A legacy of death and dying

on a fateful day, in 2007 I quite vividly recall listening to a teacher at my school tell the class of her happiness at the fact that America had chosen, to her mind, the correct president in the person of Barrack Obama and had avoided four more years of the same under a McCain presidency. The four more years of the same she referred to in this was the torturous primacy of George W Bush who in his time did his level best during his time in office to steer his country away from the enlightened vision of its forefathers towards a nation with nothing short of a Stalinist embrace of its citizens and its enemies. I would openly confess that at that point in time I too felt a very similar emotion to my teacher, having always maintained an interest in world affairs I genuinely believed that with Bush gone and Obama in office that what we would see in his presidency would be a refreshingly new approach to politics. How naive I was. Albeit, my country has never been bombed by the US or had US agents destabilise/overthrow my government so it always remained easier for me to accept that the USA could be a force for good than it would be for an Iraqi refugee or Palestinian trapped in the warzones of Gaza, but none the less I was naive in assuming that all it would take to change the destructive imperialist agenda that the USA has followed since the times of Jefferson was one man. This being said, I will openly suggest that I feel that none of us could have predicted how far from the tree this particular apple would fall. Considering the rhetoric of the campaign I feel we have never before seen such a betrayal of principles by any individual who has walked the gilded halls of Washington. In this post I intend to cover the key issues which are often cited for why George Bush’s presidency was maligned by people all over the world and then I aim to compare it to that of Obama and arguably show how little has changed for the better and that actually in many ways things have only gotten worse.

First on the list of George W Bush’s crimes during his time in office would inevitably be his two ill-informed and disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and later Iraq. Two more short-sighted examples of foreign policy I cannot think of unless pushed hard on the topic. To be fair to the planners of these acts, in both cases the invasions in a strictly military sense were a success but then it seems the planning for any eventuality went out the window. Like a football team who scores two early goals in every match they play but then concede fifteen the USA and its allies in both cases found themselves fighting a running battle  against a variety of forces that they were too ill equipped and too ill informed to ever win against. For example in Iraq after the initial invasion had ended and just as the occupation was getting under way, large crowds looted and torched much of the former Baathist government’s ministry buildings and no effort was made to prevent this riotous behaviour. Oh wait, some effort was made – but only to prevent any damage happening to any of the ministry buildings that were related in any way to the production of oil. In allowing this destruction of much of Baghdad’s infrastructure the coalition authorities demonstrated in a quite blatant manner their utter disregard for the safety and livelihood of Iraqi civilians. In coming years who knows how many lives that were lost to a Cholera epidemic in 2007 could have been saved if armed gangs had not been allowed to loot and burn down the health ministries. Ultimately both the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq had far more negative outcomes than positive ones for them to ever be recorded in a entirely positive light and it is largely due to GW Bush and his administration that both of these invasions were such catastrophic failures with each invasion focussing on the minutiae of capturing one figurehead individual while neglecting to ensure that the populations of the countries US forces were riding roughshod over were happy with what was being done in their name.

Next on the list of crimes that were committed with oversight by GW Bush was the massive infringement of civil liberties conducted by US intelligience agencies in the name of the War on Terror. As Glenn Greenwald at the guardian says in an article discussing the civil liberties records of US presidents:

Bush seized on the 9/11 attack to usher in radical new surveillance and detention powers in the PATRIOT ACT, spied for years on the communications of US citizens without the warrants required by law, and claimed the power to indefinitely imprison even US citizens without charges in military brigs.

Such a concerted effort to eradicate civil liberties that the founding fathers strove to define and enshrine in the constitution at the time shocked and horrified many commentators and with good reason really. The programme of extraordinary rendition through which people suspected of terrorism were kidnapped and tortured in nations friendly with the US was one of the most flagrant abuses of international norms and law that I can conceive of. The same can be said about the willingness with which the Bush administration accepted the daily abuses of privacy that were abetted by the Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11. Surely the greatest show of strength in the fact of hatred that the US could have demonstrated in the wake of the single worst terrorist attack in history would have been to show that even in possibly the nations lowest moment that the government were still unwilling to violate the principles of personal privacy. But ultimately, the Bush administration danced according to the tune of the terrorists and reacted by demonstrating just how contemptible Western democracies can be in times of crisis putting the lie to their claims of superiority over the theocracies and autocracies of the developing world.

The third charge that would likely also stick were it to be levelled at George W Bush in a court of law would be the use of torture in an attempt to extract confessions and intelligence from those who had already been treated illegally in either being kidnapped and illegally rendered across international borders or as a result of detention on often highly dubious grounds for endless amounts of time. That the victims of torture in Bagram, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were already victims of crimes committed by US forces does not however remove the later stain on the US of subjecting these individuals to torture. Such behaviour  and the frequency with which it was committed by the supposed “leaders of the free world” demonstrates how hollow such a title is and how much respect it should actually command in hindsight. To kill an innocent in a war is certainly an objective evil, but there is an argument to be heard that suggests torture is worse as the innocent must then live with the harrowing memory of being made to fear for their physical and mental health for the rest of their lives. And I genuinely feel that this argument holds some weight in light of the fact that often torturers simply extract lies from their victims who in sheer desperation will put their name to anything they are told to in an effort to stop their suffering and this is commonly known. It does take a special time of criminal to authorise such behaviour with the full knowledge that the likely outcomes will be of no use, and Bush certainly fits the mould. The exact same point about it taking a special kind of criminal to commit these crimes, can be raised about Bush’s rolling back of personal liberty and his invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan too.

