The anti-war left now faces a major problem.
It was of course perfectly logical for them to continue to call for opposition to war as long as there was a chance that war could be avoided but while they may not accept, with some reason, that they have lost the arguement in Britain, they must accept that ‘Stop the War’ is now a useless slogan.
The anti-war movement know that they must adapt to the new situation but will they? One of their leading propagandists Paul Foot argues in the Guardian today against the ‘now-you-should-back-our-boys’ argument and mocks the Liberal Democrats for taking a line of opposition to war but then support for troops in action.
Foot says:This political doublethink seems to have struck down all sorts of people in high places. They see no case for war. They know that the war was planned long ago in the Pentagon and the White House, and that all the wrangling in the UN has been a cynical irrelevance. They know that their arguments, and those of millions of people all over the world, have been contemptuously ignored by their elected leaders. But as soon as “our fighting men” go into action, they argue, all opposition should cease and our fighting men backed to the hilt of their bayonets in their bloody work. This seems to me utterly perverse.
Personally I cannot for the life of me see how anyone, even someone viruently opposed to the rationale for this war, would not want a swift victory for the allied forces. That does not mean, as the likes of Foot pretend, that the only choice is between wrapping yourself in a Union Jack or calling for the war to be halted.
It is predictable that Foot chooses to present the choice as one of commitment to the cause or submission to jingoism – if that is the line that the Stop the War Coaltion, led by Foot’s Socialist Workers Party, choose to take, their support may vanish as quickly as it emerged. It is though, an example of the depressingly simplistic sloganising that has characterised much of the anti-war movement.
Another Guardian writer Jonathan Freedland has been the voice of the more reasoned anti-war position, more of a doubter than a rigid ‘anti’ and he presents a different approach to the new situation than Foot.
“Should those who have argued against this war want it to go well or badly? “ asks Freedland – and does it not speak volumes that he even needs to ask this rhetorical question to the left?
Freedland says that is perfectly acceptable for opponents of this war to continue to defend their position, to continue to offer a critique while at the same time he chastens those on the left who might find it emotionally difficult to witness a British-US victory:
Only the pettiest and most small-minded peacenik would want American or British troops to die just to bring the satisfaction of saying “I told you so”. Those who wish this war had never happened should now want it to end as swiftly and painlessly as possible – in a US-British victory. The ideal outcome would be an instant decapitation of Saddam and his vicious regime, leaving the body of Iraqi society intact. The longer the war drags on, the more pounding that is inflicted, the more Iraqi civilians will die.
I think the vast majority of the 750,000 people who marched on February 15 in London will probably go along with Freedland on this. They will remain critical but they will also hope for the best. The result will be that the Trotskyist leadership of the Stop the War Coalition, clinging to their utterly stupid notion of ‘revolutionary defeatism’, will be isolated from their temporary supporters. Should they fail to change their slogans and their approach they will find themselves returning to the political ghetto where frankly most of them belong.
For the mainstream left though there is a real chance for the division between the ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ camps to be healed and for us to come back together in a common cause.
That cause is, as Johann Hari eloquently describes in the Independent, democracy in Iraq.
Forget trying to stop George Bush and Tony Blair’s war plans, that game is over. Instead focus your energy on making sure that a post-Saddam gets humanitarian support and that those who support a democratic post-Saddam Iraq win the day.
This is the choice that Hari believes Clare Short has taken. She realised that war was going to happen and she realised that she had a chance to boost the chances of a progressive end scenario by staying in government rather than joining the ranks of the one-day opposition.
That should be an example to the rest of the anti-war left says Hari:
For the sake of the Iraqi people, whatever your views on removing President Saddam, join her in trying to move this situation in a constructive direction rather than wishing it wasn’t happening. If only all of the people who joined the anti-war movement had instead fought to turn this into a humanitarian intervention à la Kosovo, the conflict would already look very different. It is not too late: there is plenty you can do now to help Iraqis.
If you are going to march, ditch the old, cheap slogans to “stop the war”. Call instead for democracy in Iraq. The Bush administration and its allies are divided on this issue. There are big players calling for post-war democracy, like Paul Wolfowitz, Tony Blair and Clare Short, and others like Dick Cheney and Colin Powell calling for another dictatorship, albeit a less horrific one.
We, as people who live in democracies, have the capacity to strengthen the hand of the democrats and weaken the autocrats. Another march against the war will achieve nothing now, but marches across the world calling for democracy could tip the balance in this direction. Now is the time to stand in solidarity with the Iraqi democrats, who have called all along for intervention and need our support.
So I appeal to the Stop the War coalition: shift your energies now to post-war Iraq, as Ms Short has. Listen to the Iraqi exiles and to the aid agencies who will be working in the country, and act as they are begging you to. My friend Sama Hadad is one of the leading figures in the Iraqi Prospect Organisation, a group of Iraqi exiles and their children, who have been trying to help people to understand that their Iraqi relatives – still trapped in the prison of President Saddam’s Iraq – want and need this war. She says: “Whether you are pro-war or anti-war, what my Iraqi relatives and friends need now is help once the monster Saddam is gone. If only all the energy put into trying to stop this war could be put into helping Iraqis now to build democracy – that is my dream.”
Hari then makes a direct appeal to the anti-war movement:
When, after the war, the Iraqi people are crying out for help – will the anti-war movement still spend its energies pointing out out that the US president is an oil-loving moron? Or will they take up the Iraqi cause? If raging against Bush proves more urgent than rebuilding Iraq, they will indeed have been proved to be motivated by hatred rather than compassion.
I do not think it will happen: I have more faith in my friends in the anti-war movement than that. They will surely see that the urgent priority now must be to ensure that the people who die in this war – and there will be thousands of them – lose their lives not to clear the way for another American-approved tyrant but for the noble cause of Iraqi democracy and freedom. That fight is not over: it is only just beginning. Side with the Iraqi democrats – and Mr Blair and Mr Wolfowitz and Ms Short – and we are more likely to get through this to an honourable, democratic and – at last – peaceful Iraq.
Perhaps Hari is being over-confident about the anti-war movement but I hope not and he is absolutely right about what should be done.
What he doesn’t say, but is equally true, is that those of us on the left who have supported war on the grounds that it will benefit an oppressed people and will liberate them from a fascist regime, have a big responsibility now to make sure that those who carry out this war do keep their promises to the Iraqi people.
There can be no 1991 betrayal again. There can be no sell-out to some Saddam-free Ba’ath Party regime. There can be no military regime. There may be a great temptation on the parts of the US/UK powers to cut a deal at some stage in the war with anti-Saddam plotters who have no interest in democracy. There are still some in the US administration who do not wish to go down the democratic route in Iraq.
We can, as Hari rightly does, urge the anti-war movement to rejoin us in support of democracy for Iraq, but we must make sure that having presented ourselves as the champions of the Iraqi people’s cause, we live up to our responsibilities.