The decision for the then Labour government to join the US in invading Iraq in 2003 is pivitol for the Left; it was the moment when New Labour joined the ranks of the scorned, the unforgivable. When “Blairite” became pejorative.
That’s why it’s ironic that the way the “coalition of the willing” went wrong in Iraq back then is eerily reminiscent of the way the Left is now in the process of destroying itself, the apotheosis of this a mere five weeks and two days away.
One of the major reasons the invasion of Iraq was such a disaster was the immediate aftermath of the first, main attack. While Bush spoke with the words “Mission Accomplished” behind him, the foundations for extreme folly were being built. For it was decided that anyone and anything with any connection to the old regime had to be blown away; kept as far from the “new way” as possible. The main problem with this idea is that in a totalitarian regime such as Saddam’s was, this would include pretty much anyone who had any clue how things worked in Iraq; it would also leave the country with absolutely no civil service or civil society, like a country emerging from decades of anarchy. America and its allies pressed ahead with it anyhow.
The Left did the same thing with the Labour Party: they destroyed absolutely everything to do with the old order without giving thought to how the new one they wanted to create would be constructed, or indeed, even what it would roughly look like when complete. They just knew that anything and anyone connected to the old order was someone not to be trusted; better to give the emerging one the chance to breathe. It would all work out somehow.
Thankfully, the Left destroying itself will not lead to bloodshed as the similar mistake did in Iraq. But it remains painful to note that those who spent the most time deriding the western invasion of Iraq failed to learn the biggest lesson from that failed war: you need to keep things steady while you change things. And you need to have a real plan for how you change things as well. Willingness to succeed simply isn’t enough.
Robert Smith says
While I have sympathy with the general thrust of this I think the analogy is a bit off. The occupation of Iraq did not take apart the old state in the way described. The old state collapsed. Some of the old civil service was purged but some also survived. A friend who became Minister for Water Resources did a lot to hang onto the old staff and only removed a few of the top Baathists. In other parts of the country Baathists disappeared not through external intervention but because they ran the risk of being strung up by the local populace. Rory Stewart can tell you that DeBaathification was not an issue in his part of Iraq because all the Baathists had cleared off long before the occupiers showed up. By the end of his rule Saddam’s Iraq had been hollowed out by internal opposition and external sanctions. It was a brittle state and it only took a small application of force for the whole thing to shatter. (Can you tell I worked in Iraq for the FCO and wrote a PhD thesis on this?)
In some cases this is the better analogy for the Labour Party. New Labour was a broad but shallow movement. It was fearful of a membership that on the whole didn’t really get the new Labour revolution and never really warmed to the like of Peter Mandelson, Stephen Byers, et al. In many ways their control of the party was through a hollowing out of the party, closing down debates that were not about victory, airbrushing ideology with the end of Clause IV, etc. When the central shining character in all of this, Tony Blair, was removed the edifice began to crack and crumble. If Brown had not become PM in such a difficult time and was a different person he may have been able to merge new Labour and old Labour, but he didn’t and we are where we are.
On the other hand – with Iraq analogies – watching Trump thrash around creating policy in the States at the moment is just like being pitched back into the CPA in Iraq. Happy days!
Jane Carnall says
The neat part about this blog post is that it’s equally applicable whether you think of “the old order” as the Blairites being destroyed by the Corbynites, or the “old order” as the old-left, represented by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, which was very nearly destroyed in the Parliamentary Labour Party by the Blairites, and is thoroughly unwelcome by them at a constituency level.
The Tories keep their bloody infighting behind closed doors: the first we know that Tory PLP really plan to rid themselves of an incumbent Tory leader is when they make their first public move, always within party rules.
Labour, on the other hand…