September 9, 2002

Iraq War II: This Time We Mean It

Tony Blair has let it be known that he's willing to bear, quote (as they say), 'the blood sacrifice' the special relationship entails. Now we're above the sort of knee-jerk pacifist liberal jerkwaddery that cries out, 'hey, dude, it's not you man who'll do the bleeding'. In this instance, other than superciliousness, I don't know why we're above it, but we just are. Needless to report, this Patrick Pearse style raving just goes, zip, under the media's radar screen. And you know, here in Britain at any rate, that's hardly very surprising. You may well be familiar with the charge that our dear state broadcaster, the BBC, is rotted with cultural liberalism right to its stinking heart, but never forget what that actually amounts to. This pearler from the Corporation's political editor, Andrew Marr, for one – the US, apparently, is 'the chief guardian of international peace'. Which is a nifty piece of editorialising. Anyway, what that entirely self-contained parable ought to remind those of us who are in any sense conservatives is this: when Tony Blair supports a war, it's a safe bet that this doesn't mean he's become a militaristic headcase, rather, and so much more objectionably, it means that the unfortunate war in question has become yet another progressive crusade.

This is easy enough to establish in the case of Britain, and slightly harder in the case of America (the state that will actually be making, and requiring, whatever blood sacrifice there is going down), but it's worth repeating over and over again. This is an imperial war: the empire waging it is liberal. Not, you'll agree a complicated position, and not one that needs us, here and now, to ask historical questions like, could only the ideology of the New Deal have necessitated American imperialism? The point remains, take this forthcoming war against Iraq, hold it upside down, shake it about, and every time the snowflakes settle, you've still got 'classic imperial scene #98' in your hands.

Let's look at the satrap first, if only because of Britain's inordinate ability to gob above its weight. What really ought to grab one by the neck when thinking about this war? What really ought to stand out as a consideration displacing all others? The morality of the war? Don't be such a girl. The possibility of the 'gates of Hell' opening up and swallowing us whole? Do grow up. No, what should smack all our policy makers (and pundits) in the face is how unimportant to us this war is. It just doesn't matter that much. If we get involved, no big deal, if we stay out, so what? This illustrates the first Tory lesson of this war: there is no over-riding reason to get involved. Sure the Prime Minister gibbers on about Saddam being 'a very real threat to Britain', but as Colin Powell helpfully pointed out, even if his having nukes made a difference, it's not much of a runner anytime soon. But even expressing the reason for inaction precisely that way is to use the language of liberal do-good interventionism – even if there was an Iraqi bomb, and even if our inaction would still entail this being a problem for us, our participation isn't necessary to provide a solution. Thus, there's a fairly high hurdle to jump before we start bombing too, but seemingly it's been effortlessly cleared in the mind of the Prime Minister. Ask yourself: why is it so easy for Tony Blair to come to the conclusion that this is a war he should be frenetically engaged in?

Britain's not jumping on board because of any barmy concern that we need to, to keep the Americans close to the sticking place (or dicking place, as Tony Blair might have it). We're on board for exactly the dismal, familiar reasons of utter servitude that have British civil servants bounding round the globe, telling the no doubt suitably impressed Russians, Chinese and French: 'get with the programme – or you won't have any influence'. And by golly, where would we be without that precious stuff? Imagine the difference it would make if we sat this one out. Quite.

One of the autothoughts left wing types like to spew out about this war is that to make it so, Dubya needs, either for practical, Holbrookian reasons of liberal-empire, or for moral ones, pleasingly consistent with your high purpose, oodles and oodles of something called 'International Support'. And that, moreover, he lacks this essential thing at the moment. I can't for the life of me see what difference the level or otherwise of 'international support', beyond, and in descending order of importance, Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, makes, but there you are.

My other problem is that I don't see where the opposition is – who exactly is it that's going to in any manner other than heavy, French accented sneering, get in the way? No one, not a sodding country. Not one. As I've said before, when American rightists blubber about the 'lack of international support', for which read, 'we're going to scweam and scweam and scweam until we're sick if you don't all this instant say how wonderful we are' it's just – what was the phrase? – girly-boy bedwetting. When US liberals dribble on about it, nine times out of ten – if they come from the governing classes – it's not with a view to preventing war i.e. it's not a conservative stratagem to prevent action by demanding the impossible first. Rather it's that, as its progenitors, they have a much more holistic approach to American empire, and they perfectly sincerely think that this is the ideal way to go about doing imperialism. It doesn't mean, as every Democrat president since the war has shown, that they're not going to do it, it's just that they want to feel good about themselves afterwards.

