The Party Line is…………Hindsight

Throughout our lives, there are times when we make the wrong decisions. We choose one course of action over another, we support one thing where another may have been the more correct point of view and we express remorse when our decisions are proven to be wrong.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing and with hindsight I would say that at the time I would never have supported the war in Iraq.

I should qualify that last statement: I supported the British government undertaking to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. I believed that it was a logical and highly justified endeavour, I mean why wouldn’t I? This was a concerted military action to remove a tyrannical despot from power and free a people from a regime of terror that claimed so many of their fellow citizens.  It would also serve to protect us from his potentially hostile intent. I refused to believe those who said that it was an illegitimate war and supported the Blair position in this area.

But 13 years and almost 300,000 deaths later, I can say unequivocally that I was wrong.

The process by which a government admits it made a mistake is a much more complicated one and is generally not legislated for in any constitution. It becomes the province of the individual politician or government to determine the legitimacy or illegitimacy of any action undertaken, they have to be seen to take responsibility for their actions both previous and current. In the continuance of this imperative, the UK government called for a public enquiry into the government’s actions in both the lead up and the aftermath of the Iraq war.

Testimony was taken, evidence analysed, reports written and a week ago the results of this enquiry were made known to the general public and more particularly to the families of those who died as a result of this war.

At 6,000 pages the report is the most detailed examination of the Iraq war to date and its publication has shown the failings and backroom politics of the Blair administration during this period.

So you might be wondering, what else is there left to say that hasn’t already been said?

While the individual truths of the conflict and the lead up to it are slowly being disclosed, the key thing that characterises both the war in Iraq and the lead up to it is failure. Failures of international systems of law and governance and failures of the political process in the UK.

The Prime Minister of the time, Tony Blair has become a scapegoat for the systemic failures that allowed the war in Iraq to take place in the first place. If these systems had been as robust as is intended and portrayed, then war would have been impossible. Any concerted action by the Prime Minister with such a course in mind should have been checked at once by the cabinet, the party and the people of the UK. It was not, and the actions that Tony Blair undertook to force the country to war qualify as an abuse of executive power.

In his eagerness to support our American allies, he became blind to the severely questionable legality of invading a country which posed no immediate threat to the United Kingdom. The intelligence and security services failed to produce significant evidence of any so-called “weapons of mass destruction” and the case for invasion was a fudged coalition of half-truths, presented to the British people as concrete facts.

That is not to say that there was not significant opposition to the potential invasion of Iraq. Four senior ministers within the cabinet publicly voiced their opposition and were forced to resign. Public protests were widespread in both the UK and the US and many of our international partners voiced their opposition in the EU and in the United Nations.

Mr Blair conducted secret meetings with individuals outside of the regular parliamentary system, ignoring political procedure when it suited his aims. Political pressure was brought to bear on members of parliament, by both whip and lobby to force them to vote in the affirmative for war.

This absence of cabinet legitimacy prevented the instruments of government being used effectively once the decision to go to war was taken. As a direct result of this failure to utilise effective government our troops went into the war without the tools to effectively wage it, which contributed to the high number of service deaths in the conflict. Indeed, once the war ended, this failure to use government prevented the ability to produce a coherent strategy for the post war environment, allowing the Bush administration to pursue its damaging policy of complete structural destruction of the Iraqi system of government.

A country should at its heart, not plan for war and should exercise all possible actions to avoid this through diplomatic means. It is impossible to talk about the diplomatic methods to avoid war without addressing the chief diplomatic body of the time: The United Nations.

An organisation of mutual collaboration, designed to provide a check to the dictatorial and despotic ambitions of member countries as the previous League of Nations failed to do. In this endeavour it utterly failed to provide a significant check against the invasion ambitions of the US and UK. Its resolutions, while well-meaning were completely ignored when it suited the Bush administration and by proxy the Blair government. It should have pressed the member nations to exert political pressure on the US and UK and backed it up with the prospect of sanctions, both pre and post invasion. The gesture of placing Weapons inspectors in Iraq was a token one and achieved absolutely nothing but prolonging the period before war was declared regardless.

All efforts at diplomacy failed, but realistically was there any chance of them succeeding at all? Old animosities from the previous Iraq conflict, coupled with the American desire to fight back at the so-called “Axis of Evil” made the chances of a peaceful diplomatic solution very slim.

The American people, shocked out of their isolation by their biggest tragedy since Pearl Harbour in 9/11 can be somewhat forgiven for having an appetite for revenge. The American congress, however cannot be forgiven for allowing President Bush to pursue this agenda without a clear plan for the aftermath and for allowing their intelligence agencies to manipulate intelligence to suit a flimsy case.

