helpful individual I am, I thought I would bring it to his attention that he has repeated several false arguments, 'casuistries' to use his favoured term, and also factual inaccuracies from a previously published essay for 'The Stranger', which I already pointed out. Tsk, tsk. If only the Bitchin Hitchens listened.

First of all, we are again treated to the glorious presumption, plastered up and down his essays and scribbled between the lines in demented prose, that the US means to give the Iraqis democracy. He doesn't make an argument for this, he just blandly asserts it.

He often argues that "if the counsel of the peaceniks had been listened to", some awful thing would have happened. In this connection, let us remember the warniks' path after a successful slaughter in the Gulf War which killed between 100,000 and 250,000 people depending which estimates you accept. The Shi'ites, heeding Bush's call to rise up against Saddam, took control of most provinces in Iraq, and were well on their way to a victory over the Ba'athist regime. The US and its allies decided to block this revolt, in various ways. The result was many of the 'mass graves' that are today being discovered perpetually by a fearless media as if to amplify the essential justice of our later intervention. I noted this before, but again Hitchens seems not to have noticed:

"Leaving such mundane considerations as the
motives of the United States aside - because,
remember, their motives may be blemished
even in 'good wars' - we might say a few words
about the likely result of any war. Presumably,
Hitchens would have us believe
that there will be a stable, peaceful democracy
in Iraq. Well, he restricts himself to the 'slim'
hope that the Iraqi regime
will be 'better and safer'. See, that's the thing
with these relative terms. Better and safer could
mean many many things.
It could, for example, mean a government of Tommy
Franks - why not? If the Kosovars can be run by Paddy
Ashdown, why can't
the Iraqis make do with Franks? It could mean a
coalition government of US proxies, it could mean
a protectorate, it could
mean a lot of things. Will it mean democracy?
Not if there is the slightest chance that a Nasser
will be elected and nationalise
the oil supply. Not either if there is a chance
that the Shia majority will vote for their own
Shi'ite parties and align with
Iran - itself, remember, a great prong on the
trident of evil. There would seem little reward
in store for the Iraqis for
their patience while being blown to bits.
And, of course, Brent Scowcroft admitted at the
time of the first Iraq war that when George Bush
called for 'the Iraqi military
and the Iraqi people' to rise against Saddam, the
US actually meant a coup, because it was presumed
that a popular uprising
would end with a pro-Iranian government:
'We clearly would have preferred a coup. There's no question about that.' (Interview
on ABC news 26 June 1997 quoted in Sarah Graham-Brown,
Sanctioning Saddam. The Politics of Intervention in Iraq
(London: I.B. Tauris,1999), p. 19.)
This would explain why General Schwarzkopf
allowed Iraq to fly helicopter gunships in
areas with no coalition forces, effectively freeing them
up to crush the uprising. And General Sir Peter de la Billiere
obviously understood
this when he said: "The Iraqis were responsible
for establishing law and order. You could not administer
the country without using the helicopters." (Ibid.)
John Major put the matter even more succinctly:
"I don't recall asking the Kurds to mount
this particular insurrection.We hope very much
that the military in Iraq will remove Saddam Hussein."
(John Major on ITN, 4 April 1991)

An important history lesson. The Iraqis have every reason to hate the Americans and the British. The Americans therefore have every reason to fear a state representing the majority of Iraqis because it would, it is now self-evident, align with its co-religionists in Iran. The story of liberation is proving to be another "quagmire" .

Another seminal moment of learning could have come for Hitchens had he taken my warnings about his assertions on Saddam's misadventures with oil and a box of matches:

"At any rate, one thing Hitchens does agree with
antiwar cynics on is this - the war is about oil.
"OF COURSE it's about oil, stupid." We are told.
And if you think we shouldn't have a war for the
defense of oil, Hitchens will want to know why you
think oil resources aren't worth protecting. Well?
Isn't oil something precious to be defended for the
sake of our futureand well-being? Particularly if its
under the control of a dangerous and unstable
despot? And don't we remember how cruelly
Saddam ignited the oilfields of Kuwait while
retreating during the last Gulf War and flooded
waterways with fire and pollution?
If you say that Hussein could well do all of
that if attacked again, then Hitchens has news
for you - he did it under an international
guarantee while retreating. So there. He was
out of the war and just did it out of spite.
Except that it is simply untrue.
If Hitchens were to read this, his ears would
bleed at the sememe carried in 'untrue'. This
is a man who, after all, knows
more about the state of the world than most of
us. How could he say something untrue? Well it
is. The first oil slicks were
reported on January 24th, day nine of Gulf Wars: Episode One.
By February 12th, officials had estimated that
the cost of cleaning
the slick that was by then licking the coast of
Saudi Arabia and causing serious problems would be
$ 1 billion. By February 22nd, Bush was condemning
Iraq's 'scorched earth' destruction of Kuwaiti oil
fields. On Saturday 25th February, Iraq announced
that it was withdrawing from Kuwait in accord with
the terms of a Soviet peace deal.

