Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Isolationism best left alone

If there is any reason why certain arguments on the left may masquerade as isolationism, John Laughland's recent article in the Guardian arguing against intervention in the Sudan demonstrates how not to argue for non-intervention. Whilst he understands the moral underpinnings of Blair's foreign policy, the piece descends into a farcical round of targets.

The frothing at the mouth leads to a litany of debatable 'facts' used to morally denounce Blair's actions. That is always a weak position when you attempt to cast doubt on Hussein's skills as a mass murderer.

Like the Kosovo genocide, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as we now know, existed only in the fevered imaginings of spooks and politicians in London and Washington. But Downing Street was also recently forced to admit that even Blair's claims about mass graves in Iraq were false. The prime minister has repeatedly said that 300,000 or 400,000 bodies have been found there, but the truth is that almost no bodies have been exhumed in Iraq, and consequently the total number of such bodies, still less the cause of their deaths, is simply unknown.

The cause of death for most of Hussein's victims was fairly clear.

The astonishing claims stem from Laughland's acceptance of Sudan's utterances on the Darfur debacle. This may be a complex ethnic conflict, undeserving of the simplistic genocide narrative, but the Knartoum government are a bunch of crooks. If we don't accept Blair's magic figures, why should Khartoum's be treated as the fount of accuracy?

Campaigners for intervention have accused the Sudanese government of supporting this group, without mentioning that the Sudanese defence minister condemned the Janjaweed as "bandits" in a speech to the country's parliament in March. On July 19, moreover, a court in Khartoum sentenced six Janjaweed soldiers to horrible punishments, including the amputation of their hands and legs. And why do we never hear about the rebel groups which the Janjaweed are fighting, or about any atrocities that they may have committed?

The Sudanese government says that the death toll in Darfur, since the beginning of the conflict in 2003, is not greater than 1,200 on all sides.

Through inconsistency and one-sided polemic, Laughland damages the arguments for isolationism and demonstrates the need for an approach that places principled consistency as the basis for argument. This is an ideal, of course.


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