“The Iraq war was the right war against the right enemy at the right time, and waged for broadly the right reasons. There is no need to apologise about it … George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard deserve praise for their courage. The coalition soldiers, overall, have performed magnificently.”

So wrote The Australian’s Greg Sheridan three years after the invasion of Iraq. The deaths of more than one million Iraqis, the maiming and displacement of many millions more and the destruction of an entire country are actions worthy of the highest praise for Sheridan.

The repeated revelations of abuse and indiscriminate killing by US soldiers – most notably the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib – are all part of, for him, a magnificent performance.

Perhaps most contemptible is Sheridan’s assertion that this suffering and destruction has been inflicted on people for the “right reasons”. Sheridan, along with countless other conservative commentators, including the editors of almost every Murdoch media outlet in the world, helped to manufacture these fictitious “reasons”. It was a global exercise in spreading and popularising Western propaganda that justified the war. The contentions put forward have been shown to be utterly false.

Claims about weapons of mass destruction may today seem ludicrous, but they were wholeheartedly promoted by Sheridan and his ilk in the lead-up to war. He uncritically parroted allegations made in British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s infamous “dossier”, that Iraq possessed “substantial biological and chemical weapons that could be deployed within 45 minutes”, and that it was “plausible” that Iraq “provided WMDs to terrorists”.

For Sheridan, evidence was irrelevant and the problem simple: “Either Tony Blair is a monstrous liar or Saddam Hussein is. Take your pick.”

Nor did the disastrous reality of post-invasion Iraq dampen the pundits’ spirits. While the majority of Iraqis endured limited electricity supplies, daily humiliation and the devastating social cost of occupation, Newsweekheadlines were proclaiming victory in Iraq and tentatively endorsing Bush’s unconvincing “Mission Accomplished” message.

For his part, Andrew Bolt trumpeted victory thus: “The battle is actually over. Iraq has been won … Violence is falling fast. Al Qaida has been crippled. The Shiites, Kurds and Marsh Arabs no longer face genocide. What’s more, the country has stayed unified.

“The majority now rules. Despite that, minority Sunni leaders are co-operating in government with Shiite ones. There is no civil war. The Kurds have not broken away. Iran has not turned Iraq into its puppet … The Iraqi army is now at full strength.”

That reality has yet again proved Bolt and the conservative consensus completely wrong will no doubt be swept under the carpet like so much before.

As always, the most savage vitriol from these celebrated media personalities is reserved for those who dared to criticise the powers that be. In 2003, Bolt launched an attack on a range of anti-war figures from Bob Brown to the Medical Association for the Prevention of War. Their “disreputable cause” according to Bolt, amounted to little more than baseless “warning of the catastrophic consequences of resisting evil”.

Similarly, Richard Cohen, writing in the Washington Post in 2006, described how his hawkish attitude was largely motivated by hatred of the left: “I was encouraged in my belief by the offensive opposition to the war – silly arguments about oil or empire or, at bottom, the ineradicable and perpetual rottenness of America.”

Tragically for the people of Iraq, these “silly arguments” have been vindicated. The anti-war movement broadly anticipated and stood against the needless suffering, death and human rights abuses committed in Iraq, and which continue today.

That the conservative commentators and media pundits who spread such lies, misinformation and hysterical jingoism to justify mass slaughter continue to be respected and celebrated by the establishment, and have faced no consequences of any import for their actions, speaks to the depravity and cynicism of modern capitalism.