Blind Man with a Pistol

Pyrrhic Victories

On 20 March 2003, under false pretences, under the grotesque banner of ‘shock and awe’, despite the protests of the largest demonstration the world had ever seen, despite two-million marchers in London on 15 February that year, the armed forces of the United Kingdom invaded Iraq. On 30 April 2009, with 179 British soldiers and untold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens dead, UK combat operations ceased.

As someone who demonstrated against the invasion with 150 000 others in -30 C Montreal weather, an ‘I told you so’ has never come at a higher price. Exhausted with questions of the Downing Street Memo, the Dodgy Dossier, and Weapons of Mass Destruction, both now stale even as running jokes with the late-night talk show set, the question posed by the nation in the wake of  the British withdrawal is: ‘Was the UK mission in Iraq a success?’

What a question. A success for whom, one might wonder; and for what? Certainly the original rationale and legality of the war have been so crippled and enfeebled to render the prospect of success farcical. For those of us with functioning memories the answer is simple: there were no weapons of mass destruction, therefore any injury, incurred or evinced, returns a negative sum. Despite the fact that then-Home Secretary Jack Straw was caught on tape saying that the case for war was based on ‘thin’ evidence, on Question Time recently he desperately clung to a tortuous justification that would have made Michael Ignatieff proud: based on what we knew, we made the best decision we could; those who made what turned out to be the right decision, therefore, did so for the wrong reasons, and may God have mercy on their souls.

So much for weapons of mass destruction. But there is another helix to this double coil: the war on terror. Britain, who fought fascism alone in the streets of London, would rise again to help their American allies in the desperate wake of 9/11. Never mind that none of the World Trade Center hijackers came from Iraq. Never mind that Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party espoused pan-Arab secularism and was historically at odds with the fundamentalist Islamic al-Qaeda. If We Do Not Take The War To Them They Will Take The War To Us. Except they did. Would the 7/7 2005 bombings of London occurred if Britain was not in Iraq? Perhaps. Although the Spanish people thought otherwise when the Madrid underground was attacked: they almost immediately deposed the sitting government and voted in José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s leftist party who promised to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. One question, however, renders such speculation instantly moot: are there less terrorists in Iraq now than there were on 20 March 2003? The answer is an emphatic and resounding no.

So our men and women in parliament turn to a new charade. The charade of democracy. Perhaps we did go into Iraq for the wrong reasons but look what we’ve done: we’ve deposed a tyrannical and genocidal dictator and given democracy to the Iraqi people. As if it was ours to give. As if the Iraqi people needed it given. What is democracy anyway? Listening to the cheerleaders of the invasion, you’d think it was a show of theatre: blue thumbs, long queues, smiles and broken English. But this is not democracy. It is a circus.

Such arguments that hope to rectify, if not erase, the lies and deception fostered by those we trusted to lead us want to cleave justice from history. Well, here we are now boys, in the bed we made, and by gum we will make a game of it. But, those who make this case, those who would have us believe that history is beside the point, forget, as always, that history is the point. History shows us that Saddam Hussein, the vanquished ace in the hole for Iraq warmongers, is himself a product of Western imperialism and meddling. History shows us that every time the Iraqi people attempted to rise up in chorus, they were thwarted by an empire promising first pacification, then civilization, now democracy.

Democracy is the people. Democracy is not a gift bestowed upon a willing nation by a guardian parent who feels its offspring is ready. It is not a thing that can be pounded into a square inch of dust like embossing in so much beaten copper. It is of the people, by the people and for the people; and its genesis in Iraq has been baffled by British egotism throughout the last one hundred years. But the thing about democracy is that it will not be baffled forever. Like murder, it will out. And no one knows this better than the citizens of Iraq, who, despite being bloodied, abused and beaten, have now seen the backs of British soldiers three times in a century.

So Britain continues to laud its military efforts, with soldiers who are kinder, gentler, than their American counterparts, and made the best of a bad situation. Keep calm and carry on, goes the motto. Besides, victory in Afghanistan awaits. So too, I hope, does democracy for Iraq. It’s been a long time coming.


When Western governments and media heard that Chinese weapons were heading to Zimbabwe, they could scarcely contain their glee. Here was an opportunity to smear both the rising star of China and the easiest and most fruitful target Western leaders have whenever they need to boost their human rights credentials. How the United States and Britain can possibly keep a straight face while criticizing either the accumulation of weapons or their trade is certainly entertaining, but the spiteful gall of imperialism overpowers the gentle comedy of chutzpah.

The BBC, who never waste an opportunity to disclose with a smirk that they are banned from reporting in Zimbabwe, also never seriously examine why that might be the case. The BBC assumes that they simply remain the victims of state-sanctioned censorship, a savage suppression of journalistic freedom; meanwhile, they continue their portrayal of Zimbabwe as a country unable to hold democratic elections, fully under the thrall of a bloodthirsty, corrupt dictator. Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, for his part, insists that the guns are not needed because the country is not at war. Such a statement does not prevent the BBC from proffering that tantalizing possibility, however—a reportage that continues unembarrassed by the fact that they cannot report first-hand.

I admit that like most of the Western media, I do not know much about the Zimbabwe political climate (or “crisis” if we are to believe the likes of Sky News). On the other hand, unlike the media, I will not make assumptions about or condemnations of Zimbabwe and its people based on what I do not know. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, all bluster and vinegar, declared “I call on the whole world to express its view that this is completely unacceptable to the whole of the international community.” Nothing warms the heart more than a fading world power engaged in illegal conflicts in the Middle East pontificating to a former imperial colony on what it deems “unacceptable.”

Despite all the evidence that shows the barbarity and violence taking place in Zimbabwe, and the fragility of the political climate that could very well erupt at any moment, Great Britain has ceded its claim to the moral high road when it comes to her former colony. Here is a rule that Great Britain, on whom the sun has set, should take to heart: in the machinations of a world leader that issued from the catastrophic failures of your own imperialistic, exploitive and racist history, from the colonialist sense of entitlement of white land owners, you don’t get a say. Hush, now. That ship has sailed.