13 March 2010

Lessons of the Iraq Enquiry

By Lee Marsden

It is now seven long years since George Bush and Tony Blair launched their war for regime change in Iraq under the guise of searching for non existent weapons of mass destruction. This anniversary coincides with the second parliamentary elections in Iraq. Meanwhile in the UK, the Iraq Enquiry trundles on. It is worth reminding ourselves of the purpose of the enquiry which was to 'identify lessons that can be learned from the Iraq conflict. Already it is becoming clear what those lessons are for the Labour party and incoming governments.

When called to account for dubious foreign policy decisions:
  1. Stick to your story. Regardless of evidence to the contrary never admit that the decision to go to war was based on anything other than the best of intentions. Yes, of course they believed there were weapons of mass destruction and were seriously concerned about Saddam Hussein's human rights record. Don't admit that the real reason for sending troops into battle was to be seen as America's closest ally (sorry Israel) and that UK foreign policy is now subordinate to this strategy.

  2. Appoint a deferential committee of establishment figures. Chilcott Enquiry members are ideal, handpicked for the occasion, guaranteed to politely ask the easy questions and not forensically examine and challenge the evidence presented. They are much too deferential and polite to cause a fuss and after all, if you have helped write Tony Blair's major foreign policy speech setting out his interventionist instincts, as Professor Freedman did, then you don’t want to rock the boat too much.

  3. Ignore public opinion. Public opinion counts for very little if you simply ignore it. What does it matter if opinion polls show overwhelming opposition to troop deployment? Why should one and a half million people marching against war matter, when they can simply be dismissed as well meaning but ignorant dupes? Ignore mass demonstrations and those naive enough to believe that governments can be persuaded to change policy become disillusioned and vow never to march again. The anti war millions may win the moral high ground but policy remains unchanged and governments can go onto win elections.

  4. Claim victory. Ignore the death count. In fact, don't count the dead. Probably only around three thousand people will die violent deaths in Iraq this year, the lowest figure since the invasion. Democratic elections have taken place, Iraq hasn't disintegrated into civil war and British troops have left having successfully contributed to this happy state of affairs. Do not mention that the final months in Basra were spent ignominiously under fire, hunkered down at the airport, confined to barracks, as the Americans and Iraqi army dealt with the Mahdi army. British troops were unable to deal with the problem because their presence was the problem.

  5. Insist that the ends justify the means. Even if there were no weapons of mass destruction, at least Iraq is a better place than it was under Saddam Hussein as John Chilcott has helpfully reminded Brown and Blair. Don't ask 'better for whom'? Better for the families of over one hundred thousand who will never see their loved ones again? Better for the hundreds of thousands who have been maimed? Better for the two million refugees who had to flee the country? Better for millions of internally displaced Iraqis? Better for thousands of children born with severe birth defects as a result of the detritus of war? Perhaps it is better not to mention that for many Iraqis the war will never be a price worth paying.
Fortunately, for all those who opposed the Iraq war the forthcoming election provides an opportunity to use the ballot box to give those who took us into the Iraq war a very different lesson.

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