Bush and Blair were handed an opportunity to partially extricate themselves from the horror which is Iraq by the Iraq Study Group (ISG). Instead, they pretty much dismissed the report (.pdf) and went back to the same tired old rhetoric and still talked of “victory” in Iraq, thus guaranteeing that the carnage will continue. To be fair, the carnage is likely to continue whatever Bush and Blair decide, but now it will probably continue with British and American troops remaining and without Iranian and Syrian help to end it.
Tony Blair’s trip to Washington was heralded as an attempt by him to exert his considerable influence on George Bush and persuade him to accept the main recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (a phased withdrawal of troops and talking to Iran and Syria) and to win support for ending the Palestinian crisis. Predictably, nothing of the sort occurred. The patronising way in which these two leaders praised the ISG and then announced how they intend to cherry pick the bits they like from what is meant to be a comprehensive package is depressing for all those concerned about the situation in the Middle East. That this was going to happen was obvious to anyone who watched the unenthusiastic way Bush greeted the release of the stinging findings of the ISG report. And it is no surprise that the ISG report would be a damning indictment of Bush’s Iraq policy. James Baker gave very clear reasons for not invading Iraq after the first Gulf war, and they are the same reasons why the 2003 invasion was doomed to fail.
For years, the question I was most often asked about Desert Storm is why we did not remove Saddam Hussein from power. [The answer is that] A coalition war to liberate Kuwait could then have been portrayed as a US war of conquest. Furthermore, even if Saddam were captured and his regime toppled, American forces would still have been confronted with the spectre of a military occupation of indefinite duration to pacify a country and sustain a new government in power. The ensuing urban warfare would surely have resulted in more casualties to American GIs than the war itself, thus creating a political firestorm at home.
And as much as Saddam’s neighbours wanted to see him gone, they feared Iraq would fragment in unpredictable ways that would play into the hands of the mullahs in Iran, who could export their brand of Islamic fundamentalism with the help of Iraq’s Shias and quickly transform themselves into a dominant regional power.
Finally, the Security Council resolution under which we were operating authorised us to use force only to kick Iraq out of Kuwait, nothing more. As events have amply demonstrated, these concerns were valid. I am no longer asked why we did not remove Saddam in 1991!
Blair’s support for talks with Iran and Syria were undermined by Bush’s refusal to contemplate such action. Blair has however been given permission to return to the Middle East to try again to achieve a peace deal without having anything to offer. American support is luke warm though, and Israel’s support is, of course, non existent. So we can see the beginnings of a split between London and Washington on how to deal with the Iraq crisis. Unfortunately it seems that Blair will go along with whatever Bush decides as usual despite his own feelings. So much for influence.
One amusing moment from the joint press conference is reported by the Daily Mirror. Bush was visibly annoyed by the very good questions put to him and the Prime Minister by the BBC’s Nick Robinson.
One explanation for Mr Bush’s ill-humour is a perceived lack of courtesy from British journalists at the press conference.
He looked disgusted when the Brits failed to follow the US press corps by standing as the two leaders entered the room.
He later accused the UK contingent of being disrespectful to Mr Blair, when one tried to ask him a supplementary question.
Turning to the PM, he shouted out: “This is a total violation, the press corps are calling you down, man.
“It’s the Prime Minister!”
Tony Blair is already back in Britain and has moved to stifle any possible debate in Parliament on the findings of the ISG report. If we needed any further evidence as to how morally and politically bankrupt Blair is, this refusal to discuss the report is it.