Longstanding critics of the West's military adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon might be forgiven a certain degree of schadenfreude as the true horror of the war party's position becomes apparent - even to them. As this blog has pointed out, many of the predictions made by the anti-war movement - the dubiety of the case for Iraqi possession of WMD, the likelihood of an increased rather than diminished terrorist threat, the unreality of the idea of "implanting" democracy by the gun - have been more than borne out. There is a temptation to indulge in a bout of self-satisfied "We told you so, listen to us next time."
That however would be to play the game of business as usual. OK, perhaps the House of Representatives will fall to the Democrats next month, perhaps the Senate too. Maybe Labour will be slaughtered in next May's local elections. Goodness, Donald Rumsfeld might be replaced, and - most extreme "business as usual" possibility of all - Mr Blair might let slip that he will leave office two weeks earlier than originally planned (whenever that was). But should we allow those who brought about this debacle to choreograph their departure from the scene, reputations and all the trappings intact?
Let us pause for a moment to consider some of the casualties of these wars -
- Many hundreds of thousands of civilians dead - often children, often in abominable agony with no access to medical care
- More coalition troops killed than died in the attack on the World Trade Centre
- Tens if not hundreds of billions of pounds worth of damage to hospitals, schools, roads, power systems and sanitation, with reconstruction funds often syphoned off by corrupt interests
- A flood of cheap heroin heading for a street near you
And then there are the less tangible casualties. In Britain these include -
- The spectacle of an executive which deceived and dissembled to make the case for a war that few officials actually believed in, in short systemic professional collapse
- The exposure of a media which - with the honourable exceptions of the Independent and the Morning Star, and some columnists in other papers - largely failed to question the mendacity of a government not subject to significant constitutional constraint
- A profound attack on civil liberties, including the acceptability of evidence obtained through torture
- And then there is the Labour Party. Again with honourable exceptions (though after you have mentioned Robin Cook it gets harder to name them), it has revealed itself to be governed by a venal pursuit of preferment which would have shamed members of the unreformed Commons of the eighteenth century
And in Iraq another casualty has been the effective destruction of democratic - but not knee-jerk pro-Western - forces, through assassination and emigration.
And what of the UN? In the way they began these wars, and in the way they apparently propose to end them, the US and Britain have treated the Security Council as a cab rank from which to hire international "cover" when required. True the UN baulked at the attack on Iraq, but went some way to endorsing the occupation nonetheless (SCR 1483, para 4). It now appears the US and the UK are contemplating withdrawing with none of the stated objectives for governance and economic reconstruction achieved and even the territorial integrity of the country fatally compromised. These states, together with their fair weather allies, have undermined the effectiveness of the UN and tainted its legitimacy.
This is not a time for business as usual. It is a time for ensuring that vainglorious and posturing leaders can no longer unleash havoc unchallenged - at home or in New York.