Note - I'm posting this long and self-indulgent piece here so I can crib from it later if I find myself in a pie-fight with some joker on the internet.
Recently, I was accused of projecting an "ordinary bloke just trying to make sense of stuff whilst being genuinely shocked by these swivel-eyed ideologues" schtick.
Well, that's probably true, especially when I'm addressing swivel-eyed ideologues. I've been running this blog for more than eighteen months, most of which I've spent taking the piss out of pro-war types. Reading this excellent piece, it occurs that it isn't really fair to criticise without setting out my own position, so here's my tedious, po-faced thoughts on the matter.
FR, your Prime Minister was the most eloquent proponent of the Iraq invasion. Do you have anything to say about his arguments?
In a word, no. Tony gave some very effective speeches in the run-up, and employed the appeal to emotion like a true professional. Whatever else he may have exaggerated, there was no doubt that the majority of Iraqis lived grim lives under Saddam, and I didn't doubt that a majority of them would be glad to see the back of him.
No matter how noble Blair's motivations were, however, this was not his war - it was George Bush's, and anybody backing it was signing up to a war led by a belligerent, hard right-wing moron and his cohort of insane ideologues. This cannot be emphasised enough, and the final nail was banged through the coffin-lid on this issue on the eve of war when Tony was told that Britain could sit on the sidelines if our participation was too difficult politically.
Blair's priorities probably were democracy and freedom for the Iraqis. Sadly, Tony was not in charge - Rummy, Wolfie and co. were, and their priorities were 1) exorcising the ghost of Vietnam so they could 2) Establish American dominance once and for all and 3) give their reptilian pals the opportunity to get their noisome probosces into the Federal Treasury.
This should be stressed to the left wingers who spent the pre-war period lecturing us all about Reagan and the fall of the Soviet Union etc. The people who brought us the Iraq invasion were the same people who gave us those freedom-loving death squads in central America, and it amazes me to this day that anyone could possibly have believed that the Republican leopard had finally changed its spots.
To gauge how honest the Republicans were about their empathy for the suffering Iraqis, I'd suggest paying attention to their efforts on welfare "reform". They're full of rhetoric about how they want to save welfare for the future, but all of their supporters want to destroy it and salt the earth in which it grows. Everyone should instinctively distrust anything the Republicans have to say, because they're liars and assholes.
If you think that's harsh, try to imagine how many nights' sleep Dick Cheney lost over the Iraqis living under tyranny... Then tell me how many nights sleep he's lost about the African AIDS epidemic.
Exactly. If I can summarise my thoughts on American-led campaigns for freedom, it would be only if the grown-ups are in charge.
It's particularly worrying that so many on the left fell over themselves to grant continents of intellectual charity to the Republicans, trusting them with the lives of 25 million people when they wouldn't trust the Tories to run a free bar. The Republicans' ideological lunacy makes the British Conservatives look like committed Marxists.
But after backing and arming Saddam for so long, didn't we have a duty to the Iraqis to depose him?
Ah, the Hitchens gambit. He's been asking this question for years, and always appends it with "Answer comes there none," like some corpulent, boozy Yoda. In all the times he's asked this question, I'm staggered that nobody has said "Yes, but only a gibbering lunatic would trust the self-same fuck-heads who did the backing and arming to do the liberating."
This, I suspect, is why Hitchens has had the Bushies' backs for the last seven years.
You were vehemently opposed to the invasion of Iraq. If you had to reduce your objections to a single word, what would it be?
That's easy - Vietnam. You know, small southeast Asian nation, major wars up until the eighties.
Again, this is a point that should be internalised by those trying to persuade us that we should support liberal democracies when they decide to take on dictatorships. Even with segregation, the US was as liberal as could've been hoped for at the time, but it still found itself balls-deep in a hideous bloodbath.
Thing is, the Americans were right - the Viet Cong really were horrible people, and likely the lives of the South Vietnamese would have been better in a US client state. Sadly, large numbers of South Vietnamese disagreed and fought covertly for the Viet Cong, because the Yanks were foreigners and the Cong were Viets.
That should have made us think twice about invasions of middle eastern countries, which are not known for their Yankophilia.
