Apostles of Empire find romance… pity about the wife and kids…

This is too delicious to miss:

The internationally celebrated historian and TV presenter Niall Ferguson has broken up with his wife of 16 years after a string of adulterous affairs.

The 45-year-old Harvard professor has left former newspaper editor Susan Douglas, with whom he has three children, for his mistress, the Somalian-born feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

At which point Ms Douglas may be thinking hard thoughts about the nature of sisterhood.

Professor Ferguson, whose books, television programmes and work with financial hedge funds earn an estimated £5million a year, is understood to have been in a relationship with Ms Hirsi Ali since last summer.

Today, The Mail on Sunday can reveal how Ferguson’s philandering behaviour – described by one confidante as ‘more akin to a Premiership footballer’s louche ways than an esteemed professor’s’ – wrecked his marriage to Ms Douglas, one of Tory leader David Cameron’s closest friends, a leading member of the Tory ‘A-list’ of potential parliamentary candidates and a former Fleet Street editor.

Will Dave include this in his list of examples of Broken Britain? Or why it’s necessary to bolster the institution of marriage? I doubt it.

The British historian Sir Alistair Horne, with whom he is currently writing the authorised biography of Henry Kissinger, is said to know about the affair, as does Mr Kissinger. However a spokesman for the statesman declined to comment yesterday.

‘It’s rather awkward because both Sue and Niall know Henry and his wife Nancy, neither of whom can understand why Niall has been bringing women other than his wife to private dinners,’ said a source.

Allowing Kissinger the moral high ground would be quite a feat…

He is seen as a contentious figure in literary circles, prompting one rival historian to declare: ‘He has the kind of face you want to punch.’

Indeed so. Which is why this has me roaring my leg off. Get the whole story in your super soaraway Mail.

Mad Max: The Cold Warrior

I remember being in Dublin ten years or so ago when Democratic Left voted to dissolve itself into the Labour Party. At the time, everyone I spoke to was firm in the belief that this marked the end of the Stickie experiment in Irish politics. “And about time, too” was frequently added. It was a bit surprising, although in retrospect it shouldn’t have been, that the Sticks would very quickly take over the Labour Party and have an iron grip on it to this day.

I thought of this a few weeks ago when Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) was interviewed on The Daily Show. Webb was promoting his new book, which is all about restoring a fair and just America. Jon Stewart, of course, is sharp enough to know that America is not based on fairness and justice but on the free market.

Stewart: Sir, I had no idea you were a Trotskyite.

Webb: Well, it was a bunch of Trotskyites who got us into this war in Iraq.

Actually, for generational reasons, about the only neocons left who actually were Trotskyists are Kristol the Elder and Podhoretz, but it’s a useful bit of shorthand for that intellectual tradition. More precisely, I suppose, the roots of the neoconservative movement are tied up with the late Max Shachtman and his tendency. And that’s an interesting little footnote for Cold War socialism.

You’ll recall that Shachtman’s WP/ISL led an independent existence for a whole eighteen years after breaking from the SWP in 1940, generally identifying as a Trotskyist current if in an increasingly loose sense. That was certainly the case in the 1950s when Cliff, having been knocked back by Pablo and Mandel in his attempts to get them to offload the bandit Healy and award Cliff the Fourth International franchise, arrived at the arresting notion of an alternative FI based around a lash-up between his group, the Shachtmanites, with a few other groups holding unorthodox theories of Russia. In this we can safely say that Cliff was twenty years ahead of his time, so it isn’t surprising that this cunning plan never took off.

In 1958, having arrived at the conclusion that their declining organisation had no future, Max led the ISL into Norman Thomas’ Socialist Party. And here’s where our Irish analogy comes in. The SP, despite being an established brand with a largish paper membership, turned out to be even more decrepit than the ISL. Within months Max and his mates had taken over the whole outfit. They did not, however, lead it to the left as one might have supposed. Instead, they led it to the right at a rate of knots and, by the time of Shachtman’s death in 1972, the majority found themselves in the Nixon camp. How did this happen?

The Shachtmanites had a lot of interesting thinkers, not least Max himself, who was apparently an attractive figure to a certain type of young intellectual, as well as being a bit of an annoying smartarse. They didn’t, on the other hand, have much theoretical output that’s stood the test of time. What did distinguish them was an absolutely consistent and ironclad Stalinophobia. And by that I don’t mean simply anti-Stalinism, but rather the exaggerated and one-sided anti-Stalinism criticised so heavily by Trotsky in the 1940 split. That’s what eventually led them from what was, if anything, an ultraleft position during WW2 to the destination of Cold War liberalism.

