Sunday, March 18, 2007

Iraq: where I was coming from

I wasn’t exactly happy about the Iraq war four years ago.

I’ve never liked George Bush’s character or his politics; I’d been quite a Tony Blair fan once, but by 2003 I was suspicious of his honesty and his motives; I loathed George Galloway’s demagoguery; I had contempt for Jacques Chirac’s moral posturing; I saw Vladimir Putin’s pleas for peace as a hypocritical disgrace; I shuddered whenever neocons such as the cheerfully belligerent Ken Adelman or the dead-eyed Richard Perle popped up on television; I despaired at the UN’s weakness and at the many decent people who seemed to treat the Security Council as a impartial moral authority; I shook my head at the worthy yet embarrassing sideshow of the weapons inspections; I feared for the carnage of war.

And I didn’t much like Saddam Hussein, either.

In the absence of any remotely appealing option, I approached the war with feelings of gloom, distrust, apprehension – and hope. It seemed that there was a good chance that a war could leave Iraq, in the not-too-long term, a better place for the people who lived there.

Toppling a brutal dictator on the grounds that he wasn’t thoroughly complying with the inspections seemed in itself an overreaction. But it also struck me as being a bit like locking up Al Capone for fiddling his accounts: it misses the point, but it gets the result.

I thought there was a defensible case for giving the weapons inspectors more time, but I also thought that that would prove fruitless in terms of averting an eventual war. And I judged, somewhat grimly, that it would be better to have a war than to have another year or so of tyranny followed by a war.

I didn’t trust Bush and Blair – I’ve never cared to defend their motives or integrity on this matter – so I couldn’t endorse their policy as the right thing to do. But becoming a de facto Saddam supporter was something I couldn’t stomach. Unlike many people I know on the left, I didn’t turn my back and wash my hands of it, dogmatic that the cowboy and the poodle were leading the world into disaster. I wanted it to work out well, and I thought it could.

I’ve tolerated plenty of policies that seemed suboptimal, risky and dubiously motivated but on balance likely to improve things. This was one such.

And now, four years on, here we are.

More tomorrow.

(This is the first in a series of posts. See also the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth.)


Liam Murray said...

Not sure where you're taking this but it sounds familiar to me - I've been on a similar journey

Peter Jackson said...

I had pretty much the same feelings, which led to my being branded a warmonger by many of my friends. But I'd hated Saddam Hussein's regime (along with others) for so long that the idea of it being toppled was attractive no matter who was doing it.

On top of that, it was clear that the invasion was going ahead no matter what the UK Government decided. Better to be influencing from within, or sniping from without?

I wish I had the smug certainty of so many people I hear on the subject...

Tom Freeman said...

Looking at your post, Liam, I think we are (and have been) in similar territory - although my main hope was that Iraq would get a government that had a basic level of humane decency rather than becoming a democratic beacon. Not that that would be a bad thing, of coruse. As I think Norm said at one point or another, a remedial rather than utopian outlook was what I took.

And Peter, yes - part of me (now and 4 years back) would love to have some good moral certainty. On the other hand, I found the moral certainty so prevalent across the debate to be pretty repellent.

"What do we want? Nuance! When do we want it? At the appropriate time!"