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March 20, 2008



The case against the war was not based on the assertion that Saddam's regime was "a lawful authority of non-threatening character" at all. It was simply this:
a) there was no evidence of imminent danger sufficient to justify war
b) the war would be expensive in operation and uncertain in its results and
c) bad as he was, Saddam was better than a power vacuum.

There was no particular reason to have the war, at that time or any other. The desire on the part of Bush etc to invade Iraq was the only reason that it was even being discussed! It was an act of ridiculous hubris on the part of Bush and Blair. It has proved a disaster for the people of Iraq, for the region, and for the West. I find it literally incredible that anyone still believes, genuinely, that it was a good idea.

As Rageh Omaar put it, "only the willfully ignorant believe that Iraq is a better place today."

Snorri Godhi

Freedom House does publish yearly rankings on political and civil rights. The fact that these rankings do not have the authority of the UN behind them, probably makes them more reliable: Freedom House has a reputation to protect.

Nicole Segre

Heresiarch: I never heard any of your three arguments at the time of the anti-war protests. It was said to be illegal, or "all about oil", or, as you seem to think, some kind of whim on the part of that demonic duo, Bush-and-Blair. In fact, it was the flimsiness of the anti-war case that started to make me genuinely believe invading Iraq might be a good idea. Incredible as it may seem. I don't think anyone denies that mistakes have been made, but things seem to be improving.


Nicole Segre: Perhaps you missed Robin Cook's resignation statement, for example. Or Joschka Fischer, who looked Rumsfeld in the face and said "I'm not convinced".

But here's what I don't get, and never did: How did the pro-war cabal manage to shift the burden of proof. You talk of the "flimsiness of the anti-war case". The anti-war people should never have needed a case. The war was being promoted for no clear reason. It wasn't like in 1990, when Kuwait had been invaded. Nothing new had suddenly happened. The weapons inspectors were back in Iraq, doing their thing. Yet suddenly it's up to the anti-war people to "make the case"? Why? All the anti-war people had to do was point out the flimsiness of the pro-war case.


I sympathise with your views to an extent, Heresiarch, and I think have some validity. Yet both the anti- and pro-war people needed to have a case, and argue it out. The war was promoted for a clear reason - the claimed possession of WMD's and the fact that Iraq was in breach of the ceasefire and disarmament provisions of the 1991 ceasefire and subsequent UN SCR's. I fully accept that the extent of that breach was problematic, and that in retrospect the UN weapons inspectors did a much more effective job of dismantling Iraqi weapons programs than many believed at the time, but absent full Iraqi compliance, Iraqi disarmament was an open question at the time, and neither the pro- nor anti- war commentators can honestly claim any superior judgement over the other in hindsight. Iraq was in breach of UN SCR's, the only question remaining being whether or not this was sufficient to justify the 2003 invasion (or even the Blair/Bush hyperbole about it, even if this shouldn't detract from criticism of the anti-war 'war about oil' hyperbole). The only reason the weapons inspectors were in Iraq and then returned to Iraq after being excluded by Saddam was American military pressure. So by all means credit the inspectors, but don't forget Saddam's compliance was problematic and was not purchased by any altruistic belief in the UN inspection system.


So Rageh Omaar believes Iraq would be a better place with Saddam Hussein and his psychotic sons running the show, Only the wilfully ignorant could believe that.

Snorri Godhi

Heresiarch: surely you know what the case for war was at the time? if you really don't, you could begin by reading Gavin's comment above.

Whether this was a valid case, is not something that I care to discuss here. But I find particularly ironic your saying that "The desire on the part of Bush etc to invade Iraq was the only reason that was even being discussed". That is exactly why the anti-war case *as made in Britain* was, and still is, flimsy: it appears to be based entirely, or almost entirely, on theories about the motivations of Bush et al. And then you criticize Nicole Segre for saying that the anti-war case was flimsy?


