Whenever one puts forward the ‘other side’ of the argument in any conversation regarding the Iraq War, it is immediately greeted with raised eyebrows, a repudiating glance, and a bemused tone of voice. This, I believe, is the legacy of nine years of partisan broadcasting and biased press coverage.
There is no doubt that the astronomically high cost of the war, both economically and in terms of human life, does provide substance to a negative critique of the decision to go to war in 2003. Indeed, those who are critical of the war are often arguing on legitimate grounds: the casus belli for the war was to disarm Saddam Hussein of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) which he had not yet acquired. Furthermore, the post-war planning, legal basis for the war and the renaissance of terrorist bombings in Iraq are all justifiable reasons to disagree with the decision.
Likewise, one cannot be anything other than horrified at the present state of Iraq, but I would urge the reader not to believe a lot of the propaganda that accompanies any mention of the word ‘Iraq’ in the left-wing press. This is not, incidentally, a defence of the neo-conservative inspiration for war in the United States which largely underpinned George W. Bush’s foreign policy, the practicality of which is questionable. His belief in the ‘big stick’ method of diplomacy – attacking one rogue regime to encourage others to cooperate with the West – has not been as effective as the Bush and Blair administrations had hoped, as relations with Iran and Pakistan are still laced with suspicion and mistrust. In spite of the propensity of opportunistic leftists like George Galloway to point to the alleged failure of the Iraq War, it is both naïve and foolhardy to claim that the casualties in Iraq are all the result of the intervention. As the late and very great Christopher Hitchens so aptly put it, this is an ‘outrage to the idea of moral responsibility’. Indeed, an intervention to remove a genocidal autocrat who was responsible for the loss of life of more than 1.5 million people, and likewise an intervention that was supported by many Iraqis in 2003, does not justify suicide bombings. The people responsible for the atrocities that are continuing in post-war Iraq are inspired by a perverted manipulation of the faith of Islam and believe that the slaughter of innocent people is morally justifiable. It isn’t – and we should be prepared to confront this depraved ideology and defeat it, even if the use of force is necessary.
People so often, and so incorrectly, state that the loss of life in Iraq was the result of removing Saddam. Given that Saddam was in hiding less than two months after the invasion, coupled with the fact that the majority of civilian fatalities took place in 2006-2007, this is quite clearly a fabrication. When one debates this issue with people, it is at this point – usually in resentful denial of their own ignorance of the facts – that people pull out the trump card, the clichéd response of ‘it’s the imposition of Western values on a Muslim people where such values are neither recognised nor desired’. It is here where I have to suppress the desire to laugh at the mere stupidity of such a statement. For a start, that claim loses its validity as it is deliberately generic, and can be applied to any discussion of Western presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or any other country with a Muslim majority. Moreover, freedom of expression – not the political instrument that is being gradually diluted in the UK – but the Voltairean concept of human persons having the right to express themselves freely, is not a
‘Western’ value. It is true that this right and others like it are exercised most by residents within Western countries, but it is a farce to try and claim that people in other countries should not have it or, worse still, that they don’t want it. These values are fundamental human values, innate to the human personality and present in the spirit of all human beings. Just because a Muslim woman is deprived of the right to express herself due to cultural norms does not mean that she does not want that right. If Muslim people were content with dictatorship and totalitarianism and theocracy, there wouldn’t have been millions of Muslims – men, women and children – protesting across North Africa and the Middle East since December 2010. Try telling the people of Syria who have rebelled against the tyranny of Bashar al-Assad and his regime that democracy and free speech don’t matter – a current body count of 5,400 Syrians is testament to the ridicule of this contention.
Similarly, 9 November 1989 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the Communist dictatorships in Europe. Thus these revolutions and the inspiration that is sustaining them is not something that is unique to those who participated in the Arab Spring – human nature is fundamentally incompatible with dictatorship and the desire for freedom transcends cultural and ethnic distinctions. We should celebrate and encourage this kind of human emancipation and be prepared to intervene when it becomes apparent that a rogue, genocidal regime has become too great a security threat that it would be a travesty to humanitarianism to fail to intervene. Indeed, in Iraq we toppled a regime that had, as the Iraq Survey Group report concluded, retained the scientists, the intelligence and the laboratories capable of developing WMD. When you combine this tangible capability with the history of the regime – which had used chemical and biological weapons against its own people, as well as starting two major wars that resulted in considerably more than a million casualties – it is arguable that the decision to intervene was both morally and practically justified. Furthermore – and returning to my opening point about the press coverage of Iraq – it is so rarely reported that there are three times the number of schools in Basra alone, and that child mortality rates – which were the same as the Congo under Saddam – are now down to a third of that figure, which is fifty to sixty thousand extra children living every year.
Whilst we must take heed of our errors in Iraq and Afghanistan, western political leaders must retain the confidence and resolve to confront barbaric dictatorships especially if they have the capacity to threaten our national security. Despite being aware of lot of his flaws, I admire Tony Blair as a man prepared to take risks in the pursuit of principle: initially in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, and later in Iraq. Unlike John Major, who shamefully appeased Saddam’s refusal to comply with UN Resolutions on WMD, Blair ousted a regime that was long overdue a confrontation with the West.
There is little doubt that since 11 September 2001, the world has been at war in a new way and it is evident in light of what is occurring in Somalia, Nigeria and other parts of the Horn of Africa that this is not merely a conflict that the West must win, it is one that we cannot afford to lose.