What’s Left?

Have been very impressed by Nick Cohen’s book What’s Left?.

I supported the Iraq war at the time, which I now regret, feeling that those of us who supported the invasion were duped and manipulated. Not just over WMDs, but over the assurances of a quick victory and the establishment of peace, justice and democracy in the place of what was undeniably a foul, fascist tyranny.

However, Cohen has reminded me why I found the anti-war movement – with the narcissism of its “not in my name!” sloganeering, and its tolerance of Islamists and the far left (think: George Galloway) – so alienating.

And I am ashamed to realise that the one position I’ve never really found myself holding is that of opposing the war and George Bush, but simulataneously showing solidarity for democratic, socialist and progressive forces within Iraq and wanting them to prevail over the so-called “insurgency”. That’s the position I now want to hold, somewhat belatedly.


12 thoughts on “What’s Left?”

  1. I wish America didn’t think it had the God given right to dictate to the rest of the world how to live. The rest of the world (except the British government) knew Iraq didn’t have WMDs but that it had alot of oil. But even if an invasion had been to overthrow a murderous dictator it wasn’t warrented at the risk of the lives of innocent citizens. There were other ways to deal with things like disassociating with Iraq and imposing sanctions as we impose sanctions on other countries. If countries didn’t interfere in the affairs of others they wouldn’t be hated so much. If only we were all independent and self sufficient and not so greedy. Nick Cohen’s theory sounds pretty weird.

  2. Steph: I think Nick Cohen’s point is that even if there were good reasons for opposing the war – and I agree that there were – there were two dangerous failings by the anti-war movement:

    1. Downplaying or ignoring the evil and tyrannical nature of Saddam’s regime, or at least only acknowledging it in a “throat-clearing” way before getting on to the main business of attacking the “Bushitler” and his poodle Blair. See for example Mike Moore’s Fahrenheit 451, with its deeply slanted depiction of an idyllic Iraq torn apart by US bombs.

    2. After the war had finished, that was the left’s opportunity to show solidarity with those seeking to build civil society and democracy in the face of Baathist and Islamist violence. The left should have said, “We opposed the war, but now we will support our Iraqi brothers and sisters as they rebuild their country”. Instead people secretly or even openly hoped that the Baathist and Islamist “minutemen” would win, as the failure and humiliation of the US was more important to them than the success of those trying to build up Iraq. See, for example, this revolting cartoon by the supposedly left-wing cartoonist Latuff, glorifying the Iraqi “resistance”.

  3. I didn’t realise the war ever finished. We (NZ) have peace keeping troops and medical aid workers in the middle east. The war in Iraq never finished.

  4. I see no justification for a full invasion of Iraq despite the evil and tyrannical nature of Saddam’s regime. I didn’t notice Iraq as idyllic in F 911 but it is true that the bombs killed innocent people. I remember the Iraqi wedding ceremony. That wasn’t in F911 – that was more recent, and something America vehemently denied. It’s hard to deny the video footage of embedded journalists

  5. Now I am confused. The Islamist violence wouldn’t be there if it hadn’t been for the invasion. Are you suggesting that all the Lefties should go to Iraq and defend the Iraqis because that sounds like going to war. I really am confused.

  6. I did not read Cohen’s book, but some comments – on the piece, and on the comments. The forcible introduction of democracy is one of the greatest foibles of modern times. Not all undemocratic states are necessarily oppresive, and many democratic states are. Democracy is a workable, and possible one of the least bad systems we have for government. But it is no silver bullet, no cure-all. Some countries need a “benevolent dictator”.

    Second: When the Iraq war broke out, is was living in south Africa. Nobody there seem to have illusions about the despotic nature of Saddam’s regime. But that was not the reason for the war – there are many despotic regimes out there, that could do with toppling – a whole bunch in Africa. But who cares about Africa, right? The hypocracy was very visible from down south.

    As an aside: The community who has suffered the most was Iraq’s sizeable Christian minority. The Assyrian Church, and others, have been decimated – by violence and people fleeing to Syria (Evil state…..) – a country who happens to be the most open to Christianity in the Mid East. A fact conveniently missed by the pro-Israel evangelical lobby in the US.

    But as to the main point – the left has long since abandoned classic liberalism, and consistently lobby for more control of the individual. The right, especially in the US, in contrast, has bowed the knee to the almighty corporation. Both are totilatarianist systems in disguise – where freedom is over-regulated, or where power is handed to those with means.

