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March 19th, 2003

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04:19 am - Why I'm less anti-war than I'd like to be
Most of my friends are staunchly against war in Iraq; many of them are quite active in expressing their opinions. I respect them and I'd like to be able to say that I feel the same way as they do as strongly as they do. However, I don't feel I can. I'm not pro-war, but I'm just not prepared to rule it out on principle as strongly as everyone else. The quick version is that I'm unconvinced because Dr. Nick Palmer MP has become less convinced.

Nick Palmer is the Labour MP for the constituency of Broxtowe, which is effectively Nottingham West along with the surrounding nearby rural areas. He is 53 years old, has a doctorate in mathematics from Birkbeck College and worked as Internet manager for the Swiss pharmaceuticals group Novartis (previously Ciba-Geigy) before entering politics. I first knew him in the context of Flagship Magazine, which has been covering games played by mail (traditionally all postal mail, these days more electronic than not) for a hundred issues published over about twenty years; he edited most of the first seventy or so until his election to parliament in 1997. He is also the author of two books on board wargaming from the 1970s.

I acted as Sports Editor for Flagship magazine for five years - May 1997 to May 2002, a barely-paid couple-of-hours-a-month position responsible for a regular column which I variably managed to turn in at the very last moment possible. Nick had just about finished with his Flagship duties by this point; certainly I almost always dealt with his successor, the wonderful Carol Mulholland. Nevertheless, I swapped mail with him a couple of times and bumped into him briefly at a couple of games conventions. Maybe I was always just pleased that an intense gaming geek managed to make it to a relatively prominent station in public life, but I've always had a lot of time for Nick.

As well as being a gaming geek, Nick is about as big an Internet geek as you can be while making it as an MP. The Broxtowe Labour Party site is about as close as an MP will get to a personal site, the Widdy Web notwithstanding, with the Nick's Newsletters series of briefings to his (mostly local) audience being about as close as you will come to a MP's real-time open journal. (Memoirs after the event aside, of course.) Nick is a fine writer and does a good job at conveying national issues to a local audience. This is probably not a surprise considering he's Group Secretary of the All Party Internet Group, the crossover discussion forum between new media industries and parliamentarians. These are pretty geeky credentials. On top of that, he's prominent in a few other all-party committees as well. I remember he's prominent in the committee for relations with Denmark because he's about the only MP to speak Danish, having been educated there. He's also chair of the Cuba group, though I know of no particular connection. Other strongly-held stances: pro electoral reform, anti hunting, pro ID cards, anti fireworks.

Of course, he's not perfect. His All Party Internet Group took a bashing over the RIP bill; the worst personal insult I've heard about him - which comes from a well-placed source and which I can believe - is that "he tries to be all things to all men". (Favourite example: section 3, Lords reform: "So my current plan is to vote for 100% elected, 0% elected and options between 51 and 100, and against anything from 1 to 50." It does make sense in context, but it does sound kooky.) His newsletter index is poorly maintained; once newsletters roll off the end of the front page, they're hard to find again. Certainly you can search and the directory index hasn't been hidden, but few newsletters explicitly mention dates. It's particularly interesting to try to observe shifts in position over time.

However, the real reason I bring this all up is that it's been interesting to follow his stances on the Iraq issue. Searching through the archives, we have:

  • 2002-09-09, all of: "... I'm one of the MPs who has opposed intervention to change the Iraqi regime, failing a UNO mandate or dramatic new facts." (NB imprecise date from context.)

  • 2002, before October, point 1: "...A number of you have expressed either support for or concern about a possible attack by the USA on Iraq to replace the regime of Saddam Hussein. As most of you are aware, I'm opposed to this, and have signed a Commons motion to say so."

  • 2002-10-06, point 6: "...I think we should trust the Security Council and indeed our own government to deal with them [some questions re: inspection] seriously until we see the outcome."

  • 2002-11-25, point 3: "...I think that only serious violations reported by the Swedish-led inspectors (as opposed to the opinion of the US or anyone else) should lead to consideration of armed conflict."

