A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Why the UK went to war in Iraq

I'm a bit surprised that the coverage of Tony Blair's remarks about his motives for the UK joining the US in invading Iraq has focused on a rather crude distinction between it either being about the presence of WMD or about regime change.

Both the belief (founded on everyone's intelligence, even what the anti-war French and Russians believed) that Saddam had a current stock of WMD, and the desire to free Iraq from his murderous dictatorship and the region from a destabilising influence were good arguments. It turns out one of them was based on duff information but no one knew that or argued that he didn't have WMD at the time, not least because he had actually used poison gas on his own Kurdish citizens in Halabja as long ago as 1988, and because he kept saying he had them. My general principle when dealing with mad dictators who have previously used WMD and say they have got it would be to take this at face value just to be on the safe side.

For me at the time, and now, the most powerful argument for Saddam's removal is one that does not get rehearsed now by the media but I can remember was deployed far more by Blair then than the accusation that WMD were a current threat, which didn't get much more than a one line reference in the so-called dodgy dossier.

This argument was that whether or not Saddam had a current operational stock of WMD he represented a potential future WMD threat not just to other countries in the region but to Europe and possibly the UK if left in power. This was because:
  • his previous WMD programmes, covering all three of the Nuclear, Chemical and Biological weapons trio, were well evidenced and indicated an ability within Iraq to do the science again to re-develop such weapons programmes (and I can't help reminding all the people who questioned this developing country's ability to produce the stuff that chemical warfare was easy enough for participants in WW1 to develop, nuclear warfare is a 1940s technology, and biological warfare has been with us since Roman times)
  • his track record of using gas against the Kurds indicated a willingness to use WMD and a disdain for civilian casualties that was fairly unique amongst world governments at the time. I.e. if he could develop them he wouldn't just use them as a deterrent, he'd use them offensively and as a tool for power projection.
  • the third and critical factor was that you need a delivery vehicle - usually a missile, but could be a guy with a suitcase, to get WMD to their target if that is Rome or Paris or London and you are in Baghdad. Until the turn of the decade there was no chance of Iraq getting the kind of ballistic missiles that would have the range to hit European cities. But about then the North Koreans started developing fairly long range missiles and proving they had them by firing them out over Japan into the Pacific. And North Korea isn't choosy about who it sells missiles to, particularly as at that point its Communist economic system meant a large percentage of its population were enduring a famine, and it desperately needed hard currency from abroad.

My understanding was that it was the combination of these three factors: WMD science capability, will to use WMD and suddenly easy to obtain delivery vehicles, that convinced the US and UK that there was a threat that left in power Saddam was about a decade away from being able to blackmail, threaten and possibly attack European countries with weapons that would cause mass civilian casualties. Post 9/11 that level of risk was something the US in particular was not prepared to tolerate.

Regime change of course not only freed the Iraqi people from life under a monster, it removed the only world leader in possession of the three factors above.

I know it's not politically fashionable to say so, but I still think it was the right thing to do for the UK's security and the safety of the public here. The problem with the preemptive removal of a future threat is that you can never prove what would have happened if you had not done it. But I am very glad we have not had to find out the hard way, and nor have nearer neighbouring countries, what Saddam could have done to us if left in power.

30 Comments:

Blogger kris said...

I don't understand the point of this latest inquiry. We all know the damn story.

It's just another excuse for chattering class hand-wringing. I wonder if the morons spouting the utterly ridiculous "Blair's a war criminal" would be content with the real criminal, Saddam, still wreaking genocide..

The decision to go to war was made - get over it.

9:24 pm, December 14, 2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Post 9/11 that level of risk was something the US in particular was not prepared to tolerate."

This is probably the most significant part of your article. Blair was/is a Neo-Colonialist. He wanted Saddam removed long before Bush came along. He had tried with Clinton, but failed to get him t go along with. All Blair cared about was having a reason that was justifiable under international law. You are of course correct, the reason for the Iraq war is an age old one, that of pure naked self interest.

10:01 pm, December 14, 2009

 
Anonymous Walid al-Tonsi said...

