A memorandum to the prime minister from the outgoing British ambassador to Iraq suggests that, as things stand, low-intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is more likely than the emergence of a stable democracy. Two senior American generals express much the same opinion.
Now, these are statements of the bleeding obvious – yet they are big news. Why? The legitimate reason is that it is newsworthy that high-ups are worried about what is going on in Iraq. Much more important, however, they give John Humphrys and other journalistic titans a chance to have another go at forcing members of the government to admit that the invasion of Iraq three years ago was a terrible mistake.
I’m so sick of this game I start shouting at the radio every time it starts. It’s not that the rights and wrongs of the Iraq invasion are not worth discussing – it’s just that they’re not now what matters. The issue today is what happens next and what, if anything, Britain and America can do to minimise sectarian strife and encourage the development of a democratic civil society in Iraq.
Now, one possible course of action is withdrawal of all occupying forces and either (a) replacing them with a UN force; or (b) letting the Iraqis get on with it unhindered. Option (a) would be fine if the UN had any worthwhile experience of counter-insurgency, which it does not. Option (b) would almost certainly lead to a civil war that is anything but low-intensity, with massacres and (quite possibly) direct intervention by regional powers.
Neither option is credible. At least if the US and Britain stay, there is some hope of keeping the civil war low-intensity. But isn’t the best hope for Iraq that the US and Britain do more than merely stay – that they actually increase their presence and make a concerted effort to suppress the low-intensity civil war? In other words, shouldn’t the left be supporting the current policies of the US and British governments regardless of what we thought about the 2003 invasion? Is there any credible alternative?