  • 2003-01-02, point 2: "...Either there is good reason to think that Iraq has an active interest in owning and using weapons of mass destruction, with the possible death of millions, or there isn't. If there is, then I think that it is necessary to stop them, and if all other avenues have been explored and it has to take some form of military action and costs some money, then in my opinion that needs to be done."

  • 2003-01-22, point 1: "I don't think that, having started the inspector process via the UN we can reasonably either back off completely (option 1) or invade anyway (option 3). But I'd add an important rider: I think the inspectors *must* be given all the time they want to reach a clear conclusion."

  • 2003-02-03, point 2: "I think that at this point we should simply continue to press for the inspectors to be given all the time they need, and make up our minds when the final conclusions are reached."

  • 2003-02-11, point 2: "...If he [Hans Blix] says he's making some progress but needs more time to see if it's genuine (the most likely, I think), he should get it, and if that's militarily inconvenient, that's too bad."

  • 2003-02-17, point 1: "...as Dr Blix has said he's made progress and hopes for more, it seems to me that there is no case whatever for war at this stage, and if it were proposed I would oppose it actively."

  • 2003-03-03, point 1: "...I asked the Minister to confirm that war was the last resort and that if Blix reported full cooperation *even at the last moment* we would stop military action. He did."

  • 2003-03-11ish, point 5: "...I have more understanding for the US position than some, but I still think they're mistaken to invade now."

  • 2003-03-17, all of: "...I've come to the conclusion that, failing some amazing development in the next day or two, I should support military action, for the reasons that I'll set out below."

I think that he's pretty clearly anti-war at the start, but definitely has changed his mood ever since then. My conclusion is that he is in possession of more of the facts on the matter than members of the public are (particularly see the second last) and that he has changed his viewpoint primarily on these facts. If these hidden facts - which may very well be hidden from us for excellent reasons - have been enough to convince him, then they're enough to convince me at least to some extent. Accordingly, I don't feel as comfortable being strongly anti-war as many of you folk do.

Now I do know it's generally less-than-rational to base your opinion of an issue principally on one other person's view, but I hope you can see why I regard his opinion so highly. I think he's a lovable big geek - he's as much one of us as a politican ever can be - and he's in the right place to be well-informed. If I have to pick one person to base my views on, maybe it's the gamer geek in me talking, but it'll be Nick Palmer.

Now this is a position which is predicated on fairly shaky logic; after all, lest we forget, Nick is a career politician evidently with the Prime Minister's ear. Furthermore, Nick has been playing games all his life and knows very much indeed about politics, interpersonal relationships and diplomacy. Maybe his reasons for changing his mind aren't so pure after all; there would be no way to tell. Maybe it turns out to be very convenient for the Labour Party to have someone who has been making his feelings on Iraq known over time to radically change his views over the last couple of weeks just to influence commentators like me. Can't help feeling that that's more a conspiracy theory than anything else, though; he addresses this issue in the third last point of his most recent issue and I think it would be very easy for him to have voted against the government and taken no or very little political flak for doing so.

One other unrelated issue. People still occasionally mention the possibility of a coup in Iraq, either before an invasion or shortly afterwards. I am in two minds about this. Certainly if such a coup takes place and we have reason to withdraw having achieved regime change (relatively?) bloodlessly then it will be a relatively satisfactory conclusion - at least, relative to the other possible conclusions. On the other hand, I hate to think that it was only this extremely real and demonstrated threat of war which was sufficient to bring forth the coup. In some sense, it would be an extremely irritating irony if the tactics of the pro-war campaigners turned out to have been effective despite there not having been a war!

Nevertheless, I wish for peace and am thinking about attending the national demo on Saturday. I hope these viewpoints aren't incompatible to the point of hypocrisy.

