Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We now know...

Why the West should not fear to intervene

For 10 years, Jonathan Powell was Tony Blair's chief of staff and at the heart of all his key foreign policy initiatives. Last week, in his first major speech on foreign affairs since leaving No. 10, Powell launched an impassioned defence of liberal interventionism. Here is an extract from his landmark address

Sunday November 18, 2007

The Observer


Let me look at the lessons to be drawn from the 10 years of the Blair administration and our four wars.


Iraq was the most difficult, even if not very different theoretically from our other interventions. No one in their right mind would wish to see the blood-letting and chaos that is going on in Iraq today. There is no point in trying to pretend it is all a wonderful success. But equally, I don't think there are many people in Iraq or the rest of the world who want Saddam back. There was, however, a problem with the justification of the invasion - the holding of weapons of mass destruction in breach of UN resolutions. We now know Saddam didn't have them. But to suggest it was all a conspiracy between Tony Blair and George W Bush to pretend he did is nonsense. We believed he had them, as did pretty much every other government in the world, whatever they say now. We didn't kit our troops up in chemical warfare suits in the desert every time a missile was fired just for fun. So suggesting it was all a matter of Alastair Campbell cobbling together a dossier to pretend there were weapons of mass destruction is nonsense.

We should have been clear we were removing Saddam because he was a ruthless dictator suppressing his people. But the lawyers said there was no legal basis for proceeding on these grounds, and so we were not able to make this case as wholeheartedly as I would have liked.

Next the UN. The argument goes that we should not have intervened without a second United Nations Security Council resolution. But we intervened in Kosovo without such a resolution. The two crucial differences from Afghanistan and Kosovo were that a) we could not get a majority of countries on our side and b) we were not successful on the ground.

One of the reasons we argued so hard for a second resolution and tried so hard to get countries such as Mexico and Chile on side was that we believed if things got difficult in Iraq, we would do much better if we had the balance of the international community with us. And it is clearly true that if we had secured that support, we would be in a different place today, with a major UN role in Iraq and majority support around the world.

So if success on the ground was one of the big differences with Kosovo, why were we so relatively unsuccessful in Iraq? The biggest failing in my view was not fully to understand the consequences of our intervention. When you remove a brutal dictator who has annihilated all opposition for 30 years, it is inevitable you will face a period of anarchy when he is gone. All the basics of an ordinary society and law and order are not there. And when you superimpose that on a country where the minority, the Sunni, have ruled the majority, the Shia, for centuries, and you are trying to replace that with a majoritarian regime, it takes a long time to shake out the problems.




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