The reality, however, is that in reality the current president of the USA, Barrack Obama is guilty of two of the exact same crimes his predecesor, Bush, and arguably guilty of a worse third crime than Bush which would on the surface suggest that actually the Nobel Peace Prize winner is worse than Bush. Who would have though it ?

The first crime of launching questionable military interventions is certainly one Obama is guilty of, and much like Bush the end result doesn’t look very promising with the paint (metaphorically speaking) likely to run a little further before setting. The intervention which Obama championed was the lending of NATO air support to the Libyan rebels to help oust Muammar Gadaffi from power. Seemingly caught up by public and political sentiment that something should be done to support at least one nation in the “Arab Spring” uprisings and not wanting to overthrow one of his own Middle Eastern pawns considering the amount of money that has been poured into their pockets over the year, Libya was the unlucky nation to suffer the consequences of America’s attention. Much the same as in the case of the Afghanistan invasion , and almost identically to the Iraq invasion, the end result of intervention was demonstrably not thought out. The result being that a once relatively isolated/isolationist African nation is now a lawless war zone in which Islamist militias have monopolized power and control large swathes of the country and perhaps more alarmingly also hold large stockpiles of arms and munitions which if history repeats itself, as it is wont to do, will end up in the hands of whoever we fight in ten to fifteen years time. Of course, things might turn out just fine in Libya but the conflict has been officially over for more than a year and there is no end in sight of the lawlessness which grips much of the country and the parallels between the state of Afghanistan after its civil war and Libya as things stand is notable. So, on the first charge Bush’s crime will rank in the annals of history as the worst being as he went all out and invaded two countries as opposed to Obama’s one although there are the best part of three and half years left yet for Obama to fuck that one up.

On the second charge of restricting right and civil liberties within the USA itself, Obama, for a candidate who preached at length about open transparent government in his early campaigns and ultimately was carried to the white house on the back of the successes of the Civil Rights movement has a lot to answer for. While the getting involved in military interventions in another countries civil war struck me as a betrayal of all the Obama claimed to stand for during his election campaign, it is his attack on the rights that most people consider inalienable that must surprise most of all. The first demonstrable way in which Obama has betrayed those who voted for him is his failure to close Guantanamo Bay and end the abuses of human rights that have taken place daily there since its inception under Bush. Amongst the crimes that Guantanamo represents are torture and detention without anything like sufficient proof of guilt and often not even credible suspicion. The legacy of that site was one of the biggest blots on the Bush administration legacy and Obama’s inability or unwillingness to close down the facility there will certainly form one of the biggest blots on his presidential story. A further violation of the campaign rhetoric of open government would be the unfolding drama of the NSA’s massive spying operation in which seemingly almost every american has been spied upon and monitored without specific warrants which I won’t comment on much more than this as the depth of this crime is still only partly apparent as things stand. Needless to say that a crime of such scale really is Stalinist in its style and

The third and final charge which I think really is the deal breaker in demonstrating how Obama is measurably worse than Bush is his use of drone warfare both as means of repression both against american citizens in the wrong place at the wrong time and against poor brown people seemingly wherever he can find them. The move away from “boots on the ground” was something that Obama promised and so on that front, if literally no other, credit is due. However at no point in his run up to election did he ever make it clear that his intention was to remove one deadly force only to replace it with another equally deadly force which if possible is even less indiscriminate in its killing of non-combatants. The usage of drones which while not as directly comparable as the infringement of civil liberties and invasions of other countries was worth my raising as an issue for one reason. namely, that since taking office, Obama has already had more people extra-judicially executed with these weapons than were ever tortured under Bush’s orders during his entire presidency. This fact in itself is frightening when you take into account the tremendously positive light in which Obama is portrayed by comparison to the presentation of Bush jr throughout his presidency. However when you consider that Obama is not a full year into his second term yet, then the cogs should really start to whirr with the thought of how many more will likely die in later years. It must also be taken into account that many of the grievances that are often cited by the self same “islamic” terrorists that drones are supposedly utilised against involve grievances with the US army and its practices in the Middle East. While there are many reasons for grievances to be raised against the US armed forces, there are on balance probably several redeeming features which members of the armed forces have, Drones however can surely never have a redeeming feature as they simply kill and so the question must be asked as to simply how long it will be before this chicken comes home to roost and whenever that does happen we can already establish a chain of causation that leads directly to Obama’s trigger finger.


The tortured rhetoric of escalation.

