Tony Blair, the narcissist and closet Thatcherite who has made the seamless transition to a repressive Conservative government that continues its onslaught on the welfare state unabated palatable, has issued a non-apology apology on the small matter of the Iraq War.
The West and self-appointed commanders-in-chief in the US and the UK are experts at such apologies. The greatest hits include colonisation, slavery, discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, and sexuality, Western evangelism and fundamentalism -- religious and socio-political -- outright bigotry, and contemporary imperialism at any cost.
Blair has taken a leaf out of this book, a pre-emptive response to the Chilcot inquiry findings. Pre-emptive, of course, was the key word in his American friend’s Bush Doctrine for the use of military force on supposedly antagonistic nations, instead of waiting for a declaration of war.
Over six years in the making, the inquiry was set up to investigate Britain’s role in the Iraq War, with an assurance from the then prime minister Gordon Brown that it would take a year. The cynical view, which, as Blair would have it, has an element of truth: The inquiry was announced on June 15, 2009, less than year before a general election, which the incumbent New Labour government was heading into as hugely unpopular, with the Iraq War a significant reason.
The Conservative-led coalition government that took office after victory on May 6, 2010 was only too happy to accommodate delays because, disavowing lessons about how ineffectual military intervention was, it wanted to deploy combatants somewhere. The Chilcot report could be unconducive to this, could set a precedent that made it difficult.
Public sentiment -- counting for nothing during the New Labour days, as evidenced by the millions, dwindling to dozens, opposing the Iraq War before, during and after being completely disregarded -- at the very least would be against military action. A coalition government could ill afford taking that risk.
The war rhetoric was amped up throughout 2013, particularly after the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in May, to pave the way for a parliamentary vote on military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The government motion in August was defeated, depriving David Cameron of his “Great Saviour” moment. In 2015, the coalition is a thing of the past as the Conservatives successfully hugged the Liberal Democrats to death. ISIS is the new face of evil, as al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were before.
Military intervention is back on the agenda. The average voter does not have time for nuance, so the thinking goes, and the Chilcot report would damn one part of the opposition Labour for the party’s role in bringing about the Iraq War, while the other part would be accused of being a threat to national security for standing in the way of crushing the great evil. Marty McFly has played a cruel joke on British politics, and it is 2003 again.
Once a last resort in terms of unilateral policy, military intervention has become the weapon of choice for Western governments. The slide to the right of the political spectrum over the years has seen it championed, a product of the adoption of realist principles. The realist approach advocates that, left to its own devices, the world system would collapse into anarchy and chaos, but the use of a strong, state-legitimised military would keep this in check.
Most realists readily misrepresent Carl von Clausewitz, whose work, On War, promotes military use as an extension of political means such as diplomacy and peace-building. Thus, war, death, and destruction are made a moral right for the self-proclaimed defenders of the world, the West, in the interest of peace -- “peace-building” and “peace-keeping” are common euphemisms for disproportional and unconscionable military action, a divine right granted to the powerful.
Furthermore, this actively ignores the fact that conflicts are born out of multiple intersecting circumstances, each of which need to be dealt with individually, and conveniently ignores the West’s culpability in giving rise to the threats it seeks to extinguish. The irony of military action being partly or wholly responsible for what it seeks to rectify with military action is lost on the West.
The Gulf War, which started as a US-led coalition’s intervention in an ongoing conflict between Kuwait and Iraq; the Somalian Civil War, following the failure to become involved in the attempt to stop the Rwandan genocide; authorised missile strikes in Libya; drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria; and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, are a few of the myriad examples of ill-thought military interventions that failed. Blair, who launched more such interventions than any British prime minister on record, will claim the UK-led NATO involvement in the Kosovo War a victory for the principle.
The actual human cost -- over 5,700 civilians were collateral damage -- as well as the ongoing political tensions in the region, mean that this was far from a success. The US has been the most visible in the use of military intervention in foreign policy. Its sole success remains the tenuous rebuilding of Vietnam into a functioning country in peacetime, an intervention and war from which the US withdrew fully before fulfilling its vague objectives.
Failures are not limited to the West. Indian interventionism at the behest of the then Maharaja of Kashmir in 1948 gave birth to what remains the world’s most militarised region.
Military intervention is regularly touted as the only justifiable means to end conflict, despite its regular failure to achieve any kind of peaceful end or stability. The biggest military powers spend up to 10% of their GDP annually on the military, while expenditure on diplomatic missions and foreign aid each accounts for less than 1% of the average budget.
Not only is the military budget much larger than the diplomatic and foreign aid counterparts, it is also spread between fewer areas of operation. The cynical view: Spending money makes money, and war is peace. War prints money for those in power, so dress it up as being humanitarian to avoid official declarations of war, and intervene militarily without accountability, for peace. Issue non-apology apologies to preserve present-day imperialism when needed.