Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Iraq Enquiry

Those who could see him in person thought he looked frightened. Beads of sweat on his upper lip, which themselves looked bluish. His hands shook as he poured himself a glass of water. Outside the hall demonstrators from the Socialist Workers Party were calling him B-LIAR and accusing him of murdering hundreds of thousands. Inside and behind him sat the fathers and mothers of soldiers killed in Iraq.

His interlocutors were gentlemanly, well spoken and thoughtful and he was soon in his stride. We saw what we had been missing for the past three years. Tony Blair brought back his polite sincerity, his articulateness, his self-confidence, his ability to perform center-stage. What a contrast with Gordon Brown and even with BO.

Analyze what he said and you may pick holes in it, but his performance was masterly.

Here is my assessment of his arguments.

Did he conduct an illegal war?

Difficult to decide; what constitutes a legal war? The multilateral force that expelled Iraq from Kuwait was widely seen as a legal war; sovereign territory had been invaded by a dictator with an appalling human rights record. But the human rights record of the Kuwaitis was not exemplary and the very existence of the state of Kuwait was a consequence of artificial borders drawn up by a waning imperial state with oil on its mind. The restoration of the status quo ante perhaps owed more to the worry about letting even more oil fall into the hands of a more unpleasant regime.

But if that war was held to be legal then the peace that followed was only a conditional peace based on Saddam's agreement and compliance with many restrictions. These included no-fly zones in the north and south, a willingness to forgo weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, abandonment of the WMD programme and compliance with inspectors to verify this and sanctions to prevent the acquisition of material to rebuild MWD.

Saddam was never compliant with these sanctions, indeed an industry had developed in circumventing them, which was extremely profitable for certain industries in France, Germany and Russia. Nevertheless the United Nations passed yet another resolution, 1441, which gave him one last chance to comply immediately and completely.

Saddam did not comply. Everybody believed he still had weapons of mass destruction. Indeed even when the war discovered that he had no such weapons, the post war Iraq enquiry found that he had both the blueprints for and intention of building such weapons once the shackles were off.

Many people in this country thought that yet another UN resolution was necessary to take up arms again. I was not one of them. For me the correct procedure would have been to march to Baghdad at the end of the first Gulf War. I only reluctantly accepted the policy of containment then. I felt that had Mrs Thatcher not fallen then Bush 1 would have had his arm twisted to finish Saddam there and then. I think history has proved me right. In fact, another UN resolution was not forthcoming; it was opposed by those nations making money out of sanctions busting.

The legality of wars is decided by the victors, by and large. Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone could all be considered illegal by some criteria. Two of these were to defend Muslims against Christians.

The second question was why Iraq; why 2003?

There were plenty of other dictators to take down, and Saddam had been strutting his defiance for more than 10 years. Blair's reason was that 9/11 changed thinking. Suddenly there were terrorists with no demands; just a desire to kill as many 'infidels' as they could. 3000 in New York could be 300,000 if they could get hold of a nuclear device. Where could they get one? Iran, North Korea, Libya, Iraq - all countries with a weapons program and led by dangerous men. Containing Saddam seemed not to be an option to be comfortable with any more. Zimababwe might be just as evil, but not such a threat. Just imagine Iraq in 2010 with Saddam still in power and a Carter-like figure leading the Western World.

Was the whole story presented in a fair way to the British electorate?

Many say not. With the benefit of hindsight, there being no WMD, one might think so. Perhaps the document encouraging us to war had been 'sexed up'. I must say, that I did not find the 45 minute warning prominent when I read it, though the media seized on it. I presumed it referred to battlefield weapons and was concerned at the prospect of our soldiers having to where chemical protection suits in that heat. In fact it was unnecessary. Saddam's pomp was all show. But then, I was not one of those who needed convincing.

What about the aftermath? Surely the planning was deficient.

Blair's defence was that they never anticipated that AQ and Iran would exploit the war with infiltration afterwards. If that is so, someone was being extremely naive. The failure in my mind was not in going to war nor in the way the war was conducted, but in the preparation for the peace afterwards.

Most of the deaths occurred afterwards. Prime responsibility lies with the fundamentalist Muslims of AQ and mad Mullahs of Iran, but Bush and Blair cannot escape responsibility for poor planning of the post war circumstances.

The Chilcot enquiry did not lay a glove on Blair, but in my view he was not held sufficiently accountable for the aftermath of the war.


Burke said...

What's a "legal war"? Only wars sanctioned by the UN? Not in my world.

The UN is not a government, certainly not mine. It's composed mostly of dictators.

Hussein was a monster, and his regime had no right to exist. Anyone had the moral right to take him out.

When the time comes that Westerners find themselves threatened and/or attacked by nukes for Iran, we should be hanging the Leftists who are little more than a Fifth Column for them here now.

