This week saw the release of an explosive report into the most consequential event of the twenty-first century. I am not, of course, talking about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail habits (irresponsible but not criminal). Rather, I am referring to the seven-year inquiry into the British government’s decision to join the U.S. in invading Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003.
As most people recognize, that war of aggression not only drove Saddam Hussein from power, but generated a state of chaos and violence that has since spiralled well beyond Iraq’s borders. The invasion created a new staging ground for Al Qaeda, gave rise to ISIS, and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Sir John Chilcot, who headed the inquiry, made no bones about the historic nature of British participation in the war that began in 2003 and continues to shape the destinies of tens of millions of people around the world. “For the first time since the Second World War,” he wrote, “the United Kingdom took part in an opposed invasion and full-scale occupation of a sovereign state.”
Chilcot’s report concluded that British Prime Minister Tony Blair misled his party and the public about intelligence relating to Saddam Hussein’s capacity to threaten British and American security, and engaged in bad-faith diplomacy, undermining weapons inspections and pledging his support to Bush long before he secured any commitment from parliament. In short, although Chilcot did not say as much, the results of his inquiry make a compelling case for Blair having conspired to wage aggressive war, one of the war crimes prosecuted at Nuremberg.
Even Blair sought to respond to this all soberly at a press conference, self-serving though it was. Not all defiant defenders of the ill-judged, illegal, and immoral war responded with any sort of gravity, however.
On twitter, David Frum, a former speechwriter to George W Bush, wrote, “US-UK invasion offered Iraq a better future. Whatever West’s mistakes: sectarian war was a choice Iraqis made for themselves.”
I’m not sure whether to conclude that Frum is a moron or a psychopath, but his dramatic re-writing of history, flawed understanding of agency and culpability, and abject refusal to come to terms to the horrors perpetrated by the bipartisan coalition of neo-cons led by the dangerous administration he served is instructive.
The US-UK invasion of 2003 was in no way a choice, “offered” to Iraqis. Iraqi citizens--outside of a few expats--had no say as to whether they wanted the combined armed forces of the United States and Britain to beat their country to a pulp.
What was the better future on offer to Iraqis when the neocons in the U.S. and Britain launched a campaign of “shock and awe” against Baghdad, turning swathes of the city into rubble?
What was the better future on offer to Iraqis when the neocons in the U.S. and Britain pursued a violent occupation that disrupted and destroyed the provision of basic services like sewage, water, and power?
What was the better future on offer to Iraqis when the neocons in the U.S. and Britain broke up core state institutions without bothering to consider the role that those institutions played in holding together a society plagued by different historical experiences, different confessional identities, and different regional allegiances?
What was the better future on offer to Iraqis when the neocons in the U.S. and Britain installed a colonial governor and sent an occupying army roving the streets of the country they had just “liberated”?
What was the better future on offer to Iraqis when the neocons in the U.S. and Britain swiftly privatized core spheres of the occupied territory’s economy, depriving Iraqis of the ability to fashion a political-economy that addressed their battered state’s needs?
What was the better future on offer to Iraqis when the neocons in the U.S. and Britain turned Iraq into the frontline of their brutal, ill-judged, interminable war of terror by creating conditions ripe for the expansion of Al Qaeda and the rise of ISIS?
What was the better future on offer to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who were killed in the course of the invasion and its aftermath, thanks to the decisions of neocons in the U.S. and Britain?
Of course individually and collectively Iraqis made decisions that worsened their plight. But their agency was always circumscribed by the presence and power of the U.S. and British troops who ransacked and ran the country. Iraq was launched on a particular trajectory by the 2003 invasion, and Iraqis had limited ability to alter the course of that trajectory when their country’s infrastructure and institutions had been deliberately destroyed, and when their cities and roads were occupied by two of the world’s most powerful armies and swarming with private contractors.
For Frum to praise the logic of U.S. and British intervention--in the aftermath of a damning and incriminating report--and to blame Iraqis for everything that followed suggests not just historical and political ignorance, but the basically sociopathic character of the neo-conservatives and their international policy
I hope that voters and politicians who supported the Iraq war and other conflicts like it will look seriously at the findings of a lengthy and thorough investigation and think about the repercussions of their support. Retreating into an imperial, ideological bunker in the face of such a disastrous conflict only ensures that we will continue to execute foreign policy along deeply flawed, violent, and immoral lines.