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Saturday, March 01, 2003

Climbing Mount Insufferable

Tex of Whacking Day, he of the beautiful color scheme, calls to our attention this opinion piece by Richard Dawkins, in the Daily Fisk.

Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist who has written many well-received books, some of which I have, but haven't got around to reading. Dawkins commits a common sin in scientists, believing that a lifetime of intense study in one area entitles you to credibility when you pontificate on matters outside your specialty. It will occur to some that I am guilty of the same sin, because here I am, pontificating. This is true. But, for me as for Dawkins (or Tex, or any of a number of bloggers who day jobs are a mystery to me), We the People get to voice our opinions on these things.

But Tex and I don't get to do it in the pages of the Independent. Dawkins, speaking there, is no less a celebrity opining outside his sphere of expertise than Sheryl Crow. I'll admit that, between Dawkins and Crow, I'd rather see Dawkins in the Independent; he's less likely to tell us that the way not to have wars is not to have enemies. And giggle.

When the stated aim was to disarm him, Saddam had only to comply and war would be averted. But if the aim is to save the poor helpless Iraqis from their wicked tyrant, everything changes. Why would anyone disarm on the eve of an inevitable attack? Mr Blair's sudden shift to the moral high ground is presumably a desperate (and it now seems unsuccessful) bid to win over his own party. But has he thought through how it will be viewed in Iraq?

Apparently Tony Blair has now come out and said that Saddam must go, rather than continuing on with the "disarmament" line. This morning's paper said that Bush has said much the same thing (I must have missed that). Dawkins thinks it's some sort of ploy on Blair's part, but Blair would have to be a lot dumber than he is to believe that the real problem with Labour was that he only intended to disarm Saddam, rather than remove him altogether. The anti-war faction doesn't want any war, for whatever purpose.

But the coincidence of both Bush and Blair saying this tells me, poor thinker that I am, that they are throwing off the UN mask. So far, their main justification for military action has been Saddam's lack of compliance with UN resolutions. As he has in the past, then, Saddam has been promising compliance, then compliance with reservations, then complied a little, then... Pinning war to the UN resolutions means he can keep this up forever. Now, if these reports are correct, they're saying Saddam must go regardless of compliance.

If they're playing down the disarmament aspect, I'd say we were ready to roll without too much more UN footsy.

The timing alone indicates that the real reason for war is neither of the two offered by Tony Blair. If it had been, all this would have blown up long ago. It would not have waited until George Bush failed to catch Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and needed a new foreign adventure to divert his electorate. War would have been a big plank in both Bush's and Blair's election platforms.

Which election is this? Bush's original election, or last year's midterm elections? If he means the 2000 election, then he's apparently forgotten all about that little September 11 business. I'll say again that you can make a good case (right now) that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 or Al Qaeda, but it's obvious that the administration thinks otherwise.

Gerhard Schröder is the only major leader to have mentioned such a war to his electorate - he was against it - and he consequently has the best, if not the only, claim to a popular mandate.

Schröder, who is so popular his government is in danger of collapsing. Also, if I recall correctly (and I may not), his party's opponents actually got more of the popular vote, but due to some arcane German election procedures, Schröder was returned to office. Now, again if I recall correctly, these weren't shady or suspect proceedings, but the natural way German elections work, although perhaps obscure to us. I emphasize this because Dawkins's very next sentence is:

Bush not only failed to mention it in his manifesto. He failed even to get elected.

Dawkins says this three times in this piece. What I say three times is true. Nope, sorry, doesn't work that way.

To our friends in foreign lands: Bush is the President. He was elected President. Get over it.

At the time, I was not happy with the outcome of the 2000 election, nor with the way it was decided. However, that's all over now and Bush is President. He did not have a clear mandate, that's certain, and had Gore been declared the winner, the same would have been true for him. If Gore had been declared the winner, Richard Dawkins would be equally correct (which is to say, not at all) in saying that Gore was not elected.

This is George Bush's war. His motives and his timing have an internal American rationale. Bush wants oil and he wants the 2004 election...An important part of the post-11 September American electorate likes kicking Arab butt, and never mind if a completely different lot of Arabs (who, incidentally, detest the secular Saddam) committed the atrocity. If Bush now wins a quick war, with few American casualties and no draft, he will triumph in the 2004 election...Victory over Iraq will play well in Peoria.

Dawkins's whole point is that Britain will help Bush get elected by helping him
win the war easily, Is that really what they want to do?

In that post-war climate of seething hostility, are we, in Britain, going to let ourselves be identified, throughout the world, with this uncouth fundamentalist redneck?

If...Bush finally wins a term as President, decent Americans, intellectual Americans, American scholars, scientists, philosophers, engineers, writers, artists and, not least, American philanthropists, Americans with a great deal to contribute, are going to be looking for a civilised haven.

Oh, but he's not anti-American! Don't make that mistake:

Those of us opposed to the war are sometimes accused of anti-Americanism. I am vigorously pro-American, which is one reason I am anti-Bush. They didn't elect him, and they deserve better.

This really pisses me off:

As a scientist, I would like to be able to say something like the following to my American friends:

As a scientist, I would like to say the following to Mr. Dawkins: Bite me.

"Dear Colleague: You are a member of the leading scientific nation, by far. No wonder there has been a brain drain from my country to yours.

Yeah, there's a drained brain behind me as I type, using his mighty intellect to print out silly pictures.

Occasional attempts, by my own university of Oxford among others, to compete on the open market to recruit leading American professors or promising young scientists, have usually foundered on the problem of salary.

You got that right, bubba. British universities pay chicken feed, and on top of that you have to live in Britain, where the climate's cold and the beer's warm.

But is it possible that things are now beginning to change? Could it be that political developments in your country are now starting to make emigration look more attractive, in spite of the salary differential?


"I know, of course, without even asking, that you were a member of the majority who voted for Al Gore.

Because, of course, only dimwitted uncouth fundamentalist rednecks would vote for Bush. "Oh, how do you stand living in a country with those...those...persons? I'd feel defiled."

Dawkins's awesome mental powers seem to be working on some esoteric logical plane to which my feeble intellect cannot aspire. See, it was the majority who voted for Gore last time, but this time Bush seeks to woo a majority of Americans by slaughtering some Arabs. Apparently last time some uncouth rednecks inadvertantly voted for Gore when their shotguns happened to blast a hole in the ballot next to Gore's name. Either that, or many of the knuckle-draggers who didn't vote at all last time refrained because Bush somehow failed to include enough blood and guts in his platform

But remember, he's NOT anti-American.

"Have things reached the point where you might consider moving? We in Britain may not be able to match your salary, but we can at least offer you a civilised, decent government, very different from the one you are eager to leave behind."

If only...

Yeah, if only Britain had a better climate. If only it wasn't so crowded. If only the crime rate was lower. If only self-defense was legal. If only Big Brother wasn't watching. If only the tax rate wasn't so high. If only Europe weren't taking the place over. If only the British intelligentsia weren't filled with condescending twits like you.

Thanks for Niles though. He says he's not going back until you can do something about the climate.

Shivering Briton Peter Briffa also has a few comments.