The Chilcot inquiry and enablers of injustice

Opening bombing of Baghdad, 2003

The long-anticipated Chilcot inquiry report was released today. It chronicled British government decisions leading to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The key points of the report state that Tony Blair and his close circle of advisors misled the public and failed to prepare for the consequences of invasion and occupation.

American neoconservatives laid the groundwork for unilateral intervention long before 9/11 and the War on Terror. A 1992 strategic outlook written by Paul Wolfowitz, who was a key figure in the Department of Defense for both Bush presidencies, defended unilateral American military action. From the NYT report linked:

The continuation of this strategic goal explains the strong emphasis elsewhere in the document and in other Pentagon planning on using military force, if necessary, to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in such countries as North Korea, Iraq, some of the successor republics to the Soviet Union and in Europe.

Nuclear proliferation, if unchecked by superpower action, could tempt Germany, Japan and other industrial powers to acquire nuclear weapons to deter attack from regional foes. This could start them down the road to global competition with the United States and, in a crisis over national interests, military rivalry.

and an excerpt from the report itself later in the article:

In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region’s oil. We also seek to deter further aggression in the region, foster regional stability, protect U.S. nationals and property, and safeguard our access to international air and seaways. As demonstrated by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, it remains fundamentally important to prevent a hegemon or alignment of powers from dominating the region. This pertains especially to the Arabian peninsula. Therefore, we must continue to play a role through enhanced deterrence and improved cooperative security.

While neoconservatives often talk about acting alone if necessary, their actions need collaborators to provide legitimacy and deflect accusations of American imperialism. Tony Blair and the British government, every step of the way, were willing to back the entire operation. Without vigorous British support, there would likely have been fewer European nations involved. As is, no country other than the US and UK provided more than a few thousand soldiers at any one time- Italy had the third-largest number of soldiers killed, with just 33.

The Chilcot report says that Blair told President Bush “I will be with you, whatever” in July 2002– over half a year before the invasion itself, while both countries ostensibly supported peaceful diplomatic means with regard to purported WMDs in Iraq. Four different questions were asked by pollster MORI before the invasion in 2003- with the question assuming no UN Security Council support and no UN evidence of weapons of mass destruction (the historical reality) having almost 70% opposed. Most of the largest anti-war marches were in Europe, including a massive march in London featuring address by Labour backbencher Jeremy Corbyn, who would take Blair’s job as party leader twelve years later (making Blair turn blue in rage).

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Protest march in London on February 15, 2003

Since Blair left office, the consequences of his decision to back invasion on tenuous pretenses continue to mount. Not only were none of the goals of the invasion met, but the rise of ISIS was built on the UK’s invasion of northern Iraq and the subsequent disbandment of the Republican Guard. Two car bombings this week add onto a large civilian death toll (at the very least 165,000).

I don’t know what the counterfactual is- would there still be an Iraq War, an insurgency, and an ISIS if the United Kingdom had turned President Bush down? The Chilcot report only documents that Blair decided on invasion, no matter the circumstances. And even if it wasn’t originally their idea, his circle supported it just as fervently as America.

 

 

 

 

The action fallacy and Syria

The UK House of Commons finished marathon debate over authorizing airstrikes in Syria. The government motion passed 397-223. In 2013 the same body defeated a similar intervention bill, with a united Labour joined by minor parties and defections from the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

It is not surprising that this vote will succeed, and do so by a considerable margin. The Paris attacks have turned dozens of Labour MPs into hawks. Jeremy Corbyn, the most anti-war party leader in recent memory, was unable to get his delegation into line. Ed Miliband, who led the opposition to the 2013 bill, also voted against airstrikes.

Corbyn is being pilloried by the press and by members of his own party, who has been given almost no breathing room despite an overwhelming mandate in his election.

This whole debate reeks of historical blindness. Corbyn and his anti-war brethren are just being consistent- 12 years ago the same debate occurred, about intervention in Iraq.

Is there a record of Western military intervention creating stable, secular nation-states?

No.

Was there an exit strategy before intervening in Iraq?

No.
Is there one now?

No.

Will an escalation of force undermine ISIS recruitment? Former hostage and journalist Nicolas Hénin thinks it’s a trap to rally support around ISIS.

The “good war” of today will be, just like Iraq, the “bad war” of a decade in the future. Each time a Noble Defense of Liberal Democracy(tm) turns into a bloody, expensive quagmire, there’s a whole round of editorials about a powerful lesson learned. Acquired wisdom will prevent the same mistakes.

I’ll forward the title of this post: the action fallacy. In times of crisis, it is always easier to defend doing something over not doing something. A wide range of people, including some of the Labour shadow ministry, see anti-war principles as weakness. Strength involves using people and money to destroy other people. Intervening in Iraq was worth creating free university, housing, investment in clean energy. Put this way- to dive into war with no evidence that it will improve the situation is to say you oppose programs that are guaranteed to improve a situation- not just in the United Kingdom, but Syria as well. For several million dollars you can build housing or turn one into a smoking crater.

Would ISIS exist in 2015 if there was no coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003? Highly unlikely, as its leadership in part are Sunnis who were displaced, and when the army was disbanded, they took their weapons and went home. If money was actually invested in creating a strong Kurdish state in northern Iraq, ISIS would never have been able to invade east.

The Western countries which are bombing (or will soon) talk about Western values and international cooperation. They’ve been completely unable to stop Turkey from bombing the Kurds, who are those secular anti-ISIS rebels that Westerners are always talking about. Never mind that the Kurds are the only thing keeping ISIS from having a long border with a NATO nation.

I’d like to finish by shaming one MP and praising another. Alison McGovern, a Labour MP who is voting for war but wants to couch it in humanitarianism, said this in her speech:

the biggest recruitment for vile extremism is want. It is dissatisfaction with the chances the world is offering you, whether in the back streets of Britain or the cities of Africa and the Middle East where young people find that the powerful in our world forget them far too quickly.

This is an awful chunk of hypocrisy, and exactly the sort of hawkish rhetoric you get from ostensibly liberal Democrats in the United States. The biggest recruiter for “vile extremism” are civilian casualties, creating the narrative that Islam is being attacked by a coalition of Western countries and needs people to come and save it. That ISIS is not in any way a genuine Islamic organization is irrelevant- violent intervention turns logical analysis on its head. Conflict narrows the focus of all involved. It stirs up the blood and legitimates cruelty.

Yet that’s not the most troubling part. It’s an argument about poverty being a key issue of the problem. This is in part true, and would make sense were it not in a speech justifying expensive military operations. Ending poverty requires money, which is wasted on weapons and a misguided form of ‘nation-building’ that failed to turn Iraq into a stable country. And many people in the Middle East do end up joining ISIS out of poverty- Western-created from warfare. The War on Terror has been a fourteen-year long lessons that attacking terrorism with military force both kills extremists and creates new ones. This ignores all the recruits from the West, including Paris, whose poverty is also Western-created through capitalist exploitation and inequality.

Alex Salmond, former first minister of Scotland, had a speech that had its issues, but summed things up well here:

we are being asked to intervene in a bloody civil war of huge complexity, we are being asked to do it without an exit strategy and no reasonable means of saying we are going to make a difference

Good point, Alex.