STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
War Thy Name is David Cameron
By Staff News & Analysis - March 28, 2011

Libya is Cameron's chance to exorcise the ghost of Iraq … The PM has realised that this conflict is about more than the removal of Gaddafi, says Matthew d'Ancona. The crisis has revealed Mr. Cameron's statesmanship. – UK Telegraph

Dominant Social Theme: David Cameron is the leader of Britain, a nation state that represents the hopes and dreams of a hundred million. Thus Britain is in a sense a person too. And a person (Britain) run by David Cameron who is the leader of Britain, assumes Britain's errors and sins and can seek redemption for it. Therefore, it can be argued that the war against Libya is a redemptive one. And David Cameron is redeemed!

Free-Market Analysis: Oh, boy. This article in the Telegraph attempts to argue that war is actually a form of political conversation. It has not-so-artfully reversed the reality of war so that the act of violence and murder somehow becomes an expression of redemption for David Cameron and Britain generally.

There are so many dominant social themes that it is difficult to know where to start. Britain is a nation, or a collection of nations. Nations are made up of people. People can surely seek redemption but it is difficult to understand how a nation can do so. A nation is merely an artificial construct, a reference point for the people in it.

Are the people in Britain seeking redemption from the war in Iraq via a war in Libya? Not likely. The premise is illogical; the conclusion is inevitably flawed. And how about Cameron himself? In order to make the case, the article needs to explain ways that leaders have misbehaved as regards the Libyan war, and does so. The NATO coalition "is sullied by diplomatic hissy fits," we learn. Barack Obama is "sulky and disengaged." Nicolas Sarkozy (given credit in article for "great courage") has on occasion "stamped his foot indecorously … growling over Nato's leadership of the campaign."

But David Cameron? Well! "David Cameron's confidence and calm have discovered their geopolitical moment … As one senior Government source puts it: "Libya is Cameron's chance to exorcise the ghost of Iraq."

But Cameron didn't fight in Iraq, did he? He didn't really have much to do with the war at all. So how does going to war in Libya "exorcise" Iraq? And why does Cameron need to do so anyway? It's not his business. In fact, it is yet another logical fallacy. Cameron is the leader of a nation state; the nation state is under attack for a war that is seen by much of the British public as useless; thus, going to fight a good war "exorcises" the bad one.

Britain is NOT going to war. PEOPLE are going to war. It is a COMPOUNDED logical fallacy. A nation cannot seek redemption. And David Cameron cannot seek to exorcise the disaster that was the Iraq war because he was not, and is not, culpable. The article seeks to turn Cameron into a metaphor for Britain. And then it wants to anthropomorphosize Britain by turning Britain into Cameron.

This sort of manipulation is among the most ancient of dominant social themes. People are metaphorically pressed into a kind of mold referred to as a "nation." It is the nation, then, that personifies the sorrows and courage of those that compose her.

What exactly is national pride? Is it the pride every Briton should feel? Evidently, many in England do not feel such pride as various polls show the Libyan war is not especially popular. Does that mean the British are wrong? And who has "recognized" there is "still much to do?" Is there still more redemptive killing to be done? Or does "doing" refer to air strikes? The British are not "doing" very well with their air strikes, actually. Over the weekend, only a few British missiles were apparently launched, and one of them got stuck in the tube. Perhaps it is the thought that counts.

There is more! The article's main point, as it turns out, is that this war with Libya is actually "the first real test of the Responsibility to Protect (or "R2P") doctrine in international law, codified by the UN World Summit in 2005, which mandates the ‘collective use of force' by other nations where necessary, in order to prevent genocide and the massacre of civilians."

So THIS is the REAL reason that Britain (et al.) has gone to war. It is not so redemptive after all. It has to do with rewriting the principles of national territorial sovereignty as codified by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Did you know, dear reader, that the Libyan war was a repudiation of this ancient treaty? "R2P is being given a trial run in Libya, and the results of the experiment will have momentous consequences in the decades ahead," the article informs us.

Now it is time to tie the various strands together. The article reverses course and returns to Cameron. Yes, the war is really about implementing yet another globalist concept but Cameron "has shown himself capable of true statesmanship in this crisis, demonstrating once again his capacity to learn and to evolve." Cameron, evolving like an amoeba, is suddenly combating "the spectre of Iraq." Cameron's task is really to "exorcise that ghost [of Iraq], to address the dilemmas that linger still, eight years on, and to plot a way forward."

The British public has recently been riven by an inquiry into the Iraq war, which has included public testimony by former Prime Minister and warmonger-in-chief Tony Blair himself. But this article, having introduced so many conflicting metaphors is ready for yet one more go round. In the final paragraphs we learn, then, that "this [Libyan] war is the real Iraq Inquiry, the true confrontation with the lessons of that conflict."

Any normal writer would be gasping in exhaustion by now. But not this one. In a display of metaphorical pyrotechnics, the article manages to present not one but THREE more metaphors in the article's brief, final lines "Forced upon us by a deranged despot, the Libyan crisis is an opportunity as well as a challenge, and the PM deserves credit for seizing the moment. For he grasps, I think, that this war is not about Gaddafi. It's about us."

Let us total up the damage! … To begin with the article compared Cameron to Britain and stated that the war would somehow be "redemptive" even though Cameron had never fought in Iraq and had nothing really to do with the Iraq war so far as we can tell. Having turned Cameron into a metaphorical nation-state, the article then progresses to the "real" reason for the Libyan war, which is to test the six-year-old concept of a UN resolution that mandates that countries agree to band together and start wars to prevent genocide.

Having made an excursion afield, the article returns to Cameron himself and decides somehow that the war is actually an illustration of Cameron's ability to "learn and evolve." But wait! Forget about Cameron. The war is actually a metaphor for the Iraq enquiry and a "true confrontation" with that conflict's lessons.

But again … wait! The war is not a confrontation with lessons of Iraq. It is (one) an opportunity; (two) a challenge and (three); about the proud British people themselves. "It's about us." Only it is not about "us." The article began with the information that the war is about Cameron's redemption. Gee, with help like this, Cameron might as well join the Labour party.

This article aptly limns the confusion that many people have about the sudden war. It does so not by expressing that confusion but by trying to counteract it. To justify the war, the article conflates Cameron with Britain and Britain with its citizens, who may or may not back the war but are treated as a war-mongering lump. Finally, the article touches on a UN resolution, which may be the real reason for the war (along with oil) and finishes with a kind of metaphorical fireworks containing three more descriptions of the war-as-something else. These mixed metaphors illustrate the confusion surrounding yet another military action.

After Thoughts

It is the throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks school of rhetorical justification. But is also utilizes an ancient and traditionally successful public manipulation: Compare the nation state to its leader, then make a series of declarative statements that purport to speak for all. That the author felt the need to include so many other explanations is probably more of a commentary on the exceptional weakness of the argument than any confusion on the part of the columnist. It is indeed a lot to justify.

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