Alex Massie Alex Massie

Syria is not Iraq (but at least the Iraq War had a clear objective)

A decade ago, I was sure that going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do. I persisted in that belief for a long time too, well beyond the point at which most supporters of the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power had recanted their past enthusiasm.

The link between 9/11 and Iraq was quite apparent. Not because (despite what some mistaken people insisted) Saddam had any involvement in the atrocity but because removing tyrants and dictators seemed the best way of spreading the pacifying forces of commerce and democracy that might, in time, render Islamist extremism and terrorism obsolete.

Why Iraq? Because it was there and because it could be done. Besides, there was unfinished business. Not just from 1991 but from 1998 and Operation Desert Fox as well. And, also, because it seemed obvious that sanctions were not working, that the sanctions regime would collapse and that Saddam would soon, if nothing was done, escape the “box” in which he was said to be confined. And who knew what would happen then? Inaction has consequences too.

There were other arguments as well. I was at the United Nations to see Colin Powell’s presentation on Iraq’s weapons programmes. Powell made a powerful case that something had to be done to challenge Saddam. I wasn’t alone in thinking that; diplomats from many countries, including plenty from nations with no immediate stake in the conflict, agreed.

A decade later that all seems hopelessly optimistic. Worse than that, naive. Nevertheless, that was where we were and what I believed. The arguments in favour of doing something were strong and compelling. Millions of people agreed, some reluctantly, others enthusiastically.

And there was something else too, something which gave the argument greater urgency: this was to be the great cause of our time, the great project that justified the expenditure of blood and gold in pursuit of a noble, historic, objective.

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