Blair was right to invade Iraq. He made the right call. It was the right thing to do. He may have helped prevent World War III.
Invading Iraq was the only way to force regime change, to topple the rule of Saddam Hussein. Anyone who opposed the invasion of Iraq therefore tacitly supported Saddam Hussein remaining in power. That is a contemptible point of view. Blair was right to ignore it and show it no respect.
It would be possible to write a whole book on the crimes Saddam Hussein committed against his own people and the countries unfortunate enough to be his neighbours. One minor example would be the licence granted to Saddam’s eldest son, Uday. Uday was a serial rapist and a torturer. In the West, such a person would be a wanted criminal from the day his first crime was reported. In Saddam’s Iraq, however, rape was a crime committed by people other than Uday. Uday, like the rest of Saddam’s brood, was above the law. According to reports, Uday would crash weddings to ravage the bride, armed bodyguards preventing guests from intervening. He would visit nightclubs armed with binoculars to scout out new victims, which his henchmen would procure. The girls, some of them in their early teens, had no choice, but would receive a gift in money and jewels afterwards. Some would be maimed for life, depending on Uday’s mood that day. It is alleged he would cruise the streets, picking up schoolgirls for his own vile purposes.
Opposing the toppling of Saddam Hussein meant tacitly supporting serial rape by his eldest son. Most committed feminists opposed the Iraq invasion. Clearly to them, rape is okay under some circumstances, which includes the fate of nations. George W Bush did deliver an ultimatum to Saddam and his perverted offspring to clear out or be invaded. Had the Husseins complied, the rapes would have stopped. They didn’t. Uday was caught in a safe house by US troops and machine-gunned to death. His raping days were over. I don’t recall any feminists thanking George W Bush for taking a rapist off the streets.
Serial rape by Uday Hussein was, of course, not the prime reason why Iraq was invaded. There has been a long-running argument about Iraq’s stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, about whether it had fully cooperated with the United Nations and their weapons inspectors, whether a new Security Council resolution was needed to authorise invasion.
The conduct of the British Government under Tony Blair over Iraq is the subject of an inquiry that was set up in 2009, some six years ago. It is an independent inquiry and has eminent membership, like Sir Martin Gilbert, a man who devoted his half his life to writing the multi-volume official biography of Winston Churchill. The inquiry stage has completed and the report has been written, but it has not been published for over a year. There is a process, inappropriately named after Robert Maxwell, whereby a person criticised by a report has a right of preview and response. This process is causing the delay to the point that the Prime Minister, who has no influence over the inquiry or the report, is making public statements over his impatience. The inquiry process has run for so long that Sir Martin Gilbert has died of old age.
There seem to be two types of inquiry in modern Britain; those that the government is happy to see reporting on their conclusions, and those whose findings should never see the light of day. In the former case, we have the Francis Report on the Mid-Staffs hospital scandal, the Leveson Report on press conduct, the Franks report on the invasion of the Falklands and the Denning report on the Profumo scandal. The latter are the Savile report into Bloody Sunday, the report on the inquiry into historic child sex abuse that has seen two heads step down even before it has started and the need for a second inquiry into the Hillsborough stadium disaster. A cynic may conclude that these inquiries are delayed so as to allow the culprits to pass away before they are exposed, or perhaps have a decade or more of affluence and good living before being officially condemned. In this case, Blair should have no case to answer. Had the Conservatives been in power, they would have done the same thing.
Iraq under Hussein was the problem that would not go away. The country was under a heavy UN sanctions regime that restricted its imports, it owed billions in debts accrued during its pointless 8-year war with Iran, and it was restricted in trading to pay off those debts by an embargo on oil exports except for humanitarian imports. However, Saddam and his gangster clique remained in power and used all the technology available to a modern state to keep that power through organised terror against the populace.
The problem with a sanctions regime is that it does take a long time to have any impact, if any, on a dictatorship that will always find will business partners if it offers the right price, and such a regime will always be able to use repression against a population suffering deprivations as a result of such sanctions. Thus the population become the relatively innocent victims of a power game between countries. It is almost, but not quite, a collective punishment of a kind that the UN prohibits, but paradoxically authorises at the same time.
