Archive for the ‘Kettle’ Category

China’s neo-con blogging fever-swamp, via (of course) Jamie K.

For instance, Gao Yi, a well-known music critic, tweeted: “Compared with a war, US$7 billion is much more worthwhile. Right now, we lack the off-shore staging capacity for a mid-intensity war.

A well-known music critic? Now that’s special. You don’t get detailed comment on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s seabasing capability from Martin Kettle when he’s in one of his SUCK ON MY CULTURE, PROLE moods, or indeed when he’s editorialising, do you? Does Brian Sewell take a view on whether the much delayed Maritime Afloat Replenishment Ship project should go down the Dutch/Canadian JSS route, perhaps building on licence from Schelde in the UK, or stick with specialised tanker and dry-replenishment hulls?

It’s a pity that this doesn’t mean their politics is any more pacific.

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So there was Martin Kettle, talking about “bright Tory shadow cabinet minister Greg Clark” (he’s the one who is now the central government’s Minister for Decentralisation). Now here’s Kettle claiming that David Cameron “wins this season’s golden boot” because, well, he’s really nice. In fact, Kettle actually seems to have been handed this nanosecond’s version of the talking point about Bill Clinton’s aides stealing all the “W”s from the keyboards/Ken Livingstone’s secret wine cellar/whatever. So I’m declaring victory on the statement that Martin Kettle is a worthless old hack.

(By the way, some examples of the delight of Brown’s staff at his departure – or otherwise – and his total lack of emotion towards ’em – or otherwise – can be sampled here. That would have required Kettle to read his own newspaper.)

Here’s Henry Porter, who thinks that:

From health to foreign relations, from defence to civil liberties, the coalition has moved with degrees of fair mindedness and deliberation that are refreshing.

Apart from ordering its own budget office to secretly change its forecasts in order to justify cutting the income of the poorest people in the country by 20%, I guess. Apart from deciding to pretend that across-the-board cuts in departmental spending of 25-40% will happen, but the public sector won’t have any effect on unemployment. Frankly, anyone who calls themselves a Liberal should be especially outraged by this, just for the insult to us as intelligent citizens, layered on top of the blatant cruelty. The OBR story has been the most sustained, most fully realised exercise in official lying since Iraq.

The Grauniad asked 21 of its opinion writers to make predictions for 2009. As a service, and to force Daniel Davies’ hand into starting his planned Predictions-L mailing list, I’ve shorterised each one and reflected briefly on it. The full texts are here.

1) Jackie Ashley thinks the Lib Dems may be powerbrokers in a hung parliament.

Comment: not so much a prediction as a statement that the polls currently look like that. But at least it’s based on data.

2) Michael Tomasky thinks e-books will be a major hit, but nobody wants to read 80,000 words cos of wikipedia and google an stuff.

Comment: This is one of those issues that kills forecasters. The dawn of e-books has been repeatedly predicted and repredicted without happening. Tomasky makes the good point that the Amazon Kindle is selling well…but then his New Yorker/smartass kulturpessimismus conwis kicks in and he ends up predicting that e-books will sell hugely but nobody will buy them. Quack, quack, oops.

3) Gary Younge thinks industrial relations in the US will be troubled as the recession takes hold.

Comment: Fair enough.

4) Oh Jesus, here we go. Madeleine Bunting thinks the recession will teach us all a lesson about the Virtues of Thrift.

Comment: Mr Keynes, call your office. More specifically, this is so woolly that it’s impossible to think of criteria that would let us determine the success or failure of the prediction. In fact, she explictly backs out of it by suggesting there will be a “confusion of values”. Yellow.

5) Peter Preston thinks we will see better satire on TV, and a UK network will recruit John Oliver from the Daily Show.

Comment: Is/Ought confusion – not clear whether Preston thinks this *will* happen or whether he’s hoping to encourage it. Hard to define “better”, but if better satire on TV does happen there will probably be a degree of consensus that it has happened.

6) George Monbiot thinks some mate of his will have a big success with this fillum they made.

Comment: Well, it’ll be either a hit or a turkey. Nobody knows anything (and the kid stays in the picture). It’s a prediction, even if the film about climate change is characterised by “a Nigerian fisherwoman who has to wash her catch with Omo”; climate change does not cause oil spills, nor vice versa. Not in Nigeria, at least. I know about that pipeline in Alaska.

7) Polly Toynbee thinks environmental issues will lose salience unless there’s a major disaster.

Comment: There’s a bit of hedge in how you define “the agenda” here, but it’s fair enough. And she’s based it on data. Tim Worstall probably already has accused her of hoping for the flooding of New York City, and is now probably guiltily masturbating over her byline photo. And that’s a prediction!

8 ) Jonathan Freedland thinks there could be a hung parliament, and a Lib-Lab coalition, or maybe a Lib-Con coalition. Or it might not happen.

Comment: Coward – three mutually exclusive predictions in one.

9) Simon Jenkins thinks genetic and embryological research will conquer disease. Seriously.

Comment: I am not joking. Perhaps a drop too much of the Old Tory’s Arse 76-year old malt this Christmas. But we could treat this as a forecast that there will be at least one major medical achievement in this line in 2009, and that way it is fair enough.

10) John Harris thinks there will or should be a national debate that’s something to do with sub-post offices.

Comment: Jesus wept, what a bunch of wank. I remember when he was good; he was especially good mocking the Big Conversation, strange to relate. This sounds like his balls just dropped off. Absolutely no testable claims. FAIL.

11) Jonathan Steele thinks Russian influence will increase in Georgia and the Ukraine. And there will probably be a change of government in Thailand, but it won’t matter.

Comment: I was tempted to say Jonathan Steele thinks…whatever the Russians tell him to. Note that back in 2004 he thought the Ukrainian revolution was an evil fascist plot because Yulia Timoshenko made a pile in the gas business. Now she’s “a figure to watch in 2009, a controversial and vastly rich entrepreneur who takes a more respectful line towards Moscow”. Prediction: Steele will continue to follow the Party line and will continue to be invited on all-expenses trips to Moscow (indispensable pdf). And he’s hedging about Thailand like Capability Brown with a Black & Decker and a liberal dose of amphetamine sulphate. However, at least he made a testable prediction.

12) Jenni Russell thinks there may be something wrong with race relations in South Africa.

Comment: No shit, Sherlock.

13) Hugh Muir thinks various European politicians will do something or maybe not, and some UKIP MEPs may be re-elected. Or then again they may not. Who knows?

Comment: Hugh Muir may make a testable prediction he could be held responsible for. Or perhaps he won’t.

14) Tim Garton Ash thinks there will be a youth protest wave, driven by graduate unemployment.

Comment: A testable, nonobvious prediction based on a quantitative model. Score one for Agent Romeo.

15) Julian Glover thinks “the age of depoliticised power will come to an end”.

