Being provoked into intervention

Lord Richards, a former chief of Britain’s defence staff, is reported as opining that “David Cameron lacked the “balls” to take the military action in Syria that could have prevented the rise of Islamic State” (IS or ISIS).   This suggests a breath-taking arrogance, lack of vision and irresponsibility.  Evidently some ex-military men, like some politicians, love to appear strong and regard wisdom as a sign of weakness.

ISIS would also love to see Western ‘boots on the ground’ again in Iraq, knowing that they would eventually have to go home again demoralised; by continuing to provoke outrage in the West, ISIS is successfully mobilising Western public opinion to support just such an intervention.

Saddam Hussein was ‘defeated’ in a few months, but that action led to an enormous subsequent loss of life and an increase in regional instability – including the rise of ISIS.  Doubtless the Syrian government could also have been toppled by military means, but the fallout afterwards could have been even worse.  Both Russia and Iran were supporting the Syrian regime, so there was enormous potential for matters to escalate out of control.

As Simon Jenkins observed, in this week’s Spectator, “the drumbeat for sending troops back to Iraq has begun…  It’s taking pride of place in the American election” and, based on his track-record, Cameron would want to appear equally ‘strong’.

On both sides of the Atlantic, politicians are being encouraged to demonstrate their virility by taking the country to war, without the agreement of the United Nations – but is it courageous or merely irresponsible to sacrifice the lives of one’s country’s troops and countless civilians (whilst one’s own life is not at risk)?

Sadly, politicians have often been unable to resist the temptation to look big for a few months so the ISIS strategy is likely to work.  As Simon Jenkins said: “Here we go again”.

Invading Iraq – a misuse of power

In an article on 6 March 2013, entitled 10 years later, Arianna Huffington drew attention to the way in which political power was used in deciding to invade Iraq in 2003.  She noted the way in which the American people and Congress were intentionally misled so that they would support the war, and the fact that those responsible have not been held to account.

The Iraq war did not benefit the American people.  This was foreseeable, but warnings were ignored.  Why did Congress not prevent the Administration from making such a costly mistake?  The checks and balances in the American Constitution failed.  The inappropriate haste of the decision was prompted by political considerations, not by operational need.  And there was no operational need to invade Iraq, rather the contrary.

The President and the British Prime Minister were able to override the advice they received, and the public demonstrations against the war, to pursue their convictions.  These convictions may have been honestly held, but that is no excuse for the political system as a whole; voters should ask themselves how it failed to protect them from incompetence – and ask why no-one has been held to account.  The governance failings are examined in more detail in chapter 8 of the book Patterns of Power, where they are summarised in section 8.7.6.