Three strategic consequences of the Iraq war stand outby Robert Fry / June 1, 2016 / Leave a comment
Listen: Tony Blair in conversation with Bronwen Maddox
We now know that the Iraq inquiry will deliver its report on 6th July. Immediate attention will focus on the reputations of politicians, soldiers and civil servants that once glittered in public service but will not survive the verdict of John Chilcot. Yet far more important than traducing the guilty men is an audit of the strategic effect our intervention has had, in this country and globally. So, in the brief pause before publication, perhaps now is the time to take a cool look at the main consequences, and three stand out.
The first is the attenuation, confusion and perhaps long-term compromise of the campaign in Afghanistan. In 2002 the Taliban was not a coherent entity and Pakistan, having been bluntly asked if it was “with or against America” was proving an amenable partner. This was shown by the capture of Al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheik Mohammed in Rawalpindi in early 2003 and the purging of the country’s intelligence services. Within Afghanistan the sense of a better future was palpable, in Jason Burke’s words: “everywhere one travelled… one found the expectation a new era of security, stability and prosperity was dawning.” The use of the word victory is perhaps oxymoronic in Afghanistan but had the West sustained that expectation we might now be reaching a different historical verdict on the campaign.
That it did not is partly the result of strategic confusion. In 2001-02 America saw Afghanistan as a place to kill bad guys rather than a venue for liberal intervention. And, indeed, the West could have completed that business and walked away, leaving Afghanistan to revert to medievalism. Instead it managed the worst of all possible worlds, which was to stay but without the appetite or resources to make a real difference. The moment passed and eventually soured.
To be fair to US military strategy, it did not claim to be anything other than punitive at…