by Andrew Murray
The 15th anniversary of the Stop the War Coalition should be a summons to fresh struggle so that in 15 years’ time, we can look out on a more peaceful world.
Stop the War Coalition’s 15th anniversary, marked this weekend, cannot be a cause for celebration.
The fact that our organisation is still campaigning across the country for an end to the “war on terror” reflects the reality that the war is continuing.
Since first declared by George Bush with his post-9/11 attack on Afghanistan, it has embraced interventions in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, with aftershocks from Mali to Pakistan.
It has caused boundless devastation and epic, although largely uncounted, loss of life. States have collapsed, old conflicts have been inflamed and new ones ignited. The “war on terror” also lies at the root of the great refugee crisis gripping Europe as hundreds of thousands flee from warzones and post-intervention conflicts.
The “war on terror” has now lasted longer than both the world wars of the 20th century combined. And there is not yet an end in sight.
Indeed, the short-term prospect may well be for an intensification. Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would, albeit with different approaches, likely give the war a further upward twist.
So now may be the moment to point out that the Stop the War Coalition has been proved right on every count in its opposition to British involvement in the war down the years.
The Chilcot report published this year spelt out just how grievously the British people were misled by Tony Blair into the Iraq catastrophe. Every warning given by the anti-war movement, whether it concerned the legality, honesty or prudence of that invasion, has been vindicated.
And just last month the House of Commons foreign affairs committee declared that David Cameron’s war of choice — the aggression against Libya in 2011 — had been similarly misguided.
In Syria, the foreign military interventions which Stop the War opposed, including of course that of Britain, have brought that country no nearer to peace. And the war in Afghanistan continues to this day, 15 years after it began and 10 since then-defence secretary John Reid said he hoped British soldiers — then being “surged” into Helmand province — could leave without firing a shot.
None of these military interventions have been unavoidable. Every issue they ostensibly sought to address could have been resolved in other ways. In fact, they have exacerbated all the tensions and troubles which the politicians promoting them claimed to care about.
These wars have been a double failure. First, they have failed in their own propaganda terms — “terror” has not been defeated or even reduced. Rather, it has been given new impulses and new bases, culminating — to date — in the depredations of the self-styled Islamic State (Isis) across the Middle East and much of Europe and North America. Isis is, in significant measure, the child of the Anglo-US invasion of Iraq.
And the wars have also been strategic failures for the US and its allies. New democracies have hardly been implanted. US military and business interests have rarely been secured. Israel’s political and diplomatic status has not been improved.
And far from the world being overawed by the Pentagon’s unipolar military might, it has had a lesson once again in how the most-powerful can be humbled.
Stop the War’s warnings about the domestic “blowback” of the war have also, tragically, been borne out. Community tension and, in particular, rampant Islamophobia have intensified.
However, there is only so much satisfaction from being proved right. Cassandra would, no doubt, have been much happier had the Trojan horse not turned out to be a Greek trick.
So the occasion of Stop the War’s 15th anniversary is not so much an opportunity to reflect on the past but to consider what more is needed to finally bring the “war on terror” to an end.
Stop the War’s historic record is well-known enough — the biggest demonstrations in British political history, the mass mobilisation of Muslims in Britain, the huge walkouts by school students, the unprecedented Military Families Against War movement and a sustained record of powerful and imaginative campaigning.
There is no doubt that the record of the British anti-war movement has had a major impact on public and even political-class opinion both here and around the world. The difficulty Cameron had in securing parliamentary approval for bombing Syria over a period of two years is one sign of this.
The near-unanimous response to the Chilcot report, Tony Blair excepted, and indeed the very fact of having such an inquiry into the Iraq War, speaks for itself.
Without Stop the War the warmongers would have had it a lot easier.
But the influence of Stop the War is most clearly seen and felt in the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is now leader of the Labour Party. For much of Stop the War’s 15 years — most notably in 2003 — we were demonstrating against the aggressive neo-imperialist policies of a Labour government.
It was therefore a proud moment this year when, on the day the Chilcot report was finally published, Corbyn issued a public apology to the people of Iraq and of Britain on behalf of Labour for its role in the invasion of Iraq.
Of course, a range of factors led to Corbyn’s election as leader, but there is no doubt that the anti-war movement was a major one amongst them. Blair’s wars had traumatised the Labour Party and constituted the single biggest item in the bill of indictment of “new Labour.”
Corbyn played a huge part in Stop the War from its formation and was, alongside George Galloway, its foremost parliamentary advocate and a frequent and popular speaker at meetings and rallies. He was also chair of the coalition for four years, something his political enemies have made much of with strikingly small impact.
This now creates the real possibility of what could be termed Stop the War’s ultimate success — the election of a Labour government committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes, international law and social justice globally, keeping a wide distance from Washington’s warmongering.
Of course, that cannot mean folding all Stop the War’s actions into a campaign for a Labour government which, at any event, may not be possible until 2020. There is too much to do in the here-and-now.
That includes solidarity with the Muslim community in Britain in opposing racism, embedding the lessons of Chilcot in the political culture and demanding an end to British military engagement in Iraq and Syria.
It also means clearly warning against the growing dangers of still-larger wars. In both Syria and Ukraine the possibilities of an armed confrontation between the great powers is greater than it has been since the end of the cold war and arguably for much longer. US-Russian relations are hitting new lows as the two powers struggle for influence.
The risk of a clash on the other side of the world between the US and its allies, on the one hand, and China on the other have also become more apparent over the last year.
The prospect of a third world war is no longer alarmist fantasy — the contours can all too easily be seen. As ever, they are rooted in the dynamics of imperialism and the drive for hegemony.
More than ever a powerful anti-war movement is needed therefore and more than ever we can be encouraged that victory against an enfeebled Establishment is a possibility.
So let Stop the War’s anniversary be a summons to fresh struggle so that in 15 years’ time, our anniversary really can safely be a time for reminiscence.
Andrew Murray was chair of the Stop the War Coalition 2001-2011 and 2015-16 and is a contributor to 21centurymanifesto