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21 Mar 2008

The Obligatory 'Iraq, Five Years On' Post

Gallery snapshot. View gallery of The Obligatory 'Iraq, Five Years On' Post

I love the fact that the closest we get to serious analysis comes not from the severity of the situation demanding such analysis, but because we happen to operate within a decimal number system and 'five' is a nice, round number within that.

Of course, the documentaries, the news 'specials' and the comment pieces should be a regular fixture as long as there is news to report (and there obviously is - how many people have covered the refugee crisis in depth?). But we're confined to just a couple of weeks on this anniversary where there is increased focus on the war in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, the war on terror in general.

And despite the fact that it's only two weeks of extra scrutiny, it should still be the most terrifying two weeks for those in power and anyone who supported the war. They've got to be walking on eggshells, surely? Now everyone knows the facts, the common lies, the memos and internal documents at complete odds with public pronouncements ... surely this is the time when the entire media turn against the government and point the finger of unequivocal blame and call this war by its proper name: not a sham, or a mistake, but a crime?

It's like having an axe murderer in the dock and focussing on whether a sharp knife might not have been the better weapon to use. Sadly, no such luck. Aside from the odd notable exception (like Robert Fisk's excellent article about our consistent failure to learn from history), we've had little real, objective, honest scrutiny. There's been criticism, hand-wringing, soul-searching, analysis of a kind, but not much that hasn't already been said. Aside from anything, the question of motivation, of oil or of permanent US military presence has barely arisen (as I write this, Channel 4 news is finally half-debating the oil question). How can you have a five year retrospective of Iraq and fail to mention oil? Regardless of the conclusions you draw, it's absurd not even to state as a footnote that Iraq sits on the world's 3rd largest oil reserves. It's at least worth the question, if Iraq's major export were asparagus, would we have still be at war?

One of the recent documentaries here in the UK was a film by Peter Oborne, Iraq: The Reckoning, which felt like it should be on the right tracks. It was indeed critical, but always within the established framework of argument permitted by the mainstream media. So the harshest words that were summoned up in judgement of the Iraq war were "the greatest foreign policy disaster since Munich". Oborne also described the war as a "blunder" and a "catastrophe". Again, it might seem perfectly valid on the surface, but it's only when you apply these same criticisms to other events in history - events carried out by our enemies - that you realise that their effect is conversely to re-enforce the party line. Picture Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland being described as a 'foreign policy blunder', or a 'misadventure'. Such language would not only be grossly inappropriate but deceptive by omission of crucial facts - namely the failure to mention a deliberate and illegal war of aggression. The sad thing is that by calling the war a 'blunder' you actually excuse the government of a more serious crime. The picture that's painted is one of a clumsy, but friendly giant, trying to do good, but thwarted by his awkward and ill-thought out plans. And all the while, people accept this as the far left boundary of the debate and proof of a democratic system successfully regulating itself (see this Times article for the meaningless praise given to Oborne's supposed no-holds-barred stance).

What's happening here is we're being told that the worst our government is guilty of is a simple mistake, a foreign policy fumble. It's like having an axe murderer in the dock and the trial focussing on whether a good sharp knife might not have been the better weapon to use.

Not wanting to lay it on too thick, but the basic facts of Iraq are desperately simple, well documented and accepted. The war was illegal; the fall-out that we now see was very much expected; and Iraq fits into a pattern of 'foreign policy blunders' that is far from unique. It's within this framework that questions should be asked, not dithering over the hows and whys of particular military tactics.

Also note that the most common criticisms - 'disaster' and 'catastrophe' - are both words that have strong links to naturally occurring, unavoidable phenomena. A tidal wave, an earthquake, a train crash - these are all catastrophes and disasters. An illegal war of aggression - that which was labelled the "supreme international crime" by the Nuremberg Tribunal - is none of these words. Instead it is "criminal", "devastating" and "horrific". Why do we not hear these words used in the media? That's the real question that needs asking.

To finish our own little retrospective, here are two films that sadly didn't get prime time TV coverage this week. The first short film is the sort of clip that I wouldn't normally highlight - it's emotive, deals with events without context and offers no objective analysis or insight .... but it did turn my stomach. It's a small snapshot of the dehumanising horrors of war and the public don't get to see enough of that.

The second is an excellent documentary (by Alex Gibney who did the Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room film) about US torture practices, called 'Taxi to the Dark Side' and is well worth an hour of anyone's time. The best thing about this film is the absurdity of high-ranking officials asking with mock concern, 'How could this happen?' and the film neatly replying: 'Well, look, it's part of your policy'.


Posted by Andy S on 21 March 2008 - 4 comments

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Comments so far:

  1. I fully agree - the Iraq coverage has been shameful. 99% has been filler or to shift more papers or just repeating the same old lies and rubbish but made to look like concern. Until there's intelligent and active reporting in mainstream news, we're fucked. If only more people were saying this. Excellent post. Vlad the Impala from Sheffield, UK - 22 March 2008
  2. You should see 'Battle for Haditha' - I thouhgt it was well-rounded and unbiased. It's by Nick Broomfield.Will from London - 22 March 2008
  3. Will - thanks for the tip, I've heard a lot about 'Battle for Haditha'. Although, I'm slightly put off by the title, since Haditha is surely better known because of the massacre that took place there. Again, I find the language interesting - you wouldn't refer to Sadam's gassing of the Kurds as 'The Battle for Halabja'. But I may be missing the point - I better watch it first. Do you have a link or anything?TerrorBull Games - 22 March 2008
  4. Well you do hear words like "criminal" to describe Iraq, occasionally, but they're not taken very seriously. For the "supreme crime" to have occurred, there must first be peace between participants, as - for example - it took five years after October '73 for peace to "break out" between Israel and Egypt. That paradigm wasn't working at the time in Iraq, which was still in a state of hostilities with the US-UK and their allies.JP from Canada - 19 April 2008

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