OXFORD PEOPLE! - I'll be arriving by coach in Oxford at about 5:10pm on Thursday (this Thursday - a little over 36 hours away as I type). I have two choices: go straight to Abingdon from Oxford, or see nice people in Oxford first before going to Abingdon. Would 5:10-ish on Thursday be a good time to meet? Please indicate your availability now else I shall head directly to Abingdon instead. It would be particularly nice to see Oxford folk who I haven't seen for a long time or who I have never really met (yoo-hoo, truecatachresis, leathellin and others) as well as my friends who I have seen recently.

On another matter, it's interesting to see the "ask me any question" game going around again. However, in this iteration, people (whether deliberately or accidentally) aren't hiding the questions that people have asked. I hope you wouldn't feel that I'd need to say "ask me provocative questions now" if you did want to ask me something at any point. The fact that I haven't put a neat poll box for you to type your questions into won't affect the extent to which I am prepared (or not) to answer difficult or personal questions. On the other hand, it might be useful to get all the Qs and As into one thread for convenience - so let's use this one!
Current Mood: conflicted confused cognisant
Current Music: Bemani music - Keyboardmania remix of Satie's Gymnopedie #1

(18 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:March 18th, 2003 08:51 pm (UTC)
Chris, VERY impressive work, and very well thought out. Kudos!!
Date:March 18th, 2003 09:04 pm (UTC)
I hope peace is the eventual outcome of this mess, however war at this point seems inevitable. Unfortuneately. :/

That's funny that you aren't convinced to NOT go to war! I'm the opposite right now. I NEED proof that Saddam is connected to 911 in any way shape or form. Up to this point, Americans have received little information regarding that though, so I'll stay unconvinced.

Date:March 19th, 2003 01:58 am (UTC)


Saddam isn't connected to 9/11.
According to almost all intelligence on Al Qaeda, there are no Iraqis at the top of the organization. I don't think any Iraqis were 9/11 hijackers-- most of them were from Saudi Arabia.

Bin Laden is fundamentally against what the Iraqi regime stands for. Saddam's state is staunchly secular--Bin Laden is a religious fundamentalist naturally hates this.

There is very little evidence to suggest that Iraq is linked to 9/11 apart from the fact that some of the 9/11 hijackers had been to Iraq and may have been trained there. But this means nothing: Iraq has very little control over who comes and goes in its northern province. And also, the 9/11 hijackers were also undetected and trained in the US. So if having terrorists undetected and training in a state without its permission is an crime punishable by aerial attacks, then the US is equally guilty.

I think the problem is that the US administration do not see the point in correcting a public misperception that Iraq is behind 9/11 because such a misperception serves their interests.

[User Picture]
Date:March 19th, 2003 08:24 am (UTC)
If I had the casting vote about whether Britain should go to war right now, it would be a NO with a silent "t yet" afterwards. Should there yet somehow be a bloodless coup then I suspect the elation at the result will exceed the irritation at the methods used.

This whole post was just a reaction to the fact that it's not clear-cut and it's a really difficult issue either way... :-/
[User Picture]
Date:March 18th, 2003 09:26 pm (UTC)

Great links..

thanks for the links to the statements. I think that's as inside a look at what's going on that I've read yet. The part I found most interesting is the path the whole issue has taken. The stances of France, Germany, and Russia behind the scenes were also very interesting. Thanks for the links!

[User Picture]
Date:March 19th, 2003 03:59 pm (UTC)

Re: Great links..

Mmm. We really aren't going to get many closer wide perspectives on the situation than that, which is why I enjoy following what Nick has to say. Would be interesting to be able to follow his newsletters as a syndicated feed (and hence a LJ Friend) - I wonder if there is a free automatic mail-to-feed syndicator out there anywhere which might be set up to do the job?

Not sure what advantage this offers over just subscribing to his mailing list, but somehow it feels like something I'd want to read as an LJ friend rather than as e-mail...
[User Picture]
Date:March 19th, 2003 05:42 pm (UTC)

Re: Great links..

