I referred below to a spirited defence of the Iraq operation by Oliver Kamm, an ardent supporter, in which he admits that mistakes have been made, but still maintains that it was not just worthwhile but a necessity to carry it out. Oliver Kamm does not allow comments on his site (a pity, I think) but here comments are always welcome. A regular visitor here is 'Dearieme', normally a mild and good natured fellow, but Oliver's (I hope he will forgive the familiarity) essay has reduced him to carpet-chewing ferocity in a comment to the post below and, my non-geek skills permitting, I intend to paste it under here to start the conversation off.
I have read his essay carefully, as I urge you to do, but I am still slightly confused by his justification for the war. It seems to stem from three separate roots. The first is a graft of idealism on to ideology. In effect Oliver says that Saddam was an undemocratic dictator of demonic wickedness, a description with which no-one, except possibly the dis-honourable member for Bethnell Green & Bow, would disagree. It would be wrong to suggest that Oliver considers this alone a sufficient reason to invade Iraq but from all that he has written on his blog, in this and other posts, it is obviously an enormously important part of his whole actively interventionist stance. Of course, if you are an idealist and a fervent advocate of Western liberal democracy, as Oliver is, then it is reasonable to support a foreign policy of hostility, short of war, against those regimes which are antithetical to the political system that you espouse - assuming, of course, that you can afford it! After all, whilst one is entitled to look askance at the regime in Saudi Arabia, alas, we need the oil. Similarly, if in peril, we are surely right to ally ourselves with any country that is an enemy of our enemy, as we did, whilst holding our noses, with the USSR in WWII. Oliver is not such a starry-eyed idealist that he will ignore hard realities but each and every instance in which this country fails to conduct a hostile policy against a country whose governance stands as an insult to democratic values rather lessens the strength of such an argument in support of our intervention in Iraq. It tarnishes the idealism more than somewhat if the policy can be summed up as: we will because, in this case, we can!
There is yet another important consideration inherent in Oliver's desire to intervene on the grounds of idealistic ideology. As I indicated in my use of the term "hostility, short of war", there is a world of difference between the two conditions, hostility and war. The first is always provisional, the latter is irrevocable! For that very reason the first requires less in the way of buttressing arguments because it can always be changed, where-as the second demands that the justification for war be tested to extremes before a final decision is taken. I would say that Oliver's idealism is totally insufficient on its own as a justification (as he would probably agree), but further, in view of the number of instances when we failed to apply it, it is so weak as to be virtually useless even as a supporting argument for invading Iraq.
There is one other consideration when deciding on the efficacy of his idealism as a justification for going to war in order to combat the forces of undemocratic evil, and surprisingly it is not really dealt with in detail by Oliver and other pro-war supporters. Given that their policy is based on a moral imperative, the question is whether or not it is moral to go to war to change a regime. As I have repeated probably too many times, people like me do not allow the butcher's bill to weigh too heavily in the balance, but idealists like Oliver surely must. He, and his ilk, point constantly to the pro-active action by liberal democracies against the horrors of Nazi Germany, and their principled stand against Soviet ambitions in the cold war. Pointing to the monstrosities of these regimes, they say, in effect, if it was right then, it was also right for us to take a similar hard line against Saddam and his murderous sons. This surely is a travesty of history. Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviets constituted a direct and tangible threat to this country, by which I mean that it was very much in the realm of possibility, some would say, probability, that German or Soviet boots would trample across English soil. We did not go to war with Germany for the sake of Poland, any more than we did to save the Jews. We took the irrevocable step, at the very last minute, in order to counter a very real strategic threat. It had nothing to do with the inherent evil of their regimes because, of course, we actually allied ourselves to one of these monsters in order to deal with the other!
Raising the subject of a "very real strategic threat" brings us out of the airy realms of idealism and ideology to the deadly nuts and bolts of WMD. Oliver's second reason in support of the Iraq operation, as I understand it, was the threat of WMD. In his essay he is not entirely specific but I think we can take it as a given that he, along with Blair and Bush (and me!) believed in the likelihood that Saddam had WMD, or, if the Western hostility towards Iraq was eased by the combination of pathetic public opinion and lack of support from the so-called international community (ie, France and Russia), it would only be a matter of time before Saddam reconstituted his teams of chemists, scientists and engineers into a new programme. In other words, if, as seemed more than possible in the late '90s, the sanctions and the no-fly zones were lifted, Saddam would be back to his WMD quick as a flash. In a comment on the post below, Hank kindly linked to an International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) report which fairly summed up the state of knowledge prior to the war and the penultimate paragraph reads as follows: "Today, after four years without inspections, there can be no certainty about the extent of Iraq’s current capacities. A reasonable net assessment is that Iraq has no nuclear weapons but could build one quickly if it acquired sufficient fissile material. It has extensive biological weapons capabilities and a smaller chemical weapons stockpile. It has a small force of ballistic missiles with a range of 650km, that are capable of delivering CBW warheads, and has prepared other delivery methods for CBW, including manned aircraft and UAVs. Sooner or later, it seems likely that the current Iraqi regime will eventually achieve its objectives." The final paragraph contains this sentence which encapsulates the difficulty facing policy makers at the time, "Wait and the threat will grow; strike and the threat may be used."
