It would be a grave mistake to view the scenes of rejoicing in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein as a post hoc sanctification of the United States’s criminal invasion of Iraq. We use the term “invasion” advisedly. This one-sided “turkey shoot”, to use General Norman Schwartzkopf’s charming description of the 1991 Iraq conflict, was never a war. With no sign yet of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, the “justified pre-emption” argument is looking more and more threadbare.
None among the opponents of the invasion has ever disputed the fact that Saddam was a brutal dictator. In fact, he was almost as bad, and killed almost as many of his own people, as Angola’s Jonas Savimbi, one of the US’s surrogates during the Cold War. His secret police were just as addicted to torturing political dissidents as those of Augusto Pinochet, installed as Chile’s president by the CIA. Indeed, such is the unanimous condemnation of the invasion of Iraq among ordinary Arabs, that if the pro-US governments of the Gulf States, Jordan and Morocco were toppled tomorrow, there would similar rejoicing in the streets.
The US and its jackal, the United Kingdom, have done the easy bit. With the world’s most sophisticated military hardware, they have overwhelmed a country savaged in an earlier conflict and bled white by sanctions. Now they have the far more demanding task of winning the peace. The likelihood is that they will not long be viewed by Iraqis as “liberators”, if indeed that is how they are viewed now. If they decide to stay put, they may confront a lengthy urban guerrilla campaign, of the type the British army was unable to win in 35 years in Northern Ireland and which drove the French from Algeria. The light troop losses of the “coalition” (a misleading euphemism for the Anglo-American partnership in crime), and the costs of warfare to their respective electorates may continue and escalate. If this happens, it will be very hard to summon up sympathy for them. The world’s concerns will rightly focus on the long-suffering Iraqi people.
For their sake, one can only hope Iraq’s sovereignty is restored as soon as possible, and that somehow from this appalling mess a stable, legitimate government and integral state is salvaged. For this, it is essential for the US to relinquish administrative hold of post-invasion Iraq to the United Nations. The longer the invaders stay on conquered soil, and the more reconstruction contracts go to US corporate blood-suckers, the stronger the impression in Arab and Third World minds that this was a colonial resource-grab. And the victory they proclaim will indeed be a hollow victory for the “war whores”.
There is an additional reason for wanting a UN transitional administration. Our only instrument of global governance, and the only protection weak states have against the strong, the UN has been terribly damaged by the US’s military adventure. Its Security Council hopelessly split, it has been pushed to the margins. It is vitally important for the future of our world that its authority is rehabilitated.
There can — or should — be few members of the Fourth Estate who are currently proud of their chosen profession.
The killing and the destruction in Iraq are grabbing headlines and filling TV screens now — and it is right that these make us reflect very soberly on the appalling human toll. But there is another casualty of this war: the credibility of journalism itself.
There is nothing surprising in the naked efforts of all protagonists in this conflict to present their propaganda as the sacred truth. It is an ambition that Julius Caesar — to select merely one of history’s numerous tyrants consumed by imperial longings — avidly shared. His self-serving accounts of invading, dividing and subduing the Gauls provided a template for state propaganda in any historical period.
So it would be naive to complain about American, British and Iraqi attempts to massage the truth.
But what has made the skin crawl and the bile rise is the obscene willingness so many journalists have shown to embrace the grimy mission with which political powers titillated them. In the process, quaint notions of balance, impartiality and analysis went the same way as hundreds of human bodies over the past three weeks.
The British hack who stained TV screens on Wednesday with his rapturous welcoming of American troops into Baghdad distilled one of journalism’s many moments of abject shame in the run-up to, and during, the assault on Iraq.
“Embedded” is now a thoroughly filthy word: it signals wholesale journalistic capitulation to ideological interests that it should be the profession’s job to dissect, not embrace.
No one who cares in any way about the role of the media in promoting and nurturing democratic freedoms can be sanguine now. For all the nauseating triumphalism this week about Iraqis tasting freedoms they have never experienced before, we fear that freedom and democracy are significantly worse off globally than they were a few months ago. And the Fourth Estate must carry some of the blame for that.