The civil war in Syria with its attendant disintegration is having its predictable and malign effect that I, Tony Blair, totally failed to predict. Iraq is now in mortal danger. The whole of the Middle East is under threat, although this time not from me personally.
|Not his fault|
It is profoundly disappointing to me, Tony Blair, that events in Mosul have led to a rerun of the arguments over the decision to remove Saddam Hussein. Also, I’ve been starting to get those ‘Greetings from The Hague’ postcards again. The key question obviously is what to do now, not defend again what I did then. But because some of the commentary has gone immediately to claim that but for that decision, Iraq would not be facing this challenge; or even more extraordinary, implying that but for the decision, the Middle East would be at peace right now; it is necessary that certain points are made forcefully in what is not at all a senseless, depraved attempt to rescue the reputation and historical legacy of me, Tony Blair.
This won’t take long. Just allow me a brief 1,200-word preamble in which I’m going to claim that we defeated al Qaeda in Iraq, until the sectarianism of the Maliki government snuffed out what was a genuine opportunity to build a cohesive Iraq and save my face. In fact, if anything, we should debate about whether the withdrawal of US forces happened too soon. Do it to Julia!
Next, I’m going to tell you that although Saddam didn’t turn out to have WMDs, going to war with Iraq was the right decision because Assad ended up using chemical weapons we didn’t even know he had, which means that Saddam would have too, eventually, had we not attacked him. This is going to give you such a headache you’ll have to take a heavy dose of barbiturates and lie down for a few hours.
Pardon me? Yes, this is in fact the same Assad that I warmly entertained during his visit to Britain in 2002, and that my government considered bestowing an honour upon. Now I’m saying we should remove him. Except I’m also saying that we should stop ISIS with all means necessary. This will start making sense as soon as your head clears. In the meantime, get this: Islamist extremism in all its different manifestations as a group, rebuilt refinanced and rearmed mainly as a result of its ability to grow and gain experience through the war in Syria. And not, say, through ten years of insurgency in Iraq. Yeah.
The second argument – that no-one is really making but I’ll pretend someone were so I can triumphantly refute it – is that, but for the invasion of 2003, Iraq would be a stable country today. Watch me turn this into a straw man so combustible it will burn quicker than one of my effigies.
The reality is that the whole of the Middle East and beyond is going through a huge, agonising and protracted transition. We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that I, Tony Blair have caused this. I haven't. We can argue as to whether the policies that I supported or contributed to have helped or not, as if we hadn’t opened the ‘world’ section of a newspaper in the last fifteen years. But the fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region, not inside my perfectly tailored suit.
The problems of the Middle East are the product of bad systems of politics mixed with a bad abuse of religion going back over a long time. Poor governance, weak institutions, oppressive rule and a failure within parts of Islam to work out a sensible relationship between religion and Government have combined to create countries which are simply unprepared for the modern world.
The modern world is the one in which my friends and I can decide to bomb your nation into the pre-modern world, for motives that are either trumped up or fabricated. This is what our effective governance, sensible religion and precision technology allow us to do. You wouldn’t understand.
Put into that mix, young populations with no effective job opportunities and education systems that do not correspond to the requirements of the future economy, and you have a toxic, inherently unstable matrix of factors that was always – repeat always – going to lead to a revolution. But enough about the UK or Europe. We were talking about the Middle East.
The fact is that as a result of the way these societies have developed and because Islamism of various descriptions became the focal point of opposition to oppression, the removal of the dictatorship is only the beginning not the end of the challenge. Once the regime changes, then out come pouring all the tensions – tribal, ethnic and of course above all religious; and the rebuilding of the country, with functioning institutions and systems of Government, becomes incredibly hard. The extremism destabilises the country, hinders the attempts at development, the sectarian divisions become even more acute and the result is the mess we see all over the region.
Yes: I, Tony Blair, the chief enabler of George W. Bush, Dick ‘we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators’ Cheney and the whole Project for a New American Century crew, am lecturing you about complexity and unintended consequences. With this face.
The point is that we won't win the fight until we accept the nature of it. Iraq is part of a much bigger picture. By all means argue about the wisdom of earlier decisions. But please don’t. It is the decisions now that will matter. The choices are all pretty ugly, it is true. But for three years we have watched Syria descend into the abyss, and as it is going down, it is slowly but surely wrapping its cords around us pulling me down with it. We have to put aside the differences of the past and act now to save the future. My future.
I don’t want to go to jail.