Comment: I think he means things like independent central banks. It’s not at all clear though. Still, chalk it up; if the ECB gives up monetarism by December, he’s right.

16) Libby Brooks thinks “the gardener who knows how to grow their own carrots” will be valued more than a hedge fund manager, and the success of Mamma Mia! is an example of a profound change in our views of status.

Comment: I think there is more than a little contradiction here, and not just because nobody ever liked hedgies anyway. Again, vague puffology about abstract nouns.

17) Seamus Milne thinks the “the neoliberal model is collapsing around our ears, but what is going to replace it is still up for grabs”.

Comment: Not a prediction, and unfalsifiable. If you read on, it turns out the old tankie really means “maybe this crisis is the one! world revolution is here!” but he’s wily enough to realise everyone will laugh if he says that.

18) Mark Lawson thinks William Golding’s books will come back into fashion.

Comment: God, I hope not. But at least it’s a prediction.

19) Scraping the barrel. Zoe Williams thinks that the idea of prime-time TV is obsolete, and that TV will be dominated by crowd-pleasing repeats.

Comment: Slightly contradictory. And whingeing about repeats? Radical.

20) Martin Kettle, for it is he, thinks the extreme Right in Europe will win more seats at the European Parliamentary elections. He doesn’t think this means a third world war is imminent, but he does not have “high confidence” of this.

Comment: Kettle, Kettle. The boy’s so prone, Ron. Trust him to make a fool of himself. I would think anything less than very high confidence that the radical right will not start a world war from Europe would be front-page news, but he actually buries this behind the shattering suggestion that the BNP might pick up an MEP or two.

Of course, that’s actually quite unlikely because the method of election favours parties with a small but widespread support base like the Greens, rather than ones with sporadic, concentrated support like the BNP.

21) Marina Hyde thinks the Russian state will continue to take control over more of the Russian economy, but will re-privatise in the future, only to re-expropriate a new set of temporary oligarchs when the next crisis arrives. And the Government will fail to get newly state-owned bank branches to open on Saturday mornings.

Comment: That’s actually a very good point. Two very good points, in fact. We have a winner!

There hasn’t been much progress on my long-term beef with Martin Kettle for a while. But it’s worth remembering that if the Guardian has a major leading article that isn’t a business/economics story, it’s probably him. And Saturday’s second lead (behind a rather competent finance story) bears the Kettle hallmarks.

Forty years ago the Royal Navy came up with a wheeze to persuade the government to buy a new fleet of aircraft carriers – it claimed that they were actually “through deck cruisers”. There was no need for pretence this week when the £3.9bn order for two superships was signed in Govan. The vessels, to be named after the Queen and her son (another naval wheeze – would any government dare axe Her Majesty?), should come into service from 2014 as the oceanic embodiment of British power.

Well, he could have mentioned that the “new fleet of aircraft carriers” weren’t designed as aircraft carriers, either; the Invincible class originally only carried 5 fighters, intended to chase off Soviet Bear reconnaissance planes rather than to provide serious air defence, and their main mission was as a base for anti-submarine helicopters. The Invincibles’ role as light fleet carriers was originally a desperate hack for the Falklands, which the Navy realised could be built upon.

(And if you want a good story about the CVA-01 decision, why not mention the fact the RAF promised they could provide air cover to British forces anywhere on earth, producing a map to support this on which Australia was about 300 miles north-west of where conventional wisdom would suggest?)

The government is proud, the navy thrilled and the army jealous. The problem is that no one seems to know exactly what the ships are intended to do or how they will be paid for.

Wrong; they will provide fleet air defence, the same for British or allied landing forces, close air support for troops ashore, and a significant air strike capability, with secondary ASW, command and control and logistic roles. They are budgeted for in the defence equipment programme. That is a cheap criticism, though. If Kettle means that we won’t ever need the use of an aircraft carrier, or that they are morally appalling in all cases, why doesn’t he say so?

Nor is it clear what sort of plane, if any, will fly from their decks: the Joint Strike Aircraft, which they are designed to carry, will not be ready in time (and will cost a further £12bn), even if the United States goes ahead with the necessary vertical takeoff version, which is not certain. In the meantime the navy will have to make do with its ageing Harriers.

It’s perfectly clear. Harrier until the F-35 ISD in 2014, thereafter F-35. You’ve just said so yourself. Further, note that Kettle is complaining that the Fleet Air Arm’s Harriers are “ageing” and also complaining about replacing them, within the space of two sentences. Is he even aware, I wonder, that there are Harriers in the RAF as well? And that they are no newer? The argument that the cost of replacing Harrier is all the fault of the Navy is dishonest; the Harriers will wear out, whether they are flying from Illustrious and Ark Royal, the future Queen Elizabeths, or land bases.

And if you’re worried about the Army (they are “jealous”, remember), you should be aware that the Harrier force’s central mission is to support the infantry. The aircraft itself was designed back in 1969 as a specialised close support aircraft, a sturmovik as the Russians would say, one that would be small, manoeuvrable, with a lot of space for weapons, and no requirement for airfields at all. This was why the US Marines, probably the most CAS-minded air force in the world, bought them. Letting the Harrier force go isn’t an option – because we already cut half the RAF’s CAS aircraft two years ago when the Jaguars were decommissioned, and the press didn’t really notice.

For a government facing a tricky byelection in Glasgow, led by a prime minister from Fife, it is easy to understand the attractions of ships built partly in Govan and Rosyth. Last year’s Commons statement giving the go-ahead was greeted by MPs cheering news of work going to their constituencies. What was lacking – and has been since the 1998 strategic defence review set out plans for the vessels – was a discussion of why the ships are needed, or how they can be afforded

And you’re not going to get one here. Viz:

No one doubts the importance of carrier fleets in certain circumstances – Britain could not have fought the Falklands war without Hermes and Invincible. Floating off some future conflict zone or humanitarian disaster, the new ships will prove valuable. But so might many other forms of military resource, some of which will be sacrificed to pay for these aircraft carriers. The army lacks secure patrol vehicles and helicopters, but the Future Lynx helicopter programme looks likely to be scrapped in order to bail out a defence budget that is already overspent and must now fund naval gigantism.

Many other forms, eh. Fortunately the Matra-BAE Dynamics Ideological Handwave appears to be cheap and available off the shelf. The FLYNX project ought to be scrapped anyway, because it’s a procurement zombie – it’s been going on for ten years, not a single helicopter has been procured, but no less than three different sets of capability requirements have been written, at astonishing cost, and the current solution is to buy another lot of the same helicopters, which don’t actually cover the LIFT element of the requirement (which is the bit about racing to the succour of the wounded in Afghanistan, Minister), and are rather large and expensive for the FIND element, which is about sneaking about spying, and could better be done by robots, more smaller and cheaper helicopters, or by ones big enough to cover the LIFT requirement with the spooky gear bolted on.

