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Oct 30 2006

Rewriting the history of the Iraq war-The British take the lead

It seems to be clear even to some formerly pro-war agitators that there is no good outcome that can emerge from the Iraq war. The US military presence in that country is not able to fend off the insurgency against it and stop the spiral into violence. In fact, it is now becoming clear that the US presence is actually accelerating the process. The only question that seems to remain is whether the US withdraws from that country in a dignified way, seemingly voluntarily, or whether the withdrawal is a humiliating one, with US troops forced out by a motley combination of irregular forces.

The surest sign that the current US policy in Iraq is a failure is the repositioning of its most ardent advocates. They are beginning to carefully distance themselves from the very thing they once were cheerleaders for, trying to make sure that the inevitable collapse is not laid at their feet.

This process is more advanced and apparent in England. The British Army’s chief of staff has come right out and called for the withdrawal ‘soon’ of all British troops in Iraq, saying that being there is only making things worse.

The chief of the British Army has called for a pullout of British troops from Iraq “sometime soon” and said that post-invasion planning for that war was “poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning.”

Gen. Richard Dannatt told London’s Daily Mail newspaper that he had “more optimism” that “we can get it right in Afghanistan.”

Dannatt said that Britain’s continued presence in Iraq had made the country less secure.
Britain should “get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates security problems,” he told the newspaper in an interview published Thursday.

Although this was a deliberate slap at his boss Tony Blair, the British prime minister’s authority has been so eroded by this war that rather than reprimand the general for publicly undermining him, he had no choice but to agree, while trying to put the best face on Dannatt’s words. Tony Blair, like George Bush, has to have realized that the only thing left for him personally is to wait out the time until he leaves office and leave it to his successor to try and salvage something out of the wreckage that he and Bush have created.

Lord Guthrie, a former British defense chief of staff and described as Tony Blair’s ‘most trusted military commander’ stuck the knife in him even further, charging that even the planners for the invasion of Afghanistan were “cuckoo”. He said:

Anyone who thought this was going to be a picnic in Afghanistan – anyone who had read any history, anyone who knew the Afghans, or had seen the terrain, anyone who had thought about the Taliban resurgence, anyone who understood what was going on across the border in Baluchistan and Waziristan [should have known] – to launch the British army in with the numbers there are, while we’re still going on in Iraq is cuckoo

Some pro-war voices in Britain have begun to distance themselves from blame by saying that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were good ideas and could have been successful but were botched by the ham-handedness of the American implementation. But Matthew Parris writing in The Times of London says that this convenient scape-goating of the US is wrong headed and that the wars themselves, hatched by the neoconservatives (both in the US and England), were wrong in principle and doomed to failure from the beginning.

It is no small thing to find oneself on the wrong side of an argument when the debate is about the biggest disaster in British foreign policy since Suez; no small thing to have handed Iran a final, undreamt-of victory in an Iran-Iraq war that we thought had ended in the 1980s; no small thing to have lost Britain her credit in half the world; no small thing — in the name of Atlanticism — to have shackled our own good name to a doomed US presidency and crazed foreign-policy adventure that the next political generation in America will remember only with an embarrassed shudder.
. . .
The strategy failed because of one big, bad idea at its very root. Your idea that we kick the door in. Everything has flowed from that.

We were not invited. We had no mandate. There were no “good” Iraqis to hand over to. We had nothing to latch on to, no legitimacy. It wasn’t a question of being tactful, respectful, munificent, or handing sweets to children. We were impostors, and that is all.
. . .
The former hawks of press and politics now scramble for the status of visionaries let down by functionaries. This is a lifeboat that will not float. Let these visionaries understand that occupation is always brutal and usually resisted; that occupying armies are always tactless, sometimes abusive and usually boneheaded; that in the argument between hands-on and hands-off you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t; and that the first, original and central cause of the Iraq fiasco was not the bad manners of this or that poor, half-educated squaddie from Missouri, nor the finer points of this or that State Department doctrine of neocolonial administration.

The reason for failure was not the post-invasion strategy. It was the strategy of invasion. Blame the vision, not the execution.

The process of rewriting history that Parris describes as being attempted in Britain is also being attempted in the US. The fact that even war supporters here have realized that the war has been a colossal blunder with no good end in sight can be seen in the way that the various players are now retreating from formerly held positions of cheery optimism and are now carefully trying to rewrite history to make sure the blame does not fall on them.

Next: Attempting to rewrite history in the US.

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