Not that it was a quick or straightforward evolution. Certainly, Shachtman’s The Bureaucratic Revolution, a little volume of Max’s greatest hits, was given a bit of judicious editing to make Max look as if he’d always been as staunch a foe of the Evil Empire as he was by then. No, for a long time the Shachtmanites’ Big Idea was the Third Camp, which has lately been given a bit of an airing by Max’s would-be apostle Matgamna. The idea (probably emanating from Joe Carter) was cooked up to avoid defending the Soviet Union during the Finnish war in 1939, and posited that in a clash between Stalinism and democratic capitalism (or even fascism, in the case of Mannerheim’s Finland) you back neither side but instead look for independent movements of the working class. Great in principle, somewhat more difficult in practice.

And made more difficult still by the Shachtmanites’ refusal to have anything to do with working-class or national liberation movements that had even a tangential connection to Stalinism, the logical outcome of Carter’s bright idea that the western communist parties were new bureaucratic ruling classes in embryo. Sometimes the convolutions could be quite funny. Tim Wohlforth has a nice story about how Hal Draper agonised over the Vietnam War, not wanting to back US imperialism but unable to find a local movement measuring up to his stringent anti-Stalinist standards. Hal apparently got very excited on discovering the Cao Dai religious movement in South Vietnam, who at the time were running their own private army. Could this be the fabled Third Camp? Alas, it soon transpired that the Cao Dai programme was to convert Vietnam into a theocracy…

It was so much easier, in the long run, to just defend democratic capitalism and put off the struggle for socialism to an indefinite future. And so you get the drift into Cold War liberalism, with old Marxist polemical skills being put to use on behalf of new masters. In Shachtman’s case, that meant none other than Scoop Jackson. But it shouldn’t be inferred that the Shachtman group’s support for Scoop’s presidential candidacy in 1972 was purely mercenary. No, they backed Scoop because he was the only candidate saying the Vietnam War could still be won. And when McGovern secured the Democratic nomination, they refused to support him, and a significant number went directly over to Tricky Dick. Hence Socialists For Nixon, that whimsical precursor of modern-day neoconservatism.

What a sad way to go out. And what’s the excuse of those who want to recreate this sorry devolution?

The men with more cunning plans than Baldrick

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So, with all the exciting events in Burma, which could turn out to be either brilliant or horrible, what should be done? Let us turn for enlightenment to the people who have a plan for every country in the world, those Cambridge nerds playing at being neocons, the Henry “Scoop” Jackson Society, who are just getting a swish new website up. And I discover from their swish new website that they do indeed have one of their grandiose “strategic briefings” [pdf] out on Burma.

This is rather good in terms of hostages to fortune. Scoopie expert Ben Caldecott writes of the repressive nature of the Than Shwe junta, and notes that “Foreign exchange dollars, now primarily obtained from a rapidly growing oil and gas sector, are used to fund arms purchases from Russia, other former Soviet Republics, China and now India. These are almost undoubtedly used to violently oppress the Burmese people and enforce government authority.” Quite so, although Ben unaccountably fails to mention Israel as a major arms supplier.

Ben then ponders the possibility of a US-led invasion, or “armed intervention” in Decentspeak. He then rules it out for a number of reasons, notably Imperial overstretch, the likelihood of seriously annoying the Chinese (this could be the late Senator Scoop’s famous affinity for Maoist China coming into play) and the chronic weakness of the opposition, who don’t much look like providing a stable environment for investors. No, Ben has a better idea:

For this to be effective, a diplomatic compact should be created to push forward a political solution in Burma. This group would be made up from the most important regional stakeholders, such as China, ASEAN, Australia and India, as well as the United States and the European Union. The mandate of this group would be clear: to bring together Burmese stakeholders and facilitate a peaceful political settlement, that would transition Burma into a safe, secure, democratic and viable nation state.

Yup, a Contact Group. Never heard of that one before. And one involving Australia and the European Union, forsooth. Moreover, Ben goes on to posit that a successful transition would involve the Empire offering inducements to the Tatmadaw that their interests would be protected in the new Burma. Finally:

Of importance to all potential regional members of the compact, is a growing Burmese economy that provides stable access to its significant natural resources and large potential market. This would benefit all in the region and provide additional business opportunities for Indian, Chinese and ASEAN firms. The best way to ensure that Burma’s economic development proceeds is political change.

This might explain the general air of Grauniad drippiness, which is far from the muscularity we would expect from the Scoopies. It therefore comes as a relief to find our old friend Attila the Hun holding forth on the future for democratic geopolitics in Greater Europe. What this boils down to, when we cut out all the guff about Hitler, Stalin and Chomsky, is that Europe is gravely threatened by the twin dangers of “Russian meddling” and “Serbian expansionism”. There are a number of ways Attila proposes to deal with these threats. The first is to grant immediate sovereignty to the mafiosi currently running Kosovo. The second is to abolish the Bosnian Serbs’ autonomous republic negotiated at Dayton, although Attila is willing to let them keep the Serbian flag and Cyrillic alphabet. “Experience shows that it is precisely over such symbols that nationalism mobilises, and we should do well to defuse potential Serb resistance to Bosnian reintegration by avoiding giving offence in the purely symbolic realm,” opines Attila. Well, he’s convinced me. The Serbs who rose in arms against a Muslim-dominated government in 1992 would certainly acquiesce in it now, if only given some beads and feathers to occupy their little peasant minds.

