a born again peace activist bags the useful idiots

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    British historian and TV producer PHIL CRAIG was a peace marcher long before September 11 and Bali. Now, he argues, President George Bush will be vindicated in his war on Iraq.

    Confessions of a former leftie
    WE were there for peace. We were there to confront the American cowboy warmonger. We were there to watch actor Emma Thompson on a truck.

    Actually, of the day I marched in Britain against cruise and Pershing missiles what I remember best is the bemused look on the faces of a group of miners as Emma performed her mobile political cabaret.

    Anyone remember cruise and Pershing? Or the Greenham Common missile base protests? You only catch them on UK television archive shows now, but back in the early 1980s stopping NATO deploying those American missiles was the great anti-war cause. It was what you did if you were young, decent and liberal.

    And how we decent young people hated Ronald Reagan. We all had that poster of him as Rhett Butler with Margaret Thatcher as Scarlett O'Hara: "She promised to follow him to the ends of the Earth. He promised to organise it."

    No, he wasn't funny – he was dangerous. He wanted to tear up detente, he wanted to confront what he naively called "the Evil Empire". For Christ's sake, he even went to Berlin and shouted: "Tear Down that Wall!"

    We'd all read Animal Farm and none of us was that keen on the Soviets, but at least they'd given their people decent healthcare, hadn't they, and a fantastic underground system? Oh, and jobs for life, unlike the evil Thatcher. What was the point of provoking them?

    Like a lot of lefties, I ended up in the current affairs department of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Eight years after protesting, I found myself in Eastern Europe.

    Amazingly, the Wall had, indeed, been torn down. My assistant producer had family in the old East Germany and he wasn't too pleased to hear of my peacenik past. Did I have any idea how much people like him had hated people like me?

    Did I know how crushingly miserable life had been in Eastern Europe, that the image of healthcare and jobs for life was strictly for the consumption of visiting left-wing reporters, and that the reality was grey, oppressive and corrupt?

    And, most of all, did I not know how much it had meant when Reagan challenged the Soviet overlords, matching their SS-20s with his own missiles, inviting them into a spending race that they could not win? And that's why I didn't march this time around. Because America, even with a cowboy in charge, isn't always wrong.

    Two paragraphs, both true:

    • The United States has bankrolled and armed vicious regimes, refused to pressure Israel into making substantial territorial concessions in the West Bank, and has wilfully undermined international efforts to secure fair trade and environmental protections.

    Bad America, very bad.

    • For three generations the people of Europe have benefited hugely from the military and economic power of the United States. That power disposed of first the Nazis and then the Soviets. In the last decade it has chased a fascist dictator out of the Balkans and a reactionary death cult from its laboratories in Afghanistan.

    Good America, yes, very good America indeed, especially when you consider what the multilateral United Nations' decent and liberal approach to problems has given us in recent years: Rwanda, Srebrenica and a 12-year game of hide-and-seek in Iraq.

    I like to imagine peace protesters sitting in a cafe in Jerusalem, Baghdad or Damascus one day, in a revitalised, democratised and peaceful Middle East, and realising that the turning point was the removal of Saddam Hussein.

    Optimistic? Naive? I suppose so. But some good will come out of a regime-change in Iraq. Reformers in Iran will be inspired, the violent Islamic group Hamas will lose its major paymaster, and the Saudi oligarchs will think twice before funding more jihad fanatics.

    I'd say that the optimists have as good a chance of being right as the naysayers, whose relentlessly negative predictions about recent Western military actions have been equally relentlessly wrong.

    Liberal British columnist Madeleine Bunting wrote a few days into the bombing of the Taliban that Afghanistan was America's new Vietnam. Last week she attempted to discount any cheering crowds that we might see in Iraq as "a few days' jubilation staged for the TV cameras".

    Well, Afghanistan wasn't Vietnam, and CNN will not need to stage any jubilations in Baghdad.

    Why would a liberal want to dismiss the liberation of the Iraqi people? Because anti-Americanism trumps all her other instincts.

    From my experience, mainstream left-liberal opinion remains resolutely opposed to the war, however many nasties chief UN arms inspector Hans Blix and his team can dig up in Saddam's back garden. It's also very much inclined to believe anyone but Bush or Powell when it comes to evidence about the nasties.

    "Still not proven . . . no clear risk" is the consensus, even after Colin Powell's tape recordings, and even after British TV reporter Jane Corbin's excellent documentary showed just how the inspectors get the run-around.

    I've made enough current affairs programs to understand and to share much of the case against America. But my feelings about the war on terror have been different from the start.

    I was in Florida on September 11, 2001, researching a book on World War II. In the week after the attack, the airlines were down, so I drove across rural Florida and Georgia, watching the flags come out and the patriotic messages go up on the billboards.

    People were calling the radio shows. One question dominated, the same one I heard in bars, shops and around dinner tables: "Why do they hate us so much?"

    "It's just a minority," I said.

    I returned home and realised that it wasn't a minority at all. To my astonishment, it included many of my liberal friends, and writers and thinkers I admired.

    In that first week a cartoon in The Guardian painted President Bush as an ape dumbly trying to impersonate Winston Churchill, while The Independent offered a blind, deranged Bush firing his cowboy six-shooter and treading on a dead Arab. And all this before a single American bomb had been dropped on Afghanistan, and with 3000 bodies – we still thought 10,000 then – beneath the Trade Towers rubble.

    I phoned a friend in the television business. We both said we were fearful. I was talking about Islamic terrorism, perhaps next time with a nuke, but it turned out he meant "the mad cowboy in the White House". It struck me then that, after so many years of opposing American foreign policy, the Left could not see beyond Vietnam-era slogans. It could not recognise that a toxic stew of rogue regimes, apocalyptic weapons programs and a perverted form of Islam posed a deadly threat.

    It posed a particularly deadly threat, come to think of it, to the values of the Left itself: to women's rights and gay rights; to secularism, pluralism and multiculturalism. In fact, you name the liberal "ism" and Osama was against it. But one 'ism" still trumped all: anti-Americanism.

    The coming endgame with Saddam will, at the very least, rid the world of a proven danger, and lessen the chances that the next terrorist attack will take out millions not thousands. If war comes, will innocent Iraqis die? Certainly. More than the Americans will admit, fewer than the peaceniks will claim. But innocents have been dying for decades under this revolting regime.

    We're told that war will drive Muslims into the arms of al-Qaida. But remember what bin Laden said in the days after 9/11: "America is weak, it cannot take casualties, it ran away in Somalia."

    Throughout the 1990s the West responded tamely to attacks by bin Laden (the African embassy bombs, the USS Cole), to attacks by groups linked to Saddam (the Saudi barracks bomb, the assassination attempt on Bush's father, the first World Trade Centre attack), and to the continued refusal of Iraq to disarm as required by the Gulf War ceasefire. Ten years of this weakness only encouraged our enemies to be bolder.

    Good, decent people are painting their "No War" signs; even Nelson Mandela, the conscience of the world, tells me I'm backing a bunch of racist oil-imperialists. Nelson may be against me, but at least Czech leader Vaclav Havel understands. Which brings me back to Hyde Park in London in 1983.

    Eastern Europeans know that when they suffered oppression, it was America which tried to help them, and the Western Left which marched in tacit support of their oppressors. The communists, as we later discovered, never believed that NATO would respond to the deployment of its SS-20s. It thought that the protests of Phil Craig and Emma Thompson and lots of other decent liberal people would make it impossible.

    I still hope that Saddam will do the same. But I fear that all this marching will make him think that he still has a chance. And that could be more dangerous than any cowboy in the White House.

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