I've never been clear how I felt about the war in Iraq until I read Christopher Hitchens masterful autobiography Hitch 22. I realise now just how mired in ignorance I was, how poorly informed of what life under a despot was actually like. A dictatorship seeks not only control of the body but also subservience of mind, the latter a grotesque affront to everything I believe in. Say what you like about regime change; argue that the cost is too high, but do so in the knowledge that those you abandon become the victims of your indolence rather than beneficiaries of your restraint.
In the West our freedom is a remarkable victory over the forces of dogma, hard won over centuries and never quite as safe as we might think. In a country like Iraq however you can forget about many privileges we take for granted; the nation pilfered by its leader and his grotesque family. The masses live in poverty, cowed into surrender under pain of torture and death. In one mass grave alone three thousand bodies were unearthed, that site one of sixty two within a single province. And then there's the small matter of unleashing a cocktail of chemical weapons upon entire populations as he sought to impose himself on the North. Moving beyond those clearly despotic acts, imagine if you can living in such conditions? Risking your life should you ever stray from the party line. Imagine living in a climate where your thoughts were held captive? where intellectual freedom was routinely crushed under the heavy wheels of tyranny? What must this do to the life of the mind, let alone the health and wellbeing of a population? It's not existence, it's subsistence, a game of survival played out amidst a climate of anxiety and suspicion.
I am beginning to think that as a western liberal I bought too easily into the anti war rhetoric, preferring the equilibrium over the risks inherent in trying to democratise a failed state. Yet knowing what I know now I see inaction as an even greater malice upon the people of Iraq. For all the mistakes, for all the misjudgements and strategic errors that have been made over the last few years, I find myself now believing, albeit belatedly, that what we did remains morally the right thing to do.