The anti-war fallacy
Time to attempt something more comprehensive as a follow up to my post on the latest revelations concerning the Iraq war, terrorism, and the London bombings.
I'd start by saying that I've become immune to the drip feed of titillating 'revelation' concerning intelligence reports about Iraq- whether about warnings that intelligence concerning WMD was patchy, or leaks revealing that the decision to go to war was predetermined, or that the war would increase the risk of terrorism to the UK.
Why? Am I just unable to entertain that I can be wrong about something? In denial?
Well, I'm not going to introspect just yet.
I think I've just stated the major themes that people imagine delegitimise the war in Iraq.
So let me deal with the potentially seismic issues, and in doing so I'll deal with the latest revelations which have drip-fed from the British press, and refer in general to those who seem to find them so worthwhile.
I'll start with the last first: that the war in Iraq increased the risk of terrorist attack to the UK.
Well, one thing I know: the war in Iraq vastly increased our expectation of an attack.
However it did not introduce the threat of terrorism to the UK. The sources of Islamic terrorist threat are obviously myriad at the present time: this article by Anthony Browne in the Times
points out a timeline of terrorist attacks which stretches back decades and includes much of Europe in its reach.
What's interesting is that in each case there seems to be some 'justification' offered in terms of historic grievances. As he says about France, object of bomb attacks in the 90's, 'The first to confront its Islamic terrorist threat was France, home to EuropeÂs largest Muslim community, which faced a series of bomb attacks in Paris in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of FranceÂs five million Muslims are Arabs from its former colonies in North Africa, particularly Algeria. The attacks on Paris were seen as revenge both for the past colonisation of Algeria and for supporting the present military regime.'
The moral is that there can always be a justification, no matter what, when the tide of world affairs is with you. If the mood is fashionable post-colonialism, then the fashionable ideas of postcolonialism will be motivational.
As a matter of fact the attackers on July the 6th were Pakistani in origin. What had they personally to do with Iraq? Nothing. So they obviously had an attitude which latched violently onto things that were not personally connected to them. That attitude, concerning international solidarity, it is difficult not to associate with movements like communism and Islam. Wouldn't it be more realistic to assume that resentment over the British-led partition of India and the open sore of Kashmir could have become their cause du jour in the spirit of the times we live in, were Iraq not so much more prominent in the public mind and readily usable to lend moral weight to acts of evil? These Pakistani guys would know that the great majority would scarcely have heard of Kashmir (and resented the fact), so what would have been the point of pamphlets and meetings on that subject in such conditions?
To read the Iraq war as their motive is to ignore the basic motive of solidarity, which would latch onto any cause available, and realism, which would ignore the backwater issues in favour of the latest popular one: Iraq instead of Kashmir, that is.
I further believe that the level of awareness in the UK about the terrorist threat may have had two interesting consequences relevant to this issue. One may have been that instead of being the victim of a more ambitious attack a la Sept 11, Britain was the object of a carefully planned attack on a weak spot at a time of heightened awareness. Those directly affected may not accept it, but it could have been much worse. What exactly has prevented us from receiving a Sept 11th style attack? The mercy of Osama? I think not. More likely it was a tempering of ambition brought about by heightened public awareness and state measures.
But the level of awareness has certainly had the consequence of an natural connection being assumed between the bombings and Iraq. I am not disputing here that the July bombers knew a lot about and were fascinated by Iraq as a moral and religious issue. So am I. However I think that to say the threat would have been less grave without the Iraq war is a mistake.
It is possible that the sense of confrontation would have been lower. It is possible that these particular individuals would not have carried out the attack they did. It's also possible that the same individuals would have committed the same attack but with a different grievances to the fore. It's more likely, in my view, that another set of individuals motivated by relatively obscure (to us, as we see things now) cause would have developed a plot more barbarous and blatant, away from scrutiny, and carried that out successfully simply because it was not expected.
That's what happened on 9/11, after all.
I just want to dwell on that a moment. We often drift past it as a done-to-death issue. On Sept 11th terrorists tried to kill thousands in the WTC, and succeeded, and to kill as many as they could at the Pentagon, and were heading (in their fourth plane) towards Washington DC and the seat of US power when their only major failure occurred and the passengers on flight 93 helped crash the plane outside the terrorist's schedule. That was a decapitation strategy, of a sort- on an ideological rather than a practical level, though a practical demonstration was fundamental to it.
That's the scale of Al Qaeda's ambition, and the ambitions of all Islamists are attached to it really like a hydra.
Anyway, back to our seismic issues.
The allegation that the war was predetermined, that Blair/Bush adopted the threat of Saddam as an argument for war merely to satisfy a desire to remove Saddam is a curious one. The desire to get rid of Saddam was one that all leaders in the UK/US had shared since the early 90's. Clinton was keen, but wanted to go the covert route.
I think I'd simply refer to the immense nature of the events
on Sept 11th. Some would say there's no link between Sept 11th and Iraq. I always said there needn't be; what you have to keep in mind is that Sept 11th was a statement of the world address from the Islamic world to the US.
Jut now I'm going to very blatantly segue from talking about the Islamic world to talking about the Arab one. That's mainly because all the Sept 11th terrorists were Arab, and because Arabs founded the Islamic religion. If you don't think that religion and nationalism mix, then you'll have to explain such ancient English war cries as 'for God and St George', plus the whole notion of patron saints, religio-nationalistic movements like the Hussites, Polish nationalism and, well, a host of others.
