Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fisk's Indignation

Robert Fisk, who years ago outlived his reputation for competence, can usually be ignored, but not when he brings gifts to Assad in The Independent's lead commentary.

He tells us that the US does not oppose Assad out of love for freedom and democracy.   The US is hypocritical because it supports undemocratic régimes like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.   The US doesn't care about Syrians, it just wants to undermine Iran.


Fisk offers us Protestantism masquerading as political analysis.   His outrage is directed against the American soul, which he finds to be impure.   How this distinguishes the Americans from any powerful nation in the last 6000 years, he does not say.  He does tell us that Assad's régime is atrocious, but this is just ass-covering.   The basic idea is:  "never mind about Syria; look how the US is manoeuvring against Iran with tainted motives."

Clearly Fisk is concerned with spirituality, not outcomes.    Assad is perpetrating atrocities daily and the West won't even provide effective armaments to the FSA.  But Fisk doesn't care about this; he cares only that Western hypocrites should hide their heads in shame.   So he's furious that Western assistance is not more ineffective still, and he encourages efforts to cripple the opposition.

A crippled opposition means Assad stays in power.   If Fisk didn't consider this a bad outcome, he'd be a swine.  Let's suppose that outcomes just don't matter to him, as long they're untainted by hypocrisy.

Does, in fact, Fisk make some case for something or other, or is he just fuming?   Several points seem worth making.

First, when there is slaughter, any genuine morality evaluates the responses according to their effects, not according to the motives of the responders.  Preventing 10000 deaths with a bad heart trumps letting 10000 die with a good heart.  Crying hypocrisy has no moral weight whatever.

Second, to obtain good outcomes, it is sometimes necessary to use bad allies.   True, the US should not be allied with the Gulf States, just as Castro and Chavez should not be allied with Assad.   However the US alliances are nothing new and no further crime is committed by using them to good ends - like stopping the butchery.   Fisk's own causes have always involved some sort of political impurity.  He can argue, if he likes, that Iran needs defending against the US, Israel and the Gulf States.  But any such argument clearly works against efforts to topple the Iranian régime, notorious for horrific torture and injustices of every kind - not to mention its very active support for Assad.

How then does Fisk want us to make our choices?   Either he's concerned to produce good results, or he isn't.   If he isn't, he is of course immoral and shouldn't preach.   If he is, whether he's opposing America's anti-Iranian policies or supporting Palestinian rights or anything else, he can't help but favour torturers, murders, and, of course, enemies of democracy and freedom.   This is understandable; often the best alternative is only the least evil one.   But then Fisk ought to understand this himself, and ask which evil really is lesser.

Third, Assad, win or lose, is finished.   Even if he wins, he will be isolated and in charge of a turbulent shambles.  He will be no good to anyone, including Iran or the Palestinians.   So the idea that America or Israel or Satan can gain something by neutralizing Assad is a non-starter.    He will be neutralized whatever America or Israel or Satan may or may not do.   So the idea that America or Israel or Satan is out to undermine Iran by neutralizing Assad is another non-starter.   Iran is going to be undermined anyway.  Indeed that's probably why the Evil West is content to do so little.

Fourth, the Gulf States hate Iran and don't need American encouragement to undermine it.   So they don't need American encouragement to back the FSA.  Yet the backing is largely verbal.   The West's own aid to the Syrian opposition, directly or via the Gulf States, is pathetic.   Western policy towards Syria is an utter disaster because, morality aside, it shows the West to be weak, useless.  But Fisk, were he to admit this, would rejoice.   He'd be very upset if Western or Gulf States arms turned the tide against Assad.

No wonder Fisk gets snide about about the death of Syrian babies.


  1. "Fisk offers us Protestantism masquerading as political analysis."

    Neumann begins with a religiously based ad hominem attack. He ends with a claim that Western policy in Sryia is a "disaster" because it shows the west to be weak.

    His wording here (Western policy not American policy) is meant to suggest our core values are under attack. Yes, perhaps they are, but more by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and our continued paralysis in front of Israel, than any presumed reluctance to confront the regime in Syria. In any case, our "reluctance" is only superficial, the military aid to the Syrian opposition continues, even though many of the more responsible members of that opposition are against taking up arms.

    Patrick Seale has it right at

  2. Actually it's the first sentence that contains an ad hominem attack. The sentence quoted is an attack on his essay, not on him.

    I couldn't care less about 'our core values', whatever they may be. I only meant to suggest that Western strategy is self-defeating. It presumably is an attempt to stay out of trouble, but invites trouble in a big way.

    As for 'military aid', the consensus is, it's minimal. Especially lacking are the sort of shoulder-fired weapons the US provided in Afghanistan. I have examined every report I could find on weaponry, and seen no such thing.

    As for 'more responsible' meaning not taking up arms, that's code for leaving Assad in power - Seale's position all along. 'Responsible' in the context implies studied defiance of all the evidence concerning Assad's behaviour. Shelling his cities isn't exactly indicative of readiness to surrender power in the face of ...what? reasonable discourse? I quote Walid Jumblatt, no American stooge and in an excellent position to know: "Anyone who thinks he can negotiate with Assad is crazy."

  3. I agree that your very first sentence is also an ad hominem attack.

    You may choose to call "protestantism masquerading as political analysis" an attack on his essay, and not on his person, but I have my doubts, for as a critical statement it is vacuous. How the line that follows "His outrage is directed against the American soul, which he finds to be impure" qualifies as Protestantism is beyond me, other than as sectarian posturing. Impurity is a constant and important concept in Judaism as well as Catholicism, certainly as much as in Protestantism.

    You make a good statement when you say "Preventing 10000 deaths with a bad heart trumps letting 10000 die with a good heart", but then immediately negate it with your unfounded conclusion. America rushing to the rescue with heavy arms and bombardments would cause a larger number of deaths, both directly and indirectly through the destruction of necessary infrastructure – precisely Seale's point, which you seem to disregard completely.

    You say of Assad, "He will be no good to anyone, including Iran or the Palestinians." And yet their spokespersons have disagreed with your conclusion, so perhaps you should let them speak for themselves.

    Jumblatt's statement is irrelevant, or to put it more practically, less relevant than the position of Russia and China, which attest that Assad is open to negotiation. But its precisely that negotiation which the US, and you, prefer to bring to an end through an increasingly sectarian war.