    Now, less I be misunderstood, I am no libertarian. But the original idea of checks and balances has long since been discarded.

    Sometimes I wistfully, and yes, idealistically, long for feudalism….. (only semi-jokingly).

  7. Scylding: there wasn’t anything “benevolent” about Saddam’s dictatorship, of course.

    But you make a good and important point about Saddam’s being only one despotic regime. The concern I had reading Cohen’s book was that he seemed to be inviting the Left to allow its concerns to be dictated by the interests of US neo-conservatives.

    So Iraq is put under the spotlight, and Cohen then invites us to conclude that the only options were: economic sanctions; military action; or appeasement. But other countries – who are subject to equally horrible regimes but who do not threaten anyone’s strategic interests – are not subjected to the same scrutiny.

    I can see this happening already with Iran. We are invited to consider what a revolting government it has. And it is indeed a repellent government. But why is our attention directed towards Iran rather than towards Saudi Arabia, which is even worse? Because we are being softened up for action whose true motivation is far from humanitarian or liberal.

  8. ‘I supported the Iraq war at the time, which I now regret, feeling that those of us who supported the invasion were duped and manipulated.’

    Then you must be a complete fool to have believed a bunch of proven liars, or else a willing dupe.

    The supporters of the war claim that the the left has abandoned trade unionists in Iraq. Not so, for recent solidarity see below for just a few examples


    Do a bit of research, find out the last time Nick Cohen wrote a single word about Iraqi Trade Unions – it was years ago. As for Cohen actually doing anything to help…

  9. I really don’t believe that anyone group was duped. I believe everyone was duped including the current administrations in the US and Britain. Hell, wasn’t the UN duped as well–they wanted to continue sanctions. The one who did the duping was Saddam Hussein. Whatever his reasoning–cultural, psychological, political–for doing so, he did a marvelous job of allowing everyone to believe that he was harboring potentially devastating biological weapons. It isn’t as if we hadn’t seen the images of his use of chemicals against the Kurds. Not that such evidence is enough on its own, it lends credibility to the fact that many believed Saddam’s administration was harboring not only the weapons but sinister plans to use them. The train has left the station, so to speak. And war machines are like an enormous train. Once they start rolling they don’t easily stop. And in the end the only way to get back home is to keep pushing forward.

    Concerning Saudi Arabia v. Iran:
    First, we have different histories with these two nations. During WWII Iran’s shah openly lauded Hitler’s propaganda, and Nazi Germany had economic and strategic ties with the nation. This led to our deposing that Shah, and replacing him with a more secular Shah. Well, this didn’t work out all that well, and by the late seventies ended up fomenting an uprising in Iran which led to what we now know as the “Iranian Hostage Crisis.” American’s were held for over a year as hostages in Iran.

    I don’t know all that much about the Saudis, but I do know that they–the royal family–had a sort of public falling out with Public Enemy #1. So much so that he–Obama Bin Laden publicly ridiculed the Saudi family as being traitorous to the Islamic cause.

    So, it is a messy business this international relations stuff. Messy or not I do support the War on Terror. In fact, at 39, I will be enlisting in the US Army around the end of January to aid in the fight.

  10. Kobra: I think John was referring to issues such as human rights etc, not relations to the US. There is a sizeable Christian minority in Iran, who enjoy a measure of religious frreedom. Much less of that in S Arabia. Also, the latest National Geographic has a very interesting article on Iran. To attack Iran would be abominably stupid. Same with Syria, the country whose Christian population enjoy the greatest freedom of any country in the Mid-East. And please don’t forget the Christian Palestinians, God have mercy on them!

    John – I agree with you on Saddam. But not all “dictators” are like that.

    Side comment: Everybody (except us here in Canada) seems to have forgotten the Afghan war….

    But back to your original thesis, John: Personally, I am beginning to find traditional left/right, liberal conservative labels not helpful – the baggage added to those terms have reached such proportions of late that to classify yourself is fraught with a multitude of misunderstandings. But I was struck with an idea recently: With all the folks in the US callingthemselves paleo-
    Conservatives (as opposed to neocons, I guess), what is a paleo-liberal? Is he a pre-Blair Labour adherent, in the British sense maybe? Here in Canada, the terms liberal and conservative have little meaning.

  11. Kobra: not everyone was duped. Maybe those living in the US and some in the UK but we weren’t gullible. Perhaps living on the outside helps see things in perspective.

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