Was it worth it?
Was it worth it?
In our cover story this week, we examine the US-led invasion of Iraq. A decade after more than a million took to the streets of Britain to voice their opposition, five writers express competing views on the conflict that toppled Saddam Hussein and cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
“Iraq is worse off now,” argues Mehdi Hasan. He asserts that the justification “rhetoric” of the then political leaders of Britain and America – Blair, Bush, Powell, Cheney – was “a farrago of lies and half-truths, of delusion and doublethink”.
Not only has “every argument advanced by the hawks proved to be utterly false” but the war has brought chaos, not peace, to the region, “radicalising thousands of young men from the Middle East to the Midlands”.
The Iraq war was a strategic disaster – or, as the Tory minister Kenneth Clarke put it in a recent BBC radio discussion, “the most disastrous foreign policy decision of my lifetime . . . worse than Suez”.
The invasion and occupation of the country undermined the moral standing of
the western powers; empowered Iran and its proxies; heightened the threat from al-Qaeda at home and abroad; and sent a clear signal to “rogue” regimes that the best . . . means of deterring a pre-emptive, US-led attack was to acquire weapons of mass destruction (see Korea, North) . . .
The greatest weapon of mass destruction turned out to be the invasion itself.
Writing from an opposing viewpoint, the former New Statesman editor John Lloyd argues that “Blair was right”. “I and others who supported the invasion of Iraq a decade ago,” he says, “did so because we thought that Saddam Hussein’s regime was among the worst in the world.”
Despite acknowledging “grave errors” in the early western reports on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Lloyd writes:
For the record, I believe that: a) both the US and the UK governments accepted intelligence that pointed to Iraqi possession of WMDs, but interpreted it in the way most favourable to the case for invasion and b) that Blair wished to support the US largely because he had long thought Saddam a major threat . . .
We did not anticipate that Iraqi forces who hated the US – including those loyal to Saddam – would dominate after the invasion, that the population would not be active in ensuring democratic choice . . . and that the west had limited staying power. We were much influenced by Kanan Makiya’s searing book Cruelty and Silence (1993), which detailed the horrors of Iraq under Saddam and called for intervention – an intervention that, the author argued, would be greeted with “sweets and flowers”.
Caroline Hawley was the BBC’s Baghdad correspondent when war broke out in 2003, and she stayed until 2005. Hawley writes that, at the start of the conflict, “the overriding sentiment [of Iraqi civilians] was one of joy at seeing the back of Saddam Hussein” but many have since seen “their hopes dashed”.
A decade on, it is . . . distressing to think how many horrors and burials, kidnappings and bombings lay ahead . . .
Whatever you think about the reasons that led Britain and the US to war, I still wonder how things might have turned out if only the coalition forces had been better prepared, and had been able to show the Iraqis they cared about them . . .
I never again want to see a father run screaming down a hospital corridor holding
a limbless, bloodied child. It is still happening – you just don’t hear about it much any more.
Adnan Hussein, the editor-in-chief and deputy director of the Iraqi newspaper al-Mada, contends that “the US played a damaging role” in rebuilding the Iraqi state.
Hussein describes returning to his home city of Baghdad a few weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein and his government:
[I told friends in London:] “The Baghdad I left was a glamorous woman in the heyday of her youth; now she is an aged creature on her deathbed.”
I imagined that Baghdad would rejuvenate itself within a few years. Like many fellow exiles, I thought the presence of international forces led by the US would help restore normal conditions in Iraq. Now, ten years on, it seems that Iraq will require another ten years to recover, given the carnage it has witnessed over the past decade.
Ian Taylor, a lecturer at the University of Leicester, offers praise for the 15 February 2003 Stop the War protest, calling it “one of those rare moments in British history when the radical left had some palpable impact on the course of political debate”.
If the march fell a long way short of achieving what so many of us desperately wanted, it wasn’t a complete failure either. This was the day when the message finally got through to Blair and the Conservative opposition that their war was going to be profoundly unpopular . . .
Blair failed to realise this in time (if he ever came to realise it). His reputation has never recovered.
In the Politics Column this week, Rafael Behr reports from Eastleigh, the Lib-Dem “bastion” that faces a by-election on 28 February following the appalling “shenanigans” of Chris Huhne. Behr talks to Carla and Sheena, two residents of Eastleigh, who sum up the prevailing sentiment by describing David Cameron as “snooty” and Ed Miliband as “a gimp”. Behr comments:
Journalists are the worst offenders when it comes to forgetting that most people, most of the time, ignore the minutiae of political combat . . .
What might come across as ignorance or apathy is better understood as perspective.
Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, is our Diary columnist this week. An active campaigner for the global gender equality movement One Billion Rising, she writes:
A billion women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime; [the Vagina Monologues playwright Eve] Ensler wants the same number of people involved in raising awareness by dancing in public on 14 February . . .
Although we are making progress with One Billion Rising, misogyny still seeks to ground us all . . .
When 80 per cent of 11-year-olds in one study by Edinburgh University say it is OK to hit a woman if she’s late with the dinner, we know we have to ensure that every young person wants a partnership based on mutual respect.
Meanwhile, a local resident and space fanatic alerts me that Unilever is running a competition to send people into space – but it is being marketed at men only. It seems we have a new final frontier for feminism . . .
Laurie Penny reports from Cairo on the rampant post-revolution rise in sexual assaults against women and what Egyptian women are doing to fight back.
She meets with OpAntiSH (“Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment”) -- “a gang of volunteers, some of them men and many of them women who’ve been raped and assaulted. OpAntiSH physically stops assaults in Tahrir Square and the surrounding areas, using Tasers, spray paint, fists, force, sticks, anything they can put their hands on to protect women from ‘mob attacks’.”
For the women of Egypt, freedom from sexist oppression and freedom from state repression are part of the same battle . . .
Egypt is not the only country where women are bearing the brunt of social frustration and public anger. But the women of Egypt and their allies have understood what the rest of the world has failed so far to grasp – that meaningful social progress cannot exclude women. Western journalists using the sex assault pandemic to imply that Egypt somehow isn’t ready for regime change, to imply that Egyptian men are out of control, have fundamentally misunderstood what this revolution is, and what it can be.
The novelist Jeanette Winterson celebrates the transgressive pleasure of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando and its origins in Woolf’s affair with Vita Sackville-West (“an unrepentant flirt”).
Read our full "In the Critics this week" blog post here .
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