Real internationalism

Nick Cohen, in the Observer, asks provocatively-How many Iraqis has Robin Cook killed?

His point is that there was no bloodless option for Iraq and his target could be any of the anti-war left. Leaving in place the sanctions regime that the likes of Cook and others supported not only let Saddam off the hook and punished the Iraqi people economically but it did nothing at all to address the crimes of the fascist regime.

In short there was a very real death toll with such a position, albeit one that we didn’t see on television every night or read in huge type on the front page of the Independent.

Cohen also looks at the obsession of the media and anti-war critics of Blair with the issue of WMD and sees it as an evasion on their part of the uncomfortable truths about Iraq:

Blair’s critics include many who are fond of beginning the answer to any question with: ‘It’s more complicated than you think.’

In the case of Iraq, it wasn’t: the choices were brutally and terribly simple. The desire not to face them explains the evident relief with which the media class has turned to discussing who said what to Andrew Gilligan or the sexing up of dossiers. These are satisfyingly small issues which confirm prejudices – ‘Alastair Campbell’s a bastard!’ ‘You can’t trust Tony Blair!’ – rather than confront them.

Indeed. For many liberal-left types in the media Blair has always been a sell-out with no principles who would never risk his popularity by adopting any sort of radical stance. The fact that he took Britain into a war of liberation in Iraq while taking a hit in the polls does stand awkwardly in contradiction to that (partly deserved) image.

But worse still, I think what many on the left really can’t handle is that the very issue that Blair chose to be ‘bold’ on was the exact same one which exposed their own nationalism and lack of any sort of boldness.

I am not a big fan of Blair but he has shown much more of a claim to the left’s tradition of internationalism than those goons who belt out the Internationale at their rallies.

As David Aaronovitch notes, :

There is no Taliban, no Saddam and Slobadan Milosevic is on trial at the Hague. No hands are being chopped off in Sierra Leone, and there is peace in Northern Ireland.

Of course it was Bush not Blair that called the shots in Afghanistan and Iraq but the point is that if the anti-war, anti-Blair left here and in the US had won the day, we would have the Taliban, Saddam and Milosevic all still free to murder. So, who are the ones who should be feeling guilty?

Those on the left who supported armed struggle against Saddam, have nothing to be guilty or embarassed about. We stood on the side of freedom from a fascist dictator – it is as simple as that. The result is we are being pounded over the issue of WMD and the tedious media obsession with documents and sources – I have no doubt that Tariq Aziz would be using the same tactics in the UN – if he still had an entry pass.

Cohen again: Readers may object that Britain went to war to destroy weapons of mass destruction rather than to bring an end to despotism, and those weapons haven’t been found. All I can say in reply is: so what? The consequence of the war was an end to despotism and, for a few weeks, the British Army was the armed wing of Amnesty International, whether it knew it or not.

After noting all the valid objections to war, I suspect historians may still look back with amazement at a British centre-Left which put up with everything Tony Blair did for years, but couldn’t forgive him for his part in the downfall of the worst tyrant on the planet.