Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has called former Prime Minister Tony Blair "unhinged" for claiming that the current insurgency in Iraq has nothing to do with the West's 2003 invasion.
Johnson is right, of course. But I just wish he'd expressed it a bit more strongly.
Since quitting British politics to ponce around the globe posing as a "peace envoy", Blair has amassed a fortune estimated at £70 million – a good part of it the result of the reputation he earned as an international statesman in his "War on Terror" with George W Bush. If he had a shred of conscience, he'd donate this blood money to the 100,000 or so Iraqis who'd be alive today if it weren't for his misbegotten venture in brainless liberal interventionism.
In the past, he may just have deserved the benefit of the doubt. There was a case to be made, for example, in the aftermath of George W Bush's "surge" that the Allies had indeed left Iraq (and, by extension, the world) in a more stable, safe, peaceful place than it was before Saddam Hussein was deposed.
But that argument no longer holds any credibility. The invasion of Iraq – or more pertinently, the botched aftermath of the invasion of Iraq – must now rank high among the West's most disastrous foreign policy errors this century.
What's astonishing – if entirely typical of the man's weapons-grade chutzpah – is that instead of admitting this, Blair has sniffed in the latest Iraqi chaos an opportunity to put himself back on the world stage and tout for more business. The current bloody insurgency in Iraq, he has had the gall to tell us in the course of a 2,500 word apologia on his website, just goes to show how right he is about the vital importance of Western intervention.
Here are some reasons why the man just couldn't be more wrong.
"Three or four years ago Al Qaeda in Iraq was a beaten force." Not true. That's not how insidious, nebulous terror groups operate. It was just biding its time. And let's not forget that, until Saddam was deposed, Al Qaeda didn't even have a foothold in Iraq. Saddam's security would never have allowed it.
"And there will be debate about whether the withdrawal of US troops happened too soon." So how, long, exactly was the US supposed to go on expending blood and treasure in this Middle Eastern hellhole? As General Sir Michael Rose notes in the Mail, the cost to the US taxpayer was $800 billion and the cost to American families some 4,500 US dead. Is Tony Blair not aware that massive government deficit spending was tested to destruction during his period as prime minister and that the West is now broke?
"Is it likely that, knowing what we now know about Assad, Saddam, who had used chemical weapons against both the Iranians in the 1980s war that resulted in over 1m casualties and against his own people, would have refrained from returning to his old ways?" Ah. The even-though-I-was-wrong-I-was-right, gambit. No, Tony. There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction. That was just a handy excuse you cooked up with mates like Alastair Campbell, remember?
"Is it seriously being said that the revolution sweeping the Arab world would have hit Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, to say nothing of the smaller upheavals all over the region, but miraculously Iraq, under the most brutal and tyrannical of all the regimes, would have been an oasis of calm?" I see what you're doing here. You're trying to make out that the Arab Spring would have swept Saddam from power regardless – and that therefore, even without your 2003 invasion, Iraq would still probably be in as deep a mess as it's in right now. This won't wash. The Arab Spring only happened as a consequence of the Iraq invasion as the oppressed peoples of other Middle Eastern and North African countries felt emboldened to take a pop at their own tyrannical regimes. And it was at least as much an anti-Western move as a pro-liberty one: many of the regimes deposed were those of pro-Western strongmen whose autocratic methods kept Islamism at bay.
"We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this." Do we? Then how are we ever going to learn the lesson of our mistakes? I'll freely admit that I supported the 2003 Iraq invasion and that I now think I was wrong. I did so in the good faith that, once the military operation had been conducted successfully, concerted measures would be taken to bring stability – and, eventually, prosperity – to the region, as the Allies managed with Germany, Italy and Japan after the Second World War. But such was the sublime arrogance which prevailed in both the Bush and Blair administrations, no plans were made for this. Instead, the occupation administration of Paul Bremer actually made things worse by a) sacking from public office any members of the Ba'ath party – the only people with the administrative skills to run the country and b) disbanding the Iraqi army, depriving Iraq of security and creating a ready-made insurgency of frustrated, unemployed men with military training and the knowledge of the whereabouts of arms caches.
This is a generation long struggle. It is not a ‘war’ which you win or lose in some clear and clean-cut way. There is no easy or painless solution. Maybe so. But surely the first principle of any Western intervention ought to be: "Can we reasonably sure that we're going to do more good than harm." Events since Iraq have shown the answer to that question is a resounding "No." That counts as a clear lose.
"A return to the past for the Middle East is neither right nor feasible." Don't you try to lecture us with that messianic glint in your eye on what you think is "right", Tony. In 1999, in a speech in Chicago, you launched what became known as the "Blair doctrine", launching a new wave of liberal interventionism from Kosovo and Sierra Leone to Iraq and Afghanistan. You quoted Bismarck:
Bismarck famously said the Balkans were not worth the bones of one Pomeranian Grenadier. Anyone who has seen the tear stained faces of the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming across the border, heard their heart-rending tales of cruelty or contemplated the unknown fates of those left behind, knows that Bismarck was wrong.
No, Tony. What we now know – and indeed, what ought to have been clear at the time – is that you were talking out of your hat. Bismarck, in this instance at least, was absolutely right. If you are going to squander your nation's blood and treasure, your most sacred duty is to ensure first that your own people benefit from their sacrifice. There is little, if any evidence, that this has been the case. What do we have to show for the billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives and limbs lost in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere? The Middle East is as chaotic as it ever was; the West is probably more resented; the financial payback has been non-existent; the world is clearly not a safer place. Back under your rock, Blair.