Ninety-nine years ago a war began in Europe which did more to define the borders of the Middle East than any other event in history. That war was World War 1, and in a round about way it defined the borders of roughly 8 countries out of a conservative estimate of 16 in the wider region. In defining these borders, it must surely rank as one of histories greatest follies that no inhabitants of any of these countries were involved and that such arrangements were  ultimately made with only the view points of one Englishman and a Frenchman take into account. Imagine China and Japan dictating the borders of European countries ? Are we to assume they would create borders with the other countries’ interests at heart or we would fall down on the side of the most probable response and assume that if one country was asked to define another countries borders that it would do so only in its own interest. History teaches us many things and perhaps an overarching theme to what we can learn by studying the past is that benignity in politics is as good as non-existent. I highlight this particular viewpoint of mine to make clear from the outset for the reader my views on the disastrous effect the purely self-interested policies of the French and British empires had on the middle east and further, continue to have as we can see in the rapidly escalating crisis in Syria. In defining borders in the Middle East, the gentlemen Sykes and Picot had two ingredients with which they worked, land and people. Land is easy from the point of view of a someone tasked with making a nation, it does not protest to the arbitrary lines scribbled across it by the cartographer and without the intervention of people those lines might well last an eternity in quiet peace. Humans are a little different, they do protest the arbitrary lines that cut them off from friends and family and surround them with different ethnic groups and religions and often the results of humans doing so is an incredibly bloody affair. Anyway back the matter in hand, when Sykes and Picot made their borders they operated on a policy of divide and rule with regards the people by empowering minority ethnic groups to hold disproportionate amounts of power at the expense of the majority. when discussing the middle east many often bemoan the fact that seemingly the region is cursed with what seems an inherent taste of violent conflict with both internal and external enemies and depending on the commentator themselves, they will offer any number of potential reasons for this supposed quality. What these arguments about the violent nature of the middle east miss out is that for comparison we always think of our own countries in the west which as a result of events in the past are generally ethnically and culturally homogeneous whereas the middle east in a word is far more heterogeneous in all ways. this heterogeneity is a direct result of the Sykes-Picot agreement and World War 1 and we are seemingly seeing its side effects emerge more and more on a daily basis in Syria, but the the trouble does not end there as the destabilizing effect of the conflict seems to be escalating previously small civil conflict in almost all neighbouring countries, primarily Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey so that we are on the verge of watching another region burned over as a result of the follies of the west. I will now discuss a briefly the emerging situation in each of these countries and highlight the points of concern.


Turkey flag

While I have included Turkey here in my analysis, it is true that of the three countries I mentioned Turkey as it stands has remained relatively free from conflict but none the less there are worrying signs present in the political landscape and further Turkey has many of the ingredients necessary for a civil conflict of it its own. The first point of concern I believe that we should pay attention to is the way in which turkey has involved itself in the Syrian conflict. Turkey has from a very early point in the conflict declared its support for the rebel factions in Syria and has allowed the setting up of a Syrian government in exile amongst its own borders, all of this on top of Turkey having been the primary safe haven for refugees fleeing the conflict. This of course is the official state of affairs but if the rumours many have heard on the grapevine are to be believed then attacks by rebels against the Syrian government forces have been launched from Turkish soil. Further to this another rumour circulating is that after stray mortar shells landed in Turkey that the armed forces used this a pretext for launching raids across the border aimed at their perennial enemies, the Kurds. From all of this evidence we can see that Turkey has become embroiled in the Syrian civil war much like the Gulf Arab states, although unlike the countries of the Gulf, turkey shares a border with Syria that could quite easily facilitate the spread of conflict from one country to the other.  In recent weeks we perhaps had a inkling of this process of the conflict spreading beginning when 2 suicide bombs were detonated in a town on the Turkish border with Syria that killed 43 people. The official story, which I believe should be taken with a pinch of salt bearing in mind the number of stories that haver turned out to be false such as the Syrian governments supposed use of chemical weapons, was that the bombings were carried out by groups linked with the Syrian intelligence service. I feel the Syrian rebels a more likely culprit as they stand to gain much more from the conflict escalating in terms of other governments committing military forces to the conflict or failing this at least an increase in the amount of financial and/or technical support that they will receive from the coalition of countries allied against the Syrian regime. Either way, whoever you believe to be responsible for the bombing the fact remains that the conflict appears to be being waged by neighbouring proxies which does not bode well for peace in Turkey itself. While part of the problems then of turkey stem from the conflict in neighbouring Syria, there are aspects of the Turkish political landscape that may well lend themselves to the fomentation of civil conflict independent of anything going on in neighbouring Syria and it is my concern that a combination of Turkish problems alongside the overspill from the syrian civil war may see the country burn. The main troubling ingredient present in the Turkish landscape is the sizeable Kurdish population whose relations with Ankara have never been particularly jovial as a result of the long history of persecution of the Kurds by the Turkish government and in recent weeks a peace deal of sorts has been signed between the two parties. All it would take is for this deal to break down, which history has shown us in the form of previous truce agreements is likely, and combined with the severely militarised climate of south eastern turkey I would not like to hazard a guess as to what the consequences might be other than to guess that whatever they are they will not be pretty. Ultimately of all the countries I discuss in this article, Turkey is the least likely to suffer but this is very much dependent on how long the conflict rages on for in Syria. If the Syrian civil war ends relatively soon then it is easy enough to see Turkey avoiding any crisis but if the war continues indefinitely then Turkeys level of involvement will only increase commensurate with the age of the conflict.


