Allies, by William Shawcross; Atlantic Books.

GLASGOW HERALD, 20 December 2004.
Reviewed by John Lloyd

There has rarely been such a season for radicalism � if you define radicalism as hostility to the United States� administration, which increasingly is the definition because it is the common denominator of �radical� groups. An example: George Galloway creates a new life after the Labour Party by forming an activists� organisation yoking together far leftists with Islamists - an absurdity only made possible by their common detestation of the United States.

Everyone is in on the America-as-world-threat act: from China to Chile, from India to Italy, from Brazil to Britain. Almost every country in the world has a governing class, or mass movements, or an intelligentsia, or all of these, which express contempt of varying degrees for the White House of George W Bush.

The polemics of the film maker Michael Moore top best seller lists. A just-published book on the communist witch hunter Joe McCarthy (�Reds�)concludes by saying Bush is in some respects worse than that ranting, lying, destroyer of careers. A review in the Christmas edition of the New York Review of Books � on Classical Greece! - ends with a piece of scholarly wit aimed at painting the miserable Bush as a worshipper of ruthless Gods, deaf to the pleas of his own and other peoples for mercy and peace. And that is just a sampling of the American media, this past week.

In this rancid air, can the work of a lone Brit who celebrates the British-American alliance which invaded and now occupies Iraq as a brave and noble one hope to survive? It should: William Shawcross� �Allies� is a work of courage and clarity, a plainly, sometimes plaintively, argued piece of common sense which brings the debate back to the ground on which it too rarely stands - the threat which Iraq under the Saddam-led Baathists to the region, to the world and most lethally of all to its own people. He reminds us � how many critics even bring it into their charge sheet, even admit it as an element in the equation? � that everyone, including the UN inspectors, believed that Saddam had either weapons of mass destruction, or the means for making them, before March 2003: that Saddam had, before 9/11, good grounds for believing that the increasingly ineffectual sanctions (ineffectual except on his own poor) levelled against him would be loosened; that his was a regime of unparalleled and sadistic ferocity.

He also insists � where else would this be said? � that the neo-Conservatives, the group of policy-thinkers and high Administration officials most determined to wage war on Iraq, were those who most consistently �demanded moral clarity in foreign affairs�. The phrase betrays something of the reason that this group has attracted such obloquy from the left: the latter had seen moral clarity in foreign affairs as its monopoly, and has been shocked and dismayed to have it stolen from it � so outraged that it has refused to examine what the neo-Conservatives argue.

Shawcross should be attended to not least because he has argued himself into his prersent position from one which was opposed: his �Sideshow� was an indictment of the US bombing of Cambodia, quite as vividly expressed and more intimately witnessed than �Allies�. But in three decades of international reporting, including extensive writing on the UN, he has come to share the once-common, now reviled, belief that �American commitment and American sacrifice are essential to the world. As in the 20th century so in the 21st, only America has the power and the optimism to defend the international community against what really are the forces of darkness�.

He knows British literary circles well, and is thus sensitive to their rhetorical horrors. He quotes Margaret Drabble�s infamous outburst � �My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable�I now loathe the United States and what it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world�, as well as Sir David Hare�s view that Britain was now �more whore than racketeer� (why had he stooped to take a knighthood from a whore? or not insisted on renouncing it?) and Tariq Ali�s wish that �Iraqi collaborators�may meet the fate of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Said before them�. Nuri Said, Shawcross reminds us, was murdered in a military coup in 1958, the prelude to years of slaughter in coup and counter-coup.

When the case is put - as Shawcross puts it again and again, combining rage with authority � that the intervention in Iraq, as in Bosnia; in Kosovo; in Afghanistan, has given the people a chance to live more freely, with the threat of repression lifted from them, the standard answer is that this was not the reason given by the US and by the UK for the invasion. Further, the charge goes, the reason most insisted on (because it allowed a legal case to be made for declaring war) was the possession of WMD in a war-ready state: a claim which, as time passes, begins to look tattered.

It may be that Saddam�s WMD stocks were largely destroyed before the war (though no major secret service seemed to have thought so): and it seems to be the case that some of the claims made by the British and the American governments to support their joint invasion rest on a slim basis. On this, the apparatus of criticism largely rests: and insofar as the case is proven, or part-proven, so the legions of the indignant are likely to conclude that they are right. They indignantly reject any humanitarian reason for launching the war, and deny that there has been any effect but chaos. As this review was being written, the news broke that Saddam had been taken. I felt a surge of pure joy: then wondered, after a few minutes, how many of my friends and colleagues would share the emotion.

At least in circles which like to think of themselves as progressive, the invasion of Iraq has assumed the status of a prompt for moral rage. Talking a few nights ago to some Labour Party members at a meeting to which I had been asked to give a talk on the media, I mentioned my support for the Prime Minister � their Party leader. It was as if I had expressed admiration for the National Front. One woman, elderly, erect and passionate, said: �Tony Blair is a disgrace to the Party, a disgrace to the country and we all � (appealing to her comrades) don�t we? � want to get rid of him!�. Blair has lost his party, at least the (dominant) middle class membership of it: they, like Margaret Drabble, have discovered an almost uncontrollable anti-Americanism. We live in genuinely strange and disappointing times, when the major party of the left has turned on a leader who has been the leading proponent of the overthrow of tyrannies. Shawcross is an antidote to these out-of-joint times: he may make a large contribution to setting them right.