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The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party in Iraq was efficient, cheap and low in civilian and troop casualties. The substantive period of state-on-state combat lasted barely four weeks, after which Saddam’s regime was a memory, a relic of rusted blood buried in used time. Thereafter, the Western coalition began to make significant errors of judgement, occupying the country with insufficient numbers and failing to put in place a replacement security infrastructure. In time, this led to a wave of popular unrest and eventually a civil war between Sunni, Shia and Kurd, the after-effects of which are still felt today.
As you’ll be aware, it is mainly the post-war campaign that people recall these days when asked about Iraq, not the war itself. Indeed, so intensely is this period recalled that the word ‘Iraq’ has become synonymous with an unwinnable morass, a military sinkhole, a moral and ideological quagmire. This is unfair for reasons that are self-evident – the war itself was well-executed and worthwhile – as well as for more complex reasons. Chief among the latter is the fact that the ‘quagmire’ Iraq became was due to Islamic terrorism, and that the majority of people killed by the US military in that period were people worth killing, and would have been even if Saddam had never existed.
Little can be done now to alter the public misperception of that campaign. It is part of history, and can only debated on history’s terms. However the lingering after-effects of the misperception – the so-called ‘Iraq Syndrome’ – must be fought and overturned with urgency.
In case you’re unaware, the Iraq Syndrome refers to the belief, now dominant among the peoples of the West, that since the campaign in Iraq was so ‘disastrous’, all future interventions are thereby doomed to the same result. This delusion is damaging, illogical and at its greatest possibility, castrating. It has tamed the West, effeminised it and blunted its military edge at a time in history when such advantages are essential.
Though I respect the deviation of my fellows on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program (and on Iran more generally), I must here reemphasise my disagreement. The Iranian menace is bigger, more toxic and more potentially history-changing than anything Saddam’s ramshackle regime was capable of.
Iran is a heavily populated, resource-rich and strategically positioned power with a standing military of over one million personnel (as well as millions more in paramilitary projects and reserves). Politically, it has tentacles reaching across the Middle East. It is the sponsor of Hezbollah, perhaps the greatest terror threat to Israel in modern times. It funds Hamas, a close second in the same contest. It is itself an undemocratic theocracy, whose clerical executives dream cheerily of the apocalypse and wish to bring it closer. It is the inventor and pioneer of modern political Islam. It is also a chauvinistic and racist state riddled with the most base forms of political and religious anti-Semitism.
If we allow this state to develop a nuclear weapon, we will light the touch-paper of World War 3. All we need do to avert this is to carry out a bombing campaign. Regime change, while desirable is unnecessary for the moment. The nuclear facilities must be flattened, just as happened to Syria’s reactor and to Iraq’s reactor before it. Neither the Syrian nor the Iraqi operation led to all-out war. I don’t believe the bombing of Iran will lead to war either.
But even if it did, that would make for an honest confrontation between the forces of good and those of evil. The Iraq Syndrome is cowardice in disguise. We can win through if we redevelop our self-belief.