Should a population in a dictatorship suffer for the decisions of its leaders? That is a difficult question. The objective of sanctions is policy change. Changes of state policy usually require leadership change, yet technology has made it impossible for there to be that kind of change from within an openly repressive regime. Some dictatorships, despite the endemic corruption, are just far too good at dominating their people and have to lose the will to repress, as happened in East Germany, to fall. In Syria the populace’s desire for change from the despotic rule of the Assad dynasty could only be expressed by force and has degenerated into a civil war that is well into its fourth year. Assad’s power is waning, but he is still in power. Change from within is not working and it is messy.
Sanctions against highly repressive regimes don’t work and appear to be more symbolic than practical to demonstrate that something more than sending a strongly-worded letter is being done. It was the end of the risk of a Soviet base at the Cape that could threaten oil tankers unable to pass through the Suez Canal that caused the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Mandela walked only after the fall of the Berlin Wall, not because of sanctions beginning to bite. Saddam was perfectly happy to see the sanctions regime continue as to a degree it consolidated his power as it allowed him to control the Iraqi economy in its forced shrunken state to a great degree.
So what would the world be like had the Allies not invaded Iraq in 2003? It could have led to the eventual dissolution of the United Nations and a collapse in global security. It is highly likely that the UN sanctions regime would have been dismantled as provably inhumane. Saddam Hussein would have remained in power. He would have been able to demonstrate a great victory to his people. He had shown that the Iraqi people could take the very worst that the world could throw at them and prevail. His status in the so-called ‘Arab street’ would have risen as a consequence. There would have been more suicide bombers in Israel. But as Stephen Potter has shown, for Saddam to be ‘one-up’, someone or something else would have to be ‘one-down’. That would be the United Nations.
The United Nations does not play a visible part in our everyday lives. It is in its seventieth year now, during which time there has not been a war between the major powers of the world and that is down to the existence of the UN. But it is also exactly two hundred years since the establishment of the first international order designed to do exactly that.
The Congress of Vienna was set up by the anti-Napoleonic powers after twenty-three years of almost continuous warfare on the continent of Europe that had widened into a global conflict. A loose coalition of great powers, it was very broadly a system whereby conferences could be set up to address international issues and to prevent war being a continuation of diplomacy by other means. The Congress, or Concert of Europe, as it became, kept the peace for another thirty years. After the revolutions of 1848 and the rise of nationalism, wars began to break out, but none of them became the all-encompassing conflagration from the time of Napoleon. Indeed, the outcomes of some wars became the subject of international conferences, most notably the 1878 Berlin Conference that revised the 1877 Treaty of San Stefano between Russia and the Ottoman Empire.
The Concert was also the forum for the division of Africa by the great powers, again through the conference system. It finally collapsed in 1914, after Germany refused a conference over the Austro-Serbian crisis. The Concert had been subject to extreme stresses of colonial rivalry and was unable to prevent an arms race between rival power blocs. It was succeeded by the League of Nations, which could not prevent aggressive war and had no means to enforce collective security apart from high principles for its two decades of sorry existence. The United States refused to be a member.
The experience of the League and its collapse in 1939 informed Western policy and led to a robust response when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. The United Nations had learned the lessons of history and had been explicitly set up to prevent aggressive war such as this. A global organisation dedicated to collective security and peace, it operates a two-tier structure, where permanent members of the Security Council are permitted extra leeway in forward foreign policy compared to other countries. Put simply, they are allowed to invade other countries and perform other acts that would be seen as aggressive and condemned if practised by anyone else. This system, coupled with the development of nuclear weapons, has kept the world free from open war between the great powers for three score years and ten. But it is based on the UN being a credible guarantor of global security.
Saddam Hussein had found the perfect way to defeat the UN. By using his people as a human shield, he would parley using their plight for a weakening of sanctions. This is a man who led his country to make war on Iran and Kuwait, used poison gas against his own people and others, launched missiles against Israel and Saudi Arabia and paid bounties to the impoverished families of Palestinian suicide bombers that saw ramping-up of terrorist activity in Israel. He was behind the Iranian Embassy siege in London in 1980. His co-operation with weapons inspectors had always been grudging and there had even been physical obstruction to prevent them doing their jobs. If there was one leader who the UN should depose, it was Saddam.
