Wednesday, 4 October 2006 - 8:56 PM BST
There are three reasons -
1) To take down a terrorist supporter, to frighten the others. It's undeniable that Saddam supported terrorists and gave others sanctuary. What's denied is that he had anything to do with 9-11. Nevertheless a 'war on terror' doesn't have to focus exclusively on 9-11.
2) The credibility of the west with respect to Iraq's disarmament was at stake. Saddam had played games with weapons inspectors for years. By 2003 twelve years had passed since the end of the 1991 war and the west couldn't be totally sure that Iraq was disarmed.
This link gives you some quotes by some surprising sources, who thought Iraq posed a WMD threat:
"What is at stake is how to answer the potential threat Iraq represents with the risk of proliferation of WMD. Baghdad's regime did use such weapons in the past. Today, a number of evidences may lead to think that, over the past four years, in the absence of international inspectors, this country has continued armament programs." -- Jacques Chirac, October 16, 2002
Remember that the west was having to run a no-fly policy in order to prevent Saddam slaughtering his own citizens in the north and south. The point that is often missed here is that it's not important whether we could be sure Iraq had weapons, what mattered was that Hussein acted like he had them. He did this for two reasons - he wanted to scare Iran and Kuwait and he wanted his own generals to think they he had them to prevent them panicking and staging a coup against him [that's in the Duelfer report]. He stated in his own media that Iraq's physicists were 'Our nuclear mujahadeen'.
3) The neo-con grand plan. This is the idea of democratising the middle-east. The view here (and I agree strongly) is that unless you tackle the lack of democracy in the middle-east, everything else you do is doomed. It's not just about hunting Bin Laden - it's about reforming the environment in which people like him grow up to despise the west and gain supprt. Of course there will always be lunatics in the middle east, just as there are lunatics in the west. But they gain greater influence in the middle east because there is a far wider pool of discontent to draw on. I know that you think that Israel is the cause of this discontent, but as that link to the Arab Human Development Report shows (see the Palestine Remembered link above) there is a great deal more wrong.
I believe that America is caught in what might crudely be called 'Manchester United' syndrome. Perhaps it applies better to Chelsea now. Basically it's that whoever is dominant is disliked, regardless of what they do. I've said myself that America has done bad things to the outside world, you don't need to be Chomsky to notice it. But I think that far too many people waste buckets of ink explaining why America is hated by the rest of the world for what it does as the world's superpower, when what non-Americans really object to is the fact that somewhere else is the world's superpower and not them. It's particularly galling for parts of the world that have been superpowers in the past. Look at the anti-American snobbery here in Britain, where comics like Ali G and Daisy Donovan can make a career out of making fools out of Americans for the entertainment of the viewers in Britain. Why aren't they going to Australia or Canada to do this? Answer - because those countries don't matter. There's an extra frisson of one-upmanship in knocking the yanks that doesn't exist in countries with smaller armies and economies.
In Britain this post-imperial bitterness is bad enough, but in the middle east, it goes much further. I showed you the link to the empires of the middle-east before, because I wanted people to see the Caliphate - the empire created by Mohammed. The sense of empire lost and glory faded is compounded by the fact that muslims believe that they have the most up to date world of god. So it is many times worse. They believe that they should be top dog.
So imagine their despair when they learn that they have so much of the world's oil - only to see it squandered on lavish living by their leaders, none of whom they elected. The result is rage.
In the late seventies the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and with western help the Mujahadeen defeated them. This raised the spirits of the most religious fundamentalists. Soon afterwards they saw communism collapse. Whereas the west saw the collapse of communism as a victory for western capitalism, the fundamentalists, still bouyed up by their defeat of the Red Army saw it as the collapse of a man-made secular ideology - with the other one, western capitalism to fall next.
With all this in mind, the neo-con plan is to democratise the region, starting with Iraq, so that the aspirations of the people can be achieved and this rage pacified. Mahmood has already written here that there are hundreds of thousands of arabs living in the west who have achieved personal and professional success. It isn't the people who are the problem. It's the leadership of the arab world that has let them down. Here's a Jordanian prince making the same point! -
The invasion of Iraq was about more than just hitting back. It was about much more than oil. It was about reforming the middle east so that it can be great again. The chief problem is the one that the West can do nothing about - the Shia/Sunni schism. Iraq is one of the only majority Shia arab nations and a lot of Sunnis and Wahabbis don't like that. Furthermore it's neighbours, Syria and Iran (did you notice the Persian empire in that 90-second video too) can see the threat that democracy would bring. In Iran's case the threat isn't just political, it's also religious. The Shia faith was originally founded in Iraq, not Iran and so the Iranians fear a lose of interest and the Iraqi Shia gain freedom and start to organise themselves.
Therefore Iraq's neighbours are furiously funding an insurgency which sadly many in the west think is a reaction against western democracy. As Mahmood has told us, Iraqis DO want genuine democracy.
There is also the national pride element - that many Iraqis dislike foreign occupation. The survey I was talking about made clear that what they fear is that the US will aim to stay there long term in large numbers. Interestingly the polls reveal that if the US were to make a commitment to leaving in about a year to 18 months then support for attacks on Americans would drop in half. Furthermore, there is widespread popular support for the work the US army does in training the Iraqi army and security forces.
My reading is that as long as the coalition gradually hands over control of the country bit by bit, this nationalist hostility will abate. Two provinces have already been given back - Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar. Iraqi forces are in total command there. That's encouraging.
I'm all for the coalition troops leaving as long as the Iraqi goverment says it's time for them to go. The polls don't show a majority of Iraqis wanting an immediate withdrawal.
The tragedy of the current situation is the sectarian slaughter in Baghdad. I hope that doesn't derail the good work that the coalition and the Iraqi government are doing.
The irony is that the poll shows that 61 per cent of those asked thought that the war was worth it. If only 61 per cent of British people felt the same.