A national newspaper recently ran an entertaining
piece on some of the most wrong-headed predictions of modern times.
There was Margaret Thatcher's 1972 claim that "there will not be a woman prime
minister in my lifetime." And Ken Olsen's 1977 prediction that "There is
no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
But sadly lacking were any of the statements from pro-war media pundits in
the lead up to the war in Iraq and during the conflict's early stages.
For when it comes to getting it wrong, the laptop bombardiers were in a class
all of their own.
How about: "This will be no war – there will be a fairly brief and ruthless
military intervention…. The president will give an order. [The attack] will
be rapid, accurate and dazzling…. It will be greeted by the majority of the
Iraqi people as an emancipation. And I say, bring it on." That was from Christopher
Or: "Don't kid yourself. There's going to be war in Iraq unless Saddam Hussein
hands over his weapons of mass destruction. He's got them. We know he's got
them. He knows we know he's got them," from Richard Littlejohn, writing in The
Then there's this classic from William Shawcross, writing in the Wall Street
Journal on the day Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in Baghdad:
"What a wonderful, magnificent, emotional occasion – one that will live
in legend like the fall of the Bastille, V-E Day, or the fall of the Berlin
Wall. All those smart Europeans who ridiculed George Bush and denigrated his
idea that there was actually a better future for the Iraqi people – they will
now have to think again."
Shawcross also authored a piece titled "Why Saddam Will Never Disarm."
Janet Daley of The Daily Telegraph believed the moral case against war
to be "at best naïve, at worst idiotic." Daley believed the existence
of Iraq's WMDs to have been proved by Blair's dossier.
Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum claimed, "Inspections haven't
worked – that is, they haven't prevented Iraq from developing weapons." She
also thought that France and Germany would "risk being completely disqualified
as serious members of the international community," when Iraq's WMDs showed
The Daily Telegraph's "Neo" Con Coughlin regaled us in the lead-up to
war with tales of Iraqi superguns and claimed that there was a link between
al-Qaeda member and 9/11 conspirator Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence. The
author of the book Saddam:
The Secret Life was agitated lest the Iraqi leader's acquiescence to
UN inspections "could stop regime change for good."
Neocon historian Andrew Roberts equated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's
Iraq with Nazi Germany at its peak:
"For Churchill, apotheosis came in 1940; for Tony Blair, it will come when
Iraq is successfully invaded and hundreds of weapons of mass destruction are
unearthed from where they have been hidden by Saddam's henchmen."
David Aaronovitch, a "left-wing" advocate of war, promised "If nothing
is eventually found, I – as a supporter of the war – will never believe another
thing that I am told by our government, or that of the U.S. ever again. Those
weapons had better be there, somewhere."
As in the case with those who claimed that "genocide" was taking place in Kosovo
in 1999, the pundits who parroted the U.S. and Britain's deceitful propaganda
on Iraq have never been properly held to account.
Far from it, they've actually been rewarded for getting things so badly wrong.
Richard Littlejohn moved from one well-paid position at the Sun to an
even better-paid one at The Daily Mail. David Aaronovitch is a columnist
at The Times – and – contrary to his promise, is still faithfully supporting
the government who lied to the country over Iraq's WMDs.
Anne Applebaum continues to play the role of Cassandra, only this time the
Iraqi "threat" has been replaced by the "threats" from Russia and Iran. Janet
Daley, who believed Blair's dodgy dossiers, is still writing in the Daily
Christopher Hitchens, despite the fact that his "fairly brief" war is still
raging, continues to be accorded deferential status, turning up on the BBC's
Question Time to impart his "wisdom" on what needs to be done next in
the "war on terror."
Coughlin's reward for getting it so wrong on Iraq was not dismissal but promotion
to the position of the Daily Telegraph's executive foreign editor. The
bumptious historian Andrew Roberts, unabashed after his comparisons between
the military strength of Saddam's Iraq and Nazi Germany proved way off the mark,
tours America promoting his book A
History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900 – personally endorsed
by one George W. Bush.
Of course, the ultimate responsibility for the war in Iraq must lie with the
politicians who authorized the illegal military action. But they would never
have been able to gain a measure of public support for the war without the work
of journalists and writers who failed to challenge the lies Bush, Blair, and
their representatives were turning out on an almost daily basis.
Whereas we can raise a smile at Lord Kelvin's claim in 1895 that "heavier-than-air
flying machines are impossible," predictions and false claims that helped
dupe the public into supporting a brutal, illegal war – one that to date has
cost the lives of almost 1 million people and made the world a far more dangerous
place – really are no laughing matter.
It's time that we treated the journalists and writers who made them with the
opprobrium they deserve.
This article first appeared in The Morning Star.