Vietnam is the prime example of the law of unintended consequences. The US fought in the name of freedom and democracy but wound up in a conflict that killed millions, while spraying poison over one of the poorest agrarian societies on earth.
It's appallingly ironic that a war the neo-cons thought would erase the stain of Vietnam has instead rubbed it further into the fabric.
What about those Weapons of Mass Destruction?
Look, everyone on Earth thought Saddam would have some Sarin or VX gas. Nasty stuff if it's pitched into your bathroom, but about as much of a threat to human civilisation as athlete's foot, and certainly no justification for the ridiculous scaremongering that preceded the war.
While I was deeply suspicious of the sudden, desperate need to castrate Saddam, I gave the WMD thing a chance. If a nut like Saddam was covertly working on nukes, that was something that had to be stomped on immediately.
When we got to the dreaded aluminium tubes and the terrifying model planes filled with Anthrax, however, it was patently obvious we were being fed bullshit. Model planes?
Tote it all up - the planes, the aluminium tubes, the Niger documents, Dick Cheney and Dr. Rice on TV talking about mushroom clouds... The intelligence report the British government cribbed off the internet, for Christ's sake. All of these were shot down by experts who had nothing to gain by protecting Saddam, and it then came down to a straight choice.
Who do you believe - the neutral experts or the fiercely pro-war politicians? If you decided the experts were telling the truth, then everything the politicians said became totally unreliable. At that point, the case for war collapsed.
That didn't stop the world's media throwing their moist underwear at Colin Powell after his speech at the UN, of course.
A lot of people say that previous UN resolutions gave the US authority to invade Iraq, but others disagree. Do you think the war was illegal?
I don't care at all about the legality. Since the dawn of international law, it's been pretty obvious that laws are for little people, and the Big Dawgz do what they like.
Whether it was legal or not, it should be pretty fucking obvious that those who voted for Gulf War I did not think they were writing the Americans a blank cheque for the next twenty years. It would be foolish to imagine that this obvious abuse of trust won't have knock-on effects for voting on future Darfurs and Rwandas.
Of course, I can never shut up. The final straw was the reception pro-war propaganda got in the US. You can intuit a lot about government policy by looking at how it's received by their supporters, and I think it's fair to say that Republicans went absolutely batshit with war fever.
Where to start? The Dixie Chicks, the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys, the Freedom Fries or the Axis of Weasels?
If there's a historical example of a nation rife with naked xenophobia, patriotic grovelling and wilful ignorance producing a positive outcome, I can't think of one.*
But didn't we have to invade Iraq because 9/11 Changed Everything?
I'm not even going to dignify my own question with a response.
Did you predict the suicide bombings and Islamist insanity?
No. I did, however, think that every nation in the region would interfere, that the plan would go to hell as soon as it met resistance and that a large number of Iraqis would hate the Americans on sight.
Can you provide any contemporary evidence to prove that this isn't all just wisdom gained with hindsight?
No. I didn't blog in those days, because I (correctly) thought that bloggers were attention-seeking loudmouths... You'll just have to decide whether I've been trustworthy in the past.
So, you disagreed with the invasion. Surely we should now support the Iraqis and show solidarity?
Depends. Is that "support" and "show solidarity" in the Decent Left sense? Because if it is, it means Don't criticise the continuing occupation and don't call for withdrawal.
It should be obvious that the American "surge" (they would've called it an "escalation" in the sixties) amounts to bribing the lunatics to fight on the American side. Sooner or later, it'll be back to insurgency and civil war.
This isn't rocket science. The Americans have created an artificial state, but everything that's wrong with Iraq needs to be sorted out by Iraqis. The sooner we're out, the better for us and them...
...Because, like many others, I believe that self-determination is the key. Peoples have to struggle for their own freedom, and the hardships they have to endure to achieve it is what makes their chosen political system endure.
Cheers, and apologies to anyone who read this far. This post was brought to you in association with Stella Artois - the reassuringly expensive lager that gets you wellied after six cans.
*Obviously, this depends on whether you think the Russians could've fought off the Nazis without Stalin's ruthlessness, inhumanity and propaganda.