Tony Blair was interrupted at the Leveson Inquiry last week by a protestor calling him a war criminal. It seems the Iraq War won’t go away for Blair.
Leadership involves getting people to do what you want them to, even when they don’t want to do it. What you want them to do will be in your best interests and maybe theirs. Usually it’s a one-way street; the Army used to say shit rolls downhill and so did orders. The reasons for going to war can vary, but soldiers need to believe in what they’re doing. Their families do, too.
The reason given for the Afghanistan War was 9/11, but sticking around for over a decade has confused many. Men and women need a reason to put their lives on the line. Soldiers need to believe in the cause; if they don’t, things start falling apart. What happens when some soldiers resign like Ben Griffin? What happens when they believe something is so wrong they start broadcasting it like Bradley Manning? Some are given lifelong injunctions and some prison. But most soldiers do as they’re told—as long as they believe in their mission.
Saddam was terrible to his people, but so are many in that region. On getting back from the war, I argued with men in the streets of Burnley who accused me of killing Muslim brothers and being in the white man’s army. I reminded them that from 1980 to 1988 the Iranians and Iraqis killed each other; that Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and in that conflict the Pakistanis, Syrians, Moroccans, Qataris, and Saudis all fought Iraqis; and that Saddam gassed Kurds and hounded the Marsh Arabs. Muslims were perfectly capable of killing each other, and with plenty of loose reasoning—but when white people fought, suddenly Muslims were offended. The belief in a cohesive brotherhood of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims is a sad joke. Was deposing Saddam part of a greater plan to knock out dictators around the region? Regime change? Some great game where the globe is a chessboard? I’ll never know; I was only a soldier.
The fact that Iraq holds possibly the world’s biggest oil reserves hasn’t escaped notice and with the West running on the stuff, it wasn’t hard to believe the war was all about oil. But Blair must have believed some of what was in the intelligence about chemical weapons and we believed it too after being given anthrax injections and sleeping in our gas masks on our march up to the Iraq border. Weapons of Mass Destruction sounded sexy too, and “WMD” was easy to say. We don’t hear much of the WMD anymore, but it was a good tool to convince people. But what happened when soldiers no longer believed in it? We sat in Iraq feeling someone had lied to us. Was it a lie?
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