From New Laddism to Raunch Culture: the far left versus Lucy and Michelle

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So I’ve been wanting for a while to write about this “raunch culture” debate, but, having recently covered the lad mag circulation crisis and the culture of sexual hypocrisy on the left, now seems as good a time as any. This is something that you associate on the left with our old friends in the SWP, and can be seen as a revival of their campaign against “New Laddism” in the late 1990s. Their championing of Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs (a real curate’s egg of a book – there are sharp insights alongside half-developed ideas and some outright silliness) provides the official logic for the current line. I direct readers to this excellent treatment by Anne McShane, but there is more to this than meets the eye. The SWP, of course, are not straightforward puritans, as you might gather from the swinging lifestyle of many of their leading cadre, and their ultra-libertarian defence of Tommy Sheridan. Nor are they simply adapting to their conservative Muslim allies – there is a bit of that, but they still attack Catholic moral teaching with what can only be described as gay abandon.

The root, I think, is to be found in the organisation’s uneasy relationship to popular culture. This is encapsulated as well as anywhere in a 1996 Pat Stack column in Socialist Review. Unfortunately, it’s not one of Pat’s better articles, and tends to make him sound like both a humourless git and a puritan, neither of which he is. But Pat does cover the main bugbears of the New Laddism period: Loaded, Men Behaving Badly, Fantasy Football etc. Over to Pat:

The new lad is apparently harmless. Unlike the traditional ‘working class lad’, the new lad is not violent, nor is he racist. He is an educated, middle class, witty character who is only reclaiming parts of harmless masculinity from the horrors of feminism and the terrible wimpishness of the ‘new man’ era.

The new lad is, according to his defenders, only reaffirming the fact that men like a pint, like their sport, and find women sexually attractive. The new lad is still ‘alternative’ when it comes to comedy, but is free of the sexual prudishness of the original alternative comedy scene.

In fact, Pat’s description sounds a bit like, well, your average straight man. There is an interesting idea here struggling to get out about the embrace of faux blokishness by a layer of middle-class youth, but Pat quickly leaves that aside to bang on about the political virtue of the alternative comedy scene in banishing demons like Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson, who thought that minorities were fair game for comedy. New Laddism, apparently, was rolling back these gains.

Now, I’m not sure about this. We don’t often like to admit today that Terry and June regularly got three or four times the audience of The Young Ones, but I’ll go along with the idea that the alternative comedy scene was massively influential in terms of comedic fashion. Where I take issue with Pat is that he’s assuming a list of taboo subjects and arguing in favour of a good, progressive comedy that takes aim at the right targets. I find that profoundly problematic. It seems to erase the context and nuance that a lot of humour depends on – for instance, an ethnic joke from Sanjeev Bhaskar or Jackie Mason will be rather different than one from Bernard Manning or Jim Davidson. Besides, only very strange people will listen to a comedy routine while preoccupied about whether it is PC to laugh at this or that joke. To someone who didn’t know the SWP in the flesh but only from its press, the long-running debate on the letters pages about Ali G would simply have appeared insane.

Then we have the dreaded “irony”. Often this was amped up to “postmodern irony”, but since Alex Callinicos doesn’t know what postmodernism is, and most comrades never got past page four of his little book, we can assume PoMo in this context to be an all-purpose intellectual swearword. The line was that New Laddism was all about “using postmodern irony to rehabilitate sexism”. This was deployed particularly in relation to the SWP’s official Most Evil Show On TV, Men Behaving Badly. If you watched the show, you might have noticed the traditional sitcom device (you find this also in Till Death Us Do Part, Love Thy Neighbour and Home Improvement, to name a few) of showing the men as idiots and the women as the sensible characters. How could a show portraying sexist men as idiots be endorsing sexism? You see, comrade, this is merely a cunning use of postmodern irony. Portraying the men as idiots is just a sly ruse to allow them to talk about Kylie’s arse.

Maybe this is just me, but I find this a paranoid mode of thought. I’m reasonably sure that, when Loaded was launched in 1994, it had a business plan rather than an intellectual manifesto. And I’ll lay money that, when Frank Skinner writes his routines, he does not say to himself, “Hmm, what bit of patriarchal ideology can I sneak in under the guise of postmodern irony?”

