Yesterday was a rather, unusually, sunny day in my native Edinburgh, and I was aptly ray-bathing in my garden on my sun lounger, re-reading one of my all time favourite books, the Unbearable Lightness of Being, when my attention was peaked by a radio debate on, the increasingly infamous, Tony Blair. The debate was the usual sort of smug dismissal of the ex-Prime Minister as a “warmongering, neocon,” and his supporters as “followers of a war criminal.” It even made the seemingly ubiquitous mistake that it was Bush who was responsible for initiating US interest and US reactions to Iraq, when any genuine expert of the politics of interventionism would know that, agree or disagree with the decision for the Iraq war, it was President Clinton’s Democratic Party that presented the evidence that there was links between Al-Quaeda and Saddam, and also began militar day action against the Ba’athist regime. So in many ways, it was a waste of valuable and precious oxygen and was absolutely nothing particularly new, innovative or groundbreaking in terms of argument from Blair’s opposition.
But then something did really peak my attention, when discussing Blair’s legacy regarding Iraq, one commentator said something highly unique: that the “intervention in Iraq” was something that was “highly courageous”, obviously harking back to scenes of Yes Prime Minister, with Jim Hacker being told by Sir Humphrey that he would be making a “courageous decision”.
I initially commenced roaring with laughter, mainly at the amazingly large number of thought numbing clichés used in the debate and the completely black and white situation in Iraq that the debate painted. Yet, moments later, the full realisation of the sadness of the interview hit me when I was enjoying my pineapple and passionfruit non-alcoholic cocktail: is this what politics has become?
Firstly, it seems that the UK media have begun to throw around ideological labels as if they are the most serious of insults. Many who oppose myself on areas such as interventionism seem to cry “Blairite” at many of Blair’s supporters(like myself) to discredit our arguments. Yet, I’m sadly not alone. Anyone who defends even one of Blair’s decisions, policies, speeches or beliefs will be called a “Blairite” by people who will give it a faux-shocked reaction, as if it’s some sort of satanic hex that people have only just managed to muster the courage to recant due to the true evil it represents.
Since when was dismissing someone with simply an ideological label because of a few, or even one, of the policies they believed in good political practice? Sadly, it seems, since around 2010 and the release of Blair’s memoir, A Journey has the opposition to Blair led the (anti-)innovative movement of branding people with ideological terms to dismiss their individual arguments to the mainstream of politics. I’m not saying that referencing flaws in ideas, even of Blair’s, is something that is forbidden. However, simply criticising someone because they are a “Blairite”, and their only criticism of someone being a “Blairite” is that they are a “Blairite”, even if they aren’t, isn’t nearly an adequate reason to dismiss the veracity of their ideas on areas such as conflict resolution, Middle Eastern politics and Islamism.
But secondly, it seems that British politics has suddenly started turning virtues into vices. I know what type of Prime Minister I want, I actively want a courageous Prime Minister who is unafraid to take decisions, unafraid to have the courage to lead and unafraid to continue to defend unpopular policy and ideas against the waves of populism because it’s the right thing to do. It seems multiple outlets in the media think that the UK should somehow settle for a compromise candidate, who won’t lead in such a way, but will really follow, despite their title of leader.
However, back to the black and white, clichéd Iraq of the radio debate on Saturday and cue mass smirking, laughter and ridicule at the ex-Prime Minister’s expense at being “courageous,” and this prompted me to write a defence of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. And my defence will hopefully give a non-black and white and, very importantly, non-clichéd account of why in my honest opinion, invading Iraq wasn’t only simply necessary, but it was also the correct thing to do.
Saddam’s Iraq, in some particular commentary, seems to be viewed through rose tinted goggles, or at least, the crimes of Hussein’s regime have been lessened. Even at that, some commentary and some commentators seem to have taken the position that “Saddam was bad, but…” and continue to argue that actually Saddam’s brutal rule was somehow excused by our failing to completely stabilise a post-conflict Iraq, or that it was misunderstood and that Saddam didn’t want to cause conflict with anyone, but was the victim of “western imperial ambitions.”
Let’s be quite clear for the various Saddam nostalgists, fetishists, apologists and amorists: Saddam was far from just the leader of a totalitarian state, he was a genocidal megalomaniac who threatened to destabilise the security of the entire Middle East and was holding the world to ransom. So I found it utterly extraordinary that Lakhdar Brahimi, a former United Nations peace envoy, sought to defend the genocidal regime of Saddam Hussein:
Brahimi refers to Saddam’s Iraq as not just safe, it was “quite safe.” This is where I have to completely disagree with the former UN envoy, Saddam’s Iraq was far from “quite safe” and far from just a “Republic of fear”, it was the “Imperium of genocide and death.” Brahimi, conversely argued that under Saddam’s regime:
This point that only those that caused the regime particular trouble or dissidents were punished, must be fundamentally rebutted: no-one was safe in Saddam’s Iraq. Take, for example, the incident when Saddam Hussein was driving his extravagant motorcade through the provincial town of Dujail in 1982 and a contingent of Dawa dissidents decided to attempt to ambush his convoy. Saddam was indisputably an extremely vengeful leader, so he retaliated by sending a message to the dissident Dawa faction for their ultimately unsuccessful offensive. He decided that the whole populace of the district in which he was attacked should be “disciplined”. This “disciplining”, a euphemism used often by the Saddam regime, included atrocities such as the disappearance of 140 fighting-age men, whose records were completely erased. It’s estimated that the 1,500 other inhabitants of the district, indiscriminate of age or gender disappeared to multiple prison camps across Iraq, separating families and communities, multiple reports of torture were made and Saddam’s regime failed to deny torture on multiple incidences. Dujail, the town itself, no longer exists, Saddam had it destroyed at his whims.
