Iraq: I Wish I Had Been Wrong
by Sean Gabb
My normal reaction when I turn out to be right is a combination of surprise and patronising self-righteousness. Where this Iraqi business is concerned, I really wish I had been wrong. Since the American war aims were never fully explained, there is no official criterion for judging the outcome of the war. On any reasonable view, however, the war has been a disaster.
The Americans invaded Iraq on a false prospectus. There were no weapons of mass-destruction. There was no link to al Qa’eda, nor any reason to think an invasion would reduce the will and ability of other terrorist groups. They destroyed the country’s administration and much of its infrastructure, and have done little to replace this. They rule the county by armed force. They are censoring the media. They have imprisoned thousands without charge or trial. They have tortured many prisoners. Their military is degenerating by the day into an armed rabble, killing civilians apparently at random. Before invading, they spoke of injecting liberal and democratic values into the heart of the Middle East. Instead, they have simply made themselves hated without being feared.
Of course, the resistance is blamed for this failure. Without that, the country could have been returned to some kind of native rule, under some kind of representative constitution. And money could have been poured into reconstruction projects. But on this reasoning, we could call the German invasion of Russia in 1941 a success but for the weather. The resistance was foreseeable. Certainly, I and many others predicted it. If the Americans and their allies failed to predict it, and are now responding to rather than shaping events, it is not because they have been unlucky, but because they are stupid. We can still debate whether the invasion was a crime. There is no doubt now it was a mistake.
Because the war aims were never fully explained, it is still possible to rescue some formality of success. If anyone in Washington has been shocked into a semblance of strategic sense, the Americans will now be making every effort to get out of the region. They need to find a strong man to put in charge—someone who will be less openly beastly than Saddam Hussein, but no less able to keep the country together. They need to give him as much money and as many weapons as he demands. They also need to bribe the Turks, the Iranians and the Syrians not to invade and divide the country among themselves. They need then to keep their heads down for the next few years and hope for the best.
That is if they have any sense. I suspect they have none—or that no one in charge of policy has any. Instead, it is likely that they will stay in the country until American public opinion grows comprehensively sick of seeing the United States behave like the French in Algeria and forces a sudden and unprepared evacuation. Until then, we shall have the continued treat of watching men in their sixties punching the air and dancing about like the heroes in those ridiculous comic books, while the morons who still bother to vote over there grunt in approval.
It is, I admit, inappropriate to ascribe one state of mind to a nation of more than 250 million people. But Americans remind me increasingly of someone from the lower classes who has come into money, and now is sat in the Ritz Hotel, terrified the other diners are laughing at him every time he looks down at his knives and forks. I suppose it is because so many of them are drawn from second and even third rate nationalities. The Americans of English and Scotch extraction took their values and their laws across the Atlantic and spread out over half an immense continent, creating as they went a great nation. They were then joined by millions of paupers from elsewhere who learnt a version of the English language and a few facts about their new country, but who never withheld from their offspring any sense of their own inferiority. The result is a combination of overwhelming power and the moral insight of a tree frog.
It would be easy to gloat over the hole the Americans have thereby dug for themselves. But we are all of us in it with them. There are British forces serving in Iraq, and smaller contingents from many other western countries. If the Americans are now defeated, we share in the defeat. Moreover, the defeat applies to every member nation of the West, regardless of whether it joined in this ghastly war.
The more I think about it, the more firmly I reject the idea that a conflict is inevitable between Islam and the West. There is a problem in many western countries with large numbers of unassimilated Islamic immigrants. But I have more contacts with these people than most of my readers, and I just do not believe this is a critical problem. Burning hatred of our civilisation is not an issue in Oldham and Bradford. Nor was it in the slums of Baghdad before we began strip searching women there and dragging men off the streets into torture chambers. Islam is not some theological equivalent of Marxist-Leninism. It is an immensely diverse and sophisticated religion. As a classicist, I regret that perhaps two thirds of what used to be the Roman Empire are now within the Islamic world. This being said, Islamic rule for many centuries offered more tolerant and less rapacious government than the Byzantine and mediaeval Catholic states. Islam is Osama bin Laden. It is also Hassan al-Turabi, and Avicenna, and the Shiite clerics who sat in the first Iranian Parliament in 1906. It is not our enemy unless we try harder than we so far have to make it that.
The real enemy is our own ruling class. It is not Moslems in this country who are telling us to be ashamed of our past, and are gutting the museums, and using the schools and media to turn out generations of illiterate sheep. Moslems are not abolishing our ancient freedoms in the name of administrative convenience. It is not Moslems who have bled the old middle classes white with taxes that have then been used to pauperise much of the working class and to raise up a totalitarian clerisy. It is not Moslems who go about insisting that arithmetic is a discourse and the law of contract a set of self-referential artifacts. If our civilisation collapses, it will not be Moslems who have hollowed it out from within. The real enemy is not dressed in a jalabiya or a turban: he wears an Armani business suit, and is fluent in postmodernese.
This being said, it is advisable that, while they should not neglect their own particular interests, the western powers should be ready to come together for the defence of common interests. Whether or not it is to be desired, it cannot be denied that the United States at the moment is the leading western power. It is a defeat for us all if the Americans will turn out to have spent $250 billion dollars on fighting this war—and still have lost to a handful of ranting clerics and suicidal children. It lowers the prestige of the West as a whole, and it reduces our future willingness to act in concert should the proper need arise.
As said, the Americans need to find some exit strategy that does not leave them utterly disgraced. For us, the matter is less complex. We are at best a junior partner in the war and occupation. The last time I wrote about Iraq, I suggested that we had no choice but to continue with our share of the occupation. The escalation of violence there and the revelations of torture have now changed matters. The Americans have promised to hand over power to an Iraqi government on the 30th June. Whether this can be done, and in what sense, are not matters for us of any importance. What is important is that we should get our own people out on that date, and keep them out.
It goes without saying that we should also distance ourselves in future from the Americans. Until they can be brought to understand the nature of what they have done, they are best not encouraged to further lunacy by the fact of our friendship. This need not, but possibly does, mean closer friendship with the European Union. For myself, the events of this past year have made me reconsider my objections to membership of the European Union. This is a danger to us, I still believe, and it would be in our interests to withdraw from it. But that danger is not catastrophic. If forced to choose between the European Constitution and watching our armed forces sent off to fight like Sepoys in some other ill-considered American war, I am not presently sure which ought most to be avoided.
Finally—and this is a point I may already have made elsewhere – we need to free our country from the psychopathic fool who got us into this mess. If it had not required the suffering of so many innocents, it would be enjoyable to watch the moral and political disintegration of Tony Blair. But, as I write, I feel no enjoyment, nor the slightest complacency. I wish this nightmare had never been allowed to start. Short of that, I wish all my hawkish friends had been right. As it happens, I was right from the beginning. But this does not set off the fact that I and mine are less secure than at any time since the early 1940s.