The only reason for refusing to support the war was one that questioned the utility of war as a method of regime change. There were two aspects to this; the first was that war (as with revolution) is destructive, kills people and has unexpected and unpredictable outcomes. The second is that, in consequence, as much emphasis has to be put on the way wars end as on how they are to begin and be fought. In this case, the post-war settlement was crucial.
My agonised opposition to the war was based on both of these but the second factor was decisive. I was struck by the poor quality of Western political leadership and a post-war vision that smacked of complacency and historical ignorance. In addition, the fact that the war was sold on an inflation of the military threat posed by a country devastated by two wars and ten years of sanctions hinted that less consideration was being given to post-war development and opposition to tyranny. I did not think that these were the people to give us a Marshall Plan for the Middle East.
The important point behind the pro-war left position was that the war could have worked. This war was not a new one it was the conclusion of the earlier war over Kuwait, which had been left unresolved. The brutal cynicism of a policy of containment and sanctions, which left Saddam untouched and plunged much of the country into misery, had to cease. Surely, the ending of sanctions with Saddam still in power was unconscionable. Regime change was the sole position the left could have taken. The only question was how. There could have been a reasonable post-war settlement, but only with swift action for security, democratisation and reconstruction which could have organised and mobilised against the horrific insurgency (in retrospect a re-reading of Makiya's "Cruelty and Silence" could have prepared us for what was to come). This is where the failings of much of the left were most manifest.
Their choice to cheerlead for murderous would-be tyrants and to will failure in Iraq is a betrayal of everything the left should stand for. Perhaps, just perhaps, if some of the millions who mobilised against the war had launched campaigns to demand democracy, free trade unions, women's rights, full employment, social justice, emergency relief and economic development for Iraq, maybe if their criticisms of the occupation had not been wrapped in fatuous concepts of "imperialism" but had been limited to its failure to provide security, democratise fast enough and to give Iraqis control over their own development, if they had passed resolutions and staged demonstrations for massive aid to Iraq, then maybe the pressure would have had some effect. It is doubtful that this would have been the case but at least the left could be proud of their role rather than wallowing in a sanctimonious sense of their own rectitude, gleefully seeing each Iraqi death as another weapon with which to beat Bush and Blair. History will not view them kindly. They had a moment and they missed it.