It’s as if Iraq and Afghanistan never happened. This time it’s different, say the politicians, knowing the media’s ingrained memory loss can be relied on to serve their interests.

There was a rather queasy sense of déjà vu in the scenes from Libya over the past week. We had the sight of statues being trampled on by rejoicing crowds. The voices of those celebrating the overthrow of a dictator.

The solemn politicians proclaiming their lack of any interest other than that of the Libyan people themselves. The media commentators gloating at the rehabilitation of the doctrine of ‘humanitarian intervention.’

It’s amazing how short some people’s memories are. We’ve heard all this before. In Afghanistan in 2001, the BBC’s John Simpson rode into Kabul on a tank declaring victory for the west over the Taliban. We were told that the worst was over, and that the future of Afghanistan would be more peaceful and democratic. The troops would only remain to smooth the path to a new and more stable society.

Ten years later, casualties in the Afghan war are at record levels. The Taliban has grown in strength, the country remains one of the poorest and most corrupt in the world, and it is one of the most dangerous places anywhere for women to live. August this year was the most deadly ever for US troops.

The fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 was greeted with similar euphoria. The BBC’s Andrew Marr stood outside Downing Street on the night of ‘shock and awe’, rejoicing at the vindication of Blair who, he said, had promised “to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right.” As a result, Marr said, “tonight he stands as a larger man”.

With the toppling of Saddam’s statue, the Iraqi army and police disbanded, pro-western politicians put in place, it all looked like an easy victory. George Bush declared ‘mission accomplished’ in May 2003, shortly after the war supposedly ended.

Immediately, however, resistance to the occupiers grew up and war and occupation have been a fact of life for Iraqis ever since. The cost has been immense: up to one million dead, four million refugees, and the destruction of one of the traditionally more developed societies in the Middle East.

In both cases, the events accompanying the fall of the regime did not mark the conclusion of war, but at best a pause in warfare which was then resumed with more intensity.

The democracy supposedly installed in these countries in effect meant the installation of pro-western governments and individuals.

We do not know the exact outcome of the next few months in Libya. We do know that already thousands have been killed by air strikes, that there are random killings of black people who are suspected of being mercenaries, that those being propelled into power are in a number of cases those who worked for Gadaffi only months ago, but who have now switched sides.

The intervention has been about making the country safe for the west, for the oil companies and arms manufacturers who only recently were dealing with Gadaffi. All the aims of handing Libya back to the Libyans will be subordinated to the needs of the western powers, who have already engaged their troops on the ground and who are talking about sending in a force to ‘stabilise’ the situation.

Ten years on in Afghanistan, the process of handing over to Afghan police and army –‘Afghanisation’ as it’s called — has failed miserably. Iraq remains an occupied country with falling standards of living and dangerous divisions exacerbated by the occupation. None of the aims of intervention have been achieved, except one — regime change. And that was exactly what Libya was about.

But some regime change seems more worthy than others. Why no intervention in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia? It’s not because “we can’t intervene everywhere” — the stock response when western powers are charged with double standards –but because there is no intention of changing those regimes.

From Stop the War Coalition site


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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.