Tuesday, December 13, 2005

In Pursuit of Peace and Pillocks

I want Iraq to become a stable and peaceful country. Everyone reading this could, I'm sure, honestly say the same. No matter whether we supported or opposed the invasion, none of us wants the violence in Iraq to continue or increase. The people of Iraq have suffered a very great deal for a very long time* and no sensible person would wish them further hardships. So, despite the fact that I opposed the invasion, I desperately want it to succeed now that it has happened. It's hard to see how any other attitude could be justified. (I suppose it could be argued that failure would make future pre-emptive wars less likely and that this might make the world a safer place for future generations. To me, this means being prepared to sacrifice the safety of the population of an entire country based on the possibility that this might be of future benefit to the world and I'm not prepared to accept that for reasons I won't bore you with here.)

The difficulty is that my argument sounds very similar to the sort of thing Blair tends to say when pressed about Iraq. This is because Blair also knows that "it's hard to see how any other attitude could be justified". Politically, the man isn't the halfbrain he so clearly is when it comes to foreign policy. When he says we should "draw a line" under disagreements about his decision to remove weapons of mass destruction Saddam and concentrate on the future of Iraq there's a sense in which I actually agree with him. Yuck. At the same time, there's no way I can draw a line under the way his government has behaved with regard to Iraq, WMD, and, in particular, the spectacularly awful planning and conduct of the occupation. Horrendous mistakes were made and I won't ever draw a line under that until those responsible have been held to account. (Even those who supported the invasion would for the most part I suspect, agree that many very serious mistakes have been made by the coalition in Iraq.)

This isn't an easy circle to square as very many people who opposed the invasion will no doubt attest. How can we possibly support the Iraq project when the people who've made so many catastrophic errors are still the one's in charge? The easy solution is for Blair and Bush to resign. For me, there's more than enough evidence to justify this. To chose just one issue, President Bush's admission that for two and a half years the US military pursued a counter-insurgency strategy that had been abandoned as wholly ineffective in 1969 is utterly inexcusable**. That is an absolutely shameful admission and the fact that it hasn't caused an enormous outcry is something of a mystery to me.

The reality is that, at least in the short term, neither Bush nor Blair shows any sign of going anywhere. Some sort of artificial division, a line in the sand in fact, really does need to be drawn to try to create a cohesive position in the face of this situation. This is my attempt to articulate my version. It comes in two parts and borders dangerously close to doublethink in places.

Part One - In Pursuit of the Pillocks
Whatever your thoughts on the wisdom of the invasion, it can't really be denied that it has been handled extremely badly. From the overstatement of evidence of WMD, to the frankly manufactured evidence of connections between Saddam and Osama, the stated reasons for the invasion were, in the end, untruthful. The manipulative way in which the coalition justified the invasion did great damage to US and UK credibility in the Muslim world and handed an enormously powerful recruiting tool to extremists. This could easily have been avoided by the simple expedient of using the currently popular reason for the invasion from the beginning. Instead, their main justification for the war was based on intelligence they knew to be far less conclusive than they claimed and they got found out when their "sincerely held" beliefs turned out to be sincerely wrong. It's no wonder many Muslims think their intentions were dishonest; I do to. The people responsible for this are pillocks and should be held to account. This is a problem entirely of their own making.

Then there's the occupation. Very few people, I think, are going to argue that the occupation has been handled well. It has been a litany of mistakes from the very beginning. Post-war planning "was as inept and incompetent as perhaps any planning anyone has ever done" according Colonel Wilkerson (Cloin Powell's chief of staff in 2003). From Jay Garner, to that extraordinary Top Gun moment in May 2003, to Abu Ghraib, to more than two years of futile "search and destroy" missions... the list of mistakes is a very long one indeed. The people responsible for this are pillocks and should be held to account. These errors are entirely of their own making. The knowledge required to avoid making these mistakes was (and still is) freely available from any decent university International Relations department.

The chances of Iraq sucessfully achieving stability have been seriously damaged by the flawed justification for the invasion, the almost total lack of post-war planning and the sheer incompetance of the occupation. What was always going to be very difficult has been made more difficult still. Pillocks. Whatever happens in Iraq from here on in, Bush and Blair must be held to account for these inexcusable errors of judgement. Until that happens, I, and I'm sure huge numbers of others who feel the same way, will never tire of highlighting these issues.

