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Blindingly obvious

‘Melanie Phillips’: let’s attack Iran!

The latest wordspurt from “Melanie Phillips” is delightful to those in the know – it is all about “her” supposed opinion as to what is “sane” in foreign policy, as opposed to what is simply insane. (You might think that I am flogging a dead horse in continuing to take these satires seriously, but similar material appears regularly in British newspapers under the same fictional byline, and I am not sure we can always rely on Daily Mail readers to get the joke.) “Melanie” begins with some good news:

There are now signs of a debate taking place in Washington, which might just move the US away from self-delusion and towards hard-edged sanity. The outcome of this debate could not be more critical.

Encouragingly, there are signs that Bush may have now accepted what has long been apparent – that he has been ill-served by his top brass in Iraq. The US commander–in-chief wants to win – but has realised that his generals merely want to manage a retreat. Now there’s been a shake-up. The head of US Central Command, General Abizaid, was retiring anyway. According to this story in the New York Times, General Casey, the general commanding the coalition forces in Iraq, is also to leave Iraq very soon and earlier than planned. Gen Casey, it appears, wanted America to leave Iraq before the country was secured. Now it’s Gen Casey who is leaving Iraq instead.

The fight in Washington with the army top brass has not just been over whether more or fewer troops are needed in Iraq. It’s also been over a major difference in strategic perception. In order to win in Iraq, it is essential to defeat Iran. This is for the blindingly obvious reason that the principal instigator of the war in Iraq is… Iran.

Ah, it’s marvellous, isn’t it? From the butch invocation of “hard-edged sanity”, to the shameless lie that it has always been George W. Bush, rather than the generals, who has wanted more troops in Iraq, to the cretinous idea that the problem with the generals is that they don’t “want to win”, to the smug schadenfreude over the removal of General Casey, we are led by the inexorable logic of “Melanie” to the statement of what is “blindingly obvious”: that “the principal instigator of the war in Iraq is…” (and don’t you love that dramatic ellipsis, a bellicose roll on the snare drum?) – Iran!

Do you wonder on what planet, and in what language, Iran may be accurately called the “principal instigator” of a war that was, on this planet and in this language, principally instigated by the US? If so, then your problem is that you still have your eyes open. The comforting thing about recognizing what is “blindingly obvious”, after all, must be precisely that it is blinding. Thereafter you may close your eyes permanently to reality, and spend your days intoning specious bloodthirsty trash.

Towards the end of “her” crass frothing, “Melanie” returns to the theme of what is “sane”:

There are no good options. The only sane course of action is the least worst option.

(I ask readers in passing whether it is the satisfaction of the consonontal rhyme that has given currency to the ungrammatical phrase “least worst”, rather than the perfectly normal “least bad”.) At any rate, “Melanie”‘s insistence that “the only sane course of action” right now is to start another war, a war against Iran, is remarkable even for “her” oeuvre. The satirist who writes under this byline has thus cunningly illustrated a general rule: anyone who talks about foreign policy or politics in general in terms of what is “sane” or otherwise should automatically be suspected of having a desperately tenuous grasp on reality. Not all blind prophets deserve a hearing.

  1. 1  lamentreat  January 7, 2007, 8:55 pm 

    ghood ghrief! what a loon. The frightening thing is not knowing how plausible the war scenario is that she’s longing for. The obscene thing is how anyone can jog through regional history like that without mentioning Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980 and the war which followed. The surprising thing is… nothing.

  2. 2  Steven  January 8, 2007, 4:01 pm 

    Yep. By the way, readers who don’t know it might be interested by this excellent feature in the Atlantic of December 2004, which explodes the fantasy of being able to “take out” Iran’s nuclear installations militarily.

  3. 3  Alex Higgins  January 8, 2007, 10:06 pm 

    I find myself in reluctant admiration, as an aspiring writer, of Melanie’s ability to create an alternative world so very different from our own with the power of words alone.

    Nonetheless, i feel slightly disappointed by her performance this time, because she fails so completely to describe the detailed mechanisms of her alternative world.

    “The US commander–in-chief wants to win – but has realised that his generals merely want to manage a retreat.”

    This is wonderful – the image of Bush slowly coming to the realisation that his generals are letting him down, so at odds with the boring cliche of military brass frustrated by a manipulative yet incompetent administration.

    It’s a bold place for an author to go, but where’s the extra detail that would help to make this believable to the reader? Why would US generals desire military defeat and humiliation in Iraq? What is their motive? Why can they not see what Bush and Melanie herself can see so clearly (blindly?).

    Then there’s another twist:

    “This is for the blindingly obvious reason that the principal instigator of the war in Iraq is… Iran.”

    Brilliant – the reader never saw it coming! And not only because the word ‘instigator’ is cleverly and unexpectedly used to refer to something other than the armies which invaded Iraq.