I understand completely. Emails I go "bah, boring" and ship it away to lala land. LJ is nice b/c not only do you get to read stuff (love the syndicated comics) but you also get to read other's impressions on the subject, which is an invaluble thing.

Date:March 19th, 2003 12:06 am (UTC)

Good post

That was a good post.
Date:March 19th, 2003 02:00 am (UTC)


No, those two viewpoints aren't incompatible.
I am not a pacifist, I do believe that there are cases where war is necessary, and I would support a war to disarm Iraq if:
1) I was given a decent reason why it has to be now, instead of when the inspectors have finished their job (esp. considering they have left it 12 years)
2) The world supported the action-- mandated through the United Nations and carried out by an international military force. Illegal preventive war carried out by the UK and the US, against almost everybody else's wishes, is not on.

Two random facts
* Weapons inspectors have disarmed more WMD since the Gulf War than were ever destroyed during the aerial bombings of weapons sites in the War.
* Preventive war is only successful if the state is totally devastated by the war and its ability to build weapons is wiped out for the foreseeable future. Otherwise, it will rebuild faster than ever (fuelled by resentment)and the countries that attacked it will really get what's coming to them within a decade. Can you imagine how much devastation is needed to preclude the development of weapons technology for 20 years?? It means sending them back to the stone age, destroying all their infrastructure, killing all their scientists, everything.
Are we really going to do that? And even if we don't, we are gonna go and rebuild the country after the war anyway. Within 20 years, Iraq will be armed again, and who will its targets be?

So, no,your viewpoints are not incompatible. I'm not against war-- I'm against unjustified, unsupported,impatient and ill-timed, illegal preventive war.

[User Picture]
Date:March 19th, 2003 02:47 am (UTC)

Re: incompatible?

Well I *was* going to post a comment, but it seems you've already covered what I was going to say ;-)
Date:March 19th, 2003 03:05 am (UTC)

Re: incompatible?


I talk too much.
[User Picture]
Date:March 19th, 2003 03:54 pm (UTC)

Re: incompatible?

Food for thought, but it's ended up being more a casserole of confusion than anything else. (Not to say that I don't appreciate your thoughts and insight on the situation and respect them as being particularly well-informed!)

The thought of preventative war as you suggest is particularly offensive and horrifying. Yet I'm not sure that the inspectors ever will make signigicant progress and fear we are just choosing between a relatively easy war in opposition to international law and a harder one (in, say, 6 or 12 months' time) in alignment with international law. Dr. Palmer's lawyer friend raises an interesting point: would it be worth say 500,000 lives purely to preserve international law? Very tricky one. My head says yes more than I think I'd like it to, though my heart begs to differ.
Date:March 20th, 2003 01:01 am (UTC)

Re: incompatible?

I'm not sure that the weapons inspectors won't be effective. They have been very effective since the end of the Gulf War and I would hope that if we intensified weapons inspector efforts as the French suggested last month, a lot more weapons would be discovered. More to the point, I think it is reckless to not try this before trying preventive war.

Regarding his WMD, he only has chemical and biological weapons and he hasn't used them so far. American lives are not at stake, which is the most common objection to the war--there is no direct threat to US citizens, so the "self-defence" thing really can't be used. I don't think we have any reason to believe he will use his weapons in the next year either. And if he does, his missile capability is really limited and it is more likely to be used against his own people than anyone else.
A preventive war on the scale necessary is likely to kill more people than the use of such a weapon by Saddam agains his own.

But, the most interesting point, is that this cannot really be a preventive war. A preventive war is actually something that occurs to stop an enemy acquiring WMD capability. He already has this capability in chemical and biological weapons. Now, if we follow the line of thinking that US foreign policy used throughout the Cold War, deterrence theory, it is pure insanity to attack a state with WMD. When the US attacks, Iraq's fundamental security will be compromised and, backed into a corner, Saddam may well use chemical and biological weapons against Israel, US soldiers or his own people.
This is why his own population feels the need to go out and buy gas masks now: the US attack is likely to force some nasty reaction out of Saddam.
If you bring the common Arab belief that martyrdom is acceptable either against the Infidel or as long as Israel is reduced to ashes, then Israel is seriously under threat too, with the US war.
So, I firmly believe that attacking a state armed with WMD is a really dumb thing to do, especially if that state has given no firm reason to make anyone believe that it will use its weapons in the next few years (the time it will take the weapons inspectors to do their job properly). We can use force (e.g. for gaining access to facilities, for interviewing scientists) because up to a certain scale of force, Saddam won't react with WMD. Only preventive war the scale the US is preventing could push him into desparation.

