by Peter Watt
There has been an awful lot of noise again recently about Iraq. This followed on from an article that Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in the Observer about his decision to publicly “spurn” Tony Blair by not appearing at an event that they were both due at in South Africa. Archbishop Tutu said:
“The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.
Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.
If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth?”
This then spawned a wave of articles from clever and eminent people who explained exactly why international law made it clear that Tony Blair was guilty of war crimes and should be dragged to the Hague.
Others wrote articles saying why this was nonsense and that international law said no such thing.
I read many of these articles with interest and increasing disquiet; but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.
And then I realised what was bothering me. In all of this very clever argument and counter-argument there was one thing missing.
Those who wrote saying “Bliar” was a war criminal did so because they passionately felt that the war was wrong. They felt a sense of moral outrage that shone through their demands that international law is invoked.
Conversely, those arguing that international laws were not an issue tended to argue in purely legal terms. Their arguments somehow lacked the passion or moral outrage of Archbishop Tutu for instance in his Observer article.
The overall sense was that in deciding to commit British forces in the second Iraq war Tony Blair had unquestionably committed a grossly immoral act that might or might not be illegal.
And that was it, the thing that bothered me: the absence of the moral case for freeing Iraq.
I passionately believe that the decision made by Tony Blair was the right and moral response to the circumstances we faced. It must have been an incredibly difficult decision and one that took huge amounts of leadership – and I respect him hugely for it.
I say this not for legal reasons relating to international law. Unsurprisingly I do not believe that international law was broken and find the claims that it was to be ridiculous.
But that for me is not the central issue. The central issue was that invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.
Millions of words have been written about the decisions over Iraq but for me it is pretty simple for five reasons: Saddam’s use of chemical weapons, the intelligence evidence on WMD, his obstruction of the weapons inspectors, Hussein’s track record of domestic brutality and his avowed aim of regional domination.
Firstly Saddam Hussein had had chemical weapons and had used them on his own people. He had shown a willingness to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of lives if necessary during the Iran – Iraq war.
Secondly there was a huge body of intelligence held by the intelligence services of multiple countries that strongly indicated that he still had active WMD programmes. Such evidence is by its nature rarely fool proof; but ignoring it would have been a massive risk that I do not believe our prime minister had the right to do even if he wanted to.
Thirdly Saddam Hussein was refusing to allow the UN weapons inspectors to prove definitively that he no longer had any such weapons. He said that he didn’t have them, but risking the security of the Middle East and therefore beyond on the say so of the word of Saddam would have been bonkers.
Fourthly Saddam Hussein was a brutal and murdering dictator who massacred thousands of Iraqis and used terror to maintain order. The world is a better and safer place without him in power.
And fifthly his stated aim was to use force to dominate the entire region – a region that the world depends on for much of its oil supply. Does that mean it was all about oil? No; but of course this was a factor! If Saddam managed to achieve his stated aim of taking over the oil fields in the Middle East (and if he had WMD it would have been easier) then that would be pretty devastating for our economy.
Those who get all moral about this should remember that they are pretty dependent on oil themselves! Can you imagine any government stating that it actually wouldn’t protect our oil supplies? They wouldn’t last long I suspect! Just think of the panic even when the drivers of oil tankers threaten to go on strike.
To not have acted under these circumstances would have been a gross dereliction of duty by the British government. To act was the right and moral thing to do. Oh, and not forgetting that the UN had condemned him repeatedly and had found him in breach of its resolutions regarding cooperating with its inspectors.
Were mistakes made? Yes they were, particularly in planning the situation after the war was over. But the result is a democracy that’s beginning to work where there was dictatorship; and an Iraq has a growing economy and falling infant mortality. It certainly isn’t perfect – but it’s getting better. And you certainly don’t hear many Iraqis condemning the invasion and removal of Saddam.
Were WMD found? No; but that doesn’t mean that the belief, based on evidence, that they existed was a lie. If we have a defence strategy that requires 100% definitive proof that a serious threat exists before acting then I for one wouldn’t feel very safe.
So to be clear; Tony Blair made the right and indeed the moral decision on Iraq. And I feel this every bit as passionately as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and those who agree with him feel that he made the wrong one.
Peter Watt was general secretary of the Labour party