Monday, August 01, 2011

How should we regard Iraq now?

From press leaks it sounds as though the Chilcot Enquiry is going to blame Tony Blair for the Iraq war. Now that the dust has settled, where now do I stand on it?

I think it has to be examined in context. First, there was the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. You could hardly find anyone to support Saddam Hussain on that. An enormous coalition was assembled (even including Somalia) to drive Iraq back. As it happened the Americans could easily have done it themselves with one hand tied behind their backs, but Saddam had built up a reputation with his war against Iran and from his attacks on his own people with gas it was thought that he might well have bacterial and nuclear weapons as well. A lot of this was of Saddam's own doing; his propaganda machine had talked this possibility up.

At the end of the 1st Iraq war it became embarrassing. The 'invincible Revolutionary Guard' were being killed like fish in a barrel on the road from Basra to Baghdad. America got a very powerful armistice: no-fly zones in the north and south, destruction of weapons of mass destruction including the SCUD rockets and any nuclear, microbiological and chemical plans and facilities, grounding of the Iraqi air force, no oil sales (though this was later modified to allow the selling of oil for food and humanitarian relief).

In the years after the 1st Gulf War, Saddam continually broke the terms of the armistice and was repeatedly given last warnings by the UN. British and American jets patrolling the no-fly zones were 'lit-up' by radar; a sign of an impending SAM missile attack; weapons inspectors were denied access; when they were allowed in they were impeded and interfered with; the oil embargo was not obeyed - even relatives of UN high officials were implicated in the cheating, but the chief cheats were those very nations that later would oppose a new UN resolution - China, Russia, France and Germany.

The Saddam propaganda machine was in full flow. Not only was it claiming (for the benefit of potential enemies) that Iraq still had WOMD, but it was also complaining about sick and hungry children, even when Saddam was using humanitarian oil money to build palaces.

Although no country likes to interfere in the internal affairs of another country - and China and Russia are very big on this - Tony Blair could point to a couple of great successes in this respect; the invasion of Sierra Leone (where the decision had been made by a local commander on the ground) and Kosovo (as opposed to Bosnia) where Blair had railroaded Clinton into the decision. America had at that time moved into Afghanistan with worldwide support after 9/11. Indeed it was generally thought that the justification was at least as great as Pearl Harbor.

So it was easy to see why the US and UK had lost patience with Saddam which I think was the reason that the Iraq war started. One thing I strongly disagreed with in the American position was the suggestion that Saddam had anything to do with Osama bin Laden. I always thought that was wishful thinking.

So what went wrong in Iraq? I think it is the same thing that is going wrong in Afghanistan and indeed in Libya. You can't build a nation in 10 years. The greatest success in nation building by an occupying power has been the rebuilding of Germany after WW11, But Germany was a western democracy before Hitler and could become one again. The most alien state to be rebuilt was Japan but the factor most important for success was the preservation of the emperor. Rebuilding the Mogul empire in India has had partial success, but that took the Raj hundreds of years and it is incomplete. The Ottoman empire is still weird and untrainable and the same is largely true for the Russian empire.

I just don't think you can transform a country in a few years. Perhaps Donald Rumsfeld was right. Perhaps the correct strategy should have been get in and get out and let them sort themselves out after that.

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