Well, it’s done. The Chilcot Report is out there and, as of yet, no one’s actually read it properly because it’s stupidly long and, no doubt, as dense as the screaming chaos of the voices in Tony Blair’s head. Early signs suggest that it’s fairly damning, if not personally indicting of those involved. A good sign, I suppose. The deceptions, indifference and hawkish warmongering were already universally known about, except perhaps by the perpetrators, but another, more official, acknowledgement of the facts can only add to the weight of historical judgement. Unfortunately that’s all that’s likely to come from this, the weight of historical judgement. Which isn’t so good.
Since the Iraq War there have been numerous incidents of military interventionism by the UK and other . In Libya and Syria, as obvious displays, or in Yemen, Palestine/Israel, Egypt and a dozen others via the medium of arms sales and diplomatic alignment. More meat for histories unflinching grinder, more to be judged by ourselves and generations to come. Precious little, however, that we seem able to control or resist.
I remember the days prior to the invasion of Iraq. I was a steward on one of the big marches, I saw Tony Benn – I pointed him out to a friend who said ‘where?’ and I said ‘there, that guy who looks like Tony Benn, that’s Tony Benn’, to which Benn replied ‘no it isn’t’. We had yellow safety jackets and placards, there was a million or more of us all told and, in my teenage naivety, I thought we were making our point pretty well. It was a pointless war, a poorly planned one, one with no worthwhile ending and no real humanitarian motive – the good sense of the masses would, I vaguely assumed, win out. After all, if I could see how stupid and dangerous it was then surely someone, somewhere with some power would have the wits to put a stop to the idea. They didn’t of course, but we did go to the pub afterwards so the day wasn’t all a loss.
It’s a familiar pattern now. One I’ve seen repeated over and over in my lifetime, where a bad idea starts off as just that, a bad idea, recognised and known as such by anyone who shows even a vague interest in the realities of what’s going on in the world. Slowly though it morphs into something else, it gains weight, becomes a certainty. Not because the idea becomes any better or the ends any less likely to be bad ones, not even because the weight of propaganda weighs down on public opinion and shifts it into accepting lazy lies and delusional ideals. It’s a shift that occurs simply because power, in our society, has become a wholly divorced world unto itself.
Tony Blair is a nutter. What grasp of reality he had, he’s long since lost as you’ll see if you take a look at his sporadic interviews and missives. He sees the world as one of great actors set against a muted and mostly decorative background made up of the rest of us. They act, we endure, they lead, we seek to understand and justify. He’s fairly open about it, he can afford to be. As the years have shown he’ll never find himself out of work and even if millions of people around the world hate him their judgement will never infringe upon his own sense of place and grandeur in the great story of human history. Others are more circumspect in their belief in power as a thing apart from the rest of us. Less willing to admit that, yes, our opinions don’t really matter because our leaders have already decided what will and will not be – which is perhaps the last remaining vestige of the political influence of the majority of people. We’re still worth the token gesture of lying to, which is nice.
The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” He continued “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
– Attributed to Karl Rove
This isn’t, I guess, much of a revelation. History is in large parts built of the vanity and egomania of the few in imagining themselves to be rulers and dictators of the many. That we even have something like the Chilcot Report makes this a better age to live in than one where asking questions about bad ideas was more directly answered with a kicking and a stint on the gallows. But what’s been gained in that nod to civil discourse has been lost in real, practical effects.
I wrote about Corbyn and the internal Labour struggles the other day. I talked about the need to crack open the doorways that lock away those people we’ve given our power to. The need to remind them that we’re still aware that they have it and that we just might choose to take it back some day. Internal party politics is a place where you can see the potential in doing that, the stakes are big, but not so big as to threaten the foundations of established power themselves. War, on the other hand, is something else entirely. When I and a million others marched in London, along with millions more around the world, we nudged up against something more than a door, we hit a big concrete wall – the sort that’d get Donald Trump wetting himself with excitement. We found the definite line that has been drawn around power, the one which people like Blair, Bush and Karl Rove live behind, their death hands pawing at their perceived wealth of influence and damned if they’ll let anyone else get their grubby hands on it.
I don’t know what can be done to break down that wall, or end the cycle of certainty that surrounds the bad decisions of our age. More violence will follow, I know that much, more wars and more incitement to conflict as dictated by the wills and desires of our ruling classes. And there’ll be more protests against it, more disgust, more disappointment. But as I say, I don’t see how we can break out of the certain end that is power doing whatever it wants regardless of the screams to contrary. Not without mirroring the force behind that power and taking a bulldozer to the wall which, while it may one day be necessary, will never be a happy experience.
It was after that march against the Iraq War that I made a nod to the cycle. I had a badge which read ‘Don’t Bomb Iraq’, I crossed out the ‘q’ and added an ‘n’. It was just a bit of idle scribbling at the time, nothing with profound thought behind it, but even then it was clear that there was no end in sight and, even if the next target wasn’t Iran, it’d be someone.
I doubt the Chilcot Report will bring justice, though I hope I’m wrong. More importantly though I hope that, while we’re reading about and re-condemning the failures of the past, we don’t let the certainty of new mistakes assert themselves yet again. Because you can guarantee that those who hold power are already working on making them.