Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 15:59 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 15:59 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: More Iraq revision


Sam Roggeveen


17 February 2009 11:39

David Callard is inspired by Hugh White's admission (almost) that he was wrong about Iraq (my comment follows):

You know, I think we need, when the occasion demands, to be measured by our capacity to admit when we were flat wrong. I was one of the cacaphonous voices who railed against the invasion of Iraq. I was horrified by the screamingly obvious lack of planning that (didn't) go into the post-invasion phase — the military success of the operation itself always being beyond doubt.

I remain horrified by that feature of the war. It wasn't as though those making the decisions were rushed into it. We all know the invasion was meticulously formulated years before the actual event, yet the button pushers chose to only read from Book 1, The Invasion, while completely ignoring Book 2, After the Invasion. So they rightly stand condemned by history.

But, on the other side of the Fed Reserve's silver dollar is the indisputable, in my view, evidence that Iraq today is a far better place than it would be if Saddam and his band of thugs were still there, terrorizing the population. I also recall the 'No-Fly Zones' and the disastrous effects of the sanctions and the moral outrage they provoked. Finally, I am convinced by today's views of Iraqis voting freely and enthusiastically in the recent provincial elections, with presidential elections to follow. In light of all that, who can honestly still maintain that it would be better for the old vicious regime to have been left in power?

No, it is a big plus that Saddam and his cohorts have swung and Iraq does seem to be settled on a path to something like democracy — provided we don't yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by leaving too soon. And just perhaps we have sent a message to tyrants elsewhere that there are limits to the moral tolerance of the West, although of course it helps immeasurably to motivate us if said tyrant sits atop something we really want, like oil lakes. So, yes, I freely admit that on balance I think I was wrong to oppose the war. I just hope we have learnt from the mistakes we all made for next time. Because there will have to be many 'next times' if we are to  continue to defend the values we hold so close.

David asks who could still maintain that the invasion was wrong, given that Saddam is gone and life has improved for Iraqis. Well, I'll put my hand up. I think the invasion was wrong, and it would be wrong even if Iraq was now as democratic as Israel and as rich as Dubai. In fact, for me the rightness or wrongness of the invasion is a matter entirely independent of Iraq's present material circumstances. I can see the legal and moral justification for pre-emptive war (along the lines of Israel's 1967 operation), but Iraq was a preventive war, which made it illegal and in my view immoral.

David's argument also fails to consider opportunity cost. Even if you argue that my moral arguments are irrelevant, since a greater good has been served by invading Iraq, you still have to answer the question of what else might have been achieved with the same military, financial and diplomatic resources. Given the still perilous security situatuation in Iraq, you'd have a hard time arguing that the Bush Administration and its allies made the best possible use of those resources.