As I write this the seemingly unstoppable force of ISIS (or, should you prefer: Islamic State, ISIL, SEC, Da-ish or, simply, Jihad) is tearing across a valley that once cradled civilisations. These modern-day black shirts burn books they cannot read and deface art which provided enlightenment during an age better known for its darkness.
It is the Sunni Muslims, emboldened by the collapse of the state and fuelled by Saudi money, that are filling ISIS’ ranks with their young and weaponry – both state-of-the-art and Medieval. The Shia population, unwilling to lose recent gains, are re-establishing their own criminal gangs, none of which seem to be especially discriminatory in their retaliatory assaults. The Kurds, key witnesses to the recent calamities, look set to flee without leaving investigators a forwarding address. It certainly seems that the days when Iraq can be considered a workable idea are gone.
The spark which set alight the Texas tea in this strained analogy is widely considered to be the “intervention” of 2003. At that time large sections of the Left warned unsympathetic leaders that no good could result from their imperial ambitions. Worse than an insatiable appetite for oil, for Brits anyway, it was suspected our forces’ contribution to the Coalition’s war effort had more to do with ego than anything else. We watched as Blair, attempting to distract the electorate from his immense blandness, put down his copy of A Study in Greatness and set off toward the world’s greatest Trouble Spot aboard a $3.5 million Chinook, alongside that august leader of the Free World.
The bringer of the Third Way never looked back even if his rivals do little else, for all the good that has done our tendency. The Iraq War and political ramifications are instructive in analysing the post-1989 Left. Here we can find something praise-worthy, although there are difficult lessons to face.
As with any great political event it’s worth delving into the record on the look-out for comparisons. History does not reside in the clean simplicity of a laboratory, rather it throws out curve balls and inconsistencies which make any comparison between this or that event a tedious task at the most. But for many leftists in the early days of Iraq, the equivalency with Vietnam was obvious, if only because both exist in the common imagination for no other reason than gaining the suffix “War”.
From the vantage point of 2015, we can ask the following question with less angst and more reason: what separates the Vietnam War from the Iraq War? Any leftist worth his or her salt would surely reply by attacking the premise, “there is very little, comrade, both being obvious exercises of Western Imperialism”.
But put such offal to one side and we can get to the real meat of the question: the latter received targeted bombing while the former nation saw almost every square centimetre of its soil laden with lead, the latter also saw no concentration camps, no mass-rape, no “covert” invasion of neighbouring states, and no wide-spread culling of indigenous democracy movements. There was also none of that hellishly infectious Agent Orange (a chemical weapon, we civilized European types must not forget, the British government first experimented on human lungs in Malaysia several years prior).
I write this not to praise British and American elites but to highlight a key difference: a very sudden interest in humanitarian considerations at the top levels of war-planning.
On that count, those on the Left which opposed the war against Indochina should take a great deal of credit. No Western policy maker would dare plan a resumption of one of the 20th century’s worst crimes lest they initiate a resumption of the domestic cultural-revolutions it did so much to enflame.
So what were those principled, well-developed anti-war slogans of the Iraq era? No to a war for oil. Bush is worse than Bin Laden. No more death (I assure you that I did not make this up, some cretins actually vandalised cardboard sheets with these impossibly vacuous statements). When voicing our outrage, we of course began with the admission that, of course, Saddam’s a bad guy only to follow up with a but…
The only consistency between the two wars which can be properly spoken of was the overwhelming opposition by the Left that they initiated, if delayed first time around (not including those liberal hawks for whom that apocalyptically-mad JFK conjures up a respectable image).
Among thinkers, we heard sneers and cries of outrage about our governments’ interference with the internal politics of developing nations, a ludicrous sentiment which should be confined to the reactionaries. (Show me borders in which we are nobly abstaining from interfering within and I’ll show you North Korea.) Even the courageous Alexander Cockburn, whose opposition seemed genuine on anti-militarization grounds, employed language about respecting the “internal politics” of other nations. A tinge of 1930s Toryism about that.
Alexander’s brother Patrick, well-respected and considered an authority on those ramshackle nation states now occupying Mesopotamia, wrote convincingly long before and directly prior to the invasion of how ordinary Iraqis were actually begging for outside interference in their politics. Anything to give that monster Saddam pause.
A monster the Left (George Galloway aside) rightly condemned when he was our government’s “man” in the region. Not just any man, a “source of stability”.
Ironically, stability was another consideration of the anti-war camp. A curious stance for any radicals among them considering reform, let alone revolution, has never taken place without the social sphere experiencing something of a tremor.