Blair had a lot of guts, in my opinion. History will treat him and Bush 2 well for their actions against Hussein.

My main regret is that we did not use the political capital we had following 9/11 to go after the Iranians as well as Hussein.

Anonymous said...

The Iraq war will cost the U.S. $3 trillion dollars in the end and accomplished very little as the killings continue today. As recent history is exaimed more closely the whole WMD fear mongering was made up and known to be false by Bush/Cheney. This was an unnecessary oil war gone awry promoted by two Big Oil men- Bush Cheney and backed by their pet poodle Blair. Very soon the coalition of the coerced jumped ship when they realized what it was all about. Estimates vary but it looks like 600k Iraqis lost their lives in the sectarian civil war set off by Bush's shock & awe invasion and occupation plus another 2.5 million refugees were spawned. A whole generation of Iraqi children lost their educational opportunities. Saddam was a weak dictator and a treat to no one but his people. He was contained and could have been over thrown with much less collateral damage but that would not have guaranteed the oil; it may still not be guaranteed. Bush paid for this war which enriched 10s of thousands of corrupt contractors by giving tax breaks to the wealthy and putting it on a national credit card during GOOD times. Terry you are a good doctor but a naive political student. Maybe you are one of those conservatives who still thinks the Charge of the Light Brigade was noble.

Terry Hamblin said...

The two comments show how polarizing the Iraq war was. If it was about oil, how come the oil contracts in Iraq have gone mostly to China and France with the USA fifth in line?

Saddam caused a million deaths in the war against Iran and used WMD against Iran and the Kurds. Although it turned out that there were no retained WMD, everybody thought that he did have them, including the French and the Russians and his own generals. Post-war investigation demonstrated that he had the plans and intention of reinstating his weapons program when the heat was off. The Duelfer report (2004)of the Iraq Survey Group soncluded, "Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability, after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized. Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability—in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks—but he intended to focus on ballistic missile and tactical chemical warfare (CW) capabilities."

Containment was not working. Sanctions were being busted by Russian, French, German and Chinese companies. Liberal propaganda was sapping the will of the UN. So-called smart sanctions had been introduced, but in order to get round the Russian veto, effecctive monitoring had had to be abandoned. in January 2003 Hans Blix reported, "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance — not even today — of the disarmament, which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace."

The error was in not making effective plans for the post-war reconstruction. Rumsfeld's, "We don't do nation-building" was silly and naive. It was necessary not to allow AQ and Iran not to fill the vaccuum.

The 600k estimate is blatently wrong. No serious commentator accepts it, but even 100k is terrible and mainly due to stupid American decisions (Paul Bremer is certainly culpable) to disband the Iraqi army and former members of the Baath party. Paton refused to obey an order not to employ former Nazis. In Germany and Japan, America did do nation building and did it very well.

Anonymous said...

Terry, a couple of rejoinders:

Nobody knows the final outcomes of who will get the best oil contracts because much of it is secret and unsettled. Certainly U.S. oil companies have signed some controversial deals with the Kurds which are not transparent. Bush/Cheney thought we would be greeted with flowers as liberators from an unpopular dictator and the war would be over in 6 months and the U.S. would have an oil friendly puppet democracy in place. Iraq is considered the biggest strategic miscalculation in U.S. history. The whole fear-mongering WMD thing was made up of whole cloth; that is well documented. Bush was in a rush to war (before inspectors had even finished) because he needed to use the public anger over the Saudi AQ 911 attack before it cooled. He also propagandized that Saddam and AQ were allies while in fact they were mortal enemies.
When Saddam initiated his war against Iran, the U.S. was right there selling him weapons and providing critical satellite resonance for his war effort. Rumsfield was in Baghdad meeting with Saddam inking the deals. U.S. Big Oil was still smarting from being kicked out of Iran after their puppet Shaw was disposed.

How many people have met untimely deaths in the last 9 years in Iraq is anybody’s guess but you can be sure Bush and the U.S. military want those numbers suppressed. Nobody questions the number of refugees.

Terry Hamblin said...

My article was prompted by the grilling of Tony Blair by the Chilcot enquiry. No-one in the UK ever suggested a link between AQ and Saddam.

I agree that the Neo-Cons were culpably naive about the aftermath of the war, but absolutely nobody believed that Saddam had no WMD before the war. I agree that the intelligence was unsound - yellowcake from Niger. I think the rush to war was more about the heat and the prospect of fighting in chemical-protection suits.

I don't think Blair can be tarnished with anything during the Iran/Iraq conflict. The feeling in the UK at the time was a plague on both your houses.

Although the aftermath was indeed terrible it doesn't do to deny how horrible it was when Saddam was in control. Blair had persuaded Clinton to get involved in the Balkans and had successfully intervened in Sierra Leone. I think he felt he had a mission to rid the world of murderous dictators.