Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The parties' position on the war #1: Labour

Given how much has already been written, discussed and argued on this subject, this is probably superfluous but since we're told that the invasion of Iraq is - or if not, should be - a major factor in deciding who to vote for on May 5th, I thought it would be worthwhile having a look at the position that all the parties took on this. But since it was this present Labour government that made the decision - and the other parties were and are necessarily reacting to this - it is with Labour that you have to begin.

Since Blair put virtually all of his eggs in the WMD basket when making the case for war, the subsequent non-discovery of these UN-banned weapons has naturally given rise to the question of whether Blair lied about this (and I use the term "naturally" advisedly; to respond angrily or defensively to this, as some do, is to be irrationally partisan).

If by lied, people mean the vulgar idea that Blair cooked up the WMD case as a pretext, knowing perfectly well that no such weapons existed, then the answer has to be no: it should be remembered that prior to "knowing what we know now", the case made by the French and the Russians, for example, was not that Saddam had no stocks of banned weapons but that no new evidence regarding his intent has been forthcoming.

But if by lied, we mean was Blair completely honest in his reasons for going to war, surely it's beyond doubt that he was not? Blair clearly stated, in response to a Parliamentary question, that the purpose of the invasion of Iraq was to disarm Saddam Hussein of his WMD, not to affect regime-change. Now, I never impute moral superiority to political leaders but I think it's a mistake always to assume as a matter of routine (from a strategic standpoint, if nothing else) that our political class is completely stupid. Disarming Saddam whilst leaving the regime intact would belong to the old containment policy but it should have been clear to anyone paying attention that the Bush Administration was bent, not on enforcing containment, but regime-change. But was it clear to Blair? Of course it was.

The question for the voter is then - whether you supported the war or not - how to respond? It seems superficially simple: if the invasion of Iraq, and the whole business of how it was justified, is a crucial election issue then one should simply vote for the party that was either more honest and/or had a position you agreed with more. One of my motivations for writing about all the parties and their position on the war is, despite not being an admirer of Blair at all, I'm finding myself increasingly annoyed about the lack of scrutiny the other parties have faced on this issue and their complacent attitude that it's only Tony Blair that has any questions to answer.

I'm intending to argue over the next few posts that one of the major reasons that Iraq hasn't benefited Blair's political opponents more is because, for the most part, their positions have been at least as inconsistent as his, and where they have been consistent - they've been more or less consistently wrong.

Finally, as well as being very quickly obvious that this war was not solely about WMD, I would have thought it obvious that the existence and possession of WMD can never be entirely separated from the nature of the regime. Or to put it another way: I'm in favour of multi-lateral nuclear disarmament, always have been and I'm too old to change now, but while I've had the tendency to worry about nukes for as long as I can remember, I'm very much more worried about the possibility that regimes like North Korea, Iran and Ba'athist Iraq could (or could have) gone nuclear than I am (or was) about France, the UK, the USA and even the Soviet Union doing the same. I thought at the time - wrongly as it turned out - that this an obvious point.

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