Friday, 29 September 2006


I have received many comments on this subject and discussed the issue of Iraq and the wider war on terror with friends and colleagues, many of whom are directly affected by military service or professional interest. Chiefly the issue of whether Western Powers were right to go to war to topple Saddam Hussein, and what to do now. I have been a supporter of the US's strategy in the middle east, though not necessarily of its tactics.

Many people's take on this is coloured by their opinions on George Bush, who was thought by most of the world to be an Idiot and this view was held way before 9/11. Rational discussion of these issues with those on the left is therefore futile. However the reactionary right is no better, and seeks to defend what is a difficult position, and often defend the Rumsfeld, Pearle, Wolfowitz and Co. when they are clearly being arrogant and counterproductive.

Despite the ambiguous legal and moral position of the Invasion,

The Strategic rationale for the conflict was compelling:

The lack of opportunity that characterizes the lives of many young men of the region breeds terrorism. So does poverty - at the right level. Absolute poverty means people are too interested in raw survival to dabble in politics. If the bottom rung of the hierarchy of needs is met, as in the islamo-socialist states of the middle-east, then the middle class and those aspiring to join it look for influence, both spiritually and politically. This is where disaffection runs deepest. Young men with some education, a bit of money and a deep sense of indignation are more likely to blow themselves up in London or New York. This is the socio-economic group which has spawned revolutions since the early 20th Century, and the one which is enjoying a population boom in the middle east at the moment. Thus since the 1970's the Arab world has been exporting young men in a terrorist asymmetric war on the West. Typically these are well educated young men, with a bit of cash. The disease of Political islamism is spreading virrulently amongst this demographic.

This culminated in 9/11 and the U.S.A said "enough". Afghanistan was the immediate source and was dealt with efficiently, though not completely, as current actions in Helmand demonstrate. Iraq, however was symptomatic of the deeper malaise affecting the region. The kind of regime whose citizens became terrorists. Relatively affluent, but with little economic or political freedom and a corrupt and violent regime. Though Iraqis were not deeply implicated in terrorism against the west, they certainly were against Israel. Furthermore, Iraq was in serial breech of Security Council resolutions, and a thorn in the side of western relations with the Arab world.

I never bought the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" justification, neither did I buy into the notion that Iraq was as serious a sponsor of terrorism as the Mullahs next door. But Given Iraq's geography and Alienation (few outside the Quai d'Orsay would weep for the Baathist regime) it was a the only chance to change the political culture of the Middle-East. The theory being that the fruits of Liberal Democracy and the Rule of Law would become so self-evident that the region would free itself and cease exporting suicide bombers after a generation or so. The Democratic Domino theory. So regime change was the real reason for going to war. Saddam was a Nasty Bastard who deserved the chop. His downfall would persuade other Nasty bastards in the region to liberalise and this would end terrorism, in time. Dictatorships rarely fall apart without outside help, thus "regime change" was the strategic rationale for the war.

There are ancillary benefits to this strategy - not least that a democratic Iraq would provide bases for US troops to keep an eye on Iran and Syria - necessary since the expulsion of US forces from Saudi Arabia. Iraq's oil would be available via pipeline to Turkey and keep the price down. This last one is seen by many on the left as the real rationale for the war. It isn't. If the USA needed the oil that badly, it could have just bought it - Saddam was an adherent of RealPolitik and could have been cut a deal. That would have been much cheaper than war. So any "It was all about the oil" comments will be treated with the derision they deserve.

Given the potential benefits of this policy, it was worth the risk.

I cannot conceive an American president who didn't take action in the gulf in 2003. Clinton, Gore or Kerry would certainly have taken similar action.

Did we have the Right to go to war?

Given the attitude of France (veto - come what may) a second resolution was impossible. Previous resolutions seemed to give adequate legal justification for action at any time. So I agree with the attorney General's view that a second resolution was desirable but not strictly necessary.

There is a second issue: Namely whether a government has the right to send the Troops into an unpopular war. Here I am in two minds. The public in these issues rarely has all the information, and we elect governments to make the hard decisions. The decision to commit troops to battle, therefore should remain in the hands of elected politicians, not the mob and certainly not the judiciary, though the opinions of these estates should not be ignored by the government when making the decision. Hundreds of thousands of people marching under banners helpfully provided by the Socialist Workers' Party (AKA the "stop the war coalition") were outnumbered by millions who chose not to attend the rally. Indeed the government that took us to war subsequently won an election (albeit a flawed one) so the popular mood against the war may have been broad, but it certainly wasn't deep.

