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Readers respond to recent articles published in The Spectator

19 April 2003

12:00 AM

19 April 2003

12:00 AM

Comment on The end of the beginning by Michael Ledeen (12/04/2003)

Michael Ledeen’s analysis of how the United States will approach other ‘evil’ states, namely Syria and Iran, shows signs of hysteria from the start. Ledeen tells us that ‘Today, both Iran and Syria are engaged in a desperate terrorist campaign against coalition forces in Iraq.’ Yet the evidence suggests that Iran has shown a complete lack of interest in events over the border, and that Syria has helped a few hundred zealous young men to their deaths in Baghdad. This hardly constitutes a ‘desperate terrorist campaign’. He claims later that Iran and Syria will kill us in Iraq and Afghanistan and in our homelands; again, where is his evidence?

Ledeen also fingers Hezbollah as an instrument of Syrian and Iranian evil in the Middle East. But Hezbollah is now almost completely independent of both Damascus and Tehran. Iran and Syria may occasionally have influence, and serve to restrain Hezbollah, but the days are long gone when Hezbollah took orders from Khomeini and money from Damascus. If you want to deal with Hezbollah, then deal with Hezbollah.

Finally, Ledeen rails against attempts to engage with Iran. Admittedly, the process of democratization in Iran has not been as rapid as Iranians would like, but progress has and continues to be made. Improving relations with Iran will strengthen its diverse reform groups, and trade will erode the economic strength of hardliners. Denouncing Iran will not.

Ledeen’s most grievous error is his suggestion that Reza Pahlavi, the Shah’s son, lead Iran into democracy. Pahlavi is not “widely respected‘ in Iran, he is widely ignored. The last thing Iran’s reformers need, as they insist upon their legitimacy, is outsiders crowning the Shah’s son as their new leader. The US and UK restored the old Shah to his throne in 1953, and the Iranians haven’t forgotten it. We should now learn from our mistakes as Iranians learn from theirs.
Simon Kitchen

It is unfortunate that people are only now becoming wise to the long-held intentions of Mr. Ledeen and his ilk, who have long since won the debate inside the Bush administration. When Mr. Bush spoke of an “axis of evil,” the more prescient among us knew that this meant war against the countries named, sooner or later, even though deceivers such as Mr. Ledeen continued to pretend that war was not inevitable. Now that Mr. Ledeen and his fellow jingoists have forced us to invade Iraq without good reason, we are now informed that we must “defend” ourselves against a regional backlash. This was probably always the intention of men such as Mr. Ledeen–to suck us into a series of wars, knowing that neighbouring states would try to exploit the chaos of Iraq to strike at the U.S. and deliver humiliating setbacks to the Americans. Opponents of the war knew all along that the war could very easily become a regional conflict, especially if the administration has desired it to become a regional war.

The backlash was wholly predictable and perfectly understandable from the view of the established interests of Damascus and Tehran. When the Badr Brigades are declared to be hostile forces before they have even begun to act, even though they represent the largest Iraqi Shi’ite organisation, how can the Shi’ite theocracy and the Shi’ite dictatorship stand by, in sheer realpolitik terms, while their Iraqi allies are targeted by the “liberation”? Those who accepted the WMD or antiterrorism rationales for attacking Iraq must now realise that they have been conned (neo-conned, you might say). Iraq is to become a staging ground for a pro-Israel Lebensraum, and Americans will be sent to die to create it. If there was any doubt about the blatantly pro-Israel motives of Mr. Ledeen and his co-conspirators before now, I very much hope that this doubt is now erased.

Mr. Ledeen is not just a lunatic talking head; he represents the sorts of ideas that are frequently circulated at the highest levels of “defence” planning in the Bush administration. The invasions of Syria and Iran are only a matter of time, unless Mr. Bush is stopped by the U.S. Congress and an American people awakened to the dangers of empire building. This time there are no U.N. resolution fig leaves to cover the naked aggression that is likely going to happen. There will be no “coalition of the willing” (not that there was much of one this time), and the terrain and peoples of these two lands will prove to be far less welcoming to American armies than was the case in Iraq.

On the whole, I doubt very much that Mr. Ledeen is telling the truth about the active infiltration or attacks by Syrian and Iranian government-sponsored forces against Anglo-American forces. Deceit has never been below the War Party before now, and they will not hesitate to use it again if it serves their turn. Syrian possession of chemical weapons is hardly a secret; neither is Israeli possession of the same weapons. What would be Mr. Ledeen’s point in bringing it up, except to push the discredited and absurd “disarmament” justification once more? As in Iraq, this possession of such weapons is not a cause for war.

