I was there, with wife and daughter; so were a lot of other people: the police reckon 150,000 and this is credible. Estimates of 400,000 from the organisers are not. They are simply plucked out of the air to match the Countryside Alliance demo against a fox-hunting ban. It was worrying how much I found to disagree with on my own side. Of course, the closer things slide to a full-on world war between the USA/Israel and the Arab world, the more there will be to disgust us on both sides.
The previous London demo against the war was held on the day the Queen Mother died. It was very Quaker/CND, with about 15,000 people at best. This was much more Muslim/left-against-Blair. Younger, mostly white. But a well-organised Muslim fundamentalist presence from Hizb-al Tahrir: you could tell them by their orange banners, and their T shirts, orange on black, that said ?reject Western solutions?. The banners were carefully distributed all around the crowd listening to the speeches. The main speakers were professionally displayed on a big video screen; and uninspiringly amateurish in their content. A number of union leaders spoke, using it as a way to make trouble for Blair. Dalyell very bad speech, largely inaudible, banging on about Diego Garcia. If I didn?t know it was one of his hobby-horses, I would never have guessed what he was saying. There was a current of violent and vulgar anti-americanism, and a number of purely anti-semitic placards. Hitler=Saddam=Sharon said one, which is simply untrue and absurd. Another claimed that there was “a holocaust” of Palestinians going on in Israeli prisons. So the first casualties of this war have already fallen.
The big difference between this demo and the last one is that at the time of the last one it was still possible to believe that we could stay neutral in the war between Israel and the Palestinians. It is now much harder to believe this. The Americans have clearly, and disastrously, entered the war. I don’t believe this war is about oil. I think it is the result of the American government being captured by people who really believe that Israel’s cause is America’s, and whatever the Likud government starts, America should finish.
I felt very lost and alone on the demo. I wanted a banner of my own, saying “Thoughtful imperialists against the war”. This is in part because I don’t subscribe to any of the leftist pieties about peace. War does work remarkably often. I believed in the Gulf War and thought then that we were fighting for democracy, the rule of international law, and what was then referred to as a new world order. It was rather a shock to discover that we were actually fighting to keep the Middle East safe for feudalism.
I loathe and despise the Saudis. I remember Halabja. In 1988, when the atrocity happened, a picket of sort started in the Old Street Underground station, more or less where I worked, and for months I would climb the steps up into the daylight past photographs of the corpses lying on the dirt streets of their villages. But Saddam was then our son of a bitch, and there was no question of punishing him for what he had done.
So I have been a liberal imperialist, as Tony Blair still is. I would still be a liberal imperialist if I thought there existed a liberal imperium to carry out my wise and benevolent policies. But it was an illusion to suppose that in 1988 and 1990, and it is still an illusion to suppose that now.
Instead, I read, on the train down. Norman Podhoretz? piece in Commentary on the greatness of George Bush, and why America must now fight, and win, World War IV. It was the first coherent and intelligent case for war now that I have found; and it persuaded me absolutely that such a war will be a disaster and that it is founded on arrogance and will be fought to perpetuate injustice.
Podhoretz? case is quite simple. This war is being fought for Israel, for God, and for American ideals. And that?s why it can?t stop with Iraq.
Once Iraq has been conquered, it will be necesary to bring the benefits of democracy to the rest of the Middle East, Starting with Saudi, then Egypt, Syria, the Lebanon, and maybe Pakistan. All of these places will have to be invaded and conquered by American troops so that they learn democracy. What happens if ther newly democratic regimes are still just as hostile to Israel, and to the American army which has invaded them? Well, then, the American Army must simply occupy their countries until they see sense, and understand, amongst other things, that the Israeli ?occupation? of the West Bank should only ever be referred to in scare quotes. This is the greatest and richest empire that the world has ever seen. Perhaps it is is the most civilised, too. Yet it cannot be strong enough to rule the whole world; the attempt to do so must destroy it. But this attempt is entailed absolutely by the Bush Doctrine.
Here are the concluding paragraphs of Podhoretz? argument. Read them and weep, since it is probably too late to march except in uniform.
The best-case scenario is that Bush will eventually come to grips with the reality that Afghanistan and Iran are far from the only countries in the Middle East where ?reform? is not enough to bring about the actions he has called upon all of them to take. In other words, as in Afghanistan and Iran, changes of regime are the sine qua non throughout the region.
Obviously it would be foolish to anticipate an overnight conversion to democracy and free markets. But I would argue that what might realistically be expected is the creation of conditions that would point in that direction, while also clearing a path to the long-overdue internal reform and modernization of Islam. I have asked the question before and ask it again now: why should Islam alone forever be exempt from the processes that affected Judaism and Christianity before it?
The regimes that richly deserve to be overthrown and replaced are not confined to the three singled-out members of the axis of evil. At a minimum, the axis should extend to Syria and Lebanon and Libya, as well as ?friends? of America like the Saudi royal family and Egypt?s Hosni Mubarak, along with the Palestinian Authority, whether headed by Arafat or one of his henchmen.
There is no denying that the alternative to these regimes could easily turn out to be worse, even (or especially) if it comes into power through democratic elections. After all, by every measure we possess, very large numbers of people in the Muslim world sympathize with Osama bin Laden and would vote for radical Islamic candidates of his stripe if they were given the chance.
To dismiss this possibility would be the height of naivet