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The invasion of Iraq was Britain's worst foreign policy blunder since Suez

A fitting way to mark the anniversary would be to drive a stake through the doctrine of pre-emptive strike

Robin Cook

19 March 2004 "The Independent"


Britain is a nation given to commemorating our military actions. Even 60
years on we are preparing to remember the D-Day invasion and honour the
incomparable courage of the men who waded ashore that day.

It says much about the nervousness in Government over Iraq that they
have no plans to mark tomorrow's anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
This is very sensible on their part. Any retrospective examination would
inevitably draw attention to questions that they find increasingly
difficult to answer - such as why they ever believed Saddam was a threat
since he turns out to have had no nuclear programme, no chemical or
biological agents, and no delivery system with which to fire them.

A fitting way to mark the anniversary would be to drive a stake through
the doctrine of pre-emptive strike and bury it where it cannot be
disinterred to justify another unilateral military adventure. The new
Bush doctrine claimed the right to make war on any country that could be
a potential threat some years down the road. Iraq has proved beyond any
reasonable doubt that intelligence cannot provide evidence reliable
enough to justify war on such a speculative basis.

A year later ministers do not justify our presence in Iraq by the hunt
for those elusive weapons of mass destruction, but by the need, as the
Prime Minister put it yesterday, to be "steadfast against terrorism".
Yet the conversion of Iraq into an extended battlefield between the West
and al- Qa'ida is a measure of the failure of our policy, not a
justification for invasion.

The Islamic fundamentalists regarded Saddam with as much hostility as
anyone else, and he reciprocated by keeping them out of Iraq. It was our
occupation that gave al-Qa'ida the motivation to target Iraq and the
incompetence of our plans after Saddam that offered them the open door
through which they entered it.

Tony Blair is right when he insists that there can be no opt out from
terrorism for any individual country. The lethal energy of al-Qa'ida
makes no nice distinctions between those who opposed the invasion of
Iraq and those who supported it. Given popular sentiment in Spain it is
almost certain that nine out of ten of those murdered in Madrid had
opposed the Iraq war. There is no certificate of immunity which can be
obtained from al-Qa'ida. The rational approach is to ask whether our
actions are making the world as a whole safer from their malign
intentions.

The sober, depressing answer to that question must be that the invasion
of Iraq has made the world more vulnerable to a heightened threat from
al-Qa'ida, which is precisely what our intelligence agencies warned the
Government on the eve of war. The bombs in Madrid resulted in the worst
terrorist atrocity in Europe for 15 years and were the latest in a
litany of murderous assaults from Turkey to Morocco.

Our own experience in Northern Ireland has demonstrated that the only
way to diminish the threat from terrorism is to isolate the terrorists
and to deny them any sympathy from their own public. The invasion of
Iraq has handed the terrorists a whole new weapon to deploy on the Arab
street. The great irony is that invading Iraq is precisely what
al-Qa'ida wanted us to do, because it served their agenda of polarising
the West and the Islamic world. As George Soros has observed, "We have
fallen into a trap".

Part of the problem of the present Western approach on terrorism is the
insistence of our leaders in Washington and London on describing it as a
war. As a metaphor the language of war may be a forceful means of
expressing the priority our security forces should put into defeating
terrorism. Unfortunately too many in the Bush Administration appear to
have been misled by their own language into believing that terrorism can
be beaten by a real war, as if we can halt the terrorist bombs by
dropping even bigger bombs of our own.

In truth we would have made more progress in rolling back support for
terrorism if we had brought peace to Palestine rather than war to Iraq,
but President Bush's promise that he would give priority to peace in the
Middle East has become another of the commitments given before the
invasion and broken in the year after it.

The Spanish people have been charged with appeasement for their
impertinence in turning out a government that supported George Bush. To
accuse them of being soft on terrorism is to add injustice to their
injuries. Their refusal to remain conscripted in George Bush's coalition
simply reflects that they more anyone else have cause to know that his
strategy on terrorism is not working.

There is another message in the fate of the Aznar Government that
Washington should ponder. His party was punished more than anything else
for their ham-fisted attempt to wring political capital from the human
cost of terrorism. This is an uncomfortable conclusion for a Republican
Party that has based its strategy for re-election on the crude pitch
that a vote for Bush is a vote against Bin Laden. They are vulnerable to
their opponents pointing out that the suggestion that Iraq had any
responsibility for 11 September would be just as big a deception as the
claims that ETA planted the Madrid bombs.

Tony Blair can fairly claim that the British Government never knowingly
uttered an untruth. But neither were they candid. Last month we learnt
for the first time that the Joint Intelligence Committee warned No 10 on
the eve of war that the information on Saddam's weapons was "sparse" and
the intelligence on its timing was "inconsistent". This explodes the
assertions of weapons ready for firing in 45 minutes, but was never
disclosed to parliament or public before the vote for war. Partial truth
can be as corrosive of trust as a flat lie.

It did not need the evidence from this week's poll of voter disaffection
over Iraq to confirm that the war has been a disaster for the Labour
Party. The tragedy is, as Gordon Brown's confident presentation
confirmed on Wednesday, that this is a Government with a powerful record
of achievement on hospitals, schools and jobs which has been obscured by
the long shadow cast by a controversial and unnecessary war. It is a bit
rich of the party hierarchy who initiated that war now to blame those of
us who opposed it for the diversion it has caused from the domestic
agenda.

Iraq has become the defining issue of this parliament and Tony Blair has
honestly admitted it will be remembered as the most divisive decision of
his second term. It has alienated our key allies in Europe. It has
undermined the principle of collective security through the UN, which a
previous Labour Government helped design to provide a multilateral world
forum. And it has set back dialogue with the Muslim world and given a
boost to the fundamentalists.

On this first anniversary it seems only too likely that the judgement of
history may be that the invasion of Iraq has been the biggest blunder in
British foreign and security policy in the half century since Suez. 

2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

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