Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tony Blair and Iraq

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair's fightback on Iraq is clear.  The actions of his government, in joining the USA's war on Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, are absolutely not responsible for the current unrest there.  Instead, it is the failure of the present British and American governments to have engaged in Syria - to counter terrorism hard - that has led to the current ISIS insurgency in Iraq's northern cities.

It is easy to understand why Mr. Blair has felt the need to hit the news sites again.  Every time a problem occurs in Iraq, or in that immediate Middle East region, the analysis must inevitably turn back to the 2003 war.  Should it have been fought?  Would it have been better to leave Saddam Hussein in power?  Was it responsible for spreading such instability across the region that the murderous problems afflicting it now are the consequence.  No wonder Mr. Blair doesn't like what he calls a "re-running" of the 2003 war.

One of Mr. Blair's key points is that even if Saddam Hussein had been left in power by the West, under his and George Bush's leadership, we would still be looking at insurgency today.  Saddam Hussein, he points out, had been responsible for two wars in the region before he was toppled, and the Syrian civil war points up what happens when you allow a dictator to stay in power in all his repressive glory.

So is Tony Blair right? Is the constant harking back to his deeply unpopular war a misnomer?

What we can never know is how the political shape of the Middle East would have differed if there had been no western invasion of Iraq.  It has, without doubt, cast its shadow across the entire development of that region since 2003, and there is every reason for believing that much of that development has been far more malign than it would have been without the invasion.

The removal of Hussein plunged Iraq into a chaos from which it has still not emerged.  It unleashed a nightmare array of sectarian and divisive forces that have been impossible to control.  Sir Christopher Meyer, British ambassador in Iraq from 1997 to 2003, notes that even at the time it was clear to see what the result of removing a dictator such as Hussein would be, especially with no clear game plan for his succession in sight.  Saddam's removal was exacerbated by the malign incompetence of the administration of Iraq by US official Paul Bremer in the aftermath of victory.  He dismantled the Baathist state, and dismissed all of the Baathist soldiers and policeman who manned it, leaving a power vacuum that no replacement could possibly fill.  The fracturing of Iraq is indeed the direct consequence of both the war fought by Britain and the US and the "peace" which they imposed.

The destruction of Iraq, and the condemnation of multitudes of Iraqi citizens to death, poverty, injury and constant danger, is the most obvious consequence of Saddam's forced removal.  While Tony Blair is right to note Saddam's dismal record as a dictator and his previous war record, he fails to note how the Iraqi dictator had been significantly weakened by the first Gulf War, how the Kurdish regimes had been protected by no-fly zones and allowed to develop a quasi-autonomy free from Saddam, and how a weakened Saddam in fact meant a far more tolerable situation than anything which followed from the war.  There are likely to be few Iraqis today who would consider the strife of present-day Iraq to be somehow preferable to the dictator's rule.

Mr. Blair's war, however, had consequences well beyond the abysmal dismemberment of Iraq.  By creating a power vacuum at the heart of the Middle East he provided a training ground for all manner of extremist forces to gather and pursue their goals; the war itself had indeed caused the unleashing of such forces, of which ISIS has emerged as the most successful.  By destabilising the region, Mr. Blair's war provided the template for the wretched development of the briefly hopeful looking Arab Spring of 2011.  Many of the dangerous and fanatic elements who have moved in on Libya and Syria since then, have been able to do so because Iraq first offered the chance to group their forces together, and gave them a training ground and a call to arms that powered their genesis.

It is also Mr. Blair's war which has ensured that, when a threat really has emerged - as it has in Syria and Libya - the West no longer has the will to get engaged.  The war-weariness which caused the British House of Commons and the American Congress to vote decisively against involvement has seriously hamstrung any western attempts to defend moderates against extremists.  Mr. Blair is calling for involvement in Syria, but he and Mr. Bush are the reason why we cannot be involved. 

Mr. Blair bemoans the fate of Iraq and Syria today, and the unwillingness of the West to involve itself.  His unwillingness to re-run the war of 2003 must surely be due to the fact that, every time you consider it, you cannot escape the reality that nothing is more responsible than that ill-considered,  ill-advised, ill-planned and ill-executed war for creating the dire situation in the Middle East which continues to elude any positive resolution.


No comments: