Leaders: Iraq War shapes our place in the world
TEN years on from the start of the Iraq War, it is right to pause and reflect on the circumstances under which Britain and its allies resorted to military action.
But a re-run of the arguments from 2003 is less important than an honest appraisal of where the world stands now, in the light of the experience of this past decade.
Geopolitics today poses many dilemmas with obvious similarity to the decision Tony Blair and George Bush took to topple Saddam Hussein. And the same fundamental question is being posed again over issues such as the Syrian uprising: can it ever be justified for the West to use military might to pursue its interests, even when justified for the broader common good?
When opposition to the Iraq War was at its height, with a million people marching on British streets in protest, there was a feeling among foreign policy analysts that scope for other military interventions in the future – even those whose declared purpose was humanitarian – had been severely curtailed.
There was a strong belief that successful western missions – in Sierra Leone, for example, or Kosovo – would be overshadowed by the Iraqi misadventure, to the extent of others being politically impossible. The Iraqi war and its relentlessly bloody consequences, taken with the drawn-out war of attrition in Afghanistan, would be a block on the global ambitions of the West.
Ten years on, that has been only partly true. There have not been British or US “boots on the ground” to any significant degree since. But a willingness to engage with the world using hard power as well as soft power has re-emerged, albeit in a more nuanced form. Fear of what would happen in the event of western action has been balanced by a corresponding fear of what would happen without one.
Two words sum up the moral peril of disengaging with the world and its problems for fear of acting imperiously. Those words are “Srebrenitsa” and “Rwanda”. It was this instinct that kicked in when Gaddafi’s tanks were advancing with murderous intent on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in March 2011. It kicked in again in January this year with the French action in Mali. It can be seen in the increasing UK logistical support for Syrian rebels.
The world has been irrevocably shaped by the Iraq War. Humbling lessons have been learned. Never again will the US or its allies ponder military action based on a simplistic belief in the efficacy of “shock and awe”. Never again will force be contemplated without the aftermath being as meticulously hypothesised as the military scenario planning. Never again will commanders be allowed to underestimate the potential for a hot war to be simply the start of a nation’s bloodshed, as chaos is co-opted by other ideological and sectarian agendas.
For good or ill, Iraq is part of our country’s past. But it will also shape how we engage with the world in the future.
Arctic Convoy injustice is righted
THERE is a simple lesson in the campaign for recognition of the brave men of the wartime Arctic Convoys. It is that, sometimes, if you are patient and persistent and never waver in fighting the good fight, justice can be yours.
This is why yesterday’s presentation of medals to convoy survivors by the Prime Minister is a moment to be both cherished and celebrated. For more than half a century the bravery, endurance and sacrifice of the men on the convoys went unacknowledged. Like the men of Bomber Command – who were also belatedly honoured yesterday – their role in the Second World War was overshadowed by other, more eye-catching wartime endeavours.
More than 3,000 seamen died between 1941-45 on hazardous missions to keep open supply lines to Russian ports. The route was, according to Winston Churchill, the “worst journey in the world”. But it ensured that Britain was able to offer support to its ally, the Soviet Union, at a crucial point during the battle with the Axis forces.
And yet the survivors – and the families of those sailors who died during the war – faced some reticence in their campaign for their story to have its proper place in the fight against Nazi Germany and its allies. Officialdom and turf wars both played their part in obstructing their efforts. But their dogged persistence, and the never-wavering certainty of the justice of their case, won the way.
Of course, this is a victory tinged with regret. Many who should have been honoured in their lifetime did not live to see yesterday’s ceremony. This is regrettable. But it should not prevent us from celebrating one story of bravery, and another of persistence.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 9 mph
Wind direction: South
Temperature: 6 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west