Over the last twelve hours or so, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Our Tone) has been frantically engaged in two endeavours. The first is to demonstrate his complete lack of understanding of Middle Eastern affairs. As his presumed (we’re not allowed to see the correspondence between them so we can’t say for sure) friend, former US President George W Bush, never actually said, ‘mission accomplished’.
The second would appear to be aimed at stirring up memories of his poodle-like acquiescence to former President Bush’s somewhat twisted logic in invading Iraq. As history cannot be undone it would be pointless to rehash the pro and con arguments for the invasion and let us not dwell on Our Tone’s apparently cavalier disregard for British parliamentary tradition when addressing that august body. We are where we are, not where mindless optimism and blind ignorance strenuously maintained we would be. ‘It’s not our (for our read ‘my’) fault’ Our Tone gravely intones as he solemnly addresses the camera.
Really Tone? Back in the day, an amoeba with half a brain could (and many did) have predicted two things. The first was that the Coalition forces would make mince-meat out of Saddam’s boys. Yes of course those charged with prosecuting the war wanted all the goodies and troops they could lay their hands on, but considering the billions–choose your own favourite currency– America, and to a lesser extent the UK, spent on those goodies it would have been embarrassing to say the least, to have lost. In a way, but not the way he meant it at the time, Donald Rumsfeld was correct about ‘war lite’. The actual invasion and subsequent overthrow of Saddam Hussein went relatively smoothly and might well have been achieved by less ‘assets’ than were actually used. What was required after that, however, was an extended period of nation building. The war was planned by those nice chaps in the Pentagon, with some limited and usually ignored input from others, and the peace was planned predominantly by Messrs Bush and Blair (and Cheney, but whatever you do don’t mention Halliburton). One went well, the other didn’t, which was entirely predictable. The Iraqi’s were going to be pleased to see Coalition forces for about ten minutes and after that the problems were going to start unless a lot of money was spent very quickly in improving the lot of the Iraqi man and woman in the street. Not to denigrate the heroic attempts of British and American military engineers to repair, in some cases actually build, the infrastructure of the country, it was never going to be enough. Could it have been enough? Yes, it certainly could. Taking a leaf out of their own book, Germany 1945, the ‘Allies’ should have gone softly when it came to the de-Baathification program. I forget the name of the genius who disbanded the Iraqi army. I really can’t be bothered to look it up but he might like to reflect that most likely many of the ISIS fighters are ex-Iraqi army, still hacked-off at not being paid. He could have suggested paying them and using them, under careful supervision, to maintain law and order whilst the country was rebuilt…but he didn’t and no doubt Our Tone thought it was a good idea. He might have written to George W and said it wasn’t a good idea….but the Chilcot Inquiry which has been tasked at looking into this sort of thing isn’t allowed full access to the correspondence so we’d have to rely on Tone’s word about it. Nobody mention WMD or forty-five minutes.
I’m not really sure who advised ‘our Tone’ to bring this all up now. Nobody had actually gotten around to pointing the finger at him but bearing in mind that he has more or less successfully blocked the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war from perusing the love letters George W and he exchanged in the build-up to the war, now might have been the time to say absolutely nothing at all on any subject remotely connected with Iraq. Instead of which he seems to put great store by the point that we can’t know what would have happened if we’d left well alone. Unfortunately, he hasn’t put it quite like that. He has chosen to make the point that ‘The Arab Spring’ would not have passed-by Iraq. You know, I wouldn’t like to bet on that. Tunisia experienced a change of government and their version of the ‘Arab Spring’ seems to be working out. Egypt? Ah, now here’s the thing. Whatever Hosni Mubarak’s faults (too numerous to list but he wasn’t all bad), he actually baulked at mass-murder. After electing a new President they decided they didn’t like after all, the Egyptians encouraged the military to take over, so basically business as usual, but wearing a new suit. Yemen? Work in progress.Libya and Syria? I’ll come back to those in a moment. Jordan, Saudi and the Gulf States? The governments might have changed but not the actual rulers. Granted there have been some internal reforms but in general a very firm grip has been maintained on power. Best not mention Lebanon either. So what do I think Saddam would have done if confronted by mass demonstrations? He might have interrupted his lunch long enough to instruct his minions to gas a lot of people, to arrest most of any survivors and then arranged a TV appearance where he would appear smilingly holding a shotgun or balancing a photogenic child on his lap. That’s the sort of thing that brutal dictators are good at Tone, being brutal I mean. Granted they lie a lot and smile a lot but their concept of firing somebody is somewhat different from yours, Old Boy. Or possibly not, but they put the theory into practice whereas others just dream about it. Ask John Major or your ex best-mate Gordon to explain.