Lebannon flag

Of three countries I discuss in this post none are more closely interconnected with Syria than Lebanon is. The history of the relationship between the two countries has seen the countries at each others throats on more than one occasion and it has also seen them being the closet of allies. Lebanon has all of the essential ingredients to precipitate the spreading of the conflict into another country. Firstly there is a large bastion of support for Bashar present in Lebanon in the form of Hezbollah who are a formidable fighting force and are in all likelihood loathed by the Islamist rebels in Syria as it is a Shia Muslim group. Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon could easily escalate any emerging crisis especially if they are targeted by rebel groups laying low in Lebanon itself which is a significant possibility being as suicide bombings have been conducted in Lebanon since the start of the conflict in Syria with many citing rebel groups as the party responsible. Another factor that makes Lebanon a likely candidate for an overspill of the conflict emerging is the polarisation along sectarian lines of much of Lebanese society. For fifteen years the world saw Lebanon torn apart by brutal sectarian conflict which again like much of the conflict in the middle east was a result of the borders arbitrarily drawn in the carve up of the middle east after world war 1 which placed minority’s in all of the positions of power in many countries. The Lebanese civil war was a particularly bloody affair as it moved away from any meaningful conflict with clear aims towards a conflict of retaliation and reprisal massacres and were the Syrian civil war to spread across its neighbours border then there is no reason to believe that the same would not be true again. Much like Turkey however, the ultimate deciding factor is how much longer the conflict in Syria continues for but unlike Turkey the likelihood that the Syrian civil war  will escalate to the point where its neighbour becomes involved is significantly greater. Another element present in the case of Lebanon is that it has become something of a hub for gulf money making its way into the hands of Syrian rebels and naturally this presents us with the likelihood that alongside this money coming into the country that a far more destabilising import is also entering Lebanese territory in the form of gulf Salafists and other fundamentalists which does not bode well for stability in a country that has never had a particularly strong track record for peace.


Iraq flag

Iraq is very much the odd one here as it is recent history is unfortunately full of conflict so it perhaps seems a bit confusing for me to include it in a list of possible countries that the Syrian civil war may spread to but something serious is in motion in Iraq which seems to very clearly linked to the conflict in Syria. The case of Iraq would always be a problematic one for suggesting it as a place where an Arab Spring type revolution or conflict might take place as its history in the lead up to the region wide event was so fundamentally different with the invasion in 2003 and then many years of sectarian conflict and near enough outright civil war. All of the above being true alongside the Arab Spring that we heard about in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia was an identical movement of protest against the current corrupt regime in Iraq which I can only assume was neglected from the media because they didn’t accept stories coming from Iraq that didn’t involve people being murdered aimlessly by suicide bombers. While a peaceful protest movement aimed to some degree at the liberalisation of the Iraqi political sphere was a great positive for the political landscape there, from very early on the movement become somewhat bogged down in Sectarian divisions with much of the protesting being carried out by the Sunni minority who felt (legitimately) that they had been marginalised by the Shia-Kurdish alliance in government. The main area in which these protests took part was also the predominantly Sunni areas west of Baghdad (Sunni Triangle for those who feel the need to use US army terms at all times) and so what I feel that we can observe in the case of Iraq is a genuine movement for political reform like in all of the other Arab Spring protests which was subverted by sectarian causes much the same as in Syria. Of course that being said one thing that Syria had in its favour before the start of its respective uprising was that it had enjoyed peace within its own borders since the Hama uprising in 1982 whereas Iraq has pretty much literally been torn apart by the sectarian divisions created after the ousting of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Iraq like the other two countries I have already discussed has been closely connected with Syria in a number of ways since the beginning of the crisis in 2011 such as hosting a large number of refugees who in a bizarre twist of fate decided that they were indeed safer in Iraq were they had fled from in 2003 than they were in Syria in 2011. Another way in which the countries were closely interlinked was that it was reported that amongst the more hard line Islamist elements fighting in Syria were many of the same who had terrorized large swathes of the Iraqi population previously.  Alongside the training that Iraq had provided them with into how to effectively terrorize civilian populations it is also probable that it provided them with a lot of military equipment and perhaps most importantly of all it provided them with a safe haven in the form of the Syrian-Iraqi Desert, a rather inhospitable area which due to the climate is policed A) ineffectively or B) not at all (you choose). This border region will be one of the key factors that could drag Iraq into civil conflict as it has been used once before as a base of resupply for insurgency movements desperate to avoid being traced and it is likely that if its not already being used by Rebels in Syria then it will be soon enough. A further reason I believe that Iraq is standing atop a dangerous precipice at this moment in time with it looking increasingly likely to follow Syria’s example is that much like in the case of Syria in 2011,  prolonged peaceful protests have unfortunately not resulted in any massive changes to the system in Iraq and so violence will come to look more and more like the only solution to the problem. There has been a spike in the last month or so in the number of suicide bombings throughout the country and according to an article published in The Indepedent written by their Iraq specialist Patrick Cockburn some Iraqis believe their civil war has already started. whether that is true or not, the likely scenario is that the porous border between the  current sectarian hell-hole that is Syria and the  recovering sectarian hell-hole that is Iraq will only lead to more blood being spilt. Iraq is probably level with Lebanon in terms of the likelihood that it will become a theatre of the Syrian civil conflict but because of its past experiences you have been warned that what you can expect will be a hell of a lot uglier than the worst of Syria’s fight so far.

