Swathes of public opinion have come to believe that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein ten years ago was a crime. Or to quote the old mischief-maker Talleyrand summing up one of Napoleon’s decisions, worse than a crime, a mistake. Guilt about the doings of the West is an inverted assertion of Western superiority and power, which is why the public so love it — we are the agents, others are the patients. The breast-beating enfolds self-congratulation. Attaching to George W. Bush, this false kind of guilt helped put Barack Obama in the White House, and has made Tony Blair so unpopular that he hardly dares show his face in Britain. An official by the name of Sir John Chilcot is chairman of a committee due to report on the Iraqi invasion, and the expectation is that this will expose Blair’s frivolity, war-mongering, and subservience to Bush.
Certainly the cost to the Allies in blood and treasure was high. It’s unproven, but as many as 100,000 Iraqis may have lost their lives.
Undoubtedly it was a mistake after the military campaign to take on the administration of Iraq. The Allies lacked knowledge of that complex society. At the time I was recommending Ahmad Chalabi to play the General de Gaulle role. I still think he would have been better than the Garners and Bremers who were shaken out of Uncle Sam’s sleeves, and just as good as Nour Maliki, today’s prime minister. When Maliki asked for the unconditional withdrawal of American troops, Obama made no attempt to negotiate. This was another mistake, real and mysterious. A permanent garrison in the country of U.S. troops would have kept the peace if need be, and remained to throw a shadow over Syria, Iran, and Pakistan.
The Sunday Telegraph devotes its recent issue to breast-beating and guilt. Commanding officers complain that Blair left them no time to train or to equip properly. Someone called Mark Etherington writes that he and a single American were left quite alone and without policy instructions in charge of a province with almost a million inhabitants.
“We must tell the truth: Britain was humiliated” is a heading that runs across two pages. In another two-page spread, Sir Christopher Meyer, the British ambassador in Washington in the run-up to the campaign, depicts Blair as a man with no will of his own but “evangelical” in worshipping Bush. Coincidentally, former socialist foreign secretary David Miliband thinks that Bush was the worst thing that ever happened to Blair. Neither of them a Talleyrand, Meyer and Miliband are maestros of self-promotion through guilt.
Maliki is proving uncomfortably authoritarian but he not a killer like Saddam. A political process, however imperfect, exists in Iraq, and that is Bush’s doing. Here was a first chance to settle conflicts of interest without violence, and the Arab Spring at the outset built on that. All European countries including Britain have long since dispensed with a foreign policy worthy of the name, and are powerless even to stop immigration reaching danger levels. Blair was another prime minister unable to stop the rot, but at least he appreciated that support of the United States is also the defense of Europe.
The Syrian rebels are Sunnis in the process of wresting power from the Alawites and shiite Iran behind them. A sunni, Saddam would be aiding the rebels in whatever ways he could. Men and weapons are smuggled across the Syrian-Iraqi border. Iraqi sunnis have already killed Syrian loyalists who had entered the country. It is a blessing for everyone that Bush has made sure that Saddam is not here to exploit and extend this ghastly war.