Spot the Mistake

by John O’Sullivan

Today’s Daily Telegraph has an article on the Texan socialite Joanne Herring–played in the movie Charlie Wilson’s War by Julia –who campaigned to help the mujahideen oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. Its author Mark Palmer obviously likes Ms.Herring but also feels entitled to condescend to her as in the following passage:

“I put it to Herring that I felt uncomfortable about parts of the film, not least the knowledge that many of those same mujahideen who were armed by the U.S. to fight the Russians are better known today as Islamist haters of America and Britain: the Taliban. Herring does not share my reservations.”

“You can never predict future wars,” she says. “It’s similar to what happened during the Second World War, when we fought with the Soviets, and then they became our enemies and began attacking others with the weapons we had given them in the first place. The point is that in Afghanistan the Soviets were defeated. And who knows what the world would be like if that had not happened.”

Perhaps it’s this kind of unwavering conviction – and the ability to see the world in such black and white terms . . . . etc., etc.”

In fact it is Palmer who sees the world in black and white terms, at least in this passage, and Ms. Herring who in her reply shows a sophisticated grasp of historical reality, the limits of human foresight, and the necessary risks and compromises of foreign policy. Items like this occur every day in the “serious” press. The problem is not the opposite point of view–quite a good case can be made for Palmer’s argument–but the casual assumption that it is obviously the right view and Ms.Herring’s opinion a kind of simple-minded fanaticism. I’m surprised he didn’t call her a “fundamentalist.”