Monday, October 23, 2006

Was Clare Short right?

Reading the vitriolic responses to Clare Short's decision to resign from the Labour Party, I was thinking back to 2003, and her decision not to resign when Robin Cook and other ministers did before the war on Iraq.

The reason that she gave for not resigning was that "we have got to look after the people of Iraq, and drive forward the Palestinian peace process, and ensure there was no humanitarian crisis - and then I thought this is walking away and it is cowardly". When it became clear that the promises about reconstruction were not being kept, she resigned.

Three years on, it is clear that there is nothing which any British politician could have done, even had they wanted to, to prevent the Americans invading Iraq. Contrary to predictions at the time that fighting against Saddam would turn into another Stalingrad, the real disaster came after the overthrow of Saddam, with the repeated blunders in the aftermath of the war which have caused half a million casualties and left Iraq in a state of civil war.

Given the preoccupations of the Bush administration, it is entirely possible that the disasters of the last three years were inevitable. I still certainly think it was right to campaign to try to stop the war, and wish that more ministers and Labour MPs had followed Robin Cook's lead.

But if more attention had been focused on preparing for the aftermath of the war, finding out that the Americans hadn't planned for what would happen after Saddam fell and doing something to change that, anticipating the challenges which a nascent Iraqi democracy would face, it is at least possible that the situation now would be a lot better. And if that is the case, then for all that Clare Short's behaviour before the war seemed like an incomprehensible and ridiculous betrayal, and most of what she's done since has been little better, then at that one moment she was right to see the importance of what would come after the war, and it is to all of our regret that she was not able to influence what followed the fall of Saddam.

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