Regarding the “secure patrol vehicle” thing, here’s Armchair Generalist. Sure, everyone would like to see more of them. But they are relatively cheap, and in fact the government keeps buying more of them. Which is a pity, because they are completely useless for anything other than Iraq and some missions in Afghanistan (the ones where you don’t need either heavy metal, or mobility). But politicians love them because they show We Care. As far as Army procurement goes, the generals are more concerned about the FRES project, which is costed at £14bn and has already spent hundreds of millions of pounds without building a single vehicle. Many people think it is actually physically impossible.

Further, the Invincible class lasted 30 years; HMS Fearless was laid down in 1964 and managed to launch Chinooks full of SBS men into Afghanistan in 2001. Will we be in Iraq or Afghanistan in 4 years, let alone 14 or 40?

So we didn’t get a serious discussion of why the ships are needed, did we? Oh well, space constraints. What about the solution?

This does not mean Britain should not have access to carriers; only that it cannot afford to build and support two new ships, three times the size of its current ones, without doing harm to other capabilities. The answer would have been to share the cost of construction and operation with France, which has just pulled back from expanding its own carrier fleet. Talk of this last month led to silly tabloid headlines about an EU navy. But a shared fleet and a capable military to back it up would do much more for global security than two big British ships and a cash-strapped army – even if it meant that the red ensign had to fly alongside the tricolour.

What does “access” to carriers mean? I hate this “access to” meme – it’s a long standing government way of saying “something other than what you need”. Rather than poverty, unemployment, or a terrible diet, your problem is that you “struggle to access finance, employment, and fresh foods”. I fully expect to hear a government minister explain how they “are taking forward an initiative to improve our counter-terrorist capability’s access to ammunition”.

More seriously, how can we possibly “share the cost of construction and operation” with France when France has just “pulled back from expanding its own carrier fleet”? The French government wants to make some quite impressive cuts in its defence budget, and has decided to put off building a ship, so why would they give us money to work on ours? This “answer” is actually self-refuting.

In fact, the French are likely to get assurances of some sort of the use of the British ships for training when the Charles de Gaulle is in dock, and perhaps also of support if something comes up. Presumably they will offer something in return. This is roughly what Kettle is suggesting, but reversed; but it’s impossible for both Britain and France to do this, just as two people with no money cannot help each other out by lending to each other.

And on top of this, we finish with what sounds like a call to revive the European Defence Community of 1954, which is…different. After all, the Guardian’s policy is not actually to support the creation of a single European state, the last I heard. Nobody actually wants this, and there is no evidence the French do. How it would work, who would command it, who would task it…all this is handwaved away.

Worse, this is a common fault of much discussion of British defence policy. On the Right, the assumption is usually that we don’t need a policy because the Americans will provide. On the Left, it’s usually that we don’t because the Europeans will pay, as if there was a great pool of available funding or forces over there. It makes as much sense as assuming that “the Boche will pay” did in 1919.

Here, it’s driven by Kettle’s addiction to Neither-Nor Criticism. He wants to appear decently anti-militaristic and concerned – this is the Manchester Guardian, after all – but he also doesn’t want to accept the policy consequences of this. After all, he’s a sodding Decent! How can you be a fan of humanitarian intervention and the war in Iraq, but also be opposed to having a blue-water navy? If you don’t think we need a navy, or you think that we don’t need armed forces at all, go ahead and make a case. If you think we do, then please suggest a shape of the forces and a foreign policy that would reliably not need the carriers. But he refuses to go anywhere near either. So, what we get is a sort of tepid soup of unexamined assumptions, with the extra feature that he seems to be desperately underbriefed on the issue.

Alternatively, the reason why he dislikes the carrier project is that it might confer too much independence of the United States. Now, this would indeed be consistently Decent. Some sort of half-baked “access to carriers” would be far more likely to prevent independent British – or European – action, and far more likely to compel a future prime minister to march because some ally wanted it. George Orwell attacked the “shabby kind of pacifism common to countries with strong navies”, in a passage much quoted by the Decents. But how much worse is a shabby kind of militarism that doesn’t want to pay for the Navy?

Martin Kettle can fuck off with this:

The bright Tory shadow Cabinet Office minister Greg Clark asked recently why politicians are so ready to discuss antisocial behaviour but so poor at discussing its pro-social equivalent.

Bright? Christ, we’re in a bad way. The first thing that needs discussing here is that “pro-social behaviour” is a term doing a hell of a lot of work; as with anything that could be de-syllabicised as “good stuff”, it’s profoundly meaningless.

But it’s worse; who decides what is “pro-social”? What limits would be set on this power? “Pro-social behaviour” according to the State could be anything from insulation to denouncing your neighbours to the NKVD, and has been both these things and everything in between. Those states who have the institution of a Ministry for Promoting Virtue and Punishing Vice, like Saudi Arabia and the former Afghan government, presumably believe themselves to be promoting “pro-social behaviour”.

And why does Kettle pass by this without offering any explanation of why politicians apparently find it difficult to discuss “pro-social behaviour” as opposed to “anti-social behaviour”? My guess is blatant partisanship. Politicians like “anti-social behaviour” for a number of reasons; the first and probably least repellent is that like “pro-social behaviour”, it’s a concept with no meaning at all. It’s the modern version of Orwell’s crack about “fascism” now meaning “something not desirable”. Nobody is in favour of anti-social behaviour, by definition.

But then, nobody considers their own behaviour anti-social; this is my second and rather uglier reason. Anti-social behaviour is what THOSE PEOPLE do; youths! the white working class! braying posh kids in Cornwall! black people! asylum seekers! It’s a cheap way of being indifferently hostile to all possible target-groups and therefore pandering to every prejudice available in the population, a rhetorical multiple independent re-entry vehicle.

And finally, politicians love anti-social behaviour because its solution is negative; you punish and coerce people you expect to commit it. I, the Man in Whitehall, can order the powers of the state to go and harass the potentially anti-social; I can be reasonably certain that the police will manage to be unpleasant to sufficient numbers of people who at least some groups of voters will consider to be anti-social. This is at least one managerialist control that will indeed produce results.

Further, anyone who can use the phrase “the bag menace” without apparent irony wants…severely criticising.

It used to be reasonably commonplace that bloggers, especially American ones, would say that at least in Britain there was enough diversity in the press that no equivalent to the classic US pundit wanker existed – no-one like David Brooks or David Broder, essentially content-free and heavily invested in the self-regard of the political class. Rather, you had a choice between, say, Alan Watkins, Polly Toynbee, Richard Littlejohn, Tariq Ali, and David Aaronovitch; hardly an enviable choice, but at least a choice.

But there is a version of the kind of thing the US blogosphere has raged against for years; and Martin Kettle of the Guardian is it. I think it was Daniel Davies who said about him that some people are useful idiots, but he is a useless one. I disagree; he certainly has his uses, just not to me, you, or Daniel Davies. Let’s see a take.