Just a random point: the "500000 lives versus international law" seems a tricky one, but if you bare in mind the likely millions saved by states adhering to international law over the last 50 years, it is less of an issue.

So to summarise: I believe that intensified inspections are the only way to go once a state has acquired WMD capability because a war at the level projected will only force desperate measures out of the state. Force can be used to locate and destroy the weapons, alongside weapons inspections, or separately. But only force of a certain scale so that the state does not feel its survival is under threat. The problem is, this limited level of force requires troops on the ground, US troops, and the US is so insanely protective of their troops that they won't let them enter Iraq until most of Iraq is dead.

Random rant mixed in with waffle. Ignore me.

Date:March 20th, 2003 01:03 am (UTC)

Re: incompatible?

My problem is that I just talk and talk and talk and then look back and see that I have no clear structure to my argument at all. I apologise for my lack of coherence.

[User Picture]
Date:March 19th, 2003 02:45 am (UTC)
Well, I'm on lates this week so I wouldn't be able to get into town until at least 6:30 (not sure when you'll be around until), so as I'll be seing you next weekend, I probably won't.
Date:March 19th, 2003 04:08 am (UTC)
From my reading, Mr Palmer's opinion changed following his meeting with Mr Blair, circa March 7. Mr Palmer's reasons for voting yea:

1. Saddam has chemical and biological weapons.

Mr Palmer refers to evidence produced in a private meeting with Mr Blair. This evidence is not available to the general public.

2. Saddam is interested in using the weapons.

Mr Palmer's argument is based on assumption and hypothesis. This is a reasonable basis to conduct foreign policy; I'm less than convinced that it's a reasonable basis to conduct a war.

Mr Palmer explicitly rules out connection between President Sadaam's regime and al-Qaeda, but explicitly mentions other active terrorist groups.

3. Saddam is not willing to cooperate voluntarily.

If points 1 and 2 are correct, then point 3 appears a given. It is partly contradicted by Mr Blix's reports.

4. The United Nations Security Council is not going to pass a second resolution that could authorise war.

This is true. This also means that any action conducted outside the remit of the UNSC will, automatically, be completely illegal.

5. It is extremely unlikely that the inspectors will ever find the weapons without cooperation.

A perfectly logical corollary of points one through three.

To reduce this to a nutshell: does the presumptive existence of CBN weapons justify a certain breach of international law for the greater good? Ultimately, that's got to be a judgement for each individual person.

However, this analysis only covers forcible disarmament of President Sadaam's regime. It specifically doesn't cover the removal from power of President Sadaam.

Mr Bush's ultimatum, set to expire at the curious time of 0115 tomorrow morning, has no obvious basis to remove the alleged CBN threat, and every basis in regime change.

Can there be any justification for a war that brings about regime change, and hopes to (but is not certain to) remove the CBN capability as a side-effect? Again, reader, that has to be your judgement.
[User Picture]
Date:March 19th, 2003 05:36 am (UTC)

Oxford-type late night

I'm on shift work that doesn't finish until 7pm; I could make it into town by 7:30pm, and if you'd still be around at that point, I'd be happy to meet you, but I suspect that you will not.
[User Picture]
Date:March 19th, 2003 07:31 am (UTC)


I am being cooked dinner on Thursday by the culinary side of venta but I am not required to turn up until sometime before eight. And I work quite near the centre of town, I could quite easily be somewhere about 5:30 or so.

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