I think, and I’ll stick my neck out here, that there is a certain amount of class-biased thinking involved. As Des Fennell likes to point out, the working class is more concerned with how things are and the middle class with how things appear. An anecdote from Mark Steel’s autobiography springs to mind. The young Mark has heard middle-class comrades talking about “sexism” and, while he knows what racism is and why it’s bad, he isn’t sure about this sexism. A comrade explains that pinups and Page Three girls are sexist, to which Mark’s response is “Thank God I wasn’t a socialist when I was fourteen.”

Women face plenty of material obstacles in society. The absolute worst feature of the Dworkin-MacKinnon school of feminism was its idealist assumption that the major obstacle women faced was “sexist” imagery, extremely broadly defined, and this was the logic in Dworkin looking to the Reagan administration to “liberate” women from porn at the same time as it was gutting equality legislation, slashing social programmes and restricting abortion. Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, which is a good deal better, nevertheless has a strong streak of this idealist thinking.

But this sits rather well with a milieu saturated in middle-class PC thought, where it is considered sexist for men to find women physically attractive (I suspect too much reading of Jane Austen is a factor here) and where working-class women who wear revealing clothes are damned as suffering from alienation and false consciousness. Consider Judith Orr’s interview with Levy in SR. Some of the most interesting comments are to be found in Judith’s editorialising, as in “the sexual freedoms the women’s movement won have been swallowed up by capitalism, commodified and sold back to young women as boob jobs and push-up bras”.

Well, commodity fetishism is basic ABC Marxism. But the sneering tone is the key here. I suspect the push-up bra has become a symbol of evil because it’s a garment you associate with the slappers on the estates. At its crudest level, this becomes the argument – which I actually heard at an SWP public meeting a year or two back – that capitalism is forcing women to have boob jobs. No it isn’t. Yes, cosmetic surgery is a profit-making enterprise, but women have boob jobs because they want bigger breasts. That can be explained with reference to psychology, media images of women or what have you, but the capitalist system does not require women to be lugging around big plastic breasts.

It’s all quite delicious, isn’t it? Of course you need to stand by “the sexual freedoms the women’s movement won”, or it might begin to cramp your own lifestyle, but the deity forbid that anyone might express these. You have an opposition to legal censorship combined with horror at what the plebs are reading and watching. Nudity in art-house cinema is perfectly fine, but Michelle Marsh in her undies on the cover of Nuts is the death of civilisation. What we end up with is a sort of systematic doublethink, perfectly mirroring the Orwellian template in that its skilled practitioners don’t even notice the inconsistencies.

Peculiar silence at the Eye

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I got my Private Eye last night, and found it most curious. Regular readers will be aware of the Cohen-Hari-Wheen-David T catfight, and I was expecting to come across some kind of follow-up. Did I? No, not a word.

I see from Johann that one of his mates has sent a letter to the Eye giving off about the Hackwatch hatchet-job. This doesn’t appear, but then again it may not have been sent in time for the current issue. [Update 31.08.07: It also appears to have been taken off Johann’s site.] Not only that, but there isn’t any sign of Decency anywhere in the mag, which leads me to worry about Francis – is he ill, or on holiday? Street of Shame contains no attacks on Hari, nor any puff pieces for Nick Cohen, Stephen Pollard or Harry’s Place. There is no Ratbiter column. There isn’t, as far as I can see, a single attack on Gorgeous George in the entire magazine. There isn’t even the ritual sniping at Douglas Hurd over Bosnia, which we normally get at least every three or four issues.

(This last is a little-remarked piece of Decent historiography, but an important one – Francis has trotted it out on several occasions, and Nick devotes a whole chapter of What’s Left? to it. The reasoning goes something like this – lots of Muslims are angry at the British government, but even though they say they’re angry about Iraq, this can’t be true because nobody could oppose the war in good faith. Therefore, whatever they think they’re angry about, they must really be angry at Hurd and Major for not bombing Serbia 15 years ago. This is usually accompanied by some bollocks about the “pro-Serbian left”.)

Anyhoo, returning to the Eye, I don’t know quite what to make of this. Will the next Eye have a Hackwatch on Nick, or even better, the ludicrous Mr Kampf? Will Ratbiter give up the MCB and the Bangladeshi Jamaat as a bad job, and start writing about, say, the sizeable nest of al-Qaeda operatives currently resident around Zenica in Bosnia? Will we start seeing articles about Ken Livingstone that don’t include the word “appeasement”?

I wouldn’t lay money on it. But I’m hoping the Eye staff are cottoning on that there isn’t much percentage in being the funny wing of Decency. And that might mean that, while you can’t stop Francis pursuing his personal hobbyhorses, cutting and pasting from Harry’s Place while shielding the Apostles of Decency from a well-deserved pisstake does not necessarily make for good reading. If the venerable Chris Booker can’t get away with devoting six pages an issue to bashing the EU, why should we get the analogue from an upstart like Francis?