Here’s his response to the conviction of the Metropolitan Police.

There is no easy answer to the question of whether Sir Ian Blair should resign as London’s police chief. Anyone who pretends otherwise is kidding. There are serious arguments for him to fall on his sword. But there are also serious arguments for him to stay where he is. On balance the case for him remaining commissioner is much stronger. Yet it would be idle to say this without reservations.

We’ll stop here to mark a couple of tropes; first of all, there’s what Roland Barthes called Neither-Nor Criticism. All Kettle’s published work is riddled with it. On the one hand there’s this, on the other hand there’s that, and therefore the answer is to be neither of them, and say nothing of any interest. This wouldn’t be so bad if we were in an ideal society, or else in the original position, when nothing was settled; but we’re not, and therefore the impact of this sort of speech is to reinforce things as they are now, with God in his heaven, the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, Sir Ian Blair in Scotland Yard, and Jean Charles de Menezes in his grave.

The main argument for Blair to go is simple. He is the head of a police force that killed an innocent man under a firearms policy he authorised and controlled. To me, the circumstances in which Jean Charles de Menezes was gunned down by Blair’s officers are less important than the fact that it happened at all. Police forces should not kill innocent people, period.

Yet when they do, justice demands that those who did the killing must be held to account. Most of all, this applies to those who pulled the trigger. But police chiefs must accept their share of responsibility too. As the man in charge, the buck stops with Blair. Of course he should consider his position. I would be utterly amazed if he has not done so.

He’s a nice guy really; he’s one of us. Has Kettle considered that he simply likes power too much to give it up, or has political ambitions? Or that he might simply refuse to believe he could be wrong?

This responsibility applies with special force over police shootings. Yes, some police shootings are not merely justified by their circumstances but are also acts of high courage. Far too many, however, are neither of these things. Though rare, the death of De Menezes was not a one-off. Fifteen people have been killed by British police shooters since 2002. Nor was this the most egregious case in recent memory. Remember the indefensible fate of Steven Waldorf (who survived) or John Shorthouse a generation ago.

There are established patterns in all police forces of reckless shooting, excessive firing, insufficient training, poor supervision and inadequate accountability. We have to enforce a higher standard than in the past, and the most important police officer in the land must observe it.

Kettle has just claimed that the situation is far worse than David Davis, Mr. Justice Henriques, or the IPCC suggest; the police force is a menace, has been a menace for years, and the menace extends to the provincial forces as well as the Met. Surely we ought to do something about it? Now, this would have been a reasonable contribution to the debate had it stopped here. But, of course, although in a sense the Met’s failings are accepted as true, they are also inadmissible, as Orwell put it. Therefore, something must be found to cancel out the information in the first part of the article.

So why then say he should not resign? Surely because, more than anything else, this was such an extreme emergency. The police genuinely thought De Menezes was a suicide bomber. They were wrong. Yet, on the day of his death, every one of the officers in the capital was hunting for four bombers who had failed to blow themselves up on the underground the previous day.

Yes, in a manner so catastrophically hopeless they were lucky they didn’t kill more people. They were also looking in the wrong places entirely; the bombers were in Birmingham, and in Italy having successfully got past Special Branch’s spotter at Waterloo.

The police were at full stretch, in real danger, and bore a massive responsibility to the public. It ended horribly wrongly for De Menezes. Yet those who reserve the entirety of their indignation for the tragic Brazilian are not looking at this situation objectively.

Objectively, huh? Translation: I was a commie at university until I saw which way house prices were going. That is cheap snark, but it’s a classic mark of the breed that anyone who disagrees with them isn’t “serious”, isn’t “objective”, isn’t quite sane. If he wants to talk objectivity, by the way, perhaps he should consider even mentioning the facts of the case; we haven’t seen a single fact about it so far.

What about this week’s finding of guilt against the Metropolitan Police under the health and safety laws? Surely Blair should accept responsibility for that? It would be dishonest not to admit this is a serious question. I admit to feeling, even when the law is a complete ass, that bosses ought to step up to the plate if their organisations are found guilty. But I accept it with the utmost reluctance in this case – and I passionately hope the Met appeals and wins.

You can argue that it wasn’t Blair’s fault; but can you honestly argue that the courts should strike out the 19 failings, the firearms team who took five hours to rock up, the mystery senior colleague, the arse-awful command and control? But he’s going to; not because he disagrees with any of the facts of the case, but because he thinks the court should rule on the basis of what would be a nice verdict, not on the evidence. But first, this…

You see, I want to be protected from the suicide bombers. I’m a hundred per cent in favour of peaceful prevention if humanly possible. But I don’t care how indignant the bomber feels. If it comes down to the bomber’s life or mine, I want the bomber to be stopped every time, and by force if necessary. Ken Livingstone is wholly correct to say that health and safety legislation was never drawn up for such extreme situations as this. And the law is not just an ass but an outright threat to liberty if this week’s judgment means a future armed officer is afraid to fire at a real suicide bomber in similar circumstances.

Oh, right, it’s because you’re scared. When I read this I had the feeling of having seen something shameful, someone behaving in a pathetic and embarrassing and humiliating fashion. Who the fuck said anything about how “indignant the bomber feels”? What fucking bomber, for fuck’s sake? There wasn’t any bomber; you can come out now. I want Sir Ian Blair sacked because I’ve considered the evidence, and I conclude that I’ve met all kinds of people – warehouse workers, Australian stockmen, Viennese anarcho-feminists, telco executives, random bloggers – who I’d sooner trust to protect London from terrorists.

And no, it’s not a “threat to liberty”; it’s a possible threat to security. Liberty is just fine with the idea that the police should be less keen to shoot.

More seriously, where do these people get the idea that organisations with safety critical functions work better in the absence of criticism or responsibility? It can’t be from experience; Kettle is a career pundit, having started out as a leader writer. The whole history of safety engineering is the exact opposite; if you’re playing with the big boys’ toys, you cannot afford to skim over your mistakes, ever. There are very good reasons why airlines have senior training captains and CHIRP confidential-reporting forms, companies have external auditors, and newspapers have editors.

Come to think of it, the whole history of Western political thought is about this exact point; the limitation of power. It’s a timeless, placeless truth – anyone who tells you they need absolute irresponsibility to work better is wrong.

Be clear that this is now a real possibility. That is why the conviction of the Met this week was bad news not good news. The tyranny of the insurance-driven risk assessment culture – which ironically the commissioner would now be negligent to ignore – means you and I will be less well-protected in future by the police than we were in July 2005. This week’s judgment tells those who try to save us to hold back. It leaves us collectively in the same position as the boy who was allowed to drown the other day because a police community support officer judged himself unqualified to plunge in to rescue him. This law is monstrously inappropriate to all the emergency services. Londoners are at much greater risk after this ruling.

