I was once anti-war myself. I got drunk on the cruelty of the Saudis, but could not stomach the ‘misinterpretations’ of Ahmadinejad. I binged for hours at a time on George Gallloway’s YouTube videos, but always called it a night when it came to clips of his condoning jihad. My conversion took root after I read Nick Cohen’s outstanding book, What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way. Chapter 10, line 1 stands out: ‘on15 February 2003, about a million liberal-minded people marched through London to oppose the overthrow of a fascist regime’. And that was me, I was saved! I can say proudly I have been sober for a little over two years and am now a detractor of every dictatorship on Earth. The 15 February marchers (of which thankfully I was not one) can spin it all they want, but they took to the streets to support a mass murderer. If Saddam had not been hanged, we would have found out who they recognise as the legitimate Leader of Iraq.
Natalie Bennett of the Green Party clearly wishes Saddam still ran things. At the Party’s Spring Conference, she called for Ed Miliband to ‘apologise for the decision to take Britain into an unjustifiable war’. Bennett’s comments are symptomatic of movement’s sense of entitlement, the belief that their protests should instigate government policy shifts. Owen Jones’ and Sam Parker’s recent pieces (for an excellent retort, read Tom Harris’s recent article) put the spotlight on the elitist mindset a supposed anti-elite movement: we know best, everyone else is wrong.
I would also question the movement’s popular appeal considering Blair actually won a general election two years after the invasion. Yes, only 20 per cent of eligible voters supported Labour, as Mehdi Hasan loves pointing out, but the electorate accepted the result. Voters also backed the retention of First Past the Post in the 2011 AV referendum; either the public is pro-war or Iraq is not as important to them as Bennett et al think. It is surely not the former- as British Social Attitudes research has shown- but the British Election Study 2005 found voters had more pressing concerns. Only 3 per cent of respondents viewed the Iraq War as the ‘most important issue’ in the run-up to the election; voters were more concerned about immigration, law and order and the NHS, among other things. Similarly, of those traditional Labour voters who did not vote for the party in 2005, only 6 per cent believed it was the ‘most important issue’. Perhaps most encouragingly, young people have not been ‘put off’ politics by Iraq, as Parker likes to claim.
Ed Miliband is free to oppose the Iraq War but he should stop short of listening to Bennett. Julie Lenarz, Executive Director of the Humanitarian Intervention Centre, has written the ‘blood for oil’ conspiracy is now dead as states who opposed the War – Russia, Pakistan and particularly China- have benefitted the most from oil contracts. A Miliband ‘apology’ would not only undermine Labour’s most electorally successful Prime Minister, but would play into the hands of those who peddle these myths.
He is also free to distance himself from the New Labour project- it is understandable if he wants to take his party in a new direction domestically after a heavy general election defeat in 2010. But a party’s foreign policy cannot be set out five years in advance in a manifesto; it must be dynamic to allow the government to react to developing international events and crises. The 9/11 terrorist attacks showed how quickly Western foreign policies must adapt to quickly-changing circumstances. For this reason, Miliband should be listening to, rather than apologising for, the architect of New Labour. To be fair, he supported the Libyan intervention and gave David Cameron his full backing, but there is a huge difference between opposition and government: he must be prepared to back up these bold words on the other side of the House.
It is unclear how history will judge the Iraq War, but what is clear is that liberal interventionism is firmly back on the agenda. The Arab Spring’s revolutionary waves have swept several dictatorships from power and others will follow in due course. David Cameron has involved Britain in two of these conflicts so far and it would not be too surprising if he notches up another by 2015. Miliband will be presented with similar dilemmas if he wins the next election- as President Hollande has recently found out- but he cannot let his opposition to Iraq constrain him.
Whoever wins the election, any future liberal intervention will likely have my support. My recovery seems to be going well. I roll my eyes at every ‘Bliar’ placard, every ‘Bush the retard’ joke, every time ‘imperialism’ is misused in a sentence. A friend recently bought me Oliver Kamm’s Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy for my birthday. I have yet to read it, but it’s comforting that if I ever find myself relapsing, there is more neo-con holy scripture on my shelf in which I can find solace.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Human Security Centre.