From Those Who Got It Wrong

There was a forecast in December 2003, in a respected British publication, saying : “Another six weeks of insurgency [in Iraq] sounds about right, after which it will peter out . . .”

That was a fascinating prediction, over five months ago. But who was the expert strategist, the lecturer at the War College, the professor of international relations, the doyen of military studies or the Washington embed who was so confident as to forecast what the rest of the world knew to be impossible? Thereby hangs a tale.

You may not have heard of a fellow called Mark Steyn. If you haven’t, do not be concerned ; in fact it might be as well for your sense of humor if you don’t try to find out too much about him, because he is a silly little prat who made prophesies about the war on Iraq that were absurd at the time he made them, and since then have been proved wholly cretinous. I think he is a Canadian, but he lives in New Hampshire and writes for the Hollinger Group of publications, whose recently disgraced ex-owner was a Canadian called Conrad Black who changed his nationality to British to become a Peer (a Lord, in other words). The Canadian government refused permission, quite rightly, for him to accept the peerage, but he got round that little difficulty by telling the British government to make him a Brit. Just as Murdoch told the US government to make him an American citizen so that he could make more money. Oh, they’re a principled lot, these newspaper owners. And they employ soothsayers who have all the credibility of the seedy shyster who sidles up at a race track and says “Got one for you : only fifty, and you’ll make a fortune.”

The fact that a judge in Delaware called Black “cunning and calculated . . . evasive and unreliable” (CBC News, March 2, 2004) should of course be neither here nor there, unless one factors in the Black associates, who include not only Steyn (as one of his senior editors), but the egregious Richard Perle and other delightful souls.

But revenons a nos moutons (let’s get back to the main point, as Tom DeLay would say) and consider the bold warrior Steyn who has been so supportive of the killing of Iraqis and continually admiring of the Washington political machine that orders its military to perform the killing. (I have to admit that as a former soldier I detest people like him who have never been at the sharp end yet advocate and relish the spilling of blood a*” provided, of course, that their precious skins are never in danger of puncture.)

When the US and Britain went to war on Iraq in March 2003 Mark Steyn wrote “Mr Fisk and the anti-war movement appear to have been anticipating the usual month-long Kosovo-style air war, with the inevitable stray bombs landing on hospitals, orphanages, wedding parties, etc . . . a well-aimed bunker buster, and boots on the ground following almost immediately.” The casual use of the word “inevitable” is intriguing. We should not forget that bombs did “land” (sounds pretty innocuous, doesn’t it?) on entirely civilian areas. Many of them smashed explosively into the houses of ordinary people and did enormous damage. The “well-aimed bunker busters” killed and maimed hundreds of innocents during the onslaught called Shock and Awe (and afterwards ; in Falluja, for example). But Steyn does not seem to mention many instances of mutilation of Iraqi children by American bombing.

When he wrote his exotic piece approving well-aimed bunker busters last year, Mark Steyn may not have heard of 12 year-old (now 13) Ali Ismail Abbas who was orphaned and maimed by a well-aimed bunker buster during the blitz of Shock and Awe. Or if he did, or if has since heard of him, he doesn’t seem to mention him very much. Steyn spent a few days in Iraq over a year ago, but doesn’t seem to have met any maimed Iraqi kids. Or maimed Iraqi adults. Or maimed US soldiers, for that matter, who now number in the thousands.

Ali Abbas lost both his arms, just below the shoulder.

Now that is the popular, easy, journalistic, non-judgmental, American, NICE way of putting it. (Everything has to be NICE in Bush America.) You don’t have your arms blown off by American bombs : you LOSE them in the course of misdirection of well-aimed bunker busters, approved by Bush, Blair and Steyn. (“Oh, hey! Where’s my arm? Oh, there it is! a*” Relax! Found it, everybody!”) It is much more comfortable that way a*” providing you are not the person whose arms have been blown off.

Let’s be more direct : US air strikes crippled Ali Abbas terminally. His state, before Iraqi surgeons saved his life (as the London Times reported), was that “his body [was] blackened, one of his hands [was] a*”a twisted, melted claw. The other arm had apparently been burned off at the elbow . . . two long bones were sticking out of it’.” Now, how’s that Steyn, old fellow? Any bluster from your bunker?

