An Iraqi Legacy | Sarah Stook

In a recent press release, the White House announced that there was truth to the rumours of Tony Blair offering his counsel to Donald Trump regarding the Middle East. A seasoned politician, Blair’s focus was now on creating a lasting peace between Palestine and Israel, a question people have been hoping to answer since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. According to reports, the White House took Blair’s offer ‘seriously,’ before ultimately declining. This, of course, gave his critics a chance to attack him, considering his legacy there.

Iraq, its invasion, and the events thereafter are of significant interest to many.

As the world watched the oil fields burn in 1990, questions were asked. Out of all of them, the most frequent was ‘why didn’t George H W Bush overthrow Saddam Hussein?’ By invading a sovereign nation, Hussein had indeed proven that he was a problem. At the end of the day, however, Bush 41, pouring over the multiple factors, decided that it was best not to overthrow the man. Whether it was pressure from his Muslim allies, worry about stability in the region, or perhaps other factors, Hussein was left to rule Iraq.

2001 changed all of that.

As planes flew into some of America’s most important landmarks, terror had truly landed on its shores. The death of nearly 3,000 people- mostly Americans or Westerners- was truly a tragic event, and one which changed the landscape of the country, changes that are still seen to this very day. Whilst the majority of the hijackers were of Saudi origin, Bush did not include the country in his ‘axis of evil.’ The President doubled down on both terrorists and the funders of terrorism, and it seemed as though Hussein fell into the latter territory. It was almost fate that evidence of WMDs were seemingly found within the trouble country.

The proof may have been tetchy, but the fallout was fatal.

George W. Bush’s administration- made up of political heavyweights such as Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell- pushed hard for proof. Up against undeniable opposition, they knew that they truly needed to prove that this was a worthwhile cause. Soon enough, it all cropped up- reports of potential WMDs, questionable CIA documents regarding Hussein’s links with terrorism, all enough for Bush to declare Hussein as a major risk to the safety and security of the free world. For the United Nations, it was not enough. They did not sanction the operation.

Anyone who knows modern history will know that this did not deter Bush. With his ragtag coalition- Blair’s United Kingdom, as well as Poland and Australia- Operation Iraqi Freedom started. From that moment in 2003, the conflict would widely define the legacy of both Bush and Blair. The blood on their hands would go from a few drops to almost Macbethian levels.

Thus began a vacuum that no one would have ever expected.

Saddam Hussein was by no means a good man. One should even call him bad. From brutalising his own people to his attempts to exterminate the Kurds through gas, he proved himself to be practically evil in his rule. They say tough people rule with an iron fist, but it seems that Hussein had thorns on his. In his desperation for power and prestige, he did not care about the little people. As Iraq starved under sanctions, he watched from his palaces. Anyone who bravely opposed him swiftly received a punishment far too harsh for their so-called crimes. Bush was correct in calling him out, as did every world leader who spoke up against him. At the end of the day, however, the allegations of terror were most likely unfounded. From CIA documents to the 9/11 Commission, he was never found to have the links to al-Qaeda that the administration pushed towards. A violent and cruel man no doubt, but not the terrorist that Bush accused him of. This dangerous allegation was one which had untold consequences for the country that suffered under him.

Iraq under Hussein had stability. This is in no way a justification for the brutality and misery that Hussein brought upon innocent people, but the people of Iraq were able to live relatively normal lives under him, instead of worrying if they would see their families again. By forcing a regime change, Bush made the fundamental mistake of not properly implementing a stable government. It’s undeniable that the Iraqis being able to take part in free and fair elections is an incredible thing, but this chance for a new country was not without risk. Instead of creating a stable democracy, Bush and Blair allowed for a power vacuum, a vacuum which allowed the rise of a new kind of evil.

It’d be totally unfair to say that Bush and Blair are responsible for terrorism, or at least fundamental Islamic terrorism. Terrorism is older than both of them, and was already bubbling in the Middle East in the form of both al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It is fair to say, however, that they allowed them to give rise. For all of the many faults of the Hussein regime, terrorism was kept at bay. The overthrow of said regime allowed for an insurgency which caused untold misery, from splinter groups to the current Islamic State, an incredibly brutal group who deserves to be wiped off the face of the earth. Whilst Iraq currently has a democratic government who is trying their best, the vast swaths of land controlled by Islamic State have created a hub for global terrorism. The citizens of Iraq have gone from one brutal regime to another, and even though these people are half the world away, allowing them to go through this is something for the Bushes and Blairs of the Earth to be ashamed of. These men, women and children have been thrown to the fundamentalist wolves.

Of course, the Iraqis are not the only victims of this conflict.