The loyalist heart of darkness

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The Taughmonagh estate has always had a reputation for being a bit rough. To be more accurate, it has a reputation for being a bit of a hellhole, due not least to its being dominated by the UDA. But even so, the tarring and feathering of a local man accused of drug dealing seems, well, a little flamboyant.

If there is some gallows humour to be taken out of the situation, it was provided by UDA spokesman Frankie Gallagher. Frankie, with an admirably straight face, told the media that the UDA was not responsible. Local residents, he alleged, had come to the UDA clamouring for action, but the death squads had told them to go to the cops. The irate residents, according to Frankie, had rejected this as insufficient and taken the law into their own hands.

Maybe I’m being cynical, but this sounds like a load of cobblers to me. I don’t believe for a minute that something like this could happen in Taughmonagh without UDA involvement. Nor, incidentally, do I believe the UDA has an ethical problem with drug dealers, at least not as long as they pay their cut. Another sceptic is Social Development minister Margaret Ritchie, who has been making renewed noises about stopping the £1.2m “conflict transformation” grant to the UDA. The sooner the better, say I.

This may be completely coincidental, but I also notice the dismembered body found in a wheelie bin a little while back also belonged to somebody from Taughmonagh, and a UDA man forbye. Anyway, all this doesn’t say much for the new era of confidence in working-class Protestant communities.

Rud eile: I couldn’t help noticing the latest convert to the Stormont parties’ campaign for 12.5% corporation tax. It is none other than Archbishop Brady. Apparently the Catholic Church now favours a low tax regime. Can there be any doubt about its comfortable position in the new Norn Iron?

Rud eile fós: Gail Walker doesn’t have anything really worth getting stuck into in this week’s column. If you’re interested, there’s the Madeleine case, Big Brother, Christina Aguilera and Prince Charles’ missus.

Golden Oldies: Skidoo

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Skidoo is one of those pictures that a lot of people don’t believe exist. Having seen it, I can testify that it does, and it must be the oddest thing Otto Preminger ever made. It’s hard to credit that a crowd-pleasing director like Preminger could have made Skidoo, but then a lot of strange things happened in 1968.

We open with car-wash owner Tony (Jackie Gleason) and his wife Flo (Carol Channing), who argue over the remote, burn the dinner and worry about their daughter hanging out with hippies. So far, so Honeymooners. Then two figures from Tony’s past come to the door, gangsters in rather arresting orange shirts (Cesar Romero as the father, Frankie Avalon the son). It turns out that Tony is a retired mob hitman, and mob boss “God” (Groucho Marx) wants him to come back for one last job. This involves infiltrating a maximum-security prison and knocking off a dangerous informer (Mickey Rooney – yes, everybody is in this).

All right, you may think. This is an old-fashioned Hollywood gangster movie, albeit one with a cast more suited to It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. But don’t forget that this is the late sixties. Tony having got himself locked up, his cellmate (Austin Pendleton) introduces him to the joys of LSD. Yes, you get to see Jackie Gleason having an acid freakout. “Tough Tony,” intones Pendleton, “your time has come wherein all things are as the void and cloudless sky.” You’ll never watch Smokey and the Bandit the same way again.

Things go downhill from there. Carol Channing does a striptease – trust me, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Groucho wanders about God’s floating fortress (skippered by George Raft) looking about like he belongs in an old folks’ home. The entire prison gets dosed with acid. Gleason and Pendleton take to the air in a balloon. The hippies take to the sea. The whole movie descends into an orgy of silliness.

But none of these features is the strangest thing about Skidoo. That comes at the end, when the entire credits are sung by Harry Nilsson, right down to the set decorator and the MCMLXVIII. (Although the film is nearly impossible to obtain now, the CD soundtrack was reissued a few years back, along with Nilsson’s The Point!) As critic Leonard Maltin observed, about one person in a thousand has the temperament to enjoy this picture; everybody else would just sit with their mouths hanging open.

Preminger himself, of course, famously partook of mind-altering substances while making Skidoo. This led to the exchange:

Channing: “Someone should shoot Otto shooting this picture.”

Groucho: “Someone should just shoot Otto.”

It’s all a long way from Exodus.

