A decade has passed and the world is in chaos. For all our sakes, can we all move on from 2003, please?

by Rob Marchant

If recent events in Ukraine were not disturbing enough for those who might occasionally worry about the future for their children and grandchildren, one need only now look towards the Middle East, and a little further.

The aftermath of the Arab Spring. Egypt. Syria. An isolated Israel that seems to have lost all hope of establishing a meaningful alliance against a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran, and has now ended up forming stranger ones. A pernicious and persistent strain of Islamism remaining in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan and Nigeria, to name but a few.

And finally, the coup de grâce: the overspill of ISIS Islamists from Syria into large parts of Iraq, threatening, in a symbolic poke in the eye for the West, to realise a long-held goal. A fanatical and oppressive religious autocracy; a Caliphate.

It is difficult to recall a moment since the 1960s when the world has been in such an unstable geopolitical position. The bipolar certainties of the Cold War are now replaced with the unpredictability of a multi-polar world. And all the while, we have Western countries and their governments seemingly stuck as powerless onlookers, rabbits caught in the headlights of their own recent history in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And nowhere is this more the case than the British Labour party. We cannot look at the current situation in Iraq without reflexively referring back to 2003. For those who disagreed with it, it is a perfect chance to say, ah well, that’s because of what we did. Never again. We still cannot forgive and forget, eleven years after the invasion and seven since its chief architect left office. We cannot help but re-fight old battles.

Trouble is, it may make us feel better, but it doesn’t really help, does it? While modern Iraq provides a new set of challenges, we are still, it seems, fighting that internal battle. We are seemingly close to the position that we should never intervene in any conflict, ever again, because of what happened. It might of course have escaped our notice, of course, that the ISIS invasion might not be coincidence for different reasons: that an intelligent ISIS general might just be thinking, “of course! Let’s take the war to Iraq: they’ll never follow us there after last time”.

And yes, looking at Syria, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Labour foreign policy seems to have morphed, too often, into whatever-Tony-Blair-did-let’s-do-the-exact-opposite. In a similar way to how Obama’s foreign policy has so often been whatever-George-Bush-did-let’s-do-the-exact-opposite. We can now see how well that has worked out with Russia. And Iran.

But the important debate is not about whether we agree with Tony Blair’s latest intervention. We can agree or disagree, and he is hardly in a position to dictate Labour policy any more anyway. Does it really matter?

No, the real issue is whether we can get unstuck; whether we allow ourselves the headspace to think about the world situation we find ourselves in now.

That situation is one which may one day, a long way off though it might seem now, require concerted military action on the part of the West – and potentially less savoury allies, should they prove necessary – to defeat probably the most serious threat to our way of life in this century: a newly-resurgent Islamism.

We saw the threat briefly, post-9/11, for what it was. We have since gone through more than a decade of gradual retreat from this view, which has ended in the wishful thinking that the threat is gone. Al-Qaeda is on the back foot, we told each other.

But It did not die, it merely shape-shifted, as we now see. The threat will not go until it is destroyed, while we are happily disarming willy-nilly across the developed world (as an aside, we might also note that at the same time Vladimir Putin has been doing the opposite).

We might ruminate on that, as we indulge in old internal battles over Iraq or congratulate ourselves on how we “stopped the rush to war” in Syria. Disarmament good, rearmament bad. But we have been asleep to the Islamist threat for too long. The principal threat is not, as is being widely reported, that of returning jihadis to the UK, although neither is that a pleasant prospect. The true threat is that the leaders of the nascent Caliphate will not be content until Western civilisation is damaged beyond repair.

This is not a drill. This is possibly the most important time in our lifetimes in terms of foreign policy that has a direct impact on our lives. We have to start thinking about the world as it is now, not how it was in 2003, and what we should do about it. We owe it to ourselves, and the rest of the world, not to just sit there with our arms folded.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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20 Responses to “A decade has passed and the world is in chaos. For all our sakes, can we all move on from 2003, please?”

