The aftermath of WW1 provided opportunities for Britain and its allies in the Middle East as well as Europe. Not only were the Germans defeated, but the Ottomans were pushed out of the Middle East. In this vacuum Britain, under the laudable excuse of providing Arab ‘autonomy’, began carving up great oil resources within arbitrary national boundaries, boundaries with allegiance to Britain or France. The current boundaries of Iraq were established notwithstanding the warnings of Gertrude Bell and others that ‘democracy’ would never be possible when three mutually exclusive interest groups, Kurds, Sunnis and Shia, were corralled within one national boundary. It was inevitable that a ‘strongman’ from one of these groups would become a dictator, benevolent or malevolent.
Interfering without knowledge in the lives of others whose culture and way of life is radically different has consequences. The division of the Arab world into sovereign states without due reference to long existing tribal loyalties had consequences, consequences that remain unto this day.
Interfering again through the Iraq war, without proper understanding of religious cultural and ethnic difference has made the consequences even more complex and now seemingly almost impossible to unravel. Rudimentary philosophy teaches that choices in life are seldom between right and wrong, or good and evil, they are very often about seeking the lesser of evils. When Bush, Blair and Howard embarked upon their campaign, did they seriously think they were the champions of right against wrong or good over evil? Their language, not least Bush’s ill conceived use of the word ‘crusade’, seems to indicate that they did. How foolish and irresponsible. Given the structure of Iraq and its peoples, what did they think they were replacing Saddam with?
Much has been made in recent times of the claim that the Iraq war has created the seed bed for the emergence of Daesh or ISIL. Howard fiercely resists this notion. On what grounds does he have the right to protest? Saddam Hussein was a Sunni dictator (supported by the West in the long and bloody war against Iran). In his removal and the denial to his Ba’ath party of membership in the military, the judiciary, politics and the public service, it is obvious that deep and lasting resentment would surge to the surface. That it appears ISIL philosophy and the nurture of its leadership occurred in the American run prisons following the war can hardly be a surprise.
The Iraq war was strongly protested at the time. That it was ill-conceived and a tragic mistake has become more obvious with every succeeding year.
Should there be a Chilcot type enquiry here in Australia: certainly not if it simply means having a go at Howard and his administration at the time? If an enquiry looked more broadly at contemporary issues of Australian national security and alliances then yes it probably would be helpful. Perhaps America has learned its lesson and will not engage in any more ill conceived wars. But should it do so, Australia should not be an automatic partner. In addition, will Australian security be best enhanced through military engagement or strategic foreign aid? At a time when our defence budget is escalating and our foreign aid budget is diminishing this is a conversation that is long overdue, but must wait for another blog!