Matthew Parris in Saturday’s Times:
My view runs counter to a consensus emerging among many commentators. The consensus (both among those who supported and opposed the invasion of Iraq) is persuasive. It says that in terms of political “capital”, there is little left to be gained or lost from Iraq as a domestic controversy in Britain and America. It accepts that the outlook in Iraq itself is not encouraging, but questions what further impact this is likely to have on the fortunes of those who led the invasion.
A core of opinion (says this consensus) holds that the invasion was a crime and a blunder; the other core holds that it was the right thing to do; both cores are now fairly impregnable to impact from future facts. Everybody agrees that what’s done is done; and those who turned against their political leaders because of the war have done so already. Anti-war parties have already taken their profits from the investment they made in opposing the war; pro-war parties like new Labour and the Conservatives have already taken their knocks. Hostilities may or may not continue, but domestic politics has moved on. The Iraq factor can therefore be more or less removed from domestic contests still to come.
To join me in challenging this consensus you will have to accept my unspoken main premise: that nobody seriously now thinks the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a good idea or is going anywhere useful. You will not lack for evidence against my view. Take Tony Blair. Probably he thinks he thinks he was right, though I doubt anyone else in the Cabinet does. Among the commentariat, admirable figures such as David Aaronovitch, Michael Gove, Daniel Finkelstein and whoever writes the leading articles for this newspaper and others remain as gallant as they are eloquent in their support for the war and occupation.
But people have unconscious minds and a nation has a collective unconscious. It is possible to consult an unconscious mind but you must be armed not with a questionnaire and a pencil, but a tape recorder and stop-watch. Don’t ask “Are we right: yes or no?” or the conscious man will at once tick the “yes” box. Ask instead: “Imagine you were to wake up tomorrow and realise all this invasion of Iraq stuff had just been a dream. Would your waking thought be ‘Aargh! Bad news. We aren’t in Iraq after all. We must occupy that country at once — no time to lose!’ Is that what you’d think?”
Even to that question, expect the conscious man, if he’s on record as supporting the war, to work out that logic requires a “yes”. Ignore his answer. Instead, time the delay before he gives it, and listen for the hesitation in his voice. Here is the unconscious mind speaking. All the rest is a mix of pride, loyalty, self-justification and the urge to sound consistent.
Come on, chaps. It proved a mistake and in your hearts you know it. In return for your admitting as much, we who opposed the war should concede with better grace than we have, that you who supported it genuinely followed conscience and intellect in the stand you took.
Matthew Parris was generally brilliant when he was the Times’s Parliamentary sketch writer, so it pains me to see him reduced to something so weak, and so silly, as this.
Even if it is true that most people would answer his ‘unconcious mind’ question the way he claims, the whole premise is irrelevant for two reasons.
First, what we wish were the case in an ideal world has no bearing on what we ought to do in the unpleasant reality of the actual world.
For example, ask any man on the morning of a dentist appointment: “do you wish that you could wake up and all this stuff about the toothache and the dentist appointment were a dream and you could have fun all day instead?” Of course he’d say yes – but that has no bearing on the fact that he ought to go to the dentist.
Secondly, by a simple rephrasing of the question you will get a different answer. Try asking this question of your unconscious mind: “Do you wish that the genocidal dictator Saddam Hussein was still in control of the lives and future of the Iraqi people?”