Magazine article The Spectator

The Defence of Liberty

Magazine article The Spectator

The Defence of Liberty

Article excerpt

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime remains a triumph of British and American arms. Casualties have been much lower than might have been expected in such extensive operations: a fact which the death on Tuesday of six British soldiers and the wounding of eight others should not be allowed to obscure. Such losses are regrettable, and one is bound to feel the deepest sympathy with the families and friends of the dead and injured, but the overall picture remains unchanged. Throughout the campaign there has been a tendency by those who were against the war anyhow, and by a great part of the press, to over-interpret minor setbacks, and to draw strategic conclusions from tiny skirmishes. Hence the failure to discern, until it was over, the astonishing success of the American advance on Baghdad. Many commentators imagined the advance had become bogged down, and, as soon as they imagined this, they were inclined to treat every passing difficulty, no matter how insubstantial, as confirmation of their own guesswork. They invested heavily in failure, and they were proved wrong.

They should not now be allowed to claim some kind of delayed vindication simply because the occupation of Iraq, and the restoration of civil society there, are proving quite difficult. More than ever, a sense of proportion is needed as one tries to discern what is happening. It is naturally quite difficult to restore a country to health and happiness after several decades of vicious tyranny. Many of Iraq's natural leaders, whether at national or at local level, have been murdered. To fill the shoes of Saddam's stooges with the people the Iraqis themselves would like to govern them cannot be the work of weeks or months. One need only consider how disappointing the search for politicians of adequate calibre can prove at local or national level in Britain, a country with an unbroken political tradition, to see how much harder it must be in Iraq.

The population of Iraq needs such elementary things as clean water, law and order, a functioning currency, and decent hospitals and schools. The administrative task which faces the occupying forces is immense, and there is bound, as in Germany after 1945, to be an at times irreconcilable clash between the need for competent administrators and the desire to clear out all those tainted by membership of the previous regime. In Germany, it was simply not practicable to clear out everyone who had been a Nazi, and a large number of able and ambitious Germans who had made promising careers during the 12 years of Hitler's rule were allowed to reinvent themselves as democrats and to serve the emerging West German state. …

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