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Imperialism and tyranny go together

Gerard Killoran takes issue with left proponents of war

It was a strange, exhilarating feeling to be part of an assembly of more than a million even though it took me three hours to fail to get to the end of Gower Street. What made it more bearable was the optimistic spirit of people unburdened with the cynicism of a hundred previous marches and demos where the protesters were outnumbered by bewildered shoppers and tourists. However not everyone was so happy. In the Mirror on the following Monday, Christopher Hitchens moaned that he ‘hoped that it would pour with rain during last Saturday's march for ‘peace’. This is a man who thinks that the war on Afghanistan wasn’t fought ruthlessly enough and gloated over the possibility that cluster bombs could rip through Korans into the chests of Taliban soldiers.

Bizarrely, Hitchens is still thought by some in this country to be part of the left, even being invited to speak at the Tribune rally at the last Labour conference. Martin Amis once characterised Hitchens as his father’s ideal reader and predictably he has followed Kingsley Amis’s well-trodden path from youthful leftism to middle-aged, red-faced, saloon bar reaction to end up to the right of his own ludicrous brother. In the USA he has been welcomed into the ranks of the many former Trotskyists who have become neo-conservative warmongers and has boasted that he will campaign for George Bush at the next election. Conveniently, Hitchens has now forgotten that he opposed the first Gulf War.

Hitchens seems to be the malign influence over the Observer’s Nick Cohen and the ubiquitous Johann Hari, both of whom echo his arguments for a war against Iraq. Cohen and Hari are less bloodthirsty than Hitchens, but they believe that a war can be justified by the inevitable overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the possibility of a democratic Iraq. Nick Cohen cites the experience of the Kurds in northern Iraq who have created what he describes as democracy but which has continued the domination of the hereditary clan leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani. The Kurds have had a tragic history and were certainly betrayed by the Western powers when they were denied their own state after WW1, but they have not helped themselves by ill-advised alliances with the USA, USSR, Israel, Iran and even Saddam Hussein.

Yes, that Saddam Hussein. Perhaps you will be unaware of how in 1996 the PDK of Massoud Barzani fought alongside Saddam’s army against the Iranian-backed PUK of Jalal Talabani. Of course they’ve patched things up - for now. These opportunistic tactics have helped to alienate them from the non-Kurdish populations of the countries they inhabit. I tried to correct Nick Cohen on some of his war propaganda and was somewhat taken aback to receive a reply in which he urged me as part of the left to support an independent state for the Kurds in Iraq. I had to point out to him that firstly both Turkey and Iran had larger Kurdish populations than Iraq so that NATO could create a Kurdish state on its own territory should it wish; and also that the Iraqi Kurds had abandoned independence in favour of autonomy. Nick didn’t even write back to thank me. Recently Cohen has had a go at Red Pepper for their claim that the PUK is opposed to war when the PUK website says the opposite. Sadly for the credibility of the PUK, they have held both positions and seem to tell people what they want to hear.

Another non-marcher, Johann Hari has taken a break from seducing Nazi skinheads and bedding Islamic fundamentalists to lecture the left on the benefits of war. As a measure of his naiveté, Hari relies on the International Crisis Group which he describes as ‘a Brussels-based independent think-tank, by no means pro-war’. Excuse me while I recover from an attack of insane laughter. The ICG is in fact a pro-intervention think-tank funded by western and mostly NATO governments, US foundations, and convicted fraudster George Soros. George Soros is often touted as a pro-democracy, humanitarian philanthropist, but when he thought a Lula victory might endanger his investments in Brazil, the mask slipped. "In the Roman Empire, only the Romans voted," said Soros. In a press interview Soros said, “In modern global capitalism, only the Americans vote. Not the Brazilians.” Nor the Iraqis perhaps?