These proceedings have revealed just how poorly the Blair government planned their war effort. Now, I've just read this interview with an Iraqi MP in the Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/6804897/British-hostage-Peter-Moore-held-by-Iran-claims-Iraqi-MP.html). He says that Iran was involved in kidnapping Peter Moore. More disturbingly, he accuses the US of collaborating with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard general there and that they know the Iranians will take over when we all leave. If this is already determined, why are we still there? I'm glad some Iraqi politicians at least have the courage to tell the truth about what this so called "coalition of the willing" is really up to

11:01 pm, December 14, 2009

 
Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

The decision to go to war was made - get over it.

Yeah I'm sure if your mum, dad, brother or sister shot, blown up, beaten, disfigured, maimed, raped or driven out of the country, and the person responsible admitted lying about it, you'd just "get over it" and dismiss anyone who said otherwise as "chattering class handwringers".

You unspeakable tool.

9:47 am, December 15, 2009

 
Blogger Mark Still News said...

Although Saddam was not the 1st choice of leader he was no more nastier than any other Persian leader and he was an ally of the USA even when the Kurds were gassed in 1988.

The people of Iraq may have been freed from Saddam, but the removal of his regime let in Al-Qaeda terrorists and broke down the whole structure of Iraqi society and economy. Most Iraqis now say it was better the Devil they knew than the unknown perils and poverty they face now in a split disintegrated society on the verge of civil war and that's why the UK can't get out yet. the Iraq war was one of the reasons why this country is now borrowing trillions of pounds we will never be able to pay back and is bankrupt-what a fine mess you got us into blair!

11:33 pm, December 15, 2009

 
Anonymous Clapton Ali said...

OK Luke - based on the arguments put forward in your latest blog article - can you explain why we have not yet invaded North Korea or Burma?

(Cynic I may be but I believe it is because neither North Korea nor Burma contain exploitable natural resources).

6:10 am, December 16, 2009

 
Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

"no one knew that or argued that he didn't have WMD at the time, not least because he had actually used poison gas on his own Kurdish citizens in Halabja as long ago as 1988, and because he kept saying he had them."

We were refusing to send weapons inspectors back in, Saddam was asking them, particularly as we had ships full of personnel off his coast.

We refused, despite Hans Blix asking to be allowed to resume his work.

Sorry Luke, but the argument above is just nonsense. Some people were arguing that it was in fact unlikely that he had WMD. I know, because I was one of that many.

Many (such as Robin Cook) were also arguing that we had the ability to find out, and of course, as the above juxtapositions demonstrate, we did.

But the US was set on war, and unlike other European allies of the US, we were timidly supplicant.

This remains the greatest foreign policy absurdity of our time, from start to finish; one we must learn many lessons from.

That will only be done by accepting the full extent of the almighty mess ups that were made, and being intellectually honest about their implications.

2:42 pm, December 16, 2009

 
Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Second point, but the WMD thing was about legality.

Which only goes to show that Blair was comfortable with the notion of fighting a war contrary to the terms of international law.

3:19 pm, December 16, 2009

 
Blogger HarveyR said...

The problem Luke, as you well know, is that whatever the merits of the argument, removing Saddam from power was not a legal basis for military action against Iraq.

It is questionable whether military action was legal anyway and we will hear from the former Attorney General as to when and why he changed his advice.

Blair now comes clean and like plenty of people around this world have suspected all along, argues that irespective of UN resolutions about WMD, in the end "might is right". Prior to becoming involved in this adventure in Iraq the UK would have been able to stand up against such arguments and for the UN charter and the priciples of international law.

Sadly we can no longer do that.

7:44 pm, December 16, 2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kris you really are a total doughnut.

There is no excuse for this war and although Saddam was a despot we had no right to dive in.

As for your comments regarding the chattering classes may I remind you that you have just put a comment on Luke Akehurst's blog!

9:58 pm, December 16, 2009

 
Blogger kris said...

Bite me, Jackson

Like everything was sunshine and roses before the war. Like more people wouldn't have died, been maimed or raped if we stood by and did nothing.

Hummm, what have you got to say about Ayad Jamal Aldin's quote: "We are like a bird born in a cage — America broke the cage open, but the bird does not know how to fly."

But I'm sure you know better and long for the days of Saddam.

Wot a moron.

10:05 pm, December 16, 2009

 
OpenID momentsofc said...

