THIS war was born out of fear and an element of revenge. Military assessments have been overoptimistic and naive. Enormous problems lie ahead. Yet it was right to go to war. Any difficulties that we encounter should only embolden our resolution.
This war was born out of fear and an element of revenge. Military assessments have been overoptimistic and naive. Enormous problems lie ahead. Yet it was right to go to war. Any difficulties that we encounter should only embolden our resolution.
After 11 September, there were worries even among the US's allies that a wounded and threatened America would strike first and think later. Instead, the administration analysed the problem and concluded that the US would be in danger as long as the Middle East was dominated by failed states whose decayed political structures were the carrion of terrorism.
High on the crime sheet was Iraq. Thousands of years ago Mesopotamia had been a nursery of civilisation. When Europe was in its dark ages, Baghdad was a great city. Even in the late Fifties, after centuries of slumber, Iraq had a large middle class. Human resources plus oil wealth should have enabled a free and prosperous Iraq to offer leadership and an example to the rest of the region. Baghdad could have been the capital of an Arab renaissance. Instead, Iraq has had 45 years of dreadful regimes, culminating in Saddam.
He had violated the terms of the 1991 ceasefire; he was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction; he had inflicted misery on his people. The US had the right to go to war plus the necessary justification, and all roads to a better Middle East ran through Baghdad.
So the Bush administration moved forward from fear to benevolence. It concluded that the only way to protect America from terrorism was to initiate a process of Middle East regime change – or at least regime improvement – beginning with Iraq. Such imperial idealism must inevitably commence with the shedding of blood. For it to work, however, the bloodshed phase should be brief, to be followed by a long period of steady enhancement in the quality of life throughout the region.
Including Palestine. The Bush administration may not have been swept away by desire for a Palestinian state, but the President can recognise logic. It is impossible to argue that the quest for human rights in the Middle East should stop at the River Jordan, and the geopolitical case reinforces the moral one. Though a just dispensation for the Palestinians would not solve all the problems of the region, it is an essential component. Even if more in the head than the heart, Mr Bush's people recognised this early on. The President's support for a Palestinian state is not something tacked on to a press release at Tony Blair's bidding. It is a basic part of US strategy for the Middle East.
As is the overthrow of Saddam. In making war, however, the US was menaced by the four horsemen of the liberal apocalypse; legality, soft-heartedness, technology and the media. America is a nation governed by laws and infested by lawyers. So the swift route from martial will to the power of the sword was sicklied o'er by legal palsy. Nearly a score of uncomplied-with United Nations resolutions, the detritus of the failure of containment in the 1990s, provided America with all the casus belli it needed. This did not prevent the lawyers and diplomats from asking for more.
America is also a nation that is reluctant to take up arms because it hates paying the butcher's bill. This risk-averse approach to casualties gave the lawyers and diplomats more purchase. It also enabled the techno-fantasists to confound counsel. When they claimed that there was an easy way to fight the war, the politicians listened. However much hi-tech kit is available, the British military never allows its political masters to lose sight of the three Bs; boots, bayonets and blood. The American generals have been less successful – though only a second Alanbrooke could have controlled Donald Rumsfeld.
Alanbrooke might also have had something to say about the media. This is the first war to be fought with a ball-by-ball commentary: a grave error. However patriotic the individual embedded journalists may be, the cumulative effect of their reporting encourages alarm and despondency. Bulletin after bulletin dwells on casualties and small reverses, thus obscuring the larger perspective. The public is being given too much information for its peace of mind.
Over the longer term, even in stoical, hearts-of-oak Britain, this could have unhealthy consequences. In the phrase of Iain Martin of The Scotsman, we must beware the danger of the Dianafication of defence.
We ought to return to restraint, while urging the Americans to do likewise. The overoptimism of some of the early statements from US sources has encouraged the media to confuse tactics and strategy, and to overestimate the importance of temporary reverses. Despite those,the war has gone as smoothly in grand strategic terms as should have been expected. Admittedly, hopes that the Iraqis would fight as well as the French did in 1940 have not been vindicated, but even if Mr Rumsfeld did overrule his generals, the rapid advance which he decreed has made rapid gains and established formidable positions. If necessary, these could swiftly be reinforced. Despite Robin Cook's comments, it is far too early to conclude that the war is not going according to plan.
That, alas, also applies to the casualties, which must be part of any realistic plan. Salutes from the guard of honour, flag-draped coffins on the deck, funereal music for the final journey; it is a heart-rending sight. Yet it is also an ennobling one. These warriors wedded themselves to the profession of arms in a clear-eyed embrace. They understood the sacrifice they might be called upon to make. These were not cowed conscripts, herded towards slaughter by the brutal servants of a psychopathic dictator. These were free men, from a country where it is now virtually a human right to enjoy a soft and easy life, who still chose to volunteer for hardship, discipline, danger and the risk of death.
They have now fallen in battle in their country's service, but also to help the future generations of the people of the Middle East to live in human dignity. Even though there may be little short-term gratitude, that reflection might help those who loved them to find a way, over time, from grief to comfort.
The rest of us should pay tribute to courage even while mourning its consequences; feel pride, as well as sadness; feel inspired, even while shedding a tear. We also have a duty now: to help to keep immortal the memory of the brave who died young in the cause of freedom and their country's honour.
Fortunate the nation that has such paladins to protect it. Wilfred Owen was wrong, and Horace right. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.Reuse content