Last week, just before Valentine’s Day, North Korea carried out its latest nuclear test. In a way this was a greeting to the world, or at least to the United States. It was meant to convey one core message: all members of the Axis of Evil are equal, but some are more equal than others.
This test comes almost ten years after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. It’s time, I think, to recall the words of Madeleine Albright, the former Secretary of State – “The message out of Iraq is that if you don’t have nuclear weapons, you get invaded. If you do have nuclear weapons, you don’t get invaded.” North Korea has them, and is determined to show the world that it has them. Iran - also on George Bush’s Axis - is on the way to acquiring them and there is really very little to be done. The truth is simple enough: the invasion of Iraq has made the world an immeasurably more dangerous place.
Perhaps if George Bush had read Carl von Clausewitz, the great Prussian military strategist, things might have been different. My goodness; what could a nineteenth century thinker have to say about a twenty-first century military fiasco, what could he possibly say to Bush that Bush would have understood? Probably nothing, but you might care to consider the following passage from On War, Clausewitz' magnum opus:
No one starts a war-or rather, no one in his senses should do so-without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.
You see, what is important here, what Clausewitz understood and American strategic planners did not, is not so much the specific design, the aims and objectives as these are conceived in advance of an attack, but what unintended consequences may arise. War is then not a ‘continuation of policy by other means.’ Rather it can, and does, produce entirely new lines of policy that turn the original objectives inside out. For Washington the unintended consequences of the war in Iraq have, quite simply, been endless.
So, what did the Bush administration not anticipate? For one thing it did not anticipate that America casualties would be greater after ‘victory’ than before. Above all, it did not anticipate being involved in a sectarian war. It was all so one dimensional: a deposed dictator, a grateful people, a new democracy. The real consequences have been a more unstable Middle East, an increased danger of terrorism, a growing threat to the civil liberties of the democratic nations, and a widespread distrust of the United States and England among the Islamic countries.
In response to a deteriorating strategic situation Donald Rumsfeld, the then US Secretary of Defence, said quite simply, in the crassest possible way, ‘Stuff happens’. But you see, stuff should not happen if war is a rational pursuit of policy in the sense that Clausewitz conceived. The advice he would have given to Bush and Rumsfeld is to read the signs of history for possible consequences, in an attempt to minimise the variables. But they did not read history; they did not read Clausewitz and they did not understand Iraq. The only certainty has been and more chaos.
I am convinced, in this anniversary year, that history will look back on the Iraq War as one of the great political and strategic disasters of our age. The whole escapade was built on a lie after lie: Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and he had no contact whatsoever with Islamic terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. It was the invasion itself that gave these murderous militants a major opportunity. Rather than a stable democracy, the most pronounced of Bush’s many delusions, Iraq today is not that much better than it was yesterday. Nouri al-Maliki, the present prime minister, has been building up a new dictatorship, concentrating more and more power in his hands and in the hands of his Dawa Party.
Out of sight out of mind, or hear no evil, see no evil, seems to be the attitude of people who have the good fortune not live in this benighted ‘democracy.’ But evil there is. We no longer hear of the killing but the killing still goes on. Last year alone some 4500 civilians died in violence. So far this month another 253 have been added to the list. The body count grows by the day. Yesterday seventeen people were killed, fourteen by gunfire and three by bombs.
The overall picture is horrendous, a cost that almost defies comprehension. In the nine year period from 2003 to 2012 almost 4,500 American service people were killed along with 179 British. But the Iraqi deaths, what of those? According to the Lancet, a well respected British medical journal, in the three years from 2003 to 2006 alone over 600,000 died as a result of violence, Yes, 600,000 – bombed, burned, stabbed, shot and tortured to death. Proportionately that's the equivalent of 6 million Americans or 1.2 million Britons killed over the same period. Can you conceive of such a Holocaust, can you conceive of the anguish and horror it would cause? I can't.
According to recent polls, the majority of the Iraqi people believe that they are worse off now than they were under Saddam, quite an achievement by any reasonable measure, considering what a thoroughly unpleasant person the former tyrant was.
Now instead of a strong secular dictatorship there is a weak half-hearted democracy, torn by factional divisions and haunted by unresolved tensions. A large part of its population in the south is more loyal in political and religious outlook to Tehran rather than Baghdad. Quite frankly, I don’t believe that Iraq will ever be a stable democracy in the Western sense of the term. We wasted millions for what? For precisely nothing, no political advantage, no strategic advantage; nothing. There is a perversity here that, quite frankly, is beyond my comprehension.
There are other issues, other things opened up by the invasion that people might not have been aware of. Did you know, for instance, that women under the rule of Saddam enjoyed a relatively free lifestyle, in that they had many of the same opportunities as men? They were not required to wear the burqa or the headscarf. After the invasion women in the south around the city of Basra were murdered for being considered ‘too western’ by the Shiite militias. Female athletes have been threatened with death for appearing ‘immodest’. Teenagers have been killed because of their hair styles. The whole thing, quite simply, is a nightmare.
I cast my eye over the disaster of Iraq and the Roman historian Tacitus comes to mind. Into the mouth of a barbarian chef, resisting a Roman incursion, he puts some powerful words;
A rich enemy excites their cupidity; a poor one, their lust for power. East and West alike have failed to satisfy them. They are the only people on earth to whose covetousness both riches and poverty are equally tempting. To robbery, butchery and rapine, they give the lying name of 'government'; they create a desolation and call it peace.....
As we approach another milestone in this sad history you might care to reflect that your country and mine, the United States and England, President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, those emperors of lying conceit, created a desolation and called it democracy. No wonder North Korea is perfecting its nuclear shield.