Platform Seven

Norman Geras explains why one short passage in the manifesto will be reworded.

There is a passage in the Euston Manifesto the intention of which has been misunderstood, and those who drafted it and who agreed the draft are responsible for the misunderstanding. The passage isn’t well formulated. It’s this one:

We are also united in the view that, since the day on which this [the overthrow of the Baathist regime — NG] occurred, the proper concern of genuine liberals and members of the Left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, to create after decades of the most brutal oppression a life for Iraqis which those living in democratic countries take for granted — rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention.

The problem here is the ‘rather than’; and ‘picking through the rubble’ doesn’t help. These make up an ill-chosen phrase. The intent was to say that, once the invasion had occurred and the regime was overthrown, the primary focus of those on the left and others of democratic outlook should have been on solidarity with the Iraqi people and with the democratic forces trying to reconstruct the country on a new, free basis. The authors of the manifesto thought, and we think, that the future of Iraq and the fate of the Iraqi people should have been a more important preoccupation of leftists and liberals than returning constantly, as many have, to why the war should never have been fought. The way the above passage reads, however, it looks as if we’re saying that criticism relating to earlier arguments about the war, concern over the way it was presented by the US and British governments or about the planning for its aftermath, was inappropriate. And that isn’t right. The point was picked up in one of the earliest responses to the manifesto, by Martin Bright on the New Statesman website. He wrote:

The manifesto suggests that we should stop arguing about the whys and wherefores of the war and concentrate on building a left consensus on reconstruction.

And he went on to demur. He’s right: right about what the Eustonians think a left consensus should have ‘concentrated’ on once the Saddam regime was gone; and also right — unfortunately — that we’ve given the impression in the manifesto as written that arguments about ‘the whys and wherefores of the war’ ought to have stopped. We have done, but by a mis-statement of a point meant to be about priorities as if it were about mutually exclusive alternatives. It has not in fact been the position of those blogs which took the initiative leading to the Euston Manifesto that discussion of the origins of the war, or the planning for its aftermath, was somehow out of bounds. As just one piece of evidence for this I refer to a post of my own (old normblog site, ‘But where is the green parrot?’, August 21 2003) on the question of whether the Bush administration or the Blair government deliberately misled their publics. This is obviously a legitimate matter for discussion; more than that, it is a very important one.

The manifesto needs to be amended on this point.

Norman Geras is Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of Manchester

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