I regard the case for war as having been not merely flimsy, but manifestly absurd. The case was that Saddam Hussein was in breach of UN resolutions. Well, the inspectors were back in Iraq, and they asked for more time to complete their work. Bush and Blair refused to give them that time, and then used the Iraqi breaches - breaches which preceded the inspectors' return to Iraq - as a pretext. Why military force? Why then? It just doesn't make any sense. Which, I suppose, is why those opposed to the war were reduced to theories about Bush's motivations. There was literally nothing else to go on.

But I notice that you're once again trying to shift the burden of proof. The anti-war case didn't need to be strong, because they weren't (or shouldn't have been) the ones making the case. Bush et al chose to invade Iraq. It was an entirely free choice. Saddam wasn't doing or saying anything that he hadn't been doing or saying for years. He was being reasonably co-operative. There was no case for war. None. So why should it be up to those opposed to the war to argue against it? In a criminal trial, it's up to the prosecution to prove guilt. The defence merely has to raise a "reasonable doubt".

My guess is that the anti-war people were so bamboozled by the war party's chutzpah in asserting that the military option was the right one that they conceded the ground. They let the argument be conducted on the basis of "what should we do about the threat from Iraq". They shouldn't have allowed it to go by default. They fell into the "when did you stop beating your wife" trap.

Snorri Godhi

Heresiarch: as I said, I do not intend to discuss the case for war. Also, I do not intend to shift the burden of proof: what I am saying is that the British anti-war camp could have shown (what they thought was) the flimsiness/absurdity of the case for war; and could have insisted that the burden of proof is on the war camp. We will never know whether they could have succeeded, because they did not try: instead of arguing against the case for war, they ignored it; and instead of keeping the burden of proof on Bush and Blair, they took it up themselves, by making allegations about motivations. (I am talking about the loud majority, of course, not about the thinking minority.)

Finally, these tactical mistakes were made by the anti-war camp even before the inspectors returned to Iraq.


If all you're saying is that the anti-war camp were useless, then I completely agree.


What was very noticeable at the time leading up to the Iraq invasion was the failure of the supporters of the case for War to actually give a public justification for their proposed action. The US decision appeared to have been made prior to August 2002 (when alert journalists in Washington noticed Defense and State Department staff taking their usual summer vacations, and NOT working overtime to plan for military action).

All through the northern autumn and winter of 2002 and early 2003, demands were made by many people across the political spectrum for the proponents of military action in Iraq to publicly present their case and explain their rationale. In Britain, Mr Blair hesitated and prevaricated for months before finally allowing a Commons debate on the war and making his own speech in support. In Australia, for the first and so far only time in its history, the Prime Minister John Howard was officially censured by a majority vote of No Confidence in the upper house of Federal Parliament, the Senate, for refusing to give a public statement to Parliament of his reasons for supporting the war.

This absence of public statements to justify their case from the pro-War side was so noticeable that I even blogged about it at length at the time (14 February 2003):


As can be seen there, I was far from alone in asking for a clear-cut case to be made in favour of the action by the principals involved. That case, to my mind, has still not been fully presented, taking into account the various counter-arguments and claims of those opposed to military action in Iraq at the time.

This failure of our democracies to hold our leaders to account to JUSTIFY their intended actions to us bodes ill for all of us, especially as technologigical advances give governments increasingly more power over our lives.


Peter, you can certainly disagree with the case made for war by Blair at the time and subsequently; you really can't defend the claim that Blair didn't publically justify his policy at the time. For instance, I clearly remember watching this episode of Newsnight at the time -


That this appears to be airbrushed out of history indicates the enormous problem the axiomatic assumptions of many anti-Iraq war pundits represent to any objective discourse on the issue.


Peter: Since when does the State Department plan military action?

Also, I distinctly recall President Bush making his case for war repeatedly, speaking both to the nation in his SOTU address, and to the UN.

I can conclude from your claim that no public justifications were made, either that you paid no attention, or that you confuse justifications with justifications that convinced you, a set which I am perfectly willing to grant has no members.

