The phrase comes from Matt d’Ancona’s article in the Evening Standard. Unlike you and me, Matt is on top of strategic dilemmas, no matter how complex.
Yet he also has a laudable common touch, which he once proved by flying clear across the world to attend Elton John’s party. Those less catholic in their tastes wouldn’t be caught dead at such a party even if it were held across the street – and in fact would complain to the police about too much noise.
But not our Matt: his grasp of ‘strategic dilemmas’ is fully matched by his celebrity worship. Both are evident from the article’s title: “Tony Blair’s instincts on Iraq were right – and Syria proves it.”
As far as Matt is concerned, Tony’s instinct are right on everything: after all, they both belong to the smart set that more or less runs Britain.
This elevated status raises them above the quotidian rough-and tumble where traditional moral and intellectual standards operate. The likes of Tony and Matt are true Gnostics, privy to knowledge inaccessible to anyone else.
The knowledge is purely metaphysical: no crude standards of logic or factual proof need apply. Those of us who have to crawl on the flinty ground of time-proven ratiocination simply can’t judge our modern demiurges.
Yet at a weak moment, such as now, one can’t resist the odd bit of analysis – in the full understanding that only the likes of Tony and Matt can ever possess the ultimate truth.
Matt is upset, as we all are, by the “systematic torture and killing of detained persons in Bashar Assad’s Syria, including the death of around 11,000.” Yet what does this prove? That Assad is a brutal dictator? But we already know this. That he falls short of our understanding of absolute goodness? Ditto.
Yet Assad isn’t exactly up against the forces of such goodness. Instead of indulging in oral flatulence, which is always easy, Matt should weigh one evil against the other, letting us decide which is the lesser one. Well, if he could, he wouldn’t be Matt.
Speaking to a group of university professors a year ago, I invited them to compare the number of people killed under South African apartheid (a few hundred) to those murdered by the Russian communists (about 60 million). The educators got very angry. When morality is involved, they screamed, numbers don’t matter.
“They do,” I objected, “to those extra 60 million victims and their families.” I was immediately accused of moral relativism (false) and dismissed as a hopeless reactionary (true).
In that spirit I’d suggest that the ‘death of around 11,000’ should be weighed against the death of around 1,000,000, those killed as a direct result of Tony playing lickspittle to Dubya over Iraq and Afghanistan.
Moreover, those ‘around 11,000’ were brutally murdered by a regime fighting for its life against a band of jihadist fanatics who at the moment represent perhaps the greatest threat of a world war.
Modern wars in general, and particularly those in that part of the world, especially if they are civil wars, aren’t fought to Queensberry rules. So of course Assad’s regime is guilty of atrocities. And of course Matt is wholly within his right to deplore them.
What he shouldn’t do is confuse moral indignation with resolving ‘strategic dilemmas’. Strategically, we must all go down on our knees and pray that Saudi-financed al-Qaeda cannibals don’t take over in Syria. Once they’ve got their hands on the country’s resources, not only Israel but we all will be in mortal danger.
Advocating direct military involvement on al-Qaeda’s side is the acme of criminal stupidity, exacerbating no end the gross folly of having attacked Iraq in the first place. Yet obviously Matt, privy as he is to the Gnostic understanding of ‘strategic dilemmas’, doesn’t see it that way. To wit:
“One wonders how many detainees have been maimed and killed since the Commons rejected possible military action against the Syrian dictator last August. [Not nearly as many as those killed by the Anglo-American aggression, Matt. And is it just Assad’s side that’s maiming and killing? Surely not.]
“This, of course, is Blair’s strongest point: that inaction, as much as intervention, has a cost. [Sounds almost Burkean, that. In this instance, inaction will mean that evil will prevail. However, intervention will mean the triumph of a far greater evil, something that’ll kick off the kind of bloodbath neither Saddam nor Assad would have dreamed of – not to mention its being a direct threat to us and our allies.]
“It is not always right to intervene, and often impractical to do so in any case. But those who do nothing should be held to account, too. Who interrupts the appeaser’s meal?” [A barman in a London restaurant, that’s who (see my yesterday’s piece). But I for one wouldn’t mind interrupting the meal of Assad’s al-Qaeda enemies. You know, the chaps who munch on freshly removed human organs?]
So, according to Matt, naked aggression against a sovereign state is an act of appeasement. George Orwell, ring your office. Doublespeak is alive and well.
Don’t know about you, but I’m scared out of my wits. What frightens me isn’t just the possible triumph of jihadists in Syria and the Middle East at large, although God knows that’s frightening enough.
What really gives me sleepless nights (apart from drinking too much wine at dinner) is the thought that it’s the likes of Tony, Dave, Dubya, Barack Hussein et al who tackle our ‘strategic dilemmas’ – and the likes of Matt who are in a position to egg them on.
In their capable hands those dilemmas can turn around with a ferocious scowl, leaving us all impaled on their horns.