Time is edging ever closer to the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War and it appears likely that 2013 will see a reappraisal of the events that led to the decision to undertake military conflict in March 2003. Opposition has risen steadily over the last few years, to such an extent that by 2012 the British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA) found that just 24% of the British public disagreed with the statement that the UK ‘was wrong to go to war with Iraq’. This popular unease is reflected at the elite level, with the successor to George W. Bush having opposed the initial decision and hastily withdrawing troops from the country once in the Oval Office. Meanwhile in Britain Tony Blair’s successor Ed Miliband declared the war ‘wrong’ in his inaugural speech in 2010 to rapturous applause from the Conference floor (and notably from several members of the Shadow Cabinet who had voted in favour of the war in the first place). Meanwhile Nick Clegg has used his position as Deputy Prime Minister to condemn the ‘illegal invasion of Iraq’ at the dispatch box.
An assessment is currently underway by the Chilcot Inquiry commissioned in 2009. According to its website, the Committee has concluded its hearings and is drafting its report. Over the next few months it intends to write to those criticised in the report, providing them with the opportunity to respond if they so wish, following which the report will be submitted to the Prime Minister and published. The findings as yet remain a mystery, though are likely to prove robust with such an esteemed panel, which include Winston Churchill’s official biographer Sir Martin Gilbert and fellow historian Sir Lawrence Freedman.
Yet regardless of the findings it is time to offer an alternative perspective to the hyper-critical orthodoxy which prevails. It should be borne in mind that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was an ardent supporter of terrorism throughout the Middle East, guilty of genocide against the Kurds in Northern Iraq and a serious threat to regional stability as indicated by attacks on Iran, Kuwait and Israel in just a decade a half. Moreover, the fact remains that Saddam Hussein and the Ba’athist regime which ruled over Iraq for several decades had been in possession of weapons of mass destruction and had used them both in war and for the purposes of suppression of their own peoples. Following the First Gulf War, numerous United Nations resolutions were passed specifically requiring Iraq to dismantle both its weapons and its weapons programmes, supervised by inspections. Hence, the secret dismantling of weapons was not allowed and the burden of proof was placed upon Iraq to demonstrate that it had complied and not on the international community to demonstrate that it had not done so. Regardless of one’s stance on the war itself, Iraq patently failed to meet these obligations, leading the United Nations Security Council to unanimously pass resolution 1441 which gave Iraq a ‘final opportunity’ to comply and threatening ‘serious consequences’ if it did not. There is little doubt that Saddam Hussein yet again missed an opportunity to avert war.
The decision therefore was one between confrontation and appeasement. The governments and intelligence services of countries across the world believed Saddam Hussein still had the WMD’s he was accused of having, including opponents of the war, such as France, Germany and Russia. The stance of these countries it seems was to avoid confrontation at any cost, to obstruct those that took a different perspective (which extended far beyond Britain and America) and put faith in the inspections which had failed for over a decade. It is not unreasonable that a large number of states, however reluctantly, favoured an alternative approach.
It is likely that regardless of the Chilcot Inquiry’s findings the media, the public and large sections of the political class will be inclined to tarnish it as a ‘whitewash’, comparable to the treatment of the Butler and Hutton Reports. Yet it is time to consider the alternative perspective that the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, though difficult and regrettable, was the right one. Too often the West receives the blame for the ills of the world and its decisions are pilloried and associated with the most base of motives. This is being seen yet again in the Middle East, where the Arab Spring has evoked yet more excoriation of Western policy, for having supported (in the case of Egypt for example) or in other cases opposing (in the case of Iraq for example) the dictators of the region. The underlying motive is too often a visceral hatred for the West regardless of what it does. It is time for the West to stand up for itself and Iraq is a good place to start.