  1. Rallan says:

    “The true threat is that the leaders of the nascent Caliphate will not be content until Western civilisation is damaged beyond repair.”

    The Labour party has no credibility on this matter whatsoever. In many ways the Labour Party has greatly contributed to the situation this country now finds itself in. Labour is a destructive, selfish and irresponsible force. In time the Labour Party will be held to account for its actions.

    In the meantime others will rise meet this challenge, despite you.

  2. Henrik says:


    This is a useful piece but will almost certainly lead to your being ever more isolated in a Labour Party which is in headlong retreat from the reality of being a nation state and the requirement for the ability and willingness to use military means in pursuit of national advantage and defence.

    One of the defining characteristics of the faction currently in the ascendant within Labour is what you could call the pacifist or even, if you’re uncharitable, unpatriotic strand of thought. This considers all matters to do with defence so repugnant that they should not even be considered, except in a fairly un-nuanced way and equally feels that anything remotely smacking of pride in nation, culture or society is somehow evil and wicked and hence should be actively opposed – which leads to interesting gymnastics where Leftist activists somehow see common ground with homophobic, bigoted, violent religious extremists, many of whom delight in unpleasantly violent YouTube videos and approve of the objectification of women and even slavery.

    As to 2003, well, meh. Overthrowing Saddam was a good thing in itself, whatever the pretext; the truly unforgivable aspect of the 2003 thing was the appallingly incompetent, ignorant, strategically imbecilic and utterly ridiculous way the Occupation was undertaken. Disbanding the Iraqi Army and thereby effectively creating an insurgency – several hundred thousand armed, trained and unemployed folk under military occupation, what could possibly go wrong with that? – was merely the first in a long succession of dim-witted measures.

  3. Julian Ruck says:

    To Henrik,

    Paul Bremer in particular.

    However as Rob says, it is time to look at the future not the past, and frankly I get tired of hearing all the Blair bashing; Churchill made worse blunders and we elect a Leader to lead.

    Apart from anything else, what about all the good things that Blair and his government did?

    Julian Ruck

  4. john Reid says:

    well said Henrik, and Rob interesting points,

  5. Tafia says:

    Until you expel Blair from the Labour Party and cease negotiating to take loans from him then Labour remains a dirty word and rightly so. Until it does that, Labour has no credibility over this whatsoever. Saying sorry is worthless without a suitable act of contrition.

  6. John Reid says:

    Tafia, I don’t think credibility on Iraq ,matters, it’s unlikely that Labour will win, the next election now, but, being close to it, men that moat people don’t care,expulsions of anyone who hasn’t broken the party rules, only leads to discomfort, the SDP took millions of votes from them when they left.

  7. swatantra says:

    1914 was probably the year that we can blame. We started an unecessary WW, from, from which came the carving up of the Ottoman Empire which created these absurd countries with silly borders and inspired the Zionists terrorists to persuade Balfour for A State, which when created created absolute havoc in the Middle East, which continues today. From then on things got worse, anothe WW and carving up Nations with silly borders. The point is we’ve virtually had a 100 years War, whichever way you look at it. The 100 years aren’t all that promising either.

  8. Rob Marchant says:

    @Henrik: It is probably fair to say that Ernie Bevin is turning in his grave. We have simply taken the path of least resistance in foreign affairs, which rarely leads to anything other than short-term peace and long-term pain.

    @Tafia: What rubbish. On what grounds do we expel Tony Blair from the Labour Party? He has not so much as contravened the party rulebook, let alone the law. Or perhaps you would care to specify the law he has broken? No-one so far seems to have been able to do that, so it may be a first.