Ten years on

By the time I post this ten years will have passed since the governments of both the USA and my government here in the UK together conspired to drag the middle-eastern nation of Iraq kicking and screaming into the loving embrace of  western”democracy”. Studying the historical record I believe that it will back up my assertion that on almost all counts the armies of the west utterly failed in their quest to bring Iraq towards their vision of a safer Middle East. In this post I will discuss the reasons that war was waged against the nation of Iraq, moving on to looking at the ways in which the invasion spectacularly backfired and then concluding by observing the situation in both Iraq and the wider Middle East as it currently stands.

Before I begin examining in any great depth the specific reasons for war that were offered by the Bush and Blair administrations I would like to contextualise the wider political situation the USA found itself in when the prophets of war started banging their drums in 2002-2003. On September the 11th 2001 a group of terrorists, primarily from the Gulf Arab states lead by Egyptian Mohamed Atta crashed passenger aeroplanes into the World Trade Centre buildings, the Pentagon and into a field in Pennsylvania with intended target being the US Capitol in Washington DC (the nationalities of the high-jackers is important for points made later in the conclusion of this post). In doing so the 19 terrorists were directly responsible for the deaths of 2996 people and for the injury of over 6000 individuals.

The attack was the greatest lost of civilian life in American history and to do this day holds the record for the greatest number of people ever killed in a single terrorist attack. The hijackers involved were financed by  and affiliated with a terrorist group Al-Qaeda which, unlike most other groups which subscribe to similarly extremist interpretations of Islam who focus on fighting the “near enemies” such as Israel, India and Russia, focussed its attacks on the far enemy in the form of the United States. Prior to the attacks on that day the nominal figure head of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden had made public his list of grievances with the USA, chief among them was the posting of American soldiers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Desert Storm campaign against Iraq and also continuing American support for Israel (these grievances also are important to remember when reading the conclusion of this post). Alongside publishing fatwa’s against the wonderfully titled Crusader and Jewish alliance throughout the 1990s Al-Qaeda also engaged in several terrorist bombing attacks against US interests and property in the wider world. Despite this rather public campaign of violence and hate speech against the afore mentioned alliance, on the whole both the FBI and CIA as the main protectors of the American people failed to identify the coming storm even though voices within each organisation warned of a coming attack for many months leading towards that fateful day.

In the political climate that followed the attacks against America a great deal of soul searching took place within branches of the American government and it is my contention that it is in this context that in response to the worst terrorist attacks ever to take place that some of the USA’s worst ever foreign policy decisions were made leading ultimately the events of the 20th of March 2003. In the weeks after September 11th the whole world was recast in light of the events as being either supportive of America or antagonistic to it and ultimately it is this dichotomy that lead to the invasion of Iraq being as there was no middle ground for Middle Eastern dictators any more.

Or so the US government at the time would have had us believe.

Or so the US government at the time would have had us believe.

In the hyper-emotional environment that emerged post 9/11 , The US government perhaps abandoned the cold logic of previous crises and allowed itself to be lead by fears of terrorist collusions with regimes that were antagonistic to Washington rather than being guided by concrete facts. This leading of the blind by the one eyed man was partly the fault of the intelligence communities who started the fatally flawed process of feeding the government data and opinions that supported the dominant political currents of the time rather than clashing with them. It was this process that ultimately lead the US administration to focus its sights on the regime of Saddam Hussein as a major potential supporter of terrorism and the drawing up of a list of reasons that were then widely discussed in both political forums and the media. Below I list the main reasons that were offered for an attack against Saddam:

  • The first and most critical of the reasons offered for military intervention in Iraq was the Saddam Hussein was in possession of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction that he would have been able to mobilise at a moments notice and threatened “the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region”  according to the 2002 Iraq War Resolution. The reasoning behind this objection to Iraq is ultimately grounded in reality even if the threat itself turned out to be no more than smoke and mirrors which Hussein himself allegedly admitted was simply a ruse to warn off his regional enemies in the form of Tel Aviv and Tehran. In his 8 year war with Iran and during the regional uprisings of Kurds in the north of Iraq, Saddam’s forces used these weapons to devastating effect and so there was room for genuine concern that he was still in possession of such equipment. However of course in the lead up to the 2003 war not a great deal of discussion was heard on how Saddam had acquired such weapons in the first place, for example by buddying up with former conservative US administrations.
Turns out the most dangerous hardware that Saddam possessed was Women Scorned.

