Comment on how the war in Iraq should impact future decisions on sending troops into combat, arguing that all mediums of diplomacy should be exhausted before entering into conflict.

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It has now been ten years since the U.S. led invasion of Iraq, and the dismantling of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The iconic images of euphoric Iraqi citizens toppling Saddam’s statue at Firdos Square will continue to be circulated by the media when referring to the war, but unfortunately these images do not portray the harsh reality; military intervention was an unforgivable mistake. Haunting images of Baghdad on fire after ‘Operation Shock and Awe’ display a glimpse of the hegemonic power’s awesome military might, and the horrors of war. Ten years later, the BBC has aired ‘Iraq: Ten Years On’, a special programme discussing the war’s legacy and an interview with former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair is a figure who divides opinion across the world: he has been accused of war crimes; received extraordinary sums of money for after dinner speaking and controversially become a ‘UN Peace Envoy’. The programme, although mainly centering on Iraq, does advance to discussion on the United Kingdom’s role in the world, and potential intervention in Syria. During his interview with Kirsty Wark, Blair encourages intervention in Syria due to the ever increasing civilian death toll. Blair does not specifically encourage ‘boots on the ground’ but with news that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has pledged $60 Million of aid to Syrian opposition, I cannot help but fear the worst is yet to come.


Photo Credit: Vets For Peace/Flickr

I do not deny that the international community must take a stand against President al-Assad, and those committing atrocities across Syria must firstly be stopped, and secondly held to account. However, I do not believe military intervention is the correct solution just yet. It is the responsibility of politicians and senior policymakers to ensure that every effort is made to achieve a diplomatic solution and should avoid committing servicemen and women unless it is absolutely necessary. Policymakers must learn from recent history and see the disastrous consequences of military intervention: the United States failure in Vietnam; the Soviet Union’s ten year campaign in Afghanistan and most recently, Iraq, whose estimated civilian death toll (from violence) is 120,000. Every effort must be made to avoid war and further death toll figures.

Throughout the latter period of the 20th and now the 21st century, the United States have been the ‘policemen of the world’, supported – due to the ‘special relationship’ – by the United Kingdom. The role of the United States here is understandable: it remains the world’s only superpower; uses its influence to spread liberal democracy, and finally, protects its global national interests. The role of the UK in global affairs is less understandable. No longer wielding significant ‘hard’ power, the UK, deeply in debt, must rely on its effective use of ‘soft’ power. The recession has seen further cuts to the military budget, embarrassingly exampled by ‘The Aircraft Carrier That Had No Planes’, thus it is hard to see why this small island off the coast of Europe should be intervening in North African and Middle Eastern civil wars. As a liberal democracy, it is our responsibility to condemn atrocities and encourage the rights of oppressed peoples; I do not however believe it is our responsibility to send our servicemen and women to die in another nation’s civil war. This point is of specific importance when you consider the false pretense that led allied forces into Iraq. Saddam Hussein was indeed a war criminal, but he was not however, a war criminal with nuclear capabilities that threatened Western security.

I write this in hope that we will not see a repeat of Iraq, Vietnam or Afghanistan in Syria, or any other state for that matter, unless it is absolutely necessary. I do not suggest that the foreign policymakers of developed nations take decisions lightly or that they actively seek war, instead I argue that diplomacy and sanctions are always a better solution than boots on the ground . It is the responsibility of the public to ensure that politicians exhaust diplomatic options to avoid combat, and inevitably, future foreign policy decisions will be taken by our leaders that won’t result in unnecessary death and suffering. I urge people to speak out against these decisions through protest and social media and remember that there are always alternatives to war.