What on earth should the Tories do and say about Iraq? As the popularity of the war continues to plummet, can the Tories disengage? Apologise? I was an early supporter of the war in Iraq. Admittedly I was stuck out in Zambia throughout the build-up and eventual military campaign, so my sensitivity to the changing news might not have been ideal, but I was pretty sure that Hussein had WMDs
of one variety or another, that he would continue to try and obtain more, and that he was an unacceptable threat to the region. As such I was in favour of a military action to topple him. I'll go further - I considered that the worst option was for Hussein to call the inspectors in and make obvious moves towards disarmament, as I believed that as soon as the attention of the world turned to the next new thing, he'd quietly begin all over again.
As such, I felt, and still feel, that I had some degree of 'ownership' over this war. I spent hours arguing over the legal implications (is any war not ordered by the UN 'illegal'? If so, does this mean that international legality is in the gift of China and Russia? That sort of thing), and hours more defending the motives of the US and Britain (no it isn't all about oil!). In the immediate aftermath of military victory, when looting and pillaging were the order of the day, I felt intensely angry - as if I had been let down by poor planning. I was a very minor victim indeed of course, but that doesn't stop you getting a touch annoyed.
Forward to today, when the military precision of the US (and Britain) is a memory, and the peace-keeping failures are a daily presence, and where do we early supporters stand? Painfully, and much less assuredly than I used to be, I am still a supporter. I still believe that the decision to go to war in Iraq was the right one. The arguments for this are always going to be disputed - this may be the one topic more contentious than abortion - but, given the situation at the time, plus the potential upsides to regime change, I'll stick to that.
From this position it comes across as very weaselly to complain about the implementation of plans (or lack thereof). You support the war; you defend it. This is the bind I'm in; this is the bind the Conservatives are in. When Michael Howard attempted to follow the path of criticising the method, while not resiling
from the aim it looked cheap. The best response is to continue to support the aims of the war, while recognising that others disagree, and to seek to address specific areas where the prosecution of the war and subsequent counter-insurgency have failed. Tim Ireland
specifically identifies torture as one area that needs to be condemned. The Tories should also remember that 'supporting the troops in the field', as hackneyed a phrase as that may be, is still important - sweeping denunciations of British soldiers as war criminals is not going to help any more than ignoring genuine cases for concern.
Ultimately, it is possible to retain some degree of political coherence on the Iraq issue, without having to share total 'ownership' of all the problems with the occupation. The Tories could point out that the Labour Government has systematically underfunded the Armed Forces, while simultaneously calling on them more often than any Prime Minister since the Second World War. They could question procurement, and funding and organisation and lots of important matters. And they could do so without looking like opportunistic little creeps. Whether they will or not though is another matter.
Labels: Iraq, politics