Right, Martin; the first damn thing you learn on a first-aid course about drowning is DON’T JUMP IN THE WATER. There is a reason for this; if someone’s drowning in the water there is quite probably a reason why they are drowning, and drowning yourself will not help them one bit. Your analogy is stupid.

Anyway, I refer your point to the reply I gave some moments ago.

In my view the good policing of London is ultimately more important to British justice than the De Menezes case. Blair can sometimes be a bit foolish. But he is answerable and accountable to the public in ways that few of his predecessors ever were.

He is so accountable, clearly, that he doesn’t need to be accountable!

He is also, overall, the most important commissioner London has had since Robert Mark in the 1970s. Blair’s neighbourhood policing strategy is the best thing that has happened to policing in modern times – and it is producing results for communities. Those who are trying to push Blair out are doing no favours to anyone except his enemies in the police and the press, who want to turn back the clock.

He’s not seriously proposing that bobbies-on-the-beat-bollocks and ASBOs are so fantastic they outweigh coming to arrest one suicide bomber, killing an innocent man, and sticking up two more people with guns despite only having one suspect? Anyway, note an important point; what matters is not the dead guy, or even really the policing of London, but whether “his enemies in the police and the press” or Sir Ian come out on top. This is a classic piece of pundit wankerism; to be a good pundit, you have to believe at once that Westminster politics is absolutely crushingly, dominatingly important and also that it is irrelevant. The eyes of the world are on this restaurant, but the actual policy content of what is discussed there is of surpassing irrelevance.

What happened to De Menezes was awful. Yet, awful as it was, it was not as big an outrage as the bombers had in mind. Even the judge this week said it was an isolated breach in extraordinary circumstances. Yes, the police have occasionally got it wrong again in the aftermath – not least in the adversarial forum of the court. Maybe Blair should have gone to Stockwell soon after the killing and knelt in contrition, Willy Brandt-style, at the makeshift shrine that grew up outside the tube station. Maybe he still should.

Willy Brandt was a Social Democrat underground activist in Nazi Germany before he had to go into exile; he had a million times more courage, dignity, and spirit of public service than anyone in Britain today. This bit makes me want to vomit, but I’d love to know what such a repellent exercise in the pornography of grief would do for the Met’s command and control system. If there is something to grieve for here, it’s the great tradition of Robert Peel, the ideal of an unarmed, civilian, locally accountable investigative police force drawn from the people it polices.

Yet how many apologies will be enough? There must be a point when repeatedly going over a relatively isolated disaster like the Stockwell shooting must stop. Maybe that point has not quite arrived.

I remember this argument being made over every appalling act of state, going back to the Guildford Four, including all the great miscarriages of justice of the 1970s, BSE, arms to Iraq, Bloody Sunday…and quite often Martin Kettle writing leaders in the Guardian saying that they must be fought out to a finish. Note that even here, he’s still unwilling to make a definite statement; maybe that point has not quite arrived.

But it is increasingly unclear whose interest beyond those of the conspiracy theorists and the victimologists is served by the process, especially when the costs may be underwritten by a Brazilian government that should put its own house in order – police in Rio state have killed 961 Brazilians in 2007 alone – before ours. Maybe it is tactless to remind readers that public opinion supports the shoot-to-kill-to-protect policy. But it is true. And it is another reason why it is in the interests of the public as well as the state for this debate, not Blair, to move on.

And this par is simply beneath contempt; which “conspiracy theorists”, pray? The IPCC? Precisely how do the failings of the Rio police bear on this? Imagine if the firearms squad had got a different passenger, or perhaps the train driver they very nearly did kill; would Kettle argue it was quite all right because the Rio police are awful? This argument is merely code for “it doesn’t matter; he was sort of black.”

It’s also worth pointing out that it has only ever been invoked by the Met’s tireless anonymous briefers, just as “shoot-to-kill-to-protect” is a phrase that has only ever been used by Sir Ian Blair.

Update: I’ve just noticed that this is the sixth full-dress fisking I’ve directed at Martin Kettle in less than a year. Therefore, I’ve created a new blog category so as to keep all my Kettle content in an easily addressable form. Just click on the Kettle tag to view all of them in one crack-like hit.

Well, where to start with my utter rage at the kiboshed Al-Yamamah investigation? It’s a total map of state direness, New Labour subtype: we have hypocrisy, we have a good day to bury bad news, we have cash, we have Lord Goldsmith, the professional get out of jail card himself. Obviously, this being a blog, we’ll start by abusing a leader-writer.

In today’s Guardian, we have Martin Kettle, who wants to say that we aren’t serious enough and we don’t understand how tough it is for politicians. In fact, our understanding is so minimal we will slide into fascism, and be raped by the dogs of a British Pinochet. No, this is not snark. Mr. Kettle actually threatens the nation at large with a British Pinochet, which put like that sounds pleasingly like some kind of baroquely obsolete firearm. Look at him! Look at Martin Kettle!, as Withnail would say.

I’ve said before that I’m not comfortable with the fisking tradition, but then, consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Here goes.

It had been Tony Blair’s day of infamy, the veteran pundit Anthony Howard told Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight. By yesterday morning, having drunk deep from Thursday’s heady cocktail of police interviews, discontinued fraud inquiries, and furtively announced airport expansions and post office closures, the amalgamated union of right thinking people all seemed to agree with him.

Well, count me out of this facile consensus. A difficult and politically damaging day, yes. A shaming day too, in some respects, particularly on the killing off of the BAE Systems probe. Further evidence of the Blair government’s terminally battered condition? Certainly. But a day of infamy? Get real. Kenneth Williams rather than Franklin Roosevelt spoke with more relevance about Blair’s real predicament. Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it infamy.

Ipswich Killer: “By yesterday morning, having murdered five women, I found the amalgamated union of right-thinking people all seemed to agree that killing them was wrong. Count me out of this facile consensus!” Yes, I know it’s tasteless. I know it’s not serious. But if seriousness and good taste are what Kettle defines them to be – and we’ll get to that – you can, ah, count me out of this facile consensus. “Seriousness”, “responsibility”, “consensus” – these are all words that are very useful translations of “in the interests of power”. Kettle:

The government has accumulated many failings over the years. Yet it is not alone. Especially since the 2005 general election, much of the wider political culture, of which the media also forms part, has failed too. As a society, we seem to be living through a collective suspension of seriousness about how politics and government should be carried out in modern Britain. This is doing sustained damage to our ability to think clearly about what we expect from politicians and ministers. Of course, some of this deepening disengagement and cynicism is the government’s doing. But it is time there was more honesty and self-criticism about the role of the wider political culture too.

