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.