Two Faces of Nick Clegg

John Rentoul

clegg3 167x300 Two Faces of Nick Cleggclegg2 167x300 Two Faces of Nick CleggIt is the blank-faced cynicism of Nick Clegg that we should fear the most. He has an article in The Independent on Sunday today reminding us that he was against the war in Iraq and saying that he is therefore totally, er, not against British military action in Syria now.

He repeats his slogan about the invasion of Iraq being an “illegal war”, which, as I have remarked before, is a gateway phrase that leads directly to the madness of describing people with whom one disagrees as “war criminals”.

Many people call Iraq an illegal war because they know no better. They feel strongly about it; the United Nations Security Council had not explicitly renewed its authorisation for military action; and Saint Kofi of Annan called it that.

But Clegg does know better. He knows that what he means is, in his opinion, the invasion had insufficient grounds in international law. He knows that there is no court that can decide the legality of the decision to use force, and that no case in any court has even been started in 10 years. He knows that the UN is not the definitive arbiter of right and wrong; I don’t know what his view of Kosovo or Sierra Leone was, but he admits in the sensible half of his article that there can be “reasons to intervene … in the absence of UN approval”. And he knows that just because Kofi Annan, whose leadership of the UN was hardly one of sea-green incorruptibility, says something doesn’t make it true.

He also, sadly, repeats the anti-war exaggeration of “hundreds of thousands of Iraqis” dead. There is no reliable basis for an estimate of the cumulative death toll over 10 years, almost all not killed by coalition forces, higher than the 174,000 estimated by Iraq Body Count.* I have said it often: far too many have died since the invasion, and the case against the Iraq war is powerful; but it does a terrible disservice to those who have lost friends and family to suggest that the truth need be distorted to make us care about their suffering.

Then the other side of Clegg takes over to defend intervention in Libya and Mali, and to weigh up, in a careful and agonised way, the balance of risk in intervening in Syria:

There are no simple options, only hard choices. We must be driven by the need to alleviate suffering and avoid at all costs any action that could increase suffering and prolong the conflict. But what we have been doing so far has not worked, and the proof of that are [sic] the thousands of Syrians killed and wounded.

The lesson of Iraq, he says, “does not mean standing by”. In which case, his cheap appeasement of ignorant anti-war sentiment is even more nauseating than I thought it was.

*The 174,000 figure is taken from an email “Iraq Body Count 2003—2013 Press Release”, and includes the highest estimate of civilian deaths, 122,500, plus 40,000 combatants of all nationalities (presumably excluding 4,000 coalition casualties), plus a possible 11,500 further civilians documented in the logs released by WikiLeaks.

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  • ZacMurdoch

    Totally agree about Clegg’s ‘blank-faced cynicism’ – he has a risible tendency toward demotic speech and an even more risible tendency to pander to popular causes (until he finds he can’t deliver in practice – eg tuition fees).
    But I’m less convinced we should ‘fear [this] the most’ – Clegg has about as much credibility and influence as a fried banana.

  • creggancowboy

    It is as illegal Mr Rentou* as the trial in Britain of political prisoners in criminal courts.

  • Phomesy

    Ed Vulliamy had yet another Op-ed in the Observer calling for Military Intervention in Syria – but a very different type of Military Intervention to the very wrong one that he disagreed with as any fule no in Iraq.

    I don’t know what’s more bizarre – the simple number of these types of pieces; or the fact that so many people seem to be able to hold to utterly contradictory principles at the same time.

    No wonder Chris Ames is insane.He’s hardly Robinson Crusoe…

  • porkfright

    I have been reading this for a full two minutes and I don’t understand one point in it. Is it written in code ?

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