Opinion

Blair facing tough time defending UK’s participation in Iraq war

August 04, 2016 05:19 AM
Mr SP Seth, writer is a senior journalist from Australia
By S.P.Seth*

 By now it is generally accepted that the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was based on a big lie. An exhaustive report of Britain’s role in the whole affair, when Tony Blair was the country’s prime minister, more or less, nails it down. The seven-year investigation, led by Sir John Chilcot, has produced a voluminous report of 2.6 million words that is damning about all aspects from Blair’s obeisance to the then US president George W Bush to the point of accepting whatever role the United Kingdom was assigned. In other words, London abandoned any serious effort to question and debate basic assumptions underlying the operations. The truth of the matter is that Bush and his administration were set on attacking Iraq. And with this already settled they went on looking for “evidence” that would support their plans. And they were prepared to go it alone and would have ignored Blair, as they did the French and Germans (and Russians), who weren’t prepared to go along with the US. Blair didn’t want that, as he feared that this would affect his country’s special relationship with the US.

Blair wrote to Bush, “I will be with you whatever…” Blair, though, was reportedly aware that things could go disastrously wrong like: “Suppose it got militarily tricky — suppose Iraq suffered unexpected civilian casualties... suppose the Arab Street finally erupted... suppose the Iraqis feel ambivalent about being invaded and real Iraqis... decide to offer resistance... suppose that any difficulties are magnified and seized on by hostile international opinion... The possibility of unintended consequences will persist through and beyond the military phase.” He also supposed, if “Saddam...let off WMD.” Apart from the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) part, which was a red herring, almost everything that Blair supposed in his letter has come true and worse

However, France and Germany managed to maintain their independence without any real damage to their relationship with their ally, the US, even though Washington wasn’t happy about it. 

Even though the Chilcot report looks into British involvement and role in the Iraq war, it indeed is a perceptive and exhaustive dissection of the disastrous Iraq war saga. Indeed, the political decision to invade Iraq, already made by the Bush administration, sought conveniently corroborative and manufactured intelligence to prosecute their case. And Blair, even if he had some qualms, nevertheless willingly decided to follow the US lead. For instance, as Chilcot said, “The judgments about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s WMDs were presented with a certainty that was not justified.” In plain words, the threat was non-existent, but to make a case for invading Iraq it was necessary to present the worst-case scenario. He said that the British government’s policy on Iraq “was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments.” And: “They were not challenged as they should have been.” Britain, therefore, accepted the US lead regarding intelligence and timetable for the invasion without a supportive Security Council resolution, which wasn’t forthcoming.

The post-invasion disaster and chaos was not unpredictable. Blair’s defence that there was no way of knowing what followed was dismissed by Chilcot: “We do not agree that hindsight is required — the risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability, and al-Qaeda activity in Iraq, were each explicitly identified before the invasion.” In other words, a rigorous examination of what might go wrong, though known, was brushed aside as Operation Iraqi Freedom was considered to have moral validity of its own. And where morality and power were on the side of the attackers, what could go wrong? It was as if the US-led invasion was a blessed enterprise against an important segment of the axis of evil — other two being Iran and North Korea — that might have been next on the hit list. Bush seemed to believe, and James Merritt, once president of the Southern Baptist Convention, reportedly told him that he was God’s instrument at that time after the 9/11 attacks on US soil.

The conservative cabal around Bush, like his vice-president Dick Cheney, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and others who crafted the Iraq policy and much more, had felt that the US had missed opportunities to reshape the world after it became the only superpower, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Following 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US soil, the Bush administration turned its attention to the Middle East, particularly Iraq, where his father had not quite finished the job by leaving Saddam Hussein in power after the first Gulf War — even though the country was subjected to most comprehensive sanctions and Hussein was hardly a threat. But it was decided that Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and since he was not willing to surrender, the country was invaded in March 2003 to remove him and his (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction.

However, it was not imperative for the United Kingdom to join the US in this enterprise. But Blair did, earning him the title of “Washington’s poodle,” fearing that any independent role might damage Britain’s special relationship with the United States. However, France and Germany managed to maintain their independence without any real damage to their relationship with their ally, the US, even though Washington wasn’t happy about it. As Chilcot has noted, dwelling on the lessons for Britain, that “all aspects” of military intervention would “need to be calculated, debated and challenged with the utmost rigour,” meaning it was not done when London simply followed Washington in invading Iraq.

Even though the US was leading the charge to reshape the world to its dictates, starting with the Middle East, Britain was a willing partner. Bush and Blair governments were keen on pushing a new “enlightened” version of imperialism. There was talk of creating new facts and new narratives for a new world. The terminology like Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the axis of evil, were supposed to end any argument about the desirability of ridding the world of “immoral” and “criminal” regimes and systems. It was assumed that the Iraqi people would welcome and embrace the US and British invasion designed to liberate them from Saddam Hussein’s yoke, and giving them the ultimate gift of freedom and democracy. And we know, even without the damning Chilcot report, how the entire enterprise of invading Iraq has unfolded with the terrorism of IS and its affiliates and “lone wolf” killers inflicted on the world.

 *The writer is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia.

He can be reached at sushilpseth@yahoo.com.au

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