    The Iranian Shi’ite regime’s hatred of the US is so great it creates from nothing a murderous Sunni-dominated insurgency in central Iraq, even putting former Iraqi officers who once attacked Iran in charge. In a further gruesome twist, they encourage Sunni extremists to bomb sites of great emotional importance to Shia Muslims to help encourage sectarian massacre.

    What a story! But where’s the meat? How did Iranian intelligence and Sunni insurgent leaders first meet? What of the logistics of Iran’s support for an insurgency that has no real base in Iraq itself? The reader longs to know how the Mullahs pull it off, but seeks an asnwer in vain.

    Ultimately then, Melanie’s fiction disappoints – the ideas are strongly expressed, though never original, but more importantly the story is never really developed and the reader is intrigued but afterwards says to herself, ‘I never really believed any of it’.

  4. 4  Alex Higgins  January 8, 2007, 10:12 pm 

    Of course, depicting Iran as the instigator of the Iraq War helps to conjure the image of an Iraq living peacefully under an American military occupation if only Tehran had not spoiled it – another gem of the imagination.

    Give Melanie her due – you can keep returning to her work and always find something new in it that you overlooked the first time.

    Of course, this has to be weighed against the densely-packed misinformation and the raw evil.

  5. 5  dsquared  January 9, 2007, 1:15 am 

    re: “least worst” – that’s certainly why I use it. The consonantal rhyme is known as a “cynghangedd” in the Bardic tradition, by the way.

  6. 6  Steven  January 9, 2007, 1:02 pm 

    I’m very happy to learn that, dsquared.


    Of course, this has to be weighed against the densely-packed misinformation and the raw evil.

    Nice :-)

  7. 7  Mike  January 9, 2007, 2:30 pm 

    It has been quite clear for a while that dear Melanie is just taking the piss, but I think it goes further than that. She must have taken on this rabid persona for a bet after a night out on the beers with the promise that she would keep on vomiting up this extremist bile until she was either found out or people stopped publishing her rantings.
    Understanding this, it’s also obvious that Steven here is merely an alter ego taken on by Melanie to out herself and let her get away from the hideous nightmare her life has become. She’s hoping that when enough people read this blog everyone will get the joke and she can crawl off into the therapy she craves after being driven mad by a world that has let her spout such insanity for so long.

  8. 8  lamentreat  January 9, 2007, 4:26 pm 

    Then who’s Alex Higgins? Her therapist? And who are you? Are we all alter egos, just gleams in Mel’s Brown Eye?

  9. 9  Graham Giblin  January 9, 2007, 4:31 pm 

    Okay, I admit to being confused. I thought the point of satire was (pardon my lack of sophistication) to make a point by turning an argument on its head in a more or less humorous way, or by reducing an argument to its ultimate logical absurdity, typically by exaggeration, but always such that the reader could get the point. In this case, “Melanie” is not a very good satirist, because no-one seems to get the joke.
    She certainly is not as good as Ann Coulter, who is the absolute mistress of the right wing caricature. And yet even with her humourless Americans don’t get the joke and Fox etc. take her seriously because she says what they love to hear. A couple of examples: “Environmentalists’ energy plan is a repudiation of American Christian destiny which is jet skis, steak on the electric grill, hot showers and night skiing.” “I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East, and sending liberals to Guantanamo.” I collected a few here.

    I think Mike’s probably right that Melanie’s testing how much she can get away with and is probably appalled by the answer: there is no bottom to the pit of vomit that some people will eat. But how could she stop? The right-wing opinion gravy train is very lucrative.
    I’m reminded of the hoax by comedian Alan Abel who created SINA (Society for Indecency to Naked Animals) which pretended to promote the clothing of naked animals and successfully gained supporters and money. You can read about it at Wikipedia.

  10. 10  Steven  January 9, 2007, 4:45 pm 

    Graham, I hadn’t taken much notice of Ann Coulter till now, but from your remarkable compilation of her sayings, it seems likely that she really is – well, is “satirist” the right word? Her exaggerations are just too subtle. Perhaps “utterly amoral opportunist, secretly giggling cynically at death and destruction”? Or will it be revealed at some crucial moment that she has, all along, been scripted and operated by The Daily Show?

  11. 11  Graham Giblin  January 10, 2007, 8:30 am 

    If so, I wish they would reveal all. Too many people are taking her too seriously. Same for Melanie I suspect. Now is a good time in history to let the nutters know they’ve been had. Jesus, even country and western singers are writing anti-war songs now.
    But I think Melanie and Ann are too subtle to be Daly Show plants. The Daily Show and its various spin-offs are immediately recognisable as satire, “telling lies that reveal the truth” or something. [There is a very readable essay on the Daily Show at Common Dreams called “Jon Stewart’s Gandhian Struggle”: “War – in many ways it’s the only remaining obstacle to peace.” “… on the Iraq Study Group report: “I’m glad they got a study group together, but the test was three years ago.”” Perhaps it’s what makes America what it is that it nurtures both the most appalling and the most inspiring people.]

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