Nick Cohen's controversial polemic What's Left: How Liberals Lost Their Way has reignited the debate about the rights and the wrongs of the Iraq war. In an earlier post I exposed ten lies about the conflict which have shaped anti-war sentiment. I now go further and set out a more comprehensive point-by point case for the war which to my knowledge is fairly unique amongst all the material that's been produced on this issue. I do so because the self-righteous opponents of the war continue to insist that there can be no good argument for the war. Also I believe that the full weight of the pro-war argument has largely gone by default.
Such has been the success of the anti-war lobby in claiming the moral high ground for their views that there are now few on the left who are prepared to challenge them over the whole range of their propoganda. Even Nick Cohen provides only a very narrow justification for the war (the desirability of over-throwing an evil dictator and standing by the Iraqi victims of the insurgency), thereby conceding much valuable territory regarding the other equally valid reasons for the war.
Here then, in chronological order, are no less than 22 reasons why progressives should stand up against the prevailing opinion of the liberal-left on this issue, particularly at a time when their mindset threatens to undermine the chances of Labour winning the next election.
1. The second Gulf war of 2003 followed the first Gulf war of 1991 which resulted directly from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
2. Instead of over-throwing Saddam at that time, the allies gave way to liberal sentiment and left him in power on the basis that he would never be in a position to threaten neighbouring countries again.
3. The terms of the 1991 cease-fire (not a peace settlement, by the way) forbade Iraq from developing WMD.
4. To that end a UN inspection regime was imposed by resolution 687 and several related resolutions, non-compliance with which would represent a breach of the cease-fire.
5. Several years passed during which UN inspections were continually being thwarted.
6. In 1998 Iraq ceased all cooperation with the United Nations and economic sanctions and no-fly zones were imposed.
7. Then came 9/11 which underlined the world-wide terrorist threat and highlighted how failing anti-West states could be used as sanctuaries and attack bases for jihadists.
8. 9/11 also pointed up the dangers of UNDER-reacting to intelligence information.
9 The intelligence was showing that Saddam still possessed WMD and was continuing with his WMD programme, despite the terms of the cease-fire and related UN resolutions.
10. The UN inspectors, most governments, every intelligence agency in the world, and even Saddam's own generals were convinced that these weapons still existed and represented a threat, either directly through Saddam or indirectly if they were to fall into the hands of Al-qaeda. In a post-war interview with the Iraq Survey Group Saddam admitted that he was trying to give the impression that he had WMD for deterrent purposes.
11. If there were any doubts about the intelligence the feeling after 9/11 was probably that it was safer not to take any chances and that anyway why should a tyrant like Saddam be given the benefit of that doubt, particularly if it provided a legitimate reason for getting rid of him?
12. After being given every opportunity to comply with the UN resolutions (over a considerable period) Saddam rejected the final demand under resolution 1441 (passed unanimously in November 2002) which called for "an accurate, full and final disclosure of Iraq's WMD's and of all aspects of its WMD programme", and which encompassed presenting evidence that WMD stocks had been destroyed. Opinions differed amongst eminent international lawyers on whether a second resolution was needed for military action. Such differences are quite common in international law since very little is clear-cut in this fairly new and arcane area of the law.
14 To argue that the war was DEFINITELY illegal is not therefore defensible whereas the Prime Minister's parliamentary answer (March 17, 2003) putting the legal case for the war is legally defensible.
15. The ensuing invasion presented an opportunity for (a) finally dealing with the WMD threat perceived at that time (b) removing a tyrannical dictator (c) neutralising Iraq as a potential base for world-wide terrorism (d) demonstrating that the international community could not be defied on such vital issues (e) allowing US troops to be withdrawn from Saudi Arabia and its holy places (which up to that point was one of AL-qaeda's main recruiting causes) and (f) allowing progress to be made towards a Middle East settlement (Saddam was offering 50,000 dollars for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers!).
16. Blair's dilemma was, therefore, this. To go into Iraq meant war with all its terrible consequences. But not going into Iraq meant Saddam defying the international community and literally getting away with murder thus setting an example to other dictators and enemies of democracy. It also meant Saddam proceeding with his WMD programme to a point where he might become invulnerable, possibly passing WMD on to the jihadists, continuing his repression of his muslim population, and continuing to undermine a Middle East peace settlement. Finally the need to keep US troops in Saudi Arabia would continueto give AL-qaeda a cause-celebre regarding the holy places. In other words he was damned if he did and damned if he didn't.
17 In coming down in favour of the war Blair probably saw this as the lesser of the evils and as the chance to act as a restraining influence on Bush in a way that those opposing the war were not able to do..
18 Far from the invasion being anti-Islamic, the (Islamic) Kurds, anti-Saddam Sunnis and the Shias rejoiced at being liberated from Saddam's tyranny (even now despite the post-war mayhem a recent poll has shown that over 60% of the population believe that overthrowing Saddam was worth the hardship entailed, 75% of the Shias and 81% of the Kurds).
19. Yes, terrible mistakes were made in the post-war period (as in any war). Amongst these was underestimating the sheer depravity of an enemy which seems to be prepared to destroy the country and slaughter its people rather than to see it progress under a democratically elected government.
20 Iraq is NOT under occupation. The occupation was ended in 2004 under UN Security Council Resolution 1546 when the interim Iraqi government took power. Coalition troops have been mandated by the UN to keep the peace. The US government is pledged to comply with a UN resolution requiring them to leave if requested by the Iraqi government.
21. Millions of Iraqis risked death to elect their government. Their government therefore has a greater legitimacy than almost any other government in the world!
22. That government wants our troops to stay as long as it takes to do the job. To cut and run now would be one of the most ignoble acts in our history.
From this perspective then there is no betrayal of what the Labour Party and the liberal-left are supposed to stand for. Quite the opposite. Here we have a courageous Labour leader trying, against all the odds, to uphold the principles of democracy, social justice, humanitarianism, and international solidarity which the Labour Party was founded to promote. To be sure, there is a downside. But those who constantly dwell on these negative aspects without putting them into the above context are simply giving comfort to one of the most despicable enemies we have faced, thereby stiffening their resistance in the belief that western public opinion does not have the stomach for the fight and that one more spate of high-profile suicide bombings will precipitate demands to bring home the troops and thus bring them victory.
Over to you.