I could detail more and more of Saddam’s Iraq, but I feel that any balanced reader will get the picture. To defend Saddam’s regime as “Safe” as Brahimi does is insulting to those innocents who lost their lives to the whimsical and destructive outbursts of a brutal and extreme dictator. Brahimi also argued that:
Again, it seems that Brahimi misguidedly misrepresents the situation of governance and the economy of Iraq at the time. To participate in national politics in Saddam’s Iraq, you had to be a member of the Ba’ath Party, which formed a single party government in Iraq. Estimates indicate that the highest level of Iraq’s population in the Ba’ath Party was around 8%, and, a UN report suggested that “even within the political elite, only a small hand-selected number of Saddam’s favourites had even a slice of power.” Again, I don’t feel the need to mention Saddam’s genocidal urges that, in one month alone during the Iraq-Iran war period, ethnically cleansed anywhere between estimates of 50,000-182,000 Kurds because elements of their population siding with Iran against the regime.
Saddam, obviously broke International law, and he had a record of defying international law, UN resolutions and human rights conventions as long as the list of his abuses themselves. Saddam was provoking wars, arm races, international conflict in the Middle East and continuing his campaign of ethnic cleansing against minorities – this was truly a dangerous regime, and we know that conflict in the Middle East undoubtably has effects back home, with terrorist threats, destabilisation spreading and mass displacement having to be dealt with by the international community. To leave this tyrant unchecked would have led to the above problems worsening. While it is impossible to suggest that the Iraq war was perfect, I feel removing Saddam’s on the basis of “regime change” which is so often denied, was actually a valid justification of the Iraq conflict. Removing a regime that endangered global security, engaged in some of the 20th century’s largest ethnic cleansings, ignored the international community consistently and had considerable links to terrorism is something that I shall never apologise for supporting.
One of the major points used in justifying the war against Iraq was their program that showed their intent to develop Weapons of Mass Destruction. Whatismore, even mention Iraq on social networking platforms like Twitter or Facebook and many supporters of the war meet a line of the following nature: “All those WMD’s we invaded Iraq to stop and look, there wasn’t any.”
I would argue that to argue that Saddam’s regime didn’t have Weapons of Mass Destruction is indeed counter-productive. Regardless of whether Saddam’s regime actually possessed the weapons that they were claimed to possess, one thing is clear, they indeed intended to develop them, and also, secondly, Saddam’s regime was still provoking an arms race in the Middle East to develop weapons of mass destruction. But even at this, latest reports from Iraq in modern times show us that Saddam did have WMD’s, and while they may not have been as powerful as suggested by many players on the international stage, they still had devastating effects. Furthermore, one must consider that the chemical weapons Saddam used have had lasting legacies and effects, here are still many reports in Kurdistan of babies being born with traces of chemicals in their blood from the Saddam regime attacks. Saddam was manufacturing weapons, and he had the capability to develop these weapons. When a leader threatens multiple nations, his own populace and what is more, the world, with his weapons development program and says that he will develop weapons: I would tend to believe his claims: now we see that Saddam’s facilities are in the hands of rebels:
The jihadist group bringing terror to Iraq overran a Saddam Hussein chemical weapons complex Thursday, gaining access to disused stores of hundreds of tons of potentially deadly poisons including mustard gas and sarin.
Saddam had weaponised and attempted to weaponise mustard gas, sarin, anthrax, chlorine, and other nerve agents: surely these weapons with their lasting consequences and legacy, after killing more people than even our less than successful Iraq intervention did, were reasons enough to intervene?
I’d like to finish with a question, one final question based on a hypothetical scenario. It’s 2003 and you are Tony Blair, yes, never mind the devastating good looks and charming smile, because what’s happening in Iraq, you have been told, threatens the UK and the world, multiple intelligence agencies have reported to you that there is a clear threat on the United Kingdom and her allies. Saddam, the man himself, even though with hindsight it could be called rhetoric continually says he will bring “pain and suffering to many.” What you do know is that this man has a track record of human rights abuses, disregarding UN resolutions and genocide. Do you take the risk of the consequences that could originate from your inaction, or do you act?
I know which option I would take. And I think it’s harsh to judge Blair, agree or disagree with the war, on the fact he made a decision, discredited partly in hindsight, that had the best interests of the globe, the UK and the west, and Iraq at heart.