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Saturday, November 11, 2006
The importance of judgement
Yesterday, I blogged about Kenneth Adelman’s entirely plausible suggestion that the Iraq imbroglio is all Tony Bliar’s fault. However, there is another, much more important aspect of Bliar’s involvement. I have been meaning to put it to you, Mrs Trellis, my beloved only reader, for more than a year. I regret not having put mouse to pad long ago but I can no longer pass up the opportunity, even though some other, more highly-motivated, observers may get/have got there first.
There is, of course, a fundamental point about Blair’s involvement; he seems to be obsessed with his legacy as Prime Minister. Since he came to power in 1997, his government did some good things: establishing the Monetary Policy Committee and giving the Bank of England a measure of independence, for a start. There have been some adverse, unforeseen events, principally the Foot & Mouth Disease outbreak, costing the country dearly. Because of really shitty advice from the National Farmers’ Union, the disease ravaged cattle stocks. It’s all a matter of to whom you listen…
One inevitably compares Blair’s reign with that of Margaret Thatcher. She is perhaps best-remembered for the disastrous poll tax and for the Falklands war, the latter a big positive for her, despite her near invitation (weakening the Falklands garrison) to the Argentines to invade. Blair had his little successful wars (Sierra Leone and Kosovo) but nothing on the scale and importance of The Falklands. Was he, perhaps, looking for something to rank alongside, or even surpass, The Falklands?
In the annals (anals, dare I say?) of Britain’s military adventures after WWII, Suez stands out as a frightful misjudgement, on a par with Iraq. Given that we have just had the fiftieth anniversary of Suez, there has been a great deal of discussion about the similarities between Suez and Iraq. There were important consequences of Suez which, curiously enough, may have influenced Bliar, almost subliminally, in his course.
Here’s a quick Suez summary: Gamel Abdel Nasser came to power in Egypt and nationalised the Suez Canal in 1956. Anthony Eden, Britain’s PM, saw Nasser as an Arab Hitler (we seem to have heard the same facile comparison between Saddam Hussein and Hitler, haven’t we?) and concocted a plot to regain control of the Canal.
Israel invaded Egypt and, under the pretext of making sure that the Canal was kept safe for international shipping, while the Israelis were still very far away, a joint British-French force also invaded. The two armies fought their way down the Canal and had it virtually under control when Dwight D. Eisenhower, the US president, took a hand.
[Incidentally, I don’t know who the ideologue behind the Suez project was, but two of the very secret meetings to arrange the invasion took place at Chequers (the PM’s country home) and at Sevres, in France].
Eisenhower threatened Eden with a run on the pound unless British forces withdrew. Eden was forced to concede - the pound was in a fragile state at the time and he could not risk continuing. The immediate net effect was far worse than having left Nasser to get on with things, without interfering. The French and the British learnt different lessons from the intervention from the US.
Both the British and French governments concluded that, under the prevailing circumstances, very little could be done in the World without US agreement. However, at the detailed level, this analysis caused France and Britain to react very differently: France decided that the US wasn’t to be trusted and adopted a more independent foreign policy; Britain, on the other hand, decided to link its foreign policy to that of the US. This, then, perhaps accounts for Britain’s idiotic involvement in Iraq.
The defence of The Falklands only just survived US opposition (see Josh February 12th 2003 “Good Intelligence” and August 6th 2004 “Telling All”)* and Margaret Thatcher had her dramatic victory in a popular war. Bliar must have thought (correctly) that, if all went well, a successful democratisation of Iraq would have been popular in this country. To have achieved it in conjunction with the US would have been a big plus. However, it didn’t work like that; it was a very high risk strategy that has buggered his legacy beyond all repair.
This brings us to the nub: it’s all a matter of judgement. If one is going to war, one has to do it only because there is no alternative and/or because there is a very high chance of success; that means political, as well as military, success.
Good judgement is a prerequisite in a PM and Blair lacks it. His massive mistake cannot be undone; you cannot undo a war and Iraq is indubitably a worse place now than it was under Saddam Hussein, even given that he was a evil gangster/dictator. There is intermittent electrical power, there’s reduced fuel output, and unemployment is rife. This is besides the terrible internecine sectarian and random killings. The plight of women is dire now that the religious nuts have got so much influence on how people behave. Under Saddam, Iraq was a secular state; now it’s well on the way to becoming, in large part, a fundamentalist Islamic one: a new Taliban-Afghanistan, if you will. (And pissing about with Iraq has ruined Afghanistan, by taking the eye off the ball, too.)
The Poll Tax was Margaret Thatcher’s big mistake but it was relatively easily undone, even though she clung to it for far too long. Blair can’t do much now. Following on from yesterday’s clear attempt by Kenneth Adelman to blame Bliar for the mess in Iraq, it has just been announced that Blair is to be involved in the Washington enquiry about what to do next in Iraq. Is this to make him the fall-guy for Bush, I wonder? Or will he be able to persuade the US to do something sensible about Iraq, besides sacking Rumsfeld. The problem is, of course, that I wouldn’t start from here…
* In reading these earlier blogs, please take careful note that Josh is a trainee ironist. [Ed.]
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