The finest of all journalists in the English-speaking world, Claud Cockburn, said:
“Believe nothing until it has been officially denied.” This basic rubric of the trade was all but abandoned a decade ago in the run-up to the war on Iraq, when every official claim was assumed to be true and those who denied it were treated as bad, or even mad. One honourable exception was Cockburn’s son, Patrick, in The Independent, an exception continued in his magisterial look back in anger in this newspaper over the past week. If journalism is history’s first draft, then Patrick Cockburn’s work on Iraq will prove to be close to the finished article.
I mention this not just because I remain bitter at the role of the fourth estate in helping to bring about such slaughter and, a decade later, such ongoing misery in Iraq. But because virtually nothing has been learned, and history is repeating itself over and over again – in Libya, Mali, Syria.
Bob Dylan said in “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” that “you have to pay to get out of, going through all this twice...”. For the most part, the bill continues to be paid by others, and elsewhere. For now.
Even for someone with my experience, such militarised mendacity can still take the breath away. How many times did you read and listen in the past few days to pontificating pundits tell you that Hugo Chavez had “wrecked” the Venezuelan economy, without a whiff of self-consciousness about the state of our own and that of the United States? That Chavez’s Venezuela was a “divided” society; as if Bush, Obama, Cameron, and Osborne led governments of national unity?
To briefly recap; a huge right-wing conspiracy was mounted 10 years ago to manufacture a case to wage aggressive war (pace Nuremberg, the “ultimate crime”) upon Iraq. It involved government ministers (some still swilling around profitably in the detritus they created); intelligence agencies and the spin doctors controlling them; craven parliamentarians scarcely worthy of the name; and a veritable army of scribblers, autocue readers, laptop bombardiers and think-tankers.
Add a sprinkling of useful idiots calling themselves “liberals”, and the blue touchpaper was lit. A million died, thousands of them British and American. Millions spread as refugees around the world. A country was dismembered, never to be reassembled. Extremism cascaded around the world, blowing itself up even aboard London buses.
The whole “humanitarian” show is best remembered in the pictures from Abu Ghraib. A female American soldier, cigarette dangling from her curling lip, leading a hooded naked Iraqi prisoner like a dog on a chain. Piling naked helpless Iraqi prisoners on top of each other and forcing them to commit indecent acts, videoing it all for the entertainment of the barracks later. Those tempted to imagine this was American exceptionalism should read the proceedings of the London court this week where, inter alia, we learned of the Iraqi corpse who may or may not have walked into British custody alive, but who surely was handed back to his family minus his penis. It doesn’t get much uglier than this, especially when it’s all dressed up in the livery of liberal “intervention”.
Millions of us knew that it would end this way, even before it became clear that the entire conspiracy was built on the tower – bigger than Babel – of lies around “weapons of mass destruction”. There were none. But the weapons of mass deception deployed by the conspirators remain in fine fettle. And none of them has even been properly inspected yet. No one has been held to account; not a single head has rolled. Except those of a million Iraqis.
When the Chilcot Inquiry was announced, I denounced it in Parliament as a parade of establishment duffers, two of whom at least had been among the intellectual authors of the disaster, one of whom had described Bush and Blair as the Roosevelt and Churchill de nos jours. I pointed out that there was not a single legal personality on the Inquiry, or a soldier. And not a Douglas Hurd or a Menzies Campbell among them either. That no one could be summoned, nor their papers either. That no one would be testifying under oath. That must have been three years ago now. Little did I know that the Chilcot report would be as slow in coming as the judgement day.
Iraq is broken now, and as Cockburn’s recent reports show, Iraqi hearts haven’t mended either. It was a disaster, the greatest British policy failure since the First World War.
But for as long as its lessons are not learned, the Iraqis will not be the last such victims. The Iraq war bankrupted the British and American political class. They no longer speak for the people they claim to represent. Few believe any longer anything they say. Long before Leveson summed up the venality of much of the media – the echo chamber of that class – the people were abandoning that media in droves. Like our other institutions – the banks and the police, to name but two – their credibility stands in ruins. Devastated even more starkly than were Fallujah, Amariyah and Baghdad.
Saddam’s presidential palaces turned out to be bare, but not as bereft as the democratic political leaders who propelled him to the gallows. The trap door has opened for them. And they are still falling.
George Galloway is the Respect MP for Bradford West