An American politician advocating peaceful solutions at this time would like their UK counterparts be shouted down albeit more vociferously by their own people. In the aftermath of the war, the public opinion changed dramatically, as the US Army and its government became bogged down in the quagmire.

The failure to clearly plan for the aftermath of the War and the rush to utterly destroy the existing political structures of Iraq created the power vacuum and ultimately created the conditions for the Islamic State movement to exist. This is the greatest failure of the war in Iraq and has contributed to many more deaths and terrorist acts over the years following the cessation of operations.

The civilian enquiry into the War in Iraq should be applauded for both being thorough and unequivocal in its judgments, but such a mechanism should be in place in the constitution of this country and should not have to rely on civilian oversight. The problem with this, particularly in the UK is that Parliament is essentially the presence of the Crown in politics and as such cannot be seen to be wrong.

The weight of evidence, high number of deaths and obvious manipulation of government necessitates the need for strong political changes in this area. These changes must occur not just in the UK but in both the United States and the United Nations.

What can we do in the UK to prevent such a situation occurring in the future?

Changes in legislation to ensure that a Prime Minister cannot operate independently of his cabinet, the introduction of large-scale political engagement in the war making process be it from the populous or ministers independent of cabinet and party and the reintroduction of the historic practice of impeachment for those who flout constitutional law.

Additionally, we have to create a mechanism where civilian oversight in both foreign policy and the practice of war making becomes a legitimate function of government. Abuses of executive power should be documented and prevented via legislation and judicial restraints. It should not take a public outcry for these things to come to light, it should be parliamentary practice to review.

We have to create a climate where making war truly becomes a last resort and is conducted as a legitimate constitutional act, controlled by parliament and with the full consent of the people. I do accept that there are always situations where wars do not conform to these sorts of absolute aims, but by maintaining these absolute maxims and conditions we can more effectively manage the hardest duty of any government: declaring war.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

How do we defeat Islamic State?

Baghdad, Aden, Brussels, Jakarta, Istanbul, Paris.  It is a sad litany of names all united in tragedy: they are all cities touched by Terrorism; they have all been successfully targeted by Islamic State.  It is an organisation which has killed almost 50,000 individuals throughout the Middle East and beyond.  Its European, African and Asian activities show a terrorist network which is expanding further and further beyond this area.   Despite the efforts of the international community, despite all of our victories the terrorists are still getting through, still spreading their message of hate, still causing the death of countless numbers.

A key part of the Islamic State machine is its use of Propaganda, from video to social media and beyond. It is how it recruits new members, maintains a political presence and enacts terrorist acts. We cannot simply close down every site or video which they use, as barring the use of media by individuals in the region would stop others in the region from expressing their legitimate opinions.  We must use their methods against them, posting interrogations of captured suspects, illustrating the methods we use to combat their followers. Every defeat of Islamic State must be broadcast on every channel in the region using every media. Illegitimate organisations such as the hacker collective Anonymous have voiced their intention to target Islamic State, most recently in the wake of the Brussels attacks. It is these organisations which should be brought into the fight, be it legitimately or covertly, we can use their skills to remove the ability of Islamic State to broadcast its message of hate or recruit new followers. These organisations can do this effectively without the wider need to cut off legitimate media in the region.

Islamic State purports the idea that it is an organisation engaged in warfare with the western powers only, as it supports its message of Anti-Semitism against non Muslims. The coalition of powers engaged in attacks against them, collectively known as Operation Inherent Resolve has over 30 countries 8 of which are in the region affected and are predominantly Muslim. This should be highlighted and used in propaganda against Islamic State to sabotage their assertion that it is only the Christian nations who are against them. At home in the nations affected and those not affected by terrorist acts, there must be a concerted effort to recruit and support the Muslim community and the local tribes in the combat area. It is these individuals who will stop the beginning of terrorism and fight Islamic State on their own territory. Radicalisation begins at home and will end when the communities themselves take responsibility for their members. We need to show that they are the exception to the rule, not the rule itself.

A propaganda war must be supported by a concerted international effort to combat the territorial and political gains made by Islamic State.  An invasion force, made up of predominantly western nations would ultimately prove counterproductive and replicate the same conditions which allowed Islamic State to flourish in the first place. That being said western intervention is inevitable, however it must be restricted to a support capacity only. The local nations must be seen to be spearheading the efforts; else Islamic State will use its propaganda machine to turn the region against coalition forces.

