Once again war is destabilising a region of the globe but unlike the Iraq war, this conflict risks becoming a confrontation between nuclear powers writes Chris Nineham

The massive global protests against the Iraq war 20 years ago helped to create majority opinion against invading Iraq. But we shouldn’t forget that most of the political and media establishment were against the marchers. Only one mainstream newspaper in Britain, the Daily Mirror, opposed the attack on Iraq and supported the protests, the rest fell into line behind George Bush and Tony Blair’s war policy.

The Guardian ‘agonised’, and though ‘conscious of the potentially terrifying responsibility resting with the British Government’, it came down firmly on the side of violence, concluding in January 2003, ‘we find ourselves supporting the current commitment to a possible use of force’.

Both Labour and the Tories voted overwhelmingly in favour of the war, despite a significant backbench Labour revolt. The anti-war movement was denounced as being pro-Saddam Hussein and soft on terrorism, dictatorship and religious reaction.

And yet the Iraq war was more catastrophic than even our worst predictions. The best estimates are that well over half a million people died as a result of the invasion and the war that followed. Up to 8 million were displaced, and the whole region was plunged into a chaos from which it has not fully emerged.

Far from spreading democracy, ending terrorism and making the world a safer place, the war and the interventions that followed created failed states, sparked an explosion of anger against the west and helped spread terrorism across whole regions. At the start of the so called ‘war on terror’ jihadi terror groups were confined to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, by the end of it, they could be found across a 5,000 mile arc from central Asia to West Africa.

Elite support for the West’s war policy over Ukraine is almost unanimous. Many of the politicians championing escalation in Ukraine are the same ones who brought us the carnage in Iraq. But even opponents of that war have jumped on the bandwagon this time round. The whole of the media is gung-ho for pumping arms to Ukraine.

Despite warnings from a string of senior US foreign policy experts from Henry Kissinger to the current head of the CIA, William Burns, that eastward expansion of NATO and in particular Ukrainian membership would be perceived as an existential threat in Moscow, NATO policy in Eastern Europe is never questioned. In the Labour party criticism of NATO has become an expellable offence.

Despite the fact that even President Zelensky, in his more thoughtful moments, has admitted that the war will have to end in negotiations, any call for peace talks in the west is denounced as appeasement and treachery. Boris Johnson’s fully documented role in scuppering peace negotiations is largely passed over in silence. Despite consistent opposition to the Russian invasion, those of us who oppose the unprecedented flood of western weapons into Ukraine are mindlessly labelled Putin supporters.

Meanwhile the relentless drive to war continues. The ECR conservative group in the European parliament is seriously arguing now that the west’s war aims should include the break-up of the Russian Federation. Supplying western jet fighters to Ukraine, a policy which was rejected out of hand by NATO powers as risking outright war with Russia just months ago is now being discussed at a NATO conference. Astoundingly, Boris Johnson’s comments that Putin would never use nuclear weapons seem to have set the tone for the conversation about the risks of nuclear war.

These two situations are, of course, very different. One of the reasons why the US and the UK governments’ war policy has more traction this time around is that this phase of the war in Ukraine was started by a Russian invasion rather than western shock and awe. But the West’s rush to escalate has been a disaster. Once again it is the people of the area, in this case particularly the Ukrainians, who are suffering the misery and mayhem of modern combat. Once again war is destabilising a region of the globe. And unlike the Iraq war, this conflict risks becoming a confrontation between nuclear armed global powers.

Once again too, thankfully, a large proportion of the world’s population has more sense than their rulers. A recent poll showed that a majority of the Italian people are against their government sending weapons to Ukraine. Similar figures have been reported across large parts of Europe. The suffocating cross-party consensus for war here in the UK means things are more confused and anti-war mobilisation is harder. But here too many are appalled by the government’s enthusiasm for military escalation.

Some of us will be marching for Peace Now in Ukraine the weekend after next on Saturday 25th February. There will be protests taking place across Europe and beyond. Let’s hope we can avert escalation before we are proved right again.

15 Feb 2023 by Chris Nineham

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