Having read the full Chilcot Report on the invasion of Iraq by the USA and the UK – in the original Latin – I have decided to spare my readers that ordeal by giving a succinct summary of what lies behind that disaster and why we are where we are.
However, for the masochists among you, here’s a link to the Executive Summary. This runs to 150 pages, but the full Report is 2.6 million words long, or over four times the size of War and Peace, so don’t even think about reading it.
For all you need to know, read on . . .
1/ The best place to start is with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. From the perspective of the Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department at that time, anyone who fought against communism was a ‘freedom-fighter’, be he a drug-trafficking fascist, a mass-murdering psychopath or, as in Afghanistan, a religious fanatic wanting to turn the clock back a few centuries.
And so it came to pass that Uncle Sam ended up funding, arming and in other ways supporting the Bearded Ones in their fight against the Russians. (No, these were not hipsters.)
In the same year, the major US ally in the region, the Shah of Iran, was forced into exile by another bunch of Bearded Ones. There was further humiliation for the USA when its Tehran embassy was overrun and 66 US citizens taken hostage.
2/ Next, in September 1980, hostilities commenced between Iran and Iraq. Despite Iraq being ruled by a ruthless tyrant named Saddam Hussein, who began his career as an assassin for the Ba’ath Party, the USA decided – on the ‘enemy of my enemy’ principle – to back (the beardless) Saddam.
After massive losses on both sides the inconclusive war came to its end with the ceasefire of August 20th 1988.
3/ Saddam Hussein decided to flex his military muscles again by invading Kuwait in August 1990 – using weaponry supplied by Western powers during the war with Iran. This invasion was widely condemned, and a UN-supported coalition force was organised under US leadership to liberate Kuwait.
A brief military campaign at the start of 1991 saw the Iraqi army expelled and Kuwait restored to its former condition of Western-friendly despotism. However, the coalition stopped short of toppling Saddam, who then took revenge on his Kurdish and Shia subjects, who had been encouraged to rise against him by the USA and its partners with the promise of protection and / or Saddam’s removal.
The US president at the time of the ‘liberation’ of Kuwait was George H W Bush.
4/ With the Russians gone Afghanistan descended into civil war, from which emerged victorious, in 1996, the fundamentalist (and well bearded) Taliban, but nobody paid them too much attention because they were the good guys who’d fought against Ronald Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire‘.
The Taliban takeover allowed Saudi national Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation to return from its four-year exile in Sudan. (Bin Laden was never seen without his beard.) Al-Qaeda is a Sunni Muslim terrorist organisation that views the West as a corrupting influence on the Islamic world, and it announced its war on the West with attacks on US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in August 1998.
5/ Unpleasant though these incidents were they were both a long way away, but everything changed with al-Qaeda’s attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11th, 2001.
In response, Afghanistan was invaded, and it was soon realised that 9/11, as it became known, could also be used as an excuse to remove Saddam Hussein. For by now the US president was George W Bush, son of the president Bush who had lost face by leaving Saddam in power.
Attacking Iraq was a curious decision for many reasons. As I’ve said, Osama bin Laden was a Saudi, many of his funders and supporters were Saudis, most of the hijackers on the planes that caused such devastation were Saudis. So if any country should have been attacked in response to 9/11 it was surely Saudi Arabia! But no, for the Saudis and the Americans were friends.
6/ But this time there was to be no UN support, and no grand coalition. Russia, Germany, France and most other countries opposed US action against Iraq. So to give himself a fig leaf / partner George W Bush turned to the UK, and its prime minister Tony Blair. At a meeting on his Texas ranch in April 2002 Bush got Blair to commit the UK to joining with the USA in invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein. (Bush and Blair have never been seen bearded.)
Three months later Blair wrote his now infamous memo to Bush in which he promised, “I will be with you, whatever”.
My view has always been that Blair was seduced by the opportunity to play a world role in partnership with the USA, and so he allowed himself to be talked into invading Iraq. A country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and led by a man who was as hostile to the Bearded Ones as Western leaders. (And who understood far better what he was dealing with.)
Fundamentally, the problem may have been that Blair allowed it all to go to his head, he seemed to think that he too was a president, rather than a prime minister answerable to parliament. That he was able to get away with it exposed weaknesses in the UK system that seem to have been overlooked. What steps have been taken to ensure that no future prime minister can behave like a one-man government?
7/ The planned invasion then had to be justified. Which saw a year or more in which we heard one ludicrous claim after another telling us how dangerous Saddam Hussein was, and what a threat he was to the West. Why! he had missiles that could target British bathers on Cyprus beaches.
