The silence of the wolves

The tenth anniversary of the second Iraq War being upon us, there is naturally lots of commentary and coal-raking. Some of this involves re-writing of history.  For example, many of those who participated in the February 2003 demonstrations against the war seem to have forgotten that, in Britain, they were not able to convince a majority of MPs to vote against the House of Commons resolution supporting invasion, as Norm rightly notes.  However,  many then on the other side too seem to have forgotten something:  that the leaders of the West – President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Prime Ministers Blair and Howard – had to be dragged by the public, kicking and screaming and much against their will, to explain their decision to invade Iraq to their own citizens.
World-wide demonstrations against the war took place on Saturday 15 February 2003.    Only on that day itself did Tony Blair, in a speech in Glasgow, first present in public his arguments in favour of military action.   Only on 25 February 2003 – ten days after those massive street protests – did Tony Blair finally agree to a House of Commons debate on the issue.  Donald Rumsfeld was not able or not willing to provide a convincing justification to even the Foreign Minister of Germany, Joschka Fischer (“You have to make the case!”, Fischer said to Rumsfeld, in English, in the midst of  a speech in German, in public, at a security conference in Munich, 9 February 2003, video here.)  And most notoriously of all, the Australian Senate, for the first and only time in its (then) 102-year history passed on 5 February 2003 a censure motion against the Government and a vote  of no confidence in the Prime Minister John Howard, for their failure to provide any case at all for the Government’s support of the invasion.
Yet we now know that the decision by the Bush administration to invade Iraq had most probably been made by August 2002, and the question of invasion had been the focus of intense and loud public argument in every house and pub and office in the western world for at least three months.  The silence of our leaders was so noticeable that, at the time, I speculated whether there were other good reasons for that silence, beside cowardice or malfeasance (blog post of 2003-02-14).  We still don’t know for certain why no decision-maker would make their case public, but I suspect now it was because the case was built on decision-making about potential events with small probabilities but with catastrophic consequences:  IF Saddam Hussein acquired  weapons of mass destruction AND IF he used them against the West, the results would be far worse than even 9/11.    Although the probabilities of these conditions being true were judged to be very small, the consequences of them being true would be so serious that the conditions had to be precluded from happening, at all costs.  This, to me, would have been a compelling argument, had it ever been made in public.
Now our press carry stories of Tony Blair saying he had “long since given up trying to persuade people it was the right decision.”   For goodness sake, he hardly even tried!   Here is Andrew Rawnsley writing in The Observer on 14 September 2003:

Mr Blair is being punished not because he did the wrong thing, but because he went about it the wrong way. The Prime Minister didn’t trust the British people to follow the moral argument for dealing with Saddam. This mistrust in them they now reciprocate back to him.  For that, Tony Blair has only himself to blame.”

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