So, if Hitchens' point is that Iraq 'done it before
and would do it again' - they may do, IF ATTACKED.
And if his point is to say that oil is a material
worth fighting for - something he ironically denied
in the LRB debate - then perhaps he should
be honest and say that it is a material worth killing
for. "

Hitchens repeats his untruth, and supplements it with the thought that the Left were 'right' after all, but not in the way it imagined. There was no war!

Well, Mr Hitchens, you too are right, but not in the way you think. You see, to quote Bill Hicks , "a war is where TWO armies are fighting". So, strictly speaking, the war didn't began until after the occupation and the staged toppling of Saddam's statue.

He also repeats the claim that the Kurdish state was set up as a safe haven for the Kurds. He should have paid attention. This will bring his final grade down several notches:

"Would we leftists lift the no-fly zones which are there, apparently, to protect the Kurds? If we are against war, we must
surely oppose this war measure too? This point would be a good deal more impressive if the United States hadn't spent the
last decade thrusting billions of dollars worth of armaments at Turkey so that they could brutalise the Kurds - murder, rape,
gassing, shootings, torture, burning and dismemberment. 75% of Turkey's arms came from the US while it conducted this war.
Some smartass cynics have suggested that the real role of the no-fly zones was to keep the Kurds in Iraq, (not have them spilling
into Turkey), even if that put their safety in jeopardy.
'The logic of the longer-term response to the refugee crisis was largely dictated by Turkey. It wanted the Kurds off Turkish
soil as soon as possible, but not into a separate Kurdish state. The only alternative was some guarantee of safety for
Kurds within Iraqi borders, as [Turkish] President [Turgut] Ozal pointed out: "We have to get [the Kurds] better land
UN controland to put those people in the Iraqi territory and take care of them." (Lawrence Freedman and Efraim
The Gulf Conflict 1990-1991.) Well! Presumably we must support no-fly zones and congratulate the humanitarianism not only
of the US, but also of Turkey, whom we had mistaken for an enemy of the Kurds.

US Assistant Secretary of State Robert H. Pelletreau under Clinton, in response to the question "Has our policy ever
that we would create a safe haven in the north?", was blunt: "That has not been the policy of this administration.
There may
have been some statements in the previous one." (Quoted in Graham-Brown, op cit). One Pentagon spokesman insisted "The
of establishing a no-fly zone - and I would emphasise it's a no-fly zone, not a security zone - is to ensure the safety of
coalition aircraft monitoring compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 688." (Ibid.) And again, Brent Scowcroft
is there to set us straight - 'Without Turkey factored in, with just television pictures, I don't know what our response would
have been. We were very sensitive to Turkey's anxiety about allowing the Kurds to stay. That was fundamentally what motivated
us'. (Ibid.)

Perhaps we could cynically support these no-fly zones if it at least meant that there was a side-effect of benefitting the
Kurds. But since the Iraqi regime has effectively been able to re-take the South, and has operated successfully in the North
where it wants to, one wonders what effect it has had. Add to this the fact that Turkey itself conducted operations in the
northern no-fly zone in 1992, and it must be obvious to all except the most genetically myopic observer that there is no concern
at all for the Kurds in these no-fly zones, and no benefit at all to them. (Voices in the Wildnerness UK (VIWUK), Iraq Crisis
March 2001"

It seems the Late Christopher Hitchens has choked his liver on booze and his brain on 'contrarianism'. And, after reading his pitiful apologetics for the War on Terror, you will need a drink or two.


Denis Thatcher is dead !


