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Why the Left will never put its hands up

by Janet Daley Friday, Apr. 11, 2003 at 8:28 AM

Being a leftist means you never have to say you're sorry.

So, something of a cakewalk after all, then. No major set piece battles with the "elite" Republican Guard. No massive numbers of civilian casualties - "millions of women and children killed", as Shirley Williams, among many others, predicted. No relentless house-to-house street fighting. No insuperable problem with the desert heat - the Iraqi summer seems to have gone the way of the Afghan winter in that earlier impracticable American war effort. No uncontrollably burning oil fields in southern Iraq, leading to intractable environmental catastrophe.

Nor has there been a great humanitarian disaster or a flood of refugees across the Iraqi borders. One aid worker in Basra was asked by a reporter how difficult it would be to get the city back up and running. He said it should not be hard at all because, as he put it: "We haven't had any real war here." It was just a matter of revving up the generators to get the power and water back to normal. The population has gone in for a bit of triumphalist looting of Saddam Hussein's local palace, but even that was petering out yesterday.

Baghdad may not escape so easily. The capital is being pounded, its civilians endangered and its infrastructure damaged more than the coalition would have preferred. That is because Saddam and his chief henchmen - if they are alive - are remaining true to the last to their wicked delusions. If Saddam is alive and hiding, with no sane hope of any sort of victory, then he is directly responsible for the devastation of his capital and the deaths of civilians whom he has evidently written off.

With characteristically desperate cowardice, he scurries from his tunnels to his underground bunker while his city is battered and his people terrified. Listening to Said al-Sahaf, the comically undaunted Iraqi information minister, can anyone be left in any doubt that this mad, bad and ultimately absurd despotism needed to be displaced?

A spokesman for the allied forces was asked the quintessential BBC question on Radio 4 the other day: "If you fail to find any weapons of mass destruction, will you apologise?" (To whom, one wonders? Saddam? The Iraqi people? The world?)

Given that Saddam was given such a generous amount of time by the UN Security Council to spirit any such weapons safely over the border to Syria, and that he would be very unlikely to have left them lying around where troops would stumble across them in the course of battle, "finding" them in the past three weeks would have been hugely unlikely.

But never mind that. What I want to know is when the perpetrators of the myths that I enumerated above can be expected to offer their apologies. Judging by Tam Dalyell's performance on the Today programme yesterday, not just yet.

He now seems to be amending the forecast of millions of children killed to millions of children traumatised: a sad enough notion, certainly, but a mite different from the one that was being bandied about by the more hysterical anti-war lobby a week or two ago.

I have this delightful fantasy of George Galloway, Shirley Williams, Chris Smith, Frank Dobson, most of the BBC newsroom, the entire Liberal Democrat Party and the Guardian comment page editorial staff putting their hands up en masse and saying: "Well, actually we got that a little bit wrong." And maybe even deciding that, since their analysis of the war was mistaken, their diagnosis of the peace might be open to question, too.

But I'm not holding my breath. Those for whom America is always wrong will not be slowed down by this momentary setback. Rather like Mr al-Sahaf, they will not even appear to notice the tanks in the streets of their ideological neighbourhood. They will look away from the welcoming crowds of Basra (yes, they really did cheer, once it was safe to do so) and just move smartly on to the next American "crime against humanity".

I am off to Washington at the end of the week, where a think tank has invited me to discuss European anti-American attitudes. What shall I say to them?

That the obvious truth - America is resented because of its enormous power - is only a fragment of the picture? That the foundation of anti-Americanism lies deep in the pathology of a Europe that has never recovered from its own guilt and self-loathing over the two great wars of the past century?

How to make Americans, most of whom are descended from the most despised and wretched of the populations of the Old World - poor southern Italians, landless Irish peasants, ghetto Jews of eastern Europe - understand that much apparently political resistance to them is grounded in pure snobbery? The great American virtues - self-improvement, ambition, individualism - are, in European establishment eyes, the characteristics of vulgarity.

The consumer-led culture of America, so embarrassingly coveted by the poor peoples of the world, is crass, sentimental and socially gauche. Of course it is. It is the only popular culture there has ever been that is cosmopolitan and affluent, as opposed to the folk cultures of Europe, which dwell in provincial poverty but have their own "integrity" in patronising bien-pensant terms.

I shall have to explain, too, that none of this is very consistently held. The demonised America of the imagination has little to do with the actual one that many of those same intellectuals know well from their book-plugging tours and their visiting professorships. The same people who ridicule American culture will tell you that The Sopranos is the best drama series on television and that Philip Roth is the greatest living novelist.

But how much reality can the ideologically committed be expected to digest? And when has self-contradiction and incoherence ever been a problem for the Left?

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maybe you got the reasons wrong irpy Friday, Apr. 11, 2003 at 8:39 AM
Simple Simple Simon Friday, Apr. 11, 2003 at 9:28 AM
Hogwash Meyer London Friday, Apr. 11, 2003 at 10:02 AM
Meyer London rollthedice Friday, Apr. 11, 2003 at 10:08 AM
"complete liberation?" irpy Friday, Apr. 11, 2003 at 10:57 AM
Winner Meyer London Friday, Apr. 11, 2003 at 12:02 PM
Simple Simple Simon Saturday, Apr. 12, 2003 at 5:55 AM
Psympelton speaks... Diogenes Saturday, Apr. 12, 2003 at 6:04 AM
Simple Simple Simon Saturday, Apr. 12, 2003 at 7:00 AM
Hey Simon! Eric Saturday, Apr. 12, 2003 at 7:15 AM
Hey Simon! Eric Saturday, Apr. 12, 2003 at 7:21 AM

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