Given that war is always a political desision in the national interest, there's no legal or moral obstacle to the war.

Why has it gone so Horribly wrong?

There were too few troops for post-war reconstruction and law & order. This is an easy thing to say with hindsight, and military commanders ALWAYS want more troops for the job.

Turkey's intransigence left the US forces a Heavy division under strength (20-30% more combat power). Crucially this should have been coming from the North, leaving escaping Baathists less room to destabilize Sunni areas, instead of steaming through the Suez Canal during the invasion phase. Another Division would have made a huge difference in the immediate aftermath in restoring order.

The US was wrong to disband the Iraqi army. This led to mass unemployment and the disaffection this brings.

The Western forces were lulled into a false sense of security by the Shi'a's joy at the fall of Saddam. The focus on DeBaathification and the concentration on Sunni extremists left the Shi'a militias time to organise - helped and aided, of course by Iran. The violence of Sunni extremists was expected. The civil war amongst the Shi'a was not.

The War has demonstrated the futility of combating Islamism by democracy. If Muslims, it appears, believe in "One man, One Vote, Once". In the Middle East, Islamism has won, and the "War on Terror" needs to be fought in that context. The sullen and surly peoples of the middle east hate us on a religious level, and that should prevent us from engaging any further bouts of liberal imperialism. The americans are right not to rule out punitive action, but I doubt whether we will be bringing the fruits of democracy to Muslims again any time soon. They aren't ready for it (yes the tiresome lefties were right - but only when they are being racist).

Democracy needs to develop. It cannot be imposed. Without a civil society, people vote how they're told to by the existing power structures - in Iraq tribal elders and clerics. The democratic process becomes a tribal head-count and is therefore meaningless. Better that the effort that went into elections went into creating the rule of Law first. Democracy is a means to an end - the end is freedom and the rule of Law. This can exist under many forms of government. Democracy is merely the best at sustaining it.

So what can the Western powers do now?

Well, we cannot pull out otherwise, before long Iraq will look like the Sudan and we're back to square one. Western forces need to maintain resolve and confront the worst excesses of the insurgency until the Iraqi forces can cope on their own.

So this war will not have a "victory". It will be long, unglamorous and tiresome. It will not be lost on the streets of Amarah or Baghdad, but in the opinion pages of the Leftist media. It is this that is sucking the political will to see the fight we are in (rightly or wrongly) through to its bitter end, and it helps no-one. The Robert Fisks of this world are potentially condemning an entire region to mediaeval barbarity because of their own knee-jerk anti Americanism.

America can "do" nothing, except wage the war and try to keep a lid on things in Iraq, until the Iraqis can do it themselves. Any other outcome is courting disaster. They can try to fight better and cleaner. No more Abu Grahibs. The media should (but won't) stop jumping on any minor transgression by British and American forces and blowing it out of all proportion. I'm not saying that wrongdoers shouldn't be exposed, but that the media shouldn't give the impression that they are gleefully hounding the military and indulging in schadenfreude each time they find something to exaggerate.

Glibly saying "I told you so" and comparing Bush unfavourably with Saddam says more about the Journalists and readership in question than it suggests to policy makers. It also is hurtful to the brave boys and girls on the ground - many of whom, if they were to offer an opinion were not in favour of the war, but accept that their duty is to their comrades, country and their service. The rights and wrongs are largely irrelevant now. The war is a long-term reality, just like northern Ireland and the Former Yugoslavia. Let's just get on with it.

The wider war on terror is more like the cold war. A long slow battle of ideas. Islamism really poses less of an existential threat than communism ever did, but is more likely to leave dead bodies in western cities. For this reason we must confront it at home and abroad with resolve. Iraq is now a cause celebre for Islamists.

So our forces will be in the middle east and central Asia for decades, whatever the Independant says. There will be no victory, but we cannot afford to lose. I'm afraid we're playing for the point.


one_man_republic said...

"were outnumbered by millions who chose not to attend the the popular mood against the war may have been broad, but it certainly wasn't deep."

