After a seven year wait, the Chilcot Report has come back with some quite damning conclusions about the build-up to the 2003 invasion, and the lack of planning for post-war Iraq. I think we’ve certainly learned our lesson about not changing a country’s entire political set up without a credible alternative in place – that will never happen again, thank God.
I’m particularly interested by one note Tony Blair sent to George Bush on March 26th, 2003, a week before the invasion, in which he said the ‘fundamental goal’ of the war should be to create a new ‘world order’. ‘This is the moment when you can define international priorities for the next generation – the true post-Cold War world order. Our ambition is big – to construct a global agenda around which we can unite the world.’
Blair said the war was part of a bigger plan to ‘spread our values of freedom, democracy, tolerance and the rule of law… That’s why, though Iraq’s WMD is the immediate justification for action, ridding Iraq of Saddam is the real prize.’
Democracy and tolerance.
A lot of people still believe the invasion was about oil, which as Stephen Bush once said ‘only makes sense in a low-budget Saturday morning children’s cartoon‘.
I think rather that Tony Blair genuinely wanted to make Iraq, and the world, a better place, and that’s what made him so dangerous. Democracy and tolerance are not mankind’s natural state; liberalism has grown up in a few parts of the globe after centuries of individualism resulting from Pauline Christianity.
Even established European values like the freedom of the individual – let alone more recent novelties like gay rights – are sometimes difficult to export outside of the West, and though they may one day succeed, it would take some time. If the Prime Minister of Great Britain really believed in this new world order of democracy and tolerance then that is worrying; it might reflect better on our system if a cold cynic who wanted control of Babylonia’s black gold had risen up the ranks.
In terms of lessons to be learned, I’m not sure Chilcot will teach us anything about intervention in itself; the obvious response to Iraq is to say that we should never intervene again, but each case should be looked at on an individual basis. Blair was involved in four different countries, and not all were disasters; meanwhile the West should have got involved in Rwanda and, perhaps, Zimbabwe. As for Syria, who knows what is the least bad course?
The question, for me, is how do we stop people with naive ideas about the world getting into positions of power? After all, having such a worldview carries no personal cost and is probably beneficial if it is part of a more generally positive demeanour. More widely, in political discourse and culture, warm, fluffy notions about human nature are favoured over depressive realism. From a very young age children are read books and shown films that teach the message that we are all basically good and just like us, and then the more intelligent ones are sent off to universities where conservatism has been frozen out.
Blair got a lot of criticism for his religion while in office, ironic considering he has helped to destroy one of the oldest Christian communities on earth. But except in fundamentalists, faith is compartmentalised in most peoples’ minds; more influential is Christianity’s secular heresy, progressivism, whose believers have inherited the Christian traditions of equality, universalism, individualism, ensoulment (which probably informs the trans debate), free will and eschatology (‘the right side of history’), but without any of the doubt that is inherent in mainstream Christianity.
That’s truly faith-based politics, especially when believers seem convinced that, because their small corner of the world has largely embraced radical individualism, the rest of humanity must also because, you know, it’s the current year. I imagine this same happy worldview must also have informed Blair’s other great legacy, the mass immigration his government engineered from 2000, and which has, 16 years later, resulted in the Labour Party’s northern Götterdämmerung.
I wonder how much of this naivety was to do with Blair’s youth, and if one lesson of his rule is that we avoid electing young, inexperienced leaders; at 63, he’s now at the perfect age to become prime minister, exactly the same age as Benjamin Disraeli was when he first entered Number 10. In fact right now the country could do with a leader who knew what he was doing.