LibLink: Nick Clegg – If Iraq taught us anything, it’s this…

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the invasion by the USA and the UK of Iraq. In an article published in The Independent, Nick Clegg reflects on the decisions made by the last Labour government and the lessons to be drawn. Here’s an excerpt:

The pretext given by the Blair government for the invasion – Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction – proved false. The intervention led to years of instability, sectarian violence and religious extremism within Iraq and beyond. It strengthened Iran’s ability to destabilise its neighbours and it undermined the credibility of the United Nations.

The war in Iraq damaged confidence in the principle of humanitarian intervention and strengthened the hand of isolationists. Tony Blair in his 1999 Chicago speech proposed new criteria for humanitarian intervention. They were almost the right principles – the problem was that he did not follow them.

The failures of Iraq do not alter our collective responsibility to support freedom and protect human rights around the world. Doing nothing can be as bad as cavalier adventurism. The question remains how and when to intervene – and it is always a tough judgement. There are no easy guides for politicians to follow. But, in my view, there are four tests we must always apply. Is intervention legal? Does it command local and regional support? Are we confident intervening will alleviate suffering? And is the UN behind it? Or, in the absence of UN approval, are there reasons to intervene on clear humanitarian grounds.

They are not much different to Tony Blair’s principles: the difference is that the coalition government I serve in has stuck to them.

You can read Nick’s article in full here.

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  • “Proved false” suggests that Tony Blair did not know that there were no ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Iraq before he decided to commit to his belligerent adventure, and that it was only demonstrated later.
    Except, of course, that there was substantial intelligence evidence for the absence of WMDs in Iraq beforehand, and Blair knew it. His professions to the contrary were not casual mistakes or errors of emphasis, but deliberate lies that he knew were not supported by facts.

  • Geoffrey Payne 18th Mar '13 - 1:36pm

    Paul wolfowitz believed that the western invaders of Iraq would be greeted as liberators. Yet the hard lesson for liberal interventionists is that in both Iraq and Afgahnistan was that private militias that supported intolarent ideologies were far more successful in recruiting foot soldiers that were committed to the cause than either government was able to recruit into their regular armies.
    Francis Fukuyama famously wrote about the “End of History” – the idea that the ideological conflict between liberal capitalism and democracy had won and communism had lost. Blair thought that in supporting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan he had history on his side. He could not have been more wrong.
    I think Nick Clegg’s criteria moves us in the right direction, but is far from the end of the story. The invasion of Libya maybe meets his criteria and many might think we did the right thing. But the knock on instability in Mali and Algeria might suggest otherwise.
    What politicians need to get a grip of is the limitations of western power. It is more limited than they appear to think.
    I notice Nick says nothing about drone strikes, the modern was of attacking a country e

  • Geoffrey Payne 18th Mar '13 - 1:39pm

    … Without having to invade it or even declare war on it. Surely an impingement on civil liberties even more brutal than secret courts.?

  • Simon Beard 18th Mar '13 - 3:27pm

    From a letter from the leader dated March 2023

    “The pretext given by the coalition government for the introduction of secret courts – that our secret services were innocent of claims of torture and needed to defend themselves – proved false. The policy led to years of injustice, persecution and religious extremism within the UK and beyond. It strengthened totalitarian regime’s ability to violate human rights and it undermined the credibility of the United Kingdom.

    The introduction of secret courts damaged confidence in the rule of law and strengthened the hand of authoritarians.”

    We’ll see…

  • I think Geoffrey and Ian both sum it up well.

    As Ian says, when you blur the lines between peacekeepers and soldiers, things often go awry.

    I think one of our major problems in this ‘war’ has been that we never had a real understanding of the cultures or nations that we were dealing with; as highlighted by Labour’s somewhat questionable decision to fund extremist Muslin groups in the United Kingdom and aboard in the hope of using them as a way to combat the terrorist groups.

    That would be like funding the BNP to combat the EDL, and shows just how little the Labour Government understood the people and situation they dealing with.

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