Bollox. Political analysis stright out of The Sun.

"The kind of regime whose citizens became terrorists."

WTF does this statement actually mean? What the fuck does it have to do with complex [and potentially bloody] tribal and religious affiliations, in a country now sliding towards civil war?

And, yes, the arguments about oil are almost irrelevant - given the pitiful US reconstruction efforts (juxtaposed against, say, Haliburton contracts). Getting on your regime-change high horse is all very noble, but hardly squares with what we know about US planning. Basic civilian infrastructure (power, water, healthcare) hardly figured, FFS. In that context, it doesn't matter how good your average, much-put-upon Tom sapper is (or, indeed, how laudable the notion of removing Saddam is in the first place).

Quit salving your own unease with armchair "only chance to change the political culture of the Middle-East" yada yada. Quit pointing the figure at supposedly gloating "lefties." And quit your patronising cliches about opposition to the war. Plenty of people could see this coming. Plenty of people who, incidentally, know the region well. That's why they opposed it. That includes my dad, whose regiment are taking a lot of shit in Helmand right now - in a situation as-much coloured by drug loot, bearded thrillseekers and feuding tinpot war lords, as it is by Political Islamism. Bland GWOT soundbites don't even begin to cover it... Why do you think Bush is so wound up by recent US intelligence?

Face it: we've created a big fucking mess. It was avoidable. We fucking knew that. The US could have made much use of the worldwide sympathy that followed 9/11. They could have - should have - played a long game (a la Mossad), but settled instead for the most wrong-headed foreign policy this side of attacking Stalingrad in light summer clothing.

Say we didn't invade, but sat it out, speaking softly, with a big stick - what is the worst that could have happened, eh? Saddam hitting us with his fancy weaponry?

"Compelling" strategic rationale, my arrse. There were no grounds for sending British servicemen and women to their deaths. And no amount of retrospective war-gaming will change that.

one_man_republic said...


A good read.

Jackart said...


The sun is surprisingly sophisticated in its political analysis. It rarely backs a loser...

I can paraphrase the entire of the rest of the comment with "I told you so... Nur Nur Nurny nur nur"

Yes. The post war phase was badly planned. Yes It has been much worse than anticipated. I blame Rumsfeld - the state department had a plan on the shelf, and it was ignored.

Do you think we could pull out now? So stop being chippy and lets get on with getting to a state a decade hence when we can pull out.

one_man_republic said...

"So stop being chippy and lets get on with getting to a state a decade hence when we can pull out."

If we had unlimited manpower, and an obvious consensus on the ground, I might be tempted to agree with you (although I think you should go back and read your Kipling again...). But we don't. And even the senior grown ups (aka commanders) are beginning to push for a concentration of force in Afghanistan (a far worthier - if bloody difficult - objective: poppy as a cash-crop for the worldwide shortage of diamorphine should be NATO policy, IMO).

Face it, we can't fight (or even do "hearts and minds") on two fronts (esp given the PR bitch role we serve for the US command). The US have a much, much bigger presence in Iraq than us - it's not controlling the insurgency/sectarian violence. And it's costing them lives and resources at an almost unprecedented rate. To think that Brit resources in theatre are going to make a difference in such a deteriorating situation is a triumph of bulldog optimism over 21st century pragmatics. Again, some grown ups in the stew have started to suggest that the level of violence (or, indeed, the capability of Iraqi Police) should make no difference to the criteria for a British pull-out. What does that tell you?

I do apologise for the rather angry tone of my comment (I wouldn't sink as far as 'chippy', though). I just get bloody annoyed when people who opposed the war, for good reason, are (a.) accused of gloating, and (b.) patronised. You made the case for war. You are answerable for it.

And you are right about The Scum - your line about "millions blah blah didn't march, ergo..." is exactly the same they used in their editorial. It proves very little about the depth of opposition to the War. As for "picking a winner" - I don't agree, actually. Its lite-on-bad-news-kranked-up-jingo-nonsense does a dis-service to the lads and lasses in HM Forces, IMO (Nimrod dead, page 11...). It's like WW1 'Play up and play the game' nonsense for the 21st century. We need objective reporting, that addresses concerns on the ground (well done, IoS). Not Zulu with SA80s shite.

