Oops! We got it wrong
Major wars, along with scientific and technological inventions, have shaped the course of history. The world has witnessed two major wars within a generation and several small ones in the twentieth century, which has been the most destructive era so far. Despite the pain and suffering they cause, armed conflicts continue to ravage the world. The struggle for power and the decisions taken by top policy-makers are the decisive factors in most of them.
Take for example the decision by George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, to wage a hugely unpopular war in Iraq and decision by Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, to support him in that adventure. Thirteen years after the U.S. invasion and four years after the last U.S. troop left the country, Iraq is still on the verge of fragmentation, and political killings and chaos have become routine.
According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, 2014 was the deadliest year since 2007 with 10,187 people killed and more than 16,000 injured. It is among the most risky countries in the fragile states index, ranking 12 out of 178.
Iraq today is also associated with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), whose roots could be found amid the chaos and instability, rampant in Iraq since the U.S. invasion. Blair recently admitted as much during an interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN on Oct. 25 and apologized for his mistakes with an excuse, saying, “The intelligence we received was wrong.” He was not questioned over the allegations that the intelligence they received was in fact correct but doctored by the British civil servants under the intense pressure of his government.
His confession might have been valued more if it was not another public relations stunt to preclude the forthcoming release of the findings of Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the war. It remains to be seen whether his apology will work for him, but it reminds us how easy to take decisions in international politics at the expense of other people’s lives.
Blair is of course not the first leader admitting mistakes over Iraq. It started in 2004, just a year after the invasion with the acknowledgment of then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that the information he submitted to the U.N. Security Council on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was wrong. Even the architect of the war, President Bush, asked for forgiveness in 2013 for his biggest mistake: Iraq.
Yet, both Blair and Bush are still adamant on the necessity and importance of toppling Saddam Hussein. Although they might be right about their initial argumentation, their confessions today are futile after the highly destructive impact of their decisions. The Iraq War has caused the loss of millions of lives, displaced millions of people and created a chain of instability not only in Iraq but also in the entire Middle East region. Today, the insecurity and volatility ignited by that invasion provides fertile pasturing grounds not only for ISIL but also for a large variety of extremists groups in Iraq and Syria.
The interventions of mainly western powers with such arguments as humanitarian aid or responsibility to protect since the end of the Cold War have failed in most cases and caused irreversible damages for the subjected countries. The main principles of the international system that survived since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, i.e., inviolability of borders, non-intervention in internal affairs and sovereign equality of states, have been damaged irreparably.
It seems that Thucydides’ observation in his History of Peloponnesian War is still valid for today’s international politics: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” What a piety after centuries of learning and advancement.