Bizarre Result from Intelligence Squared Debate on Iraq
Unless you're British, it's unlikely you know what that headline refers to. Intelligence Squared is a popular British debate series featuring provocative proposals, well-known debaters, audience Q&A and voting before and after the debate. I happened upon them through audible.com, where I have a membership. I decided to check out the debate on the proposition "The Time to Quit Iraq is Now" held on January 17th of this year. The debate itself was riveting. The debaters were Rosemary Hollis, Simon Jenkins, and Alistair Crooke for the affirmative position and Amir Taheri, William Shawcross, and Lt. Colonel Tim Spicer against.
Rosemary Hollis, of Chatham House, argued primarily from the position of British self-interest, saying that the situation is about to get even worse and much uglier, and the British should exit before this happens.
Alistair Crooke talked about the growing power of Iran, and argued that the "atmosphere of civil war" is being created by the occupation force's support for a government which is suppressing the Sunni. He said that the longer the US and Britain stay, the harder it is to create a legitimate government. Jenkins summed up the position well, saying that what his side had to prove was: "the longer we stay, the worse it gets." He was the most expressive speaker, describing the occupation as a "military squat," not an occupation, despite how much money is being spent on the war.
On the negative side, Tim Spicer, a private contractor! in Iraq, delivered the standard argument that the insurgency is composed of criminals, former Baathists, and members of Al Quaeda, and that the Iraqi security forces are a viable force that is "making great steps forward," but it is "not yet ready." Amir Tehari, the strongest speaker on the "stay the course" side, is a major neocon, NY Post and National Review contributor, played the heartstrings of the audience with all kinds of appeals to the "Iraqi people," who he says want the foreign troops to stay to "keep their bargain" with the Iraqis. To listen to Tehari, you'd think that the Iraqis were begging the Americans to stay and protect them from a foreign insurgency. There's hardly much to say about William Shawcross, who's sort of the sober man's Christopher Hitchens. A lot of bluster, and not much substance. The fact that people can remain ignorant enough to listen to such piles of horseshit when their own citizens are dying for it just flummoxes me.
To my great surprise, after what seemed to me much less ideological and more informed comments from the affirmative speakers, none of whom was compromised by being a private contractor in Iraq such as Tim Spicer, the speakers against the motion won by a fairly large margin, and this in a country where polls continually reveal opposition to Blair and to the war. My only explanation of the vote would be that the audience members who voted to stay really believe that staying longer will somehow "fix" the mess, and that this vote represents people's sense of obligation to the Iraqis, whose country is now a shambles. Since both Brits and Americans seem quite suspicious of government motives when they are talking about tax policies, I find it odd that they view this very same government's motives as benevolent when the policy is foreign and military. Do they just think the government can be trusted more when its face is a teenager with a gun?