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Freedland changes his tune

Labour & Trade Union Review, April 2000


Jonathan Freedland was one of three Guardian columnists who cheered on the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia a year ago ­ the other two were Hugo Young and Polly Toynbee.

Not only that, they all rejoiced in the Great Leader's new doctrine of humanitarian interventionism as expressed in his Chicago speech and his Newsweek article on 19th April:

"We need to enter a new millennium where dictators know that they cannot get away with ethnic cleansing or repress their peoples with impunity. In this conflict we are fighting not for territory but for values. For a new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated. For a world where those responsible for such crimes have nowhere to hide."

They also rejoiced in the arrest of General Pinochet, which they identified as another example of the "new internationalism".

In his column on 26th March 1999, Freedland lamented the fact that the left were not cheering on the NATO bombers. He wrote:

"Somehow, Benn, Jeremy Corbyn and now Denis Healey prefer the nothing option. They would rather be bystanders to evil.

"Sure, they have good arguments ­ each one of them worth addressing. But what's missing from their case is moral urgency. They dodge the fact that Serb forces have been slaughtering innocents, shelling and burning villages, forcing a mass exodus of refugees - not two hours' flight from Heathrow. Faced by such horror close at hand, a civilised society has a choice. It can act, however clumsily. Or it can look away.

" Benn and Co say such talk is hypocritical. We haven't acted to save the Kurds from the Turks, or the East Timorese from the Indonesians. Nato is just being 'selective'.

"That's the same argument which says that because it's impossible to catch every murderer we shouldn't bother catching any. It's not a reason to do nothing in Kosovo; it's a reason for doing more in Kurdistan and East Timor. We shouldn't be heckling Nato for making this exception. We should be cheering them on, hoping they make such activism the rule."

There you have it. Never mind the practicalities, wherever evil manifests itself (as judged by our Great Leader), bombs must rain down.

However, one year on doubt has crept in. Listen to this from his column on 8th March 2000:

"What both Iraq and Kosovo confirm is that when it comes to international action, there are no good choices, only bad and flawed ones. Every option involves compromise with immorality; for every angel whispering advice, there is a devil at his side. What possible rules can we devise to guide us through?

"We might declare that we act wherever atrocity strikes. That, more or less, was the logic of the PM's Chicago speech last year setting out a Blair doctrine of humanitarian intervention. But wouldn't such a doctrine require action to save the Chechens from the Russians or Tibet from the Chinese? It would: yet not too many are advocating air strikes against Moscow or Beijing. This suggests an amendment to the rule: we act whenever atrocity strikes - unless the offending country is strong and has a nuclear arsenal. If they have the bomb, they can do what they like. This may work as a factual description of the realpolitik world we live in - but it hardly stands as an inspiring principle for the new globalised world. Besides, it would act as an instant incentive to non-nuclear countries to get the bomb quick."

(Since this was written, the Great Leader, and his wife, has intervened in Russia, not on the side of the Chechens, but on the side of Mr Putin, the hammer of the Chechens, in his presidential election campaign. The latter has consisted of a number of photo opportunities and the Great Leader was kind enough to provide one by accompanying him, and his wife, to the opera in St Petersburg. )