Tim Newman

Well, the inspectors were back in Iraq, and they asked for more time to complete their work. Bush and Blair refused to give them that time, and then used the Iraqi breaches - breaches which preceded the inspectors' return to Iraq - as a pretext. Why military force? Why then?

The only reason the inspectors were allowed back in Iraq was, as someone has already pointed out, because of American military pressure in the form of a large army camped in the northern Kuwaiti desert. It is not possible to keep an army camped in the Kuwaiti desert over the summer in such conditions (conditions I saw first hand), hence the time factor.


Gavin -- Tony Blair only publicly justified his case for war very late in the day in the month prior to the invasion, and only after enormous public pressure to do so, pressure he tried to resist. My argument still stands.

Sigivald -- Thanks for the abuse, which does not become you. It was not only me who noticed that President Bush was unforthcoming in justifying his policy -- see the many references and quotations on the web-page I gave earlier.


Peter, you originally asserted that the supporters of the war failed to give a public justification for their proposed action. When confronted with evidence that contradicts this, you move the goalposts to become Blair "... publicly justified his case for war very late in the day in the month prior to the invasion". The case for military action to enforce SCR resolutions against Iraq was being made for years before 2003, including the US 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, and with the Bush administration getting approval from Congress in October 2002 and the Blair government publishing intelligence dossiers that September. Months of public debate then followed, including the televised debate I just referred you to, which involved Blair confronting an appreciably hostile audience. The idea that the "pro-war" justification was not made is just fantasy. You may not agree with the case presented - fair enough - but you can't credibly claim that it wasn't made.

On a microcosmic scale this encapsulates the problems of selectivity and hyperbole which afflict most of the 'anti-war' discourse which I have experienced, and poison any chance of achieving a more meaningful dialogue.

Harry Barnes

Many on the left may have "crossed sides" when opposing the invasion of Iraq, although many had crossed over well before that. There were those who already had a history of being soft on terrorist activity in Northern Ireland - around the activities of Sinn Fein and its PIRA whom they mistook for "freedom fighters". But numbers of us who vigourously opposed the invasion of Iraq still stood in firm opposition to Saddam Hussein's fascism, but we feared where an invasion would lead us to in a fractured and brutalised nation. Things have turned out even worse than we anticipated. Those who "crossed over" have again been soft on terrorism and slow to move in support of secular and democratic forces in Iraq, such as the main Trade Union Movements in Iraqi Kurdistan and the remainder of Iraq - who have close links. Once the invasion had taken place too many on the Left just carried on as if the withdrawal of the invading forces would cancel out what had happened, instead of trying to work through the new set of problems to see how they could help those in need.


Blix's article is interesting in that is a clear indication of his intellectual dishonesty. He is now making unequivocal statements that there were on WMDs - while at the time he was still saying that the WMDs identified following the Gulf War were unaccounted for and asking for further time to complete his inspections. Where was his statement at the time that he did not believe that there were WMDs in Iraq??

The question of where the WMDs (and the evidence that they did exist is pretty sound) has still not been addressed - and Blix whose job it was to answer that question still has no answer.

But Blix aside, one lesson we do not appear to have appreciated from Iraq is that our international bodies, which should be the first line in dealing with tyrants and genocide, are not fit for purpose. They did not work then - and they have not worked since (e.g Burma, Darfur, Tibet and Zimbabwe). And what has been done to address this weakness - the short, and long answer, would appear to be absolutely nothing.

Miv Tucker

Many years ago I heard a talk by the late Hans Keller, in which he recounted his experience of being arrested by the Gestapo in Vienna shortly after the Anschluss.

His interrogator asked, "How long have you been a homosexual?"

Keller replied that he wasn't a homosexual, which drew the response, "Did I ask you IF you were a homosexual? I asked you how LONG you had been a homosexual."

The way Slate poses its question, 'How did I get Iraq wrong?' is disturbingly reminiscent of that.

I can almost imagine Hitchens being held until he answers the question in the correct way.

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