For all this aggressive behaviour, there was the realistic prospect that the UN would eventually walk away from this serial offender against the global order. This would not be a good example to set. Other dictatorships could simply follow Saddam’s game-plan and they too could get away with it. This could only result in a progressive weakening of UN authority from the death of a thousand cuts. History has told us the consequences of a failure of collective security over the last two centuries, in the slaughters at the Somme, Passchendaele and Auschwitz to name but three. The UN’s authority had to be imposed. World peace depended on it.
In Britain, the opposition to the invasion of Iraq was led by a group called the ‘Stop the War’ coalition. This was yet another mindlessly pacifist socialist front organisation, comprising elements of the Socialist Workers Party, CND and left-wing Labour members like Jeremy Corbyn, in other words, the usual suspects. However it was not started to protest against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was actually founded just ten days after the 9/11 attacks to protest against any military action by the NATO in response to Taliban-backed Al-Qaeda terrorists murdering nearly 3,000 people and destroying a sizeable section of the Manhattan skyline. This grouping was just another rehashing of the hard-left’s perennial opposition to British defence policy, a spiritual heir to a CND who saw nothing wrong in the USSR’s threat to the free world in the 1980s. On that basis, plus the hard-left’s support for the genocidialists in Bosnia as well as other terrorist groups worldwide, it was impossible to take them seriously. The Left had also protested against the coalition’s liberation of Kuwait back in 1991. Their continued support for Saddam Hussein was contemptible. Blair felt they could be ignored. While their emotive arguments have popular appeal, they are not based on a rational examination of the facts.
Unfortunately the argument that giving in to Saddam would weaken the UN and possibly lead to World War III is not one that can be easily presented to the man on the Clapham Omnibus. There was opposition in the Security Council to the invasion, led by Russia, but then Russia has always been a grudging member of the UN, discovering to its cost that a boycott of the UN in the 1950 led to a vote in its absence to fight against aggression by North Korea. Deadlock in the UN was the ammunition needed by the hard left and they were able to convince hundreds of thousands of people to demonstrate against the war in London on its eve, to no effect. The invasion went ahead. Saddam was toppled.
While Blair and Bush could point to deliberate breaches of numerous UN resolutions, their opponents could point to the absence of an explicit resolution authorising action. There was a schism in the Security Council. The UN’s resolve in the face of a murderous aggressive dictator was weakened. It was on the path to obsolescence just like its predecessors. Bush and Blair halted the decline in its tracks, paying a blood-price to do so.
Why should Blair have had any respect for the naysayers over Iraq? Inaction on the issue would have resulted in Saddam being in power today and causing mischief all over the Gulf. There was no reason to respect an opposing view. People point to the bloody aftermath of a relatively easy invasion. However, as I have written elsewhere, civil war is an inevitable consequence of any revolution in any country. The Iraqi people have chosen to settle their differences through violence and this is their responsibility, not the US’s or the UK’s. All Saddam had achieved was to maintain a façade of civic peace using extreme violence and state terror to keep a captive populace compliant through fear.
It is highly likely that Chilcot will condemn Blair for his manipulation of the government machine in sending this country to war. However, nothing can get away from the hard fact that invasion was the only way to topple a leader who was a serial offender against peace in the region. The relative collapse of civic peace once there was no more state terror had less to do with the failure of a post-invasion administration and more with a revanchist insurgency and the incursion of Al-Qaeda terrorists who had a prime opportunity to attack US troops. Revolutions and civil wars may take up to two decades to work themselves out properly and this is the course in Iraq. The way the state was patched together by the British after the fall of Ottoman control is a contributory factor. Blair should not be held responsible for the violence in Iraq since the invasion. Together with Bush, he preserved the ongoing credibility of a collective security agreement that has kept peace between the great powers for seventy years.