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Stirling Newberry: The Queen and the Soldier

The Queen and the Soldier

By Stirling Newberry
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Sunday 19 June 2005

The soldier came knocking upon the queen's door
He said, "I am not fighting for you any more"
The queen knew she'd seen his face someplace before
And slowly she let him inside.

"The Queen and the Soldier," by Suzanne Vega

To paraphrase the inimitable Suzy V: America has swallowed a secret burning thread, it cuts us inside and often we've bled. With the release of a defense memo from March of 2002 as part of the "Downing Street Memos," it is clear that the desire to remove Saddam's despotism was used as the lever to pursue an ill-conceived, ill-advised and ill-considered strategy of "regime change" that was destined to place in charge a government that was led either by a "Sunni strong man" or a representative government loaded with "Western stooges."

The memos smash the final bricks of the wall of excuses that has separated people from the truth about why Iraq was invaded. Iraq was invaded because Saddam was an irritant, and both Bush and Blair felt that they had a free hand. In pursuit of this, a PR campaign was manufactured to underline that the war was about how atrocious Saddam was, and to create out of whole cloth a WMD threat that did not exist.

That these were excuses can be seen from the memos themselves: there is not one word on how to use international law to remove Saddam. There is not one word on how to deal with the reconstruction, merely a hope for Blair to ask Bush for "answers." The entirety of the planning consisted of planning to go to war, agreeing to manufacture excuses for war, and creating a cloak needed to launch the war. While there were earnest genuflections made in the direction of improving the humanitarian situation, the "Iraq Options Memo" makes it clear that the troubles in Iraq were viewed primarily for their PR value.

It should be clear that who is to act is as important as the action. While it was possible in some hypothetical world, with some hypothetical American President, and some hypothetical British Prime Minister, with some hypothetical public, to have replaced Saddam in a way that would have led to fulfillment of the "rosy" predictions and a stronger UN Security Council - the memos make clear that that hypothetical world is not the one we live in, that that hypothetical President was not in power in March of 2002.

The contrast between that world and this one is made manifestly clear by the language and steps proposed in the Iraq Options Memo. A lawful removal of Saddam would have rested on securing a War Crimes or Crimes Against Humanity indictment, securing a Rule 61 hearing from the United Nations Security Council to make that indictment binding on member states, and a plan for nation building. The possibility of doing this was not even on the radar - it wasn't even thought of. Assassination was, but not arrest. Legality was not an option.

Those who are against all wars at any time needed no convincing, and those who looked carefully at the military and geopolitical situation knew that Iraq was a gross blunder of strategy. But a large number of people convinced themselves that because Saddam ruled over an atrocious police state, they therefore did not need to consider who was being given a blank check to rewrite the rules of diplomacy and legitimacy.

It is a failure that will hammer upon us. It is not only what, but who and how, that must be answered, even from the hardest of hard perspectives. The humanitarian argument is only a legitimate one, if humanitarianism motivates those who will carry it out. For those who believe that the military instrument can be used to produce desirable outcomes, such as removing dictatorial regimes, there is a burden of proof, namely that those ends are attainable in fact, and not merely desired in fantasy.

He said, "I've watched your palace up here on the hill
And I've wondered who's the woman for whom we all kill
But I am leaving tomorrow and you can do what you will
Only first I am asking you why."

The wide gap between the cause that people are told they will fight for, and that which they are actually fighting for, has often been very wide indeed. Iraq is an example where the stated causes and the actual causes are at such variance that it is not difficult to see why the rosy picture painted before the invasion has not occurred. The British were hoping for an Iraq that was reintegrated into the international order, without WMD. Even the memo writer of Iraq options admitted that these two goals were contradictory: a representative Iraq, caught between a hostile and WMD-armed Iran, and an inimical and WMD-armed Israel might well seek WMD. As might any other "end state" government in Iraq. The goals of representative government, international integration and WMD negative status fail in Iran, which is not fully integrated, has WMD, but does have a regime which is at least nominally representative. Why should a different outcome in Iraq have been expected? The goals of representative, WMD-negative, and integrated into the international order fail with respect to Pakistan, why should a representative Iraq have less desire to secure itself than Pakistan?

The young queen, she fixed him with an arrogant eye
She said, "You won't understand, and you may as well not try"

Instead of being forthcoming about the goals and objectives of Iraq and allowing the public to decide, they hit upon a different plan: an elaborate charade was to be concocted, one that was misleading even if one believed that Saddam's regime was "dirty." The WMD threat was merely an excuse, because the threat was no different in 2002 than it had been for some time. Treating the public like children who did not have the right to know what was being decided and why, Tony Blair's advisors focused only on how to get public acceptance for a policy already decided on for other reasons. The reality is that even the British were deceived, and their memos show it. A legitimate attempt to overthrow Saddam, prevent his using WMD in a last ditch attempt to preserve his regime, and replace him with a representative government would have required more troops, more bombing in advance, and more investment lined up for the post-war situation than the war planning contemplated. In the end, the government of Tony Blair conceded on every single caveat that even their hawks wanted. The most painful conclusion of the released Downing Street Memos is not that the war was a sham, nor that it was manufactured by excuses and distortions - the proof for these was evident - but that one must believe that the government of the UK was willing to abandon every principle of statecraft that it enunciated in its own memos. Either there was a complete and reckless willingness to follow the US regardless - with fewer troops, a smaller coalition, no nation building strategy, and no clear end state - or one must conclude that over the months of planning the Blair government found out that the regime of Saddam Hussein was less well armed than they had supposed, and therefore even further from being a threat, and closer to being toppled by other means.

In the end, it was the people who thought themselves sensible who consented to this war, and it is against the standard of being sensible that the war policy must be judged. From the sensible views of a hawkish insider, two points become clear. First, any thoughts of real Democracy or improvement in Iraq were subsidiary to the objective of getting Iraq's oil on-line again - because that is what "being a member of the international community" means in practice here. Second, the sensible requirements of policy were not implemented, even from the point of view of those absolutely committed to them. Failure was not only an option, it was, under such circumstances, an inevitability. The ways of power politics might be strange, but they are not this strange.

Let us hope that some day, future historians do not read the song as a complete parable for our own age, with the Queen being America, and the soldier being all of us. But we have already reached the point of heartache, and there are not many lines left to be written.


Stirling Newberry is an internet business and strategy consultant, with experience in international telecom, consumer marketing, e-commerce and forensic database analysis. He has acted as an advisor to Democratic political campaigns and organizations and is the the co-founder, along with Christopher Lydon, Jay Rosen and Matt Stoller, of BopNews, as well as being the military affairs editor of The Agonist.

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