The sacrifices of war.jpg

The sacrifices of war

PRESIDENT BUSH visited Baghdad last week to meet Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Maliki. His visit coincided with a brief period of optimism following the assassination of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the appointment of new government ministers.

A chink of light is certainly welcome after the unremitting gloom of the last three years in Iraq. More than 100 British soldiers and almost 2,500 Americans have been killed during that period. The number of Iraqi lives lost is estimated at anywhere between 30,000 and 40,000.

The figures appear to support the war’s opponents, who believed that the entire enterprise was doomed from the outset. The allies have also forfeited considerable moral authority, following allegations of massacres by marines at Haditha and Ishaqi, as well as the well-catalogued abuses at Abu Ghraib. The deaths of CBS cameraman, Paul Douglas, and soundman, James Brolan, heightened the perception that Iraq is a no-go zone for roving journalists.

Not even the most stalwart supporter of the war can claim the aftermath of the invasion has been a success. Even Tony Blair has conceded that he failed to see that Iraq would disintegrate into a haven for terrorist operations. Worse still, Britan’s failure to assert control in Iraq has emboldened our enemies. President Ahmadinejad, the Iranian leader, now knows that a military strike on his country is highly improbable given the quagmire in Iraq. This has only allowed him to become more audacious in his defiance of the West. Blair and Bush now look isolated and powerless on the international stage, lame duck leaders who lost all credibility on the turn of a card.

Should supporters of the war apologise?

Like many others, I supported the invasion of Iraq. Here’s a brief rehash of the reasons: Saddam Hussein had flouted the will of the international community for too long. (Many of us wished that George Bush Sr had finished the job during the first Gulf War in 1991). Saddam was also a ruthless dictator, impervious to the pricking of conscience. We calculated that his removal, by military force, was likely to be swift and relatively free of casualties. In short, it was a feasible act of realpolitik. We imagined that a free and democratic Iraq would create similar ripples in other authoritarian Arab states. We detected a whiff of condescension in the oft-repeated claim that Iraqis did not want to live “the American way”. Was there a hidden sub-text inferring that Iraqis were incapable of adjusting to the ‘demands’ of democracy? Finally, we believed Tony Blair’s claim that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posed a genuine threat.

The WMD argument was completely erroneous, as we now know. Some of our other aspirations are, so far at least, consigned to the realm of wishful thinking. So, should supporters of the invasion apologise and recant? Prominent opponents of the war believe that we should. Maverick Respect MP George Galloway, appearing on a recent edition of the BBC’s Question Time, said that all politicians who supported the war – including his co-panellists – Conservative MP, Dr Liam Fox and Labour MP, David Lammy – bear moral responsibility for the carnage.

Galloway, and others, claim that the continuing insurgency and death toll prove that our mission has failed. They say that because troops and civilians continue to die in large numbers – and that terrorists target London – the allies should abandon Iraq to the extremists. Galloway believes that the invasion of Iraq – and indeed any action that continues to challenge the will of the insurgents – is counter-productive, because it only sows greater hatred among Islamic militants.

Should casualties force us to retreat?

I take exception to Galloway’s implication that casualties should force us to acknowledge the error of our ways. I hate to invoke the spirit of World War Two (yet again!) but I will, in this case, because it is pertinent. Military setbacks are not the sole benchmark of the righteousness of a conflict. If they were, then Britain would have surrendered to Hitler in 1941, when his armies had overrun most of Western Europe. And if we believed that supporters of the war bore moral responsibility for civilian deaths, then many anti-fascists would have blood on their hands following the bombing of Dresden and Hamburg. The success of the allied policy was not gauged by the death toll. It was measured by our ultimate achievement in defeating Nazi tyranny and its evil ideology, irrespective of the tragic cost in lives. The Allies did not refrain from opposing Hitler’s anti-Semitism for fear that it would lead to a reinforcement of the Nazi’s determination to persecute Jews. Equally, we should not cease to oppose Islamic fundamentalism for fear that it will lead to greater fanaticism among our opponents. That is a policy of capitulation.

By Gabriel Hershman