And, following all this, a rump Serbia which accepts its place as an imperialised backwater and perpetual whipping boy of muscular liberals could be brought into the EU to further strengthen the cordon sanitaire against Russia. My God, he really doesn’t like his Orthodox Slavs at all. I expect the Bulgarians will be getting it in the neck before long.

I am also quite taken by the Scoopies’ online gift shop. For two pounds ten bob you can outfit yourself with a Scoop Jackson Society lapel pin, so other neocon nerds can recognise you at a glance, and for a mere fifty quid you can go to a gala dinner with Irwin Stelzer. Could you be bad to that?

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?

Fortnight, voice of the neocons

If there’s one thing that annoys my brain on a regular basis, it’s Fortnight magazine. Actually, it’s been annoying lots of people for donkey’s years. How this journal has got away with pissing down our backs for so long is a source of wonderment.

Let me explain. Fortnight is really a magazine of two halves. The arty-farty Pseuds Corner half, full of poetry and reviews of Belfast’s architecture, caters to Norn Iron’s thin layer of luvvies, who use the magazine to backslap each other. Nobody actually reads that half apart from the luvvies themselves. What the punters read is the political half.

Now, the thing about the political half of Fortnight is that in days of yore, when I started reading it, the mag used to be the voice of liberal unionism and was worth a look for that reason. These days, under the stewardship of Malachi O’Doherty, it’s a very strange creature indeed, the nearest thing Ireland has to a neoconservative journal. And this is despite Fortnight having grand pretensions to being pluralistic and tolerant and letting a thousand flowers bloom. This is perhaps best illustrated by looking at a few of the charmed circle who write for Fortnight regularly and set its tone.

First we have Malachi himself. Malachi has a well-worn argument for how the North can be saved from the apocalyptic forces of Provodom, and the rather less apocalyptic forces of Paisleyism. That is, the unionist middle class should get up off their arse and wrest back political leadership from the plebs. In essence, we should go back to 1966 and have a Captain Terence O’Neill figure in charge, somebody with a bit of class who can lead the great unwashed by the nose, and accept the South Down and Londonderry Party as a respectable junior partner. And Malachi is supposed to be a great progressive thinker.

Then we have the odious Henry McDonald, a man best known for his splenetic attacks on the anti-war movement and the “Provo fascists”. Henry is a signatory to the neocon Euston Manifesto, which he endorsed with the statement “I signed because I know there is a rational, tolerant left out there in Britain and hopefully also Ireland. A left beyond the 21st century version of the Hitler/Stalin pact, the alliance of the silly and the sinister, the toxic fusion of medieval reactionary bigots and totalitarian epigones. And I signed it because I saw this before – in the opportunistic alliance between ultra leftists in Britain and terrorists in Ireland whose armed campaign almost pushed my country to the edge of sectarian civil war.” I quote this in full simply to point out that Henry cut his political teeth in the Workers Party of Ireland, an ultra-Stalinist organisation which maintained an active armed wing for the whole time he was in it, and moreover an outfit that thought Saddam Hussein was the bee’s knees.

Another exemplar of progressive thought often to be found in Fortnight is Dr Anthony McIntyre, proprietor of the Blanket gossip site. Tony, for those who don’t know him, resigned from the Provos when they signed the Good Friday Agreement, and has spent much of his time since demanding that the Provos should declare their formal surrender rather than keep on pretending they have achieved anything. Tony is also an inveterate red-baiter, who never misses an opportunity to shoehorn a denunciation of the “Trots” into the most incongruous articles, and has laboured mightily over the past year to promote the anti-Muslim Danish cartoons and Irshad Manji’s dopey manifesto declaring the defence of the yuppie racists in Denmark to be the Greatest Intellectual Struggle of Our Times. Tony has also of late struck up a cosy relationship with the neoconservative Henry “Scoop” Jackson Society, where he finds himself in the company of well-known radicals like the vainglorious Chomsky-hating derivatives trader Oliver Kamm and the frothing Croat nationalist Marko Attila Hoare.

These neocon farmhands are of only morbid interest in themselves. But they do demonstrate that the main qualification for being a Fortnight bigwig is to be an ex-socialist or ex-republican willing to pen scurrilous attacks on those who still are republicans or socialists. What is, in fact, a pretty nasty neocon rag still manages, amazingly, to pass itself off as a forum for Norn Iron’s leading forward-thinking intellectuals. Personally, I find the Phoenix magazine, which has no political line and no intellectual pretensions, to be a much more stimulating read. I guess Fortnight’s continued existence is proof that nobody ever went broke underestimating the gullibility of the chattering classes.