So, in short: yes, we should pull out. It's an unfortunate situation, but there it is. Well intentioned or not, coalition tactics have generally acted like a catalyst for appalling violence and civil collapse. We (the Brits) or even the US do not have the resources to police Iraq -let alone prevent civil war. Unless you'd like to re-join, of course... :)

Carry on, as you were, etc etc.


Jackart said...

"Unless you'd like to re-join, of course..."

There may be a six-month sabatical from the Very British Dude - some time soon.

one_man_republic said...

"There may be a six-month sabatical from the Very British Dude - some time soon."

Lol, I had a feeling you might say that. Good on ya - stay safe if you do.

Anonymous said...

Violence and suppression are the facts of instability, if you’re not prepared to allow people to make their own choices in their own time, violence and suppression will be the result.
If you choose the path of intervention you’re gonna have to provide a very strict and comprehensive transition stage with tactics that do not sit with the ideals of liberal democracy. It’s a paradox, and the media will never be robust or subtle enough to support this argument that is at odds with their moral high ground, sense of justice and short term outlook.
The original time for a strict and orderly transition has passed. The best option how is sealing the boarders and letting the different fractions reach a level of fighters fatigue and sealing various areas of conflict internally. Once they can’t achieve their goals though military pressure invite them to table for negotiations, in the meantime coalition troops, should spend their time stemming the flow of arms and destroying what capability they still have and through other political and aid initiates isolate the fighters of both sides from the population.
One of the key aims should be to disarm the population. Whatever happens we cannot leave, this will increase the power vacuum and the level of violence.
The Dude

Reactionary Snob said...

'Say we didn't invade, but sat it out, speaking softly, with a big stick - what is the worst that could have happened, eh? Saddam hitting us with his fancy weaponry?'

A better question would be what would be the best that could have happened?


Anonymous said...

This is one of the most well-reasoned opinions I have read to date in support of the war and analysis of what has happened since. I disagree with you, but I understand your opinion.

We have a serious dearth of honest discussion on this side of the pond. I think what gets me the most is the pompous attitude of the current administration during all of this. The "Mission Accomplished", the "Bring it on," the complete dismissal of the UN, the "now watch this drive," the "we have never made any mistakes" and if "You're not with us you're against us." It makes any sort of honest factual analysis difficult when you feel as if one side of the debate has its head in the sand. As I said, I disagree that war was justified, but I think reasonable minds could differ. This flagrant denial of the mess we have created, however, is unforgivable.

That said, I must disagree with you as to the rationale for the war. I agree with you that it seems that Islamic extremism finds fertile ground in the impoverished, semi-educated, and disaffected youth, but the mere fact that a state contains that demographic surely cannot justify the invasion of Iraq. If that were to suffice, then invasion of France or perhaps Britain would be justified. The young and hopeless are not only drawn toward Islam, but are rather attracted by any movement wherein they can find meaning. For example, the riots in Paris last year (I think this is the negative externality of a high-unemployment rate and too generous welfare system, but that’s a different discussion). In any event, disgruntled Iraqi youth did not “culminate” in September 11. A terrorist organization based in Afghanistan/Pakistan with a large Saudi contingent planned it.

As to whether or not we had a “right” to go to war, I think one has only to look to UN Charter itself, which sanctions only those military actions that are in self-defense (Article 51) without Security Council Approval. I think we have to remember that the UN was not set up to rubber stamp decisions by its members to invade each other. The body was set-up after WWII to prevent another catastrophe: to provide a forum for discussion so that military action would be circumvented. A country attempting to establish that they are justified to invade another country should have a high evidentiary burden to meet. (As a counter-point to myself, the U.S. never received approval for the action in the former Yugoslavia. I would argue that where there were confirmed reports of Genocide, immediate action without SC approval might be justified, but at the end of the day, I don’t know where you would draw that line). Operating outside of international norms is just generally bad policy, especially when you are the worlds’ superpowers and are supposed to be setting an example.

While ultimately I agree with you that the decision to go to war is a political question (and thus by definition nonjusticiable in US courts, although there is this little thing called the War Powers Resolution Act in the US that everyone seems to have forgotten about). But here, at least, there have been incredible (and very justiciable) domestic consequences. When Congress passed a resolution OK-ing military action against those who perpetrated the attacks on Sept. 11, Bush is now using that justification to hold foreign nationals without charge and performing “alternative” interrogation techniques. Bush now has the sole power to interpret the Geneva Conventions, and Congress has revoked habeas and any civil remedy for those who claim their rights there under were breached. He intentionally was housing detainees in Guantanamo in an effort to avoid federal court jurisdiction, and kept secret CIA detention centers where they practiced these “alternative” techniques.