9/11 was the culmination of historical processes in which Saddam had been a key factor. Perhaps that seems vague, but that's what the big picture sometimes looks like. Try to see Saddam from an Arab nationalist perspective for a moment: he was the standard bearer of anti-Americanism among them, and a bulwark of resistance to American involvement in their affairs. Don't forget to exclude Iran for a moment too: it's Persian. Entertain the idea that Arab nationalism has always had a quasi-religious quality. Factor in the geographical positioning of Iraq and its oil in considering the influence of Saddam. Bear in mind that the US dealt with the most direct nestbed of Islamofascism, in Afghanistan, almost immediately, proving that practical matters were prioritised at least to that extent.
It's not so unreasonable to have attacked Saddam in the light of these things.
Let me introduce here a tiny reference to Saddam's anti-US rhetoric. Look how Saddam celebrated his birthday in 2002
. A play whose starting point was the rape of an Iraqi woman by US troops at the start of the 1990 Gulf War. As an aside to an aside, I'd point out the similarity between this motif and the one chosen by British MP George Galloway
to rouse his Middle Eastern hosts on a trip recently:
'The foreigners are doing to your daughters as they will. The daughters are crying for help, and the Arab world is silent. And some of them are collaborating with the rape of these two beautiful Arab daughters.'
Naturally, trying to analyse religion and race is a difficult and complex thing, but it must be true that in Al Qaeda and all its many associates we were dealing with a transnational movement for whom Saddam was a kind of cover, a father figure, a useful distraction, a sugar daddy, even a hero of sorts. Just because he was only partially any of these things doesn't mean that the sum of his parts was not extremely toxic. A similar profile might have identified Al Capone as linchpin in the bootlegging movement during US prohibition.
By now we know that there were proven contacts between Saddam and Al Qaeda
. There are undisputed documents which show that meetings took place.
Google will not help too much in finding out the veracity of this; the press is not much help. Hubris knows no urgency and no need for clarity. Additionally, no one owes it to you to make it clear. The way I explain it though is to see Saddam as an Arab Mr Big. Nothing much happens on Saddam's patch unless Saddam knows about it. On the other hand, criminals know one when they see one, so they gravitate to him, and he encourages it because it enhances his prestige (think of Ansar al Islam and others). Not being the managerial type they aren't exactly under his thumb and he isn't in charge of them, but the relationship works for both on an informal basis.
That's the basic way to look at Saddam, and that's why he had to go in the post 9/11 context.
Thirdly and finally, the thin evidence about WMD.
I think increasingly this is being seen as an irrelevance by those who are looking forward rather than back. Over the last few years we've had revelations about the role of Pakistan in proliferating nuclear technology. On the other hand, Col. Gaddaffi has realised that possessing weapon technology is no longer a unique advantage for a country like his. It's better for him and his progeny, he reasons, to exist under a western umbrella with some western imports, than to rely on an increasingly tenuous WMD advantage over other nations, which is a diminishing source of prestige within his own country.
What I am trying to say is that the threat of WMD did not depend on Iraq efforts, just as the threat of a grounded battleship doesn't depend on its weaponisation but on the rising tide of the water around it. It may sound like a get out, but I'll come to that shortly. The fact is we live amid a world more and more awash with weaponry, and the key issue is the intentions and the goodwill, or lack of it, of its possessors.
It may sound silly, but ask yourself how Saddam felt about us, about how Saddam said he felt about us, about what Saddam represented in terms of intentions in relation to us.
Now to explain why this would be a get out argument if Tony Blair used it, but not if I do.
Put simply, I think that the politicians knew about the threats posed by Islamic terrorism and by rogue states- separately and in tandem- throughout the nineties if not before. Partly out of lazines, partly from hubris, but mainly from an inability to think of the ambitious scale of antipathy among the world's westernising Islamic denizens, they failed to make the issue one of public concern.
They pursued Iraq through the limited aegis of the UN, allowed part of the UN's Security Council to form close relationships with Saddam, reassured the public Iraq could be dealt with through the usual channels, and effected no real change to the dynamics of Saddam's regime.
During that period, the twin tides of Islamism and weaponisation were rising around them.
Tony Blair, in his leadership, had underestimated the climate so badly that he was forced to rely on a technical argument to justify that apparent volte face.
Finally I come to the subject of ongoing revelations of the governmental contortions Tony Blair's approach to politics nationally and internationally have led to- I mean the Government reports that have to cater to the confused and angry people who bought Blairism as a serious phenomenon, as well as the leaks which newspapers hunger for to bolster their flagging readership with fashionable anti-Blair, anti-war rhetoric.
These have to be seen in their context I believe. It's not rational to say on the one hand that the Government misled us into war with Iraq but can be trusted to tell the truth about its errors. They are not naughty boys who see the errors of their ways, but adults covering their immediate political futures. It's easier for them to accept narrow technical misjudgements than to admit their whole approach was flawed. It would make the difference between having a scapegoat or two (eg. Blair himself)and cleaning out the augean stables.
There are also scores to be settled within the intelligence community, but I think that the priority among them must be to secure their future and the standing they have in the political establishment.
I think that people who dwell on the 'officialness' of pronouncements, or the 'high level' of the leaks, are just really emphasising that they never thought deeply enough about the political activities behind the war with Iraq in the first place, and are continuing in that tendency now.