Ten years on from the US-led invasion what are the prospects for this fractured country and can oil wealth end its misery?
The invasion of
It is striking, for example, that both the invaders and the Iraqi authorities remain coy about the numbers of Iraqis killed in the 'shock and awe' phase and subsequent military operations. In fact, it is not clear whether any real effort has been made to establish the true figures of this, the first of the many gruesome statistics that have marred the past ten years of
The significance of emphasizing this violence is that it was intrinsic to 'Operation Iraqi Freedom', but was also productive of much that followed. It was not simply that military force was used to destroy the apparatus that confronted
It is worth reflecting on what these claims meant and the means used to achieve them.
In retrospect, the three elements of Bush's 'mission' in
Regardless of what Bush and his advisers thought might have been possible in
Even at this stage it was clear that the war in
Some in the administration may have felt that it was also a way of reshaping the
For Blair, as his behaviour so eloquently testified, the chief purpose was that
This was accompanied by a good deal of moralizing about the spirit of freedom, the need to bring democracy to the Iraqi people, as well as the virtues of a liberal order and a liberal economy.
Some of it may have been sincere, but it was also used to denigrate those who had reservations about the morality and legality of a military invasion. More importantly none of it was backed up by any substantial understanding, or even effort to comprehend, what kind of society existed in
Not understanding and then not much liking what they found in
From the start this created a polarized society and, dangerously, a society in which the principal way of expressing one's political position was in the use of force -- unchecked after the dissolution of all branches of
The Iraqis tried to piece together their lives in the absence of a functioning state, exposed to the violence that came at them from all sides: from the forces of occupation; from the entrepreneurs whom the occupying forces had set up as their partners in ruling
The stage was set for a civil war that cost some tens of thousands of lives before 2008. The polarization of the Iraqi population, American recognition and reward of sectarian, ethnic and tribal identification, as well as the arming of some and the failure to disarm others had created a situation that invited inter-communal conflict.
This was in turn encouraged and exploited by regional powers and forces, alarmed by American ambitions. Far from being cowed, they saw the situation in
Faced by these consequences, the US (by this stage
It also oversaw the rebuilding, under
If one had to reflect on what lessons might be learnt from this catalogue of events one could identify three.
First, if a country is to be invaded and subjected to military occupation, it should be treated as an end in itself, not simply as a means to an end exclusive to the occupying power. This implies, among other things, taking the country, its society, the plural nature of its population and their aspirations seriously, answering to them rather than to a remote home constituency.
Second, the use of violence, whatever its motive, has its own baneful logic. The deeper and more prolonged its use, the more distinctive and disturbing the consequences will be.
Third, it must be assumed that any military intervention will have regional repercussions that will be beyond the control of even the best-planned invasion. This will provide opportunities for those who might not otherwise have dared to confront the power involved on its home ground, but who see the situation created by military occupation as ripe for exploitation.
Whether such lessons will be learnt as new opportunities and illusions present themselves is a moot point. Publicly funded academic analysis of the world is not unreasonably assessed for the impact it may have on public debate and public policy.
However, in the build-up to and in the prosecution of the war in
From the apex of the state, to the most junior public servant and soldier, with some honourable exceptions, the very situation seemed to call forth old epistemologies. They drew on a repertoire based not on contemporary advances in the social sciences or indeed on detailed knowledge of the country, but on the rich traditions of racism, imperial patronage and contempt for 'subject peoples' that echoed the very language of the British Mandate for
This is not encouraging for the idea that lessons learnt in one field of operations will be transmitted to guide behaviour in another.
(1) President's radio address
(2) Toby Dodge Iraq -- From War to a New Authoritarianism (Adelphi 434-435) (
(3) Personal recollection of meeting with
(4) Jonathan Steele Defeat -- why they lost
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(c) 2013 By Joel Brinkley, "Iraq: Three Costly Lessons from the Invasion"