'What is the point...?' Shuggy asks. Why bother responding, he means, to Madeleine Bunting's latest op-ed piece? Well, whatever other answers there might be to this question, here's mine. Bunting's views, as well as being her own, are representative of a wider section of anti-war opinion. It's therefore worth noting the ingredients of this latest concoction, because they will tell you something about what quite a lot of other people, progressives down to their bright, clean cotton socks, are thinking.
Ingredient 1 Bunting is calling on us, those who supported the Iraq war, to 'account' for ourselves. 'We're waiting to hear', she says. She's unembarrassed by the smug presumption of that - as if anyone is answerable to her and others who think like her, as if what really mattered in this was that they should have the satisfaction of being proved right. Never mind. You want to hear? Then listen.
Ingredient 2 The war on terror, according to Bunting, has failed catastrophically. So let's look at her way of drawing up a balance sheet. Afghanistan (a war which, as she tells us, she also opposed): 'garrison democracy increasingly suborned by... warlords'. No word about what was there before, in the tulip time of the Taliban. No word about elections held, about some 4 million Afghan refugees returning home, about children back in school, about what opinion surveys have shown Afghans themselves think. No word. No word. Of course, nothing here is definitive; final outcomes cannot be taken for granted. But it is all relevant to anyone who's interested in something other than their own vindication.
Ingredient 3 Bunting: 'This callow arrogance about the political cultures of other countries, more than any other issue, prompted my opposition to both wars.' That's an indirect way of saying (since it's a tough number to actually say it) that, in relation to Afghanistan and Iraq, projects of regime change and democratization were inevitably doomed because the indigenous cultures aren't receptive to democracy. No word about the millions in both countries who have come out to vote, under threat of violence against them if they did, showing every sign of a hunger for democracy. No word about the forces in those countries, trade unionists, women's groups, civic organizations, battling as best they can in desperate circumstances. No word. From someone as quick as Bunting is to impute Islamophobia to others, her 'political cultures' allusion might be thought in any case to make an incongruous theme.
Ingredient 4 This one concerns the distribution of blame. It's totally forthright, but only in one direction: '[T]he most catastrophic blunder in half a century of British and American foreign policy. Ill-conceived and spectacularly badly implemented...'; 'the politicians who made the decisions, who lied, and ignored and manipulated expert opinion are still in power and still uttering the same meaningless platitudes.' As for the daily carnage being perpetrated by political forces actively opposed to any democratic process and bound by none of the recognized moral constraints in their choice of methods and targets, here Bunting is coyly indirect. It's just 'blood and brutality' and 'nightmare scenarios', and even then it's because (borrowing the words of Zalmay Khalilzad) 'we have opened a Pandora's box'. But even if 'we' are to blame, in Bunting's judgement, for having done that, why does she have no word of blame to direct at anyone else, as if there were no other forces - former Baathists, just for example, jihadis - determining where Iraq is headed? The anger is all reserved for 'the politicians who made the decisions' and so forth - as if there were just one culpable party.
Ingredient 5 Is there any positive side to what has happened in Iraq? Is Bunting pleased at least for the Kurds? Who knows? She offers no word to enlighten you. Is it at all material, as far as she's concerned, that despite everything 'Iraqis have continued to say by decisive margins that, on balance, getting rid of Saddam Hussein was still worth it'. Given Bunting's way of drawing up a balance sheet on Afghanistan, one shouldn't expect her to say anything about this when it comes to Iraq, and she doesn't.
Ingredient 6 And that brings us to the heart of things here - the heart of things being that Bunting doesn't allow that the differences over the Iraq war were a matter of judgement, in which not all the considerations pointed in the same direction. The only look-in this gets from her is this: 'One can understand the eagerness to topple Saddam might have blinded some into backing a recklessly foolish war.' You see, it 'blinded' us. It couldn't have been, could it, that for people of left and liberal outlook this was a genuine and extremely powerful consideration - to terminate the rule of a genocidal tyrant, to close down the torture chambers and the murderous processes feeding the mass graves? Writing as if there was only ever one arguable or legitimate side of the story, as if the future was from the start completely transparent, and as if there were no human costs in not going to war against Saddam, is a piece of the purest demagogy, if it isn't (as it usually isn't in such things) outright dishonesty. In this latest piece of hers, Madeleine Bunting speaks for all those in the anti-war camp who have simply silenced the 'other' considerations, disallowing that they carried any weight. They have been, unfortunately, many. There were ways of opposing the war - ways which did not indulge in this silencing, this disallowing - that can and should be respected. The Bunting-style concoction is something else.
Are there then, finally, things we should be sorry about, all of us who supported the war and especially on humanitarian grounds? Of course there are. How could there not be, with the daily suffering and the mounting death toll in Iraq? In supporting the war this is obviously not the outcome we either hoped for or thought likely - though Bunting-style allegations that all of us just foresaw a speedy and trouble-free transition to democracy are not true. Still, we did envisage something significantly better than the situation that obtained under Saddam Hussein. Should Iraq descend into civil war, both our hopes and our projections will have been confounded. They - and therefore we - will have been proved wrong. To be sorry about this is only natural. To feel sorrow: about the trials and the torments being endured by the Iraqi people.
But should we apologize to Madeleine Bunting or anyone else? Me, I won't be doing that, as I have already once explained. That we sided with the overthrow of a regime of mass murder is not something I believe needs an apology, except if you pretend that the outcomes were certain, or all but certain, in advance.