The issues of the week exemplify what’s wrong. Yes, it is embarrassing that a serving prime minister should be questioned in Downing Street as part of a criminal investigation into political donations. And yes, part of the issue lies in the way Blair leads his party and his government. But the fundamental failing is not his. As a country and culture we have not worked out an open and fair system of financing necessary political life in a rapidly changing world. We wish for the end, but persistently ignore the means. Yet with a general election to fight in 2005, the parties had to act. The rest of us can afford to hold our noses. The parties needed big money in the bank. In that sense, Blair is a victim of our collective failure, not the perpetrator of his own individual one.

Note the tropes of establishment journalism, the false balancing (yes, the government has failed, but so has the media, and apparently the nation, every man jack of us, too, so no-one is responsible), the false generalisation that lumps the government in with the opposition, the politician and the bureaucrat with the journalist and the activist, the worker and the boss. Everyone is to blame, so nobody is responsible – it’s not new, but it’s effective, something bound to go over well at the Glasgow Empire.

So, what would have happened if all of us – tweed-makers on Harris, tarts in Ipswich, programmers in Reading, immigrant cleaners in the West End, unemployed ex-miners in Featherstone, BAE bagmen in Mayfair (they have rights too!) – had bent our minds to designing a state funding scheme for political parties? Precisely nothing, if the government had not wanted to find parliamentary time for a bill to make it so. Let’s be clear: Tony Blair did not find the parliamentary time for such, and he’s the man who decides. Of course, the opposition could have, but they didn’t – and do you think the Government would have voted with them?

The parties had to act, the poor dears. Well, they could have cut down on TV and billboard display ads, on tele-harassment, and sent the MPs to hammer the streets more. Perhaps they might have had to reconsider their policies, if they had discovered a lack of activists. Perhaps, with less money for neat debate-framing tricks and mass bullshit, we might have had some token of a real debate on institutions, aims and values. Who knows? Instead, they accepted bribes.

Or take the BAE Systems inquiry. Yes, it is humiliating that a multi-million pound corruption investigation should be pulled in the interests of keeping onside with the Saudis. Lord Goldsmith’s announcement that the rule of law at home has to be sacrificed to our failing foreign policy entanglements will haunt him – though he also says, and it can’t be merely ignored, that he thinks a prosecution would fail. The whole saga underlines that close relations with the House of Saud come at a price – which others remain happy to pay – that is neither politically perverse nor materially trivial. Oil supplies matter. Middle Eastern peace, stability and security matter, even though, Lord knows, we get these things badly wrong. Defence contracts and jobs matter too. It is too easy to brush aside the complex web of practical issues as if they are of no account. Ministers do not have that luxury.

So – it is wrong to kill the SFO inquiry, our foreign policy is failing, Goldsmith will be “haunted” (may I suggest a donation to Combat Stress? some people have had to do more haunting things than give the Prime Minister what he wants, when he wants it), but nobody should be responsible. Trebles all round. We don’t import very much oil, although we will more and more, and Saudi Arabia is not the obvious place to get it (Norway isn’t far). Obviously, if they were to stop exporting, the price would shoot through the roof – but why, pray, would they do that rather than just buying French?

The TYR research staff recently did a simulation of Saudi Arabia stopping oil exports, and we gave up at the point where the king was lynched by a screaming mob. It is not, by the way, beyond the bounds of possibility that they might export a lot less in the future simply because they run out – perhaps a more useful topic to direct a national newspaper column at. Anyway, “Middle Eastern peace, stability and security”? Have these ever been served by sending more guns? Is Tony Blair really the best man to ask what might lead to them? (After all, Lord knows, we get these things badly wrong.) And these jobs? Well, the aircraft being sold to Saudi Arabia are the ones the RAF was told it couldn’t have by the Treasury. They are not additional airframes. Had Lord Drayson not signed his historic piece of paper with Lockheed – on the same day! – they might have gone to the Navy. BAE would have got rid of them somehow.

Similar realities dog every decision across the political board. It’s what politics and government are about. Expand our airports or keep them as they are? Things to be said on both sides. Close down lots of barely used post offices or maintain them as a community resource? Pros and cons again. But in the end, decisions must be made. I think the way we raise political donations is wrong. I think the government should not have killed the BAE probe, especially, post-Iraq, for security reasons. But I can see what was at stake, and even respect its seriousness. The bigger the issue, the bigger the stakes and consequences, as John Major rightly said about withdrawal from Iraq yesterday.

This is not to maunder about how difficult everything is. It is to insist that we must not oversimplify. For the past five years, far too much of the British political conversation – disproportionately dominated, as ever, by the educated middle class of both right and left – has been reduced to an assumption of contempt and superiority, above all towards Blair himself, but also towards the Labour government and to politics in general. This is both wrong and dangerous. Our politics has never been as sleazy as we pretend, either in the Major years or now. Our politicians are not moral pygmies. Ultimately such talk paves the way for a Le Pen or a Pinochet – or worse. We may be drifting towards such a point.

Worse than Pinochet? Worse than thousands of dead, 40 per cent unemployment, electric shocks, death squads sent abroad? Apparently, we now have a duty as citizens to forget our citizenship, to ask no questions, to help the enlightened ones (and who the hell are they but the educated middle class?) in power in their aims – or face the slide to fascism.

The bigger the issue, the bigger the stakes and consequences. Very true. Doesn’t that mean that “the issue” affects all the citizens? Kettle seems to argue that the more important something is, the less scrutiny is required. This is roughly how the state functions, anyway – it is true that planning decisions in local councils go through tortuous examination and careful precautions against corruption, and civil servants’ mileage expenses are scrupulously audited. But the odd open-ended guerrilla war goes through on the nod. This is, at a deep level, the whole Kettle argument – that pomposity sanctifies. He argues that

The continuing and inevitable disappointments of the last decade have been legion. Thursday was a shabby day.

But:

It is whether the particular record of compromises and best efforts that they make over a generation means that they have passed on a better country than the one they inherited.

So if the disappointments were legion, surely things ain’t quite just so peachy as all that? Ah, no. We are the adults, and we know best. We are Serious. The rest of you refuse to realise our problems. You ought to be grateful. Peter Hennessy remarked, apparently, that all British males are products of empire. Kettle, here, is a very specific one. He is the Sirkar, the “ruler as the gift of God” in the Moghul honorific hijacked by the Indian Civil Service.

This Martin Kettle op ed from the Grauniad regarding General Dannatt’s act of random reason and senseless honesty really annoys me. First up, this quote from Samuel “Clash of Civilisations” Huntington, and Kettle’s approving comments:

In the end, although the generals might propose, it was the political leaders who disposed, even in the heat of war. The high-minded judgment by the political scientist Samuel Huntingdon that “if the statesman decides upon war which the soldier knows can only lead to national catastrophe, then the soldier, after presenting his opinion, must fall to and make the best of a bad situation” remains largely true today in theory and practice. Theirs but to do or die, even when someone has blundered.

