Thursday, 7 July 2016

Unpardonable Folly

I watched Sir John Chilcot deliver his long-awaited report into the war in Iraq and while his criticisms were broadly as expected, two important and overarching points stood out.

First, that Sir John and his team enjoyed seven long years to mull the whole business over and they also had the benefit of 20/20 hindsight before drawing their conclusions. 

Second, and more importantly, the Chilcot Inquiry did its work inside of a political vacuum rather than the highly adversarial arena in which UK politics is played out these days, under the glare of a cynical and often overtly hostile news media.

Tony Blair can answer for himself and has done, of course.

But some of his fiercest critics were not just against the Iraq War, they opposed military action just about everywhere: the Gulf War in 1991, Nato air strikes against Serbia in 1999, the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 (in the wake of 9/11), the support for anti-Gaddafi rebels in Libya, and the current action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Alex Salmond who is currently calling for Tony Blair's 'head on a plate' was guilty of a monumental misjudgement, in my view, when he described NATO air strikes against Serbia as an 'unpardonable folly' back in 1999, even though this particular military action was designed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Kosovo.

So if you were to examine Mr Salmond's remarks with the same cool detachment of the Chilcot Inquiry would you consider his comments to be:

a) a sincerely held, yet ultimately mistaken belief
b) windy, opportunist political rhetoric 
c) unforgivably stupid and inane 

The lesson of Iraq is that military intervention is messy, complicated business, one that is fraught with risks and has no guarantee of success.

But there is also great risk attached to sitting on the sidelines watching murderous fascists  go about their work, as they did in Kosovo in 1999.

As the late author Christopher Hitchens said, though much more eloquently than me: unpardonable folly, my arse.


Nato bombing 'unpardonable folly' 

BBC News - 22 March 1999

Demonstrations: Serbs and Albanians focus protests in London

Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond has become the first leading UK politician to speak out over the air strikes against Serbia, calling them counter-productive.

In a televised address to the Scottish people, Mr Salmond said that the military campaign was failing to do anything but strengthen Serb resolve and threaten the lives of ethnic Albanians.

And as Nato launched another night of raids against targets in Yugoslavia, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, also called for talks to replace bombing "as soon as possible".

'Dubious legality'

Mr Salmond said: "It is an act of dubious legality, but above all one of unpardonable folly."

The bombing "may make matters even worse for the very people it is meant to be helping".

The nationalist leader said Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic bore "prime responsibility" for human rights violations carried out on ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo.

"However, if we are to sanction intervention in Serbia then the policy must be capable of achieving two things," he said.

"It must be capable of weakening Milosevic and helping Kosovo. A bombing campaign will do neither, indeed the chances are it will make both worse."

The SNP wants an end to the bombing

But reacting to the breaking of ranks among domestic politicians, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook accused Mr Salmond of being "unfit to lead".

"He (Alex Salmond) fails to see the clear distinction between the resolve of a democracy defending itself against dictatorship and a dictatorship engaged in ethnic cleansing," he said.

But Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley also questioned the Nato bombing in his address to the Welsh nation, asking whether the action was actually exacerbating a human catastrophe.

Carey calls for talks

Dr Carey later called for talks to replace confrontation "as soon as possible".

He told BBC's One's Nine O'Clock News that Nato had been right to act but negotiations must restart to save civilian lives.

"The evils of ethnic cleansing and the dispersed populations are factors that no civilised person can be happy about," he said.

"We are seeing on our screens appalling pictures of suffering.

"Negotiation must replace confrontation as soon as possible. Nato was correct to take the action, howbeit regretfully - we must all regret that very deeply.

"But it is vitally important that we get people around that negotiating table as quickly as possible in order that civilian lives may be saved."

Riot police flood Whitehall

Meanwhile, London experienced more protests, leading to riot police moving in to keep opposing demonstrators apart.

Hundreds of officers closed off Whitehall as a demonstration of more than 1,000 Albanians in Trafalgar Square neared Downing Street where Serbs were protesting against the air strikes.

The square was filled with pro-Kosovo demonstrators carrying banners declaring: "No appeasement, no compromise, no surrender".

Serbs held placards denouncing Mr Cook as a murderer - but despite fears of a clash the noisy demonstrations ended peacefully.

At one point Union flag-waving Kosovans allowed two Serb women through, escorted by riot police, to attend their rival demonstration.