  9. Blair says:

    John – expulsions of anyone who hasn’t broken the party rules,

    The man deliberately altered intelligence data and stood up in Parliament and deliberately and wilfully with forethought and malice lied through his teeth in order to falsely justify a war. He then sent Jack Straw to the Security Council a where he also lied on Blair’s behalf (interesting how Straw has condemned Blair’s latest outburst and put a wide distance between himself and Blair -fool me once etc etc). If that isn’t grounds for expulsion then nothing is. The man should be in the dock at the Hague.

  10. Tafia says:

    Sorry, for some reason I typed Blair as my name instead of Tafia,

  11. Henrk says:

    @swatantra: just suggestion – head off to the library and do a bit of digging into the First World War. Perhaps you could explain how Britain started an unnecessary war, given that it was already motoring smoothly into second gear when we jumped on board and responded, as we were bound to by treaty, to the violation of Belgian neutrality by Germany.

  12. John reid says:

    Tafia, there’s a good argument that he should be In the dock,but it isn’t breaking the rules on the party,one Labour councillor in sheffield in 1986 said the Brighton bombing was a justified act of self defence, Bernie Grant and Harringey council hindering the police investigation into the Murder of a cop on Broadwater farm with 180 in accurate derogatory or anti white racist comments,maybe the latter should have faced prosecution for attempting to pervert the course of justice it doesn’t mean that they should have been expelled form the party for, what they did,breaking the rules of the party. Is the only reason to face expulsion

  13. swatantra says:

    @ Henrik. These ‘Treaties’ were a bit of a nuisance. Perhaps Britain was just waiting for Germany to invade Belgium so it could have a good enough excuse to enter the affray and teach its economic rival Germany a lesson. Sometimes ‘Wars’ are manufactured to get the upper hand such as the Iraq war, specifically engineered to take apart Saddam. Perhaps the Arab Spring was in fact engineered by MI5 and the CIA? Who knows. Never believe what they write in books, especially books written by the victors.
    We are these days tied into NATO, which unfortunately dragged us into the Balkan Wars and Afghanistan. Or perhaps USA and Britain were just waiting for another excuse to take the Serbs apart and the Taliban apart.

  14. Tafia says:

    Do you not think starting a war in a blatant lie counts as bringing the party into disrepute then? Galloway was expelled for that and he didn’t start a war that has resulted in tens of thousands of civilians being killed. Unless of course he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the Labour party in which case what was he doing as Prime Minister, a Labour MP and fronting a Labour government.

    And do you not think negotiating loans from him is an utter disgrace?

  15. Henrik says:

    @swatantra: I was just going to leave it at this point, your unshakable ignorance of history is too profound to hope to change, but, just in case anyone reading this thread has been confused:

    a. Belgian neutrality had been guaranteed by Britain since 1830 or so, when Belgium separated from the Netherlands. Not sure why you put ‘Treaties’ in inverted commas, they’re how nation states do deals with each other.

    b. Britain went to war in 1914 with extreme reluctance and the Cabinet was by no means unanimous.

    c. As I recall it, the first time the fragrant metropolis of Sarajevo drifted into my personal ken, the rig of the day was UN blue. NATO came along a lot later.

    On a more general note, the Germans and Austrians started WWI. This is an historical fact.

  16. Mike Homfray says:

    The one thing we should have learned is that so-called liberal interventionism is a disaster. And never to do it again.

  17. Tafia says:

    c. As I recall it, the first time the fragrant metropolis of Sarajevo drifted into my personal ken, the rig of the day was UN blue.

    I remember it well – I was part of the initial deployment – UNPROFOR1

  18. Henrik says:

    I was enjoying the sultry air of the Province at the time, Tafia, didn’t feel that I was missing one of the great aesthetic experiences, personally. XMG had its own peculiar charms.

  19. Tafia says:

    XMG had its own peculiar charms.

    Ahhh beautiful and remote South Armagh. Spent a knackering 6 months there in FKL.

  20. Henrik says:

    Ahhh beautiful and remote South Armagh. Spent a knackering 6 months there in FKL.

    Last redoubt of the Beaker People, South of the A24 it all got very strange. And prickly.

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