Shorter Sam: Back in your box, von Stauffenberg. Really, has there been any issue in this man’s career he hasn’t been catastrophically wrong about? In the 1960s he wrote a book about how converting people into refugees in Vietnam – “forced-draft urbanisation and modernisation” as he put it – was “the solution to “wars of national liberation””. Bombing and dragooning them into the slums would expose the enemy and permit the government to keep tabs on them whilst also exposing them to the material benefits of western society. (That is, if we hadn’t given them third-degree burns in the process.)

Quite a lot of US generals, like the hopeless William DePuy (“the solution in Vietnam is more bombs, more shells and more napalm until the enemy cracks and gives up”), actually believed this obscene nonsense, at least until the Tet offensive demonstrated that transferring a guerrilla sympathiser from his village to the capital only makes him that much nearer your office. But that didn’t stop Sam. He also believed that western and communist economies were converging, that – say – Hungary and Italy were developing industries in a similar fashion. Ouch. Most recently, he came up with his clash of civilisations. Like all his big ideas, it’s a superficially attractive notion with the great advantage that it suggests doing what the elite to which it is directed already thinks is right. I am reminded of Fafnir’s crack about “Tell me more about this “not-our-fault” theory – I find it oddly compelling.”

Its vacuity is best demonstrated by the fact that civilisations are resolutely refusing to clash. Where is the great struggle for influence between Orthodox and Western Christianity, between Buddhism and Hinduism, between China and Russia? It’s not as if, say, Turkey, Indonesia, India and Albania were locked in bloody conflict with their non-Islamic neighbours. If it has any validity at all, it’s more like the clash of some bits of some civilisations somewhere and sometime, which is to say “the stuff that’s been going on through the whole of recorded history”. Huntington, I award you one of Anders Sandberg’s warning signs for tomorrow:

The black lightbulb, for really stupid ideas. After all, Huntington and Kettle’s vision of civilian control of the armed forces would be as if Tony Blair’s doctor was summoned, to find the prime minister begging for his heart to be removed. The doctor would say “There is no need to remove your heart.” Blair insists. It’s the central front in the war on cardiac arrythmia. The doctor says that it’s extremely dangerous, in fact it would be fatal. Blair won’t go back on his decision to fight the enemy within. “Prime Minister, this is madness,” says the doctor. “You will certainly die.” Blair says that leadership is sacrifice. “I took the Hippocratic oath,” says the doctor. “Ethically, I can’t operate on you to no purpose. And the operation will certainly kill you. But it would be unconstitutional to refuse. Pass the scalpel!

In essentially all Western armies, the soldier is under a duty to obey any legal order, and a further duty to disobey any illegal order. I think there is a strong analogy that the head of the army has a duty to disobey an order that would be impossible to carry out, or to resign rather than attempt to carry it out. Certainly, the just war doctrine holds that war is morally defensible when the order to begin it comes from legitimate authority, the evil caused is less than the alternative, and there is a reasonable prospect of success. After all, if the effort to prevent the greater evil fails, all it will have achieved is the additional evil of going to war.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. Traditionally, the separation of politics and command is meant to constrain the military from positive action. Civilian control is there to prevent war or tyranny. But the logic that the army must be prevented from doing illegitimate or dangerous acts falls down if the civilian government is bent on doing them itself. Then, if civilian control is absolute, why is it not also absolute with regard to the individual? No-one, I take it, thinks that the individual should not have the right to refuse an illegal order. To put it another way, the government cannot legitimately use civilian control to order war crimes. So why should it have the right to use it to order, say, the crime of aggression in international law? Martin Kettle presumably doesn’t accept the “only obeying orders” defence as any fit way for a citizen to conduct themselves. So it is very strange to see an editor of the Guardian – the newspaper founded to defend Liberal principles – arguing Keitel’s side.

Oh yes, that elite consensus. Moving on, Kettle rolls out some really awful media-managerialist nonsense to support his conclusions. Or rather, having approvingly cited Huntington’s Nuremburg nonsense, he then tacks away from it, claiming he is only doing so for form’s sake, and ends up indulging in what Roland Barthes would have called Neither-Nor criticism. The civilian control of the military is absolute to the degree described above, but even so, Dannatt was probably right to speak out. And why? Consider these paragraphs:

But we also have to recognise that these are changed times. Military action, especially by democratic states, requires new and more modern forms of legitimacy if it is to be politically sustainable. The reason why all our political parties now agree that parliament should have the final say on going to war is because most of our foreseeable wars are elective, just as Iraq was. They are fought on behalf of consumerist societies almost wholly unaffected by any form of direct engagement. They can no longer be fought or carried to completion without ongoing public education, debate and scrutiny. Excluding the military from this process is not impossible, but it would be bizarre, not least because the military’s own credibility is so much at stake too.

…[snip]..

We are already in an age in which military action requires new forms of consent. The disciplines and sacrifices of the total wars of the 20th century are now a receding memory. Today’s wars are won and lost on primetime, almost as if they are reality TV. Soldiers in the field now claim and exercise rights – to call up chatshows, and to phone, text and email home – that would have brought the campaigns on the western front to their knees within minutes. All of this makes military action much harder to launch and maintain than in the very different conflicts of bygone times. Whether that is a good or bad thing is a separate point. But these are debates from which military commanders surely cannot be uniquely excluded.

Note the managerialist insistence that everything is different and must be new, new, new. But what does it mean to say that wars can no longer be fought without ongoing public education, debate and scrutiny? When could they be? The 18th century, perhaps. Exactly the disciplines and sacrifices of the total wars of the 20th century required the public’s total attention – that’s why they were “total” wars, no? In 1942, at the nadir of the Allied cause, there was a vote of no confidence in the Churchill government after a full-dress debate in the Commons. The Beveridge Report, ultimate touchstone of the postwar settlement, was prepared in mid-war. The First World War saw not one but two changes of government. The Korean War overlapped a general election and two changes of prime minister.

Furthermore, what evidence is there that more communication with the home population would have brought about a swift end to the First World War? The nations whose public opinion eventually did collapse – Germany and Austria – if anything had far stronger censorship. And Germany gave up because Ludendorff informed the government that there was no point fighting on, rather than dutifully defending the Meuse, the Mosel, and finally the Rhine at vast further cost in lives as, presumably, he should have done. But the content is not the point. The point is that it’s all different now for the usual vaguely defined half-reasons (“media”, “prime time” and the rest), and therefore the elite knows best. Just as elite consensus knows that there is an unbridgeable conflict between Britain and Iran, that David Cameron is exciting, and that Samuel Huntington’s advice is less dangerous than a sack of snakes.

This Martin Kettle op ed from the Grauniad regarding General Dannatt’s act of random reason and senseless honesty really annoys me. First up, this quote from Samuel “Clash of Civilisations” Huntington, and Kettle’s approving comments:

In the end, although the generals might propose, it was the political leaders who disposed, even in the heat of war. The high-minded judgment by the political scientist Samuel Huntingdon that “if the statesman decides upon war which the soldier knows can only lead to national catastrophe, then the soldier, after presenting his opinion, must fall to and make the best of a bad situation” remains largely true today in theory and practice. Theirs but to do or die, even when someone has blundered.

