Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Consrvative Party until 2008.
I remember the young man haranguing the marchers:
“Will one of you tell me why you don’t care about the Marsh Arabs?
Will one of you tell me why you don’t care about the Kurds?”
It was February 15th, 2003. Early in the morning of the enormous march against the Iraq war.
The protesters wanted simplicity. Saddam Hussein could not be removed by means of which they approved, so they pretended that there was no need to confront him.
Uncontained, he was a menace to the region and his own people. The sanctions to contain him visited hardship on already oppressed Iraqis. His removal by force turned out, as wars often do, to have calamitous and unpredictable consequences. But it is naive to imagine, as opponents of that war still allow themselves, that a Middle East in which he, his sons, and his Republican Guard had remained in power in Iraq would be better or safer. It would only have been more familiar. Equally naive to think that in the absence of an invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan would have been taken more seriously: that two wars were fought incompetently is no guarantee that the same people would have fought one well.
The protesters feared complicity. Their slogan: “not in our name” admitted as much. It registered disapproval and disgust, but they, and their supporters, who grew more numerous as the war turned bad, didn’t throw the government out of office at the next election: Tony Blair was re-elected; Charles Kennedy, who spoke at that demonstration, did not replace him in 10 Downing Street.
The cultural left, with its monopoly of the means of cultural production, and as ignorant of global power politics as it is of economics was overwhelmingly against the war. This gave us a fine play (David Hare’s Stuff Happens) and too many indifferent articles. Endless navel-gazing on Newsnight about whether Blair ‘lied’ replaced serious discussion of the situation in Iraq.
This was foreign policy as narcissism, based on the single – indeed, colonialist – conceit that the fighting in Iraq was somehow caused by us and is about us. It isn’t. The invasion took the lid off the pressure cooker but the vessel would have blown of its own accord, if a little later, as in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and, of course, Syria.
Now ISIS are fighting their way through Kobane, originally Kurdish but swelled by refugees fleeing the fanatics’ advance. Air strikes do not seem to be enough to keep them at bay, and Turkey’s ground troops sit watching, like the Red Army across the Vistula in 1944. If it falls, expect a particularly horrific massacre. Worse, it will allow ISIS to control territory across the north of Syria. Their offensive shows little sign of letting up. The United States has had to send in Apache helicopters to prevent Baghdad’s airport being overrun.
British foreign policy, to the extent that the term has any meaning any more, consists of minimal bombing, not of ISIS, but its much less dangerous fictional counterpart ISI, which scruples to conduct operations only within the borders of Iraq, on the basis that intervention in Syria would not be “legal”. If that really is what international law says (and I have my doubts) then isn’t it time once more, as it was over Kosovo, for some international civil disobedience?
Introspection about a war in 2003 is an unjustified luxury (and Ed Miliband’s insistence on a debate about recognising Palestine, is the Fabergé egg of the genre) when there is real work to be done but we’re too busy staring at our old selfies to tend to essential matters of Western security.
“We don’t care about the Kurds, because we’re too busy arguing about ourselves.”