The long-awaited Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war opens today and whatever the rights and wrongs of how it is conducted (or indeed whether it should be at all) there will be at least one vital thing missing from the inquiry. A fundamental inquiry into the ideological underpinnings of why we went to war and, at least initially, it was well supported.
As I remember even when the evidence on Weapons of Mass Destruction was becoming shaky the Blair government was successful in charming some by regaling them with tales of the vileness of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Of course, none of that is fundamentally incorrect however, the premise that the way to deal with this is by direct military intervention and ‘regime change’ has yet to be fundamentally challenged. Behind Nick Clegg’s equivocation on Afghanistan lies a dogged support for ‘liberal interventionism’.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that there are different ways to intervene and that direct military intervention is not the only way. Kosovo, often cited by supporters of interventionism, proves the point; there was no direct ground attack on Serbia, rather it was punitively bombed and the regime left to crumble and finally it was vanquished by the hand of its own people. The remit was kept to protecting the Kosovars and not extended too far beyond that; so, it is not a good example for supporters of regime change.
We live in something of an age of interventionism where military actions are increasingly ‘police actions’ of advanced states against underdeveloped ones. This is a trend that has historical roots in the fighting of the Cold War through proxies; however, the relative state of a country is something that is also not taken account of and this is the primary reason ‘regime change’ has been a spectacular failure in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is also a good reason why it’s proponents do wrong when they cite the example of the Second World War. For all its devastation Germany retained a strong industrial base which could actually withstand the violent shock of the sudden and violent removal of a hostile government. No such thing existed in Iraq or Afghanistan and it has told when it comes to the end result.
Another thing that has lacked in Iraq and Afghanistan is the will and resource to actually build a nation; no mean feat when you start from such a low base. Armies can destroy nations and bring down governments but they cannot build them; for a nation to be built there has to be more than an armed to the teeth military presence. All these concerns are neglected in the highly idealistic discourse which assumes all that is needed for the ‘bad man to be driven away’ and it has led to the fundemental failure of both the Afghan and Iraqi missions at too high a cost both to their populations and our troops.