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Tuesday, August 25, 2015 

Being right about the Iraq war has made Sarah Ditum insufferable.

I, like Sarah Ditum, was against the Iraq war.  I, like Ditum, focused on the potential for war to the detriment of everything else, with the exception of one thing.  I was a few years younger than Ditum, but otherwise the picture she paints is highly recognisable.  Perhaps I wouldn't go as far to say that it gave me an overwhelming sense of moral superiority, as it didn't, mainly because I'm rarely 100% certain about anything.  I definitely hoped that other people I admired would be anti-war too though.

Which is where we must separate.  I long ago reached the point of being bored senseless by Iraq; there are only so many times the same arguments can be regurgitated, the same realities ignored, the same mistakes repeated before you lose the will to carry on.  I might not feel morally superior for it, but I'm more convinced than ever that Iraq will come to be seen as the defining disaster of early 21st century foreign policy.  It's just that there seems little to no point whatsoever in acting high and mighty about it, or reminding everyone just how right you were, precisely because most other people who were also energised and enraged by the build up to the war are now also in a similar position.  Shutting the fuck up about Iraq is something I would have advised everyone to do, or at least would have done prior to the rise of Islamic State.

For the reason that you can't talk about Islamic State without recognising where the group came from.  Islamic State owes its existence to the Iraq war, even if its existence can hardly be wholly blamed on the West as some would like to.  Al-Qaida probably had at best a handful of members in Iraq prior to the invasion.  Afterwards, thanks to the Americans and our good selves deciding it would be a spiffing idea to carry on with an occupation that was doomed from the start, foreign Sunni extremists, domestic Islamists and nationalists/Ba'athists opposed to the foreign presence swiftly made common cause and so began the insurgency.  The forerunners to Islamic State changed name repeatedly, seemed on a couple of occasions on the brink of defeat, but thanks to mistakes by the Western-backed Iraqi government, were never degraded completely.  It's a very long way from the bombing of the UN building in August 2003 to the destruction of the Baal temple in Palmyra in Syria in August 2015, but the two outrages are connected.

No, what Ditum seems to be describing is, once again, and as Flying Rodent has also pointed out, her own private Idaho.  The left she's talking about and identifies is the same one trapped in the social media echo chamber, the one where as fellow New Statesman columnist Helen Lewis has recently identified, appearing right on is more important than actually being so when it matters.  I mean really, Media Lens?  I too quite liked them back between around 2003-2006, then lost interest once it became apparent they believed their real enemies to be the few mainstream outlets in this country that are even vaguely left-wing.  It's very easy to be snotty about Twitter, especially when you're someone who has always refused to have anything to do with it, but it undoubtedly can and has made some even more parochial in their interests and selective in precisely what information they rely on.

Ditum's real point, more really than Iraq, is about how this relatively small cross-section of people are among the most vocal in supporting Jeremy Corbyn.  They no doubt are, and considering that the SNP have long been some of the most noisy in making known their opposition to the war, despite having done very little at the time about it, it's not surprising that some of these same people were not like us marching around our miserable little town centres knowing full well it was pointless.  Mainly because plenty of them were, like Mhairi Black, not even into double figures age wise at the time.  That's how long ago it was, even if it doesn't feel like it.

Iraq does and at the same time doesn't matter.  It doesn't matter because the vast majority have long since grown bored of it, or if they aren't exasperated by its mere mention they don't base their decisions when it comes to voting on something that happened 13 years ago.  And yet, it does matter, not because there is this noisy minority that overwhelmingly supports Corbyn, some of whom regarded Iraq as the ultimate betrayal and have been holding out for a hero ever since, but because it's Corbyn's largely irrelevant attitudes towards foreign policy, at least from a Labour leadership standpoint, that have been where most of the mud thrown at him has been found.

The reason this especially seems to enrage his online opponents is that unlike them, he's been able to make common course with groups or individuals that are rightly controversial, in this instance ones that have either made anti-Semitic comments or are definitively anti-Semitic, and yet it hasn't damaged him.  It doesn't seem to occur this is because Corbyn himself is not racist in the slightest, and that the best explanation for his continuing to attend Deir Yassin Remembered meetings or speak at a conference organised by a front organisation for the LaRouche group is down to not checking out their credentials properly or naivety, alongside his general friendliness towards any organisation that seems on the surface at least to share his views.  Also, unlike them, his willingness to not instantly condemn any group in the search for peace, his experience with the IRA having informed this approach, rankles more than anything.  Ideological purity is always important regardless of whether it's the far left or the Labour right involved in the whatabouttery.

Except, of course, it's not Corbyn's anti-war position on Iraq that has led him to associate with most of these accused individuals and groups, but his stance on Palestine, as Ditum must know.  Iraq has very little to nothing to do with his rise in the contest; as Andy Burnham has recognised, the real reason for Corbyn's surge was the welfare vote.  As I related yesterday, only 2 people at the Burnham question and answer session mentioned Iraq, one of them a Tory, the other asking not about Iraq specifically but mentioning it in regard to conviction.  If anything, Corbyn telling the Graun he would issue a general apology for the Iraq war was a response to the Labour figures that have made so much of his views on foreign policy, pointing out the ridiculousness of such people lecturing others over what is and isn't acceptable.

Ditum is right that being right about Iraq is not a good enough foundation for political life, but Corbyn isn't relying on it as his foundation in any case.  The question ought to be what is preferable, knowing what we do now: is remaining an interventionist by instinct going to count in your favour when we have not just Iraq, but also Libya to judge by?  Is bombing in Syria as well as Iraq, as it is after all worth remembering that technically we are currently involved in the third Iraq war, really going to alter anything, especially when we seem to have just abandoned the Kurds in favour of the Turks?  Has in fact our belief that we have the "responsibility to protect" undermined both national and international security, making our protests against Russia's annexation of the Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine even easier for Putin and other imperialists to ignore?  And isn't much of the insufferable banging on about Iraq in any case not about what went wrong at all levels of government, what mistakes everyone involved made, but in fact about one man, who has become just as much the scapegoat for the failings of all concerned, driving force as he was?  Indeed, shouldn't we truly learn the lessons of Iraq, as we clearly still haven't, before condemning a small group of annoyingly self-righteous people whose politics have been defined by it?

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