Monday, November 20, 2006

We keep making the same mistake

David Day's article in The Age put me in mind of a dinner conversation I had with one of the current heads of our intelligence agencies prior to the invasion of Iraq. He was an adviser to the PM at this stage. I made the point that the invasion would lead to a rapid deterioration of the security situation in the Middle East because jihadi groups would flock to Iraq once Saddam was removed to make jihad against the West. I was rebuffed with what was the orthodox line back then - WMD is all that matters and Saddam's capacity to use such weapons must override all other considerations.

Day writes: "So now it's official: the seismic shift in the US Congress has forced President George Bush to look for a way out of the morass into which he blundered more than three years ago. With Iraq's population now estimated to be more than half a million people fewer than it would have been had the Americans not launched their invasion, George Bush and John Howard have been worse for the Iraqis than Saddam Hussein. That should not come as a surprise. The evidence has been there on the nightly news since the invasion was launched.

The Prime Minister can't say that people didn't warn him. Although he is fond of claiming lately that everyone back then was agreed about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his supposed weapons of mass destruction, this was far from the case. Many people were counselling caution, warning him to wait until the weapons inspectors had time to come to a definitive conclusion. Many also wanted any action, if it did proceed, to be under the auspices of the United Nations rather than under the leadership of America alone. How right they were."

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but many of us with some knowledge of these matters in the Foreign Affairs community could see where Bush's unilateralism was heading. The Blick strategy on Iraq's WMD was sidelined. This proved to be a stupid blunder. The projection that jihadis would fill the vacuum created by the removal of Sadaam was rejected. It has proved to be right on the money, and was fairly obvious to anyone with real understanding of the region.

A lot of people who should have known better, given their claimed expertise on such matters, got Iraq badly wrong. Were they merely in thrall to a group of ignorant politicians playing to a tune penned in Washington, or did they really believe the advice they were being scripted to provide? There are questions that need to be examined further.

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