In this week’s New Statesman: Iraq – Ten years on

Was it worth it?

The Iraq War: Was it worth it?

Featuring: Mehdi Hasan, John Lloyd, Caroline Hawley, Adnan Hussein and Ian Taylor

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.

You can read Mehdi Hasan's piece here.

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.

ELSEWHERE IN THE MAGAZINE:

 

Rafael Behr: Lord Snooty v The Gimp; or why politics isn’t a game for the voters of Eastleigh

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.

Read this piece in full on our website now.

 

Stella Creasy: The final frontier for women

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 . . .

Read her diary piece in full on our website now.

 

Laurie Penny: with Tasers and placards, the women of Egypt are fighting back against sexism

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’.”

Penny explains:

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.

In the Critics

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”).

PLUS

  • In the Books Interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to Tracey Thorn of Everything But the Girl about her memoir, Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to Be a Pop Star.
  • Richard Holloway, the former Bishop of Edinburgh, reviews John Gray’s The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths.
  • George Eaton reviews Unhitched: the Trial of Christopher Hitchens by Richard Seymour
  • Alex Massie reviews On Glasgow and Edinburgh by Robert Crawford
  • Rachel Cooke watches the US remake of House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey
  • Ryan Gilbey reviews This Is 40, directed by Judd Apatow
  • and much, much more...

Read our full "In the Critics this week" blog post here.

Purchase a copy of this week's New Statesman in newsstands today, or online at: subscribe.newstatesman.com

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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Winning Scottish independence will be even harder than before - but it may be the only choice

Independence campaigners will have to find answers on borders, currency and more. 

The Brexit mutiny has taken not just the UK economy and its relationship with Europe into uncharted waters. it has also imperilled the union between Scotland and England. From Sir John Major to the First Minister, both Unionists and Nationalists had warned of it. The outcome, though, has made this certain. The Leave vote in England and Wales contrasted with an overwhelming Remain vote north of the border.

That every region in Scotland voted to stay In was quite remarkable. Historically, fishing and industrial communities have blamed the European Union for their woes. That antagonism was probably reflected in lower turnout - an abstention rather than a rejection. 

The talk now is of a second referendum on independence. This is understandable given the current mood. Opinion polls in the Sunday Times and Sunday Post showed a Yes vote now at 52 per cent and 59 per cent respectively. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests even arch No vote campaigners, from JK Rowling to the Daily Record, are considering the option.

The First Minister was therefore correct to say that a second referendum is now “back on the table”. Her core supporters expects no less. However, as with the economy and Europe, the constitutional relationship between Scotland and England is now in uncharted seas. Potential support for independence may be higher, but the challenges are arguably bigger than before. The difficulties are practical, political and geographic.

Of course the Little Englanders likely to take the helm may choose a velvet divorce. However, given their desire for the return of the Glories of Britannia that’s improbable. They’re as likely to wish to see Caledonia depart, as cede Gibraltar to Spain, even though that territory voted even more overwhelmingly In.

Ticking the legal boxes

Practically, there’s the obstacle of obtaining a legal and binding referendum. The past vote was based on the Edinburgh Agreement and legislation in Westminster and Holyrood. The First Minister has indicated the democratic arguments of the rights of the Scots. However, that’s unlikely to hold much sway. A right-wing centralist Spanish government has been willing to face down demands for autonomy in Catalonia. Would the newly-emboldened Great Britain be any different?

There are no doubt ways in which democratic public support can be sought. The Scottish Government may win backing in Holyrood from the Greens. However, consent for such action would need to be obtained from the Presiding Officer and the Lord Advocate, both of whom have a key role in legislation. These office holders have changed since the first referendum, where they were both more sympathetic and the legal basis clearer. 

Getting the EU on side

The political hurdles are, also, greater this time than before. Previously the arguments were over how and when Scotland could join the EU, although all accepted ultimately she could remain or become a member. This time the demand is that Scotland should remain and the rest of the UK can depart. But will that be possible? The political earthquake that erupted south of the Border has set tectonic plates shifting, not just in the British isles but across the European continent. The fear that a Brexit would empower dark forces in the EU may come to pass. Will the EU that the UK is about to leave be there for an independent Scotland to join? We cannot know, whatever European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may be saying at the moment. The First Minister is right to start engaging with Europe directly. But events such as elections in France and the Netherlands are outwith her control. 

Moreover, currency was the Achilles heel in the last referendum, and hasn’t yet been addressed. George Osborne was adamant in his rejection of a currency union. The options this time round, whether a separate Scottish currency or joining the euro, have yet to be properly explored. A worsened financial situation in the 27 remaining EU members hampers the latter and the former remains politically problematic. 

The problem of borders

Geography is also an obstacle  that will be even harder to address now than before. Scotland can change its constitution, but it cannot alter its location on a shared island. In 2014, the independence argument was simply about changing the political union. Other unions, whether monarchy or social, would remain untouched. The island would remain seamless, without border posts. An independent Scotland, whether in or out of the EU, would almost certainly have to face these issues. That is a significant change from before, and the effect on public opinion unknown.

The risk that's worth it

Ultimately, the bar for a Yes vote may be higher, but the Scots may still be prepared to jump it. As with Ireland in 1920, facing any risk may be better than remaining in the British realm. Boris Johnson as Prime Minister would certainly encourage that. 

David Cameron's lack of sensitivity after the independence referendum fuelled the Scottish National Party surge. But perhaps this time, the new Government will be magnanimous towards Scotland and move to federalism. The Nordic Union offers an example to be explored. Left-wing commentators have called for a progressive alliance to remove the Tories and offer a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s constitution. But that is dependent on SNP and Labour being prepared to work together, and win the debate in England and Wales.

So, Indy Ref The Sequel is on the table. It won’t be the same as the first, and it will be more challenging. But, if there is no plausible alternative, Scots may consider it the only option.

Kenny MacAskill served as a Scottish National MSP between 2007 and 2016, and as Cabinet Secretary for Justice between 2007 and 2014.