Last week, I wrote about Nick Cohen's complaint that the left has abandoned its principles because of its anti-Americanism. For Cohen, the best example is Iraq, where he states that because the Left hates America so much, it would rather a ruthless dictator like Saddam Hussein remain in power rather than be overthrown. In short, the Left now supports fascism, Cohen states.
Now Cohen's detractors comment on his book in this piece. The columns are interesting and thoughtful, containing much food for thought. Mostly, though, they don't exactly disagree with Cohen's premise about Iraq.
He is at his very best when he exposes the dishonesty of the liberal press. Here he is on the Independent's report of the murder of the American green party activist Marla Ruzicka by an Islamic suicide bomber in Baghdad in April 2005: 'The piece was headlined, "The senseless death of the woman who fought George Bush", which read as if her murder wasn't a premeditated act by a religious fanatic from the ultra-right but George Bush's fault. Her legacy "should put many politicians in America, and in our own country, to shame," the Independent continued, while carefully - and shamefully - avoiding criticism of her killer.'
This is a true indictment of the MSM. But then the author points out the real problem with Cohen's thesis: that "fascism" in the Western definition of that word doesn't fit what happens in the Middle East where most regimes could be labeled "fascist." How do we determine which fascists we should support?
Cohen erects paper tigers. It is easy to turn over the SWP. The key failing of the book is that nowhere does Cohen seriously engage with the mainstream, anti-war left. Cohen's thesis simply does not begin to apply to the decent and honourable left-wing men and women who opposed the war: Robin Cook, Menzies Campbell, Chris Smith, Frank Dobson, Clare Short, Alan Simpson, Bob Marshall-Andrews, and so many others. These people are not rancid homophobes or anti-semites, reflex America bashers or secret supporters of al-Qaeda. They were perfectly clear-sighted about the horror of Saddam, and nevertheless found it natural as social democrats to oppose the war.
Then Cohen asks: 'Why is Palestine a cause for the liberal left but not China, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Congo or North Korea?' But precisely the same question must be levelled at Cohen's new-found neo-conservative friends, and with far greater force. Tony Blair, for example, has failed to lift a finger for Zimbabwe, been impotent on Darfur and sucked up to China, a serial failure of principle that raises the deadly question: why the obsession with Iraq?
We could all question why we are concerned with one place of tragedy and not another or why now instead of then. The truth is that Iraq has held a strategic place of national interest for some time now and that is why we concern ourselves with it more than any tragedy in Africa. If Zimbabwe were to suddenly hold some national concern, we would go there. Until then, we probably won't.
I think the analysis is correct that Cohen erects paper tigers. The problem is that the paper tigers come so close to the truth that it is hard to criticize him for it. I look forward to reading the book.