Then there is the truly wonderful Mark Steyn prediction (for which I am indebted to a*”Private Eye’, a British fortnightly publication that exposes shoddy humbugs) that “In a year’s time, Iraq will be, at a bare minimum, the least badly-governed state in the Arab World and, at best, pleasant, civilized and thriving.” (This was quoting from a Steyn piece in the London Daily Telegraph, aka the Sharon Times, April 12, 2003 ; owned at the time by the now disgraced Black.) The piece also contained a pronouncement that doesn’t make sense, and not because it is a*”taken out of context’, as is the favorite claim when fools are found out : “The theory some of us [war supporters] have advanced for two and a half years now is that the region’s stability a*” the stability of a petrified septic tank a*” is the problem, and that any upturning of that stability would be hard put to make things worse.” Gibberish.

Then there was his article in The Spectator (also London ; former proprietor C Black) of March 27. The wonderfully ludicrous lead was “One year after the war began, Mark Steyn believes that anyone who looks honestly at liberated Iraq must see it as a success story”. He was given space to say, among other things, that occupation forces’ casualties in February 2004 “were the lowest since the war began” and that a*” wait for it a*” “crude oil production in British-controlled southern Iraq is at 127 per cent of the target set immediately after the war”. Ignore the stupidity of trying to propagandize on the basis of casualty figures that were obviously and tragically bound to increase, but consider the a*”target’ for oil production. In the tradition of the truly bum and sloppy pamphleteer, Steyn didn’t say what the target was, who set it, and confined his single statistic to a particular area.

Steyn went on to aver that “Public healthcare funding in Iraq is more than 25 times higher than it was a year ago and child immunization rates have improved by 25 per cent . . . School attendance in Iraq is 10 per cent higher than a year ago . . . daily commercial aircraft departures are 100 times higher than prewar . . . crime in Basra has fallen by 70 per cent . . . The interim Iraqi constitution is the most liberal in the Arab world. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone who looks at Iraq honestly to see it as anything other than a success story . . . ”

Please stop laughing. This is no laughing matter. Oh well ; perhaps we can be forgiven for indulging in a head-shaking chuckle or two about the fatuous Steyn himself. The man is not just a silly little twit, he is a purveyor of fantasy who gives aid and comfort to the Chief Fantasist, Bush, the only begetter of the war on Iraq that has resulted in the deaths of thousands of guiltless people and ensured everlasting hatred of America throughout the Middle East (less Israel) and the entire Muslim world.

Does this worry remarkable Mark? Not a bit. The warnik pundit justifies his endorsement of slaughter in a light-hearted giggle-piece on May 30, 2004 titled a*”This Is One Armchair Warmonger Still Fighting’. In this vulgar attempt at self-justification the graceless Steyn wrote “Anyone who votes for the troops to go in [to Iraq] should be grown-up enough to know that, when they do, a few of them will kill civilians, bomb schools, abuse prisoners. It happens in every war. These aren’t stunning surprises, they’re inevitable: it might be a bombed mosque or a hospital, a shattered restaurant or a slaughtered wedding party, but it will certainly be something.”

“A slaughtered wedding party” is but an incident to Mr Steyn, and not even a regrettable one. The forty people slaughtered (he chose that word well, at least), in the atrocity to which he so casually refers, mean nothing to Mark the Marvelous. It happens all the time in the world of the Steyns, of course. Women, children, old men, young men a*” human beings, as sane people regard them a*” are killed by “grown-ups” because “it happens”. This is not a “stunning surprise” according to Steyn.

I have news for you Steyn, you tiny malformed turd. The murder a*” OK, let’s use your own word : slaughter a*” of forty people at a wedding party is a serious matter, and not one to be shrugged off in the course of a lightweight apologia that lowers journalistic comment to a depth plumbed hitherto by the late Doctor Goebbels.

Here is Steyn’s comment on the year of sadistic torture at Abu Ghraib as portrayed in the photographs shown round the world. (It is barely believable that a human being could write what he did, but I’ve copied it directly from his cheery and perky piece.) “Okay, a freaky West Virginia tramp leading a naked Iraqi round on a dog leash with a pair of Victoria’s Secret panties on his head and a banana up his butt, maybe that wasn’t so inevitable. But, that innovation aside, the aberrations of war have nothing to do with the only question that matters: despite what will happen along the way, is it worth doing?”

