False Prophets

A national newspaper recently ran an entertaining piece on some of the most wrong-headed predictions of modern times.

There was Margaret Thatcher’s 1972 claim that “there will not be a woman prime minister in my lifetime." And Ken Olsen’s 1977 prediction that “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."

But sadly lacking were any of the statements from pro-war media pundits in the lead up to the war in Iraq and during the conflict’s early stages.

For when it comes to getting it wrong, the laptop bombardiers were in a class all of their own.

How about: “This will be no war – there will be a fairly brief and ruthless military intervention…. The president will give an order. [The attack] will be rapid, accurate and dazzling…. It will be greeted by the majority of the Iraqi people as an emancipation. And I say, bring it on.” That was from Christopher Hitchens.

Or: “Don’t kid yourself. There’s going to be war in Iraq unless Saddam Hussein hands over his weapons of mass destruction. He’s got them. We know he’s got them. He knows we know he’s got them,” from Richard Littlejohn, writing in The Sun.

Then there’s this classic from William Shawcross, writing in the Wall Street Journal on the day Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled in Baghdad:

“What a wonderful, magnificent, emotional occasion – one that will live in legend like the fall of the Bastille, V-E Day, or the fall of the Berlin Wall. All those smart Europeans who ridiculed George Bush and denigrated his idea that there was actually a better future for the Iraqi people – they will now have to think again.”

Shawcross also authored a piece titled “Why Saddam Will Never Disarm."

Janet Daley of The Daily Telegraph believed the moral case against war to be “at best naïve, at worst idiotic." Daley believed the existence of Iraq’s WMDs to have been proved by Blair’s dossier.

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum claimed, “Inspections haven’t worked – that is, they haven’t prevented Iraq from developing weapons.” She also thought that France and Germany would “risk being completely disqualified as serious members of the international community," when Iraq’s WMDs showed up.

The Daily Telegraph‘s “Neo” Con Coughlin regaled us in the lead-up to war with tales of Iraqi superguns and claimed that there was a link between al-Qaeda member and 9/11 conspirator Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence. The author of the book Saddam: The Secret Life was agitated lest the Iraqi leader’s acquiescence to UN inspections “could stop regime change for good."

Neocon historian Andrew Roberts equated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq with Nazi Germany at its peak:

“For Churchill, apotheosis came in 1940; for Tony Blair, it will come when Iraq is successfully invaded and hundreds of weapons of mass destruction are unearthed from where they have been hidden by Saddam’s henchmen."

David Aaronovitch, a "left-wing" advocate of war, promised “If nothing is eventually found, I – as a supporter of the war – will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the U.S. ever again. Those weapons had better be there, somewhere.”

As in the case with those who claimed that “genocide” was taking place in Kosovo in 1999, the pundits who parroted the U.S. and Britain’s deceitful propaganda on Iraq have never been properly held to account.

Far from it, they’ve actually been rewarded for getting things so badly wrong.

Richard Littlejohn moved from one well-paid position at the Sun to an even better-paid one at The Daily Mail. David Aaronovitch is a columnist at The Times – and – contrary to his promise, is still faithfully supporting the government who lied to the country over Iraq’s WMDs.

Anne Applebaum continues to play the role of Cassandra, only this time the Iraqi “threat” has been replaced by the “threats” from Russia and Iran. Janet Daley, who believed Blair’s dodgy dossiers, is still writing in the Daily Telegraph.

Christopher Hitchens, despite the fact that his “fairly brief” war is still raging, continues to be accorded deferential status, turning up on the BBC’s Question Time to impart his “wisdom” on what needs to be done next in the “war on terror."

Coughlin’s reward for getting it so wrong on Iraq was not dismissal but promotion to the position of the Daily Telegraph‘s executive foreign editor. The bumptious historian Andrew Roberts, unabashed after his comparisons between the military strength of Saddam’s Iraq and Nazi Germany proved way off the mark, tours America promoting his book A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900 – personally endorsed by one George W. Bush.

Of course, the ultimate responsibility for the war in Iraq must lie with the politicians who authorized the illegal military action. But they would never have been able to gain a measure of public support for the war without the work of journalists and writers who failed to challenge the lies Bush, Blair, and their representatives were turning out on an almost daily basis.

Whereas we can raise a smile at Lord Kelvin’s claim in 1895 that “heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible," predictions and false claims that helped dupe the public into supporting a brutal, illegal war – one that to date has cost the lives of almost 1 million people and made the world a far more dangerous place – really are no laughing matter.

It’s time that we treated the journalists and writers who made them with the opprobrium they deserve.

This article first appeared in The Morning Star.