Chilcot, Iraq and the illusion of democracy
The next time a politician tells you we have no option but to go to war, reflect upon the ‘Chilcot Report’ published today. Reflect also on those voices, who back in 2003 spoke out against the invasion of Iraq, only to be vilified and accused of cowardice. Most of all think of the soldiers sent needlessly to their deaths, of those who were injured, lives forever shattered. Think of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who died, and of the horrific terrorist menace unleashed across the globe as a direct result of the Iraq war.
In recent days we have been commemorating the terrible loss of life in the battle of the Somme, during World War I. Many have spoken of the horror and the senseless slaughter, which claimed the lives of almost 60,000 men on the first day alone. ‘A war to end all wars,’ or so they said. Chilcot shows that, despite the poppies and commemorations down the years, politicians have failed to learn the lessons of history and have been repeating them through the ages.
As a democracy and as a people, surely the greatest lesson we can learn from this tragedy is that we should have a much higher threshold for war. Only a matter of months ago MP’s of all parties were telling us of the need to launch a devastating attack on Syria. Again there were voices who spoke out against yet another military adventure, and once more the voices of sanity were ignored. The ramifications are still being felt across Europe’s borders today.
The key question for those who beat the drum so enthusiastically for yet another act of aggression, is why were they unable to see what so many of us thought was obvious. How is it that millions of ordinary people knew that the Iraq war was a disaster? One that had destabilised an entire region and exposed us all to international terror. How can it be that those same people saw that bombing Syria would only make the situation worse, and yet those eager for more war were unable to connect the dots.
Surely the lesson for all of us is that we should be far more critical of the things our elected representatives tell us. Too often we allow ourselves to be dominated by fear. We are too ready to swallow spin and demonise those who try to hold them to account. A fearful and ill-informed public is much too easy to manipulate; an educated, sceptical and empowered one is not.
So here we are once again. Another dark day for our democracy. A state still reeling from the findings of the ‘Bloody Sunday’ and Hillsborough inquiries, not to mention the simmering anger over Orgreave and all the other crimes against democracy. How many more hits can the establishment take, before the need for fundamental reform becomes irresistible? How many times will they be exposed, before we decide to sweep them aside and replace this outdated system with a democratic process worth the name?
Today the air is rife with anti-establishment sentiment. It manifested its self most recently in the EU referendum, but this is an immature radicalism. Mistrust of authority and privilege can only take us so far. When misplaced it can be disastrous and hand power to the very people we need rid of. It’s true the status-quo is no longer fit for purpose, but we need a conversation about what sort of alternative we want, or risk that sense of anger and frustration giving way to apathy and frustration – both food and drink to the establishment.
This conversation is needed more urgently today than at anytime during my life. The institutions of government are no longer capable of serving the people. Instead they have been shown on many occasions to work against our best interests. Chilcot and Iraq is just one example in a litany of failings.
The next General Election should be fought on the basis of what sort of country we want to live in. One in which politicians can deceive and escape accountability for decades? Where the the powerful conspire to maintain this arrangement, wage wars to advance their global interests and force the innocent to pay with their lives and their homes?
Or do we want a society where democracy is spread to every aspect of our lives? Where we have a meaningful say in the running of our economy, communities and workplaces. Where power, as well as wealth, is distribute equitably, and where never again will men and women in grey suits be able to send innocent people to their deaths on the basis of lies and misinformation.
In the name of all those who have lost their lives in senseless wars throughout the ages, and for generations unborn we must at last truly learn the lessons of Iraq. We must turn our rage into a programme and redouble our efforts to create the kind of society worthy of such horrendous sacrifice.