Thursday, January 03, 2008

Parris on Iraq: bad hopes and bad memories

Norm Geras takes Matthew Parris to task for an unedifying column, in which Parris said:

Many of the antiwar brigade, too — we who from the start have railed against the occupation of Iraq — have in our secret hearts suppressed a twinge of disappointment that the surge of US troop reinforcements in Baghdad has been accompanied by a reduction in civil atrocities. We kind of thought — did we? — that the whole place was going to go up in one enormous explosion, leaving almost everybody dead, and settling the argument finally in our favour?

Norm responds:

Perhaps Parris isn't being serious. … He's well placed, naturally, to speak for himself… But it's better for him if he's being facetious. For, though most of us are subject to the temptation of wanting to be right, there are fewer who want this want to be satisfied where the cost of its being satisfied is death and destruction to others.

I doubt that Parris really wants ever-increasing carnage just so that he can feel right; but I fully believe that he does feel this “secret… twinge of disappointment”. Poor kitten.

I’m strongly reminded of the media sniping a while ago that followed Martin Amis’s ill-judged musing that he’d felt “a definite urge - don't you have it? - to say, 'The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.'” His protests that “I was not 'advocating' anything. I was conversationally describing an urge - an urge that soon wore off” cut little ice.

Parris’s remarks are pretty much equivalent, I’d say.

Here’s the odd thing, though. You’d think, as Norm does, that Parris is well placed to speak for himself. Not so. In February 2003, as the Iraq war loomed, Parris wrote an apparently thoughtful piece on his opposition to it:

Would [the candid peacenik] be ready to admit that he had been wrong to oppose the war if an attack proved quick, straightforward and relatively unbloody?
Because I happen to think it might.
And after that? What if, once Saddam and his regime have been routed, the… predictions of mayhem prove wrong? When doves insist that even if the war succeeds the peace will fail, how firmly do we attach ourselves to that argument? Would we still oppose war, even if we could be persuaded that it would bring a better Iraq?
Because I happen to think it might.

I do not think that the war, if there is a war, will fail. …
I am afraid that it will succeed.
I am afraid that it will prove to be the first in an indefinite series of American interventions. I am afraid that it is the beginning of a new empire: an empire that I am afraid Britain may have little choice but to join.

(I think that his ultimate reason for opposing the war was less than impressive, and note that it has the virtue for the pundit – over the other, consequentialist reasons for anti-war positions – of not requiring any predictive abilities or factual knowledge.)

My point is, though: he didn’t think, as he now professes to have thought, “that the whole place was going to go up in one enormous explosion”. Furthermore, he was not, as he now claims, one of “we who from the start have railed against the occupation of Iraq”.

In July 2003, as the problems with the postwar reconstruction were becoming more apparent, he wrote:

Whatever the past, whatever mistakes may have been made, regime change must now be accepted as an honourable endeavour in whose success the whole world has a stake.
… What is to be gained by moaning? The unwilling should now join the willing in trying to make the occupation — and ultimately the handover — work.
There is no point in crowing or carping, for the alternative to a successful transition is grisly.

Grisly. Quite. If he does feel even an idle and occasional yearning for slaughter that would allow him to say ‘I told you so’, he could at least check first that he really had told us so.


Alcuin said...

Parris is a dilettante. His opinions are the froth on the top of a lightweight mind. The Times has given him a job, and expects regular contributions that he duly obliges with, but if you want serious political judgement, there is little point in going to a [sort-of] male version of Libby Purves.

Anonymous said...

[sort-of] male being a homophobic aside, of course. Matthew Parris was right about Iraq, though, and is a brilliant writer, as anyone who reads his autobiography will know, while Norman Geras is a fucking tedious old shag.

Tom Freeman said...

One of the things that frustrate me about Parris is that I do think he had a passable amount of intelligence - but his pieces often are just waspishenss masquerading as bold insight.

Parris can write well in the sense of turning a good phrase - but not in the sense of reliably producing coherent arguments. I've not read his autobiog, but his columns leave a lot to be desired.
On your last point, about Norm, I couldn't commment as I've never had that pleasure...

Larkers said...

Parris has had a charmed ride with the media and its watchers for years. If we go back to the beginning, this is the man that was shown up by Paul Foot when the then little known Parris wrote a particularly snotty letter to a Council house tenant who had had the temerity to write to Thatcher about something (poverty in all likelihood); Parris was Thatcher's PPS, which meant something.

Parris was an assiduous and serious political animal seeking to make his way to the top in one of the 'nasty party's' worse periods. He sat at the table, he ate everything he was served and he looked like he was enjoying it.

His 're-invention' of himself rests largely on his great fortune, a mellifluous speaking voice which fakes caring sincerity at will. And as has been said before, if you can fake sincerity you can fake anything.