This whole blog struck me as full of the standard, sickening, apologetics for this descision which was always based on the most remarkable double-standards; however, of all the remarks this one takes the cheese;

"•his [Saddam Hussein's]track record of using gas against the Kurds indicated a willingness to use WMD and a disdain for civilian casualties that was fairly unique amongst world governments at the time"

Am I the only one thinking of the words 'US government' and 'Fallujah' and 'hypocrite' at this point in time. Or else you could be thinking of the Israeli governments usually indescriminate use of things like cluster bombs....

Seriously, this war is one of the reasons Labour's membership is reportedly well under 130,000 nowadays when it topped 400,000 under Blair initially. When are people within the Labour Party going to wise-up to just how wrong this war was?

10:44 pm, December 16, 2009

 
Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

Like everything was sunshine and roses before the war. Like more people wouldn't have died, been maimed or raped if we stood by and did nothing.

Yeah, it was all sunshine and roses. Because obviously anyone who thinks the war was a bad idea is a big fan of Saddam Hussein. Jeez. Saddam would have had to go up several gears to unleash the level of death and barbarity since we invaded though.

Hummm, what have you got to say about Ayad Jamal Aldin's quote: "We are like a bird born in a cage — America broke the cage open, but the bird does not know how to fly."

Pretty words. But not much to base a foreign policy on.

But I'm sure you know better and long for the days of Saddam.

Yeah that's right, I long for the days of Saddam, along with the majority of people in the country. Bloody hell, I've seen some thicko comments on this blog in the past, but you've done well to push the envelope there.

10:30 am, December 17, 2009

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

Isn't the point that many only voted for war because of the WMD issue, and wouldn't have done so if it had been purely a call for regime change?

If so then Blair did gain support for the war by lying. hats the point.

Nothing anyone has said has convinced me that it was a good idea and the replacement regime is no better than that of Saddam Hussein

6:27 pm, December 17, 2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kris

I am not Jackson I am just someone who stumbled across your idiotic commennts which clearly demonstarte a complete disregard for human life and a blind allegience to a war criminal.

Mate you really are a special case.

I don't agree with most of what Luke says but at least he takes the time to think through his posts whereas you, a regular commentator, always manage to sound like a cross between the chuckle brothers and Idi Amin.

Well done you utter fool

9:17 pm, December 17, 2009

 
Blogger kris said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:51 am, December 18, 2009

 
Blogger kris said...

erm, nimrods - it was a binary choice: either leave Saddam in place or take him out.

You want[ed] to leave him in place. You therefore would have to deal with all the consequences of your dithering inaction - which like George Bush Sr's, means leaving people hung out to dry and in the hands of a genocidle manaic.

But you know better - hell, you even know better than the Iraqis. Fake politicians calling the shots from your nice cushy labour armchairs.

What do the Iraqi people know, right? The hell with it if they're better off, right?

You've got your "principles" and an inconclusive AG's advice on the legality or not of the war.

Pat yourselves on the backs, boys. You're the new "I'm alright Jack" fence-sitters. Your grandfathers would be so proud.

But wasn't the issue the point of the inquiry? We know all the arguments for and against. We know the politicians went to war in the face of inconclusive legal advice and evidence.

So would one of you geniuses explain the point of rehashing it all in yet another inquiry that you will never be satisfied with?

The inquiry is a pointless waste of money and time.

8:56 am, December 18, 2009

 
Blogger kris said...

and btw Mike, are you seriously telling us there is no difference between Iraq today and under Saddam?

You must have amnesia. The Kurds, Marsh Arabs and the lucky surviviors of the rape rooms and other torture chambers may beg to differ.

9:08 am, December 18, 2009

 
Blogger Mark Still News said...

They allowed Saddam to carry out all these atrocities in the 1980's and Reagan supported him and the regime. Lets be honest the war in Iraq was nothing to do with freeing people or the WMD issue, it was to gain ownership and control of the oil so we could not be held to ransom, with higher prices of the commodity as in the USA a& UK far too many obese people depend on cars! Lets not bullshit and you should argue the necessity of protecting the oil!

