In 2003, I was a supporter of intervention in Iraq (apart with Michael Costello and my friend Macgregor, it’s hard to think of many other Australian leftists who took the same view). Knowing what we know now,Â intervening was a bad idea. But policy is made with the information available, and given the information then available, I still think Blair, Bush and Howard made the right call.
Still,Â there were then many good reasonsÂ for opposing intervention in Iraq, and there are more now. And then there are bad reasons for opposing intervention. One of the strangest is the notion that it is arrogant to help countries move towards democracy. Here’s Neville Wran, in today’s SMH:
We did, in fact, fight a great war to make the world “safe for democracy”, as we were told. This was 1914 to 1918.
In less than two decades, the democracy we were supposed to have established in Europe – in the very heartland of Western civilisation – had been destroyed; in Italy, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Poland, Yugoslavia, Austria and, above all, Germany.
Just three years ago, at the start of the war against Iraq, the American writer Norman Mailer wrote in his pamphlet Why Are We at War? these prophetic words: “Democracy is never there, in us, to create in another country, by the force of our will. Real democracy comes out of many subtle individual human battles that are fought over decades and finally over centuries. You can’t play with it. You can’t assume we’re going over there to show them what a great system we have. This is monstrous arrogance.”Â
First, it’s a stretch to argue that WWI was a battle for democracy. That was Wilson’s rallying callÂ to Congress in 1917, but the real justification for WWI was the balance of power in Europe. If you want to identify a pro-democracy war, you’d be thinking about Roosevelt’s support of the allies in WWII, but that doesn’t fit so neatly into Wran’s argument.
Second, I’m old enough to recall a time when one of the signal features of the left was a belief that the world could be made into a better place. A version of social democracy that involves caring only for the wellbeing people inside your national borders, and “jealously guarding” your values, is a sad husk of a philosophy.