Part Two - In Pursuit of Peace
Here's where the line must be drawn. Despite everything in part one, I cannot accept that anyone should want Iraq to continue on it's current violent and unstable path. I want the situation to improve for the people of Iraq. I want this in spite of the fact that it would make it more difficult to hold Bush and Blair to account. I want it in spite of the fact that people would use it to argue that opposition to the war was wrong and probably also use it to point and laugh at people like myself who opposed the invasion***. I don't care. In the end, these are trivialities compared to the problems Iraqis would face if their country falls apart. Such a situation would also undoubtedly destabilise the wider middle east and have serious repercussions for decades to come. I don't think anyone wants that to happen (even though it would make it more likely that Bush and Blair will be brought to book).

That's why I highlighted the results of the survey which showed that Iraqis continue to be optimistic about the future of their country in surprisingly large numbers. It's also why I consider the recent announcement of the adoption of a "clear and hold" counter-insurgency strategy a positive step (extraordinarily inexcusably late but there's still a slim chance that it might not be too late). I'm desperate for good news from Iraq.

And there are some positive signs from the new survey of attitudes in Iraq. (The survey was carried out by Oxford Research International and the results are probably as accurate as its possible to get in Iraq at the moment). Quality of life is improving in some areas and Iraqis remain optimistic about the future of the country. Unfortunately, the survey also contains some uncomfortable bad news****. I think Paul Reynolds provides a balanced analysis of the results. The problem, as with most insurgencies, is that a minority view can and will cause a majority of the problems. The survey doesn't really reflect that and, despite the optimism, the insurgency shows no signs of going away.

The next big test will be the elections and the subsequent attempts to reach agreement on the constitution (that's the constitution Bush confidently declared would be agreed in August 2005, you'll remember). This process was declared a success when the parties agreed to disagree on many issues until after the December elections (ignoring Bush's arbitrary timetable was almost certainly the most sensible course of action given the circumstances). The contentious aspects of the constitution have still to be decided and that's going to be the most crucial issue in the coming weeks and months. Sadly, I still can't see how agreement can be reached on these issues any more than I did in August. If an acceptable agreement can be reached, one which satisfies all parties, it will, I think, have a genuinely positive affect on the stability of the country. If no agreement is reached (or perhaps worse, an agreement is imposed which only has the support of two of the three main groups), instability is likely to continue unabated or even increase.

That is, I think, the situation in Iraq at the moment. US and UK troops will almost certainly start pulling out in significant numbers next year (it's mid-term election year in the US don't you know). Perhaps strangely, having opposed sending them their in the first place, I find myself troubled by this possibility. If they are leaving a stable country with a bright future, then I'll support the decision. If, on the other hand, they're abandoning an unstable country with an extremely uncertain future, as currently seems likely, then I will not. The continued presence of US and UK troops has undoubtedly fuelled the insurgency and at one time I thought it best that they set a timetable to leave. Having stayed for nearly three years, and having pursued a dangerously counter-productive strategy for much of that stay, the situation has developed to the extent that such a withdrawal may well leave behind an even more dangerous situation than that which currently exists.

Whether we like it or not, this war was conducted in our name. We've broken the pottery. We cannot leave without paying. And whatever happens, Bush and Blair, the men ultimately responsible for breaking the pottery in such a reckless and haphazard manner, should be out on their sorry arses.

*A significant part of that suffering has been caused by the actions of Western governments. This starts with the colonial meddling which created it, and includes Western support for Saddam during the Iraq-Iraq war, and, of course, the US-UK sponsored sanctions of the 1990's which killed so many people. The people of Iraq have every reason to resent any Western interference in their country.

** Because I studied this, I can't decide if it's immediately obvious why a "search and destroy" strategy is enormously different to a "clear and hold" strategy. This is not a minor alteration in military tactics but a very major change indeed. If anyone wants me to attempt to explain why it's so significant, I'll certainly give it a go.

*** I can't remember where I first read this but my opposition to the war was opposition to "this war now". It was always going to be a mess, in my opinion, because the people who started it didn't understand the situation they'd be creating in Iraq. I would not have objected to a decent plan to remove Saddam and promote democracy in Iraq. This was not it.

**** For example, this is from page 3 (pdf):
Q6 - From today’s perspective and all things considered, was it absolutely right,
somewhat right, somewhat wrong or absolutely wrong that US-led coalition forces
invaded Iraq in Spring 2003?
  • Absolutely right - 18.6%
  • Somewhat right - 27.6%
  • Somewhat wrong - 17.2%
  • Absolutely wrong - 33.1%
  • Difficult to say - 3.5%
That compares to 12.9% for "somewhat wrong" and 26.2% for "absolutely wrong" in 2004. Support for the invasion is slipping and that's a serious worry. The implication is that as the occupation progresses, it causes more people to think they'd have been better to stick with Saddam.

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