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Gary Younge
Never mind the truth

At the very moment when Rice said that the invasion had removed a source "of violence and fear and instability in the world's most dangerous region", the tape read: "Iraq's interim interior minister Nuril Al-Badran announces his resignation; interior ministry is in charge of police forces."

At the point when she told the commission that invading Iraq was one of "the only choices that can ensure the safety of our nation for decades to come", the wire services reported: "Iraqis say air strike killed dozens gathered for prayers."

Politics has, to an extent, always been about the triumph of symbols over substance and assertion over actuality. But in the case of Iraq this trend seems to have reached its apogee, as though statements by themselves can fashion reality by the force of their own will and judgment. Declaration and proclamation have become everything. The question of whether they bear any relation to the world we actually live in seems like an unpleasant and occasionally embarrassing intrusion. The motto of the day both in Downing Street and the White House seems to be: "To say it is so is to make it so." These people are rewriting history before the ink on the first draft is even dry.

The most obvious example was President George Bush's speech to the nation last week, as he struggled to define the mission in Iraq. "On June 30 the occupation will end and Iraqis will govern their own affairs," he said. To understand what will happen at the end of the month it would make more sense to turn the sentence inside out so that it says the opposite: "On June 30 the occupation will continue and Iraqis will not govern their own affairs."

To the charge that this is leftwing axe-grinding, look no further than the lead editorial in the Economist, which supported the war. "To those who complain that in this case the sovereignty of the Iraqi government is going to be pretty bogus, the answer of Messrs Bush and Blair ought to be the honest one. Of course it is. In Iraq's present context, sovereignty is just a word on paper, and not even the most important one."

Only yesterday the Iraqi governing council members complained of "massive pressure" to endorse Adnan Pachachi, America's choice for president of the interim government, even though most of them favoured another candidate, more critical of the US. The US, which has the final say in the matter, threatened not to recognise the council's choice. Given that the US chose the members of the council, one can only imagine how they will get on with a truly independent, democratically accountable group of representatives.

Sadly, we are not about to find out. What will in fact happen on June 30 is that a former CIA operative, Iyad Allawi, who was picked by the US with little involvement from the United Nations, will head a puppet regime. This "sovereign" country will have 138,000 US troops on its soil, not to mention soldiers from Britain and elsewhere, and its "sovereign" leader will have no control over what they do. "US forces remain under US command and will do what is necessary to protect themselves," says Colin Powell.

Tony Blair for once disagreed. "If there is a political decision as to whether you go into a place like Fallujah in a particular way, that has to be done with the consent of the Iraqi government and the final political control remains with the Iraqi government," he said. But by the next day he was back in his box. "We are both absolutely agreed that there should be full sovereignty transferred to the Iraqi people, and the multinational force should remain under American command," he told the Commons.

In so doing he revealed two of the golden rules in this new era of politics by pronouncement. First, so long as you say things boldly and confidently, they do not have to make any sense. Second, whatever announcement you make last negates all announcements you've made before.

Indeed, Blair, of whom Doris Lessing, the novelist, once said: "He believes in magic. That if you say a thing, it is true," is the high priest of this dark art. Here are a few corkers he pulled out of the hat in the past two years.

"There is no doubt at all that the development of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein poses a severe threat, not just to the region but to the wider world," he said in April 2002. Just four months before he bombed Iraq he said: "Nobody in the British government is in favour of military action against Iraq." And then there is my favourite, from this April. "We have been involving the UN throughout," by which we can only presume he means bugging the offices of the secretary general.

The least kind, and yet most obvious, explanation for why these statements have no resemblance to the truth would be that Blair keeps lying. A more generous interpretation would be that he is a hopelessly wishful thinker.

In fact, wishful thinking has been the entire intellectual and political thrust of the "liberal hawks" - the lefties who backed the war. They wished that the UN would pass a second resolution, that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, that the Iraqi people would come out and greet western soldiers, that the Bush administration had noble intentions and that Blair could exert influence over the US in the Middle East. Some of us wished that they would get real.

For one of the most pernicious baseless assertions in recent times is the notion that there is any such thing as a "liberal hawk". There isn't. People are not liberal just because they say so. For the term to have any meaning at all they have to share some common ground on which the bombing of Iraq has no place. There was no progressive case for bypassing the will of the UN and international law and bombing a country that posed no immediate threat to any other. There was a liberal dilemma about how you confront vicious dictators. But in the case of Iraq it no more led to war than the liberal dilemma over how to solve crime leads to capital punishment.

Having seen their wish-list shredded by the neoconservatives in the Pentagon and the White House, some now wring their hands and wonder where it all went wrong, while others become ever more bullish and bizarre in defence of a stance long since discredited.

Liberals never provided a case for this war. There was "liberal" cover for it. A fact for which conservatives are delighted and those coopted by them should be ashamed.

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