Iraq – the last stand for peace
On the 15th of February, 2003 London witnessed the largest protest in its history. By some accounts, one million people filled the streets to protest the imminent war on Iraq. While the protests did not stop the war, they did galvanise a wider public across the world to resolutely oppose a monstrous and wicked war. As a consequence, even before the first bombs were dropped, the war on Iraq was the most universally reviled military act of the 21st century.
The fact that the war proceeded along lines as disastrous as many anti-war campaigners warned that it would only served to solidified long term opposition to the ongoing war. The legacy of the war on Iraq continues to haunt the world. The failure of Iraq as a state, the proliferation of terror across the Arab world and the birth of the Daesh ( aka ISIS) terror group are all direct legacy of Bush and Blair’s war crime.
But while Iraq certainly was not the last aggressive war that the US, Britain and their closest European allies would march into, the Iraq war was the last time that such a large and such a meaningful protest took place in a city famed for peaceful demonstrations.
Since then, the anti-war movement has not gone away but it has fragmented. Social media now serves as a global public square where those who oppose war can now speak with and interact with potential victims of war in countries as varied as Syria, Iran, Russia, China and Venezuela. This has helped to shift the nature of the anti-war movement from one of a monologue to that of dialogue. In this sense, the inclusion of potential victims in the global anti-war movement has helped to add further authenticity to the movement.
But whilst this is a positive development, there have been other developments that are potentially positive but which have alas severely fragmented the anti-war movement since 2003.
The centre did not hold
One of the greatest regrets that any anti-war centrist ought to have when looking back at the second half of the 20th century is that the majority of centrist politicians in the US and Europe were not opposed to war, but were merely opposed to the intensity of the wars advocated by the right. Thankfully, this pro-war trend was not true of centrists in Asia and Africa who viewed the post-colonial experience as an opportunity to eventually abandon war as a means of conflict resolution. This was certainly the case for example, in respect of the growth of ASEAN in the aftermath of the Malaysia-Indonesia confrontation.
As ASEAN grew from a Cold War alliance designed to limit confrontation among the non-communist states of south east Asia, into a post Cold War body of nations striving to pool their geopolitical and economic weight in order to create a more peaceful and prosperous south east Asia – one could call such a development a supreme triumph of genuine centrism. Not only did the group that allowed Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to put aside their differences by the end of the 1960s grow into an organisation that came to include Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar by the turn of the 21st century, but this development clearly showed that the appetite for Cold War era alignments in south east Asia had long ago faded into a past that no nation in the region seeks to revisit.
But as the 20th century became the 21st, western politicians calling themselves centrists (much of the time such people were and remain radical liberals), found that they had grown even more fond of war than their 20th century forebearers. For much of this period, anti-war centrists found common cause with the consistently anti-war left of the US and Europe. This was evidenced by the high turn out in 2003 during multiple rallies against the war on Iraq that was spearheaded by the neo-conservative US President George W. Bush and the ideologically liberal UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Young anti-war and right
Since then however, much of the energy that the anti-war left displayed has largely been co-opted by liberals who claim to represent a new version of the left and one that is in most cases as pro-war as the neocon right. While longtime homeless, as the first two decades of the 21st century draws rapidly to a close, anti-war centrists are now more lonely than ever…or are we?
The Donald Trump years have helped to highlight a phenomenon which predates Donald Trump: the phenomenon of the young anti-war right. This is distinct from anti-war libertarians who have existed in American in particular, for decades. The reason that it is important to draw this distinction between the authoritarian right, paleo right and far-right on the one hand and libertarians on the other, is because most forms of libertarianism sit somewhere in the centre for all intents and purposes.
But today, mostly young individuals who argue for strict top-down controls of the culture, opposition to both illegal and legal immigration, those who are inclined more towards fanatical rather than moderate views on religion and those who feel that right-wing uprisings are something to be admired, also tend to agree that foreign wars are incorrect.
While most centrist disagree with everything such young right wingers stand for, anti-war centrists will at least certainly welcome the right into the non-denominational anti-war big tent, just as anti-war centrists made common cause with the anti-war left for decades.
If members of the right oppose war due to being fiscal conservatives, as a centrist myself I would welcome this. But as the young US and EU right tend not to care much about fiscal conservatism (quite unlike libertarians and many classical centrists), one suspects that the reason the young supporters of the US and EU right tend to be anti-war has a lot to do with the big lies that liberals and pro-war “centrists” (aka liberals in all but name) used to sell their devastating wars.
