Bad politics and worse history

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The war in Afghanistan ended more than five years ago. The BBC's John Simpson told us so as he helped "liberate" Kabul perched on a British tank.

Four years ago the BBC, along with the world's press, reported the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad, and proclaimed an era of peace and liberation for the Iraqi people.

What a difference half a decade makes. The Karzai government controls less and less Afghan territory, and that control relies on the US and British led Nato army. The Taliban, largely unlamented in 2001 when it was overthrown, is gaining support from a population sick of being targets of US bombs and tanks. It now controls half of Afghanistan.

A report from the Senlis council in Brussels from autumn last year concludes: "In the five years since international military operations began, Afghanistan's security situation has deteriorated significantly. After a period of relative calm during the first few years that followed the removal of the Taliban, violence is spreading once again throughout this country." Between 2002 and 2006, $82.5 billion was spent on the military in Afghanistan, with just $7.3 billion on development.

Recent studies on Iraq from impeccable sources paint an even grimmer picture. The International Committee of the Red Cross talks of the situation there becoming worse in every respect: security is "disastrous", healthcare "stretched to the limit", food shortages have increased, levels of malnutrition and power shortages are on the rise. One Iraqi woman interviewed by them talked of the horror of bodies left lying on the streets. Oxfam says its work has been made harder because of Britain's foreign policy. The Oxford Research Group says the "war on terror" has made the world more dangerous.

It would be wrong to say that those of us in the anti-war movement were entirely accurate in our predictions of what would happen if the war went ahead. None of us guessed how bad it would be. But we did predict it would make the world more dangerous, that terrorism would become a greater threat and that a colonial occupation could never bring genuine democracy to the people of Iraq.

The BBC and the rest of the media largely ignored those arguments then. Now they are referred to almost as a matter of course, but without acknowledgement that there was a large body of opinion which thought and said these things all along. In true empirical fashion, each item of news is referred to as separate. So the disaster today is not seen as a consequence of the war and occupation, but as another bad thing that has happened to the Iraqis.

This is bad politics and even worse history. Bad politics because it suggests that maybe there is some way of reforming or slightly improving the situation in Iraq without dismantling the whole occupation structure and pulling the troops out. Bad history because it reinforces the common view that history is all "one damn thing after another". Wars, revolutions, famines, crusades, uprisings, just happen because they happen. In the present context, no blame can be placed on those who argued for war, ignored evidence against it, lied to win over media and parliament, and now cry crocodile tears over those who have lost their lives.

Indeed, John Bolton, one of the main architects of the Iraq war and a neocon hawk who is largely discredited in Washington, is regularly given airtime on the BBC and Channel 4 news, in the same way that pro-war opinion was sought out before March 2003 in order to provide "balance".

All this would be bad enough if they weren't at it again. Now the same distortions and lies, the same threats of war, are being made against Iran. Just remember when you hear them that there is a history: not just of the wars against Iran's neighbours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but one dating back more than 100 years, of empire and colonial rule. No wonder it's still going so badly wrong.