Around 4,742 armed forces personnel died during the Iraqi occupation and thousands more were injured. For every one of these people, a family had to receive a visit from the army to tell them that their loved one had been killed. For every one of these people, a funeral took place. For every one of these people, a brave heart stopped beating. For years, the solemn faces of the news presenters conveyed the news, numerous faces flashing up on our TV screens.

Those who did not die were broken. Soldiers came home with body parts missing, some with their ability to walk stolen from them by a shell or a bullet. Mentally, the scars ran deep. Men and women sat alone with PTSD, memories that will sadly haunt them for the rest of their life. Stability of mind is something that many take for granted, and it was something robbed from our servicemen and women. With shattered minds and shattered bodies, it affected both them and the ones who loved them, and who they loved in return. Some were driven to hurt themselves, or worse. Heroes were torn to pieces for a cause that is questionable at best and totally unforgivable at worst.

Most people who read this will never meet Bush or Blair. We don’t know if they have ever lost an ounce of sleep. Perhaps some hope they have just so they can believe that they have some ounce of humanity in them.

Bush himself believed it to be justified. In his admittedly fascinating autobiography ‘Decision Points,’ the often outlandish 43rd President wrote that ‘In the space of nine months, twenty-five million Iraqis went from living under a dictatorship of fear to seeing the prospect of a peaceful, functioning democracy. In December 2003, the Iraqis were still a long way from that dream. But they had a chance, and that was a lot more than they’d had before.’

In some ways, he was correct. Democracy, though sometimes flawed, is an essential part of every citizen’s life, if they want to have a free one. The chance to cross a ballot is one which the Iraqis now have, and we should wish them luck. Unfortunately, that peaceful, functioning democracy is still a pipe dream. Peace in Iraq has faltered with the rise of IS and the refugee crisis that was almost an inevitable part of it. Furthermore, the ‘functioning’ aspect of this democracy is deeply controversial, with Iraq scoring 17 (out of a possible 100) on the Corruption Index 2016, making it one of the lowest scorers- number 166 on a list of 176. By way of comparison, the United Kingdom was joint 10th with Germany and Luxembourg with a score of 81.

Bush and Blair have not quite recovered from this catastrophic foreign policy error.

Bush lived on to win a second term against eventual Secretary of State John Kerry. Though he refrained from speaking out against Obama, he did not extend this kindness to Donald Trump, having become an outspoken critic. From humorous appearances on Jimmy Kimmel to his publication of his memoirs, Bush will always be tarnished with the ‘war criminal’ brush- rightly or wrongly. Widely regarded by both scholars and the public to be one of the worst Presidents of all times, along with the likes of the corrupt Nixon and breaker of the union Buchanan, he will most likely never recover his reputation on the foreign policy front. More importantly, his administration allowed a new wave of neo-conservatism, with many of his Cabinet and staff supporting this foreign policy approach. To this day, political scientists debate the effects of neo-conservative administration.

Blair won three elections, before stepping down in 2007 and handing over the reins to his more serious Chancellor, Gordon Brown. The former PM had watched Britain erupt in the biggest anti-war protests of all time, but Parliament had given him the mandate to go forward with the controversial war. Critics dubbed him ‘Bush’s lap dog,’ but some even went as far as to call him to go to trial at The Hague, made even more ironic given his wife’s illustrious career as a barrister, and later QC. In an ironic twist of fate, he was named Middle East Peace Envoy, a laughable cause after one looks at the mess he made. When the Chilcot Inquiry was finally published to much fanfare, he rejected its findings, absolving himself from most of the blame. After making his round on the speeches circuit, Blair rose again as somewhat of a Remoaner-in-Chief, making it his life’s mission to ignore the democratic mandate given by the people, and to prove that membership of the European Union is essential for Britain and its citizens. Time will tell how that goes.

The former PM was invited to, and attended, an unveiling of a memorial to the fallen of several wars, including Iraq. Naturally, the headlines showed the anger felt. Families of the deceased were furious that the man they deemed responsible had dared to show his face at what was a beautiful piece of respect to those who had laid down their lives for a supposedly worthy cause. Some argued- and to some credence- that he would have also been blasted had he not attended. Still, his invitation alone is enough to raise some eyebrows.

Though the approval ratings for both the war and the leaders involved started off at an acceptable level, they soon fell. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May dubbed Iraq a ‘failed policy,’ one of the few things that the two leaders of Britain’s major parties can agree on.

Operation Iraqi Freedom has directly and indirectly touched on the lives of so many people around the world. It remains to be seen what the long-term consequences will be, even though the rise of terror and instability in a volatile region is indication enough of what it could be. With regions in chaos, people broken and peace only for the dreamers, Iraq is a key example of what happens when world leaders believe they have the mandate for regime change. Both Blair and Bush have Iraq stained in their expensive suits, and no amount of soul-searching or cleaning will ever change that.

All we can hope for is that the world can learn from its mistakes, and we never see anything like this ever again.

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