There goes another brewery.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003


Imagine the inspired delirium if Nick Griffin, psyclops BNP leader, had addressed his victorous councillors in the local council elections and said, "Today Burnley; Tomorrow Wrexham!!"

Yet, just as the BNP have found themselves so far incapable of spreading beyond their gutter in Burnley, they seem to think they might have located another little cesspit to once again raise the 'ire' of the British Empire with a stout heart and a rolled-up copy of the Daily Mail. The wonderful local press in Britain has a reputation for giving more coverage to small parties, particularly if they happen to be racist parties like the BNP touching a very populist note. The Evening Leader in Wrexham is no exception. It now seems that whenever any racially motivated incident of any kind occurs in Britain, the first thing every news outlet does is consult the BNP. In the wake of 'riots' involving 'locals' and 'asylum seekers', the BNP have been in hot demand. The Today programme on Radio Four was at it again, in what must be the umpteenth time, interviewing Nick Griffin with all the pretense of studied contempt while studiously allowing his most dodgy and ominous statements to slip through. (Noone, for instance, seemed to notice that the phrase "we've got people down there, so we know what's going on" might mean something less than innocent).

But you would have thought that the BBC would have learned from its own investigations of the BNP, in which Panorama induced Nick Griffin to say: "We are good at getting publicity on a shoe string. This organisation, you probably worked out, is basically made with shoestring, ceiling wax and bits of orange peel. We do miracles. So yes, we are good at getting publicity." Yes, indeed they are. But how are the media so easily taken in? Why has no interviewer from Jeremy Paxman to John Humphries asked Nick Griffin about his two year suspended sentence for publishing antisemitic and racist material, about his history of holocaust-denial or about his involvement with the most violent extremist organisations, from Combat-18 to the International Third Position? What about the criminality of so many leading members of the BNP? If the Nation of Islam had a record of violence, theft and rape that could match that of leading BNP members, some would be calling for them to be banned. Why are our media watchdogs so swiftly de-fanged? Is it really that the media are taken in? Or is it something else?

For, isn't it clear that at least one strategy of Third Way capitalism, in order to cow into silence genuine radicals, is to scare them with the devil bogey man of a resurgent far right? Unite with the liberals and even the corrupt centre-right as represented by Jaques Chirac, or you will allow the racists to get in. Don't polarise the situation! Don't protest too much, or you'll get the stupid workers all riled up and they might succumb to the serenading of the Nazis! And of course, what better bogey man to make leftists seek the cuddly protection of 'nice' liberals than Captain One Eye and his band of criminals on the march in the industrial north?

But hold on a minute! There is a complicity going on here between the liberals and the far right, not a literal collusion but a much deeper ideological complicity. Consider the following. The BNP magazine is called 'Identity', which during the Eighties could have been the title of any number of pseudo-leftist publications. The BNP has consistently served up a diet of microwave heated 'multiculturalism' to justify even its most blatantly racist agenda. Griffin himself has even boasted in the media that one of his favourite foods is curry. Isn't the logic here that "well, we agree that there are these different cultures that exist, that's why we think there should be a wire fence in Oldham, so the Asians can have their culture, the whites can have theirs..."?

And what about the man Slavoj Zizek calls the odd paradox of "a politically correct rightwing populist", Pim Fortuyn? Fortuyn was personally gay, a sociologist, he claimed some of his best lovers were immigrants etc. etc. His only contention was that as these Muslims have not been through a Reformation, they are intolerant and unenlightened, and therefore pose a threat to gays like him. (In fact, he spouted much worse nonsense than this, but such was his central PR message).

My God! If 'tolerance', 'multiculturalism' and 'respect for the Other' can be used to justify racism in this way, then I must profess that these liberal canards are worse than useless for fighting racism - they are actually helpful to the cause of the far right.

And isn't the growth of the far right the price the Left plays for toning down its message, for playing a game of slow accomodation with the system? It is as if the Left has (or had, until recently) given up the idea of politicisation, of making systemic analyses and demanding ameliatory measures that were not merely watered down reformism . Why is it that Le Pen felt the need to embrace an Algerian on a live platform in 1998, and tell the crowd that "he is no less French than I am", while berating "unpatriotic" multinationals who sell out French workers? Why is it that the BNP claim to be "the only non-Marxist socialist party" in the North, urging people to join the Amicus union, berating the government for selling out manufacturing workers? Why did they run on a platform of alleged anticapitalism, opposition to the World Bank and IMF, opposition to the Iraq War, environmentalism and so on? Isn't it obvious that by discarding the notion of systemic opposition, the Left allowed itself to become merely a reactive force, saying to governments "you mustn't do that!" while rallying only to stop the latest radical right excess? In this way has the far right been able to take such swift advantage of the degeneration and racialisation of politics.