The two key countries to this effort are Syria and Russia. Syria, a country torn apart by civil war and one of the two areas where Islamic State predominantly operate (the other being Iraq) has recently called a cease fire between rebels and the Al Assad regime.  Russian support and political pressure was crucial in making this ceasefire a reality. It is the Russian government which can effectively use its influence over the Assad regime to secure a peaceful transition to alternative government. Assad is a war criminal, guilty of many crimes against his own people and he must answer for them in front of the international community, but great care must be taken in when this transition takes place. A transition which occurs too fast could result in an unstable government replacing a stable one as was witnessed in Iraq upon the transfer of power from the coalition to civilian government. It may be necessary to leave him in power for the moment, but place significant restrictions in place to prevent him from abusing his people as he has done previously. There must be a timetable for the transition of power to occur and this can be achieved by engaging and unifying the legitimate opposition groups in the Syrian political system. Leaving Assad in power for a limited time would conceivably be a workable scenario for the Russian federation as it continues its international political rehabilitation after the Ukraine crisis.  A stabilised Syrian government could turn its attention to eliminating those terrorist elements from their country, chief among them being Islamic State.

As stated previously, Russian involvement was integral in bringing the Syrian civil war to an end but the need for Russia to be involved goes much deeper than that. Russia with its 16 million Muslims has a vested interest in stopping Islamic State and terrorist attacks on its citizens have been met with retaliatory strikes against targets in Syria and Iraq. Russian influence on Syria and Iran can have the effect of concentrating the efforts of these countries in eradicating the extremists.  Its inclusion in Operation Inherent Resolve would bring it into an alliance of co-operation with many countries that it has become estranged from, particularly the USA.  Drawing Russia back into the fold would enable the other coalition partners to impose a crucial distinction on their future strikes, stopping them from attacking legitimate opposition groups in Syria.

One thing is abundantly clear, the international community can do more than it is doing.  The predominantly regional conflict is isolated and it is easier to do less to address a problem when it is not on your doorstep. Additionally Islamic State is like no other terrorist organisation in history, operating without borders or centralised country. What this needs is a leader or a nation to take the lead and make it their primary concern.  Many leaders cannot because of their own provincial concerns/ responsibilities but all it would take is one to lead the way and galvanise international action.

There is no magic bullet that will end the conflict against Islamic State. What is set out here is one potential blueprint. A difficult and uncertain path lies ahead for the World as they tackle this threat. One thing is a given though, we will face this threat together.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Can we ever truly win the war on terror?

The war on terror has been the predominant force in world foreign policy for the last 15 years since the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The embers of this war were stoked further by the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 but it really gained momentum after the attacks by Al- Qaeda on September 11th 2001.

Since then it has claimed an estimated 1,249,025 lives, has resulted in more regime changes than at any time since the end of the Soviet Union and does not look like it will end any time soon.

The war on terror shares some of the characteristics of a conventional war, in so much that it is fought with conventional weaponry, albeit on a more improvised and guerrilla style but it does not meet all of the character traits of a conventional war. It does have a definable beginning, in so much as it began with the September 11th Attacks.

But can it ever truly end?

The term “War on Terror” was used loosely before 9/11 but US president George W Bush adapted the term to suit the US aim of destroying their 9/11 nemesis, Al- Qaeda. At the time he created a manifesto of aims that this war on terror would achieve, with most of them being non-specific promises like ending state sponsorship of terrorists, enable weak states, persuade reluctant states and compel unwilling states.

Of the 5 main aims of the war on terror, as established by George W Bush only one has been truly completed: Defeat terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and demolish their organizations. This was only truly completed by the assassination of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. The rest of the objectives cannot be truly proven to be met definitively.

It has led to an overstretching of resources across many continents, from the Horn of Africa to Asia and beyond.

The United States has become a more restrictive and reactionary entity, it has lost a lot of the international standing that it once enjoyed during the 1990’s when it was a key player in the then peace agreements in Israel and Northern Ireland. Now the US is perceived as a kid with a gun and woe betide the person who gets in his way.

Key to this change has been its conduct since 2001, both internally and externally. The policies of George Bush have used and manipulated politics and international law to suit the intended objectives of the US government.

A prominent example of this is Guantanamo Bay, otherwise known as Camp Delta. The US has detained terrorists there since 2001, labelling them as unlawful combatants, which enables them to use the Geneva Convention to their own ends.

New and dangerous words have entered the American vocabulary, words like Rendition and Waterboarding. National security has become the cloak behind which America has justified torture and increasingly invasive surveillance methods. These have been enshrined into American law in the guise of The Patriot Act, they have become part of the American political system.

Manipulation of law and systems of government has not been confined to internal politics, the build up to the second Iraq war exemplified what the US is prepared to do to get its way. A country which, granted was in the grip of an evil dictatorship was pushed into a war that it had absolutely no chance of winning because of weapons of mass destruction which did not actually exist.