Turns out that the most dangerous hardware that Saddam possessed was Women Scorned.

  • The next critical rationale that was used to justify the invasion was that Iraq harboured and actively aided terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. In the dark days after September the 11th during the period of soul searching that many of the arms of the American government inevitably went through, such a climate perhaps lead to the acceptance of frankly schizoid paranoia that all of the USA’s enemies were in league with each other in spite of facts that disproved such notions.  That such fears were expressed suggests a fatal disregard for the hard work of some American intelligence officials who had highlighted the existence and growth of autonomous networks of terrorists throughout the nineties that were not tied to states, and instead perhaps a willingness in a time of crisis, for senior government officials who belonged in a different era, to rely on older models of political thought where it was often the case that enemies of the USA were in some way being supported by the regimes in Moscow or Beijing. Such assurances that Hussein was supportive of international terrorists were made even though Bin Laden had repeatedly denounced him as an infidel and even offered during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait to use Al-Qaeda fighters as a foot army to defend Saudi Arabia. As well as this rather specific evidence of the antipathy between both men, there was also Saddam’s long record, similar to that of many Western backed dictators in the region, of cracking down violently against any religious groups that threatened their power and the stability of their respective states.
  • Less critical but also equally used as justification for the 2003 war was Saddam Hussein’s history of repressing human rights within Iraq. Again this, much like the concerns over weapons of mass destruction, was based on historical facts that all sides agreed on. However the use of this rationale to justify war against Iraq is troubling as taken to its logical conclusion it would also justify war against every nation in the Middle East, friend or foe of America and so its selective use speaks more about western double standards rather than the incredibly repressive nature of Saddam’s Baathist regime. Another similarity that this rationale shares with the concerns over weapons of mass destruction is that when reported both by the government and the media, not a great deal was done to really assess the ways in which American support had allowed Saddam to so vigorously repress human rights or created the need for such acts. The prime example in my mind is the uprisings in both the south and the north of Iraq in the weeks following  Desert Storm which were to a large degree motivated by US calls to rise against Saddam that were broadcast over radio frequencies. When the Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north heeded the call to rise up against Saddam the uprisings received no material support from the US despite suggestions that this would have been the reward for helping to oust Saddam. Of course though such a narrative in the media or government dialogue would have been far too complicated and would ultimately have served to de-legitimize the calls for war.

Now that I have assessed the intentions for the war as being A) to rid Saddam of his WMDs, B) to prevent support by Iraq for Al-Qaeda and C) to stop violations of human rights in Iraq I will now discuss the end results of the invasion and occupation of Iraq to see firstly if the coalition achieved its main aims and secondly to observe what the wider effects of the war were on the country.

The first rationale, to rid Saddam of his WMDs found itself confronted by one particularly unfortunate problem. Ten years on, not a single weapon of mass destruction has ever been found on Iraqi soil, and further to this, Saddam’s factories for producing this type of equipment were also nowhere to be found, putting the lie to the most feverish imaginings of the CIA, MI6 and other intelligence agencies. With the whole weapons of mass destruction line of reasoning turning out to be based on absolutely no concrete facts, the danger of faulty intelligence is being proved on a daily basis as Iraq sits (relatively) peacefully meanwhile in neighbouring Syria we are watching  the state fall apart knowing that either A) a regime with a fondness for brutal repression or B) a variety of Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups could at any moment get their hands on some actual real life functioning weapons of mass destruction. I’m a cautious soul and in options A and B are two hands that I would not like to see armed with WMDs, ever.

Based on a true story ....

Based on a true story ….

The next stated aim of the invasion that was discussed above was the aim to destroy the terrorist connections between the Iraqi state and Al-Qaeda type groups and prevent the further development of such ties between Iraqi nationals and groups that the United States was at war with. As mentioned above also, the existence of such links was tenuous at best, non-existent at worst. Saddam had a long and some would say proud history of repressing ANY religious movement that he felt threatened him, and ultimately when you idolise and model your behaviour on dictator numero uno Joseph Stalin there’s a tendency to see threats everywhere.

Not the ideal role model for anyone's children.

Not the ideal role model for anyone’s children.

Despite the proven factual record of repression against the Badr organization and the Sadrist movement during his reign, it is likely that the post 9/11 climate of suspicion lead worriers within intelligence agencies to connect these two dots. Anyway, in the event of the invasion of Iraq no concrete links were ever discovered to prove any form of alliance, formal or informal between Saddam and the scions of militant Islam. The closest  that coalition troops ever came to fighting anything that minutely resembled the foot soldiers of Al-Qaeda was in fighting with Saddam’s Fedayeen brigades which were far closer to irregular personal militias than they were to terrorists. However all this being said, the coalition presence in Iraq didn’t take long to fulfil the prophecies of Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists and within weeks amongst the insurgency who fought specifically to free Iraq from occupation were more sinister elements who have gone on to wage a brutal campaign of bombings and intimidation against their sectarian enemies and brought the country to the brink of a civil war. Eventually the already low levels of support that such movements garnered from the Iraqi people dried up as they could see that such indiscriminate methods were harming their own communities as well as those of different faiths, creeds and ethnicities.