Prior to the mid-20th century, most politicians agreed that wars were matters of self-defence, national pride, competition with another great power or a desire to simply conquer the resources of a militarily inferior entity. Then however, the liberal imperialism of the late 19th century which was always easily exposed as farcical, warped into a Frankenstein monster by the end of the 20th century.
Liberal imperialism with 21st century characteristics
The liberal war mongers sold war after war as a “humanitarian mission” using such terms as “right to protect” in order to justify the violation of well established international law in order to exercise a self-anointed right to kill – in some cases by the millions. Tony Blair outlined this grizzly propaganda during a speech he delivered in 1999 at the University of Chicago, a speech which to this day is represents the clarion call for killing people in order to pretend that one is saving people. Not to be outdone, in 2002, Samantha Power (Barack Obama’s UN Ambassador) authored a book called A Problem From Hell which again laid out the perverse case for making war in order to achieve the aim of peace.
At this point, it would seem that the seed was planted in the minds of the US and EU young right that even if they felt that the thesis of Blair and Power made sense, their penultimate conclusions were wrong. In other words, while not challenging the absurd notion that being blown to smithereens helps to make one free and democratic, the young right simply reverted to old fashioned ultra-nationalism which said ‘we don’t want to help foreigners…not with our cash, not with our sympathy and not with our bombs’.
In this sense, the right have reached a sound conclusion by invoking a deeply aggressive, troubling and reactionary methodology. That being said, they have reached a sound conclusion nevertheless and this cannot and indeed must not be ignored, no matter how much centrists find the other views of the young right repugnant. Nor can it be ignored that as such young right wingers mature, some of these people have even picked up on the classic anti-war arguments of the anti-war centre, anti-war libertarians and even some on the anti-war left.
Thus, at a time when the centre has moved to the right, the left have moved into the shadows (at least for the time being) and the young right (some would say far right) have moved into a position of opposing war while retaining the other classical characteristics of the far-right, one is witnessing a reality in which the ultra-nationalist far right which had always existed, has now become a highly visible and even potent force in an increasingly de-centralised anti-war movement.
Stranger things have happened before and they will certainly happen again.
Today’s protest “culture”
In 2003, the protests against the war in Iraq were a traditional bottom-up phenomenon. Grass roots anti-war organisations joined concerned citizens appalled at the path that George W. Bush and Tony Blair were about to take and consequently filled one of the world’s biggest cities with angry voices raised in the name of peace.
Since then, many mass protests have become irritatingly homogenised, professionally choreographed mockeries of that which a protest ought to be. Between recent protests seeing people march for rights they already have, protests in which comfortable middle class adolescents inconvenience working class people on a weekday and protests which are more concerned with self-satisfied so-called virtue signalling than they are with giving a loud voice to otherwise voiceless victims of war – the streets might still be filled with demonstrators, but today’s demonstrators are mostly demonstrating their own self-satisfaction.
Protesters in London are already beginning various demonstrations against the arrival of US President Donald Trump. Sadly, these protests are more about expressing feelings of psychological superiority among those who find Trump’s personality and lifestyle distasteful than they are about protesting misguided and dangerous policies coming out of Washington.
When Julian Assange was kidnapped from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and brought to the infamous Belmarsh Prison, a small group of Assange’s supporters gathered to demand the freedom that the United Nations has on multiple occasions demand that Assange be granted.
But while less than 100 people gathered to demand Assange’s freedom, thousands are expected to protest the fact that they are displeased with the reality that Donald Trump uses phrases like “grab them by the pussy” and “shithole countries”.
The fact of the matter is that when Trump authorised the bombing of Syria, there were no mass protests. When Washington threatens to imprison for life or execute Julian Assange, few take to the streets. When a trade war with China threatens to become a new cold war, no activism takes place. This is the reality of today’s protest movement in a once ideologically and intellectually diverse London.
The anti-Trump protesters in London will primarily be smug liberals who wish that a war monger like Barack Obama was still in the White House. Obama would never use words like “pussy” or “shithole” and because of that, his liberal wars were “good wars” in the eye of the liberal beholder. The fact that Obama was good friends with pro-war agitator Samantha Power likewise made his wars “good wars”. By contrast, Trump’s cavorting with the likes of Stormy Daniels is causing a storm among those who have nothing to say about Palestine, Kashmir, Donbass, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, China or Korea.
The reality is that no western nation has fought a just war since at least 1945. There are no good wars but sadly, the protesters of 2019 are only interested in protesting controversial personalities rather than dangerous policies.
This is a mark of absolute shame.