The affair of Garda Singh’s turban

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So the latest news is this big barney about the Sikh reserve garda who wants to wear his turban, only to find that the Boys in Blue aren’t having it. Incredibly, the claim from the guards is that the turban isn’t allowable under the National Action Plan Against Racism.

My view on this is very simple. I think this fellow should be allowed to wear his turban. While there are Sikhs who wear turbans as a cultural symbol, my understanding is that the man in question is a baptised Sikh, which makes the uncut hair and turban a very big deal in religious terms. Now, almost everywhere you go in the world where there is a Sikh community, there are Sikh cops. You see them in India and Pakistan, of course. You see them in London. You see loads of them in Vancouver. Yet the gardaí, it seems, are the only police force in the world that can’t accommodate a turban-wearing Sikh.

There are some objections that could be made, that I don’t think hold much water. One is that we should support secularism – well, the 1937 Constitution does separate church and state, but it doesn’t enshrine the sort of hardcore secularism they go in for in France. In any case, if there are religious pressures on the Irish state, they don’t come from the 1500-strong Sikh community. Then again, this is an area where enforced uniformity doesn’t help minorities – Sikhs, Muslims and Orthodox Jews may have religious dress codes, but Catholics don’t. Not unless they’re clergy, and even then it’s sometimes hard to tell these days.

It’s a bit of a test for modern anti-racist Ireland, not to mention a bit of a test for the guards. I mean, the cops have been trying to build bridges with the Sikh community for a while now. They can’t very well square their community relations programme with not cutting Garda Singh a bit of slack.

More on this from Wednesday.

Rud eile: Liam has an entertaining account of Swiss Toni’s address to the broad masses last week.

Search of the week

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Not a vintage week for searches, although I am pleased to see Architects of the Resurrection, and a Curtis Armstrong fan entering Booger Better Off Dead. That’s the great thing about site stats, though. If the general criticism of scholasticism seems a bit pedestrian, you’ve always got a zinger like Gaelic sex around the corner. We also have searches for Catholic dishonesty and We are all Devo – well, so we are. Among celebrities, you have such diverse people as Eoghan Harris, Rupert Holmes (of “Piña Colada Song” fame), Kinky Friedman and TV’s Karen Taylor – somehow I find the eclecticism comforting.

Our bronze this week goes to Catholic traditionalist satirical videos. If there are any, I’d be interested in hearing about them.

Runner up is Dundalk fucked up hole. Now, Little Belfast isn’t my favourite place, but that’s putting it a little harshly.

Our runaway winner this week is the bemusing Twinbrook porn. Is this a new genre? The mind boggles.

Sex and the socialists

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The other day I wrote about Catherine Townsend’s sex diary in the Belfast Telegraph, and my surprise that the Tele would run a feature like that. On reflection, it maybe isn’t so surprising. You see, Catherine is American and based in Britain, where she writes this column for the Independent, which is then syndicated out to other papers in the O’Reilly stable. It does though demonstrate something about Ulster prurience – if she had been local, I’m certain people would be outraged by the column and calling for her to be silenced, but as an outsider we can accept her, and even enjoy reading the saucy minx.

This sort of thing happens all the time. Take the theatre – lots of plays feature sex and nudity, but the outrage factor depends on their provenance. If the play was locally written, produced and cast, the Belfast populace would go buck mad and Iris Robinson would be asking questions in the Assembly. If it was imported from London, nobody would bat an eyelid.

Which brings me to another hotbed of sexual hypocrisy, the left. I’ve often said that the real differences between left organisations are to be found not in their formal ideology but in their cultures and behaviours. This area is no different. Militant used to be straight-down-the-line puritans, based on their idealisation of a supposed working-class culture dating from the days of the Jarrow marches, although today’s SP has loosened up a bit. The Healy movement had an extremely puritan regime – featuring, for instance, strict segregation of the sexes at summer camp – that somehow did not apply to the priapic Leader.

I hesitate to write about the SWP again, but its approach to sexual politics is especially fascinating. I’m not at this point going to go into the campaigns against “New Laddism” or “Raunch Culture”, although those are interesting in their own right, but into members’ behaviour. This is a minefield of etiquette that many inexperienced comrades, especially those from working-class backgrounds, have fallen foul of. In particular, certain buzzwords have specialised meanings you may not be aware of. Therefore the Sunrise will be waxing Emily Post (suits you, sir!) and laying out eight simple rules that could keep the new recruit from getting into trouble. You can play Boots Randolph’s “Yakety Sax” while reading this, if it makes you feel better.

