Saturday, 7 April 2007

Brain Dump Saturday 1 - Who'd Be a Soldier ?

With Mrs Loadofoldstodge and I both enjoying the Easter break in various degrees of illness, I've crawled from my sick bed to try and clear the thoughts knocking about in the empty space between my ears...

I always love watching conservative supporters and bloggers getting their knickers in a knot and the recent events in Iran and Iraq have been a field day for those of us who enjoy watching Conservatives (and conservatives) squirm:

On the one hand, the four soldiers who were murdered (or killed) in Basra are universally (and rightly) regarded as heroes and heroines while there has been more than an undercurrent of hostility toward the marines and sailors captured by Iran and released earlier in the week. A flavour of some of this scorn can be seen here:

This has also been reflected in comment in papers like the Times and the Mail with the thinly-veiled (and sometimes not-so-veiled) accusation that the captured marines and sailors did not behave in the best tradition of the Armed Forces.

Now I don't know what psychological pressure was put on these personnel individually or collectively - perhaps each one was told that if they didn't co-operate, one or more of the others would be killed, we don't know - but I think they comported themselves with dignity and emerge both individually and collectively with credit. I suspect that almost anyone in their situation would have done whatever their captors said - I'm sure I would.

As for the soldiers killed (or murdered) in Basra and the response of the Iraqi crowd, why is anyone surprised ? History shows that liberating armies from outside soon overstay their welcome. Even after World War 2, the British and Americans were facing serious public disorder by the winter of 1946-47. Look at the French Occupation of the Ruhr after the end of the Great War and even compare the initial welcome that Catholics in Ulster gave to the arrival of troops in 1968.

As a former work colleague used to say "we are where we are". There's no point taking that line if wisdom hasn't made the journey with you. Those who advocated the removal of Saddam Hussein may have had the best of motives (freedom for the Iraqi people from a brutal despot) or the worst of motives (the effective American economic colonisation of a key part of the Middle East) but either way the consequences of the removal of the despot were poorly understood and the ramifications of a prolonged military presence poorly recognised.

If Iran is steadily gaining influence in the south of Iraq, there's probably nothing we can do. We are the enemy - whatever gratitude (and there was plenty) and goodwill we gained by defeating Saddam Hussein is long gone. In too many respects, the Iraqi people are not tangibly better off than they were in 2003. Having done so much to destroy the military and civil infrastructure of Iraq, our efforts at restoration have been timid and frankly inadequate. Again, compare and contrast with post-war Germany, Japan or the reconstruction of North-East France after the Great War. It CAN be done - a difference can be made in four years if the will exists. Instead, the Americans handed the job over to the private sector and the result has been predictably awful.

We are and have been complicit in this failure and it will forever be a stain on the record of Tony Blair and indeed George W. Bush, both of whom will shortly leave office.

I believe the best we can now hope for is this:

1) The Iraqi people come to realise that Iranian "control" or "influence" is insidious and choose to take control of their own affairs and follow a path that THEY wish to follow. It may not be what we would like or want but that's not important.

2) If we are to intervene in Zimbabwe, North Korea or anywhere else, we recognise that reconstruction is, if anything, more important and far more complicated than the simple military effort to overthrow a given despot or regime.

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