This is when we became familiar with the term Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), which it was claimed – by the US and UK – Saddam possessed, and was preparing to use. The problem with this assertion was that United Nations weapons inspectors that were in the country, and free to go wherever they wished, could find absolutely nothing to substantiate these claims. That was because the claims were bullshit, and those making the claims knew they were bullshit.
Bush, Blair and their underlings knew that Iraq had no nuclear, chemical or biological weapons but the pretence had to be maintained. In his State of the Union address on January 28th 2003 George Bush said, “If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.” Saddam Hussein was being told to get rid of weapons he didn’t possess otherwise his country would be invaded! Clearly the USA was going to invade Iraq, and sure enough, Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 19th 2003.
8/ The invasion itself went swimmingly, the Iraqi army was soon rolled up and the media showed us grateful Iraqis dancing in the streets and showering their liberators with gifts. British forces were given territory in the Shia heartlands of the south east to control, in and around the city of Basra, not far from Iran. Then it all started to go wrong.
The sudden and complete removal of Saddam’s army and police, coupled with the reluctance of the US and UK military to antagonise the locals, resulted in looting and more general criminality becoming widespread. The political situation deteriorated by the day as the Iranians encouraged the Shia majority to exercise its new-found power through its militias. While Saddam’s now dis-empowered and jobless Sunni supporters grew ever more bitter as they envisioned a Shia-run Iraq.
In the north, the Kurds effectively withdrew from the crumbling state and set up their own institutions.
The truth was that no one in the US-UK alliance really had a clue what might happen after Saddam was toppled. It was all wishful thinking premised on the aftermath of D-Day: Go in, kick out the bad guys, be welcomed as liberators, drink some booze and lay a few chicks, set out the rules for a pro-Western system of government, go home to ticker-tape welcome . . . more booze and chicks.
9/ What actually happened after the initial welcome was years of fighting between coalition forces and Shia militias or Sunni insurgents. The country fell apart. A major contribution to the upsurge in hostility to the occupying forces was the decline in public amenities, health care and other facilities, this being the inevitable result of the gratuitous destruction of infrastructure by the coalition at the start of the campaign, largely done for the entertainment of the television audience in the West.
Saddam Hussein was unquestionably a bastard, but he wasn’t particularly ideological, and he certainly wasn’t driven by religious zeal, nor was he especially greedy. He certainly liked power and used it as he thought necessary to hold together an artificial and fissiparous country bequeathed by the Sykes-Picot carve-up during WWI.
But as Iraqis were soon to lament, under Saddam they at least had electricity, and a working sewage system, the hospitals had drugs and doctors, there was public transport, kids went to school and on to university. Compared to the ‘liberation’ Iraq under Saddam Hussein began to look like a lost golden age.
10/ Democracy (of a sort) was installed . . . or another way of putting it would be that Shia sectarianism was empowered. For the Shia majority, with its (lavishly bearded) leaders controlled by Iran, now ruled the roost and were determined to make the Sunni – of whom Saddam was nominally one – pay for the years in which they, the Sunni, had ruled that same roost at the expense of Shia and Kurds.
The resentment felt by the Sunni resulted in attacks on the US military, and on Shia shrines and other targets. To cut a long story short, it was the treatment meted out to the Sunni by the USA and the Shia – who were backed, bizarrely, by both the USA and Iran – that created the conditions in which Sunni ISIS could establish itself and flourish.
And that’s where we are today, boys and girls.
With no clear plan beyond settling a family score by getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and grabbing Iraq’s oilfields and other assets for vice president Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and other US companies, George W Bush didn’t really know what he was doing. His ally, or perhaps his dupe, Tony Blair, deluded himself that this was some noble crusade against evil. Even today Blair argues that he did the right thing. One’s a duplicitous and devious idiot, the other’s a self-deluding zealot who, like so many who have done great wrong, now finds solace in religion.
They blundered in, blundered about for a few years, wrecking an entire country, strengthening Iran, causing the rise of ISIS, before blundering out, little wiser about the country they’d destroyed than when they invaded.
Add disastrous military escapades like Iraq and Afghanistan to globalisation and immigration and you explain the increasing alienation of the white working class in the USA and in post-industrial regions across Europe. Which in turn explains the popularity of Donald Trump (and Bernie Sanders), Brexit, Marine le Pen and a host of other examples showing growing public contempt for what had been the established political order.
President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair told us that by invading Iraq they were making the world a safer place. The world is now infinitely more dangerous, both from external foes and also from internal divisions due to the discrediting of the Anglo-Saxon, transatlantic political and economic model (the latter following the Crash of 2008).
When millions of voters are prepared to put their faith in Nigel Farage you know just how badly Bush and Blair fucked up. That is their legacy.