On a point of fact, Syro-Iranian cooperation is not some sort of astonishing novelty or a recent creation. No one ever said that it was unlikely. Besides the obvious advantages of having an ally opposite a powerful, hostile neighbour, the Assads are Alawi Shi’ites and have always been willing to cooperate with the Shi’ite theocracy in Iran. On another point of fact, Iran is a democracy of sorts (they do elect their own government, albeit under certain constraints), though it is constitutionally hampered. Every step towards military intervention that Mr. Ledeen and his ilk take with regard to Iran strengthens the mullahs for the time being and pushes the people away from Westernising attitudes. For all the repression and statism in Iran, it is ludicrous to compare the Iranian government with the one recently overthrown in Iraq. There is a vibrant democratic and reformist movement in Iran; in Iraq no such thing was allowed even to be suggested. The outlandish hopes that the Iranian army, generally free of the purges of the revolutionary period, will defect en masse if there were an American invasion make for dangerous wishful thinking. Syria may be more easily defeated militarily, but expanding the war to another Arab state will meet with the massive contempt of the people of Syria.

On a more basic level, unprovoked invasion (which is what, Mr. Ledeen’s stories notwithstanding, these wars will be) is utterly immoral and unjust. The Orthodox and Catholic worlds will condemn an attack on their Syrian co-religionists, while at the same time the small, but not inconsiderable, Christian population of Syria may well become the target of Islamist vendettas as they were in Lebanon as Christians are associated with the Western invader.

On a more practical note, we Americans barely have enough soldiers to secure and stabilise Iraq, much less launch invasions into a country as large as Iran. Furthermore, an invasion of Iran would be far more likely to spiral out of control into a broader Asian conflict, because of the much closer ties that Iran possesses with India, Russia and China.

America must, for her own sake, reject the fanaticism of those like Mr. Ledeen now in power and reject any policy that would commit the United States to still more wars to defend an illegitimate protectorate.
Daniel Larison


The question is, do we support democracy for the world or not? If we do, then we must move slowly towards allowing all peoples to choose how they are governed. It may take along time as resources are lacking and many peoples need educating. If we don’t – and our performance over the last 50 years has been one of ‘real politik’ – then we subscribe to the idea of “sovereignty” whereby one country does not interfere in the affairs of another, how
ever bad. That leaves the UN, but that organisation is also flawed as it assumes all its members are democracies, which many of them manifestly are not. The only answer I can see is that we ought to act to strengthen international law and try and stop the UN issuing resolutions, which it has no intention of implementing. What is fairly clear is that these crucial matters should no longer be left only in the hands of 16th century diplomats and game-playing lawyers in the pockets of parochial politicians. Essentially, the secret processes of international diplomacy now need to be conducted more transparently so that those parading through the streets of the capital cities of the world have an inkling of/education in what is happening before it happens. Or do our masters actually think that democracy is rather inconvenient in a difficult world?
Brian Lewis

Whilst I cannot claim to have the same expertise as Michael Ledeen no doubt possesses on Iranian affair, I do find it curious that he does not mention the precise manner in which the Iranian people have have “made clear their hatred and contempt for the vicious mullahcracy that has wrecked their country over the last 23 years.” Iran has a democratically elected government that has consistently passed liberal reforms that are blocked by the Mullahs. Surely an even more “irrestistable political card to play” would be to support this government, that represents the will of the Iranian people, in its struggle with the Mullahs who retain a veto over future reforms. I fail to understand how this would be less desirable and democratic in spirit than supporting the installation (whatever his merits as a human being may or may not be) of the son of a former US backed tyrant who was overthrown by his own people. By Mr Ledeen’s logic, can we expect to see one of Saddam Hussein’s sons brought back to Iraq in twenty years’ time if things do not work out the way we want them to there?
Matt Bennett

Comment on Pax Americana by William Shawcross (12/04/2003)

I agree with William Shawcross. George W. Bush is no idiot. He has proven surprisingly adept at concealing his highly partisan presidency with half-truths and sleight of hand.

The decisions he and his advisors have made on domestic economic policy will result in an enormous transfer of wealth to the upper echelons of American society and yet the US media remains unusually quiescent. Why?

In part because of a war that began life in Afghanistan as retribution against those directly responsible for the atrocity in New York but has now become a war to liberate the oppressed people of Iraq. A noble cause indeed but I am still vainly trying to see the connection to the war that was being fought in 2001. A cynic might even argue that there are compelling reasons for the Bush administration to continue fighting in order to divert attention from what is happening at home.