The UN was pushed and prodded into passing resolutions which required the use of weapons inspectors and when those weapons inspectors were denied by the restrictive Hussein regime, the US had all the justification that it needed to go in. It sought international support to legitimize its incursion which it gained in the form of the coalition, fresh on its coattails from winning in Afghanistan and ploughed headlong into the maelstrom of a war that it did not need to fight.

The war itself was over in a matter of weeks but the war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people continued for many years until the US withdrawal in 2009. It was a withdrawal which would not mean the end of conflict in the region, as the rise of Islamic State has proven.

The things that America has had to do to win this war have proven unpopular with its people and even its intelligence services. The release of sensitive confidential files by C.I.A. operative Edward Snowden has shed an unwelcome window on the subversive tactics used by the US and its international partners. Evidence included the mass surveillance of both US and international citizens, the military tactics used by the US, its coalition allies and files of operations of questionable legality conducted away from the gaze of international law. The release of these files damaged the already shaky reputation of the US even further.

The negative opinion of the US in countries across Asia and Africa has led to the US becoming the prime target for every terrorist with a grudge. The fact that most of the current leadership of IS are former Iraqi military proves that by manipulating international law and politics the US has given birth to its own enemies.

These organisations, armed with steady streams of cash from as yet unknown sources purchase weaponry from the international black market. All attempts by the US and its partners to freeze assets and prevent terrorist financing have proved token gestures.

Terrorists will undoubtedly find a way to find these weapons and could even look to align themselves, albeit surreptitiously with larger powers who have an interest in seeing the US fall. Powers like Russia and China could supply these groups with weapons, allowing them to wage war on the US and its coalition partners without getting their hands dirty.

This would occupy the gaze of the US just enough for these powers to accomplish their aims without interference. Vicariously they would also have the effect of decreasing the operational capacity of the US to wage war against a comparable aggressive power.

Islamic State incursions into Iraq and the resultant bombing missions conducted by the US could be used as the smokescreen for a larger Russian incursion into the Ukraine.

The growth of fundamentalism in the Middle East is largely fuelled by religious fervour. Radicalised clerics, distrusted by their respective governments use religion as a smokescreen to indoctrinate young impressionable politically aware individuals in their respective countries. The war on terror provides the conditions for this to become virtually self-sustaining. Even the censorship of the religion most likely to fuel terrorism would have the opposite effect, it would increase the numbers rather than decrease them.

There is also a danger that in the quest to limit those religions, we ignore ones which can be equally inflammatory once perverted by these fundamentalist individuals. These religions could ultimately prove more destructive than the ones being outlawed.

A war on an ideology (which is not linked to one specific nation) is something not previously encountered in the course of history. The Nazi ideology and other pervasive ideologies have all been based in one nation or encapsulated in a group of nations like the Soviet Union.

The removal of an ideology completely from the human sphere of influence would involve the manipulation of a population to such a degree as to completely restrict independent thought.

This would ultimately damage the human spirit, resulting in a stagnation of its desire to explore new ideas and belief systems. Ideologies are by definition internal constructs of humankind and cannot be defeated by conventional means. The combatting of such ideals begins at an early age and does not cease until that individual dies.

The price of winning the war on terror may be too high, in so much that in the rush to combat this growing threat, we compromise ourselves to such a degree that our own politics are denied. Individual freedom and civil liberties cannot be sold cheaply to achieve this goal as we would become as bad as the individuals we are combatting. The prospect of maintaining such an aggressively restrictive stance for an extended period is ultimately detrimental to the country it serves to protect.

Is there another path which we might take which would prove more beneficial?

If we were merely to do nothing, remaining inactive and leaving the terrorist unchecked we run the risk of allowing these organisations to become legitimate political entities. Attacking them leaves them on the fringes of the political sphere of their respective countries. A marginalised organisation cannot gain a foothold in a country.

But by the same token, attacking them makes us a target for any terrorist organisation which springs up. There needs to be a paradigm shift in what we do when we interact with countries which have leanings towards terrorism. Engagement of all local groups rather than those most willing to grant us favour would decrease the risk of the marginalisation and radicalisation of ethnic groups. Groups which have a stake in government are less likely to rail against them.

The destruction of existing institutions as a chief by-product of militaristic invasion is unnecessary, utilising these institutions and repurposing them to suit new aims is far more beneficial to both the indigenous population and the invading power.

As the war on terror continues, the casualties mount up and the realistic goals of the war become less and less realisable over the years. The schism of creating such a war has proven to be ultimately damaging but the prospect of inaction over terrorism can be equally if not more so damaging.

The war becomes less and less winnable in the classical sense of the word. A state of long term warfare could apply with no end, to the point where it becomes a generational struggle. In the opinion of this writer this is a world I would not want to be a part of.

 

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.