The answer to this must be a complete rejection of the liberal reinvention of BNP policies - "oh, they take it too far, we don't endorse them, but they do raise serious issues that people are concerned about, so we must..." No. New Labour will never be right wing enough for the BNP. And why should voters accede to Blairite soft-racism if they can have the 'real Armani'? If asylum was really the key issue for these voters, all the Third Way reformers would have to do is abolish the right of asylum into Britain and they could presumably get away with any free-marketeering, privatising agenda they wanted. The truth is, the BNP usurp an anticapitalist dynamic to which they give a racist inflection. The task, therefore, of any serious leftist or antiracist is to give open expression to the anticapitalist feeling, to give it an organisational voice and movement, to articulate the resentment of working class and even middle class people in an anti-racist framework. One hopeful expression of this necessary development was the Stop the War Coalition . Opposition to war unites Muslims with Christians, asylum seekers with the unemployed. Because opposition to a distant war involves recognition that there is no race but the human race and that borders are there, in a way, to keep us in as well as to keep others out.

But perhaps, in case anyone thinks I'm a bleeding-heart in these affairs, we SHOULD try to seperate some cultures, simply for the sake of the security and well-being of ordinary people. Why not? In particular, may I recommend that all members of the BNP be surrounded by a wire fence, a very high wall, several armed snipers and rabies-infested dobermans on chains?


Tony Blair today jumped into a huge pile of shit. At least, we know that his infamous dossiers were collectively the size, weight and quality of a dried cow-pat. Blair took his leap of bad faith at Prime Ministers Questions, offering an unabashed defense of the dossiers and their contents, claiming that not a single facts was disputed.

Quite amazingly, both Daisy Sampson and Andrew Neill took apart this ridiculous posturing (on the Daily Politics, the BBCs equivalent of the Indescribablyboring, sans Robert Fisk ). First, what about the alleged uranium being procured from the Niger, Neill wanted to know? Wasn't that claim based on forged documents? And what of the twelve year old thesis? Not a single fact in that plagiarised thesis was untrue, a former Campbell acolyte averred in coy defense of his one-time master. "But," Neill added, "IT'S TWELVE YEARS OUT OF DATE!!!"

Naturally, the government had "acknowledged" this "mistake". It wasn't the greatest "communications triumph". Quite. But then, lying through your teeth and being caught out is never a terrific PR conquest.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003


Are the "tortured liberals" groping their way to the truth on Iraq?

Timothy Garton Ash first landed this astonishing phrase on an unsuspecting world of Guardian readers, some of whom have known the torture of trying to find anything they like at Waitrose, but might have been shocked at the phrase being used in connection with Iraq. The inappropriateness of this phrase could hardly have been missed, since it was those who had been subjected to the brutality of an increasingly beseiged Ba'athist regime and the bombing of increasingly aggressive Western airjets who had really been tortured. Liberal ambivalence might not have been as impressive to Iraqis at that juncture as it is to Western intellectuals who like to retain a supple intellect that far from being faithful to a single dogma, can at least be faithful to several.

Nevertheless, it would seem that these liberals, some of whom enthusiastically joined the War Party, some of whom (like Garton Ash and David Aaronowitzch) maintained a "tortured" posture of fence-sitting, are now beginning to rediscover the idea of criticising things. Garton Ash himself has encouraged us to "Fight the Matrix" in an alarming fogey reference to youth culture. John Sweeney, who before the war poured scorn on the claims that sanctions were killing Iraqi children (he claimed in a personal correspondence with me that Saddam had "tortured the statistics" because they had been supplied by the Iraqi Ministry of Health - absolute twaddle, of course, because the UN conducted the investigations themselves and constructed the statistics from their findings) has recorded a documentary for BBC 2 pugnaciously entitled "Iraq: Whose Country is it Anyway?". In it, he managed to sustain his support for the American intervention by interviewing a few Iraqis who appeared to be pliant to the goals of America, but nevertheless he did repeatedly question America's actions, its refusal to allow representation of what he called "the moderate Shi'a" opposition, as embodied by the large Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).