William Shawcross seems to be under the naive impression that the Bush administrations evangelism represents a compelling vision of the future that will bring order and security to a troubled world and that ‘old’ Europe is weak and as a result unable to go where America can.

Europe has in the past century seen empires come and go. Europe has also seen unimaginable devastation. From these experiences many in Europe have come to abhor grandiose aggressive intervention and the consequences that often follow from it. Europe has spent the past fifty years building prosperity and stability through engagement and mutual respect. It is vision of the world that is conditioned by lessons learned the hard way.

It is profoundly not the case that Bush is doing what Europe can’t do. He is doing what Europe won’t do and doing it for the wrong reasons.

Colin Gleeson

America’s quest for world democracy seems to me to be very similar to extremist Islam’s quest for world religion – “ours is the right and just way, everyone must follow our faith or die as a heretic”. How America can claim to be acting democratically, when the majority of the world speaks out against their actions, never ceases to astound me. Their attitude is that of “I’m the biggest so you will do as I say”, and it is a shame that 11/09 did not wake them up to the resentment that this causes. Of course, to a country whose world is confined very much to America (I seem to remember reading that only 18% of Americans even had a passport), it is perhaps normal that for them the outside world has little significance.

I still find the Spectator interesting, and shall continue reading, but do find the slavish adoration of all that is American to be most offputting.
Rupert Heywood

Comment on Hands off my bike by Harry Mount (12/04/2003)

Harry Mount shows a poor knowledge of history when he states “there has never been a bicycle bomb in Britain” in his article “Hands off my bike”. A bicycle bomb killed five civilians in Coventry in August 1939.

More recently, the Provisionals used a bicycle bomb in Crossmaglen in South Armagh in 1976, claiming the life of a soldier in the Parachute Regiment.

It is precisely as a result of these incidents and others across the world more recently that such security measures are in place. His lack of historical knowledge, unfortunately, undermines the thrust of his article.

Bicycle bombs have been used with great effect from Columbia through to East Asia, as many a security analyst and humanitarian aid worker knows.
Hugh Griffiths
Medecins du Monde Sweden

Comment on Anglican Miracle (12/04/2003)

Damian Thompson’s superb article should be required reading in every Vatican dicastory. I fear, however, that it will not be.

Some years ago, the Tablet obtained and published a secret memorandum to the world’s nuncios on the qualities desired in a potential bishop. As I recall he was to be, at one and the same time, opposed to women’s ordination but in favour of modern liturgy; opposed to abortion and contraception but open to cooperation with international agencies for which these are non-issues; opposed to homosexual conduct but to show solidarity with the marginalised and those discriminated against for whatever reason; he was to be loyal to the Church’s teaching on the divinity of Christ, but open to the truths found in all religions, and to encourage dialogue rather than conversion; he was to oppose divorce but embrace other churches which raise no obstacle to it; he was to believe that the Church Christ founded “subsists” in the Catholic Church, but that the latter is not, tout court, the Church of Christ. He was to encourage oecumenism and interdenominational prayer with the Protestant churches, and yet foster devotion to Mary as Mother of God.

Clearly such a concatenation of contradictions could only appeal to the most mediocre of men. Any cleric of integrity cannot live in the mental world of intellectual incoherency required and will opt either for the classic Catholic theological and intellectual tradition grounded in Thomism, the scholastics, the Church Fathers and their interpretation of the Scriptures, or he will follow a post-Kantian view grounded in Hegelian philosophical relativism and contemporary social, historical and literary theory. To some extent the latter can be an aid to the former, but not at the expense of the dogmatic principle that Truth remains objective. It is this attempt at marrying together the incompatible that has brought about the increasing disintegration of the once respected Roman Catholic Church. Ideas do have consequences and the lamentable inability of the Catholic bishops to discuss the present Iraq conflict in accordance with the classical just war theory is a case in point. The contemporary clergy are a race severed from their past, ignorant of their theology and incapable of studying its finer points as so much exists only i
n Latin, a language now only the elderly among them understand. It is said that already in 1965 the late Cardinal Siri remarked that it would take the Church fifty years to recover her equilibrium, a modest estimate if ever there was one. Quos Deus vult perdere primum dementat.
Charles Pollok Gibson

Comment on Diary by Peter Oborne (12/04/2003)

Peter Oborne, writing from Kabul, quoted an Afghanistani as follows –

“We do not want to be told how to behave”‘ says my friend. To illustrate the point he adds, “And I am not like most Afghans; I have travelled in the West and I like the West. But if I find out that my wife has an affair”


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