If you look back at what Osama said back before the attacks, he accused the West of hating Muslims and wanting to colonize the Middle East. I’m afraid that after all we have done, we have proven him right. We have played into the hands of the extremists by questioning our own principles and doubting our own institutions. This is now why Iraq is a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists, and why the recently leaked report out of Washington concludes that we are in fact in more danger because of it.

All that said, I don’t really know what to do with the current situation. We now find ourselves in the middle of sectarian violence that only seemed to have been previously kept in check by the non-denominational tyranny of Hussein. The irony is mind-numbing. Ultimately I agree with you. Now that we have made our bed, we have to lie in it. With more troops.

632C5R09OW8 said...


This my strategic analysis of Iraq
What do you think
Low oil prices actuality helps china at the expense at Russia. Russia’s Economy is 50% Dependent on oil revenues, cheap oil is only achieved through surplus of oil supplies on the world market. The result being that china faces no military threat, or challenge form Russia in the near future, Russia fears china’s future Economic, political, and military strength that’s why it won’t sell it oil. This leaves it free to lunch an all out attack on America. China has 200 plus years of coal reserves,The world has 300 plus years of reserves. Coal oil would properly sell for $20/25 a barrel. But we getting by on $70 plus per barrel of crude oil caused by speciation, OPEC and Iraq war. Coal right now sells $10 a bag and technology would keep reducing cost of coal liquidation over the coming years. South Africa supplied most of their fuel from coal oil. Nazi Germany produced 57% of all its fuels from coal oil from 25 coal liquidation plants if they had built enough coal liquidation plants say 60 instead of 25 they would prolong the war by just a year. It was difficult to do because the very extensive bombing from the RAF/USAF air forces. Coal and oil are underground sources of energy hence safe from Ariel bombing but refineries/liquidation plants are vulnerable to Ariel bombing. Since china has 200 plus years of coal reserves it could make 100% of its own fuels, it would reduce its reserves 100 years but that’s an other matter. At the moment china is hoping to produce 10% of liquid fuels domestically from its coal and its other energy sources. It also has enormous reserves of shale oil. Denied of access to Iraqis oil wouldn’t make that much of a difference because America won’t buy a once of Iranian oil. Control of iraqs oil does not mean control of all the worlds oil because prewar iraq producted only 4% of the worlds production due to sanctions/"weapons inspections" now its 3% due to bush war. So only a complete denial of oil strategy to china would be needed.The U.S. can lunch a navy blockage of china’s oil from the gulf and other regions. Only a complete occupation of the Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the gulf states could America have control of china’s oil exports in theory but unlikely due to reasons listed above. Plus America would never get round or met the time frame for a complete occupation of the Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the gulf states. Even if Iran is bombed tomorrow, it will still sell oil to china,
A naval blockage of china’s oil from the gulf and other regions would be an act of war. So such an event could would take place over Taiwan but china would never attack Taiwan if it was not sure it could fight the U.S. Armed forced forces. There will no war between America and china because china will always avoid confrontation and very deep economic relationship between the two countries. China’s war plan will be to seek a quick and overwhelmingly victory if war is to take place in the coming decades. If china won a quick and overwhelmingly victory in a U.S./China war. America would automatically lose its petroleum empire and Find very difficult to fight back militarily and economically recover afterwards. China could achieve this victory by sending troops through the Iranian/Pakistan corridor and a dense Iraqi Insurgency.Israel armed forces would start to decay if America stood in “front” of Israel rather than “behind”. Its military strength would so depleted that it would overran by its Arab neighbours in the event of a possible China/America war in the coming decades. Already Israel is sending increasing amounts on Social welfare and decreasing amounts on defence. Also it would be blamed for the iraqi occupation even due this was entirely George bushes Pipedream/enterprise. The final decision for the war/occupation lay with Bush. It will make her Arab neighbours more determined than ever to destroy her. This time for real not a case of getting even as in peveious wars.

There was an error in this gadget