I talked to Damian Counsell of Ricochet in a wide-ranging conversation about my recent visit to Iraqi Kurdistan to mark the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s genocide against its people; why the survivors viewed Allied action as a liberation; the surprising preference of many Kurds for Turkey over the United States as a future partner, and the meaning of humanitarian intervention 10 years after the Iraq War.
Allow me to make one thing clear in advance: this post is written from the perspective of someone who strongly supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and still maintains the same position. I am not claiming to be entirely unbiased.
That said, I always accepted, then and now, that there were legitimate reasons against the war. As with every complex foreign policy decision, different alternatives were evaluated and genuine pro and contra arguments presented for each possibility. It is a natural, democratic process and one that should be welcomed because, if we take such far-reaching decisions that have a severe impact on our own people and others, we should make sure that all opinions are represented in the process of the debate.
I have great respect for many of the people who opposed the invasion right from the start, including family members and close friends, and also for those who, over the cause of the war, shifted their standpoint from a pro-war to a contra-war position like, for instance, Professor Norman Geras.
Yes, I even understand them in a way. There were moments when I myself had severe doubts over some aspects of the invasion, although I can say in all honesty that I never came close to the point where I felt that we got it completely wrong and should have left Iraq alone. I still believe the removal of Saddam was a moral and just cause and that the positive implications outbalance the negative ones.
In particular, I had issues with several of the US-led coalition’s post-war policies, like the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the De-Ba’athification. The greatest mistake, in my view, was the American exit policy. After the surge of 2007 under the leadership of General Petraeus, it was fair to say, for the first time, that we won the peace in Iraq. But when the Obama administration pulled out too quickly and over-hastily, the situation began to deteriorate again and that was the moment we once more lost the peace in Iraq.
This brings me back to my original point about the pro and contra arguments for the invasion. The greatest issue I have with the opposition to the war is that a significant part of the anti-war movement opposed the invasion not for the right but all the wrong reasons.
In fact, very few of those who marched on the streets of London 10 years ago, had previously spoken out against the intolerable cruelties committed by Saddam’s fascist regime against his own people. Unlike, for instance Tony Blair, who already spoke about the brutal and inhumane nature of Saddam’s rule in the 1990s, long before the Bush administration took office.
Too many of those who were protesting against the war were doing it because of their own, petty politics. As Nick Cohen pointed out, the anti-war movement united the worst elements of the Left – an amalgam of Marxist Leninists, George Galloway fanboys, and radical Islamists. Their motives were not so much rooted in the humanitarian tradition and a genuine concern for the Iraqi people, but were rather an expression of their deep-rooted anti-Western and anti-establishment sentiments.
Opposition to the war per se was a legitimate and moral position to hold. The tragedy is that the movement was hijacked by individuals with a highly suspicious agenda, who used it for their own ideological and political crusade against those who they despise.
The wellbeing of the Iraqi people was never really central to their cause.
What saddens me is that 10 years later we are basically still stuck in the same level of ignorance. Three points, in particular, are worth addressing.
First of all, as John Rentoul wrote the other day, the opinion of Iraqis is almost entirely absent from the debate, with the possible exception of the Kurds, whose position is rather well-known, as a result of a long history of suffering under Saddam’s regime. But we still know very little about the thoughts of average Iraqis. My prediction is that we would not find a clear cut set of opinion. Neither would the vast majority say that the war was a success, nor that the war was a total failure. Rather, I predict, we would get a variety of views with some arguing that, on balance, they are better off or, on balance, they are worse off. Furthermore, I would expect the result to be different now than, let’s say, three or four years ago. Ever since the pull-out of the Americans, the situation has deteriorated again and, at the moment, Iraq is also suffering not only from internal Shia-Sunni strife, but spill-over effects from the war in Syria. In recent months, we have seen a sharp increase in terrorist attacks, as Assad’s murderous campaign allowed al-Qaida to slip back into Iraq.
The second point is that the counter-argument is also almost entirely absent from the debate. While it is, of course, rested exclusively on hypotheses, it would be wrong not to take into account the scenario of Iraq still being ruled by Saddam and the implications entailed – a consideration made by Fraser Nelson.
And finally, it is quite tragic that we still cannot have a “moderate” debate about the war in Iraq in which both sides acknowledge that they got some things wrong and some things right. For people like myself that means to admit that, while, on balance, removing Saddam was the right thing to do, we got several things terribly wrong which led to chaos and bloodshed. It is important to learn the right lessons from Iraq, especially if we are going to advocate interventions in the future. At the same time, it is of critical importance not to overlearn the lessons of Iraq. Just because we did not get everything right, does not mean that intervention is always wrong and always causes more harm than good. Several examples, such as Sierra Leone and Kosovo, have proven the opposite. The Iraq war did not discredit the notion of liberal interventionism altogether and it would only be fair of those who opposed the war to acknowledge that we, too, had genuine and legitimate reasons to support the overthrow of a totalitarian, fascist regime.
