Was it really such a bad idea to deprive Saddam of the power that Putin is now using to threaten us?
In Two Cheers for Sir Tony, I revealed myself as a lonely, and rather reluctant champion of Tony Blair’s decision to join ‘Dubya’ in invading Iraq. My argument was (and is) that it didn’t really matter whether Saddam had operational nuclear weapons, since the point of such weaponry is not to use it, but to deter others from interfering with all the naughty stuff you are getting up to. All that matters, then, is that you persuade your adversaries that you just might have some frightful stuff in your armoury (and far too little attention was given to bio-chemical weaponry, of which Saddam Hussein was indisputably not only a possessor, but a past user), and hey presto, you can terrorise your neighbourhood with impunity. I thought we had enough of those sorts of people in the world already, and I was content to see force used to rid us of another.
For reasons that still elude me, Blair and Bush (although not our own John Howard) seem to have thought this was too nuanced an argument to run past their respective electorates, and instead came up with all that twaddle about four-minute warnings. And then screwed up the invasion by running it as a sort of Hollywood plot, with goodies and baddies – the baddies being the members of the Baath party – that is, anyone who had any position of responsibility in pre-war Iraq, and therefore knew how to make the place run. So I’m perfectly happy to see Sir Tony, as he now is, excoriated for the way he fought to the war, but not for his decision to declare it.
Anyone who doesn’t grasp the baleful consequences of allowing a man like Saddam even to pose as the possessor of weapons of mass destruction should pay close attention to the psychodrama being played out in the Ukraine war.
With the battle for Kherson brewing up, and the fear that has haunted the world since Putin’s invasion intensifying, that if things got really bad for Russia, he would resort to nukes, we are being given an unwelcome opportunity to see how a bad man exercises the power I didn’t want to see Saddam Hussein acquiring. With France’s Macron dishonourably leading the way, and elements of America’s Republicans not far behind, the talk of ‘negotiated peace’ is under way – by which is meant letting Putin keep Crimea, or even more of what he has grabbed by naked aggression.
Since 1945, or at least since 1962, there has been an uneasy consensus among the world’s superpowers that nuclear weapons were totems of deterrence and not, in effect, battlefield weapons at all. We now have the spectacle of a fading, failing superpower, resentful of its decline, attempting to reverse that consensus by threatening to use its inherited stockpile of nukes for precisely that purpose.
The acquisition of nukes by non-superpowers like Israel and Pakistan (which would appear to prefer spending its money on threatening its neighbours than on protecting its citizens from its climate) has been viewed, rightly, with great apprehension. Neither of these powers, however, has to my knowledge demonstrated a willingness to use WMD on the battlefield. Saddam’s Iraq, on the other hand, had made repeated use of chemical weapons, both in the wars against Iran and in suppressing its own dissident minorities. His ambition to acquire nuclear weapons was never in dispute – the critics of Blair and Bush rest their case entirely on the fact that those ambitions were not sufficiently far advanced as to create a real and present threat – a fact only revealed after, and as a consequence of Iraq’s invasion, which was preceded by innumerable threats and UN resolutions, all of which Saddam had flouted. Was it really such a bad idea to conduct that invasion, and to put the matter beyond doubt?