11:55 am, December 18, 2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't comrehend -"The decision to go to war was made - get over it"

And not the old "Iraq is a better place now than before" argument, pleeease. Its actually effing illegal to go and bomb the crap out of a sovereign state, and kill hundreds of thousands of civilians, simply cause Blair fancied regime change.
Luke and your mate Kris: you clearly have no regard for innocent lives if they happen to be of the middle eastern, dark skinned kind, and not European. They mean nothing - collateral damage!
North Korea and Iran were, and are both much greater threats. Why then Luke and Kris, aren't you calling for these countries to be given the same treatment you find so acceptable?
Couple of dipsticks!

5:38 pm, December 18, 2009

 
Blogger kris said...

hey Mark

If the war was "about oil" where is it?

and I knew it would be minutes before some moron screamed "racism".

hundreds of thousands of Iraqis gassed. But you're happy to stand by and watch - am I'm the "racist".

Get real.

9:16 pm, December 18, 2009

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

Kris : you clearly haven't talked to women, gay Iraqis, or Iraqi Christians. Those I have heard were no fans of Saddam but life is now far worse.

Those who have benefited from the regime change are Shia Muslim men - the majority - and to an extent the Kurds who have much more autonomy. In the rest of Iraq minorities are not benefitting.

9:53 pm, December 18, 2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well an Iraq court sentanced Saddam to death for crimes against humanity, and executed sentance.

So what is your problem with the liberation of Iraq ?

YES ! In my name !

GW

11:53 pm, December 18, 2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ys, thousands of Iraqis were gassed back in 1988, but hey, guess what? - Blair and others in Opposition (!) refused to sign the Early Day Motion condemning this. In those days you were all supporting, arming and sucking up to Saddam. Yes it is racism. An Iraqi or any other non European life is worthless to the chattering classes of 'Stokie' - go out and ask your neighbours, who are mostly Black what they think!

12:37 pm, December 19, 2009

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

If my memory is correct Blair was a front-bencher then. The usual protocol is that front-benchers aren't allowed to sign EDMs.

Labour wasn't in government in 1988so how could we have been arming Saddam? Arms to Iraq happened under the Tories.

3:19 pm, December 20, 2009

 
Anonymous Stan Rosenthal said...

What's all this talk about the majority of Iraqis preferring to have Saddam back.

In fact reputable polls in Iraq have shown the reverse. Asked whether they were in favour of the iinvasion despite the hardships over 60% said yes. Those against were mainly the minority Sunnis who were top dogs under Saddam.

You can find the link if you look me up at the Progress blog site. The title of the post is "Yes but what did the Iraqis think of the invasion"

6:16 pm, December 21, 2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If my memory is correct Blair was a front-bencher then. The usual protocol is that front-benchers aren't allowed to sign EDMs"

So did he condemn it? NO!
Very few Labour MPs, and certainly no front bench spokespeople were bothered about Iraqis being murdered by Saddam in those days, with the exception of Jeremy Corbyn. Its only when Blair, with the supine Labour Cabinet's consent, made a pact with Bush to bomb the crap out of Iraq, that suddenly, it was being wheeled out as an excuse to go to war.

7:46 pm, December 21, 2009

 
Anonymous Rich said...

There were no WMDs and our government mislead parliament using sexed up intelligence. How can you justify a war when it was illegal in every sense.

We can't police the world Luke and based on your arguments what about Burma or China.

You don't seem to care about the people that have to fight these wars. I know if I was prime minister I would want to be damn sure that war was necessary before sending our boys to fight. Blair didn't give a damn about our troops....god sake we were left with no kit even our NBC kit was out of date.

Lots of men have lost their lives fighting two conflicts which both appear to have achieved very little. In fact since our efforts violence in Pakistan has flared up...so if anything our wars have made us a lot unsafer.

In 50 years our race is facing its biggest challenge. We have to work out how we can halt our consumption of natural resources. If we fail to act over a billion people will have to die. When you consider this fact why on earth are we wasting our time in two countries which have zero relevance to our lives.

12:13 am, December 22, 2009

 
Anonymous ExLabourVoter said...

Like everything was sunshine and roses before the war

No one ever said it was, lying twat

12:18 am, December 24, 2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Asked whether they were in favour of the iinvasion despite the hardships over 60% said yes.

I wonder how the one million upwards killed in the war would vote?

Paul

5:34 pm, January 01, 2010

 

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