‘It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation,’ General William Tecumseh Sherman once declared, when looking back on the American Civil War.
Sherman’s indictment was aimed at the civilians and politicians who he believed were largely responsible for the war, but his words can be applied with equal force and validity to the liberal keyboard warriors who supported the Iraq war.
Some of them have been back in combat mode in recent weeks. Like the journalistic equivalent of Sylvester Stallone and his crew in The Expendables, age cannot wither them, and here they come with jaws jutting out to hit the keyboard or appear at tenth anniversary debates to justify the catastrophic war they once supported.
In the New Statesman, there is John Lloyd, one of Paul Wolfowitz’s nightclub pals at Annabelle’s, telling readers ‘Iraq: Why Blair was right.’ At the Times, there is David Aaronovitch, one of the hardest and most valiant liberal interventionists of all, a man whose weight-loss experiences at health farms have never blunted his appetite for combat, with a typically belligerent piece entitled ‘Now we know it was right to invade Iraq’ (access by payment only) .
Elsewhere, the Independent‘s John Rentaghoul – the Renfield to Blair’s Dracula, endlessly willing to eat insects for his master – is cheerfully upbeat in his blog about his participation in a Newsnight debate on ‘ what Iraq is like now and the implications for liberal interventionism elsewhere’.
Now these are men who clearly know what war means, wise, intelligent, thoughtful men who care deeply about humanity – especially Arab humanity. So we know that their decision to support the war didn’t come lightly. We can take it for granted that, like Bush and Blair, they carefully weighed up all possible options before they started churning out op eds and appearing on tv to support the 2003 invasion.
And we can also assume that such men are capable of reflecting on the complete and utter discrepancy between what actually happened and what they said would happen – as many US and British army officers did when the Iraq war ‘went wrong’ – and perhaps expressing a certain humility and wariness about proposing future ‘interventions’.
Well, not exactly. For these warriors are a tough breed, and not the kind to be put off by minor setbacks. All of them are unrepentant about the war that they once promoted so fervently. All of them are serenely indifferent to – or at least accepting of – the death and trauma that the war left in its wake. And after all these years in the frontline, they have not lost their ability to reinvent the past or ignore inconvenient facts that contradict their arguments.
This is what liberal interventionism is all about. It’s a long game, and anyway, Iraq wasn’t that bad, says Major-General Aaronovitch from his Hampstead base of operations. After all: ‘Ten years after the war began, the country is more secure and democratic. The alternative was Syria on steroids.’
Counterfactuals are a stock weapon in the apologist’s arsenal. Aaronovitch was one of those who predicted that Coalition troops would be greeted with flowers, who believed claims that there were WMD hidden all over Iraq and that these weapons would be found. Having been proven completely wrong on every single count in his attempts to predict the future of Iraq, he now takes refuge by imagining an alternative past and present, while simultaneously ignoring or diminishing the impact of what actually did take place.
Like many others in the liberal combat squad, Aaronovitch takes issue once again with the epidemiological surveys that placed the overall death toll in Iraq between 600,000 to one million, even though the British government’s own scientific adviser once declared that the methods used were ‘close to best practice.’
Aaronovitch prefers the figure of 180,000 – clearly a tragic but nevertheless acceptable figure for ex-communists like him, who come from the Stalinist ‘can’t have an omelette without breaking eggs’ tradition. In addition, these statistics support one of Aaronovitch’s favourite arguments – that Saddam would have killed just as many people if he had remained in power.
I don’t know about you readers, but I find a gross and outrageous cynicism in this kind of calculus. Saddam was a vicious bastard for sure, but he did not kill people by quota, and it is not for pampered Western journalists to decide how many Iraqi deaths constitute an acceptable statistic – or dismiss surveys which don’t support their own assumptions.
John Lloyd, another ex-Stalinist, also compares Saddam to Stalin in his New Statesman piece, which argues that the Iraq war was largely based – on Blair’s side at least – on the ‘powerful moral imperative’ of the ‘responsibility to protect’.
Well, actually, no it wasn’t. Blair did not invoke that principle before the war. On the contrary, he insisted again and again that the war was justified by Saddam’s non-compliance with weapons inspectors. He even declared on one occasion that ‘regime change’ was not inevitable, and that Saddam could remain in power if he complied.
If ‘responsibility to protect’ was such a ‘moral imperative’, why did the US and Britain do so little to ensure that the Iraqi population were protected after the invasion? If Blair cared so much about Iraqi civilians, why were he and his inner circle so outraged by British media coverage of Iraqi civilian deaths during the invasion, as documented in Peter Stothard’s fly-on-the-wall book?
Why did they not deploy sufficient troops? Why did they effectively dismantle the Iraqi state? Why, despite the experience of both the US and British military in running successful post-war occupations, was there such a monumental failure in post-war planning, something that US and British army officers have commented on many times since?
Why did US and British troops so rapidly alienate the Iraqi population? Why did the US military open fire on an unarmed crowd in Fallujah in the first weeks of the occupation? Why did American and British soldiers torture and humiliate the ‘liberated’ Iraqi population? Why are women in Fallujah still giving birth to deformed babies?
If Bush and Blair really believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, as Lloyd insists, why did they feel the need to include an old Phd thesis in the ‘dodgy dossier’ and refer to faked stories about ‘yellowcake’ uranium to inflate the ‘threat’ posed by Saddam?
There are many other questions like this that could be asked, but the liberal tough guys are not interested in asking them. For these hard-livin’, hard-fightin’ crusaders, the Iraq war may not have had a perfect outcome, but it’s still good enough for them to argue in favour of new wars. Thus Lloyd concludes with a ringing endorsement of liberal intervention, declaring:
‘It may work in Mali. More thought needs to be given to how it might work in Syria. For the left, the responsibility to protect should be part of a progressive view of global problems. That the principle has become synonymous with a kind of refurbished imperialism is a sign of decadence.’
Now John Lloyd, like Aaronovitch, clearly regards himself as a profound thinker, and sees some kind of inherent nobility in his willingness to urge other people to fight and die in the West’s endless struggle to make the world a better place.
But their latest interventions suggest to me that that deep, deep, deep down, these are very shallow men indeed, both morally and intellectually. And reading their apologias, I can’t help feeling that the real decadence is not be found amongst those who criticize the misuse and manipulation of ‘responsibility to protect’ as a justification for militarism, but amongst lazy and credulous journalists who endlessly recycle the lies and delusions of more powerful people than themselves and peddle a vision of war that is essentially as hollow and fake as their own humanitarian pretensions.