1. The first thing you have to know is that the rules are flexible depending on your standing in the party. If you are a leading cadre, you may choose to live a boring monogamous life – indeed many do – but, with a bit of initiative, you can have a swinging bohemian lifestyle that would cause your new Muslim friends to have conniptions, were they only aware of it. If you are, or are suspected of being, an oppositionist, you can take a solemn vow of celibacy and it still won’t save you from your inevitable defenestration. If you are a rank and filer, you style will be cramped more than a little – just be careful and take your jollies where you can find them.

2. It follows that puritanism is not a matter of your own lifestyle choices but of rhetoric. Never miss a chance to give out about porn, lad mags, blue comedians, Page Three or working-class women who dress like slappers. Remember that you must be seen to argue from a position of empirical ignorance – if you’re denouncing Loaded, do not give the impression that you’ve ever read it, even for research purposes. In this situation your knowledge derives entirely from party pronouncements on the matter. You can never really overegg the pudding when it comes to puritanism, but if your lifestyle is even slightly unconventional you may want to be especially loud on the subject.

3. As well as being puritanical, the party is also libertarian. No matter how socially harmful you think porn is, you are opposed to any legal restrictions on it. Mention this occasionally to young people who might otherwise think you a bit square, but not too often in case anybody thinks you’re defending porn’s right to exist. If someone draws attention to the inconsistency, just blow some smoke about postmodern irony.

4. Your behaviour will be circumscribed by your gender and sexuality. If you are gay, try not to be too swishy, lest you fall into the trap of lifestyle politics. If you are a straight man, on no account give the impression that you actually fancy women. You may think this will make it nearly impossible to pull female comrades, and you’d be right, but don’t worry about it. There aren’t many of them and they probably aren’t interested in you. If you have the good fortune to be a reasonably attractive woman, be happy, because you’re in a seller’s market.

5. You will occasionally hear about sexual harassment, and you may jump to the false conclusion that this bears more than a tangential relationship to actual sexual harassment. In the party it is a catch-all charge used to expel oppositionists, whether or not they have sexually harassed anybody. The advantage of this is that, if you expel somebody on political grounds, other people may want to hear their arguments, but you can get around that by simply painting the oppositionist as a depraved pervert, which also has the bonus factor of making him a less attractive catch for rival sects. There is a disadvantage in that, if you take the disciplinary records seriously, the party would appear to be full of sex pests, but it’s best not to think about that.

6. Following on from that, if you are talking to an attractive woman – or any woman – never allow your eyes to stray below her neck. In fact, it’s best not to look at her at all. Like all the rules, this can be loosened or tightened according to status. A leading cadre can get away with some mild leching. On the other hand, the oppositionist runs the constant risk of an ambitious young woman trying to earn brownie points by accusing him of looking at her boobs. He may never have met the woman, but in the case of a sexual harassment charge the accuser is always believed.

7. You will notice that there is a lot of gossip about comrades’ sex lives. If the comrades concerned are in good standing, do not express any judgement, as this is moralism. On the other hand, gossip about an oppositionist can be invaluable proof of his monstrous character. Since comrades can fall from grace at a moment’s notice, it might prove useful to save up whatever gossip comes your way.

8. An especially delicate situation comes when you notice a middle-aged leading cadre with an attractive young female comrade, or even a whole bevy of them. Even if the cadre is supposed to be in a long-term relationship, your best bet is to say nothing. Do not remark on the age difference. Do not hold forth on ambitious young women shagging their way up the hierarchy. Do not speculate on the cadre’s pulling power outside the small world of the party. Do not draw any contrast with your own monastic existence. Just remember that these estimable young women are performing a valuable service to the revolution by letting ageing cadres get their leg over. Peter Stringfellow, how are you.

These rules of etiquette are of course far from exhaustive, and readers are welcome to add their own in the comments. But if the young comrade sticks to these, he can’t go far wrong. Just remember, though, that the rules can be arbitrarily changed at any time, and you can very easily find yourself on the wrong side of them out of no fault of your own.

Weekend playlist

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1. “Albinoni vs. Star Wars” by Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

2. “Moonlight on Vermont” by Captain Beefheart.

3. “All Around My Hat” by Steeleye Span.

4. “Your Funeral and My Trial” by Sonny Boy Williamson (the impostor, not the original).

5. “Reality Presented as an Alternative” by the Human Beast.

