Not in my name: 'Stop the War' 10 years on

Today is the 10th anniversary of the Stop the War protest in London, against the Iraq War. 10 years on, those who marched should not be quite so sure of themselves

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So many slogans, but was there ever a clear message?
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Peter Cannon
On 15 February 2013 14:53

It was not just the ‘illegal war’ that became an accepted mantra. Left-wing critics also claimed it was ‘all about oil’. Tory isolationists would later say it was the ‘worst foreign policy blunder since Suez’. And in the run up to the war, people were less likely to say that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction than to say that Israel also had such weapons and that for some reason the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had to be solved first.

The reason the anti-war movement alienated me so much back then was its reflexive desire to blame the West for everything – its insistence that everything the US or the West in general did was not just wrong but hypocritical.

We had backed Saddam in the past, so we could not do anything against him now – notwithstanding the Gulf War where we forcibly expelled Saddam’s forces from Kuwait. It was claimed that we armed Saddam Hussein in the first place. (Although this was pure fiction – the vast majority of his weapons came from the USSR.)

It is also worth remembering that the SWC was formed not in response to the impending war in Iraq, but in response to the war in Afghanistan – even though that was a clear-cut case of responding to terrorist aggression. Perversely, protesters’ signs denounced George W. Bush as “the world’s number 1 terrorist” and Tony Blair as “Bush’s poodle”. A movement that hated Bush and Blair more than Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden had no claim to the moral high ground.

The SWC’s actions after the 2003 war revealed that the more hardcore elements of the anti-war movement were not so much anti-war as on the other side. When Islamist insurgents deliberately slaughtered Iraqi civilians day after day in suicide bombings and mass shootings, not a peep of protest was heard from those who were so keen to denounce Tony Blair as a war criminal and to claim that ‘we’ were murdering Iraqi children.

Instead, people like George Galloway continued to praise the ‘martyrs’ of the Iraqi resistance, while the SWC called for the immediate withdrawal of all US and British forces from the country – something that would no doubt have led to even worse slaughter and chaos. For them, the welfare of the Iraqi people mattered much less than satisfying their own desire to condemn the US and UK at every opportunity.

This attitude continues to this day. Though on a much smaller scale, the SWC organised protests against our intervention in Libya. They would rather we left Gaddafi alone and able to slaughter his citizens.

Now it objects to the French intervention in Mali as another example of Western ‘imperialism’ against the Muslim world. But no one listens any more. This is one of the interesting things about the situation 10 years on.

The Iraq War became almost universally hated and regretted. War weariness and scepticism about overseas interventions has certainly set in. Politicians of all stripes were eager to move on from the ‘Blair era’ of foreign wars. But when Libya came along, there we were intervening again, and there was no public outcry.

And now we support the French intervention in Mali, and overseas intervention to address the threat of terrorism seems to have become not just acceptable but accepted again. Though few seem to say it, perhaps Tony Blair’s foreign policy approach was right after all.

Can the anti-war movement really claim to have been vindicated? Would the uprisings against Arab dictators have happened if Saddam Hussein was still in power and there had been no elections in Iraq? If it had, would Saddam not be intervening in neighbouring Syria now? And would we not be faced with another bloodbath in Iraq if people there attempted to protest? Instead, Saddam Hussein – who, as one Question Time audience member once put it, “was the biggest weapon of mass destruction in Iraq” – is out of the picture.

10 years on from the protest, those who marched against the war should not be quite so sure of themselves.

Peter Cannon is an Associate Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society

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