David Hare, who was not so much a tortured liberal as a bemused one (the closest he could get to an explanation for the war on Iraq was that Bush was a former alcoholic and displayed the acted out aggression often found among such unfortunates), had at one stage been utterly convinced by the Blair project for re-making the world. The Labour Party conference in 2001 was a sombre farce, and it was capped by the most alarming, sincere evangelical load of old satanic codswallop that Tony Blair has ever managed to concoct. Most delegates watching this presumably felt like someone had shat down their throats, but David Hare was apparently swept up by the glorious thought of Tony Blair healing Africa, the "scar on the world's conscience". If only he'd known that what the Prime Minister meant was that Africa should be privatised and be made the willing or unwilling subjects of live GM crop trials, he might have paused to consider that word "scar" and its previous connections in the Prime Minister's mind. For Tony Blair, the overdog is the victim and the underdog an unwilling subject of his own salvation.

Nevertheless, he has now allowed us to know that he feels "betrayed" - and who can blame him? In his lengthy Guardian column, he does articulate the genuine amazement that many feel at the arrogance and insular smugness of the Blair clique - reminding us, perhaps, of St Augustine's dictum that ignorance is the mother of amazement. Hare also provides the most concise account of the current imperialist division of labour that we are likely to hear: "The deal is this: America provides the firepower; we provide the bullshit."

When liberals start turning on their bullshit-detectors, ideological hegemony is falling apart, because the last place that general disgust and cynicism about the political class registers is the Westminster-Fleet Street-Hampstead zone of credulous liberalism.


It is of course highly amusing to see the American right flapping themselves silly about the Iranian struggle against theocracy. Some of us have been supporting this struggle for years.

When Salman Rushdie was targetted by an Islamic theocrat for assassination because he committed the heinous crime of writing a work of fiction, George Bush senior was asked on the day for his thoughts.

He replied that he couldn't see how any American interest was involved. Christopher Hitchens records Susan Sontag as "making the rather clever reply, 'Well, Mr President, we would make ourselves contemptible if we said that Mr Rushdie's wife is an American and she has also had to go into hiding. But perhaps we might say a word or two about the general interest of the West in preventing death threats being issued by theocrats for the writing of fiction'".

Bush could have condemned this assault on freedom. But then the Republican Party, not withstanding the braying of neocons, has a history of back-door friendship with the Mullahs.

That the rhetoric is now moving toward supporting freedom for Iranians is of course welcome. The utterly blinding and shameless hypocrisy over nuclear weapons is not so welcome. The absurdity of America telling another country off for developing nuclear weapons can hardly be missed. This may have been one reason why the US has failed to persuade the International Atomic Energy Authority to censure Iran for its activities. And of course, Iran has learned a valuable lesson from the Iraq war. States which are defenseless can be attacked at will, with the most flimsy pretexts and virtually no international support. Iraq's subjection to years of inspections rendered it defenseless, defanged in the face of an awesome assault by the world's largest super-power. The lesson has been learned. Get nukes, or get a new country.

Naturally, one wants to see the thermonuclear state permanently eradicated, but that has to start at home, with the most egregious offenders.

And the US government will probably not welcome the fact that those protests which they claim now to support began as protests against privatisation - in the case of the students, privatisation of universities and the introduction of tuition fees. We British students (I begin studies again in September) have much in common with the Iranian students on this matter, as it happens.

So, while the American government may look on with some trepidation and hope at radical demonstrators in Iran, pay tribute to the students who in America would probably have been tear-gassed and vilified in the press, and talk tough on nuclear weapons while themselves being in the possession of the most dangerous nuclear arsenal in the world, we on the Left can say without equivocation that we have always supported the pro-democracy movement in Iran and have done so without hypocritical platitudes and without having done deals with Mullahs.

Still, what the Bush policy lacks in lucidity, it more than makes up for in ludicity. It is a game, Brzezinski's grand chess board. The Bush administration's support for these demonstrators resembles nothing if not the white king cheering on the advance of the black pawns, hoping to coopt or obliterate them.

Images are worth a thousand words (well, two hundred of mine), and some of them show that the temporary indulgence of an Empire usually ends in catastrophe .