Nepal invades West Belfast

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And as Operation Banner ends, so Operation Himalaya begins, as the Gurkhas are deployed in Norn Iron. No, not by the British Army, but by National Car Parks. NCP has had traffic wardening duties in our city outsourced to it since last year, and so is tasked with reducing the number of untaxed vehicles on the road, of which there are many in West Belfast. Trouble is, some parts of Belfast are no-go areas for wheel-clampers. Guess where they are? So, NCP have hit on the bright idea of deploying minders for the clampers, and have retained the services of Everest Security, which employs ex-Gurkhas as security men.

Given that the Andytown News is always banging on about how wonderfully multicultural and anti-racist West Belfast is, you would think the punters would be welcoming the Gurkhas with open arms. Not if the feedback on this morning’s Nolan was anything to go by. Concern was expressed about the big knives they carry, although this is only sensible given what the local hoods are like. And some bloke came up with an anti-imperialist reason why the Gurkhas shouldn’t come here, not even in a commercial capacity, because they had been involved in some massacres in India during the British Raj. Of course, any surviving Gurkhas from that period would by now be extremely elderly and unlikely to be involved in clamping cars in West Belfast.

Here’s a thought. If local people have a problem with the Gurkhas, why not deploy the Sikhs?

Occupation government deemed not pliable enough

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I was going to write something about Pat Rabbitte falling on his sword, but WorldbyStorm has that well covered, so instead we’ll consider all this crack about Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister of the Iraqi occupation government. Over the last couple of days various Democratic bigwigs in Washington, with Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) leading the charge, have been calling for the overthrow of Maliki and his replacement with – well, they aren’t too sure, but they have decided Maliki is not fit for purpose and want some other numpty to be appointed in his place. President W, on the other hand, is chary of overthrowing the elected government in Baghdad, which might strike you as being a bit ironic from the man who invaded the country in the first place.

It tells you a little something about the Democratic Party. One is that the Dems are the graveyard of the American radical’s hopes – take somewhere like New York, a heavily Democratic state where 85% of Democrats are against the war, and who do they get for senator? It’s true that Hillary has positioned herself as critical of the war’s conduct, but that must be down to the war’s enormous unpopularity, with even W’s own Republicans fracturing on the issue, and Irish-American candidate Barack O’Bama making headway with the Dems. But the call for Maliki’s ouster demonstrates that there are other forces at work as well.

There is a lot of guff talked about the influence of the neocon ideologues on the Bush administration’s Middle East policy, not least by people like the Dude who should really know better. Any sway the neocons have had results from them being patronised (in a very real sense) by nationalistic militarists like Cheney and Rumsfeld, who saw the utility of having some tame intellectuals on board. Until quite recently, most of these guys were registered Democrats, and Kissingerian realpolitik still cuts a lot of ice with the Bush White House. It’s a reasonable assumption that Bushite policy in the Middle East derives rather little from Wolfowitz’s fond dreams of remaking the region as a haven of democracy, and rather more from an unideological mixture of projection of force, smiting the enemies of America and, not least, a smash-and-grab raid on Iraq’s oil reserves. Maliki is fine by George, as long as he doesn’t become an outright liability. And then the Republicans, who actually have to wage this unwinnable war, may well be considering the outcome from dismissing someone they’ve been trying to build up as an elected leader.

The Dems’ beef against Maliki has been running since shortly after his election, and has a lot to do with his critical remarks towards Israel, which have been extremely mild considering his electoral base. The Israeli government is also a little twitchy about the fact that overthrowing Saddam – a known known, in Rumsfeld terminology – and introducing elections has resulted not in the friendly regime they were promised, but a distinctly pro-Iranian regime. The differences between the parties in the US are of course more a matter of degree than quality, but the Dems are notable for being much more in thrall to the Israel lobby – due not least to electoral arithmetic in key states, but also to a fair whack of campaign money (Hillary, of course, has by far the most Israel money in her warchest of any presidential candidate). The Republicans, on the other hand, still have a considerable wing that adheres to the old James Baker III maxim – “Fuck the Jews. They don’t vote for us anyway.”

So how is this going to pan out? The Bush administration seems to have serious trouble holding on to its Iraqi prime ministers, and talk of the new Iraqi sovereign democracy starts to look seriously hollow when the occupation forces can just dismiss elected officials. But it’s an interesting little conundrum. W probably has more ability to do stuff in Iraq than he does at home these days, so it all comes down to what the Emperor decides to do. As for the Dems, for all their striking poses around the war, they still haven’t come close to pushing Bush into doing anything he doesn’t want to do. Will they ever?

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