Steyn is a pathetic but boorish creep. His flippant phrase “a banana up his butt” is the sort of slick and tawdry throw-away line that is the stock-in-trade of moronic and repulsive dregs. Gross physical and mental humiliation of a human being appears to mean nothing to him. The foulness of organised violation and degradation of countless captives is “an innovation” in Steyn morality. It was never claimed that any of the tortured prisoners (70 per cent of whom were innocent of any crime, according to a US officer quoted in the Red Cross report) had bananas shoved up their anuses, but it was obviously tempting for Steyn to indulge in a bit of waggish alliteration. “A banana up his butt” sounds reasonable and even a bit funny , doesn’t it? Better a*” NICER a*” than “the prisoner had a tube-light rammed up his bottom” by grinning and sadistic American soldiers.

So Steyn proudly and fatuously writes that he is a “Warmonger Still Fighting”. Against whom have you fought, Steyn? You have never heard a shot fired in anger you septic fart. If you had, you would not be so lip-smacking about bloodshed. (You have never had to go to a house to tell a friend that she was a widow, have you, you little monster? You have never heard the sound of bullets whipping by your ear. It is frightening, Steyn. Really frightening, I assure you, but you will never know how frightening it is because you encourage and relish war while staying safe at home.) And your comment that atrocities “happen along the way” is worthy of an apologist for the holocaust.

Steyn and the rest of them got it wrong, but I single him out because he is boastfully unrepentant about writing what was perhaps the stupidest comment of all the chicken-hawks. Fourteen months ago, in a miasma of foolishness, he wrote : “In a year’s time, Iraq will be, at a bare minimum, the least badly-governed state in the Arab World and, at best, pleasant, civilized and thriving”. There were others who energetically endorsed the Bush-Blair-Howard-Berlusconi gallop to bomb Iraq and invade it, but few were quite as gullible and cock-eyed as to predict that in April this year the place was going to be reasonable in which to live, or “at best, civilized and thriving”. What a featherbrained ninny.

Some of the others who got it wrong have apologized for being so ingenuous. So what is Steyn’s reaction to their honesty? Predictably enough, he laughs at it. What is his riposte to their apologies for being wrong? a*” He sneers at those whose conscience accepts the realities of chaotic Iraq and who acknowledge that their trust in Bush and Blair was, to put it mildly, misplaced.

He writes that they are “fair-weather warriors” who are guilty of “fundamental unseriousness”. He mocks them because “The Sunni Triangle is a little under-policed, but even that’s not aflame.” Oh my : “a little under-policed”. He might not have noticed, but the particular place in the ill-dubbed a*”Sunni Triangle’ that was encouraged to hate occupation troops, solely by the brutality of their bash ’em, smash ’em, grab ’em, Israeli-style house-destroying tactics, is Falluja. That town was the focus of US triumphalism and all-conquering malevolence immediately after the invasion. Its people were victims of deliberate humiliation and degradation.

But Falluja appears to be well-policed, now, by a militia formed from former Baathist (in other words, Saddam Hussein-supporting) troops who took over the town last week. They were a*”permitted’ to do so following full-scale battles in which US marines, with massive air support (involving more of Steyn’s “well-aimed bunker busters”), killed 800 Iraqis and destroyed hundreds of houses in retaliation for the murder of four US mercenaries and the frenzied mutilation of their bodies. None of this violence proved anything, except that Bremer or Sanchez (or whoever it is that’s supposed to be in charge of the occupation ; who knows?) got it completely wrong. They had to order the marines to retreat after some seventy of them were killed by Iraqi resistance fighters (many of whom have now joined the US-approved formera*”Baathist militia) ; but of course the place wasn’t “aflame” as might be defined by Steyn.

Steyn refuses to admit he got it wrong, and proudly declares he is “a relatively relaxed hawk”. The US, he says, “may be forced to suffer the perception of defeat, but it is Europe that will live with the consequences”. Just how Europe having to live with the consequences of the Bush war makes warnik Steyn correct and the rest of us wrong is not explained. (And note the weasel-word “perception”.) He and some other chicken-hawks are seeking justification for their war, and of course are finding it difficult to produce the goods. They shouldn’t bother, because we all know they can’t do it. Will Steyn admit he was just plain stupid when he declared five months ago that “Another six weeks of insurgency [in Iraq] sounds about right, after which it will peter out . . .”? In a pig’s ear he will.

But what Steyn and the rest of them should do is admit that they were majestically wrong about their war, and apologize to those who were right concerning its likely consequences. Above all they should apologize to the relatives of thousands of Iraqis and occupation soldiers who died because, in Steyn’s own words, the members of his “Armchair Warmongers’ Club” consider “. . .yes. It is already worth it for Iraq”.

There are none so foolish as those who will not see the truth. And none so contemptible as those who see it and reject it.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website


Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.