The fall of Mosul to the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIS) has prompted further reflection on our decision to invade and occupy Iraq. Tony Blair has written a 3,000 word essay calling for military intervention, while at the same time blaming the Iraq’s violent fragmentation not on his invasion, but our “failure” to militarily intervene in Syria.
I find it tiresome in the extreme to unpick the arguments and pseudo-arguments of Iraq War enthusiasts, although it is necessary work and somebody has to do it. The volume of these hawkish voices, their hollow self-righteousness, their cavalier attitudes towards reason and objectivity, their scandalous calls to action: that even today these people can be so widely heard and read is deeply disappointing. I am too tired for a close analysis today, but there are some broad points I would like to make in summarizing the tone of the post-Mosul hand-wringing.
The lion’s share of the recent Iraq War articles have been written by those who supported it, and who now seek to distance themselves from an obvious failure of foreign policy, if not a subversion of democracy and outright illegality. Although they now concede their earlier positions were wrong, many such people retain their original trait of denigrating the “anti-war movement”. But there never was any such “movement” in any meaningful political sense. There was simply opposition to the proposed invasion and occupation. Their own endorsement of the invasion cannot be exculpated because amongst the tens of millions who opposed it, which very possibly represented a British majority, was included the Socialist Workers Party, or the Green Party, or Respect, or pro-Palestinians, or vegetarians, or any number of other groupings that the bomb Baghdad crowd found objectionable. This is egotistical and incredible nonsense.
Sadly, egotism has never been in short supply as regards the cheerleaders of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Frankly I find them all utterly ghastly people. I can’t bring myself to mention their names, quote them, or link to their articles. We have all had more than enough of them by now. Politicians, however, present a different prospect. We have duty to parse their pronunciations. Most disingenuous of them all has been Blair’s insistence that the rise of ISIS inside is Iraq is not a consequence of his invasion, but of “our” failing to bomb Syria.
Whatever Blair or anyone else says, the eventual fragmentation of Iraq was predicted by every credible observer during the run-up to war, and those predictions were widely reported. In November 2002 Blair himself had a meeting in Downing Street with three academics who told him precisely this (these three being Professor George Joffe of Cambridge, Professor Toby Dodge of SOAS, and Professor Charles Tripp, also of SOAS, and whose superb History of Iraq has never been far from my desk for years).
Joffe has told the Huffington Post that Blair sat silently while they expounded on the aftermath of the coming invasion, only to finally reply with the comment “but the man’s evil, isn’t he?”
I don’t know how Tony Blair defines evil, but British policy towards Iraq has been scandalous in its disregard for civilian life since at least 1991, when we commenced destroying the country from the air, whilst enforcing the most stringent sanctions regime in human history. Our failure to respect Iraqi sovereignty, on the other hand, is as old as Iraq itself, given the Britain only created the state so as to further its own imperial interests. If you want to examine Iraq through Tony’s Manichean prism of good and evil, one has to concede that the lion’s share of the evil can be attributed to the actions of the British, and more recently American, politicians, and not least amongst these is one Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.
It is in this light we must consider the appeals of contemporary politicians such as Boris Johnson, that Blair “should put a sock in it.” Our greatest problem with our policy towards Iraq is one of collective cognition: as a country we have always been unable to accept the murderous destruction we have wrought upon the country. It as if the very fabric of the British state, our representatives and civil servants and media interlocutors, even our own electorate, may understand it individually but fear tremendously the possibility of expressing it as a whole. Thus it has become something we don’t talk about. Problematically, Blair can’t stop talking about it, and as time goes on his endless self-justification grows ever more appalling, as it flies further and further from palpable, ongoing reality.
I understand the perceived need not to make a fuss. I sympathise with those who feel the reputation of the government, the country, the civil service, the office of Prime Minister itself, the armed forces, our political parties and the intelligence services all stand to suffer terribly if we can officially admit the Iraq War to be a murderous, criminal, negligent, and pointless failure which was facilitated by gross deception. Yet we each of us know the truth, and so does the rest of the world. And the truth is that ultimately our institutions would be saved, not harmed, by delivering Tony Blair unto the judgement of an appropriate court, whether that be in Westminster or elsewhere.
It is not that we need closure, or vindication. We need justice. Blair knows he has a case to answer, hence his interminable excuses. In principle, if not in practice, there is no good reason on earth why even his supporters should object to him being tried. One need not presume guilt to concede the necessity of a trial. The time has come for Blair to account for himself under oath, not in the broadsheets, or on daytime television, or on his own website. As things stand now, it would appear that a Prime Minister can brazenly lie to the house in order to start an illegal war of aggression, and need fear nothing but the cynicism of the British public.
The Daily Mail observes that having Tony Blair as a Middle East peace envoy is an obscenity. Indeed it is, but it has been an obscenity for seven years now, and his posturing will continue indefinitely until someone picks him up on it.
Blair is certainly not the only person who can be blamed for the Iraq War, but in Britain, at least, he is the most culpable. Others on this isle may have been equally criminal, or perhaps more so, given the detailed deceptions they enacted on the British public (I am thinking of a few acquaintances of Malcolm Rifkind here). Yet the buck stops with Blair, and ironically, I don’t think the idea of life in a monastic-type cell would sit too badly with him. His fantasy life could have free reign there, without harming anyone. The messiah in him would relish the persecution. I can already hear his inner voice pontificating about how his incarceration would allow us to move on; how he was suffering so that we may heal. And at long last, he would finally be right.
In the Daily Mail Simon Heffer has called for a Select Committee to enable a Commons vote on trying Blair in the House of Lords, using an impeachment precedent not followed since 1806. The following day Sir Peter Tapsell, the Father of the House, raised the matter in PMQs (Cameron replied only that Labour had voted against the Iraq Inquiry on four separate occasions). Meanwhile the Arrest Blair campaign continues, but any talk of Blair appearing before the International Criminal Court is 99% fantasy as no one has formally agreed exactly what a crime of aggression is, and any such agreement is almost certainly not going to be retrospective. It’s Westminster or bust. What a shame our MPs are so terrible and irrelevant.by