To celebrate five years of The Best War Ever, The Australian today republishes a Christopher Hitchens column from Slate, a piece entitled: “How did I get the Iraq war so wrong? I didn’t”.
The naïve reader might conclude that, back in 2003, Hitch calculated that an invasion would kill hundreds of thousands of people, spread millions of refugees throughout the Middle East, Balkanise Iraq, foster terrorism around the world and cost the US a trillion dollars – and then said, hell yeah, let’s do it!
Via the miracle of the intertubes, we can discover that, actually, Hitchens promised something quite different.
But why play this game with an import? Let’s bring out Mr Oopsie McSlippy Mistakeowitz himself, The Oz’s own Greg Sheridan.
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It was Sheridan, after all, who announced several times that Saddam possessed WMDs – “tons of nerve gas and biological agents”, to be precise. It was Sheridan who explained how an invasion of Iraq would “discredit extremism and hasten Israeli-Palestinian peace.” And it was Sheridan who saw the invasion as vindicating, of all people, Donald Rumsfeld. As he wrote on 11 April, 2003:
All of the media analysts and many of the military analysts should hang their heads in shame. Everything they told us was wrong. They said Rumsfeld had unduly interfered with the generals; he had abandoned the prudent Powell doctrine of assembling overwhelming force; he had insisted on blind ideological doggedness by sending in far too few troops. Well, all that was so much eyewash.
Five years on, Rumsfeld has resigned in disgrace – but Greg Sheridan remains foreign editor for Australia’s national newspaper, spreading stupidity over the world like a blanket.
In his defence, you might argue that Sheridan was not the worst of the Australian media warmongers, an honour that surely belongs to the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt.
These days, Bolt spends most of his time talking climate change, seeking, it seems, to do to the ozone layer what he and his friends did to Iraq.
But, if you’ve access to newspaper archives, it’s worth pulling up Bolt’s columns from this time five years ago: each article a minor masterpiece of sophistry and self-delusion.
Take his column from 20 April 2003. In it, he declares the “war in Iraq won well” and then announces the opening of a new front: “Let’s move on to the next war – a war for our culture. A war for truth, rationality, humanity, democracy and wisdom. Let the accountability begin.”
He goes on to ridicule, by name, the opponents of the invasion: Simon Crean for seeing no evidence of links between terrorists and Saddam, Carmen Lawrence for predicting a death toll of 480,000, Bob Brown for expecting 100,000 deaths of children and 900,000 refugees, Paul Dibb for anticipating “cholera or typhoid” and “street-by-street fighting with enormous casualties”, the Australian Sociological Association for claiming the invasion would be “responsible for the probable loss of 100,000 civilians”, Robert Manne for saying perhaps “hundreds of thousands of Iraqis” would be killed, Amin Saikal for warning “Baghdad will be turned into a bloodbath”, Andrew Vincent for anticipating “absolute chaos, I think, in the whole of the Middle East and the Muslim world” and so on.
Boy, are their faces red now or what!
It’s an interesting column to revisit on this anniversary since it reminds us that, in 2003, many, many people forecast the coming disaster with a fair degree of accuracy.
Andrew Bolt was not among them. Yet he, like Sheridan and Hitchens, sails serenely on, his career entirely unimpeded by his role in one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes of a generation.
Unfortunately, the people of Iraq can’t do the same.
Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland.