Sunday, March 25, 2007

groundhog day

unsourced image via antony loewenstein

Former foreign affairs secretary Michael Costello argues that the “original decision” to invade Iraq in 2003 was “correct”. Indeed, he believes this to be the case “even more firmly than before.” (The Australian, 24 March 2007)

If nothing else, Costello’s piece is an interesting read, drawing upon supporting strands of ‘evidence’ as far back as an unscheduled train journey through eastern Europe in 1917.

But perhaps the longest bow drawn in Costello’s apologia is yet another attempt to link the invasion to the so-called War on Terror. The essence of his argument is that the failure of the UN Security Council to act upon Saddam Hussein’s defiance over his (non-existent) Weapons of Mass Destruction made the West look weak and ineffectual, thus encouraging the rise of Islamic extremism.

These extremists regarded the failure of the US to complete the destruction of Saddam in the first Gulf War in 1991 as a sign of weakness. And they firmly believed that it was they, the Islamic fundamentalists, who had defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. They further believed that they had thus been responsible for bringing down the whole Soviet regime, and considered that if they could bring down one superpower, they could bring down another.

It would be interesting to see Costello’s evidence for so many sweeping, non-specific assertions. For all anyone knows, he’s just making this up as he goes along.

More crucially, this line of argument is also at variance with a few other things we know about Islamic extremism, among which is that it is grounded in perceived Western interference in, and domination over, Islamic countries.

Now, according to Islamic extremist ideology, the West is either weak and ineffectual, or strong and domineering — which is it?

Since the essence of Islamic extremism is an over-arching hatred of the ‘infidel’ West, it’s hard to understand why Western policy on the Middle East should be based upon cherry-picking from this or that irrational strand of Islamic extremist ideology. This is an abjectly reactive game that the West seems to be repeatedly suckered into.

I’d always seen Saddam’s Iraq as a different order of problem to that of global Islamic extremism. And now a reckless Western leadership has blundered into pushing the problem of Iraq squarely into the sphere of Islamic extremism.

This may well be a blunder of epochal proportions, for which future generations will rue ‘our’ stupidity.