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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Anyways, browsing through the Times I bumped into this piece by Martin Samuel (who he, btw?). I think it serves as a good example of what about the Iraq policy wasn’t wrong and why the “anti-war” crowd is missing some quite important points in their critiques of Blair. It is rather untypical fare for the Times, which much of it taken up with irrelevant arguments and typical anti-war fare, for example

this country is run by liars who have misguidedly allied it to bullies, thieves and vicious thugs

Most of the article falls into this type of arguing and I won’t bother stating the case against most of these points; it’s been done before too often, and if you agree with the writer you will agree even more, and if you don’t, this isn’t going to convince anybody.
However, there are some weightier points being raised, that I feel inclined to rebut. To start off with Samuel writes:

As it stands, there is a very real danger that we will re-elect a prime minister who has overseen the most fundamental change in foreign policy since the dissolution of the Empire, without forcing a proper debate of his beliefs. Wherever one stands on the subject of the war, this is unhealthy.

Except of course that wasn’t the case at all. Britain’s decision to go into Iraq alongside the US was entirely consistent with British grand strategy in the post-1945 era. Sure there is a level of debate to be had about whether the details of the Iraq case merited action, but the decision rested within Britain’s wider strategic outlook, whether you agree with that outlook or not. As Alister Miskimmon has argued conclusively (p.298/299):

The principles underlining the use of the armed forces have not dramatically changed since Labor took power in 1997. …
The UK remains a highly engaged international actor, whose colonial past, combined with its multilateral links, give it a global reach and relative influence that few states can match. Shifts in the European security environment since the end of the Cold War, and the insecurity that characterizes the post-September 11,2001,world have challenged the UK ’s ability to adapt effectively to new foreign policy problems. In particular,the balance that the UK has sought to strike concerning Atlanticist and Europeanist visions of security policy has come under increasing strain. Due to the current upheavals in international order,the UK has not sought radical upheaval of its foreign and security policy. Despite Blair ’s efforts to shape the development of European military capabilities to reinforce transatlantic burden sharing,events have consistently forced Blair ’s foreign policy to be largely reactive in scope. Thus, Blair has not initiated substantial change in UK strategic culture,preferring to try and mainain the UK ’s current position within the transatlantic community.

On the other perhaps there’s something by this Martin Samuel fellow to consider more seriously:

But Iraq is item one, whatever your stance. If you believe the West is truly under threat and is justified in acting against rogue leaders and nations, you should express that in support for the Government.

Please don’t. Another Labour term with power transferred to Gordon Brown by 2007 at the latest, may well destroy Britain’s military infrastructure for such a strategy (see Keegan on this). If you really think this is the number one issue and you are a hawk, the Conservatives still remain the least-worst option; albeit a fairly rotten option too, all things considered.
Ok, but perhaps he is onto something here:

At last count, on April 12, coalition troop deaths stood at 1,723, a toll rising daily, largely unreported … And if we treat our own casualties so disdainfully, what about the civilian lives lost? Is this not what we should be discussing? The rebuilding of Iraq is so chaotically managed that about £4.8 billion of Iraqi oil funds under coalition management are missing.

So, the argument is that it is being run badly? Well, I couldn’t agree more with that.
I also think there ought to be some debate about holding the relevant people to account for several mistakes, including
-the failure to plan for the fact that Saddam Hussein’s netwar-forces (the Fedayeen Saddam, for example), would continue fighting after the collapse of Iraq’s regular forces,
-the apparent ignorance of the fact that in a country governed by a police state there was going to be a good degree of chaos when that police state was in its entirety –and wholly rightfully- dismantled overnight,
-the massive intelligence failure on wmd-programmes, but not Iraq’s. I’m thinking about the failures in regards to Lybia, Iran, North Korea and the nuke smuggling ring in Pakistan. But no one seems to care about that. Intelligence on Iraq’s wmd was ambiguous and this ambiguity was confirmed by post-invasion searches, but intel on these other points was catastrophically inept. These are the real failings we ought to have a look at, because the seeds to future problems can be found in them, not in the wrongful political use of intelligence by Blair, which simply confirm that Blair is not always entirely straight with the facts, hardly something novel only revealed in regards to Iraq.

More points could be added, but those are the issue that a real look at the Iraq question should be addressing, but all opposition parties are skirting to issue either by silence or silly talk about how we ought to outsource decisions on these matters to the UN security council.

It is quite possible that in the UK these issues have been kept under wraps by hawks who didn’t want these issues interfering with the 2004 US election, just as right now in the US the questions are being relegated to a later stage to avoid embarrassment for Tony Blair in his bid for re-election.
However, that is what they must remain: delayed. After May 5th, whoever wins, there has got to be some serious questioning about the failures of British (and US) Iraq policies.

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