So apart from none of this being Tone’s fault, his best idea for dealing with the current situation would appear to involve bombing Syria, right after the ISIS fighters in Iraq have been flattened. To be fair and balanced, if you really must launch a series of air strikes against ISIS, now is the time to do it. They are out in the open and a little over-stretched logistically. If you wait until they retreat back into the captured cities then air strikes won’t work. Well, that’s not entirely true. Air strikes will flatten a lot of towns where ordinary Iraqis currently cower in fear of being beheaded by ISIS or flattened by their own government. Seeing as nobody has yet invented a bomb smart enough to distinguish between an Iraqi hoping to live his or her life quietly and without hindrance and an Islamist fighter, a lot of innocent people are going to be killed (again). That’ll work then but wait, there’s more! After that, Tone thinks we should bomb Syria. After all it worked in Libya, didn’t it? Well, it worked to the extent that the brutal dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a man who had voluntarily, if grudgingly, surrendered any nuclear weapons research that he happened to have scattered around the place, a man who had ostensibly abandoned his support for terrorist organisations around the world and a man who was toying with the idea of limited political reform, was overthrown with the help of NATO air strikes. The subsequent Libyan government have of course introduced full democracy, the rule of law prevails and no weapons have gone walkabout only to resurface in Mali and quite possibly Nigeria. A stunning success then, I’d say…not.
Our Tone is also quietly ignoring the fact that when the question of air strikes against Syria came up a while back, the British Parliament, no doubt remembering his performance in the House when they were discussing the war against Iraq (which Tone had probably already promised George that we would support, but we can’t say for sure because the Chilcot Inquiry does not have full access to ‘private papers’) resoundingly voted against it. So resoundingly that the British Government said they wouldn’t bother to ask again.
Allow me to point out the flaw in your plan, Tone. The brutal Syrian dictator Bashir Assad is currently fighting…ISIS, amongst others. So your cunning plan is to bomb the forces of Bashir Assad, which will assist the forces seeking to overthrow him…ISIS. At the same time, we should bomb the terrorist forces– ISIS– in Iraq who are seeking to overthrow the failed Maliki government. I suppose it has the merit of being even-handed, in a confusing sort of way.
Just a few things for you to ponder, Tone. Democracy in Europe evolved over about five hundred years, so don’t expect that it can be installed over-night in a region that, with one exception, hasn’t got much of a clue about democracy. So, either the Coalition had to commit to nation building in Iraq or it was going to split into three entities. There was no ‘third way’. Iraq was always going to become a Shia state, a Sunni state and a Kurdish state. The Iranians are Shia and are now providing aid to the Maliki government, a predominantly Shia organisation. Don’t be tempted to think that because America is also supporting the Maliki government that this is a golden opportunity to improve relations between the US and Iran. It’s a golden opportunity for the Iranians to pull a flanker, something they are adept at. I must also tell that Iran is supplying Assad with arms and men to fight ISIS. They already truck these supplies across Iraq and by supporting Maliki they are ensuring the supply lines stay open. One final point, although I’ll have to be brief. You recall the Israeli/Palestinian problem? Now here’s the thing, Tone. It’s not really about land or lines on a map. If it was, the whole thing would have been settled around fifty years ago. It’s actually mainly about religion, in the sense that the predominant, somewhat warped world-view of one particular religion won’t tolerate the existence of another, especially if that religion encompasses a political entity as well as a religious one. I know, I know. You’re not comfortable with the idea of religious wars. We gave them up in Europe some time ago and they’re so, well medieval, aren’t they? Never mind, ask Michael (Gove) or Teresa (May) to explain it to you.
All I can say, Tone, is keep smiling, keep your mouth shut and don’t ease-up on the medication until the doctor says it’s safe to do so.