The ICG board also includes several American diplomats and those famous pacifists Zbigniew Brzezinski and General Wesley Clark. Hari wants us to believe this poisoned source when it claims that most Iraqis would welcome a war. Johann might reflect on the strange but telling presence on the board of the ICG of one Saud Nasir Al-Sabah, described as former Kuwaiti Ambassador to the UK and US and former Minister of Information and Oil. It was his daughter Nayirah who in 1990 gave the infamous evidence to a US congressional committee when she alleged that the Iraqis had taken hundreds of babies out of their incubators and left them to die. This evidence was used to tip the balance in favour of war. Her membership of the Al-Sabah family was kept secret despite the presence of her father in the room. The story was of course a pack of lies. For those who hope for a democratic Iraq it is useful to note that the ‘liberation’ of Kuwait resulted in the country being handed back into the private ownership of the Al-Sabah family.

The warriors for democracy claim repeatedly that the left opposition to war was proved wrong in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. I’ll take these in turn. As a result of the Dayton agreement Bosnia is now run as a UN protectorate and democracy is severely limited, but the political structure with the division of the country into three parts bears close comparison to that agreed by all three parties at Lisbon in 1992 before there was any real conflict. This agreement was sabotaged by the Americans when their Ambassador Warren Zimmerman encouraged Alija Izetbegovic to go back on his word. So much for the benefits of intervention - and to make matters worse they are now ruled over by Paddy Ashdown who could not win an election in his own country.

As for Kosovo, the war against Yugoslavia was sold as a war against ethnic cleansing but NATO troops did little to protect minorities from the KLA when the Yugoslav army withdrew. The result has been over 200,000 Serbs, Roma and other minorities fleeing Kosovo and being unable to return. More than 2500 people, both Serbs and Albanians have been murdered by the KLA since the entry of NATO. Those minorities remaining are living in ghettos and often have armed guards to go shopping or pick up their pensions. In Pristina you can be killed if you are heard speaking Serbo-Croat, as in the case of an unfortunate Bulgarian UN worker. This doesn’t get much publicity as it ruins the success story image. At least they don’t have Paddy Ashdown.

Afghanistan is barely more of a democracy than under Taliban rule. Hamid Karzai who is known to his guards as ‘The Mayor of Kabul (in daylight hours)’ was imposed by the Americans on the Loya Jirga when they wanted the King as head of government. Girls schools have opened - and then closed or been bombed. The country has been turned back over to the regional warlords who were in power before and sometimes during the Taliban era and the opium is back on sale. The wrecker of Kabul, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has returned from Iran and is now organising resistance to his former American allies who in turn have just killed another seventeen innocent civilians. The total civilian death toll so far is about 4000 but that ignores the military casualties and those dying of hunger and uncounted. The original war aim was to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. How can you call a war a success when it fails to achieve its principal war aim? Beats me, the removal of the Taliban was a by-product.

Of course the results of all these interventions were not as disastrous as some predicted but nor did they produce the results the intereventionists claimed. The Taliban collapsed when Pakistan pulled the plugs but they nearly held out long enough for the winter to kill many thousands more. Yugoslavia held out for more than two months against the most powerful military alliance in the world and pulled out of Kosovo with minimal casualties and their armour intact. Iraq will probably put up less resistance, but who knows? A military axiom which I’ve found useful in teaching is that no plan survives its first contact with the enemy.

We are being asked to buy into a war on the basis that democracy might be a bonus feature despite the anti-democratic record of the USA. We are told that the Kurds will get freedom and autonomy despite public announcements from the Turkish government that they will not accept any Kurdish entity on their borders. What has happened is that the Kurds, the Turks and the Iranians have decided that war is inevitable (Bush has told them so) and the Americans will win and they are all trying to get a cut of the post-war settlement. Is it really the role of the left to collude in this? I thought we were trying to create a better world.

Call me old-fashioned but I think we should oppose both Imperialism and tyranny as they usually go together, and liberation comes best from within. In 1999 I went to a meeting during the war on Yugoslavia to hear a Kurdish speaker say, “We asked only for the West to stop supporting the Turkish government, we never called for the bombing of Ankara”.