Anyway, back to Britain: one of our homegrown delusions about this war, and I suppose it's an outgrowth of the untenable assertion that it matters overly much, is that the Prime Minister is 'taking a grave political risk'. Nonsense, not for a second is Tony Blair in any political danger. For that to be the case the opposition would have to oppose, and, promise, hand on heart, there's no danger of that. Mr Blair will be errand running for the president to Moscow on the day the Tory leader makes his keynote speech to the Conservative Party Conference. Will this happy piece of politicking make the Atlanticist know-nothings who run that party sit up and think, what gives? Between you and me, the answer isn't Yes.

Sorry, no, pathetic, and demeaning, and pointless as it all is, Tony Blair will support the Americans, no matter what, because he lacks the political moral compass even Harold Wilson had over Vietnam. To give his foreign policy a name, it's Thatcherism for contemporary circumstances. For what it's worth, and despite the ghosted ideological vapourings she's doled out 'in opposition' (as I insist on thinking of her), I don't believe that had Mrs Thatcher governed into the post Cold War period for a Mitterand or Kohl like period that her natural chauvinism wouldn't have asserted itself. Much more likely, a far less sanitised version of the special relationship (especially one where the interlocutor was Bill Clinton) would have predominated, but that's idle fantasy. However, as one final point on Britain, though it applies to the American public too, let's say, okay, there is a danger that requires going to war, and sure, we can't know what that is beforehand: are we going to find out what it was afterwards?

This is an American war, waged by America, for American purposes. One thing to say straight away is that it's neither autonomous to what happened almost a year ago, but nor is it the simple result of it. The tendency towards solving the problem of Saddam by war was there long before planes crashed into buildings. The whole planes-into-buildings thing had nothing to do with the failure to apply that solution in time [sic]; and solving this problem by that means has dubious benefits for America's new found difficulty (see above). All that 9/11 did, through the application of sloppy logic in the American policy making process, was give power to the elbow of those who always, for entirely separate reasons, wanted to displace the current regime in Baghdad.

To allow the two, distinct events to be conflated, is do our opponents work for them. Take the canting moral nullity of a Mark Steyn proclaiming that:

I feel sorry for the 55 percent of Europeans who [think] falling secretaries and atomised infants are something to do with "US foreign policy" [...] By "distancing yourself" from the victims of September 11 you move closer to the perpetrators, closer to barbarism.

And lo, at long last, we have the 'eating tuna? you Nazi!' self-defeating moral exaggeration for our own time. Ignoring the moronism that has last year not connected to US foreign policy – the 'perpetrators', i.e. Mark, the real bad guys (and not those of us who happen to disagree with you in something as trivial as an argument), didn't do it for fun – this betrays a complete abandonment of moral judgement. Wafting through the slaughtered air of last year's dead in an effort to justify war in Iraq shows a rhetorical determination quite blind to all taste and reasonable political sentiment.

So we have the farcical situation where we're told, 'America should get rid of Saddam, the rogue dictator', when, in so doing, she can't even obey her own laws. Yet this upcoming war is, even for America and her empire, a hard struggle to justify. None of the balls that surrounded last year's events (remember, madness like the imminent uprising of Muslims foolish enough to live in the West), bar one, has been borne out. That one is the new mood of determination in America – and let's be totally fair, if the objective in Iraq bears any relation to those voiced in favour of war, then the sabre-rattling has worked. The drum has been beaten, all other countries are in the process of giving our neocon chums the spoonhug they evidently need, and Saddam looks his fate in the face. Without doubt, only by America 'meaning it' could the world have been brought to this state, with Saddam about to be pushed further back into his box. If this is what George Bush is prepared to settle for, then America and her wards gain the limited comfort that at least a conservative, with limited and realistic goals, is in charge. If war, entirely unnecessary, in Iraq is started regardless, if the regime proves intolerable to Washington whatever it does, then surely it has to be admitted: this is a liberal empire. It's not enough to go along with your head, you have to bring your heart too.

– Christopher Montgomery

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Christopher Montgomery is an historian who is currently writing a book on the historiography of the Suez crisis, and is publisher of ERO. He recently took some time out to run the Iain Duncan Smith campaign office, and for a while was working in the private office of the Leader of the Opposition. A young representative of the diehard tradition, he believes that Enoch Powell was right on everything apart from immigration.

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