Frankly, it was a judgement call and it seems to me that honourable and thoughtful men could come to different conclusions based on the knowledge to hand at the time. If it is true that Oliver allowed his passionate idealism to sway his judgement one way, it is also equally true that a great many anti-war people allowed their passionate anti-Americanism to sway theirs in an opposite direction. Still, let us leave motivation to the psychologists and test Oliver's argument that war was the only, or the best, way to deal with the problem of Saddam's WMD capability - or potential capability. He maintains that it was, and I agree with him. A policy of containing and curbing Saddam's ambitions had been in place with the full legal backing of UN resolutions since the end of the first Iraq war. However, by the turn of the century, they were visibly wilting and failing not least because of the pernicious influence of the French and the Russians who were owed huge amounts of money by the Iraqi regime. (There-in, of course, lies a lesson that will continue to be ignored by policy makers, that allowing your foreign policy to be dictated by a collection of gangsters and mass-murderers at the UN is foolishness bordering on insanity!) The fact is that by 2000, the US/UK were being pushed back from their policy of containment and there were only two options; simply give up the sanctions and the aerial surveillance, beat a retreat and hope for the best whilst a resurgent and enriched Saddam bolstered his power and nursed his grievances, or, go to war. I realise that my opinion could be described as light-weight but even so, for what it's worth, I agree with Clausewitz that war is an essentially unstable and unpredictable activity that should only be undertaken for profound reasons of state. I believe that Saddam was a huge risk and had proved it by his past conduct in waging war against his neighbours. The possibility of him deploying toxic chemicals, via third parties, in the heart of our cities was too great a risk and that, going further than Oliver's stance, I believe was not only a necessary argument, it was a sufficient one to justify war.
The third argument Oliver puts forward in defence of his pro-war policy might be described as post hoc! In it, he suggests that one huge benefit is the removal from the world scene of one of the three WMD threats emanating from states whose regimes depend on whipping up hatred of the USA and, by implication, the UK. They have now been reduced to two - Iran and N. Korea. No-one should undervalue that achievement.
Throughout this post I have referred to the 'war', and I mean by that, the 3-week invasion and conquest of Iraq. The 'occupation' is another matter altogether. Here, I believe, Oliver allows his passionate idealism to overcome his common-sense. He implies that amongst other things, more troops would have helped. I would suggest that it wasn't the lack of troops that harmed us in the immediate aftermath, but our lack of ferocity! We could have had all the troops we possessed inside Iraq but if you are going to ponce about with what the British army is pleased to call 'hearts and minds' campaigns, you are wasting your time. It does not require a conquering army to be unleashed in bestiality onto the general population but it does require that they be utterly ruthless in catching and executing any resistance fighters or agitators. Like Machiavelli's prince, it is better to be feared than loved. However, we must face the fact that our governments are ultimately not rulers but ruled - by their electorate. Today there is absolutely no chance that the American or British public would allow their soldiers the degree of ruthlessness required to hold down a rebellious people. Given that fact, it is necessary to adapt your strategy and tactics. If holding down a nation in order to give time for the seeds of democracy to grow is doomed to failure, then one should simply depend on the effects of the 'projection of power'. The attack on Iraq was a prime example of the projection of power aimed at the ruling elite. It was massively successful and if we had quickly withdrawn, perhaps holding a small area as a base, it would have had a salutary effect on neighbouring governments. Now, because of what I call mischievously, the 'neo-Kamm' policy of trying to sow western democracy into a society that has no cultural or historical soil in which the seeds might grow, what might be described accurately as a sort of political onanism, we have become mired in this ghastly muddle in which all our advantages have gone and indeed, we are now suffering severe damage. Had we left immediately, no doubt Iraq would have imploded into civil war, but that need not have concerned us. No doubt there would have been severe repurcussions as the Iranians attempted to take over the Shi'ite south (as they are trying to do now), and Turkey might have been tempted to intervene in the Kurdish north, but at least we would have achieved our limited aims of removing Saddam, our strength and ability to project our power would have been maintained and would have to be taken into careful consideration by all concerned in the region. Now we face the worst of all possible worlds having made a complete muck of it, being forced out with our tail between our legs and our potential enemies confident that we will never return in their lifetime because our electorate would never stand for it. The effect on our friends and allies in the region can only be imagined!
Oliver's world view is based on a Messianic vision that in another century might have been called muscular Christianity. In the 21st century we are neither muscular nor Christian, and our liberal socialism at home is well on the way to sapping what strength of purpose we might have left. We must brace ourselves for shocks to come and when they come they will be too close for comfort. Perhaps then, like a hanging in the morning, it will concentrate our minds wonderfully!
(I hope to be able to cut and paste some comments from the post below to this post inorder to maintain the conversation)