Saturday, August 31, 2013

How Wrong Can One Column Be?

In Saturday's NY Times Roger Cohen has a column bemoaning the threat to the so-called "special relationship" between the US and the UK because of the Parliamentary vote against PM Cameron's proposal to support military action against the Syrian regime because of their use of chemical weapons. Who is the villain in this set piece by Cohen? Well it turns out it to be Ed Miliband the leader of the opposition Labor Party. Why? Because Miliband does not want to give carte blanche to the US for determining the direction of the British foreign policy.

Syrian refugees fleeing to Turkey from the NY Times

Cohen, whose newspaper played a sorry role in promoting the lies of the Bush Administration in the run-up to the Iraq War, passes off the lies that infuriated the British public (particularly Labor Party supporters who left the party in droves for the anti-war Liberal Democrats) as "cherry picking". Cohen is sharp enough to understand that the British people are a bit skeptical of US claims (of anything really) that seem to justify war. Yet he ignores the evidence he suggests, and which as a Political Scientist I can see is rather damning for the chance of the US convincing these folks of anything. He also makes reference to disagreements in the past, such as the Suez Crises, but why did those disagreements (the UK left Iraq long before the US) not end the special relationship? Considering the history from colonial times obviously the US and the UK have managed to work together pretty well all things considered. So what if there are different approaches to the value of military intervention with respect to the horrid Assad regime (which has existed through two generations).

Perhaps the weirdest part of the column was his attack on Miliband. He claims that Ed's brother, David, would have supported the motion. He may have but I wonder how much of the labor party would have been left after such an action. Cohen seems to forget that the Blair government went out of their way to deceive the world about the intelligence on Iraq. They sent representatives to DC just before the release of their deceptive dossier and had it edited by the Bush Administration before they released it to the British public. It is entirely understandable that politicians of all stripes (many Tories and LibDems voted against the motion or abstained as well) would be reluctant to go down the road to war. Just a few months ago, Blair in a BBC interview brushed off the lies, justifying the war on the basis of the horror of the Hussein regime. Apparently Cohen and Blair do not find democratic processes more than niceties to be subverted. I wonder how Cameron feels about it today?

(There was some comic relief in his column as he claimed that Miliband's problem was that he had no connection to the US. Apparently he neglected to look at his CV which showed time living in Boston as a child and adult. Ed is a Boston Red Sox and NE Patriots fan to boot. So perhaps this is all Yankee fan claptrap.)

Happily today President Obama decided that the constitutional process could work in the US and he will share decision-making with Congress. Perhaps the discussion will be an honest one and members will point out to the world that their will be innocent loss of life in these strikes. The terrible irony is that   because of the constraint on international action Assad can't be held responsible directly. So civilians will die so we can protect civilians from attrocity. Is this the best way? It would be a good conversation to have as we and the civilian population of the country still pay the price for the Iraq War. Sorry Mr. Cohen but they still are related and we live in a country that has deep suspicion about these types of pronouncements.

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