Thursday, 21 August 2014

Isis and the mission of the unaccomplished

There’s so much to learn from Iraq. In particular, the truth of the old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I’m prepared to go out on a limb here, and say that I’m prepared, for the purposes of argument at least, to give Tony Blair the benefit of the doubt. I’m prepared to allow that he might actually have been sincere in believing that Saddam Hussein was “a profoundly wicked, I would say almost psychopathic, man” and that, in consequence, he was right to do what he could to bring him down.

Saddam. A vile dictator. Bringing him down was a great idea
if only what followed hadn't been still worse
Now, however, even Blair admits that overthrowing Saddam Hussein may have contributed to the situation today. On 23 June, he told the Independent, “of course the Iraq of 2014 bears, in part, the imprint of the removal of Saddam Hussein 11 years ago. To say otherwise, as a recent editorial in this newspaper implies that I do, would be absurd.”

Indeed. Bringing down a vile dictator sounds like a fine plan, but you have to be sure that you’re going to replace him with something better. Whereas the intervention of 2003 has inflicted on the region, and on the world, something far worse. The massacres, the enslavements, that expulsions of innocent people by Isis give the measure of the utter barbarity of that movement. And yet, perhaps on Stalin’s principle that a single death is a tragedy and a million merely a statistic, the gruesome beheading of Jim Foley has brought it home far more powerfully still.

Jim Foley reported on horrors which have now claimed him
A single murder can be more blood curdling than a massacre
Why, it even dragged the British Prime Minister back from holiday. For the second time. On the first occasion, he authorised limited British military action in Iraq. but then shot off again as quickly as he could. It’s possible that his family stop him reading the papers or watching TV while he’s away (nothing about David Cameron suggests he regards being Prime Minister as a full-time occupation), because on his return it seems the security services had to make him watch the video of Foley’s death. Apparently to make him understand the gravity of the situation.

I imagine quite a few people had grasped how serious it was even without watching the video (I, for instance, feel no inclination to watch it). But perhaps Cameron’s just not that quick on the uptake.

A man who certainly isn’t quick is George Dubya Bush. It probably hasn’t occurred to him yet that there’s trouble in the same Iraq that he invaded. He may indeed not know that there’s trouble at all. Let’s not forget that he was unforgivably slow in his response to the devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, although he was on holiday (yes, there’s a pattern here) in Texas, the state next door.

He probably still believes that he accomplished his mission in Iraq, as he proclaimed on the deck of an aircraft carrier. He may not have grasped that the murder of one of his compatriots, Foley, is a direct consequence of the mission he botched, with Blair’s faithful support. Less of a mission accomplished than a mission bungled by the unaccomplished.

Just how bungled is shown by what the West is reduced to hoping for these days.

The US heavily armed the Iraqi army it set up to replace Saddam’s. As a result, Isis has been able to seize enough weapons to arm five divisions, when that army turned tail and bolted from its advancing enemy. Now we have to hope that the Iraqi military can learn some effectiveness from the Iranian officers who are trying to get it back into some semblance of order.

And yet one of the justifications for the invasion of Iraq was to protect us from the still greater threat of Iran.

Meanwhile, Isis continues to make serious advances in Syria, using the US weapons it captured in Iraq. The country’s biggest city, Aleppo, is in danger of falling to its militants. The only hope of stopping them? The army of Bashar al-Assad, the man Blair still feels we ought to have bombed last year.

We may well have gone into Iraq with excellent intentions. But what a mess we made. We’ve woken a far worse, far deadlier, far more monstrous enemy. We’ve put weapons in his hands. And now we have to rely on highly unsavoury regimes to help us defeat him.

Yep. Good intentions. They take you straight to hell.

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