Iraq: We were right all along

Picture of Tony Blair surrounded by a group of soldiers in army fatigues, some standing and some kneeling.So, today Tony Blair finally admitted in an interview on CNN (more here) that his action in following the Americans into war in Iraq in 2003 may have helped allow the rise of ISIS, that he received faulty intelligence and that he thought he had more sway with the Americans than he really did. These are things the anti-war movement were saying in 2003, not only about Blair himself but also his cheerleaders in the blogosphere, who believed they could use the war to bring about democracy in Iraq. Harry’s Place, one of the most prominent cheerleaders for the war (and later on in the 2000s, a regular source of anti-Muslim news stories), has yet to even mention the news at the time of this writing.

The fact that British troops were in Iraq for years after the initial invasion, when they might have expected to be withdrawn after the deposition of Saddam Hussain and an orderly transfer of power to a new government, already made many people who were sympathetic to “removing Saddam” feel that it had been a big mistake. Other occupations that result from the removal of a dictator or aggressor have not lasted as long; West Germany had a functioning government four years after the end of World War II, and the occupation continued because of the perceived need to contain German aggression, and to protect western Europe from Soviet aggression, not because of instability. Japan adopted its present constitution in 1947, although the occupation did not formally end until 1952. Iraq was not a major aggressive power under Saddam Hussain and there should not have been a need for a military presence there for anything like as long as there was. The reason there was is that, as predicted, extremist elements would take advantage of the power vacuum.

I was never comfortable with some of the “realist” antis’ arguments that the Saddam régime’s repressive apparatus was beneficial in that it ensured stability and suppressed extremism. They believe that some nations, some races, need an iron fist to keep them under control. We don’t, of course. Iraq is an artificial country that makes sense only from a British colonial point of view, with a shape that almost looks like that of a European country, despite having three population groups who would never have been content to be ruled by the others. But America invaded Iraq to finish business and satisfy American demands to punish Arabs for 9/11 despite it being known that Iraq had nothing to do with that attack and that, in fact, the perpetrators were Saddam Hussain’s enemies as much as the west’s. It was not concerned about the long-term consequences; if anything, a long-term occupation and instability might have been seen as good for business for arms manufacturers and security contractors, and possibly good for the Republicans’ electoral prospects (which only worked for one election, of course). Those of us who had read the American right-wing blogosphere and seen how Arabs and Muslims were spoken of, as well as noticed the behaviour of some US servicemen and the reports that some had signed up in order to “kill Arabs” knew that it was a racist war, not a war of liberation, and not one that liberals of any sort should be involved in.

Many of us were not sympathisers with Saddam Hussain and would have supported his removal in other circumstances. It was widely observed that Muslim Brotherhood elements were prominent in the opposition to the war, particularly in the Muslim Association of Britain, and this was often mentioned so as to discredit it. That this movement, which was repressed by Saddam Hussain and would have had their ability to operate restored, along with a whole raft of other Islamist movements, strongly opposed the invasion to remove him should have made people sit up and take notice rather than dismiss it with contempt. While Britain may not have been able to prevent the invasion, it did not need to and should not have got involved, not only for reasons of keeping the moral high ground but because it cost money and lives and may well have led to us becoming a target for terrorists, as we did on several occasions in the years following the invasion.

In his interview, Blair says we should be careful about attributing the rise of ISIS to the invasion given that ISIS appeared several years after. He claims that “ISIS actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not in Iraq”. In fact, ISIS originated as the Islamic State of Iraq, an offshoot of the local al-Qa’ida outfit, and moved into Syria. We do not know what the history of Iraq would have been like without the invasion; whether Saddam Hussain would still be in power, or whether he would have died or been replaced with one of his sons, or something else entirely. But the Arab Spring began in Tunisia and that country had plenty of reasons to want to throw off its dictatorship, regardless of what happened in Iraq. And it is entirely possible that the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad could have been achieved much more quickly without the rise of ISIS from Iraq, and that nobody would now be suggesting that it might be better for Assad to win so as to crush ISIS.

So, we now know that Tony Blair intended to support whatever Bush did (despite his fans insisting for years that he joined in because “he believed the intelligence”), and we have heard from David Blunkett that Blair “just decided to trust Cheney and Rumsfeld” — men referred to by previous US administrations as “the crazies” — and that Blair’s inner circle, including Blunkett, “were all collectively to blame for deluding ourselves into believing that we had much greater sway over Washington”. Even the host, Fareed Zakaria, apologised to viewers for supporting the war initially. When are we going to get an apology from the media and blogosphere cheerleaders who similarly deluded themselves that they were in on a great liberal project of democratisation? As of now, Harry’s Place is still silent on it.

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