It’s the 10th anniversary of the Stop the War protest today, which led me to think about a point Christopher Hitchens once made: how the world would look if the ‘stop the war’ protests – in their various forms – had their way?
- Saddam Hussein would be lord and master of the annexed Kuwait, his terrorised citizens living in a country once described as a concentration camp above ground and a mass grave below it. The Kurds may not have held out against him, the Shi’ite south still brutally repressed.
- Slobodan Milosevic would be a European dictator, having made Bosnia part of a Greater Serbia and ethnically cleansed Kosovo.
- Afghanistan still would be run by the Taleban, with al-Qaeda as their guests. It would be the world headquarters of ever-more-ambitious terrorist attacks, far more deadly than the 7/7 hit on London.
- The hand-amputating RUF milita would have overrun Freetown in Sierra Leone, instead of the British army repelling them.
- And Colonel Gaddafi would be sitting in Tripoli having massacred rebels at Benghazi, having seen the Western world rattle the sabre only to run away when action was required.
Any one of these developments would have emboldened butchers, ethnic cleansers and mass-murderers worldwide. Evil begets evil.
Instead, a far better world is there. Yesterday, the One Billion Rising demonstrations took place worldwide, an inspiring spectacle raising awareness of violence against women. What struck me was that one such demonstration took place in Kabul. That would never have happened under the Taleban, who prefer girls uneducated and women oppressed.
I have huge criticisms of the Iraq intervention (the scandal, to me, was the haste of our exit). Today, I think intervention in Syria or Iran would be a disaster. But the choice was not as simple as the protesters made out: it was not between war and no war. The choice, most often, has been between foreign intervention and standing in silent witness to massacres of innocents. As Burke once said, all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. And one of the very best things about Britain is that we do not look the other way: we try and shape the world, rather than be shape by it.
David Cameron’s decision to support the French in Mali and to help the Libyan rebels places him firmly and proudly in that tradition (although, like Blair, he seems unwilling to fund it – but that’s another issue). The military interventions of the postwar years have many unforseen and oftentimes tragic consequences, many being far messier and longer-lasting than we ever envisaged. But would Iraq be a better place today if the stop-the-war crowd had their way and Saddam was still in power? A world without British and American intervention would be a more dangerous, brutal and bloodier place.