Only when we start meeting in the middle and realise that Iraq was so much more than a clear cut case, a black and white, right and wrong decision, we can do the debate justice. Apparently, 10 years were not enough, as became clear during the event organised by Huffington Post’s Mehdi Hasan the other week. Maybe, we have to wait another 20 years and leave it to the historians to have an open-minded and intellectually rigorous discussion about the war. In the end, only the Iraqis themselves can determine whether the war was, after all, a success story. And that maybe is also a call too early to make.
My friend John Rentoul has an excellent blog post on Sir Richard Dearlove’s remarks on the post 9/11 period. In sharp contrast to Elizabeth Manningham-Buller’s view and in line with Tony Blair’s assessment of the threat, the former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service MI6 outlined why invading Iraq was the right thing to do.
Going into Iraq was al-Qa’ida’s mistake
He said that the surprising thing about the decade since 11 September 2001 was the “relative failure of political Islamism”. He said: “The al-Qa’ida narrative is losing its purchase on the Arab Street.”
In answer to David Davis, the Conservative MP, Dearlove said that the Iraq war accelerated the decline of al-Qa’ida, because it made a strategic error in trying to fight the US in a guerrilla war.
Once again, Dearlove proved himself to be a political supporter of Tony Blair’s post-9/11 world view, which helps explain why they were so close over Iraq: “The right thing to do was to go out and meet that threat militantly – despite the risk of radicalisation of young Muslim men.”
He was not in favour of trying to negotiate with any part of al-Qa’ida, as it is “entirely rejectionist”.
And he ”resented” a question from The Times about the Labour government and his Service’s “cosy” relationship with the Gaddafi regime:
It was not a cosy relationship, it was a pragmatic one. It was a political decision, having very significantly disarmed Libya, for the government to co-operate with Libya on Islamist terrorism. The whole relationship was one of serious calculation about where the overall balance of our national interests stood.
Its success in disarming Libya was “phenomenal”, he said.
My friend John Rentoul has said basically everything that needs to be said on Baroness Elizabeth Manningham-Buller’s – former DG of MI5 – latest hypocritical comment on the Iraq War. It is, however, worth contrasting the evidence given by the Baroness to Sir John Chilcot with what she said in a radio interview with The Times.
Yesterday, Manningham-Buller declared “Iraq did not present a threat to the UK”.
That is interesting because she told the Iraq Inquiry panel “we regarded the threat, the direct threat from Iraq as low” and “six months before I became Director General we felt we had a pretty good intelligence picture of a threat from Iraq within the UK and to British interests”. Although she admitted the threat was “limited and containable” it is misleading to suggest there was not one at all.
Another question which arises is how the Baroness can make such a categorical statement, as in the interview with The Times, when she reported to Chilcot that “in terms of Iraq, we were not directly involved in the decision-making to go to war in Iraq” on which her “service is obviously not an expert” and on which “we had very few people working”.
Elizabeth Manningham-Buller has added nothing new or significant to the ongoing Iraq debate. Her comments are yet another example of hindsight hypocrisy and re-write of history in an anti-Iraq war fashion.
Debating the anti-war lot is a fruitless, wearisome and thankless job. After painfully long discussions, they are usually as ignorant as ever before.
George W. Bush and Tony Blair are – still – war criminals who started an illegal war based on fabricated and manipulated evidence and Iraq, of course, did not possess WMDs at the time of the invasion.
So trying to convince them with hard facts is not quite an effective strategy. For instance, they confront you with the thought terminating cliché ‘war is always wrong’ which is on the IWGDRs banned list. This is why I decided a while ago to no longer debate the issue and merely provide an Iraq Fact Sheet.
There is, however, an alternative method to take on the anti-war narrative.
Instead of bombarding them with what you consider to be incontrovertible evidence, ask them questions.
It irritates them.
The ‘yes’ and ‘no’ rule applies in the first step.
- Start with finding out if they can explain to you the correlation between UNSC Resolutions 678, 687 and 1441.
- Then check if they have read the Hutton, Butler and parliamentary inquiries on Iraq.
- Finally, ask if they are familiar with the Blix, Kay and Duelfer reports and know what they say in particular about chemical and biological weapons.
Therefore, challenge them to elaborate on their answers.
As you will see, the large majority grossly fails to make a legal case against the war.
I have to warn you that they tend to find a way around the second question. Yes, they are aware that the inquiries cleared the government of any wrongdoing but those were, of course, whitewashes and prove and signify nothing.
The end gets interesting again as most of the antis have never heard of Kay and Duelfer and, although familiar with Blix, usually have no clue of what he actually said in his reports on chemical and biological weapons.
So you end up in a situation where the large majority of the know-alls cannot explain why – on their planet - Bush and Blair are war criminals and the invasion illegal, what exactly proves the government guilty of fabricating and manipulating evidence and why Saddam was in no possession of WMDs at the time of the invasion.
The question which consequently arises is if those who cannot adequately explain some of the key aspects of the Iraq war are in a position to accuse the American and British governments of very serious crimes (Question To Which The Answer Is No Special)?
I don’t claim this little quiz changes anyone’s mind but it proves yet again that most of those who opposed the invasion failed to seriously engage with the given evidence at the time and instead fell for the anti-war propaganda of the media and extreme-left.