A gift I'm sure many Iraqis will thank America for in years to come

A gift I’m sure many Iraqis will thank America for in years to come.

The third and most slapdash of reasons that was offered to justify the 2oo3 invasion was to protect the human rights of the Iraqi people from the iron fists of Saddam’s regime.  Despite the cognitive problems caused  by the notion of preventing suffering by creating massive human suffering that this ideal caused this was arguably the most successful of the coalition forces missions as strictly speaking they did through military intervention (questionable legality of such acts aside) free the people of Iraq from the 24 year long reign of Saddam Hussein. On the other hand though the invasion opened up the Iraqi people to a whole variety of new ways in which their rights could be abused by the powers that be and so the question genuinely must be pondered as to whether the rule of Saddam or the coalition authority was worse as both in their respective time spans ruled over an orgy of suffering.

A diagram showing the number of both internally and externally displaced people.

A diagram showing the number of both internally and externally displaced people in Iraq

Take for example the number of people who were displaced by the conflict, are they likely to thank the USA lead coalition for the war effort which destroyed both worldly possessions and family ? Probably not and by the very same token neither are the stillborn or deformed victims of depleted uranium who were not even guilty, having not been born before the war, of the crime of being Iraq in Iraq during the war against Iraq. Much the same as these two groups are unlikely to thank the armed forces for freeing them from bondage under Saddam due to the methods used, also equally unlikely to believe that the western armies were deserving of thanks are the countless victims of sectarian warfare that were killed simply by accident of believing in the wrong interpretation of scripture. Another group that I imagine feel little but contempt was the former soldiers of the Iraqi army who were imprisoned and tortured, again purely for the crime of having served in an army which as a result of the politics of international diplomacy was cast as an enemy of the USA.

An image that the whole Arab world will not and further more should not ever forget.

An image burned into the collective psyche of the whole Arab world as a demonstration of American power which will not and, further more, should not, ever be forgotten.

In assessing the war to see if it achieved these three key aims it is plain to see for anyone who leans towards pessimism that the war was very little short of a complete disaster for the USA as more and more of the justifications that were offered for its waging fell to nothing, discrediting the USA greatly in the process. Alongside these three key failings a host of other developments in Iraq took place as a direct result of the war which I will discuss now to demonstrate how despite, if the record is to be taken literally, the best of intentions the war has had massive lasting impacts on the country which only serve to undo any good work that was intended.

  • The first major upshot of the 2003 invasion is the rebalancing of power within Iraq that on paper would lend the impression that Iraq has become a more democratic society. The main indicator of such a rebalancing of power is the significant increase in the inclusion of Iraq’s majority Shia population in the political process. On the surface this is one of the few positive results of the invasion from the point of view of Iraq’s once repressed majority who suffered tremendously as a result of repression under Saddam and disproportionately as a result of sanctions against Iraq. While the increased inclusion of Iraq’s Shia in the political structure is a sign of progression this is not to say that such an increase in inclusion has not had effects which many people would argue are negative on the wider country. For example, with the increase in the number of Shia in elected government, there was a concomitant increase in the number of Shia civil servants which lead to charges of nepotism being levelled against Shia politicians responsible for hiring them which served to disrupt the transition of power and further polarise Iraqi society. As well as the increase in government positions held by Shia Iraqis, another side effect of their increased involvement in politics was a rise in militia type groups that supported certain politicians which threaten stability in an already unstable country. The prime example of a political movement that gained tremendous ground in post Saddam Iraq would be the Sadrist movement lead by Muqtada al-Sadr which did a great deal towards ending the occupation, but since has had a destabilizing effect on the wider political environment and could continue to do so many years into the future.
As well as being the nominal leader or a private army which at its height consisted of 60,000 men, many view Al-Sadr as  a kingmaker in Iraqi politics for years to come.

As well as being the nominal leader or a private army which at its height consisted of 60,000 men, many view al-Sadr as the key king maker in Iraqi politics for years to come.

  • Another result of the war that many had not predicted or planned for was that Iraq would develop much closer ties with Iran. The western hopes for Iraq in a post Saddam world were very much of a peaceful country with a strong quasi-dictatorial ruler that would align themselves much more than Saddam had with the Gulf Arab petro-kingdoms, and therefore would stay very much a friend of the USA and within the American sphere of influence regionally. With Saddam gone, Iraq’s relationship with its neighbour Iran has significantly thawed to the point where many argue that Iran now has a dangerous amount of influence over Iraq. For example, many Shia politicians who during Saddam’s reign languished in exile in Iran have  been able since the end of the war to return to Iraq and perhaps as a thank you towards their beneficent neighbour have increased ties with Iran, politically, culturally and economically and generally speaking many view the partner wearing the trousers in this relationship as being Iran.   The Iranian influence over Iraqi politics has by many sources even been argued to affect the higher levels of government with al-Maliki viewed as dangerously under Iran’s spell, with Iran having exerted a great deal of its influence in the country to support al-Maliki’s government and help in the reconstruction process. Many commentators are also worried that in the current political climate that Iraq will aid Iran in subverting sanctions by transporting banned goods across their respective borders, in the process propping up the regime in Tehran which American would dearly like to see collapse as a result of its economic blockade.

