“There are two paradigms for interpreting the success of the Iraq project.” So writes Peter Beaumont in the Observer.

We wonder if Beaumont would describe the September 11 attacks as “the New York project”, or “the American project”. Would he talk of Saddam Hussein’s 1990 “Kuwait project”?

Beaumont continues:

“Confronted with a vigorous but limited Sunni insurgency, bolstered by al-Qaeda atrocities, it is tempting to focus on the violence; to put the question of engagement in Iraq in terms of a cost-benefit analysis.”

“In one column, you put the totals of US and UK dead – going on 3,000 and 100 respectively – and then try to extract a meaning for those lost lives. In this equation, no progress on the security front equals wasted lives. Its ultimate logic is withdrawal.” (Beaumont, ‘Despair is still not an option,’ The Observer, September 25, 2005;,,1577939,00.html)

It is remarkable that Beaumont can include US and UK military deaths in one column while excluding 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths, subsequently mentioning them only as an afterthought (see below). Should not the death of Iraqi civilians – innocents who are neither paid nor trained to place their lives in danger – be prominent in any such calculation?

Beaumont adds:

“But there is a second paradigm. This demands that the headline violence is stripped out and that Iraq’s progress is counted not by the bodies of foreign soldiers or of Iraqis [the afterthought], but by how much democracy has begun to take root. The answer to the question of whether British and US troops should remain should not be calculated by the scale of their losses, but by whether they are doing any good.”

Again, astonishingly, Beaumont focuses on “the scale of their [British and US] losses” – the incalculably greater suffering of the Iraqi population has once again disappeared. This is shameful.

Beaumont assumes it is reasonable to attempt to estimate how much ‘democracy’ has taken root. How would he have reacted to a Russian journalist making the same point on ‘democracy building’ in Afghanistan in the 1980s? Where is the evidence that genuine democracy has ever been any kind of consideration in the minds of US-UK planners? He casually makes this presumption just days after UK forces used a tank to smash down the walls of an Iraqi prison and declared two “rescued” soldiers completely beyond the reach of Iraqi law.

In a good example of media obfuscation, Beaumont writes:

“It is now redundant to argue whether the invasion was right or wrong. Instead, having brought down Saddam, there is an obligation to try to establish a largely stable Iraq.”

A Media Lens reader responded to Beaumont:

“Presumably, you mean that if an illegal course of action is pursued for long enough, the criminal status of the perpetrators is no longer a matter of concern. Does this mean that if Saddam Hussein had managed to stay in Kuwait for twenty months or so, you would have argued against throwing him out? If not, why not?” (Philip Challinor, email copied to Media Lens, September 25, 2005)

The issue of right and wrong obviously remains at the heart of the issue, for any reasonable person. Beaumont conveniently muddies the picture – first mentioning ‘democracy’ but then downgrading this to a concern for ‘stability’. The latter covers a multitude of sins and horrors, as he well knows. Iraq was ’stabilised’ under Saddam, with Western support, after all. Democracy and stability are not the same thing at all.

Beaumont continues: “Two years of mentoring and training, building democracy and institutions, have had little effect in moving beyond factional politics.”

This would be a curious failure but for the reality of what has been omitted – the massive abuse of US-UK power terrorising and killing the population. Beaumont’s filtering of the truth – no mention of the hidden Bush-Blair agenda: of the strategic interests, of oil, of permanent US bases being built; of the greed, corruption and superpower violence behind this “mentoring” process – is remarkable. There is no sense at all of the ferocious Iraqi opposition to the occupation, of the outrage at what has been done to their country. And done in the name of what exactly? In the name of Western “security“, then “the war on terror“, then to put an end to Iraqi suffering; and now, finally, “democracy“?

Beaumont’s final comment sums up the article: “it is far too early to cut and run.”

Individuals or groups engaged in violent criminal actions should desist, or be made to desist, immediately. The question of ‘cutting and running’ does not arise. Beaumont appears to assume that criminals have a duty to continue engaging in criminal actions until they have somehow undone the damage of their crimes. This is outrageous.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. When writing emails to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

You could ask: Why do you mention Iraqi casualty figures merely as an afterthought, failing even to mention that 100,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed? How can the issue of right and wrong now be redundant in considering the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq? Why do you argue that US-UK forces should not “cut and run” when in fact they are engaged in massive crimes against humanity, and should desist immediately?

Write to Peter Beaumont
Email: [email protected]

Write to Observer editor Roger Alton
Email: [email protected]