Magazine article The Spectator

A Bittersweet Birthday -- but We Were Still Right to Go to War

Magazine article The Spectator

A Bittersweet Birthday -- but We Were Still Right to Go to War

Article excerpt

Squabbling generals, political scoresettling and a country reportedly on the brink of civil war. The third anniversary of the onset of Operation Iraqi Freedom this week -- which coincides with kidnappings and explosions in Gaza and the West Bank -- hardly seems a cause for celebration.

The painful and challenging task of rebuilding Iraq after 35 years of Baathist tyranny is far from complete, but that must now take second place to the increasingly bitter battle that is being waged over history's judgment: whether the war was justified in the first place, and whether postwar Iraq could have been handled better.

The old adage that the victor wins the right to set the historical record to his advantage is becoming something of an obsession for those who participated in the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein's despotism. Take the military campaign. No less an authority on warfare than the peerless Sir John Keegan has concluded that the military campaign to overthrow Saddam's regime, which began on 20 March 2003, was a brilliant success, achieving all of its stated military objectives within the space of just 21 days.

And yet now we are told that the US-led coalition was so riven with arguments and disputes about how to prosecute the war that General Tommy Franks, the commander of the US-led invading force, nearly fired one of his leading generals within the first week of hostilities commencing.

This particular dispute was over how the Coalition should deal with the thousands of Fedayeen paramilitary fighters whom the invading army encountered as it launched its blitzkrieg on Saddam's regime. General William 'Scott' Wallace, who was leading the army troops towards Baghdad, wanted to delay the advance to suppress the Fedayeen threat in the rear.

Franks was adamant that nothing should impede the advance on Baghdad and the key objective of overthrowing Saddam's regime.

Once that had been achieved, the Coalition could concentrate its energies on mopping up the Fedayeen remnants, who would anyway pose less of a threat once Saddam's regime had suffered a humiliating defeat.

Wallace's supporters -- drawn mainly from the usual anti-war suspects -- would now have us believe that Franks's failure to deal adequately with the Fedayeen threat during the opening engagements of the war was responsible for the bloody insurgency that has severely hampered the Coalition's subsequent attempts to return Iraq to some semblance of normality.

Well, this is one argument that does not bear serious scrutiny. The pressure on Franks, and indeed the entire Coalition, to achieve a rapid victory was immense. When the advance on Baghdad was halted for a mere 48 hours to enable frontline units to resupply, the 24-hour news industry and professional doom-mongers such as Robert Fisk gleefully reported that the entire mission was on the brink of disaster. The military campaign was a war against Saddam and his inner circle, not the Iraqi people, and the sooner that objective was achieved the more likely it was that the fighting would stop.

I was in Baghdad shortly after the end of the war, and if it had been possible to conduct an immediate plebiscite of the Iraqi nation, it would have shown that about 99.9 per cent of the population -- the same percentage victory Saddam used to claim in his presidential elections -- was grateful for its liberation. The same percentage, it should also be said, would have registered their distaste at having their country occupied by a foreign power.

Which brings us on to Francis Fukuyama, Mr 'End of History' himself. Mr Fukuyama is a good friend of Paul Wolfowitz, the former US deputy defence secretary and the architect of America's troubled administration of postwar Iraq, and has been closely associated with the neoconservatives.

Through his long-standing relationship with the neocons, most people safely assumed that Mr Fukuyama thoroughly endorsed the Wolfowitz vision of transforming Iraq from mediaeval despotism to a fully functioning Western-style democracy. …

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