TONY Blair’s argument, advanced in a long essay on his website, that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by British and American forces has nothing to do with the sectarian violence now crippling the country is extraordinary.
Even a cursory reading of the evidence leads to the conclusion the argument does not hold water. But worse, it is a dangerous distraction.
Mr Blair makes two points which have some validity. He asks whether it is realistic to consider that if there had been no invasion in 2003 and Saddam and his two sons had remained in power, that Iraq would have been completely untouched by the Arab Spring of 2011.
Popular uprisings of the kind that swept dictators out of power in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and still convulses Syria would most certainly have gripped Iraq.
And if there had been an uprising, such was Saddam’s brutality, the result would have been more probably the dreadful violence afflicting Syria than the relatively peaceful transitions in Tunisia and Egypt. But, arguably, that is what we are seeing now.
The only difference is that instead of death at the hands of the murderous, brutal dictator, now there is death at the hands of a vicious sectarian sect.
His second point is that the root cause of this new violence is not anti-western imperialism, but the centuries-old division within Islam between Shias and Sunnis. Saddam was a Sunni and he was careful to populate his power structures with Sunnis, with the Shia majority in Iraq feeling the brunt of his oppressive rule.
Now a Sunni force – the al Qaeda-inspired Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) – is aiming to topple the Shia-dominated government of Nuri al-Maliki.
Mr Blair is right to point out that this sectarianism is at the heart of the crisis in Iraq as it is in Syria.
None of this, however, absolves him of blame for an invasion which got rid of a stability built on oppression but replaced it with an instability in which divisions grew, festered, and have now erupted. Saddam’s removal created a power vacuum which has never been filled with anything resembling a government which enjoys popular support.
If Mr Blair wants to claim credit for toppling Saddam, he must also take the blame for doing little to create conditions in which the current horrors could not have arisen.
In a sense, this argument is pointless. It does little to help understand how peace might be restored in Iraq or Syria, except that intervention by western forces is more likely to exacerbate grievances than to resolve them. ISIS is a relatively small force which has succeeded in magnifying its power through propaganda to promote an aura of viciousness, as exemplified by yesterday’s execution pictures. That viciousness should also be its downfall.
As for Mr Blair, he should stick to reading lessons from history rather than try to rewrite the past.
Cyber intimidation must cease
Democracy is about a lot more than being free to walk into a polling station and cast a vote in secrecy and liberty, swayed by nothing more than one’s own freewill. It is also about being able to have a political debate in the same conditions.
That is why the continuing evidence of targeting of individuals by zealots of whatever persuasion in the independence referendum is so disturbing. It is even more concerning that hardliners, presumably hiding behind internet anonymity, think they can pressurise the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Rev John Chalmers.
He says he has received e-mails from “determined characters using dubious tactics to pressurise, rather than persuade, people over to their point of view”. The messages, from both sides of the referendum divide, imply that there will be unpleasant consequences for the church unless it supports their cause.
It does not matter that this nastiness flows from a small minority. And whether it takes the form of the kind of illiterate invective experienced by JK Rowling that might be expected from a drunk thrown out of a pub, or the more implicit form which has been received by the Moderator, it amounts to the same thing – bullying in an attempt to pervert the democratic process.
If those few apparently responsible for this kind of nonsense were to gather outside a polling station and speak in person, then they would certainly be arrested.
If they were to hurl abuse at people in any public place, they would also be liable to be charged with committing a breach of the peace. The cyber version of this intimidation should be treated similarly.