Monday, March 24, 2008

The obligatory five years on...

I haven't bothered taking part in the whole Iraq War blogswarm, and Shuggy articulates precisely why.
There are a dozen different reasons why I'm not doing a Johann Hari. I might explain some of them in due course but here's just one: Johann describes himself as having been a 'cheerleader' for the invasion of Iraq and now he feels terribly guilty about it. Fair enough in as far as this goes because I think cheerleading is a fairly accurate description of what he did. But don't invite us all to do likewise because some of us didn't do this in the first place. Some of us were more circumspect. Some of us backed the war even though we knew the outcome wasn't certain. Some of us had misgivings about the whole enterprise from the outset and so felt less need to acquire them after the fact. Some of us were there for the first one and made all the clever anti-war arguments at that time. Then came over a decade of 'containment' over which time we came to the conclusion we'd been wrong. So when it came around a second time, we could do no other but lend our reluctant support. This forms part of the reason why some of us aren't repenting today.

The only difference was that I felt that the First Gulf War was justified: Saddam had invaded a sovereign country and we had a clear mandate to take action. However, the dithering over that war—do we topple Saddam, don't we topple Saddam, how far into the country can we invade, etc.—set an entirely predictable precedent for this one, i.e. a chronic lack of planning and absence of cohesive strategy as to what we'd do once we'd actually "won".

For what it's worth, though, I still think that my posts on why the war occurred and what the likely course was are still relevant.
The first and obvious thing to ask is why Iraq and Afghanistan were attacked in the first place; and here, I am afraid, I am going to have to extrapolate some of the thinking in the White House. When 9/11 happened, Bush and his advisors not only had to find out who did it for security reasons, but also to appease the people who wanted a scapegoat. Much of what happens in the terrorist world is known by security services around the world, notably by Mossad who are—as it were—on the doorstep. The White House were aware of the training camps in Afghanistan (they had, after all, essentially set them up themselves) and, given the weakness economically and lack of popular support for the Taliban—both within and without the country—it seemed an easy, and effective, target. And so, within reason, it proved.

Why was Iraq chosen? Some people have pointed to a motive of postively psychotic, and thus pretty unlikely, pietas; others pointed to the oil. The fact is that the US itself produces the vast majority of the oil that it uses, and most of the rest comes from Venezuela and other South American countries. Sure, they may want to gain control of oil supplies; but would they really go to war, with all the expense—both in terms of money and in the possible loss of American lives (and votes)—that that could entail? As Saudi Arabia, the country with the most reserves, was still more than happy to deal oil to the them, it would seem to be foolish to pursue a course which could, in fact, turn Saudi—and its oil reserves—against the US. In fact, the oil companies specifically lobbied Bush not to attack Iraq. I think there was another reason.

I think that both Afghanistan and Iraq were chosen because they were not Iran.

You will have to forgive the style; they were both written very early on in my blogging career, in January and July 2005. Still, it is worth bearing in mind the attitude of Islamists in Iraq too (unfortunately, the link to The Herald article is now broken, and I can't find anything on their site earlier than January 2007). Here is the quote, and you'll just have to take my word for it that I am not making it up (this was the tenth post I ever wrote, by the way).
Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the terror chief, warned Iraqis yesterday he would wage a "bitter war" against next Sunday's election... "We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it," a speaker identified as al Zarqawi said on an Islamist website. "Those who vote . . . are infidels. And with God as my witness, I have informed them (of our intentions)."

That was written a couple of days before the democratic elections in Iraq, when al Zarqawi (and others) were threatening to attack and bomb any Iraqis taking part in the elections. This wasn't any noble insurgency against evil invaders: it was an insurgency against "the principle of democracy".

Of course, things have changed considerably in the intervening three years: fuck knows what any of us are fighting for now.


John Trenchard said...

i note that the bbc reports on the "4,000 american dead" tonight.

i also note on how the bbc does NOT report on the amount of enemy dead.

John J. Coupal said...

The war against islamic terrorism will continue for most of the current century. It appears that some countries in the West are already prepared to sue for peace.

That's why it will take a century for the West to prevail.

So, we can consider "the obligatory five years on..." as actually the opening days of that war.

The Remittance Man said...

I suspect that one reason we are still fighting is the same one that has led to many campaigns continuing longer and more expensively than originally thought (Passchendaele springs to mind): To stop now would leave us in a worse position than before.

And like Passchendaele, although the generals are likely to be blamed, the reality is that the original stuff up was largely caused by politicians. A breed which conspicuously lacks military experience but deems itself competent to lay down the terms and conditions under which soldiers fight.

Aaron Murin-Heath said...
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Aaron Murin-Heath said...
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Aaron Murin-Heath said...

That's why it will take a century for the West to prevail.

I think that's the rhetoric al Qaeda use. And as AQ are radicals seeking to create chaos and terror where - some - stability existed, I find that unhelpful and in service of the fundamentalists.

Such feelings of division and religious anger are exactly what they want to achieve.

Personally I think we get the hell out the middle east, buy oil on the open market, and leave them to sort their own idiots out.

By all means secure your own boarders and monitor fringe groups within your own country, but lets untangle ourselves from this hateful region.

Or is that just too Libertarian for you?

Bishop Brennan said...


The problem with that point of view is that the fundamentalists aren't interested in a truce - they want to create an Islamic state (Caliphate) and subjugate all non-Muslims into being dhimmis. And they are investing massive effort (and resources, largely from Saudi Arabia) into pushing their views of Islam onto (largely young and rather dim / not very well educated) Western Muslims.

So, leaving them alone and assuming they will return the favour isn't enough...

There aren't any easy answers, but as well as securin our own borders and basically throwing out elements that are committed to forcing their world-view onto us, we need to take action to stem the source. Some of that would, in my view, involve seeking to undermine Wahhabism in Saudi. But stopping Islamists taking power in failed states like Afghanistan and Somalia (and now Iraq) is also crucial.

The US tried isolationism in the past - it doesn't work. We should be wary of trying to copy that failed model.

None of this, in my view, is inconsistent with libertarian beliefs (which I share). But we must be realistic about what we face...

DK - I suspect that getting US troops out of Saudi - which Bin Laden cited as his reason for launching jihad against the West, but which was impossible whilst Saddam was still a threat to the world's largest oil producer - was probably a major thought in Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc.'s minds when considering whether to invade Iraq. But I suspect this was just one of a very long list. Had they prepared properly for the war, we might be having a very different debate now...

Shuggy said...

clever anti-war arguments at that time.

Our positions turn out to be the same. I should have said anti-regime change arguments because while I supported the expulsion of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, I opposed the suggestion that the allies should press on to Baghdad and topple the regime. This for the usual UN-legalism, stability arguments we heard the second time around.

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