    Many worry that the man on the right rules Iraq through his puppet on the left.

    Many worry that the man on the right rules Iraq through his puppet on the left.

  • Another result of the war that is an unusually positive one that few predicted is the continued growth and success of the Kurdish regions of Iraq. Perhaps it is a side effect of the autonomy that these regions already enjoyed but whatever the reason, the northern regions of Iraq where Kurds are the majority have managed to steer their regions towards economic prosperity and away from the sectarian chaos that has blighted the rest of the country. Like many success stories throughout the Middle East the boom in the Kurdish regions of Iraq is built on oil money so may not be sustainable in the long term but for the time being it offers a welcome alternative to the comparative stagnation that affects the other regions of Iraq.  The continuing success of Iraqi Kurdistan also is dangerously tied to the success of peace deals between Kurds and the Turkish government in neighbouring Turkey which have in the past proved to be shaky and volatile agreements. If peace breaks down between the Mr Erdogan’s government and the Turkish Kurds and the porous border with Iraqi Kurdistan is used as a safe haven then the Iraqi Kurds may suffer at the hands of Turkish armed forces who often violate Iraqi territorial sovereignty in pursuit of their Turkish enemies.

At this juncture the reader can see that the many implications of the 2003 invasion are still visible throughout Iraq today and worst of all, it is not entirely clear whether or not the invasion can be seen as having changed things for the better overall in the country. Iraq today stands on a precipice with the chance to succeed greatly in coming years if its current luck holds, but also equally likely is that one event could tip the balance and Iraq would find itself in a more chaotic state than it ever did before, during or after the war. The wider Middle East is currently in flux and no-one can be sure what the end results of such change will be. In neighbouring Syria, civil war is raging and it is difficult to tell whether Bashar Al-Assad will survive the conflict or if the loose coalition of Syrian rebels and foreign Jihadist groups will succeed in toppling him. Whatever happens in Syria though, it is already having a knock on effect in Iraq with Sunni groups emboldened by the example being set next door. If Syria were to fall then I imagine there is a significant chance of Iraq suffering as a result of a safe haven for Islamic extremist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda being set up on its door step. Alongside this potential nightmare which holds the most concern for Iraq’s Shia population another concern that would affect the whole country equally is the Israeli and American intentions regarding Iran. I would guess that if the American government was stupid enough to be dragged into conflict once more purely to protect Israel that this too would have a massively destabilizing effect on Iraq with the conflict easily capable of spilling across the border into Iraq.

When we look at the how America has exercised its influence in the Middle East, the overall picture is troubling, not because of the massive violations of international law and customs although these might be equally applicable. The reason that American foreign policy in the Middle East is so troubling is the arbitrary and ever changing ways in which it is enforced. Take for example America’s view on dictators, Dictators in the last ten years have not been acceptable in Iran and Iraq, yet maintaining close and even amicable ties with the dictatorial rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates is perfectly palatable. Another prime example of the double standard is the issue of nuclear weapons where the USA has repeatedly threatened Iran in no uncertain terms over its supposed hopes to gain nuclear weapons yet Israel has never once received condemnation over its own nuclear programme. Want another example just to convince you that US foreign policy really is so arbitrary in its enforcement ? Terrorism is another great example, perhaps the best example with the USA actively engaged in extra judicial assassinations of Yemeni nationals guilty of association with Al-Qaeda yet in Syria the current US administration wants to arm rebels who have openly committed war crimes and are affiliated with Al-Qaeda. My observation of the problem is thus – while the US continues to so arbitrarily enforce its foreign policy against bit part players in the region such as Saddam’s Iraq, Bashar’s Syria and Saleh’s Yemen and ignore the real grievances of the Arab people who suffer so much as a result of much US foreign policy then there will always be terrorist groups willing to wage war against the USA. While America invaded Iraq to protect the human rights of its people it failed to end its uncritical support of Israel which breeds resentment as the rights of Palestinians are daily violated. While members of the US administration advocate for intervention in Syria to prevent WMDs falling into the “wrong” hands they chose to ignore the very real problems of what some might argue is endemic support for movements such as Al-Qaeda in the Gulf Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia and UAE as we can see in the nationality of the 9/11 bombers. Ultimately then my argument is this, that Iraq has taught us a lesson that military intervention is a useless means to change things for the better and that if the USA and its allies are serious about making the world a safer place then they would do far better to solve issues such as chronic unemployment and restlessness for youths in the Gulf Arab countries which drives so much support and money towards terrorist groups. Such issues can be solved peacefully and the reward reaped in terms of saved lives would be significant enough to justify such policies as opposed to firing many millions worth of dollars in missiles at problems hoping the end result will be different to last time.