Thursday, October 20, 2005

Thirty One Months in the Desert

It is, I think, accepted that the invasion of Iraq was based on a lie. Some people might argue that this lie was unintentional but it's hard to see how anyone could argue that it wasn't a lie. Saddam did not have the WMD stockpiles we were told he had. Even the fact that it the lie was unintentional is looking increasingly hard to justify. The smoking gun of a mushroom cloud? Saddam buying uranium from Niger? That claim was based on a deception and not a very good one either. The Downing Street memo (undisputedly not a forged document) has confirmed the UK goverment understood that "intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy" (in July 2002). And, as more details emerge regarding the US administration's involvement in the Valerie Plame affair, it's increasing clear that the public was intentionally misled by the power that be. The coalition had no intention of allowing the narrative of Saddam'd WMD to be disrupted by something as trivial as the facts.

And then there's the matter of the incompetancy of the occupation. Before the war many people like myself said that the coalition didn't have a clue as to what they'd do once they'd invaded Iraq. "Where's the plan for the occupation? Do you understand how difficult it's going to be, how easily things could decend into violence?" we asked. "Yes, it's all under control", we were told. "Iraq is going to be a beacon of democracy and stability in the Middle East, a shining example to every other country in the region." And anti-war supporters all over the world said "I though it was us peacenik lefties who were supposed to be the naive ones". These days, I doubt anyone other than the most loyal of stooges is going to argue that we were wrong and the war supporters were right. There was no plan. The coalition made it up as they went along and now ordinary Iraqis are paying the price with their lives.

In some ways all of that is old news. Certainly those who've been shown to be liars and incompetants would rather we all moved on from their lies and incompetance. "The proect in Iraq is vital to the security of the region and the wider world and we should concentrate our energies on making sure we succeed in our efforts" they argue. In a way they are right. People like myself, those who were opposed to the invasion, have something in common with the liars; we all want Iraq to become a secure and peaceful country now. The liars know this and they'd very much like to exploit it in order to save their own worthless hides. Unfortunately for them, it's not going to wash. People like myself will never tire of reminding everyone of the lies that were told and certainly not while the culprits have not been held to account. They want us to move on and work together to make Iraq a safer place? Easy, take responsibility for the lies, resign, and we'll all throw our support behind the new, hopefully more honest leaders as they work to sort out the problems caused by the lies and blunders of their predecesors.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon. Accountability is a dirty word in politics in the 21st Century. In a way this leaves people like me in a contradictory position. I desperately want Iraq to become stable but if it does there is even less chance that those who led us into this mess will be held to account for their actions. It's an odd position but I always try to resist the urge to look for the worst in the news from Iraq. Much of what I write concerning Iraq is very bleak but I'd argue that that's simply because the situation actually is very bleak. I believe that the coalition strategy is a disaster and that we need to seriously reconsider our whole approach to the situation.

None of this means I don't accept that Saddam was a brutal murderous dictator and that Iraq is better off without him. But that wasn't why we invaded, at least not officially. If it had been, I might still have disagreed with the invasion (or perhaps not if I'd thought the coalition actually knew what it was going to do afterwards) but I couldn't have called Blair and Bush liars. That's significant, especially when it comes to matters of life and death. If the UK parliament had voted for war knowing that the intelligence was "sporadic and patchy" and that the main aim of the invasion was regime change then my criticisms of the war would be far less strenuous. But parliament was misled, as were the public. Whether we're following a Realist foreign policy or not, misleading parliament in this way (in order to justify an aggressive war against a country which posed no real risk to the national security of UK remember) is simply inexcusable.

And are we really offering Iraqis something better? I don't know. At the moment the country is on a knife edge. There's a significant chance that things are going to get a whole lot worse if, as many people predict, the country fractures into three independent regions. I really hope it doesn't play out that way.

This was initially going to be an introduction to some thoughts on the constitutional referendum but it seems to have developed a life of its own. I think I'll write those thoughts in a seperate post.

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