July 7, 2016 9 Comments
If you missed it, yesterday morning the British published a report on the Iraq War. It’s two and a half million words, took thirteen years to prepare, and it says very little we didn’t know thirteen years ago. Chalcedon of at Jess’ site has written about it, better than I can. And yes, I believe it applies almost word for word to the United States, as well.
So, we know now what most of us thought we knew, which is that the Iraq war was undertaken because America wanted it and because Tony Blair wanted to stay in with America; not much to surprise us there. Victory has many fathers, and had things gone well, then many would have been claiming the credit; given that it did not, defeat, or at least this level of failure, ensured the opposite – that no one would claim paternity.
I began my academic career by studying the very first Anglo-American occupation – Operation ‘Torch’, the invasion of French North Africa in November 1942. I came to the conclusion that it was ineptly planned in terms of the follow through because no one on either side had bothered to think about the politics of the aftermath of a successful invasion. So, when it transpired that one of the Vichy leaders, Admiral Darlan, was in Algiers, the Americans cut a deal with him and then wondered why the press in America and Britain, and the Soviets, all complained that they were dealing with a Nazi collaborator. The same thing was true of planning for the 1944 D day invasion, when, again, the Allies planned to govern France and found that the French wanted to govern themselves- and went ahead and did so. Much the same failures marked the Iraq invasion. Over-sanguine assumptions about how an invasion would be received, and over-optimistic calculations about how the invaded territories would be governed. So, whatever Chilcot implies, there is nothing new about the failures of Bush and Blair here. Churchill and Roosevelt were very fortunate no one conducted an 8 year inquiry into their conduct of those operations; none would have escaped whipping.
Blair did nothing that most post-war Prime Ministers have not done – he decided that at all costs Britain must keep step with America; Churchill started that line, Macmillan restored it after Eden broke it at Suez, and Thatcher and Blair perfected it. Those who think Britain should have an independent foreign policy, but who also distrust the EU, have a duty to explain just how such a foreign policy could be run in the absence of cooperation with the USA.
And I’ll add just a smidgen from today’s
The parallels between the reaction to Chilcot and Brexit ought to worry us. In spite of 2.6 million words which show that Blair believed the intelligence he was given, those who had already decided he was lying maintain it is so. Evidence? Experts? They don’t need those things, they have feelings, they are that most coveted of modern phenomena – ‘victims’. Chilcot thinks Blair should have challenged the Intelligence reports, but omits to specify on what grounds? Imagine for a moment that, as the Intelligence said, Saddam still had WMDs (he had had them, he had lied about having them, and he had used them in the past) and Blair had refused to believe it – and Saddam used them. Can you imagine what Blair’s critics would have said about his hubris in ignoring what every expert had warned him about? So, the experts were wrong? That happens sometimes, experts are just that, people with experience using their best judgment; they are not the Pope pronouncing on matters of faith and morals.
That happens sometimes (far too often actually), the experts were wrong. In fact, they’ve been wrong so often, that experts are in disrepute. Yes, to an extent with me as well. But the real problem with Iraq, was just as Chalcedon states above, like Torch, we had no realistic plan for victory, we started bringing troops home, and left a vacuum, and terrorism loves a vacuum. Eventually, Bush listened to some experts on the ground, and went with the surge, and we had it won, pretty much. All we really had to do at that point is stay on the ground, and keep watch, it was safer than being a cop in Chicago.
Then we bugged out because Obama didn’t have the stomach to continue the skeer. Now we have a horrendous mess, that has killed more Iraqis than Saddam and the US together. That’s why you must finish the mission. It’s also a testament to the futility of nation building, not to mention mission creep. Napoleon once said you can do anything with bayonets, except sit on them. He should have taken his own advice, he might not have ended up on St. Helena.
But he didn’t, and neither did the British, nor did we, and so now, as it has been for most of history, the Middle East is a dog’s breakfast, and the chaos is spreading into our homes as well. Quite a legacy.