Shorter Sam: Back in your box, von Stauffenberg. Really, has there been any issue in this man’s career he hasn’t been catastrophically wrong about? In the 1960s he wrote a book about how converting people into refugees in Vietnam – “forced-draft urbanisation and modernisation” as he put it – was “the solution to “wars of national liberation””. Bombing and dragooning them into the slums would expose the enemy and permit the government to keep tabs on them whilst also exposing them to the material benefits of western society. (That is, if we hadn’t given them third-degree burns in the process.)

Quite a lot of US generals, like the hopeless William DePuy (“the solution in Vietnam is more bombs, more shells and more napalm until the enemy cracks and gives up”), actually believed this obscene nonsense, at least until the Tet offensive demonstrated that transferring a guerrilla sympathiser from his village to the capital only makes him that much nearer your office. But that didn’t stop Sam. He also believed that western and communist economies were converging, that – say – Hungary and Italy were developing industries in a similar fashion. Ouch. Most recently, he came up with his clash of civilisations. Like all his big ideas, it’s a superficially attractive notion with the great advantage that it suggests doing what the elite to which it is directed already thinks is right. I am reminded of Fafnir’s crack about “Tell me more about this “not-our-fault” theory – I find it oddly compelling.”

Its vacuity is best demonstrated by the fact that civilisations are resolutely refusing to clash. Where is the great struggle for influence between Orthodox and Western Christianity, between Buddhism and Hinduism, between China and Russia? It’s not as if, say, Turkey, Indonesia, India and Albania were locked in bloody conflict with their non-Islamic neighbours. If it has any validity at all, it’s more like the clash of some bits of some civilisations somewhere and sometime, which is to say “the stuff that’s been going on through the whole of recorded history”. Huntington, I award you one of Anders Sandberg’s warning signs for tomorrow:

The black lightbulb, for really stupid ideas. After all, Huntington and Kettle’s vision of civilian control of the armed forces would be as if Tony Blair’s doctor was summoned, to find the prime minister begging for his heart to be removed. The doctor would say “There is no need to remove your heart.” Blair insists. It’s the central front in the war on cardiac arrythmia. The doctor says that it’s extremely dangerous, in fact it would be fatal. Blair won’t go back on his decision to fight the enemy within. “Prime Minister, this is madness,” says the doctor. “You will certainly die.” Blair says that leadership is sacrifice. “I took the Hippocratic oath,” says the doctor. “Ethically, I can’t operate on you to no purpose. And the operation will certainly kill you. But it would be unconstitutional to refuse. Pass the scalpel!

In essentially all Western armies, the soldier is under a duty to obey any legal order, and a further duty to disobey any illegal order. I think there is a strong analogy that the head of the army has a duty to disobey an order that would be impossible to carry out, or to resign rather than attempt to carry it out. Certainly, the just war doctrine holds that war is morally defensible when the order to begin it comes from legitimate authority, the evil caused is less than the alternative, and there is a reasonable prospect of success. After all, if the effort to prevent the greater evil fails, all it will have achieved is the additional evil of going to war.

This brings us to the crux of the matter. Traditionally, the separation of politics and command is meant to constrain the military from positive action. Civilian control is there to prevent war or tyranny. But the logic that the army must be prevented from doing illegitimate or dangerous acts falls down if the civilian government is bent on doing them itself. Then, if civilian control is absolute, why is it not also absolute with regard to the individual? No-one, I take it, thinks that the individual should not have the right to refuse an illegal order. To put it another way, the government cannot legitimately use civilian control to order war crimes. So why should it have the right to use it to order, say, the crime of aggression in international law? Martin Kettle presumably doesn’t accept the “only obeying orders” defence as any fit way for a citizen to conduct themselves. So it is very strange to see an editor of the Guardian – the newspaper founded to defend Liberal principles – arguing Keitel’s side.

Oh yes, that elite consensus. Moving on, Kettle rolls out some really awful media-managerialist nonsense to support his conclusions. Or rather, having approvingly cited Huntington’s Nuremburg nonsense, he then tacks away from it, claiming he is only doing so for form’s sake, and ends up indulging in what Roland Barthes would have called Neither-Nor criticism. The civilian control of the military is absolute to the degree described above, but even so, Dannatt was probably right to speak out. And why? Consider these paragraphs:

But we also have to recognise that these are changed times. Military action, especially by democratic states, requires new and more modern forms of legitimacy if it is to be politically sustainable. The reason why all our political parties now agree that parliament should have the final say on going to war is because most of our foreseeable wars are elective, just as Iraq was. They are fought on behalf of consumerist societies almost wholly unaffected by any form of direct engagement. They can no longer be fought or carried to completion without ongoing public education, debate and scrutiny. Excluding the military from this process is not impossible, but it would be bizarre, not least because the military’s own credibility is so much at stake too.

…[snip]..

We are already in an age in which military action requires new forms of consent. The disciplines and sacrifices of the total wars of the 20th century are now a receding memory. Today’s wars are won and lost on primetime, almost as if they are reality TV. Soldiers in the field now claim and exercise rights – to call up chatshows, and to phone, text and email home – that would have brought the campaigns on the western front to their knees within minutes. All of this makes military action much harder to launch and maintain than in the very different conflicts of bygone times. Whether that is a good or bad thing is a separate point. But these are debates from which military commanders surely cannot be uniquely excluded.

Note the managerialist insistence that everything is different and must be new, new, new. But what does it mean to say that wars can no longer be fought without ongoing public education, debate and scrutiny? When could they be? The 18th century, perhaps. Exactly the disciplines and sacrifices of the total wars of the 20th century required the public’s total attention – that’s why they were “total” wars, no? In 1942, at the nadir of the Allied cause, there was a vote of no confidence in the Churchill government after a full-dress debate in the Commons. The Beveridge Report, ultimate touchstone of the postwar settlement, was prepared in mid-war. The First World War saw not one but two changes of government. The Korean War overlapped a general election and two changes of prime minister.

Furthermore, what evidence is there that more communication with the home population would have brought about a swift end to the First World War? The nations whose public opinion eventually did collapse – Germany and Austria – if anything had far stronger censorship. And Germany gave up because Ludendorff informed the government that there was no point fighting on, rather than dutifully defending the Meuse, the Mosel, and finally the Rhine at vast further cost in lives as, presumably, he should have done. But the content is not the point. The point is that it’s all different now for the usual vaguely defined half-reasons (“media”, “prime time” and the rest), and therefore the elite knows best. Just as elite consensus knows that there is an unbridgeable conflict between Britain and Iran, that David Cameron is exciting, and that Samuel Huntington’s advice is less dangerous than a sack of snakes.