‘Turning somersaults when there is no whip’: Challenging James Bloodworth’s Warmongering

‘Turning somersaults when there is no whip’: Challenging James Bloodworth’s Warmongering
by Ian Sinclair
Ceasefire Magazine
18 December 2013

Recently, I found myself engaged in a Twitter argument with James Bloodworth, the Editor of the Left Foot Forward blog, columnist at the Independent and up and coming BBC commentator. On the ‘About’ section of its website Left Foot Forward says it provides “evidence-based analysis on British politics, policy, and current affairs.”

The discussion in question concerned Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head in an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen because of her public support for girls’ education. What, asked another person involved in the conversation, should we in the West do to support the rights of schoolgirls in Pakistan? “Militarily defeating the people who shoot them, first off”, was Bloodworth’s response.

Twitter is, of course, a highly reductive and simplifying medium but Bloodworth’s position seems clear enough – he proposes military action by the US and UK in Pakistan and Afghanistan in support of female education. While expressed through only a minor Twitter exchange, Bloodworth’s gung-ho approach to the ‘war on terror’ is representative of a vocal, largely media-based, minority. As such, his arguments are worth spending time refuting.

The first problem for Bloodworth is that Yousafzai herself – the person who embodies everything he claims he wants to protect – disagrees with him. Invited to the White House for a PR photo-op, she reportedly told President Obama that US drone strikes in Pakistan were “fueling terrorism.” I emailed this quote to Bloodworth. His reply? “They’ve also been incredibly effective at killing top members of the Taliban.” Sharp-eyed readers will notice this justification mirrors the US Government’s line, with the CIA Director arguing in 2009 that drone strikes had been “very effective” in targeting the Al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. As George Orwell once said “Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks the whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns somersaults when there is no whip.”

In contrast, consider the testimony of David Kilcullun, a counter-insurgency specialist and top adviser to General David Petraeus: “The drone strikes are highly unpopular”, he told the US House Armed Services Committee in 2009. “And they’ve given rise to a feeling of anger that coalesces the population around extremists and leads to spikes in extremism”. Robert Grenier, the CIA’s former station chief in Pakistan, agrees, explaining last year that the US “has gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield.”

Across the border in Afghanistan is former MP Malalai Joya, who has also survived attempts on her life. A vocal supporter of female education, earlier this year she argued that “The US is the main obstacle towards the development of… democratic forces” in Afghanistan. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan also supports the withdrawal of US and UK troops, telling me in 2009 “Freedom, democracy and justice cannot be enforced at gunpoint by a foreign country; they are the values that can be achieved only by our people and democracy-loving forces through a hard, decisive and long struggle.”

Yousafzai further challenged Bloodworth’s militarism when she appeared on The Daily Show in the US. Asked by host Jon Stewart how she personally dealt with the death threats, she replied “You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education.” I emailed this quote to Bloodworth. His considered response? “I’m not sure Churchill would agree.” The colonial bulldog may not have agreed but the British military leadership seems to be sympathetic. “There is a common perception that the issues in Afghanistan, and indeed elsewhere around the world, can be dealt with by military means”, said Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup in 2007. “That’s a false perception.” So, to be clear, Bloodworth, the editor of supposedly the ‘No. 1 left-wing blog’ in the UK, is a far bigger supporter of UK military aggression than the country’s most senior armed forces leader.

Despite the armchair warmongering of commentators like Bloodworth, in recent years peace talks have been going on with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, continued Western aggression has made a political settlement more, not less, difficult; according to Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the former UK special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “I’m sure some of them are more willing to parlay”, he said in 2011. “But equally, for every dead Pashtun warrior, there will be ten pledged to revenge.”

In short, if followed through, Bloodworth’s militaristic posturing in support of more US and UK military action would mean energising and increasing the number of extremists, prolonging the conflict and therefore bringing about more violence and more deaths. Fortunately, the British public is a little smarter; over the past few years a large majority has supported the withdrawal of UK troops from Afghanistan. Unfortunately for us on the Left, however, it is Bloodworth – seemingly impervious to evidence and elementary logic – who is published in the Independent and sought-after by the BBC.

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